Saturday, 21 April 2012

Lay celebration -- integrating our word and our ministry

I’m glad to see my earlier posting on lay celebration sparked at least some discussion, both here and on other blogs — such as here and here.
Whilst much of the attention of the Church of England (including my own) is understandably focussed on issues of human sexuality and also on the introduction of women bishops, the question of lay celebration is, to my mind, not at all peripheral to issues of mission. And in the practical doing of mission I believe we will actually address these other issues.
It is through conversion that people enter into a right relationship with God, and it is in a right relationship with him that his word, and the doctrines it entails, becoming living and vibrant influences in their lives.
Thus, as others have pointed, the question of women bishops is indeed a ‘missiological’ issue. But this means that it can also be addressed missiologically, as well as having implications for our mission. In other words, as the Church becomes mission-focussed, so good theology will tend to come into play to challenge the bad.
And it is as a missiological issue that I raised the question of lay-celebration. So in this post I want to take that further and try to explain why I think it is so important.
To begin with, we must go back as far as possible ‘ad fontes’, to the basic biblical concepts which ought to control our thinking. But what are they? I would actually distinguish three separate, but inter-related, strands, namely ‘priesthood’, ‘ministry’ and ‘sacrament’.
Clearly, in the Church’s history and practice regarding the Lord’s Supper, the first and the last have become closely interrelated. Indeed, in some minds they are inseparable. But where does each begin — what is the ‘root’ from which they grow?
The roots of priesthood
How far back in the Bible must we go, for example, to lay the foundations for our thinking about priesthood? Our first instinct would probably be to look in the Law — perhaps Leviticus or Deuternomy.
Interestingly, however, the apostolic doctrine circumvents the Law, going instead to the example of Melchizedek, the mysterious figure with whom Abraham meets in Genesis 14. Yet he is the one who sets a precedent for the priesthood of Jesus since, as the writer of Hebrews observes,
No one takes this honour [of priesthood] upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:4-6, NIV)
So at very least we can say that the origins of priesthood lie outside the Mosaic Law. But we can go back further than this.
In Genesis 2:15, Adam is placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (ESV). ‘Working and keeping’, however, was also the ministry of the Mosaic priesthood. Thus in Numbers 18:7 we read how God says to Aaron,
And thou and thy sons with thee shall keep your priesthood for everything of the altar, and for that within the veil; and ye shall serve ...(Num 18:7a, ASV)
Or again,
Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him. And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle. And they shall keep all the instruments of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle. (Num 3:6-8, KJV)
Thus it has been suggested, rightly in my view, that Adam’s original commission in the Garden is essentially priestly in character. And indeed this would fit both with what Genesis 1 has to say about the nature of humankind and with what they are commissioned to do.
In Genesis 1:26, we read that God made Man in his image and gave mankind dominion over the living creatures. And then in 1:28 they are told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.
As God’s image-bearers, human beings stand in the place of God in his creation and thus their commission is to continue his work of creation by conforming the world to his will. In this sense, therefore, by mediating God to the world and the world to God, they act in an entirely ‘priestly’ fashion.
Most importantly, however, we must understand that this first ‘Great Commission’ is fulfilled christologically. It is Christ who is the true image of God, and it is he who fills the earth and subdues it. But he does this in and through the Church. Thus Ephesians 1 is echoing Genesis 1 when we read,
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph 1:22-23, ESV)
And this should help us understand the priesthood of all believers, for this ‘priesthood’ is to be understood not in ‘Levitical’ terms, as a demarcation within the people of God, but rather as what the people of God are meant to be, as the new humanity standing in a priestly relationship with everything else in creation (including the as-yet unredeemed).
Like the Old Testament law itself, the Levitical priesthood is a stop-gap, in no way setting aside the covenant previously established with Abraham and awaiting its fulfilment in Christ (Gal 3:16-18). Unlike some the early church Fathers, then, we must not look back to the model of the Levitical priesthood for an understanding of ministry within the people of God.
