April 1972 · Vol. 1 No. 2 · pp. 71–72 

Book Review

Witnessing Laymen Make Living Churches

Claxton Monro and William S. Taegel. Waco, TX: Word, 1968. 207 pages.

Reviewed by Harold Jantz

It always intrigues me to discover that concepts of the church and her mission which we as Mennonites have felt to be important are not the private domain of the Mennonites.

Of course, that’s how it should be. But it was a rewarding experience nonetheless to read Witnessing Laymen make Living Churches and to be confronted with a view of the church that does away with the unbiblical notion that there are somehow two ranks of Christians who constitute the people of God, the clergy and the laity.

The conclusion that the authors, Claxton Monro and William Taegel, come to, based on their experiences and their study of the Scriptures, is that laos, the Greek term used in the New Testament, means “the people whom God has chosen for himself, selected as peculiarly his own.” In other words, the laity refers to the entire people of God. In that context, say the authors, “the ordained ministry is [merely] that part of the laos set apart by God for the apostolic function” (Eph. 4:11).

Such insights come with refreshing frequency in the book compiled by these two Houston (Texas) men, pastors of the Covenant Methodist and the St. Stephen’s Episcopal churches.

Witnessing Laymen developed out of an approach to congregational life which had an almost furtive beginning. Clax Monro states that despite a ministry which was apostolic in spirit and scriptural in content, he was aware that in terms of “changed lives and effective outreach” it fell far short of what might be considered New Testament fruitfulness.

As a result of his discontent he began an experimental fellowship in his home, every second Thursday, with a core of three or four dedicated laymen who invited friends of theirs and then spent their time discussing what difference it meant to them in their homes, businesses, in all their human relationships, that they prayed, went to church and believed in Christ. The strange thing about the meetings at first, recalls Monro, was that he couldn’t decide what the group really had to do with the church. “It was not a Bible class, nor a worship service, nor a prayer group. There was no preaching and almost no teaching,” he says. He wasn’t even at liberty to really talk about it in the church’s public meetings.

Then one day, as though by ‘revelation’ (he took it to be a revelation), it became clear to him what the group signified. Monro puts it this way: To get through to a world which no longer recognizes Jesus Christ and in which there are many nominal Christians who haven’t a clue what a living faith means, the key in communicating Christ is “a witnessing fellowship of need, a fellowship of really converted Christians, acknowledging at least in small groups that their lives hang on Christ—and what this means in terms of how they eat breakfast, how they go to the {72} office, how they treat a spouse in marriage, how they deal with their secretary or boss, what they do with their spare time, and what they do with their friendships.” In such a fellowship, says Monro, “none can claim to have found the final answer, but each individual can know the reality of Christ at work in the heart. We bear witness to each other of how Christ deals with us as individuals. What has become real to us, we share in the fellowship.”

That realization, says Monro, revolutionized the life of St. Stephen’s Church and resulted in literally hundreds of conversions and thousands of lives influenced for Christ. Out of it has grown also, say the authors, the conviction that prophecy, in its New Testament sense, means “the kind of lay witness that speaks about the Lordship of Christ over all the decisions of daily life, the telling by laymen of their ongoing encounter and relationship with the living Lord.”

Witnessing Laymen makes exciting reading because it responds to the pervasive quest for meaningful relationships which has become such an overwhelming characteristic of our time. Furthermore, in a world which has virtually lost all sense of moral foundations—and absolutes based on a belief in a Supreme being—the sharing of one’s faith in small groups points the way to the recovery of a powerful witness of the Church. It may indeed be true that while in the Protestant era (the first three hundred years after the Reformation), the “Church spoke primarily to the mind of man, it must now begin with the prophetic love to the human heart.”

If the book is to be criticized, I think that the casual use that is made of a term like ‘revelation’ indicates that it would have been better if the authors had placed a little more stress on careful definition and thought. Furthermore, the brief sweep through history that Monro indulges in toward the end of the book does little to illuminate at least this reader. For instance, he says, “From 1500 to 1800 the ingredients of temporal and eternal factors at work in the culture were in such a rare balance that the glorious possibilities of Christian man nurtured in the Christian church and governed by a free Christian state were perhaps revealed as never before.” It sounds like an interesting thesis, but I can’t be sure just what he is trying to say.

But while one might make these criticisms, they don’t seriously detract from the essential significance of the book. Through their descriptions of small sharing fellowships, the authors are pointing to what must be seen as a very dynamic concept of the Church.

Harold Jantz, Editor
MB Herald