On Lay Preaching
A summary of John Nelson Darby’s article On Lay Preaching – click for original. Collected Writings Volume 1 (Ecclesiastical 1)
All preaching should be lay preaching, since scripture does not allow anything else. All men who are able, should speak in church, under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Women have other ways of exercising their spiritual gifts.
The Effect of the Gift of God’s Spirit
If God give His Spirit to laymen in order to preach, if the use of this gift is hindered, there is general loss and the Spirit of God is grieved. Those who oppose lay preaching must maintain either that no laymen can have the Spirit of God in testimony, or if they have it, the sanction of man is necessary before it can be exercised. No sanction can be proved to be necessary from Scripture; therefore, no such sanction can be granted.
The question is not, whether a layman might be qualified; but, whether as a layman he is disqualified, unless he has been, what is commonly called, ordained. No such ordination was a qualification to preach in the early days of the church.
The question only arises as to their speaking in the church. The only prohibition is . “Let your women keep silence in the churches” (1 Cor 14:34). Not “Let your unordained keep silence”. Paul says, , “Every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.” (v.26). Does he say nobody ought to speak except one who has been ordained? No! He says, “For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn” (v.31). So, women are not permitted to speak, and the rest are. This is God’s plan of decency and order. They are not to all speak at once, or every day, as God leads them, and gives them ability, for the edifying of the church.
Women have spiritual gifts, and directions are given for their exercise; but they are not to use them in the church. That is out of order, and not comely.
The Early Church
It may be asserted that these were times of extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, but this is a false argument. The Spirit of God does not break the own order that He has established. It would be most mischievous to say He did. Ordination breaks that order. Indeed, I believe that the laity is the only real instrument for building up of the church: “The Head, Christ, from whom the whole body, fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, to the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4:16)
It was clear that in Corinth there were many teachers, all teachers in fact. The Corinthians were warned about that, not belittling the office of teaching, but rather the effect of the imbalance; it would result in ‘greater condemnation’. However, it was clearly not necessary to be ordained in order to teach. Aptness to teach may be an important qualification for an elder or overseer; but it cannot be said from Scripture to be disorderly for a layman to teach in the church, if God have given him ability.
In the early days of Christianity the gospel spread rapidly. All the Christians preached: they went everywhere preaching the word; Acts 8:4. It was not just speaking, it was evangelising the word.” And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:21). There was no consideration as to whether they were ordained or not. They were all lay preachers; there were no others.
Later Apollos preached. Far from being ordained before beginning to preach, he knew only the baptism of John. Only later, Aquila and Priscilla took him, and expounded to him the way of God more perfectly. In Rome, many of the brethren preached the word without fear. And there were itinerant preachers in 2 and 3 John.
Darby said he was not attacking ordination, only the assertion that laymen ought not to speak in or preach out of the church. He challenged any one to produce any scripture positively, or on principle, forbidding laymen to preach without episcopal, or equivalent ordination.
Even in the tabernacle system, where priestly authority was established, Joshua objected to Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp, though they had not come up to the door of the tabernacle. The Spirit rested upon them. Moses said, “Would God, that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” (Num 11:29). Subsequently, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram desired the kingship of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron. This was their fault. These things are typical of our dispensation. In one sense Christ is alone as priest; in another we are all priests. This is the dispensation of the outpouring of the Spirit, qualifying for preaching any who can do so – in a word, speaking of Jesus.
The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit
At Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out on the one hundred and twenty, who were assembled together, and they began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance. Peter explained to the Jews, that it was the thing spoken of by Joel, the undistinguished pouring-out of the Spirit upon all flesh – upon people of all classes, servants and handmaidens, and their sons and their daughters prophesying. And what has been the subsequent history? The denial and loss of the only power of the dispensation. The power of the Spirit, in which God would give competency to restrain evil, has been slighted; and human office has been relied on. There has been the assumption of power, which had not been given to the church at all. Episcopal appointment came in in order to protect orthodoxy. However, if evil teaching exists, the remedy is not by hindering or rejecting lay preaching, but by the cordial co-operation of those who hold the truth; energetically sustained against those who do not hold the truth, whatever their office. Thus the distinction is between truth and error, not between human office and the Spirit. This is the most mischievous thing that the human mind could have devised. Thankfully there are those who have been ordained who recognize the Holy Spirit, rather than their office in pursuing their ministry and do not prohibit those not ordained from exercising theirs.
Replacing the Spirit by Human Office is the most Mischievous Thing that the Human Mind could have Devised
The times call for decision; and the only thing which will withstand evil and error, is truth. We, as saints acting under the Spirit, need to wield the truth as a common cause against error and self-will. Then God can be with us. He must justify His own, when it is to His glory, and their blessing. May He by His Spirit guide us into all truth!