As members of the body of Christ, we are one with him. Insofar as he is Prophet, Priest and King, so we are participants in that same prophethood, priesthood and kingship. This is the actual point being made in Galatians 3:27-29:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring [Gk, sperma, ‘seed’ singular], heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27-29, ESV)
There is just Christ — a singular ‘seed’ — not ‘seeds’, some being Jew, some Greek, some slave, etc.
But what, then, of the ‘ministry’? Here, the idea of the ‘body of Christ’ provides another useful framework for our thinking. On the one hand, there is only one ‘body’. On the other, a body has — indeed needs — many parts.
Thus within the New Testament Church there is a division of labour. Not everyone has exactly the same gifts. But here is where biblical thinking so often departs from our own, for according to the biblical analogy all parts of the body are essential, and none is capable of operating as ‘the body’ without the others.
It is an undeniable fact of history, however, that the structures the Church rapidly developed, and which the Anglican church certainly left substantially unchanged at the Reformation, puts all the emphasis on one part of the body, and leaves the others as the ecclesiological equivalent of ‘vestigial organs’.
Hence we see the difficulty the Church of England has had in changing the ‘one man band’ model of ministry, despite (since the end of the Second World War) decades of serious and genuine efforts to do so.
And here we must point to the missiological implications of our ecclesiology. If we say that we believe in ‘every member ministry’ (member in the biblical sense of ‘limbs and organs of the body’), but in practice find ourselves seeing Christian communities constantly dominated by one class of individual — namely the ones in dog-collars — shouldn’t this be telling us we’ve got our ecclesiology wrong, and until we get it right, we will struggle with our missiology?
Word and sacrament
Now some will rightly come back and say that in the New Testament we do find a ministry of leadership, and that this is closely associated (indeed, arguably identical with) the ministry of the word. Ought not our own structures to reflect this?
And indeed I believe they should, because this is what we indeed find in the pages of the New Testament. To take but one, albeit particularly famous, example, in Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul writes how Christ 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 ... (ESV)
There are, however, a number of features we should note here when considering whether this is what we find being put into effect through Anglican orders.
First and foremost, the ‘work of ministry’ (ergon diakonias) is the task of the Church, not the task of those given as ‘gifts’ to the Church by Christ — the people itemized in v11.
Secondly, the way that the saints are equipped for the ‘work of ministry’ is through the efforts of ‘apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers’, all of whom in some way are ‘ministers of the word’.
This is why, when Timothy and Titus are tasked with the appointment of elders, they are to look for those who are “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2) and “able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Tit 1:9). There are other qualities which these elders need to possess, and other things the elders do as well as teach, but if there is any distinction to be made between New Testament ‘deacons’ and ‘presbyters’ it is probably at this point of teaching ability.
There is no mention in the New Testament, however, of what we might call a ‘sacramental ministry’. Indeed, when it comes to this ministry, the Apostle Paul is remarkably (indeed almost embarrassingly) ‘hands off’:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor 1:17, ESV)
Not, of course, that Paul was ‘anti-baptism’ (even here he mentions Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas as people he did baptize). If we are to make sense of what he says here, however, it suggests that baptism was generally left to others — which if people responded in any great numbers to Paul’s preaching was perhaps for practical reasons.
Nevertheless, it does suggest that what we treat as a closely-regulated aspect of the Church’s life and discipline was something the Apostle would happily delegate.
Some have quoted the opinion of Calvin against baptism being performed by women. But part of Calvin’s argument is that Christ “appointed the same persons to be preachers of the Gospel, and dispensers of baptism” (Institutes IV.xv.22), and much as I hate to disagree with the great man, I find this hard to square with Paul’s own words quoted above.
Indeed, I have already referred to Luther’s contrary view, that women can indeed baptize, and that on the grounds that there is only one ‘priesthood’ in the Church, in which all participate.
Luther’s argument, however, depends not just on his understanding of the priesthood of all believers, but his understanding of the relationship between word and sacrament. And here again I believe he has something helpful to say.
