A celebration of the ministerial priesthood representing Christ to help form his body
ISBN 085191 044 0
The Scripture quotations contained
herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the
Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of
Christ in the
1 Believing in the Priesthood 1
2 Consecrating People 6
3 Building Love 11
4 Convincing Authority 15
5 Empowering Priesthood 21
6 Waiting for Orders 26
7 Seeking Transformation 30
8 Looking to Jesus 36
A Prayer for Priests 42
tidings of Christianity are in what Jesus Christ did for men and in the abiding
energy of that work’. So wrote Fr. Bull, one of the most energetic priests of
the Community of the Resurrection, in the 1930’s. His preaching drew
Empowering priesthood like Fr. Bull’s seems scarce at the dawn of the Third Christian Millennium, as is priestly confidence in ‘the abiding energy’ of the work of Jesus Christ which is its basis. Yet Christ indeed retains the energy of his priesthood ‘by the power of an indestructible life’ (Hebrews ). The ministerial priesthood which continues in the Church is called as ever to be instrument of that empowering. ‘Far from diminishing his priesthood theirs is the continuation of its glory’ (1).
A crisis of confidence in the priesthood affects the vitality of the Church and her mission, which is the overflow of her life. What is needed is ‘not only…pragmatic models of (the priesthood’s) functioning but horizons and visions of its meaning and its truth’ (2)
The purpose of this book is to reopen some of these horizons by drawing afresh on the great Christian tradition. It echoes the sentiment of 2 Timothy 1:6-7 in its appeal for renewed confidence: ‘Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is with you through the laying on of hands, for God did not give us as spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control’.
I write in the year of my silver jubilee as a priest. Over twenty five years I have served four parishes, helped in the theological training of priests and most recently served as a mission officer, which has opened my eyes to the frustrations felt by many clergy today.
In recent years priests have presided over a severe decline in Church membership affecting their morale. At the same time serious questions have been raised about the ministerial priesthood itself. There is an attitude emerging that so emphasises lay ministry as to reduce priesthood to little more than a managerial function. A multitude of schemes have arisen to promote Church growth with very few having anything creative to say about the role of the ministerial priesthood in itself.
‘The most urgent need in the Church today’ we hear said ‘is for leadership’. The implication is that the Church needs leaders more than she needs priests. ‘The word leader is now being used as a substitute for... priest...there is a danger of a gap opening between a popular understanding of what ordination is about (‘leadership’) and the Church's understanding of that ministry captured in its liturgy and especially in the ordinals, which do not use the word’ (3).
The gap spoken of can be closed by one of two means. Either the ordinal can be changed and the idea of ministerial priesthood rejected or the Church recovers the priestly understanding of ordination as an instrument of empowering.
Just over a century ago a commentator on a Church crisis of his day penned words that resonate with our own situation: ‘I suppose that the deepest cleavage at the present moment in the Church of England is that between those who hold and those who deny the priestly character of the Ministry’ (4)
This book is unashamedly for the ‘priestly character of the Ministry’ as a gift to the universal Church guaranteeing its Godward focus and the centrality of Christ. The author attempts a celebration of the ministerial priesthood as traditionally received, representing Christ to help form his body, serving union with God and the ultimate unity of the human race. Those who hold reservations about the ‘priestly character of the Ministry’ are invited into dialogue with this restatement of traditional faith, which has an eye to the better serving of the vitality and mission of the Church.
In addressing the ‘triple office’ of Christ as priest, prophet and shepherd king I go back to three basics of human existence - love, truth and power. The balancing of these three makes or breaks the world. Where is the desire to love without the power to do so? How can power be creative without love? Can the power to love serve anyone without the guidance of truth? In Christianity we see a balancing of love, truth and power and we see it in Jesus. His triple office reflects this balance, a balance to be exercised by those who particularly represent his priesthood for the building up of his body in worship, fellowship, mission and service.
After the initial explorations of Chapters 1 and 2 this book attends in Chapters 3-5 to the representation of Christ’s triple office as priest, prophet and shepherd. The remaining chapters are concerned with the gift of discernment and how priests work for the transformation of lives. The last Chapter returns to the centrality of Christ as the One who has power to draw people to himself when he is lifted up in the Church.
