Following my last post about the book ‘Managing Clergy Lives – Obedience, Sacrifice, Intimacy’ I’ve had some conversations that have further challenged my own thinking and understanding of Priesthood. Whilst I don’t recognise in myself the understanding of Priesthood that seems to saturate the book, I do recognise this understanding in the wider Church of England and in other denominations as well.
A reminder of the understanding of priesthood expressed in the book:
“Clergy in the sample expressed an ontological understanding of the ‘indelible character change’ brought about sacramentally in ordination.”
I’ve also started to see that the understanding of priesthood encountered in the book doesn’t only affect those who are priests, it affects our congregations as well. It is this realisation that has struck me in the past weeks. If those who are ordained as priests believe that they are ontologically different because of their ordination then this is reflected and reinforced by the members of our congregations believing this as well. The Church of England, along with many other denominations, has taught this understanding in theology, liturgy and tradition over generations. It is embeded in our buildings, church culture, our clothing, our sacraments and the structures of our church life. The result is that we are a long way from the biblical understanding of priesthood, discipleship and the church.
Many say they believe in the priesthood of all believers, but in practice believe that the priesthood of those ordained as priests is different to the priesthood of the people. In the Anglican Church this is reflected in our buildings where the Chancel and Sanctuary have traditionally been the domain of the priests and in many cases these areas were, or still are, separated from the rest of the church by grills, screens or iron railings. It is reflected in our attire where those who are ordained are expected to dress differently to everyone else. It is reflected (dare I say it) in the administration of the sacraments where it is only a Priest who can ‘consecrate’ the bread and wine. It is embeded in our culture where if the vicar hasn’t visited then the church doesn’t care, despite numerous other members of the church visiting and caring in practical ways.
Ephesians 4: 11-12 says: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service …” Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus doesn’t say that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors & teachers are to do the works of service. No, he says they are to equip everyone else to do the works of service. Church leadership should be about equipping, empowering and releasing everyone in the church to be disciples who make disciples. The difficulty is that we have a culture in our churches that is the very opposite of what the bible says.
If we are to reach our community with the Good News of the love of Christ we have to find a way of living like we believe in the priesthood of all believers and not just saying we believe it.
The relationship between priest and people has been one where the priest has been the benefactor, providing what people need spiritually, and pastorally. And people have willingly received what was provided. This model fits well within our consumer orientated society and has become deeply embeded in the consciousness of both priests and people. The problem is that this is not what the bible teaches.
I personally struggle because this model is embeded in me as well, despite my belief in the priesthood of all believers, and my belief that church leaders are called by God to equip every member to live as disciples who make disciples. I also struggle because we have very few models of church that aren’t based on the benefactor/consumer relationship.
I believe we need to renegotiate the relationship between priest and people, the trouble is I’m not sure what the new relationship should look like!