Priestly ministry and the Church of England

My post last week on whether ordination ‘makes you a priest’ provoked a good deal of discussion and debate. As part of that, I receive a long response from Simon Oliver, who is Van Mildert Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham. I got to know Simon when he was the highly respected head of department at Nottingham before his move a couple of years ago, and I am very grateful for his careful engagement, and taking the trouble to offer this response.

I found Ian’s post on ‘Ordination does not make you a priest’ interesting and provocative. There’s a fine line, however, between being provocative and being disingenuous. It makes certain claims for a very particular view of Anglicanism based on a selective and prejudicial reading of texts, paying very little attention to the breadth of the Anglican tradition. It’s a blog and intended to provoke thought and debate, but I’d like to offer another view of the matter.

First, the language of the ‘making of priests’ is a red herring and a relatively trivial issue. When a man and woman get married, are they made ‘wife’ and ‘husband’? It doesn’t seem obviously wrong to answer ‘yes’. Marriage is not a mere legal contract and, indeed, the husband and wife ‘become one flesh’ in such a way that there is something there—a unity—that was not there prior to the marriage. It does not erase the people who were there before the marriage, but gathers them up into something genuinely new. It fulfils a nature; it does not destroy it. So there is some precedent for the language of real change, fulfilment, newness and distinction in relation to the wider rites of the Church, in this case marriage. Crucially for Ian’s concerns, it’s a change that does not have to exclude or denigrate people who do not undergo that change, namely those who are unmarried. Indeed, one hopes the grace of marriage extends to the whole community, including those who are not married. I’m going to point out below that ordination involves admission to an order. When we admit people to orders, we often use the phrase ‘made an x’. For example, when someone is awarded an OBE, we might say ‘she was made an OBE’. This is perfectly natural language. That’s not to suggest that ordination is just like an honour conferred by the monarch or akin to joining a club; holy orders are conferred by God for ministry to his people and so have a different authority (see below) and confer a new ecclesial identity.

The real issue concerns whether the orders of bishop, priest and deacon constitute something really different to the laity beyond extra training and a ritualised commissioning. I suspect Ian is worried about the idea that ordination is an ‘ontological change’. The notion of ‘ontological change’ is far too metaphysically clumsy so I won’t address it head on; I would prefer the notion of a nature fulfilled by grace through a particular calling. That would be consistent with the Ordinal. But let’s return to what Ian writes:

I have argued elsewhere that the C of E doesn’t ordain ‘priests’—at least, not in the sense that the Old Testament, Roman Catholics and most others religions use the word ‘priest’, since priests in these contexts usually have unique access to the divine which is not available to non-priests, and they offer sacrifices on behalf of others that ordinary people are not able to offer. The C of E believes neither of these things, and the ordination service itself says it is about ‘priests also called presbyters’.

First, the Church of England does ordain priests, and not in any equivocal fashion. The Ordinal, in its Collect and presentations, makes this perfectly clear. Candidates are presented with the words ‘Reverend Father in God, I present N to be ordained to the office of priest in the Church of God.’ The Church ordains by means of the Bishop calling down the Spirit and to suggest otherwise is sophistry. Secondly, Ian’s comment above is a caricature of priesthood in the Roman Catholic tradition. Indeed, for Thomas Aquinas there is only one true priest, Jesus Christ, and we participate in that priesthood in different ways, as lay or ordained. Of course, it is true that the notion of a mediatorial priesthood is theologically contentious, particularly in relation to sacrifice, but there are very different understandings of the nature of mediation within and without Anglicanism.

For many, for example, it involves the giving of ‘God’s holy gifts for God’s holy people’ in the form of sacraments, not the policing of gateways to God. It’s not about having a special access to God that is denied to others. So we do ordain priests and the BCP makes clear that this is part of the ordering of the Church. It’s not part of the management structure of the Church – a matter of expedience that could be dispensed with if Tesco comes up with a better structure that we can adopt – but part of what the Church is. The BCP makes clear that the Church has always had these orders (see the preface to the Ordinal) and therein lies its ecclesial legitimacy and unity in its continuity with the primitive Church through the historic episcopate and the ordering of bishops, priests and deacons. Of course the nomenclature in the apostolic age was fluid. It developed in the second and third centuries as the scriptural witness became clearer in relation to the liturgical practice of the Church under the Spirit’s guidance. My concern here, however, is with what counts as consonant with the breadth of Anglicanism.