In Anglicanism, it seems to me there is considerable confusion as to how the sacraments ‘work’. Cranmer was keen to exclude the notion of a sacrifice from the Lord’s Supper, and in this he succeeded, but what we are left with sometimes seems like simply a ‘doctrine of the real absence’ in place of the former doctrine of ‘real presence’. In other words, it is less clear what we are doing than what we are not.
Luther resolved this problem through his doctrine of the Word. For Luther, it is the Word of God which does the work of God, and the sacraments are no different, for in the sacraments we just have a word made specific to the individual through the instrument of an outward sign.
A ‘sacrament’ is, in this sense, no different from a sermon. However, where a sermon may be long and may not have the desired impact on everyone, the sacrament is brief and to the point: “The body of Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.”
Once we see things this way, however, we realize that the benefit of the sacrament comes to us entirely in the same way as the benefit of the sermon, or indeed the benefit of hearing the gospel preached to us in any form — namely by us hearing the word with faith.
Luther’s doctrine of the ‘real presence’ may be a stumbling block to Anglicans at this point, since it would seem to imply a benefit deriving from a change wrought in the substance of the elements. But this is not how Luther himself viewed things. For him, the point about Christ’s presence was the need on to avoid mysticism based on mere ‘calling to mind’ or ‘introspection’ regarding our own faith or faithfulness. Faith in the ‘real presence’ of Christ was, in his view, a necessary safeguard. Nevertheless, as the following quote shows, the efficacy of the sacrament lay in the word:
If now I seek the forgiveness of sins, I do not run to the cross, for I will not find it given there. Nor must I hold to the suffering of Christ ... in knowledge or remembrance, for I will not find it there either. But I will find in the sacrament or gospel the word which distributes, presents, offers, and gives to me that forgiveness which was won on the cross. Therefore, Luther has rightly taught that whoever has a bad conscience from his sins should go to the sacrament and obtain comfort, not because of the bread and wine, not because of the body and blood of Christ, but because of the word which in the sacrament offers, presents, and gives the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for me. (Against the Heavenly Prophets, LW 40:214)
Notice how for Luther ‘sacrament’ and ‘gospel’ are synonyms! The sacrament is thus the word of the gospel.
Now we need not accept everything Luther says, any more than we must accept everything said by Calvin, Cranmer or the Church Fathers. However, I suggest that Luther’s insight is helpful, as is his conclusion that the priesthood of all believers is granted through the word, which belongs to all believers.
And once again this has significant missiological implications, as Luther observes:
The first office, that of the ministry of the Word, therefore, is common to all Christians. This is clear, from what I have already said, and from 1 Pet 2, “You are a royal priesthood that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” I ask, who are these who are called out of darkness into marvellous light? Is it only the shorn and anointed masks [ie medieval ‘priests’]? Is it not all Christians? And Peter not only gives them the right, but the command, to declare the wonderful deeds of God, which certainly is nothing else than to preach the Word of God. (LW 40:21)
Is it not the strength of evangelicalism that we have encouraged all Christians to evangelize — to declare the praises of God, whether they are ‘ordained’ or not?
But do we not undermine this encouragement of the whole people of God in evangelism by our retention of a ‘sacramentalist’ model of ministry?
Interim Conclusion
This post is already far too long! I therefore want to conclude with an observation from history, namely that where the gospel has empowered what we wrongly call the ‘laity’, it has actually proved most effective in transforming both Church and society. And this is particularly so when it comes to that great unreached section of our society, namely the working classes.
For all its faults, and they were substantial, it was Methodism that reached the ‘workers’ when Anglicanism did not. And yet historically ‘lay preacher’ is something we associate with ‘Methodist’ more readily than with ‘Anglican’.
I began posting on this topic out of the conviction that the Church needs radical change just at the point where our society needs radical help. This is not about ‘iconoclasm’ — tearing down what has traditionally been part of the Church to satisfy a destructive urge.
Rather, I am looking at our lack of impact evangelistically and asking whether we are not actually our own worst enemies in this respect.
This is why I think the question of lay celebration needs to be aired — because it is in the end a part of our preaching, both in what we say and in what we do.
Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend:


