It has been interesting to follow comments to my post a few days ago drawing attention to a post or two on lay presidency at the Ugley Vicar. I am not particularly persuaded by some comments so here I take the opportunity to share a few thoughts of my own.
(1) The way we order our ministry within different churches is impossible to align precisely with Scripture because Scripture is unclear on the matter of any preferred order for ministry. Just before anyone challenges me on the previous sentence, please be prepared to tell me about how the order of widows works in your church.
(2) Consequently the way we order our ministry is likely to be informed by a mixture of tradition (the way things have been done) and of theology (the way we think things ought to be done in respect of sound theological principles). That tradition may be very longstanding (so Roman, Eastern, Lutheran and Anglican churches) or it may be more recent (so Presbyterian, Pentecostal and Plymouth Brethren), and in all cases (that I am aware of) some connection is made with Scripture as support for the tradition (and some may go so far as to assert a total scriptural justification for the tradition).
(3) Given the sheer longevity of the ordering of ministry involving bishops, presbyters (priests, understood as a synonym for presbyter, being a contraction of that word), and deacons, it is reasonable to argue that this is the preeminent ordering of ministry within the breadth and length of Christianity. By 'preminent' I do not mean that this ordering may not be questioned, have alternatives put up for consideration, nor that it has suffered no variations through the years that might be appropriately revised or renewed (e.g. (and without particularly wanting myself to discuss this matter), it is, as I understand things, something of a travesty of the original establishment of the diaconate that deaconing for some churches is now simply a year or so as an apprentice presbyter). But the fact of the matter is that most Christians through most of time, including our generation, have lived out their corporate experience of Christianity within the ordering of ministry marked by bishops, presbyters and deacons. This should in my view weigh a bit more heavily on the minds of some Protestants than it does. It is also a reason why as a Protestant, evangelical Christian myself, unpersuaded by all the claims of the Bishop of Rome, and suspicious of the cultural and theological bondage of Eastern Christianity to certain points in times past, I find it congenial to remain and, indeed, promote Anglican Christianity.
(4) Consequently the most reasonable starting point for considering the possibility that the eucharist might be presided over by a non-ordered person (i.e. 'lay presidency') is not that the churches have misunderstood the leading of God in the ordering of ministry re the orders of bishop, presbyter and deacon (though some misunderstanding may have crept in, e.g. where celibacy is insisted upon) but that the right and proper enthusiasm of the local church to celebrate the eucharist together weekly might be impeded by a shortage of bishops and presbyters. This indeed, as I understand our own Kiwi Anglican discussions of lay presidency, has been the reasonable starting point.
(5) An adjunct point is that it is somewhat churlish to implicitly if not explicitly criticise desire for weekly communion as a sort of Johnny-come-lately phenomonen driven forward by obsessive 'parish communion' type Anglicans. The desire for weekly remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the Lord's day through the sharing in eucharistic celebration is entirely consonant with Scripture. If some Anglicans in some century or another did not have this desire, well, good on them, but that is no basis for not doing our best to ensure the weekly celebration of the eucharist.
(6) So, what to do about a shortage of presbyters and/or bishops? There are, as canvassed below in comments to the previous post on lay presidency, three logical options:
- license lay presidents,
- ordain more priests (and/or bishops, but perhaps all here are united in thinking that fewer rather than more bishops is a good idea!), or
- develop extension of communion from one place with presbyter to another without presbyter.
(7) Speaking to the first option I have generally found in listening in to Anglican conversations about lay presidency that we never talk about an open lay presidency (say, like the Plymouth Brethren) but always about a select lay presidency. That is, we mean that a lay president would be educated, trained, mature, respected by the congregation, enjoying the confidence of diocese and parish. I find it difficult at this point to distinguish the suitably qualified hypothetical Anglican lay president from the real possibility of such a person being ordained to be a presbyter for the congregation concerned.
(8) As Bosco Peters points out, we have a history in Kiwiland of ordaining 'more priests' but sometimes in such a way that some very significant questions are raised about training and education of the 'more priests.' Nevertheless we have experience of some superb 'local priests' being ordained, trained and educated well (which need not mean to a Master's level). My solution to the lack of priests? Ordain more (but train, educate and support them).
(9) Yet a real question will remain for some congregations about where their presbyter would come from because, frankly, that person is not currently in the midst of the congregation. Well, extended communion is a fine option, and which is in various places well used (and, in our church, provided for liturgically in our NZPB).
To sum up: there is, on closer inspection, no need for lay presidency.
That's quite a bold conclusion :)