An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


The people of God. The term is from the Greek laos, “the people.” The laity has been defined negatively to indicate Christians who have not been ordained. However, all baptized Christians are the people of God, the church, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Pt 2:9-10). All baptized persons are members of the Body of Christ, the church, but with different functions and ministries (Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12:12). All Christian ministries and vocations represent specific ways of living out the baptismal covenant (see BCP, pp. 304-305). The ministers of the church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons (BCP, p. 855). The ministry of the laity is “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church” (BCP, p. 855). Clericalism unfortunately caused some to view the ordained as the only real ministers of the church and to regard the laity as inferior to the clergy. Increasing appreciation of lay ministry has accompanied a renewed emphasis on the significance of baptism, and a growing understanding that the various ministries of the church can support and uphold one another. The ministries and orders of the church are to be complementary, and not mutually exclusive. Accordingly, the 1979 BCP encourages the participation of all orders of ministry in the worship of the church.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.