Where can we go for a different Anglican view of this matter? Here’s a very important passage from an Anglican divine, Richard Hooker (1554-1600). The section is titled “Of the power given unto men to execute that heavenly office; of the gift of the holy Ghost in ordination; and whether conveniently the power of the order may be sought or sued for” and it comes from Book 5, chapter 77 of his ‘Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity’. Hooker is a good mediator in this discussion because elsewhere he considers the use of the terms ‘priest’ and ‘presbyter’ and, whilst not ruling out the former, opts for the latter because it does not carry connotations of sacrifice as this was debated in the sixteenth century (V.78). The last two sentences of the following passage are the most important.

They are therefor ministers of God not only by waie of subordination as Princes and civil magistrates whose execution of judgment and justice the supreeme hand of divine providence doth uphold, but ministers of God as from whome theire authoritie is derived and not from men. For in that they are Christes embassedors and his laborers, who should give them theire commission but he whose most inward affaires they menage? Is not God alone the father of Spirites? Are not soules the purchase of Jesus Christ? What Angell in heaven could have said to man as our Lord did unto Peter ‘Feed my sheepe? Preach? Baptise? Doe this in remembrance of me? Whose sinnes yee reteine they are retained, and theire offences in heaven pardoned whose falts you shall on earth forgive?’…The power of the ministrie of God translateth out of darkness into glorie, it rayseth men from the earth and bringeth God him selfe down from heaven, by blessing visible elementes it maketh them invisible grace, it giveth dailie the holie Ghost, it hath to dispose of that flesh which was given for the life of the world and that blood which was powred out to redeeme soules…O wretched blindness if wee admire not so greate power…Ministeriall power is a mark of separation, because it severeth them that have it from other men that maketh them a special order consecrated unto the service of the most high in thinges wherewith others may not meddle. Theyre difference therefore from other men is in that they are a distinct order. (Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie, V.77).

That’s a very high view of priestly (presbyteral) ordained ministry and it would be foolish to claim it is not an important aspect of the Anglican tradition. Hooker is clear that ordination is ‘indelible’ and ‘cannot be put off and on like a cloak’. Unlike commissioning, it cannot be repeated. Hooker’s is a view I’d want to gloss with other sources. There are overwhelming theological reasons grounded in scripture (particularly Leviticus and Hebrews) to preserve the language of sacrifice in relation to the Eucharist, properly understood as a living participation in Christ’s one sacrifice through which the royal priesthood of the Church is constituted. For present purposes, however, the point I’d like to stress is that the orders of bishop, priest/ presbyter and deacon are distinctive for Hooker in such a way that talk of ‘being made a priest’ by divine authority and grace makes perfect sense.

The problem with Ian’s argument is that it’s too modern. It assumes that real difference excludes. He makes the startling claim that:

The language of ‘priesting’ buys into a sense of the stratification of humanity into different categories; it inhibits the ministry of lay people, it puts unreasonable pressures and expectations on clergy, and it is not biblical, not Anglican, and not helpful.

One does not want a hierarchy where some are closer to God or deemed better or more effective simply by virtue of ordination. The Church has never believed that – Augustine and the Donatist schism comes to mind. But neither is everyone really the same. What on earth are 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 all about? There’s real difference in Paul’s image of the body of Christ – a difference in what things are, not only in what they do. Ordinations are not commissioning services. They are the fulfilment of a nature by the calling down of the Spirit upon the baptised Christian who has been called to this order by and through the Church for the blessing of God’s people. As Hooker says, bishops, priests and deacons are distinct orders. There’s no point in trying to raise the crucial importance and distinction of lay ministry (which is beyond doubt) by denying the crucial importance and distinction of ordained ministry. That would end in a flattened Church that is too liberal – equality and freedom as uniformity. The Church is hierarchical, but much depends on its proper understanding of hierarchy. In the ecclesiology of a pre-Reformation thinker such as Nicholas of Cusa, it’s a hierarchy in which God is equally present to every part of the hierarchy, from layperson to deacon to LLM to priest to Archbishop.

SimonOliverThere’s no humility in saying that, as a priest, I’m not significantly different to a layperson, I’ve just had the privilege of extra training to do a certain job. There is humility in accepting the distinction of the orders to which God calls us for the blessing of his people and the ordering of his Church. The priesthood ministers the sacramental gifts of God (baptism and Eucharist) that are the foundation of all Christian ministries and callings. They set free the other ministries of the Church; they don’t obliterate or exclude them. Along with the Word, the sacraments are foundational, hence we have ministerial orders to ensure and protect their administration. The Church makes its priests (or presbyters, if you prefer) by asking the Bishop to call down the Spirit. After the diaconal and priestly ordinations this year, the Church will receive a gift from God: some genuinely new ministers with indelible orders that do not depend on the worthiness or qualifications or training of the candidates, but on the grace of God. But it’s a grace given not simply for the individual who is ordained, but for the well being of God’s people. As Hooker says, ‘O wretched blindness if wee admire not so greate power.’

