Monday, December 13, 2010

Ordination grounded in Scripture

Last night I preached at a diocesan ordination service in which four men were ordained as deacons. I do not think it helpful to reproduce the whole sermon as the whole sermon is also the way it was delivered, and the small ad libs within it as it progressed. But at the heart of the sermon was a theological argument for one understanding of ordination rather than others. The essence of the argument is that some understandings of ordination lurk in our church - more strongly lurking in some periods and places than in others - which do not measure up to Scripture itself, in this case to Acts 6:2-6 and the development of ministry recounted there.

"At least two mistaken views of ordination have been toyed with in the life of our church. They may even be lurking undetected in some of our minds tonight.

I am going to call one view ‘bureaucratic.’ Ordination, on this view, is a quaint way of becoming an Anglican minister. It is really just an administrative step with symbolic actions in order to become a minister. Other churches make ministers in other ways, but this is the Anglican way, so we need to go through it in order to be a minister in this church.

The other view I will call ‘mechanical.’ Ordination, on this view, is part of a system of salvation. Guarantees of salvation via baptism, absolution and eucharist rely on ordained priests to make these actions valid. Being made deacon tonight is a necessary step on the way to becoming priests. Once made a priest one can contribute as a working part of the machine of salvation.

I suggest that neither such view is true to Scripture. In our readings tonight we are confronted with God as the author of mission and chooser of missioners – the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, Stephen, Philip and others. Ordination is responsive obedience to God ordering the life of God’s mission.

In the Acts reading, the needs of God’s mission determine who is chosen to assist the mission in its growth and development. The initial order of ministry, the apostles, cannot cope with growth and its consequences. A new order of ministry, in today’s words we might say, ‘a new layer of leadership’ is developed.

Those ordained neither go through a necessary bureaucratic procedure nor become part of a machine of salvation. Hands are laid on them to draw them deeper into the dynamism of God’s work in the world, as well as to set them apart for specific tasks in the life of the church.

The view of ordination here in Acts is dynamic, not bureaucratic or mechanical: the Holy Spirit works flexibly as the church develops new needs; and the Holy Spirit works powerfully and unpredictably through these seven ordained men."

I went on to observe that Acts never describes these seven deacons as actually serving at table! They perform miracles and preach the gospel powerfully. Discerned as full of the Spirit, after ordination they have an even greater fullness of the Spirit.


liturgy said...

My question remains, that I asked earlier: why ordain them? You write, “Guarantees of salvation via baptism, absolution and eucharist rely on ordained priests to make these actions valid.” This is not quite right. No one relies on priests to make baptism valid. In some denominations, eg RCs, not only priests (& bishops) can bless, etc. In our own church there is clericalism in seeing real lay leadership as being dressed up priest-like (or as one of Sunday’s ordinands declared online, “wearing a dress”) and being up front doing priest-like stuff. The danger, I posit, to being unable to articulate this clearly, is that lay ministry and leadership is confused and emasculated. I suggest this is the case in our church. I suggest even your use of the term “ministers” affects the concept of the ministry of all the baptised. Further, if you are seeking “ordination grounded in scripture” I would like to see you argue scripturally for the need to ordain them deacons prior to ordaining them priests. I suggest that in fact, from a scriptural point of view, the ordination to the diaconate was precisely merely “this is the Anglican way, so we need to go through it [being ordained deacon] in order to be [later ordained a priest] in this church”.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,

I accept looseness re my remark about baptism: deacons can baptise, laypersons in emergency.

My own preference (e.g. were I a vicar setting the order of a new parish) would be not to have robed lay leaders of worship.

My use of the term 'ministers' in the context of the sermon was an attempt to use the language of those I associate as perhaps holding to the 'bureaucratic' view. Otherwise I agree that the use of the term 'minister' in the context of tlak about ordination needs great care.

An argument from Scripture for deacons-then-priests? I would argue that Scripture is silent on the question of whether deacons became (or could become) presbyters or bishops. That raises the question whether deacons-then-presbyters is a sequence contradicting Scripture: I do not understand it to be so. The Acts-deacons were ordained to undertake certain tasks. In reality they took up (and proved themselves at) other tasks. In certain ways, some at least (Philip, Stephen) showed themselves to be apostle-like (apostle then being the presbyters of the Jerusalem church; though later added to by non-apostles such as James). I cannot see anything contradicted in Scripture if we were, somehow, to discover that Philip was also ordained as a presbyter.

