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Thursday, September 21, 2017

All Christians are Ministers; Few are Priests



Alice C. Linsley

Most Christians denominations have a ceremony by which the clergy are ordained to their sacred office. Depending of the denomination's polity, the understanding of the relationships of clergy to bishop and clergy to laity will vary. Among Protestants, the tradition of the priesthood has ceased as they adhere to Martin Luther's innovation of the "priesthood of all believers." The tradition of the priest as a sacramental office is maintained among Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and Episcopalians.

As an Anglican, I have noticed that my parish priest is expected to performed many roles that should be done by lay persons. He is to visit the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the needy, visit in the homes, prepare sermons, oversee vestry meetings, counsel those preparing for matrimony, attend clergy conferences, submit parochial reports, and on Sunday stand at the altar in the one role that none but the priest can perform: celebrate the Holy Eucharist.

I understand that parish priests needs also to be a pastor, but the priesthood is a sacramental ministry and priests should not be so overly burdened that the sacramental ministry to which they are appointed suffers. The Apostles were so conscious of their sacred obligation to preach the Gospel that they appointed deacons to attend to other necessary tasks.

So where are the workers who give relief to the apostles in today's parishes? Where are the other appointed ministers of which St. Paul speaks? Where are the prophets, teachers and healers? Or do we dismiss this part of Paul’s teaching? I don’t think that we can do that. Here is why.

In the Hindu RigVeda (1000 B.C.) and in the Laws of Manu (about 250 B.C.) four castes are elaborated as the primeval divine creation. Today so many sub-castes exist under these four that it is difficult for a Hindu to know who is one’s equal or one superior. This is why most Hindus are not concerned with what to believe as with who they may marry, what they may eat, and with whom they may eat. Hindus believe that this caste system represents the divine body. The Rig Veda says:

His mouth became the Brahman. (Priest class)
His arms became the Kshatriya. (Warrior and ruler class)
His thighs are the Vaisya. (Artisans and farmer class)
The Sudra was produced from his feet. (Poor untouchables)

This view of sacred appointments is not unique to Hinduism. It was a common belief in the ancient world, but one which Americans find difficult to understand. Our's is an egalitarian society in which people choose the work they do and often change jobs several times. We also choose who we marry. Not so in the ancient world! Archaic societies were strictly stratified and it was virtually impossible to escape one's place. One married within one's caste and inherited one's line of work.

St. Paul assumes this stratification to be part of God's design and tells people in the new churches to obey the authorities, to render service as unto Christ, and to do their job. Paul is often criticized for not speaking against the institution of slavery, but that would not have made sense in his context. Slaves and indentured servants worked in many castes, as God appointed. Many slaves were very well off. Paul regarded himself as a "slave" of Jesus Christ, but his caste was as a Jewish tentmaker.

St. Paul also explained that the Church is the mystical Body of Christ and each of us a part of His Body. His analogy of arms and legs, with Christ as the head, draws on an old tradition. The Church is the Body of Christ, a new creation ushered in by the Messianic age. This new creation has a different order of laborers appointed by God. In First Corinthians 12:27-30, Paul explains, “Now Christ’s body is yourselves, each of you with a part in the whole. And those whom God has appointed in the Church are…

First – apostles
Second – prophets
Third – teachers
Fourth – workers of miracles and so on

It seems that a healthy congregation should have apostles, prophets, teachers and workers of miracles, healers, exorcists, etc. And although we are not limited to one line of work, the work to which God appoints us should be clear in our minds and of first priority. Also, apostles should be held in the highest regard by everyone in the Church.

Imagine what might happen were everyone in the Church to embrace their appointment as the sacred calling that it is!


10 comments:

The Very Rev'd GRL3 said...

Great piece here. Full of truth and clearly stated. Thanks. Rick+

Steve Hayes said...

In addition to apostles, prophets, teachers etc there are also bishops, prists and deacons. Some have mopre than oen ministry -- St Philip, for example, was both a deacon and and evangelist.

And then there was Jethro's advice to Moses.

Alice Linsley said...

A wonderful observation, Steve!

DManA said...

In the novel "Ben Hur" Hur's slave is one of the richest men in the Roman Empire (though I guess technically it all belonged to Hur).

" Many slaves were very well off."

Alice Linsley said...

True! Many slaves in the ancient world were respected people of high social rank. Tiro, the secretary of Cicero, is an example. It is believed that the physician Luke, a disciple of Jesus Christ, had been a slave.

In the ancient world slavery was less of a commercial enterprise than it was a result of the fortunes of war. Defeated peoples were taken as captives and made to work for their new masters. Sometimes they remained on the land they called home, and sometimes they were taken to another land. There are two examples in the Bible: the slavery of Hebrews in Egypt and the slavery of high ranking Jewish officials in Babylon. There is a good deal of narrative embellishment surrounding the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt. This comes from the Deuteronomist Historian (700-300 BC). This is why there is no extra-biblical literature to support the picture created by the DH. The Babylonian enslavement was a much more ruthless experience and in telling the story of slavery in Egypt, the DH imposes the horrors of the Babylonian captivity on the earlier time of the Horite ruler-priests Amram, Moses, Korah and Aaron. Such priests were treated with respect among the Egyptians.

freshfirecoal said...

The adoption of Luther's "priesthood of the believer" as church government is such an Enlightenment idea. In "The Discarded Image" C. S. Lewis (I know, everyone overuses him, but this book really addresses the issue well) explicates the divide between the ancient world and the modern so well: the truth that we all are blessed by our God-given roles, whether we are "powerful" in the world's view or not. It is only in fulfilling these roles that we find our true joy. The modern lie is that we can create our own purpose. The Protestant ideal is just an early version of this.

freshfirecoal said...

The adoption of Luther's "priesthood of the believer" as church government is such an Enlightenment idea. In "The Discarded Image" C. S. Lewis (I know, everyone overuses him, but this book really addresses the issue well) explicates the divide between the ancient world and the modern so well: the truth that we all are blessed by our God-given roles, whether we are "powerful" in the world's view or not. It is only in fulfilling these roles that we find our true joy. The modern lie is that we can create our own purpose. The Protestant ideal is just an early version of this.

Alice Linsley said...

Very interesting, Freshfirecoal.

I attended a Lutheran Seminary and gained respect for Luther. However, there is no doubt that he sometimes goes too far in his interpretation of some biblical passages in his attempt to undermine the Roman hierarchy. He twists Peter's words to the Jews in the Diaspora - people who, as Hebrews, were of the royal priest lineages - to make all followers of Jesus Christ priests. This is abuse of Scripture.

freshfirecoal said...

That's interesting about his misinterpretation of Peter there. I didn't know about that one. I appreciate Luther's motivations and circumstances. I think he felt he was caught between a rock and a hard place, since he couldn't get apostolic succession (from what I understand). I find it difficult to look back at this point and be fair, since his "protesting" ideas have been so - over-interpreted? Misinterpreted? It's easy to just want to blame him for all of the rebellion, and that's not fair or just. So many of the Reformers, started out quite "Catholic," but ended up so far from the Early Church worldview.
~Cindy

Alice Linsley said...

Peter was writing to Jews whose ancestors are truly a nation of priests. To generalize this to Gentiles is to cause us to lose sight on an important historical reality.