  1. Besides the "priesthood of all believers, there clearly are other types of priests authorized among Anglicans. For example, in the 1662 BCP, the matrimonial service has all the marks of an ordination of the husband to be priest to his wife. The words "With this Ring I thee wed" are both priestly and sacramental. Of the ring, it says "given and received is a token and pledge" of the covenant between them, and thus the ring is a "sacramental" in his priestly service. Husbands are priests, and the "Solemnization of Matrimony" is the rite of ordination, as it were, to this priestly calling.

    It's no wonder that 1 Timothy 3 calls for presbyters and deacons to first be faithful husbands.

    Now if a husband is ordained in the Church to be a priest to his wife, it implies that he is authorized to perform the full range of priestly functions within the calling of his family; teaching, pastoring, baptizing, absolution, and even celebration of the Lord's Supper. Although priests can be differentiated from one another by their calling; one to serve a church congregation and another just his family, I can think of nothing in Scripture to suggest that the license of one priest is lesser than another in terms of the range of his duties, except of course for the High Priest, and for us that is Jesus Christ himself.

  2. Revd John - Have you read Michael Ramsey's 'The Gospel and the Catholic Church'? Written when Ramsey was in his early 30s and a masterpiece of theological discussion. I think it is a MUST read for anyone who claims to be an Anglican, no matter where they sit on the theological candle! He touches on many of the points you have raised in the above.


  3. Dominic Stockford23 April 2012 at 10:31

    The trouble is, the ecclesiology and reality clash.

    So, when a congregation wants to continue an early communion, but the minister is no longer able to do it they suggest some others (lay) to take it. However, one would not (rightly so), and the other I would be very uncomfortable taking it. There is a lay man who could in that congregation, but who would not want to. I might be able to persuade him.

    But for him to do it would become so divisive, not because of who he is, but because he isn't either of the others, and because of the way so many people choose to firstly see snubs to others in actions, rather than a Gospel standard being upheld, there is currently no obvious way forward.

    Groan. Maybe we can talk about this when we meet!

  4. Dominic. May I suggest your answer is in the last para of John's heading under 'Ministry' above? I quote:
    "And here we must point to the missiological implications of our ecclesiology. If we say that we believe in ‘every member ministry’ (member in the biblical sense of ‘limbs and organs of the body’), but in practice find ourselves seeing Christian communities constantly dominated by one class of individual — namely the ones in dog-collars — shouldn’t this be telling us we’ve got our ecclesiology wrong, and until we get it right, we will struggle with our missiology?"

    I suggest this is exactly right in that whilst the Anglican church (and others) continue to perpetuate what is in effect a closed 'system' and particularly the false "clergy/laity" divide which appears nowhere in the NT, then associated problems of how to effectively engage in real "body" ministry will continue.

    You say "there is currently no obvious way forward".
    I suggest there is as I have tried to raise before as a route out. The solution is for a staged dismantling of the present clergy/laity dichotomy and start believing and applying the simple NT pattern laid down for us - in say 1 Cor. 12-14. Eph. 4. Romans 12 & etc. If that was good enough for the early churches then surely it ought to be good enough for us? It has the virtue of being established by apostolic authority.
    Was there something wrong therefore with the NT pattern that it should be so easily abandoned for the entrenched tradition which obtains at present?

  5. John,

    I agree with the parallel made between 'gospel' and 'sacrament'. However this raises more questions than answers them and most prominent is - in Scripture, can anyone in the congregation preach when we are gathered together as God's people on the Lord's Day? From passages like 1 Timothy 2 and 2 Timothy 4 I would say no - that role is limited to the elders of the congregation and should therefore be handled by them, and only them.

    Kip' Chelashaw

  6. Kip. I disagree with your premise that the pastoral epistles (1 tim 2 and 2 Tim 4) should be used as proof texting as justification for preaching in the church, and particuarly as is practiced as a completely one man ministry today.
    Timothy was what we may call Paul's deputy, or an Apostolic delegate in a temporary situation sent by Paul to re-assert the pure doctrine of the Gospel in the Ephesian churches (in Paul's absence), and in particular to counteract error in the form of the Judaists and their strange doctrines (1 Tim 1:4,7 and 4:7) circulating there.
    It was therefore a 'one off' mission of pastoral supervision in the esablishing of the early churches, to preserve the purity of the Gospel at the outset, and not a situation to be woodenly read back into modern 'pulpit ministry' monologue. Of course Timothy's ministry MAY have included such addresses, but this was not the norm in the early church, and the context of the pastorals should therefore be borne in mind.
    What then was the "norm"? Certainly not the monologue "sermon" of pulpit minsitry today, although again, occasionally that may have a place.
    In the Pauline fellowships ministry would be a very flexible, but nonetheless identifiable pattern of mutual ministries as set out in 1 Cor.12-14, where every one had something to contribute for the edification of the gathering - 1 Cor. 14:26 & etc.
    Wer should remember that there is not a single NT passage or verse which enjoins one man's solo 'ministry'!
    The ministry of the Word then is the privilege and responsibilty of all, and the Elders simply see that it is carried on as it should be. They are not "priests" ministering to a "laity", but leaders of equals. Not professors teaching a class that never graduates, but leaders of a team. Their leadership in the gathering would have been largely inconspicuous, and when all goes well in that mutual ministry then they would have no need to intervene.
    But to describe the multi gifted, multi expressioned forms of New Testament ministry and compressing these into the single word "preach" is a gross distortion of language. As David Norrington points out wisely "About 30 different words are used in the Gk NT for proclaiming the Word of God, but regrettably in the AV these are frequently and wrongly rendered as "preach".
    The tacit assumption is then made that the activity under consideration is similar to that undertaken by Christian clergy in their pulpits. This assumption often results in a serious misunderstanding of the text".
    I suggest that rather than an appeal to the pastorals to find the normal and habitual form of ministry, it is to Eph. 4, and especially 1 Cor 12-14 which provide us with that pattern.
    It cannot be stressed too strongly that the NT word 'preach' is in most cases referring to the initial message of the Gospel in an evangelistic context to unbelievers, not to believers in a Christian gathering

