In considering ministry as it operates within the Church of England, there are, I am suggesting, three important and overlapping features of that ministry which have to be taken into account.
The first is what Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali identified, as basically two religions, or certainly two theological paradigms: which we may loosely label them ‘traditionalist’ and the ‘liberal’. Whilst we may quibble at the lack of precision, it is easy to see these two paradigms not just in action but in opposition, when one considers the current critical debates within the Church.
The second is that the Church of England embraces two quite different concepts of its priesthood which, for the sake of simplicity, we may designate as ‘personal’ and ‘functional’, or to use another form of shorthand, ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’. Once again, these are imprecise distinctions, but it is easy to see how they operate differently on any given Sunday.
The third feature is more sociological than theological, but is nevertheless of crucial importance, and that is the presence of two models of authority: ‘Authority A’, which is imposed by institutional rules and regulations, and ‘Authority B’, which is earned by merit and which may or may not correspond to ‘Authority A’.
The important thing to recognize is that these features all overlap and there are therefore a number of possible permutations. In this post, however, I want to consider just one of these, and the implications it has for Anglican ministry.
Regular readers will probably not be surprised when I say that the model of priesthood I believe to be most consistent with the heritage of the Anglican Reformation and most helpful for the future of the Church of England in this country has a ‘traditionalist’ theological paradigm and a ‘functional’ view of priesthood.
In the area of authority, however, I believe there needs to be more emphasis on ‘Authority B’, rather than ‘Authority A’. That is to say, the paradigm of authority in the Church ought to emphasise competence for the task, rather than institution into the order.
This, however, raises the question as to what is the task of ministry. Here our different paradigms provide different answers, but they essentially divide along theological lines according to the understanding of eschatology — the doctrine of the ‘last things’. What we believe is the task of ministry will depend very much on what we believe is the outcome of life and existence.
For the traditionalist, the Creeds used regularly in Morning and Evening Prayer and in Holy Communion provide a definitive answer, namely that Christ shall come “to judge the quick [ie living] and the dead.” The liberal paradigm generally takes a different view, but I will leave those to one side.
It is with this outcome in mind that the Ordinal joined to the Prayer Book sets out its model of ministry. In addressing those to be ordained, the Bishop says to them,
Ye have heard, Brethren ... of what dignity, and of how great importance this Office is, whereunto ye are called ... that is to say, to be Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord; to teach, and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.
That, then, is the task of the ministry — to feed Christ’s flock and to seek and save his lost sheep from coming judgement. Thus the Bishop adds,
Wherefore consider with yourselves the end of the Ministry ... and see that ye never cease your labour, your care and diligence, until ye have done all that lieth in you ... to bring all such as are or shall be committed to your charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion, or for viciousness in life.
Notice the points highlighted by my italics! The means to the end of saving Christ’s people is to bring them to perfection of faith, without error in doctrine or immorality in life. However, this is a supernatural task, beyond mere human competence, and so the Bishop warns,
Howbeit, ye cannot have a mind and will thereto of yourselves; for that will and ability is given of God alone: therefore ye ought, and have need, to pray earnestly for his Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, what means to this end are available to them as human beings? The answer the Bishop gives is this:
And seeing that ye cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the Holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same; consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures, and in framing the manners both of yourselves, and of them that specially pertain unto you, according to the rule of the same Scriptures; and for this self-same cause, how ye ought to forsake and set aside, as much as ye may, all worldly cares and studies.
According to this model, then — the traditional, reformed Anglican, model of ministry — the priest is made competent for the task of saving Christ’s sheep by the help of the Holy Spirit and by being a constant learner and teacher of the Bible. The priest will not be a mere ‘theoretician’. On the contrary, the Bishop finally admonishes them, “to sanctify the lives of you and yours, and to fashion them after the Rule and Doctrine of Christ, that ye may be wholesome and godly examples and patterns for the people to follow.”
Nevertheless, competency in ministry, according to this model, derives from the study and application of what is in the Bible.
Now there are two obvious points to make here. The first is that one may be given the Anglican ‘Authority A’ without such competence, or even without any real conviction that it is worth acquiring. The second, and more easily overlooked, is that one may actually have such competence without being granted ‘Authority A’.
However, it is my firm conviction that in the Church of England we ought to grant ‘Authority B’ to those who have the competence that the Prayer Book says is required to achieve the ends for which the priesthood exists, that is to say, the seeking and saving of Christ’s sheep, which can only be done “with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the Holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same.”
Moreover — and this is even more important, in my view — given how the Christian life and ministry works according to the Ordinal, this ‘Authority B’ ought actually to be esteemed in the Church more highly than the ‘Authority A’ of orders and titles.
This suggestion itself has some support from Scripture:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. (1 Tim 5:17, ESV)
Of course, as this verse suggests, not all ‘ministry’ is preaching and teaching, and people may be esteemed for other things (such as good works and acts of charity, Acts 9:36). But the building up of the Church clearly relies on the ministry of the word, and therefore competence in this should receive due recognition:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:11-16, ESV)
Moreover, the advantage of this understanding is that it tends to promote a more egalitarian Church which is also more of a meritocracy. Jesus himself warned against a model of authority based on titles and status:
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matt 23:8-11, ESV)
What this means, of course, is not that none may teach but that any may teach who are willing and able to acquire the right skills and attitude. And furthermore, all are to be involved in the teaching process. Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,” surely echoes Deuteronomy 6:6-9,
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (ESV)
Indeed, one might argue that a properly-focussed New Testament church would in this respect resemble the Jewish yeshiva or Muslim madrassa — places where the focus is on studying and learning the sacred texts, driven by a recognition of their significance for the community. By contrast, in Christianity the ‘Sunday School’ is for children and systematic learning for adults is the exception, not the rule.
Finally, this has huge implications for the future of Anglican ministry. It is already recognized that there are too few clergy to sustain the old parish system — based on the ‘personal’, ‘Catholic’, model of priesthood, even though it has a ‘Protestant’, ‘functional’ overlay — and that there will be even fewer in future.
According to one understanding of priesthood, the answer will be to create more priests for the purposes of the liturgy and the succouring of individuals — primarily the seek, the lonely, the elderly and so on. And that can be achieved. But we will not worry too much about competence in the word of God. We certainly won’t be concerned whether those individuals can handle the ancient languages, Greek and Hebrew, or whether they are aware of past and present trends in theology (at least, not the past trends!). In this respect, it is worth comparing the admonition given by the Bishop in the old Ordinal to the truncated version used in the new service (743 words compared with 367, and most of the good stuff taken out).
But according to another understanding, what we need is priests supremely competent in the Scriptures who can, in the words of 2 Timothy 2:2, “entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” the content of the Apostolic preaching and teaching, so that lives may be transformed and the Church built up.
“A new authority — and with teaching” (cf Mk 1:27). That would require a transformation in our understanding of ministry. But it would certainly result in a transformation of our experience of church.
John P RichardsonAnonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.
2 March 2010
2 March 2010