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!