The author would like to acknowledge the
assistance of the Diocese of London,
A special thankyou is due to Chris Davies,
Kate Tattersall, Fr. Tim Bugby and the people of
3rd July 2002
BELIEVING IN THE PRIESTHOOD
It is a parody, of course. Yet there are indeed those among the clergy who ‘hold the form of religion but deny the power of it’ (1 Timothy 3:5). The call for renewed spiritual leadership in the Church can be threatening to many priests. Consequently some of those impatient for growth see the institutional priesthood as an obstacle to be removed.
H.S.Box once imagined the consequences of abandoning the ministerial priesthood. ‘Forget the priesthood and the Church becomes an institution for man’s conversion instead of a spiritual temple for God’s worship; the prophet preaching to man supersedes the priest ministering to God; sacrifice becomes an obsolete idea, and religion is regarded rather as a satisfaction of man’s need than as a yielding to God’s claim’ (5).
In its essence the priesthood secures the Church to the primacy of worship and the claim of God upon her.
THE PRIESTHOOD OF CHRIST
In Christianity there is one priest. Jesus Christ the Son of God has come into the world to bind humankind and all that is to himself and to make a perfect offering to God. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of his priesthood and eternal sacrifice as well as of the ‘sacrifice of praise’ of Christians. The first letter of Peter portrays the baptised as living stones in a living temple from which the sacrifice of praise rises to God. The New Testament speaks repeatedly of the privilege of believers becoming living instruments of God in Christ. They are caught up in the exercise of Christ’s priesthood, which brings humanity to God and God to humanity. The book of Revelation addresses praise to Jesus Christ ‘who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father’ (Revelation 1:5-6).
Elsewhere in the New Testament we read of the
calling out of an apostolic ministry to serve this Godward calling of the whole
priestly people of God.
Austin Farrer draws a famous analogy between the emergence of episcopacy and ministerial priesthood as providential gifts to the Church and the emergence of the Canon of Scripture itself. ‘The apostolic testimony was a divine gift; it settled into the scriptures of the New Covenant and we have canonised the scriptures. The apostolic ministry was likewise a divine gift; it settled into the episcopate and we have canonised the office’ (6).
A SUBORDINATE LAITY?
In Christian tradition the one priesthood of Jesus Christ is held to operate in his Church drawing all the baptised into his worship of the Father and his quest for the outsider. The so-called ‘ministerial priesthood’ of bishops and priests provides ‘a kind of sectional, emphasised witness to that which is true of the whole’ (7).
In an ordination address Pope John Paul II underlines the missionary and empowering calling of priests: ‘This gift of the priesthood, always remember, is a miracle that was realised in you but not for you. It was realised for the Church, which is equivalent to saying, for the world that must be saved. The sacred dimension of the priesthood is completely ordained to the apostolic dimension, namely, to mission, to the pastoral ministry. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John )’ (8).
This traditional view of the priest as someone sent by Christ ‘to make his priesthood present and effective to his people’ (9) is criticised by Robin Greenwood as instituting ‘permanent subordination’ of the laity. He argues for the rejection of the personal representation of Christ in favour of a model he presents based on the Trinity, emphasising collaboration of clergy and laity. He insists that ‘there is no difference between clergy and laity in the quality of their Christian authority’ (10).
The misuse of the office of priest by its
bearers contributed to the Reformation in the sixteenth century when Christians
divided over the nature of the ordained ministry. The misuse of the theological
distinction between clergy and laity is however no grounds for its dismissal.
Christian tradition has never claimed that clergy are given more of the Holy
Spirit than laity.
In his book ‘A Priesthood in Tune’
If the Church exists primarily for worship, it is worship through, with and in Jesus Christ who ‘ever intercedes’ (Hebrews ). The role of the clergy in representing Christ in the liturgy is seen by Lane as guaranteeing his centrality, not their own. In a musical analogy parallel to that of the candle he writes of the voices of priest, people and the interceding Christ as together shaping a ‘sonata’ of praise that glorifies God.
The distinction between the ministerial priesthood and that of the baptised is upheld in the Anglican – Roman Catholic agreement on Ministry and Ordination paragraph 13. Ordained ministry, ARCIC says, is ‘not an extension of the common Christian priesthood but belongs to another realm of the gifts of the Spirit’ (12). The necessity of this distinction links also to the important ministry of handing on apostolic teaching over which bishops and priests are seen to preside in the name of Christ. In a fast changing world this challenging ministry is a most necessary ‘charism’ noted in the traditional understanding of ordination. Once again it is the necessity to adhere to Christ and his teaching that is seen to lie behind the setting apart of some Christians through ordination to act for him as teacher.
