Friday, October 31, 2008

Does acceptance of lay preaching imply acceptance of lay presidency?

A commenter on my previous post on lay presidency/diaconal presidency/Sydney draws attention to these issues, which also feature in discussion elsewhere re Sydney/presidency re lay presidency:

"In truth, I can't get too exercised about 'lay celebration' in a church that allows, nay encourages, 'lay preaching'. I have a hunch which of these - preaching or communion - impacts more on the life of a church. Does an Anglican priest exercise sole 'eldership' over a congregation, as you seem to imply, Peter? If he or she can share the preaching and leading of worship, why not 'presiding' at communion as well?"

Lay preaching and lay presidency: there is an attractive logic to the argument, if the parish priest can delegate the preaching duties to lay preachers, why not also the presiding duties ... especially if our underlying 'value' system refuses to prioritise 'word' over 'sacrament' and vice versa. I suggest, however, that this argument involves a confusion between 'gift' and 'office'. Lay preachers are appointed because in the distribution of gifts of ministry in the body of Christ they have been discerned as having appropriate gifts ("prophecy", "speaking") which enable them to serve the body of Christ in this way. (Incidentally in my view of things, lay preachers should preach ordinarily, and not just when the vicar is on holiday or cannot be in two places at once). The presiding at eucharist is not about who is gifted to do so, but about the character of the event which is the church gathering in communion for a symbolic meal. In Anglican understanding (IMHO) of the church gathering in fellowship for this meal it gathers around its local bishop as president, except when the bishop is not present it gathers around one of those with whom the bishop shares his or her presidency, namely one of the bishop's presbyters/priests. Thus the office of president of the eucharist is filled by the bishop, or a licensed presbyter/priest. This is our 'order' and this order should not lead to a deacon or lay person presiding, should there be a shortage of presbyter/priests, but could lead to new priests/presbyters being ordained.

Thus in terms of the comment above it is not a question of whether a priest exercises sole 'eldership' over a congregation but whether we share an ecclesiology in which the bishop and his/her college of presbyters/priests share eldership over a diocese. On this understanding it is entirely appropriate for a priest/presbyter from elsewhere in the Diocese to travel to another church to preside at the eucharist.

Nevertheless my thinking here can be objected to in this manner: the essential issue is 'order', order flows from the leadership of the bishop, and this order could extend from the bishop to include licensed lay presidents. Given that already in many parts of the world lay people are authorised to distribute communion (e.g. into the homes of the sick and infirm) and (perhaps less widely, but certainly in Aotearoa NZ) to preside over a communion service with appropriate words authorised from a prayer book and with elements previously consecrated, why could authorisation not extend to full presidency? Is the hesitancy to do this just an anglo-catholic hesitancy rather than a hesitancy shared more widely by Anglicans of other hues and stripes?

Again, I find this a reasonably attractive argument, and (to be honest) a compelling one re 'emergency' situations: if "even a lay person" can baptise an unbaptised person in an emergency, why could a lay person not preside at communion when all reasonable alternatives to securing the services of a licensed priest have been pursued?

Setting emergencies aside, I find I am not persuaded (or, not yet persuaded!!) by such an argument. If lay presidents are regularly used at the eucharist, and lay persons regularly preach, what use do we then have for priests/presbyters? If we say, 'well, none really, if we pursue the logic rigorously', then (effectively) we create a new version of priesthood in which the "new style priests" are licensed to minister but not ordained. If we say, 'well, we ordain priests/presbyters to the ministry of leadership', it does seem strange to me that such leadership is not primarily focused on leading communities of faith in the central act of worship, communion together in obedience to Christ's command.

Indeed I often observe a paradox in Anglican talk about lay presidency: since it is never talk of a Plymouth Brethren kind (i.e. any adult lay member of the congregation may, as the Spirit leads, step forward to preside over Communion) but always about an episcopally authorised lay person presiding, which, inherently, is about a lay person with the confidence of both parishioners and of bishop, the qualifications for lay presidents pretty quickly look very like the qualifications for being a priest/presbyter! If more presidents are needed for our eucharistic life, why not ordain more?


