Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The duty and calling of ministers


 What is the duty, purpose, and role of a Christian minister?  In particular what is the Anglican view of the ministry and responsibilities of a Presbyter/Priest? 

In an age when church discipline is often not only deficient but entirely absent and when personal holiness is far from the priority of many who would claim the name of Christian this is of great importance.  In this series of posts I do not intend to consider issues such as so called apostolic succession or the alleged need of bishops for valid ordination.  Instead we will merely consider the teaching presented about the life and ministry of the priest in firstly the exhortation and secondly the Public Examination found within The Ordinal of 1552/1662.  We are using The 1552/1662 Ordinal because it was written by the Reformers, best reflects their vision, and it alone remains the doctrinally authoritative teaching on ministry in view of its part in the confessional Historic Formularies  of the Church of England.

Right at the start though I need to make something clear - what has motivated my writing these posts is not my thinking my ministry is all these things and everyone else's should be too.  Rather, to be honest, it is a deeply set feeling that I could do more and be more for my Lord, that my ministry could be more fruitful than it is if I held the teaching and vision of ministry in The Ordinal before my eyes each day and dedicated myself to exemplifying it.  I don't say these words and ask these questions to be 'holier than thou' but to seek to be simply holier than I am.  I feel convicted that the whole-life encompassing nature of ministry is something that I have not always exemplified or modelled as well as I should.  This series of posts arose from my exploring this sense of inadequacy and in the grace of God seeking to, as it were, 'gird my loins' and recommit myself to fulfilling my vows and the great joy/burden that the Lord has chosen to place on my shoulders.  It is my prayer that others would seek the same changes in their lives and ministries and by coming back to the richly biblical teaching of The Ordinal we can together model a renewed and revitalised form of gospel ministry where Jesus is most certainly King and our lives are poured out each day for Him.

Some thoughts for starters:

A few preliminary things.  Firstly, the use in the Church of England of the word 'priest'.  This has led to unhelpful assumptions and erroneous confusions.  The English word priest is merely a shortened form of presbyteros  or 'elder' in the Greek New Testament.  Presbyter and priest are 100% interchangeable in Classical Anglican theology.  Elsewhere in our formularies priests are also called 'ministers' and 'pastors'.  The role of the biblical presbyter can be seen from the ministry of the apostles and their successors.  This ministry was nothing like the Jewish priesthood or various pagan priesthoods whose chief role was to offer sacrifices and intercede on behalf of others—the role of the presbyter was to proclaim the gospel, teach the faith, and lead the saints (as modelled in The Ordinal).  The Greek New Testament even have a completely different word for sacrificing priests 'hiereus' (Latin: sacerdos).   Under the New Covenant there is no sacrificing priesthood because Jesus Christ is the Great High-Priest who as both the final and ultimate sacrificer and sacrifice on the altar of the cross fulfilled for all time the need for such a ministry.
Secondly, a bit of history.  The first ordinal created by the Reformers in 1550 was immediately seen as unacceptable, it was never going to be the final version but was rather a stop gap measure till The Ordinal could be completed in 1552.  It was in the 1550 Ordinal that the stole for deacons was removed and the chasuble for priests was omitted.  The 1552 Ordinal got rid of the albs worn by deacons and priests and the cope worn by bishops.  It also excised the giving of a chalice and paten to priests, and the episcopal staff to bishops.  All of these practices and customs had only existed for around 500-700 years.  The was no anointing with oil for any of the services of ordination—a practice seemingly absent for the first thousand years of the church anyway.   Except for minor variations in language the 1552 Ordinal remained unchanged in 1559 and 1604. In 1662 we got The Ordinal we now know.  The 1662 version had a few minor changes including the change of 'pastors and ministers' to 'priests and deacons' in the litany, the limiting of deacons to baptise only in the absence of priest, changes in the readings and another version of the Veni Creator plus a new collect.   The words of the consecration of priests and bishops was changed and for the first time bishops-elect were told to be vested in a rochet.  There were only two minor changes in wording relevant to the exhortation and examination which I will mention later. 
The Ordinal, though vaguely following the order of the Latin versions, is largely a completely original composition.  The services were drawn up by Archbishop Cranmer and eleven others (five bishops and six other learned men), unsurprisingly Cranmer is understood to have had the most influence.  The Exhortation is heavily based of the writings of Martin Bucer who was asked by Cranmer to share his wisdom and guidance on the making of The Ordinal—it is thus no surprise that the vision of ministry in the exhortation is very Protestant and Reformed.

            In the few first posts we shall consider the teaching of the Exhortation by breaking it down into the sections helpfully demarcated in The Tutorial Prayer Book by Charles Neil and J.M. Willoughby.  I have very conservatively updated the English of the exhortation for ease of reading and to make this fantastic teaching more accessible to the 21st century—if you wish to follow in the exact words of the 1662 you can use your own BCP in which the service entitled 'the ordering of priests' is found near the back.  I have placed after each excerpt the relevant Scriptures from which it is drawn (which I can think of and in no way exhaustive) followed by a reflection on the text and some questions for ministers to reflect on.

