Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The future of Anglican ministry: "A new authority — and with teaching"?

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 Richardson
2 March 2010
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  1. One question that arises in my mind about all this is the assumption that ordination whether ontological or otherwise, should be considered permanent. That is - if you have been ordained, it is for the rest of your natural life - rather as if you have been 'branded'!

    Yet I cannot find in the Scripture that this is necessarily so. That people are 'called' by God is undeniably the case, but whether that calling is permanent or only 'for a season' IMV, is debatable and should be tested.

    I think part of the problem is that we have set up being a priest or minister as a career option which so structured as to make it well nigh impossible to take up or even consider, other possibilities such as truck driving (assuming that God was calling you out of 'full time ministry' to work with articulated vehicles).

    I have found that such an attitude is as much true in independent churches as it is in constitutional ones.

    Bishop Chris

  2. Good stuff, John. But I don't understand how this is consistent with your view that, in a time when there is a shortage of ministers, you wish to exclude from the ministry potentially 50% of those who have shown themselves to have Authority B competence for the function, and are at least potentially "supremely competent in the Scriptures". So why do you want to restrict the "any may teach who are willing and able to acquire the right skills and attitude" by excluding women?

  3. Short answer, Peter, I don't. The question is not whether women may minister - Paul, as we know had many women helping in his ministry - the question is how we should fit women's ministry, on the basis of Authority B into Anglican orders with their (over) emphasis on Authority A.

  4. Well, John, if the Authority A powers that be choose to accept women, who are competent for the function, for ordination, then I don't see why you have a problem with that. After all, you have rejected the arguments that come from the ontological view of priesthood. But if you mean that you don't accept women as priests and bishops because you don't accept anyone as priests and bishops, on the Anglican model, I won't quarrel with you!

  5. Peter, the big if is what is the function of an ordained person in the Church of England, given that we only have three 'orders', none of which exactly ties in with the biblical model (though that needn't be an entirely fatal objection), and all of which reflect pre-Reformed 'Catholic-ontological' suppositions about the Church and its ministry (hence 'halfly-reformed'). This is why the ordination of women to the priesthood and their consecration to the episcopate is both a problem for people like myself and why their 'inclusion' into those structures has distorted and confused the debate.

    Easy answers there are not!

  6. Hmm, when was the last time anyone went to an ordination in which the prayer book rite was used?

  7. I marvel that with a shortage of ministers, this particular minister is able to devote so much time to writing this meandering nonsense.

  8. However, I marvel that with a shortage of decent posts, a certain nameless poster could be bothered to inundate us with his/her tripe.

    Oscar Wilde
    Elysian Fields

  9. Tim Keene comments

    The way authority and teaching and leadership cohere is something that I think is unclear. Belleville has commented that nowhere in the NT is authority (exousia) linked to church leadership. Thus I think some careful thinking needs to be done on this issue.

    On pragmatic grounds, the link between teaching and leadership is also problematic. The skills needed for teaching are not identical with leading. Although some able teachers are also able leades, some able teachers are lousy leaders. Some able leaders are quite modest in their teaching skills. Yet in some church traditions, and Reform is a good example, the two roles are virtually identified.

  10. When The popular comment layout is common, so it is easily recognized scanning to post a comment. If the comment section is in a different format, then I am going to spend more time trying to decipher what everything means.

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  11. Tim Goodbody,
    You ask an important question,"when was the last time anyone went to an ordination in which the prayer book rite was used?" I'll hazard a guess and say not in a bloody long time. I have been using only the 1662 BCP for all of our Services since 2003. I rather doubt there is even one other parish in the entire USA that uses it. All we have over here are either self-described Anglo-Catholics who follow either the Anglican or American Missals or even use a Roman Missal, or you have folks who use the American 1928 Prayer Book or you have the TEC and AC/NA crowd who use either the American 1979 Book or just make up their own services as the Convergence Churches do, with the requisite appeals to some questionable antiquity. No, 1662 is what I have used, what I am using and what I will continue to use.

  12. If you say to ones who favors WO, "let's have a debate about this where we hold ourselves accountable to Scripture and tradition (however defined), they will refuse to debate. The AC-NA crowd is all over the board on the question and it defends itself by claiming that the diversity demonstrates that God is with them. Mind boggling. I'm with "1662 BCP" in this, but AC-NA is so far from having common ground on anything related to doctrine that the prospect of a godly debate on something as complicated as WO is out of the question.