In his volume
‘Elucidations’ the late Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes of ‘The Priest I Want’. There are some telling word pictures of the
clergy. First the self-important priest -
‘stupid, crafty, busy and imposing. He wants to be heard, he rushes to
get on the media. He lies like mildew on
the fields of the Church today.’ Then there is the self-forgetful priest –
‘become so unimportant to himself that for him only God still counts. Who he
himself is, is no longer of any concern to him’ (13). To Balthasar, ministerial
priesthood is supremely ‘sacred ministry’ without presumption, modelled on the
self-surrender of Jesus and the self-giving of
Many twentieth century theologians worked to recover emphasis upon the humanity of Christ and to challenge thinking in the Church that appeared to deny it. A parallel shift of emphasis can be discerned in thinking about the ordained ministry over the same period, so that the very term ‘sacred ministry’ sounds uncomfortable to the ears of many. Michael Ramsey’s famous comment on the Jesus of John Robinson’s ‘Honest to God’ needs to be translated to our thinking about our priests: ‘The Man for Others is also the Man for God.’
Furthermore much questioning of the doctrines of the atonement has led many preachers to avoid the traditional metaphors of Christ’s redemption such as ‘sacrifice’, ‘substitution’ and ‘ransom’ so that some correction is necessary. In his book ‘A Spiritual Theology of the Priesthood’ Dermot Power, disciple of Balthasar, defends the traditional metaphors still abounding in Church hymnals. He sees them as providing the most effective witness to the ‘recklessness of divine love’. If God seeks ‘shepherds after his own heart’ (Jeremiah ) he will find them only as the Church reflects more fully upon the ‘divine recklessness and magnanimity’ shown in what Jesus has done for us. Truly ‘sacred ministry’ will emerge as the ministerial priesthood is affirmed as bearing indeed a special ‘imaging’ of Jesus to the Church. The grandeur and objectivity of such ministry needs receiving but alongside ‘interiority’, obedient love as the fount of a missionary priesthood (2).
Whereas Robin Greenwood distrusts what he calls the ‘linear’ view of priesthood commissioned by Christ in apostolic succession in favour of a ‘relational’ Trinitarian model, Power and others sense that it is this very link with Christ that guarantees the missionary element so vital to the Church. Greenwood’s analysis is correct, in that, as he puts it, the Church must progress ‘from… a haphazard assembling of passive individuals led by clergy, to one of corporate missionary agency in which the ministries of the whole Church and the ordained are bound to each other’ (10). Yet, in rejecting the ‘linear’ sense of the priest as ‘sent’ in Christ’s name and person to help form Christians, Greenwood undermines the mission impetus that a truly ‘sacred ministry’ might offer ‘as servants (of the Church) for Jesus sake’ (2 Corinthians 4:5b).
1. J.M.Perrin The Minister of Christ 1964
2. Dermot Power A Spiritual Theology of the Priesthood 1998
4. W. Sanday The Conception of Priesthood in the Early Church 1898
5. H.S.Box (Editor) Priesthood quoted in Raymond Raynes Called by God 1959
6. A.M.Farrer quoted in G. Guiver et al The Fire and the Clay 1993
7. Raymond Raynes Called by God 1959
8. Pope John Paul II A Priest for Ever 1981
9. General Synod Report Priesthood of the Ordained Ministry 1986
10. Robin Greenwood Transforming Priesthood 1994
11. Thomas Lane A Priesthood in Tune 1993
12. Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission (ARCIC) Ministry and Ordination 1973
13. Hans Urs von Balthasar Elucidations 1971
For their sake I consecrate myself, that they may also be consecrated in truth John 17:19 RSV
This drift away from the Church does say
something about her godliness. Her own prophets continually warn the
Established Church that ‘the Church of England needs to be converted so that it
may become the
It could be said that the Church needs holiness even more than leadership in this age. However much we import management insight, we will end up managing decline unless there is a fresh kindling of holiness and consecration.
Spiritual revival is a process like the spreading of fire, starting from a minority, transforming the whole mass of God’s people. The way to revival is not something to be engineered. It is a work of God made possible through the surrender of hearts.
