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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The New Creation Means New Appointments

It seems that we lay ministers expect the priest to do everything! I understand that parish priests need to oversee and to counsel. 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!


Anam Cara said...

I see teachers in The Church. And I see those who exhibit the other gifts found in various places: administration, helps, hospitality.

Too many people, though, seem to only come on Sunday - some only on sporatic Sundays. leaving the lion's share of the work (mowing the lawn, perparing for coffee hour, etc.) to a minority.

But it's true that I wonder where the healers and workers of miracles are.

I have always wondered about my gift. The little "evaluations" so common in Protestant classes seem to be flawed in the manner of determining a gift. Just because I WANT to do it, doesn't mean I'm good at it - that it's my gift. I just stumble along, doing what I can and wondering if it matters.

But I've often thought that if I could choose my gift instead of unwrapping one with my name on it, I'd choose healing. I don't know how many times I've wished I could lay hands on someone and see him completely restored! As much as I desire it, I can't imagine stepping out in faith and trying it. I would be so devisated if it didn't happen. Instead I go home and pray, like lots of others (but perhaps not as faithfully as many - I'm afraid I'm not a prayer warrior) - and wait.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Anam Cara, you've pointed to the serious problem of spiritual complacency. Add to that the desire of some clergy to control everything and do it all, and it is no wonder that so few discover and claim their sacred appointment in the Church.

There is an interesting discussion running at T19 on the ordination of women to the priesthood.(These WO threads always run over 150 comments, so this is a topic that clearly concerns people.) So far not a single person has hinted to the possibility that the Church doesn't make women priests because of the natural order of things. Paul never implies that the Kingdom of God overthrows the created order. His ranking of appointments in the Church is based on the assumption that there is an established order to be honored by those who "fear" God. The creation was declared "good" and the new creation is a restoration of the goodness of the original.

If God had sent his Son to be incarnate our in age and appointed Paul an Apostle among the pagans of our time, we would have a different gospel. But as the Scriptures teach, God sent His Son at just the perfect moment in time. That moment and place were not arbitrary, but perfect. The worldview of St. Paul and the other Apostles is the worldview of the Bible. Bible believers are to hold thai worldview, no the view of post-modern America.

Lvka said...

He, Noah gave the head (of Adam) to Set [wisdom], the arms (chest) to Japhet [military] and the feet to Ham [slavery].

And it wasn't from the feet of Brahma, but from the dust that shook of from the feet of Brahma.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ivka, Where did you find this?

"He, Noah gave the head (of Adam) to Set [wisdom], the arms (chest) to Japhet [military] and the feet to Ham [slavery]."

We see again this idea of rank and appointment using the image of the human body.

Lvka said...

Tradition. (Church Chronographs, for instance).


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.