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29 thoughts on “Priestly ministry and the Church of England”

  1. Simon,

    Thanks for your thorough response to Ian’s post on ordination. It’s admirable in drawing upon many pertinent strands of scripture, tradition and reason. For that reason, I believe that it deserves considerable reflection before mustering an in-depth response.

    At first glance, though, your quote from The laws of Ecclesiastical Polity stood out. As a rule, whenever I read an excerpt which begins with the word, therefore, I read the paragraphs prior to it to understand it’s foregoing premises. On that basis, here are the paragraphs which precede your quote from Hooker (emphasis mine)

    The ministerie of things divine is a function which as God did him selfe institute so neither maie men undertake the same but by authoritie and power given them in lawful manner. That God which is in on waie deficient or wanting unto man in necessaries, and hath therefore given us the light of his heavenlie truth, because without that inestimable benefit we must needes have wandred in darknes to one endles perdition and woe, hath in the like aboundance of mercie ordeined certain to attend upon the due execution of the requisite partes and offices therein prescribed for the good of the whole world, which men thereunto do hold theire authoritie from him whether they be such as him selfe immediately or as the Church in his name investeth it is neither possible for all nor for everie man without distinction to take upon him a charge of so great importance.

    So, Hooker established that, while some men do hold their authority from God as the Church invests them in his name, others hold such authority from himself directly.

    Examples of the latter include all of the apostles, including St.Paul, St. Stephen, who was ordained a deacon by men, but clearly ordained by God to the office of the evangelist.

    In the gospels, we have the example of Christ correcting Peter and John for forbidding an exorcist driving out demons through the power of Jesus’ name: ‘Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 8:38 – 41)

    This scripture highlights the real issues that some have with certain notions of ordination by ecclesial authority alone: that, instead of extending the right hands of fellowship (as the apostles did) to those who, like St. Paul, so clearly hold their holy office ‘such as him selfe immediately’, the clericalist tendency is to recognise only those invested by the Church in his name.

    Your main criticism of Ian’s earlier post on ordination was that its view of Anglicanism was ‘based on a selective and prejudicial reading of texts, paying very little attention to the breadth of the Anglican tradition.

    Yet, by neglecting the direct means by which God ordains to the ministry of things divine (as Hooker explained), you have pretty much done the same.

  2. I’m not sure that you’ve done what you think you’ve done. It’s Hooker being open hearted but it isn’t clear what exactly “as him selfe immediately…investeth” is referring to. And none of this addresses the business of Priest language. There’s more to priesthood than offering sacriice. Priesthood being a mat that is walked on, a road to carry folk from one place to another. Making connections and serving. Leadership, too often, is about avoiding all of that, talking the talk but not walking the walk.

    • Hi Wyn,

      At the start of my comment, I clarified that Simon’s post ‘deserves considerable reflection before mustering an in-depth response’, so, of course, my ‘first glance’ comment does not address what you call ‘the business of Priest’ language.

      You have apparently decided that ‘it’s Hooker being open-hearted’, but it would help if you could explain how you’ve inferred (or divined) this as Hooker’s motivation.

      You claim: but it isn’t clear what exactly “as him selfe immediately…investeth” is referring to.

      Well, despite Hooker’s use of Medieval English, the juxtaposition of ‘which men thereunto’ after ‘requisite partes and offices therein prescribed for the good of the whole world’ makes the referent clear.

      1. God…has in the like abundance of mercies ordained certain to attend upon the due execution of the requisite partes and offices therein prescribed for the good of the whole world.
      2. These ‘requisite partes and offices’ are they of ‘which men thereunto do hold their authority from him’.
      3. ‘Whether’ expresses alternatives by which men (for the requisite partes and offices) hold their authority from God. Hooker provides just two: ‘such as him selfe immediately or as the Church in his name investeth’.

      It’s clear that Simon Oliver’s response has only highlighted the latter of these alternatives.