 1.  The Dignity of Priesthood.

You have heard, brethren,
as well in your private examination,
as in the exhortation which was now made to you, and
in the holy Lessons taken out of the Gospel and the writings of the Apostles,
         of what dignity and of how great importance this office is, to which you are called. And now again we exhort you, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
       that you have in remembrance,
              into how high a dignity, and to how weighty an office and charge you 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 evil world,
              that they  may be saved through Christ for ever.

"one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity." 1 Timothy 3.4

"Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching." Titus 2.7

"As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker serving you; as for our brothers, they are the messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ." 2 Corinthians 8.23

"A person should consider us in this way: as servants of Christ and managers/stewards of God’s mysteries. 2In this regard, it is expected of managers/stewards that each one of them be found faithful."  1 Corinthians 4.1-2

As for you, son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from My mouth, give them a warning from Me. If I say to the wicked, ‘Wicked one, you will surely die,’ but you do not speak out to warn him about his way, that wicked person will die for his iniquity, yet I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn a wicked person to turn from his way and he doesn’t turn from it, he will die for his iniquity, but you will have saved your life." Ezekiel 3.7-9

"As I live”—the declaration of the Lord God—“because My flock has become prey and food for every wild animal since they lack a shepherd, for My shepherds do not search for My flock, and because the shepherds feed themselves rather than My flock," Ezekiel 34.8

Jesus commands Peter to 'feed my sheep' in John 21.15, 17  in John 21.16 He calls on Peter to 'Shepherd my sheep'

May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the community who will go out before them and come back in before them, and who will bring them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s community won’t be like sheep without a shepherd.”  Numbers 27.16-18

"Even while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led us out to battle and brought us back. The Lord also said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel and be ruler over Israel." 2 Samuel 5.2

"I will give you shepherds who are loyal to Me, and they will shepherd you with knowledge and skill."   Jeremiah 3.15

"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood." Acts 20.28

 "Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly;" 1 Peter 5.2

"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19.10

The private examination referred to is the process of making sure someone is fit for such an office, the exhortation is a sermon given before the service.  The Anglican view of orders and what they constitute is thoroughly biblical and, as in all Anglican services, Scripture is read. 

The first thing to notice here is that the ministry is a 'high dignity' and of not only 'great importance' but is also a 'weighty office.'  When one thinks of dignified people or careers they are likely to think of judges, lawyers, royalty, or positions like being mayor, president, or a university chancellor.  All of these things carry a certain 'weight' to them both in terms of power, authority, and general respect.  They are all, likewise, greatly important to the good governance and growth of the nation.  It is into such a revered category that ministers are to be included.  This should bring before one's mind the importance of living in such a way as is understood to be not only dignified but also dedicated and committed to a higher cause and vision. 

What exactly though is the very essence of this weighty and dignified office?  It is, to use the language of Scripture, to be messengers proclaiming the decrees and truths of God, watchmen warning of the need for repentance and the dire consequences of sin, and stewards acting on behalf of their Master for the good maintenance of the Kingdom.  In particular this is seen in the calling of the minister to teach the faith, to 'premonish' which means 'to forewarn of sin and judgement' whilst feeding and providing for the Lord's family much as a shepherd would their flock or a father figure their family.  This emphasis on teaching as the fundamental purpose of ministry is found throughout The Ordinal.

The 1552 Ordinal had the word 'pastors' between 'watchmen and stewards.' This was dropped in 1662 as part of the tightening up of terms, it makes little difference though as the imagery of a 'pastor' is more than adequately covered in the imagery of a shepherd and his sheep.

 But the duty of the minister is not just to teach and build up the Lord's family who are at His table, it is also to evangelise; to actively and purposefully seek out — a powerful image — the lost sheep and children of God who are ensnared by the evil and wicked world around them.  If these sheep are not found then they will not be saved, and such a weight makes clear the heavy burden of ministry. 

The use of Ezekiel's 'watchmen' and the reference to premonishing both the faithful and the lost in this evil world shows that a fundamental aspect of the minister's job is to teach about sin and damnation.  It simply will not do to teach only of 'love' and rolling around in fields of flowers whilst being surrounded by a marshmallow-y cushion of divine mush.  God tells Ezekiel that if the watchmen do not warn people of sin and the coming judgement then their lack of repentance, their judgement, their punishment, will fall on the minister.  To not speak of sin to those both within and without the church is tantamount to inviting judgement upon yourself.  

In an age of everything being 'post-something' the call of the minister to above all things teach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth must be utterly immutable and unchanging.

Would people describe my life and work ethic as one of 'dignity' and my going about my duties as reflecting a 'weighty office'?

Do I see teaching (in its many forms) as the most foundational and important aspect of my ministry?

Do I truly premonish and admonish, call to repentance, and proclaim God's judgements those both inside and outside the church or do I shy away from this?

Is my ministry well balanced between shepherding the flock I already have and seeking out the lost sheep around me?

Does the weight of the reality that those who don't know Jesus are not saved inform my ministry each and every day?

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