Skip to content

What is a priest?

22 January 2011

I’ve recently noticed on the Anglican blogs I read more frequent references to “lay presidency” and “diaconal presidency” at the Eucharist. Such ideas strike me as completely daft, and remind me of why I quit the Anglican Church 25 years ago.

Anglican priest in choir habit

Anglican priest in choir habit

So why, if I’m no longer Anglican, do I blog about such things? It certainly doesn’t bother me, because it no longer affects me, and it makes little difference to my life what Anglicans ultimately decide about such things. I’ve been debating with myself whether to write a blog post on it or not. It’s not that I hope to influence Anglicans to do one thing rather than another. I suppose at one level my interest is academic. My academic field of study is missiology, and so I am interested in the way that ministry in the church affects mission and vice versa. Also, I cannot deny that my experience as an Anglican, and especially in training self-supporting priests and deacons in the Anglican Diocese of Zululand, helped to shape my understanding of ministry in the church, and thus helped, if indirectly, to lead me to Orthodoxy. And I also believe that whereas the Orthodox understanding of ministry in the church is theologically sound, the practical application of it has often been a hindrance to mission. So I think it could be quite useful to “think aloud” about it in my blog.

So, to go back to the beginning, why do I think “lay presidency” and “diaconal presidency” are daft?

They are daft because they seem to assume the interchangeability of ministries in the church. Think of a different field — a Formula I racing team. It’s a pretty good example of what St Paul is talking about when he compares the church to a body, with each of the parts of the body having a different function. Most of what you see on TV is one member of the team, the driver. The driver gets pole position or some other position. The winning drivers appear on the podium at the end of the race and squirt each other with champagne. But occasionally during the race, during the pit stops, you catch glimpses of other members of the team — the guy who handles the refuelling, the guys who change the wheels, the guys who jack the car up so the others can change the wheels. And even less frequently you catch glimpses of other people behind the scenes. There’s the team manager, people who monitor the car’s performance and track conditions on computers, and so on. And then there are the ones you never see — the people who arrange the logistics — that spares are available when needed, and those who arrange to transport the whole kit and caboodle to the next race venue.

But what if the driver ate something that disagreed with him at lunch, and had to make a pit stop to puke? Do they say “Oh, let the guy who jacks the car up drive, and let the guy who changes the left rear wheel handle the jack.” Not likely. As St Paul puts it (1 Cor 12:14-18):

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
But now hath God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased him.

St Paul was not talking about a Formula I team, but of the church, and if the analogy applies to a Formula I racing team, how much more does it apply to the church?

In my Anglican days, as Director of Training for Ministry in the Anglican Diocese of Zululand, one of my duties was to attend the annual meeting of the Provincial Department of Theological Education. This gathered diocesan trainers, representatives of the theological seminaries and an episcopal chairman, and they would discuss for 3-4 days at a residential conference. And almost invariably, at the beginning of the meeting, someone would say something like, “Before we can decide about training for the ministry, we have to be clear on what a priest is.” And out would come the newsprint and the felt-tipped pens, and someone would write at the top of a sheet, “What is a priest?” and the rest of the meeting would be devoted to brainstorming that, and writing down what was said on the newsprint. At one such meeting I asked “Didn’t anyone save the newsprint from last time? Can’t we just put that up and move on?” and there were glares and exasperated snorts at such a suggestion of a departure from the established ritual, for such it was.

The question itself was interesting. It was always, “What is a priest?” Never “What is a deacon?” or “What is an evangelist?” or “What is a prophet?” (there is more about deacons at Deacons and diaconate | Khanya). Behind it lay the assumption of a “one-man band” model of ministry. The priest did everything, and of course needed to be trained to do everything. And at some point the representatives of the theological seminaries would get edgy, and one of them would say something like, “There are only 24 hours in the day, and the curriculum is pretty crowded as it is. We can’t just keep adding things without taking something away. If we cut the lunch break to 15 minutes and drop New Testament II we might be able to squeeze in Marxism and Bookkeeping, but not all the other things on the list.”

Oh, and if any Pentecostals are reading this and you have managed to get this far without being bored out of your skull, don’t me smug because you don’t have priests, or think you believe in the “priesthood of all believers”. Just ask yourself “What is a pastor?” Because a one-man band pastor is really no different from a one-man band priest, and bears as little relation to the New Testament.