      • Thank you David, I’m sure you understand it better than me!. Hooker’s language always has me in a headache, of course, but Hooker is always open hearted. That’s his gift. It is his ongoing dialogue with Puritanism in general and Walter Travers in particular which shows him forging the via media, because he insists on being kind to Rome too! My main point anyway is that Ian is as, usual, being mischievous because he describes a version of Priesthood that Anglicans has never espoused anyway. I’m a Priest not because other people don’t have gifts… I am a Priest because of, not despite, the Priesthood of All Believers. I am not much of a teacher or an evangelist. Others are. I’m a mat to walk on, who gets pulled apart by making connections.Making a sacrifice in the medieval sense has, clearly it seems to me, never been part of the Anglican view of Priesthood. Ian loves his Aunt Sallies. But here’s the rub. The Church of England will split over THIS issue, (not sexuality) because Presbyterianism is the hidden agenda. That’s really what drives Gafcon. I’m staying Anglican thanks, and insist on my Priesthood with all it’s many catastrophic failures.

  3. As a person who became a Christian at the age of 23 and then joined the Northern but who is now a Lay Minister in the C of E , I find all of this stuff about ordination without biblical foundation. I studied religion, especially Christianity, to postgraduate level and was ‘selected’ to be lay Minister by my late vicar and then accredited by our late Bishop. Since then, I have not only found people with no accreditation or ordination who clearly have tremendous God-given talents in both pastoral and teaching abilities, I have also met with those who have been ordained or accredited lay ministers but who, in my opinion and that of many others , should not be in such positions. The man who became priest in charge of my church told me and all his lay ministers that he didn’t want us and intended”building his own team” which includes someone from outside the CofE. All the lay ministers are now serving in other churches, to the glory of God. A good outcome? Yes, in one sense but no in another. This sort of treatment is by no means unique to the church of which I was a member. That, together with attitudes I have met among other ordained people, both men and women, giving the impression that they are a ‘cut above ‘ the rest of us, have driven me back to looking at scripture and Church history and to the conclusion I stated at the start of this piece.

  4. Dr Oliver, your parallel between marriage and ordination is helpful – a privilege, an enhancement to the identity that doesn’t nullify the previous identity. And Hooker’s concept is, as you say, an important part of the Anglican tradition.

    But in the end it’s a concept I have not accepted, including as it does “consecrated unto the service of the most high *in thinges wherewith others may not meddle*” – in other words, that there are spiritual functions, specifically the Eucharist and absolution, which it is ipso facto sinful for lay people to try to exercise. And I don’t accept it because Jesus said, as Hooker reminds us, “Receive the Holy Spirit – Whose sinnes yee reteine they are retained, and theire offences in heaven pardoned whose falts you shall on earth forgive (John 20:22-23.) This is for the whole company of the faithful, not just the “ordained” – and I assert that because St Paul instructs *all* the faithful to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18); so by implication to exercise whatever functions the Holy Spirit gives them the gifts to do.

  5. Hi Simon,

    Here’s my considered response. You begin by comparing marriage as an example of how the couple might be described as being ‘made ‘wife’ and ‘husband’

    I would agree that, in common parlance, we use the word ‘made’ to connote a significant change in recognition: ‘made silk’, made an OBE’.

    Nevertheless, marriage is not a particularly helpful analogy, since is explicitly described in the Solemnisation of Holy Matrimony as ‘a holy estate’. As you’re no doubt aware, estates were the major conditions, or walks of life considered to comprise human society. An estate differs from an order by being broader and far less prescriptive.

    You also assert: ‘there’s real difference in Paul’s image of the body of Christ – a difference in what things are, not only in what they do’ Yet, the ‘body of Christ’ is a spiritual metaphor, and instead of highlighting differences in nature, St. Paul focuses on complementary offices and abilities (1 Cor. 12:29 – 30)

    The very word, office, derives from Middle English: via Old French from Latin officium ‘performance of a task’ (in medieval Latin also ‘office, divine service’), based on opus ‘work’ + facere ‘do’. Notably, Hooker, whom you quote, also explains that the Church, in God’s name, invests men with the authority to ‘attend upon the due execution of the requisite partes and offices therein prescribed for the good of the whole world.’

    You state your preference for the notion that ordination is ‘a nature fulfilled by grace through a particular calling’ You also claim that ‘ordinations are not commissioning services. They are the fulfilment of a nature by the calling down of the Spirit upon the baptised Christian’ Yet, you’ve advanced nothing in support of this notion. In contrast, during ordination, the Bishop actually invokes the Holy Spirit for spiritual empowerment in furtherance of the commissioned service: ‘Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands.’

    The Preface explains the importance of ordination in this way: ‘it is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Which offices were evermore had in such reverend estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by publick Prayer, with Imposition of Hands, were approved and admitted thereunto by lawful authority. And therefore, to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed, in the Church of England; No man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon in the Church of England, or suffered to execute any of the said functions, except he be called, tried, examined, and admitted thereunto, according to the Form hereafter following, or hath had formerly Episcopal Consecration or Ordination.

