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What is a cleric?

what is a cleric

A cleric is a member of the clergy. Most every religion assumes a divide between the clerics—the “professional” ministers—and the laity—basically, all those who are not clerics. Scripture says that believers have different callings and gifts (Romans 12:6), and some are called to be pastors or teachers (Ephesians 4:11), but all believers are servants (“ministers”) of the Lord (Romans 14:4). There is nothing particularly biblical about dividing the church into clerical and non-clerical classes; there is something quite amiss with clerics who view themselves as more spiritual or closer to God than the “common” believer and with the concept that clerics must wear “clerical” clothing such as special shirts, collars, albs, cassocks, capes, cinctures, tippets, hats, surplices, jewelry, etc.

A cleric is ordained to perform pastoral or other religious work. Cleric is a general term and is used in reference to Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and non-denominational pastors. For example, “The cleric led the funeral procession honoring the memory of Dr. Williams.”

The word cleric also has roots that extend beyond Latin. The Greek word kleros referred to an object used in the casting of lots (see Matthew 27:35) or to an inheritance or portion such as might be obtained by the casting of lots (see Acts 1:25–26). By the second century, kleros was being used by early Greek Christians to refer to any type of ministry work. They based this idea upon Deuteronomy 18:1–2, which says the Levites (set apart for temple work) had no inheritance, or “portion,” with the rest of Israel; rather, the Lord would be their portion. From kleros we get the word clerk, which originally referred to a member of the clergy and was a synonym of cleric.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022