  7. Ephesians 4 should only be considered together with Ephesians 5 & 6, and 1 Cor 12-14 should be considered together with 1 Cor 11. Once this is done, it is not difficult to discern several priestly callings that should given special recognition in the Church:

    1. Of all adult believers to one another, emphasizing that all gifts in the body are priestly gifts, not just apostleship and teaching.
    2. Of a man to his wife in marriage
    3. Of parents to their children
    4. Of a presbyter to his congregation

    I believe it is a mistake to recognize only #4 as a priestly calling. All of these callings require preaching, teaching, prayer, sacrifice, orderly discipline, etc., and the required credentials for #4 are success in #1, #2, and #3. One can see clearly that a progression is laid out for a man to prove himself in his calling as a confirmed Christian, husband and father before being called to pastor the church.

    If you can accept that all of these callings are priestly callings, then it is logical to conclude also that no "priest" is restrained from specific aspects of priestly ministry within his calling, and thus might a husband serve the Eucharist to his wife and a father might celebrate as head of his household.

  8. Graham,

    Thanks for your comments about what I wrote. 2 brief responses. I never said that preaching was a one man solo affair. Notice the plurals in what I wrote - elders, them. Second, why do you prioritise 1 Corinthians 12-14 over and above the Pastoral epistles? If the Pastorals were written as one-off and shouldn't be read back into modern ministry, then why wouldn't the same apply for 1 Corinthians?


  9. Thanks for your comment Kip, and apologies if I missed or minterpreted your reference to a plurality of elders.
    Your question is I think a very interesting one, and one that sent me scurrying back to look more closely at the scriptures concerned!
    I believe the answer lies in the separate and different problems and contexts which mark the pastorals as opposed to the Corinthian churches. Here are a few points which I see emerging from your question:

    1. In the Pastorals Paul is writing personally to both Timothy and Titus, with directions about the ordering of the churches pending his return (see 1 Tim:1:3; 3:14; 4:13, and 2 Tim. 1:4.) We might therefore call it a "holding operation"

    2. In the Pastorals then Paul was chiefly concerned with WHAT was being preached and circulated in the form of gross error and a denial of the Gospel itself by the Judaisers which he was concerned Timothy should correct.
    The situation in Corinth was quite different. Here Paul was writing to churches, not on WHAT was taught, but rather on the HOW they should meet together in the light of their excesses concerning spiritual gifts and lax morals.

    3. I believe therefore that in 1 Cor. 11-14, and indeed in Eph.4, Paul is laying down permanent principles as to how the saints should gather. (thus also 1 Cor 13 emphasises the permanent principle of the operation of love in all things). Rom. 12.4-8, and 1 Peter 4:10,11 suggest that such mutual ministries were an accepted and normal part of the Christian meeting - in other words a pattern which Paul commends.

    4. It is interesting that 1 Cor 11-14 are the only NT passages which actually tell us what went on in the churches. They are therefore not only descriptive, but also PREscriptive, (1 Cor 14:37) and set in the wider context of spiritual gifts, which again, are permanent provisions by Christ for his churches.

    5. The primary purpose of the Christian gethering was mutual edification (not a "worship service" !) which Paul emphasises repeatedly in 1 Cor 14, and of course it is assumed that all the members of the "body" gathered are potentially at least, able to engage in this process. As I think I mentioned there are at least 58 "one another" references in the NT suggestive of how important mutual ministries were regarded by the NT writers.

  10. Graham,

    Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 also prescriptive?