    So, there is really no basis for this notion of ordination as a nature The significance of ordination is that it is the ceremony by which the Church, in God’s name, invests (i.e. approves, admits and charges with responsibility) those who have been called, tried and examined and known to have the requisite qualities for the due execution of their office of ‘messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; to teach and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.’

    As I showed in my earlier quote from Hooker, ordination does not preclude God bestowing holy office ‘such as by himself immediately’

    Ordination does not fulfil a nature which differs from any other members of Christ. Despite the vast diversity of offices and abilities in the Church, we are all partakers of the same glorious divine nature.

    • Without wishing to wade in with undue simplicity, is ordination not described as an order rather than a nature? It feels strange to talk about it as a nature. Nature seems too fundamental for this sort of distinction. But order is still real, if that’s what people are worried about. I must say I’m losing track a little of what precisely is in dispute here. Ordination is an order, orders are real (‘ontological’, if you like), lasting conditions of the form described by Hooker. Is there something more to this that I’m not appreciating?

      • Will, I would agree with you that it is about order, and not about nature, and at this point Simon and I disagree.

        But I further do not believe that order is ‘ontological’. The reason for this is not about disingenuity, or about not knowing the breadth of the C of E (I know it *very* well!), but because of what I see as a proper theological anthropology, which I set out at some length in the post ‘Are Priests and Laity fundamentally different’, which is a 3,000 word theological paper I presented to a symposium as part of the Renewal and Reform stream on lay leadership.

        In sum: there are no priests in heaven, because God’s presence does not need mediating in the New Jerusalem. And, according to Paul, it is that future that has been brought into the present because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the gift of the Spirit. That is why, for Paul, the presence of the Spirit in the body of Christ undermines any categorical distinction between Christians and their respective ministries. The issue Paul was addressing in Corinth, i.e. the claim that there was a hierarchy of spirituality, is not unrelated to the question in the church today around ordination!

        • Surely Paul allows some categorical distinctions: ‘first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing … eagerly desire the greater gifts.’ But I guess this comes down to what you mean by ‘categorical’. There does seem some ordering or ‘hierarchy’ here.

          I also meant *an* order rather than simply order, which is more suggestive of a new situation for the ordained.

          I can’t quite get to the nub of this dispute, though. Is it about status – you don’t want ordained persons to have a higher status? Or about mediation – you want to avoid any suggestion that they mediate between people and God? Is it about communion – you want to establish that lay people can preside at communion? (I did read your previous post on this, and left a comment or two.)

          • Hi Will,

            I think this precedence is sequential, not hierarchical. Firstly, the role of apostles and prophets is foundational to the establishment of God’s household. As Paul explains to the Ephesians: ‘Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone’(Eph. 2:19 -20)

            Again, in his apostolic role, Paul states: By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. ?? 1 Cor. 3:10-11?)

            However, when comparing his apostolic ministry to Apollos’ teaching ministry, St. Paul emphatically denies the kind of ontological difference that the Corinthians were wont to emphasise: ‘“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (??1 Cor.? ?3:5-7?)

            Would God that this attitude prevailed throughout those in ordained ministry.

          • The ‘hierarchy’ I took from the reference to ‘greater gifts’ at the end of the passage which seems to rule out a sequential reading. Paul’s concern in 1Cor 3 is division born of allegiance to different leaders and he is keen to stress the unity of the church because of the unity of God. It doesn’t relate to questions of status and authority. He is saying ‘don’t go splitting the church by following this leader or that, but recognise that only God is what matters’. This doesn’t undermine his other teaching about ordering and authority in the church, and some gifts being ‘greater’ than others. He is clearly aware of the authority that his status as an apostle brings with it.

          • Hi Will,

            While I’d agree that Paul was opposing the danger of ‘personality cults’ forming around individuals, his remedy is to focus on the purpose of the role: planting and watering, but God gives the increase.

            The issue that Paul deals with is excessive deference (which can be towards admired personalities or offices) and, of course, that does relate to status and authority.

            This is not about dismantling rightful authority. It is about clergy thinking and acting ultra vires.

            St. Paul does elsewhere refer to his status as an apostle, but only as it relates to his duty that he has accepted before God.

            Interestingly, St. Paul’s boast is not in his apostolic role per se, but in how much of that status he has relinquished in order to further the gospel.

            It would be like a stipendiary minister becoming self-supporting in order to become less of a burden to a poor parish.