A priest is
called in Michael Ramsey’s phrase ‘to be on the Godward side of human
situations’. The former Archbishop of
As ‘messenger’ the priest is one sent ‘to teach and to admonish, to feed and to provide for the Lord’s family’. Priests carry with them this ordination charge about forming the Christian community. ‘Serve them with joy, build them up in faith, and do all in your power to bring them to loving obedience to Christ’ (3).
call to obedience is linked to the idea of consecration. Obedience in
Christianity is not so much the forgoing of life but the redirecting of one’s
energies to God’s praise and service. It is perfectly imaged in the incarnate
life of Jesus. There we do not see a shunning of the world but life lived ‘to
the full’ (John 10:10b). In his ‘high priestly prayer’ later in
One of the great heroes of the 20th Century Church of England was Frank Weston (1871-1924). Frank worked as the first Bishop of Zanzibar. He was to see his Cathedral built upon the site of the former slave market on that island. His ministry centred upon Jesus in the Eucharist, in the poor and in the consecrated hearts of all his faithful people. He writes of the grace that flows through the consecration of day to day circumstances:
‘The whole life of prayer for us who have to live in the world, the whole meaning of prayer, primarily, is the consecration of our circumstances, the redemption of an atmosphere in which the will of God can be manifested and in which Jesus can work’ (4)
Frank Weston's life was fired by such consecration of his life day by day in the Eucharist. It is especially in the Eucharist that Christians experience the repeated call to consecration.
An empowering priesthood is one mindful of how the ordained priest acts in a special way to call the Christian community beyond itself to consecration in God, and does this supremely at the Eucharist. ‘The function of the President is to represent the initiating and transcendent self-giving of Christ who himself bestows on the community what it cannot by its own spiritual energies achieve...Eucharist is not a self-actualising process; it is a gift and it is a coming...it lifts people out of themselves into a communion that is the whole Church…(the community) becoming less its own centre and finding its centre in Christ, and through him, with him and in him the abyss of Triune love for the world’ (5).
Consecration of life is the work of the Holy Spirit. By his power Jesus is experienced in the Church as personal Saviour. Christians are called to do business with God as individuals. 'Is there a specialist for God's relationship to me? One who makes Christ immediate? So that, given my natural disposition to shrink the demands of God, I can be confronted with the Gospel and held to it?’(6). So muses Balthasar, and he goes on to affirm ‘on the basis of both his commission and of his experience (the priest) can embody both the relentlessness and the love which are to be found in God’s will in such a way that one can no longer and will no longer run away’.
This is the ideal, ‘the Priest I want’ in Balthasar's phrase, ‘one who confronts with the Gospel’. It is as if a particular ministry is called for by the very particularity of Christianity, which has a particular Saviour who is particularly represented to his Church through the priesthood.
The sacrament of absolution gives a striking illustration of how the setting apart of one to act for Christ enables a rite of welcome for sinners. God's forgiveness is granted immediately to the one who is penitent but it is their sensing and laying hold of this that is transformative. In the Evangelical tradition, the scripture promises are seen as almost tangible assurance of forgiveness. The acted-out rite of reconciliation gives another assurance. It provides a sacrament, a tangible means of welcoming forgiveness, in which the priest uses the authority given at ordination to draw individuals through words of forgiveness into a deeper consecration of life. ‘Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven’.
‘The God who brings light out of darkness, writes St. Paul, also shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
There is something ever new about Jesus Christ. Wherever he is welcomed ‘light’ and ‘glory’ shine. Just over a century after the resurrection St. Irenaeus wrote of Jesus Christ that he had ‘brought all newness by bringing his own person’. Into all that is tired and faded in human life Jesus brings a perpetual gift of renewal.
The so-called ‘spiritual gifts’ listed in scripture are gifts of renewal from the risen Christ. Through the charismatic movement the more extraordinary gifts of healing, miracles, tongues etc. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) are being recovered. Such gifts need to be welcomed alongside the institutional gifts: ‘apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers’ (Ephesians ). The ministerial priesthood has been recognised in the Christian tradition as also a gift of the Spirit to be welcomed as a continual source of renewal alongside the more charismatic gifts. ‘Both Church and ministry are gifts of the divine Lord Jesus’ (Michael Ramsey).
Empowering priesthood recognises that ‘hierarchical’ and ‘charismatic’ gifting are both given by God to work in harmony. The extraordinary gifts of the Spirit such as healing and prophecy are most effective when guided by those who hold pastoral oversight. Conversely as pastoral office bearers cooperate with those gifted in prayer and prophecy they too work as instruments of God’s great purpose of ‘building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4).
