This is the continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first part here and the previous part here. This is also part of a longer series called "The Koran from a Christian Perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.The early church saw each of its members as equals. We were taught by the apostles that we were all, "A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession." (1 Peter 2:9) At the end of his life, John reminded us that we each had our own relationship with God and did not need to depend on others to know and relate to God. "You have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him." (1 John 2:27) And Jesus Himself taught us that, in our prayers, we did not need to pray to, or through, anyone else to get our petitions heard. In fact we did not even need to pray through Jesus because we could pray directly to God directly. "In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you."(John 16:26-27)
However, it was not long before the church sought to re-institute the inter-mediation of the Old Testament priests in their relationship with God. Where once they were all priests before God, they now depended on an earthly priesthood to do the work of ministry and to relate to God on their behalf. They became like those who gave up their right to know God, sending Moses on their behalf. "Then they said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.'" (Exodus 20:19) It took only three hundred years for believers to surrender their universal priesthood before God. "During the third century it became customary to apply the term 'priest' directly and exclusively to the Christian ministers especially the bishops. In the same manner the whole ministry, and it alone, was called 'clergy,' with a double reference to its presidency and its peculiar relation to God. It was distinguished by this name from the Christian people or 'laity.' Thus the term 'clergy,' which first signified the lot by which office was assigned (Acts 1:17, 25), then the office itself, then the persons holding that office, was transferred from the Christians generally to the ministers exclusively." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II, Section 42. Clergy and Laity)
Muhammad makes mention of this priestly class that stood between the people and God. "They have taken their rabbis [teachers] and their monks as lords apart from God, and the Messiah, Mary's son -- and they were commanded [bidden] to serve [worship] but One God; there is no god but He; glory be to Him, above that they associate." (Koran 9:31) As the centuries marched on, the separation between clergy and laity grew greater and greater until there was little left to the laity in terms of ministry and direct relationship with God. So dependent was the laity on the clergy that when, in punishment for a city or state, the Pope would declare an Interdict (the suspension of much of the church activities) people could not get married, they could not participate in the Eucharist, they could not be saved, and could not receive forgiveness. This priestly class had become royalty and stood in the way of the believer and their relationship to God.
Worse yet, as the laity lost their right to select their own bishops, many of those who were appointed bishops secured their position through money, nepotism, and political maneuvering. Gregory the Great, in the seventh century, opposed some of these excesses in the priesthood. "He appointed, he also reproved and deposed bishops for neglect of duty, or crime. He resolutely opposed the prevalent practice of simony, and forbade the clergy to exact or accept fees for their services." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume IV, Section 50. Gregory the Great. a.d. 590–604) Simony was the practice of buying an ecclesiastical position with money. Muhammad writes, "O believers, many of the rabbis and monks indeed consume the goods of the people in vanity and bar [turn them away] from God's way. Those who treasure up gold and silver, and do not expend them in the way of God -- give them the good tidings of a painful chastisement." (Koran 9:34)
More to come...