          • I didn’t get the ‘excessive deference’ theme in that passage, but perhaps I am missing something. It does seem relevant, though, that Paul sees a clear distinction between the leaders and the led, as per vv8-9: ‘The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.’ The we-you distinction turns on a subject-object distinction (active-passive) that is quite marked – though the theme of the passage is the unity of the workers in a shared project of divine origin, rather than authority or status as such. But this kind of imagery doesn’t to my mind make this passage a good one for supporting an argument against a special status for leaders.

      • Hi Will,

        I think that Simon Oliver crystallizes the dispute by saying: The real issue concerns whether the orders of bishop, priest and deacon constitute something really different to the laity beyond extra training and a ritualised commissioning.

        Ian Paul also highlights his concerns over the implications of this difference, whether real or imagined: ‘The language of ‘priesting’ buys into a sense of the stratification of humanity into different categories; it inhibits the ministry of lay people, it puts unreasonable pressures and expectations on clergy, and it is not biblical, not Anglican, and not helpful.

        This inhibition on support for lay ministry is clear when you read the Resourcing for the Future Task Group Report. While it concluded that the current formula-based ways of distributing national funding are not helping to support dioceses in their strategies to advance their mission and growth, the report is squarely focused on improving the availability and quality of ordained clergy.

        What’s in dispute is the unwarranted belief that through ordination, there is a spiritual status/nature imparted, which is exclusive to ordained clergy, unobtainable to lay ministers, and without which the church’s goals for mission and growth are simply unachievable.

        We can re-iterate that ordination is about servanthood, but the experience of David Matthews (see above) shows something of the hideous caste-like arrogance that this belief begets.

        • Thanks David, that’s helpful. A spiritual status seems a different prospect from a spiritual nature. I think if we take ordination seriously then there is no reason not to regard it as imparting a special spiritual status, which is what the idea of an order implies. There are plenty of secular counterparts to this change of status, though social (or civic) rather than spiritual of course. There is a clear danger of the caste-like arrogance you describe, but is that not a corruption of a basic human reality that is the distinctions into orders and categories of human social and spiritual life? Surely we should guard against the abuses of the order and status distinctions rather than abolish them or pretend they aren’t there.

          • Hi Will,

            Paul does make the role of those he ordained (Acts 14:23) as elders: ‘Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.’ (1 Thess. 5:12 – 13)

            Notice that we are enjoined to extend our highest esteem ‘because of their work’. It is extended to those who ‘work hard among us, care for us in the Lord and admonish us.’

            Ordination is the normative (but not exclusive) means of confirming a person’s ‘tried and tested’ readiness to perform the role of spiritual oversight.

            In considering its resourcing for the future, the Church should apply a diverse and complementary strategy that doesn’t assume that its mission and growth goals are unachievable without also achieving a proportionate increase in the number of ordained ministers.

            Instead of the costly formulaic attempts to increase the numbers entering ordained ministry, the Church should commit to a shift in national policy, which funds the careful selection and training of laity for universally recognised and centrally funded roles in mission and growth, without requirimg the formal process of ordination to any of the three-fold ministries of holy orders.

            That’s the direct implication for the CofE of the priesthood of all believers.

          • Thank you, David, I’m starting to understand what’s at stake. It’s about the (national) church selecting, training, recognising and funding lay roles (oriented to mission and growth) rather than just ordained roles. I guess this is like an extension of Readers and Church Army evangelists/Licensed lay workers (and previously deaconesses – that was also an order). I’m not opposed to such an idea, but I wonder if the church will have enough on its plate trying to sustain clergy to oversee churches (and preside at communion). I do worry that the church is ordaining too many people, especially as SSMs, who, frankly, don’t exactly maintain the high standards which many expect of the Anglican clergy. But then this is a different problem, since we wouldn’t want lay workers to be defined in terms of a lower standard.

            It is interesting that Paul connects the regard for leaders with their work, rather than with their divinely imparted gifts or anointing. That does lend support to your position – though it is possible that he means for the sake of their work i.e. because they need to be held in the highest regard in order to carry out their essential work of caring and admonishing. But I’m not a biblical scholar, so this is conjecture. My feeling is still that I am on safe ground thinking in terms of a special ordained status for those whose calling to ministry of this kind is recognised by the church (as an order) even if there are also special statuses for other types of ministry.

        • Will,

          You’ve made some good clarifying points. So, let’s follow through on that concept of a ‘special ordained status’.

          I’d like to round off this part of the comment thread with two questions.