Anonymous said...

Peter, thanks for responding to my post. A few comments:
1. 'Lay preachers'/Readers also function with the bishop's license and are authorized to minister thoughout a diocese, just as presbyters are. Did you know that Hensley Henson of Durham opposed having women readers because, he said, 'If you do this you'll have to ordain women!' FWIW I've never believed the modern catholic ecclesiological theory that the local presbyter operates 'in persona episcopi', as if the bishop was somehow mysteriously or spiritually present at every communion and baptismal service (as in the modern ordination words 'which is your ministry and mine'). Ignatius of Antioch had something rather different in mind when he spoke of a 'college of presbyters', for in his day an episkopos was more nearly what we'd call the vicar of a local congregation today - primus inter pares with his presbuteroi, as well. Of course, things changed as the church grew in numbers in the second century.
2. The next change in ecclesiology (I think) was a growing tendency in the second and third century to retroject the understanding of the Christian ministry onto OT priesthood ideas. This was understandable, as the Church defined itself over against the much larger body of Jews in the Empire from which it was separating itself, and as it sought to appropriate the Old Testament as *Christian Scripture. You can see exactly this trend in the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas (from Rome, c. 150), and in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho. The Church wanted to show it was the continuation and fulfillment of Israel of old, so it increasingly saw the eucharist as the fulfilment of the Aaronide sacrifices, believing this was foreshadowed in Malachi 1:11. So presbyters became 'kohanim' (rather than z'qanim), and the three things predicated of the Aaronides in (blessing the people, forgiving sins, offering sacrifices) were now transferred to the Christian ministry. Anglicanism never fully shook off these late classical and medieval ideas, since lay people today (and deacons!) are not 'meant' to 'bless' the people or pronounce absolution, far less 'preside'. Yet strangely, teaching torah to the people is a key part of the priestly ministry in the OT.
3. 'Communion by extension' is known in remote and rural parts of the Anglican world. In light of my earlier remarks, I can't help fiding this a bit odd and wonder why we don't have 'preaching by extension' as well - reading the vicar's sermon! I suppose I'm struggling with the implicit idea that there has been some kind of objective change in the elements by virtue of a prayer being said by a particular individual over them - a thought that smacks too much of transubstantiation (or similar) for my liking. Receptionism is, I believe, the doctrine Cranmer taught.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Your notes raise some interesting questions (in my mind):
- to what extent are we bound by our history of development (as, e.g., outlined by you) and to what extent are we free to further develop our character as a church through history (e.g. by agreeing to lay presidency)?
- should we drop ordination altogether, and simply license appropriate people to do what is required (one advantage of which is not being stuck with ministers who turn out to be unsuitable yet have been "permanently" (or "indelibly?") ordained?
- (an alternative way of putting the above question) do we want to be a church with distinctive orders of ministry, and, if so, what are those orders, their distinctions and limitations?
- might we be better off with centralised teaching (which is easier these days with youtube/projectors etc)?

So, right now, but I retain the right to change my mind, my thinking is that lay presidency should be pursued simultaneously with abolishing the priestly order of ministry!

Anonymous said...

Peter: now I will sound very conservative compared to your questions! There were a range of interesting answers to Alan Wilson's blog, some borne out of the experience of rural Canada. 'Ordination' with the laying on of hands is part of the NT church and not something I think we are at liberty to dispense with. All who have been ordained have, I believe, a lifelong calling which is to be practiced in their daily devotional lives (the Daily Office!) and in their bearing toward others, whether or not they are actively involved in church ministry. The Church (and the world) will always need publicly recognised leaders. I understand that Anglican ecclesiology is in large measure a compromise, and in these desperate days for the Communion I don't want unnecessarily to damage unity with the more catholic-minded. But maybe this is just putting off the evil day. Tec and Canada are going full steam into apostasy - can you hold back the tide in NZ, or maintain institutional unity along with spiritual integrity?
Not in our strength of course - prayer and faithfully preaching the world remain essential, however worldly wise our own answers.