Friday, October 2, 2009

Anglican priesthood and eucharistic presidency (1)

A few posts below a stream of comments has been generated around questions of Anglican priesthood, with specific reference to presidency at communion and whether it is necessary to have a priest preside.

Last night, catching up on the internet, I noticed a comment along the following lines (wording deliberately revised so you cannot google this person!), "Anglican ordination is coming up for me soon, but it's not my understanding that a priest is required for eucharistic presidency. Hope no one finds out before I am ordained (despite me giving my diocese and my first name in this comment)."*

Here, for what it is worth, is a brief and beginning reflection on the reasons for priestly presidency, from an evangelical perspective:

(1) Many things Anglican, including priestly presidency, have been inherited unreformed from the undivided church of the apostles, first bishops, and church fathers. To reform them now should be on the basis that we now have sufficient grounds to judge that (a) the English reformers were wrong to pass this reformation by, and (b) our ancient forbears in the undivided church were wrong. I suggest that sufficient grounds should include a Communion wide consensus for change. I do not detect such an emerging consensus, do you?

(2) Evangelical Anglicans have many options to progress the cause of evangelicalism, including leaving the church for another, or founding a new church, as has happened on many occasions in the past (Puritans, Dissenters, Methodists, Brethren, etc). If the strength of concern over priestly presidency is sufficient to seek change without consensus then the door to departure is open. Conversely, evangelical Anglicans who remain in the Anglican church need to squarely face the fact that our church is a church in which many Anglicans are committed to priestly presidency, unlikely to change that commitment, and thus it might be a better investment of time and energy appreciating why we have priestly presidency rather than arguing against it!

There is a subsidiary note to this observation: as I understand the way other denominations work, the number of non-Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox denominations which permit 'lay presidency' at the eucharist is less than the number of non-Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox denominations! That is, it is not uniquely Anglican within the Protestant wing of the worldwide church to have a high view of the connection between 'the minister' and eucharistic presidency!

(3) The fact that many Anglican churches permit lay preaching but not lay presidency is not a very good argument for permitting lay (or diaconal) presidency. The premise seems to be this: the ministry of the word and the ministry of the sacrament are equal, so if one, then the other. But such argument cuts another way: if the unintended consequence of sharing the pulpit between lay and clergy is pressure on eucharistic presidency, why not prohibit lay preaching?!

That's enough for today ... more to come on another day.

* I am not sure which is the more egregious misunderstanding: re Anglican eucharistic presidency or the public nature of internet comments :)


Janice said...

You're a teacher. How about a bit of teaching on this issue for an ignorant lay person such as I am. Given that "The Reformers" are, apparently, now believed to have been wrong about making maleness a prerequisite for priesting why should anyone necessarily think they were right about making priesting a prerequisite for presiding at communion? I really don't get it but would like to.

The rector of the church my mother used to attend moved on to different pastures and left only a (male) deacon behind. So that was the end of communion for Mum and the other (mostly) old dears. But it turned out that the bishop can give permission for a deacon to preside at communion. After a little while and, perhaps, some prodding, he did just that. So Mum and the other (mostly) old dears could have communion again.

If a bishop can allow a deacon to preside at communion when there's no priested person available, and a priest can give permission for a deacon to preside at communion when the priest is away, why shouldn't deacons, or any other person licensed by the bishop, be automatically approved to preside at communion when the priest-in-charge has moved on or is otherwise unavailable? Why should it take a positive act by the bishop or priest-in-charge, whether of remembrance or goodwill, to enable the laity to partake of this meal?

I've gladly become used to partaking of the communion meal every week rather than only once a month. The remembrance is very important to me whatever it might mean that communion is a sacrament. Our priest will be leaving at the end of next year. Who knows how long it will take before we get another? What I do know is that I don't want to be deprived of sharing in the meal just because of some rule that I don't understand.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Janice
Some of what you ask I hope I can deal with in the next part or the part beyond that!
But some specific points of reply are:
(i) the argument for priests presiding is gender neutral, so Reformers (and many other teachers of the church before and since then) who are now deemed wrong re insistence on maleness are not necessarily wrong on priestly presiding;
(ii) I do not know anything much about the polity of your diocese and/or province which permits a deacon to preside (on the face of it, contrary to 98% of all Anglican practice);
(iii) different Anglican provinces have different ways and means of ensuring regular communion can be provided, but all such ways and means should be consistent with priestly presidency: ultimately a shortage of priests for the church is a challenge for bishops to overcome which they can overcome for they have authority and power within the Anglican way to ordain priests sufficient for the needs of their diocese (including interim periods between vicars or rectors);
(iv) your question, "why shouldn't deacons, or any other person licensed by the bishop, be automatically approved to preside at communion when the priest-in-charge has moved on or is otherwise unavailable?" looks like it has a simple answer such as "just let them", but it also has another answer, "when priestly ministry is required, ask God (and the bishop) to provide".