          In terms of the historic Church, it would help if you could clarify:

          1. The means by which this ‘special ordained status’ is conferred. Is it solely mediated by Church authority in the person of the bishop invoking the Holy Spirit with the imposition of hands?

          2. How do the abilities of this status compare with those who are not ordained? In other words, what is it that Christians are not gifted or authorised to do until they attain this ‘special status’ through ordination?

          • I think you’re asking me a point of historical church practice? I believe, then, the answer to 1 is yes – though do correct me if I’m wrong. If you’re asking whether I agree with this, I’d say it seems a good tradition with some basis in scripture which is conducive to good and sustainable order. So I can believe God honours this practice. Just as I can believe he honours acts of consecration which contribute to the holiness of a place.

            If 2 is a historical question, then isn’t the answer: presiding at communion and other rights and duties laid down in the canons? If the question is whether I agree with this, I confess to having wondered whether lay presidency might not be permissible, as a way to avoid having to ordain too many under-qualified people to sustain communion services. I think that lay people can lead churches well, and clergy can lead them very badly – obvious points. But I also think that ordination is given so that we have a way of doing things properly, even if you don’t always have to do them properly to make them work, and indeed doing them properly is no guarantee of success. I don’t think that invalidates the overall value of having a way of doing things properly and by and large sticking to it, which ordination is an integral part of.

          • Hi Will,

            Your answer to 1 is, at least, partly right. The Bishop is the normative means by which Christians are admitted to spiritual functions in the Church.

            However, Hooker deal with this question in Laws under the useful title: Whether Episcopal Ordination may be dispensed with where identifies two exceptions to this normative episcopal route:

            Man can be extraordinarily, yet allowably, two ways admitted unto spiritual functions in the Church. One is, when God himself doth of himself raise up any, whose labour he useth without requiring that men should authorise them; but then he doth ratify their calling by manifest signs and tokens himself from heaven: and thus them that believed not our Saviour’s teaching, did yet acknowledge him a lawful teacher sent from God: “Thou art a teacher sent from God, “otherwise none could do those things which thou doest .”

            Consider the ministry of Evan Roberts who led the Welsh Revival of 1904 (one of the most carefully chronicled and well-attested of modern times), Despite his lack of formal training or episcopal ordination, God used him to convert thousands from moral apathy and indifference to a lively faith in Christ. Billy Graham was not episcopally ordained.

            Hooker continues: Another extraordinary kind of vocation is, when the exigence of necessity doth constrain to leave the usual ways of the Church, which otherwise we would willing keep: where the church must needs have some ordained, and neither hath nor can have possibly a bishop to ordain; in case of such necessity, the ordinary institution of God hath given, oftentimes, and may give, place…These cases of inevitable necessity excepted, none may ordain but only bishops: by the imposition of hands it is, that the Church giveth power of order, both unto presbyters and deacons.

            An example of this is an emergency baptism, which can be conducted by a lay person.

            2. According to Hooker, ordination confers the power to administer the Word and Sacraments This is authority, so I am loathe use the word status, with its connotations of recognition as superior, or more competent.

            However, as Hooker concluded from scripture, this authority does not preclude admission of a person to deliver spiritual functions by either God himself, or as required in the absence of episcopal oversight.

            A prime example of the latter was the ‘irregular’ ordination by AMiE of Rev. Pete Jackson, Pastor of Christ Church Walkley, Sheffield.

            So, I’d broadly agree with you that ordination is given so that we have a way of doing things properly, even if you don’t always have to do them properly to make them work

          • Thank you David, that’s a very helpful explanation. I don’t see any problem with using status myself, since it needn’t imply superiority, as in ‘what’s your status’ or ‘current status’, simply meaning situation. That’s what I meant by it. It conveys a certain reality or concreteness, which I think is important.

            Having said that, superiority comes in different forms. I suspect you want to avoid a kind of absolute superiority, a kind of ‘God loves me more’. But authority structures imply a certain limited kind of superiority (higher rank, i.e. greater authority or power within this structure), which ordination clearly does imply. I guess I’m a lot more relaxed about relations of superiority and inferiority, seeing them as an unavoidable and important part of human life. Apart from anything else, wouldn’t life be boring if everyone was at the same level in everything – ranks (and the prospect of moving up in them) help give life meaning, and surveying them a sense of fit and proper order that is pleasing to the soul. (And I say this as someone who is not ordained.)

          • Hi Will,

            I’ll (thankfully) resist a long journey into semantics, but briefly the difference is that authority is granted to perform specific functions or tasks (normative role in administering the Word and Sacraments), whereas status connotes a higher rank to which the laity should always defer.