  11. K Thanks for the further interesting, and in the context of this discussion, entirely logical question.
    I would like to come back to you on this for the verses (together with those of 1 Tim.2) raise to some degree at least an entirely separate thread - namely that of the status, and place of women in the church, which is as we know ias hotly contested. Maybe our Moderator will permit this hugely important issue being raised.
    At this point I make one simple point. Yes, I believe 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is indeed prescriptive, but I suspect for precisely the opposite reason for those who oppose the ministry of women in the church. i.e. my own view is that Paul, far from attempting to establish the silencing of women in the NT church, he was chiding the Corinthians for their attempt to keep women silent.
    This would appear to be a contradiction of the actual text, (leave aside for a moment the different cultural context of 1 Timothy).
    However, this apparent contradiction is clarified and much by way of new light is thrown on the text by a number of conservative and biblically faithful scholars - male and female. I believe their arguments, and their consensus for a positive view of women's ministry are overwhelmingly convincing. My time has gone right now, but Moderator permitting I would like to come back to you on this.

  12. I can think of nothing in Scripture or in the Anglican formularies that would lead to a female elder/overseer except as a priestly leader of her own household. On the other hand, neither can I think of anything preventing a layman from this role, including but not limited to leading at Holy Communion, provided that he be called "in the congregation", and if he be called then it ought to be with the Scriptural principles of Christian maturity in mind.

    1 Peter 2:1-5 describes men as "living stones" from the point of regeneration, yet that they are built into the "spiritual house" as a "royal priesthood" only as mature Christians who are no longer babes.

  13. Aaytch. A simple question which I have raised before, and one prompted by your reference to "layman" as for other posters.
    Whilst the artifical distinction between "lay" and "clerical" is assumed it can only continue to confuse and muddy the waters of any discussion on ministry.
    As we know the NT simply does not make that distinction - it is one of the deeply entrenched traditions of institutional Christianity.
    It is a truism that Paul's (NT) teaching about ministry in the church, assume a New Testament view of the church, and this can be found only by reference to Scripture.
    I would have thought that Paul's clear teaching about the nature of the "body" of Christ in Romans 12, the equality, indispensability, and necessary functioning of each part in its members would silence completely the artifical concept of "lay".
    Dispense with that and a proper discussion of ministry can then proceed without the extra biblical complications.

  14. Kip. Returning to your interesting question: "Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 also prescriptive?"

    I replied above that I believe it is prescriptive, though not for the reasons you may suppose (I don't know your position) On the surface these verses understood traditionally appear to prohibit the ministry of women outright and this has formed, in part, the basis for what is considered to be "Biblical orthodoxy" on this issue.
    Evangelicals for the most part also believe in the 'prohibition' based on their desire to be faithful to what Scripture teaches. But is it right?
    For many years, in company with these I personally took the verses at face value - that is until I discovered that there are many evangelical conservative scholars and contemporary writers who take an entirely opposite view.
    Most of these are known in the States, though not widely, and their views have not been publicised over much due in part to entrenched prejudice for the traditionalist view. Some may not be aware that the list of commentators holding this view, and associated bibliography is impressive!
    Some of the more popular are known over here, but these are few. In particular Joanne Krupp ('God's Plan Not Man's Tradition'); Cheryl Schatz ('Is there a law that forbids women from teaching men?').
    However, the groundbreakng work emanates from Jon Zens, a conservative scholar, and fairly well known in the USA.
    His contribution to the debate is clear, relatively short, and very well researched. (What's With Paul and Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background of 1 Timothy 2')
    In the same work he comments on this crucial passage in Corinthians. Briefly summarised his argument is:
    "Male and female prophesying (ministry) was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Paul approved of the prophesying of women 1 Cor. 11:5. In 1 Cor. 14 he saw the whole body involved in this ministry "each one of you has a teaching" (v26)..."You may all prophesy".

    How could the same apostle Paul, a few pen strokes later turn around and unequivocally designate women's speech in the body as unacceptable? I have always felt that verses 34-35 did'nt sound like Paul.
    The matter is greatly cleared up with the realisation that Paul did not write the negative words about women in vv34-35. Instead,those basing their view of women on the oral law(The Talmud) did. Paul never required women to be silent, but the Talmud did so (describing such speaking as 'lewd and filthy')
    Thus the "law" that the Corinthians refer to (v34) is not the Old Testament (which Paul as an ex Pharisee knew very well) but rather their own oral law from the Talmud. On that basis they reasoned (v35) they must be "silent".
    Paul utterly refutes their position and in verses 34-35 he quotes their words from the Talmud back to them in indignation and rebuttal.
    Zens concludes: "We are doing Paul a disfavour and discrediting his intelligence by accusing him of originating this statement, rather than understanding that he was simply quoiting theirs" (Corinthians).
    I believe this position to be biblically sound, logical, and consistent with the rest of NT teaching which never diminishes the place and ministry of women, much less prohibiting them. Zens work cannot be recommended too highly IMO.

