Usually we think of professionalism as a good thing. But when it comes to the Christian faith, there is a sort of professionalism that is not so good. That is clericalism, the notion that full Christianity is only for the clergy. Sadly, clericalism is widespread among Christians today.
By clericalism, I do not mean so much the sort of clericalism where the clergy lord it over the people, though of course that is a problem if and when it happens. Rather, I mean the sort of clericalism where ordinary Christians, the lay people in the pew, set up the clergy as a sort of substitute Christian for themselves.
This sort of clericalism is the idea that the clergy’s job is to be holy and practice the fullness of Christianity, so that the laity don’t have to do it. Instead, the laity simply have to “be good”, put money into the collection plate, go to Church every so often, and make sure their children receive the appropriate sacraments at the appropriate times. Prayer outside of church? In this view, that’s for clergy, laity simply pray when they’re in church. Following Jesus? In this view, unless you’re clergy, that’s simply avoiding serious crimes, such as stealing. Emulating Jesus? In this view, unless you’re clergy, that mostly means being nice to people.
Sadly, if this is Christianity at all, it is baby food Christianity, the sort of Christianity you might expect of little children who aren’t old enough to be able to hope to do anything more than try to behave and do what they’re taught. This is not mature Christianity, it is not the sort of life Jesus lived and is not the sort of thing Jesus teaches.
But what did Jesus do? What does Jesus teach? He did not teach that Christianity was just for a professional few. Instead, … he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” [Luke 9:23]. While Jesus did set aside some of his disciples to be apostles, leaders in proclaiming the Good News, he chose them from among the common people, such as fishermen, not the clerics of his day. Moreover, the story of the early church shows how all the believers, not just apostles, lived out their Christian faith together; the Apostles were distinguished from the other believers by their role of giving “testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” [Acts 4:33], teaching and proclaiming “Jesus as the messiah” [Acts 5:42]. Indeed, it is not in living out Christianity that clerics are distinguished from lay Christians, it is in teaching and proclaiming it. Living out Christianity is for all Christians.
So what are lay Christians to do, then? Each Christian is called to know and love Jesus better, to live out the call, and to become Christians in the heart, not just externally. This is more than just being good and doing some “church things” once a week while the clergy does the rest, it is learning to emulate Jesus, to believe in him. By believing, I do not merely mean “belief” as a sort of intellectual assent or agreement, but rather “be-live”: to “be” a follower of Jesus and to “live” as a follower of Jesus. How? Each day, learn about Jesus (read about him in the Gospels), talk with Jesus (pray, and look and listen for his guidance), and emulate Jesus (do what he did: love and do what is right, even when it hurts). This is mature Christianity, not just for clergy, but for every Christian.