An empowering priesthood is one that sees itself as ‘steward of the mysteries of God’ (1 Corinthians 4:1). A steward is not a proprietor. Always there is tension in the Church between true stewardship and the proprietorial spirit. All movements of renewal remind the Church that she is a gift from God and gifted by God. She is not meant to belong to anyone under God. It is a message that challenges the ministerial priesthood to go with the flow of the Holy Spirit rather than to play safe as ‘proprietors’.
Only too easily priests can misuse their authority to quench the Holy Spirit. This can come about especially in their treatment of spiritually gifted laity who so often appear as a challenge to their authority rather than as a resource, a gifting from God to build up his Church. Whilst such people need challenging at times, they also need to be encouraged. Unless there is a recognition that spiritual leadership in the Church is not just in the hands of the clergy, the potential for growth is severely restricted.
An empowering priesthood assists the contribution of every member of the Church to her vitality and mission. It challenges proprietorial attitudes that deny this principle of stewardship. Sometimes the proprietorial spirit can appear as a form of partisanship. This is a particular challenge to priests who are bound to challenge party spirit since ‘the partisan can soon become a person who loves his own apprehension of truth more than Christ, and himself (sic) more than either’ (2).
Empowering priesthood calls forth a consecrated people, one that has wholeness in Christ yet with all diversity. Good practice in parishes seeks worship that is accessible whilst retaining powerful witness to the awe and mystery of God which calls forth consecration. ‘Great indeed is the mystery of our religion’ (1 Timothy ) yet people who cross the Church's threshold today are not always brought to their knees. They sometimes seem more awed by eastern religion.
A priest was asked why he used incense in
Church and answered ‘because you cannot buy it in Marks and Spencer’. He sensed
that the sure, unselfconscious majesty of Sunday worship in the great tradition
of the Church can evoke an awe before the mystery of God which no
self-conscious construct of ten minute ‘sound-bites’ can rival. Inevitably for
the Church to be experienced more as the
An empowering priesthood seeks a true renewal in the Holy Spirit of every aspect of Church life including the exercise of the ministerial priesthood itself. A powerful description of the difference such renewal makes was expressed by an Orthodox bishop in a keynote address to the World Council of Churches.
‘Without the Holy Spirit: God is far away,
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is a dead letter,
the Church is simply an organisation,
authority is a matter of domination,
mission a matter of propaganda,
the liturgy no more than an evocation,
Christian living a slave morality
‘But in the Holy Spirit:
the cosmos is resurrected and groans
with the birth-pangs of the Kingdom,
the risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is the power of life,
the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
authority is a liberating service,
mission is a Pentecost,
the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation,
human action is deified’ (7).
empowerment of the
Bishop Ignatios warned the World Council of Churches that Christianity without grace becomes a ‘slave morality’. It is the frequent temptation of the priest as preacher and teacher to moralise and so to ‘enslave’. Basic Christianity by contrast places the demands of morality second to the revelation of grace and mercy given by the Spirit in Jesus Christ. What distinguishes Christianity is something that goes beyond morality as such - something utterly transcendent.
To welcome the Christian revelation is to welcome the grace of the Holy Spirit, to see and recognise God in Christ as one more concerned to give us what we need than what we deserve.
An empowering priesthood shares this concern as one that reflects the very heart of God towards humanity. God seeks a consecrated people before he seeks the imposition of moral uniformity. Although priests have to hand on Christ's ethical teaching and not their own, this is therefore best done most often in parenthesis to teaching on the grace and mercy of God.
Much disillusionment seems to arise about the Church through her apparent moralising, although it is true that the mass media are very ready to distort things. Sometimes such moralising becomes a veiled form of worldliness in that it presents the distinctive feature of Christianity as superior moral achievement. As Henri Nouwen warns, ‘when the moral life gets all the attention, we are in danger of forgetting the primacy of the mystical life, which is the life of the heart’ (8).
Empowering priesthood calls God’s people back to what is distinctive about Christianity and what makes them distinctive as those consecrated ‘to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called (us) out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once (we) were not a people, but now (we) are a people; once (we) had not received mercy, but now (we) have received mercy’ (1 Peter 2:9b-10).
1. Michael Marshall The Gospel Connection 1990
2. Michael Ramsey The Christian Priest Today 1972
3. Ordination of Priests The Alternative Service Book 1980
4. Frank Weston In His Will 1914
5. Dermot Power A Spiritual Theology of the Priesthood 1998
6. Hans Urs Von Balthasar Elucidations 1971
7. Bishop Ignatios of Latakia World Council of Churches
8. Henri Nouwen The Road to Daybreak 1988