  15. Graham. It is difficult to find a Scriptural distinction between layman and priest, because all adult laymen are priests. On the other hand, it is quite evident that there is a distinction between layman and presbyter (or elder). The term "layman" is not artificial. The problem is with the term "priest", and the distinction of presbyters as the only priests in the congregation. That is clearly unBiblical. The presbyter may (or may not) be the only priest called to minister to the congregation at large, but there is nothing whatsoever that keeps a congregation from calling any man to any ministerial role provided he meets the requirements of 1 Timothy 2.

    Now as for your assertions about women, you go way too far, probably because you fail to note that every Christian is a "living stone", and every "living stone" is built into the "spiritual house" as a member of the priesthood, but NOT every member of the priesthood is a head of household or an elder in the church. See 1 Peter 2-5. Regardless of your strained textual criticism in 1 Corinthians 14, the same doctrine is found in Titus, 1 Timothy, Ephesians, and 1 Peter.

  16. Aaytch. John stated in his closing comments:
    "I began posting on this topic out of the conviction that the Church needs radical change" Indeed, and never more so than in its institutional perpetuation of the "clergy/laity distinction.
    You say: "It is difficult to find a Scriptural distinction between layman and priest". I agree, and therefore why not drop such unbiblical references altogether which are alien to the church of the New Covenant?
    I can only repeat that the single greatest barrier to the mutual ministries which Paul prescribes in 1 Cor. 12-14 and implied in other NT passages, is the perpetuation of the "clergy/laity" dichotomy. It simply does not exist in the NT. I suggest that the whole point of Paul's argument in 1 Cor. 12 about the body is to explain the necessity of "every part" of the body of Christ in a functioning ministry - as opposed to the single "one part" (vicar, pastor, leader etc) which we have substituted.
    Surely the NT perspective is of the people of God as one body, including leadership by elders, and all these together comprise the "kleros" or "clergy", that is, God's inheritance. But institutional Christianity has separated what God has joined together, and "clergy" (via 'ordination' are nominated solely as those responsible for ministry - a terrible perversion of Paul's teaching.
    This leaves the majority of church members entirely passive week by week, and as one has tartly expressed the problem: "all one has to do is to BE there" !
    No wonder then that churches are so painfully weak and often ineffectual, with potential gifts for ministry atrophied or extinct.
    Paul's answer in Eph. 4 is simple and reveals that the appointment of Apostles, elders, teachers & etc is a MEANS TO AN END, namely the equipping of the saints for THEIR work of ministry, not an end in itself.
    Secondly, you say: "there is nothing whatsoever that keeps a congregation from calling any man to any ministerial role provided he meets the requirements of 1 Timothy 2".
    Please tell me where in scripture, the Pastorals or elsewhere, a congregation "calls" anyone into ministry?
    Elders either fulfill the qualifications Paul sets out or they don't! They are either gifted by Christ as Paul explains in Eph. 4, or they are not. Elders in their maturity, character, and general ability to be "apt to teach and gifted, are recognised by the wider church, but in no sense "called" by a church. But in any event the presence and functioning of a biblical eldership does not invalidate the rest of Paul's teaching about mutual ministries found in 1 Cor. 12-14.

    Re women in ministry, you say that I "fail to note that every Christian is a "living stone", and every "living stone" is built into the "spiritual house".
    On the contrary, it is because I do recognise this principle that I wholly support sisters as being included as equally "living stones" together with their male counterparts!

    You continue with the rather odd statement: "but NOT every member of the priesthood is a head of household or an elder in the church. See 1 Peter 2-5."
    What has this to do with the subject of ministry?
    In these chapters Peter has lots to say by way of generalised comment on the subject of Christian conduct and relationships - but where does he teach that Christian ministry is dependent on being the "head of a household" ?
    Where Peter does touch on mutual ministry (1 Pet.4:10,11) he merely confirms Paul's pattern of ministry in the Corinthian passages as would be expected and as being normal practice in the churches. I am not clear as to what are the "same doctrines" you refer to in Titus, 1 Tim. and Peter?

    Finally, you view my agreement with contemporary writers on 1 Cor. 14: 34-35 as "strained". Do you have an alternative explanation of these verses?