Mention of James raises the question you ask in a different manner: if we assume (as I think you do) that James became a presbyter of the Jerusalem church without first being a deacon of the Jerusalem church, do we not then have Scriptural grounds for direct ordination to the presbyterate/priesthood, then we do have grounds.

Why would the Anglican church not take up these grounds? Well it could and should if in a worldwide assembly it agreed with the argument for direct ordination. Perhaps the next Lambeth Conference could resolve accordingly and perhaps the member churches of the Communion could treat that resolution respectfully!

liturgy said...

I have no problems with ordaining someone to another order, eg. ordaining someone a bishop who had already been a priest, or ordaining someone a priest who had already been a deacon. I am very open to being persuaded, but I am not currently persuaded that not being a deacon first would invalidate direct ordination to priesthood or episcopate. If you are arguing from scripture – I can find no such requirement. I am less open to being persuaded that confirmation is a requirement for ordination, as it is in Anglicanism. A priest friend of mine did not have his Presbyterian confirmation accepted – and had to be episcopally confirmed first. A bishop had slipped through a couple of orders without being episcopally confirmed, and was so confirmed prior to episcopal ordination. I sense no call to the diaconate, but since the Anglican Church only functions by only ordaining deacons to the priesthood, God, in calling me to the presbyterate must put up with Anglicanism having me a deacon for a year – in that sense God must have gone “O well, if I have to, yes – in the sense of needing to get through this to get to where I’m calling you, yes OK, you are called to the diaconate for a year.”

Brother David said...

I will be so bold as to profess belief that as Anglicans our whole theology of ordained and lay ministry is all screwed up. So I would vote in favor of an honest rolling up of the sleeves and working that out. Forget Lambeth. Nothing the bishop's decennial tea party hands down would carry much wait with me. If the bishops want to endorse the work of a world-wide team appointed through the ACC, I would appreciate that. But I would prefer that it was propagated from the ACC and ratified by the provinces.

Zane Elliott said...

Good to see robust discussion on this topic. I think that the conversation here, and the deacon who described "wearing a dress" (I got chided for using the same turn of phrase at Nelson's Christ Church Cathedral!) demonstrate that this needs to be wrestled with urgently.

Younger people called to ministry I have spoken with find the bureaucratic wheels, which seem to turn oh so slowly, a continual frustration. I was told very clearly that my period in the diaconate would not be the token one year which Bosco mentions - yet one year to the day I was ordained presbyter.

The Anglican church globally and within AZNP needs to get a grip on ordination otherwise by an emerging generation it is relegated to the realm of old fashioned oddities.. much like my dress.

Andrew Reid said...

Peter, I'm interested to hear if you think what is happening in Acts 6 is different to appointing a qualified lay individual to become the children's minister at a church, commissioning him/her for the role before the whole parish, with a licence from the bishop? That has all the elements of Acts 6, does it not? Yet, there is no "ordination" taking place. I've always struggled to understand what is happening at ordination services. Sure, there is an official nature to it, and they can now take greater responsibility in church leadership, teaching and ministering the sacraments. But are we sure ordained ministry really needs to be so distinctive from other forms of ministry?
Absolutely we want people of Godly character, who are able to teach and equip others for ministry. God does call some to be apostles, teachers and prophets, and others to different forms of ministry. Yes, there are deacons and presbyters as distinct roles in the NT church. But, do our Anglican trappings give the impression that ministry is for the ordained only?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Zane,
Younger people are quite capable of understanding that mistakes can be very painful and thus the church's processes are not 'slow' so much as 'careful' in order not to ordain people who find that no one wants their ordained ministry.

I would advise all readers not to describe clergy robes as 'dresses'. I have noticed this tendency is endemic. I think it demeaning to the symbolism of the robes (which are about our life in Christ), and also demeaning of women.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew,
In my experience hands are not laid on children's workers being presented with a licence (though I accept that in some churches this can and does happen).

A key difference is whether or not the licensed worker is taking up a ministry role as (1) a lifetime calling, (2) as part of the church's higher layers of leadership, invested with due responsibility for the doctrine and practice of the church. In the context of Acts 6, are the licensed church workers you refer to being invest with responsibility to sort out squabbles in the church? :)

Part of my sermon, which I did not excerpt, spoke to those not being ordained that night and reminded them that thousands of Christians were not ordained when the seven of Acts 6 were ordained, yet they continued their ministry of the gospel.