            What I’ve found distasteful about the clergy-laity divide is how the laity are so often encouraged to be in thrall to the clergy, as possessing super-spirituality.

            Given that I’m 55 and unlikely to ever be episcopally ordained, I’m heartened by Hooker’s scriptural understanding that God provides laity with non-normative opportunities to participate in the ministry of the Word.

            On a personal note, I’m extremely thankful to Ian Paul, since through this blog, God has provided me with numerous opportunities to participate in the ministry of the Word. Fortunately, Ian is confident enough in his own ordained ministry not to feel threatened (as some have been) by my lay ministry.

            It’s been a good discussion!

          • Thanks David. Yes a thrall based on super-spirituality sounds deeply unhelpful, and misguided. Though the strong thread of anti-clericalism in English and Western history suggests it was often more an aspiration than a reality.

            I guess I just like ranks more than you do! Appeal to my sense of order.

            Yes, good discussion – thank you.

      • Many a difference today that was once kosher in 1604-1611. Now the followers tell the church what to vote for and going back to apostolic writings is not ever going to happen. Poor Boyse, Harmer and even the printer Barker. Too bad there is no room for a more historical view and customs.

  6. As a footnote, I discovered this Diocese of Leicester video which typifies my hopes for the CofE to be liberated from being overly focused on discerning and resourcing more candidates for ordained ministry.

    The words of one Pioneer Development Worker, Mads Morgan, resonated with my belief in the formation of a national policy, which funds the careful selection and training of laity of universally recognised and centrally funded roles in mission and growth:‘What we discovered in the last 12 months is that there is quite a lot of pioneers who don’t realise that what they’re doing is pioneering. So it’s actually finding who’s doing what and then it’s finding out what help they’re looking for.

    For a lot of pioneers they really appreciate the opportunity to sit down, to explain their work, to talk through their work and that’s your coffee shop kind of conversation but of course there’s a lot more practical stuff than that. So what we tend to do is we will go along to fresh expressions that are being run; we will work alongside a pioneer, we’ll also work alongside the church that they tend to be connected with because quite often that’s where we can be of most help but honestly the most practical help as more and more people are becoming pioneers, and being licensed, are the networks group that we run.

    It’s this kind of initiative that transcends the requirement for clergy to lead any new initiative of mission. Instead, it clearly recognises and supports the priesthood, gifting and ministry of all believers.

  7. Thanks, Ian, I have been reminded to think about Ministerial Priesthood just in time for Synod! I wrote this for the parish mag a couple of years ago..


    In 1971 I was in a hangar at RAF Biggin Hill making a bridge from planks, ropes and oil drums. Men with clipboards were watching us and we were being assessed for leadership potential. I was swiftly shown the door because my hearing was discovered to be deficient and that was the end of my dream of joining the Royal Air Force. Making bridges and organising a team is an important form of leadership.

    But the thought of clergy being selected for ministry in the same way is laughable. It’s the wrong sort of leadership, though I’ve known one or two clergy who barked orders! It’s just as well I didn’t get a an RAF Commission. I’d have been court-martialed, as sure as eggs is eggs!

    I sometimes see press reports where clergy – Parish clergy as well as Bishops -are referred to as “Church leaders”. I understand why, but it makes me cringe. I’m a Minister. Ministry is another word for service. There’s something about the word “leadership” that has more to do with having servants than being a servant. It does not sit comfortably with me. Nor should it.

    “Leaders”, by definition, must have “followers”, and that’s the last thing anyone in a dog collar ought to have!

    Our “leadership model”, if we must, is Jesus. He didn’t appear to organise much (expect, interestingly, the Last Supper… although didn’t he actaully have others who orgainsed it…?). Another word for my work is Priesthood. Priests get in between, get in the way , make connections and get pulled apart.

    I’ve just put a notice over my desk. It’s the warning sign for radioactivity and underneath it says “High Risk Area”. It’s a costly way of ministering, with many pitfalls. “Ministerial Priesthood” (that is, “serving by getting constructively in the way”) is a term that has slipped away in favour of “leadership”.

    It’s maybe what happens when an institution is dying. We look for grand leadership instead of servers. Leadership of that kind can also be costly and hard. We need it in industry and the armed forces, we need it in schools and business. But not in the Church, where ministry is about serving and getting in the way. If I look like I’m trying to turn into a leader, just blow me a large raspberry. Thank you!

    **The term “Ministerial Priesthood” has been used by various writers, but most famously in the Anglican tradition by the then Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology at Oxford University , R C Moberly, who published his highly influential “Ministerial Priesthood” in 1897.


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