Rosemary Behan said...

I have no axe to grind in this debate Peter, but no scriptural reasons?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary
All scriptural reasons will be sought, with suggestions welcomed!
The reality is, I think, that Scripture lays down no definitive, one-size-fits-all system of church leadership, hence pretty much all denominations say, 'Look, the way we operate is according to Scripture'.
So the development in the early church, in the late first and early second centuries, of episcopacy and then of a presbyterate or priesthood is something Anglicans respectfully inherit, trusting their forbears to have known what they were doing as the immediate inheritors of the apostles.
But I have a post or two to come and some thinking to do before making the next one!

Rosemary Behan said...

Hmm, I'm not sure that 'trusting their forebears' is going to cut it today. As Janice has pointed out, we haven't 'trusted our forebears' when it comes to the issue of the roles of women, or indeed the priesting of practising homosexuals, what are your reasons for saying we should do so in this case?

Please know that I am NOT saying we should not trust our forebears, just pointing out that I don't think that reason will fly today.

Anonymous said...

Rosemary asks pertinent questions.
Q. Where is the scriptural backing?
A. It doesn't exist. 'Lay presidency' almost certainly happened in the house churches of the apostolic period.
I don't know if the Magisterial Reformers really addressed the question of 'eucharistic presidency'. Do you? AFAIK, they were more concerned with the question of 'real presence' and eucharistic sacrifice. On the whole, they were fairly conservative minded men. Luther was hardly reformed at all in his understnading of the 'priesthood'. The Radical Reformers were another matter. (Munster and Zwickau ...)
Peter comments that we should 'wait for Communion-wide consensus'. But Anglicans didn't do that for WO - not NZ, not Ecusa. But this completely shattered the 'branch theory' of Anglican orders.
It is comparatively easy for a Catholic to articulate his or her belief on the matter (because of Rome's conciliar dogmatism), much harder for an Anglican.
Why NOT follow the logic through and ban lay preaching?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anon1 and Rosemary

Neither priesting women nor practising homosexuals overturns the inheritance from our forbears that priests preside. Within the Roman Catholic church exist groups that would like to see a more Anglican-like approach to women and practising homosexuals, but I do not presume such groups would share any thought that concomitantly lay presidency should also be on the agenda!

Scripture is another inheritance from our forbears which we trust. I hope that cuts the mustard!

Anonymous said...

"Neither priesting women nor practising homosexuals overturns the inheritance from our forbears that priests preside."

Not an answer to the question, Peter. You haven't clarified WHY Anglicanism retains this discipline but not others. You haven't explained WHY Anglicanism changed its practice to allow lay people to preach - or broke with the universal church in ordaining women.
As for the RCs, all kinds of dissident "groups" exist within it, esp. in the US, but none of them speak with doctrinal authority. Catholic teaching as articulated by the Magisterium is clear.
Re your later posting on Calvin and Orthodoxy, his affinities with early patristic writers is well known to aficianados. The Institutes are replete with such references, esp. on apophatic theology. See Gerald Bray's 'The Dcotrine of God' for details. I haven't checked Bk 4 on the Lord's Supper in recent years, but I wouldn't be surprised if he supported an epiclesis *on the people* in the eucharist. Very charismatic, actually! This is different from an epiclesis on the elements (as the Romans do, in their transubstantiationist theology).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anon1

I do not know why 'Anglicanism' has done some things, but I will hazard a guess that sometimes it acts in a 'reformed' manner, and sometimes in a 'catholic' manner, and sometimes the results will seem inconsistent!

The retention of priestly presiding would (I imagine, I have not surveyed the minutes of all relevant synods and conventions) be a mixture of (a) desire to remain in touch with RC and EO churches, (b) lack of agreement between the evangelical and catholic wings of Anglicanism to do otherwise, and (c) a lack of momentum towards lay presidency ... even in Australia where a momentum for lay presidency in Sydney is strong, the momentum does not seem to be carrying the majority of dioceses.

Your observations about Calvin's theology bear my point precisely re the non-necessity of Scripture undergirding each practice of the church: there is no Scripture which talks about transformation within the eucharistic service (whether of elements or of the people) but that does not prevent Calvin making a reasonable (and, calling upon Eastern Orthodox sources, somewhat traditional) case for transformation!