Imagine if the Formula I team was just the driver, and there was no pit crew, never mind all the others, the mechanics, the logistics people and all the rest. But when they discussed “What is a priest?” the assumption seemed to be that the priesthood was the ministry.

Three deacons serving together -- a rare sight in South Africa

Three deacons serving together — a rare sight in South Africa

And all this talk of “lay presidency” and “diaconal presidency” seems to be just the other side of the coin. After loading the priest with all the ministries of the whole team, they now want to take the one ministry that is actually characteristic of a priest and give that to everyone else. It’s as if, in the Formula I team, the Driver changes the wheels, watches the computers, makes the tea, and organises the spares, but anyone else does the actual driving. Inverting a distorted idea of ministry doesn’t take away the distortions. If a deacon (or anyone else for that matter) can preside at the celebration of the eucharist, why not ordain them as priests? If my bishop told me that he wanted me, as a deacon, to preside at the Eucharist, I’d be seriously annoyed. If I thought God was calling me to preside at the Eucharist, I would seek ordination as a priest. That is what a priest does.

So I really wonder why so many Anglicans seem to want to have so many unordained priests floating around. Why not just ordain them? And if you are going to have lots and lots of unordained priests, why bother to have ordained ones? What are they for?

I suspect that the real reason is clericalism and pride. There are not enough priests to preside at all the eucharists that need people to preside at them, but if you have too many priests, it would lower the prestige of “the” ministry, which depends on its scarcity value. So “lay presidency” is just a manifestation of the old Anglican disease of pluralism, where, in the 18th century, a priest could be Rector of several parishes, and thus be entitled to the tithes and the titles of all of them, but couldn’t be in all those place at once on a Sunday, so employed a poorly-paid assistant curate to do the actual work. As Roland Allen once put it, the chief obstacle to “voluntary clergy”is the jealousy of the present clergy for their position.

Something similar happened in some Anglican parishes during the height of the charismatic renewal about 30 years ago. In those parishes they read in the New Testament about “elders”, so they appointed “elders”, but never bothered to ask the bishop to ordain them. But I don’t think they ever expected them to preside at the eucharist either. So there were two “half-ideas” floating around. There was talk in some places of “self-supporting priests” and there was talk in other places of “elders”, but nobody seemed to connect the two and see that they were precisely the same thing. If these “elders” had been ordained by the bishop, and also presided at the eucharist, there would have been the self-supporting priests, and Roland Allen’s vision might have been fulfilled.

I once spoke about this at a clergy conference in the Anglican diocese of Natal, and was attacked by two priests (of the Evangelical persuasion), who encouraged the appointment of unordained elders in their parishes. They simply did not believe me when I said that the word “priest” means “elder”, and that in the church “elders” and “priests” were the same thing. The English word “priest” is a contraction of the Greek presviteros, and in the New Testament the “elders” were presbyters, or priests. John Milton, who favoured the congregational form of church government, and disliked the presbyterian form introduced by Cromwell & Co, knew the difference, and said “New presbyter is but old priest writ large”.

Some Evangelicals make much of the doctrine of “the priesthood of all believers” (not a biblical term, by the way) and believe that there should not be an order of ministry called “priests” because all believers are priests. But ask them if they believe in the “eldership of all believers” and why there should therefore not be elders in the church, and they become less certain. The problem is that in English Bibles the Greek word “presviteros” is translated as “elder” rather than as “priest”, and the English word “priest” is used to translate another Greek word, “ierefs”, and while there is a connection between priest as in presviteros and priest as in ierefs, it is different from what many people seem to imagine.

And in all the discussions about “What is a priest?” that took place is a preliminary to training for “the” ministry, there were two fatal errors or omissions, first, that the priest is primarily an elder, and secondly that the ministry of a priest is not “the” ministry, but one ministry among many.

It used to be the case that in many places Orthodox priests had little specialised academic theological training. Academic theologians were mostly lay people, and in many places still are. But now, especially in the West, the idea seems to be gaining ground among the Orthodox that there is a need for “an educated clergy”, and so the same disease that I noticed among the Anglicans seems to be taking root among the Orthodox as well.

What training does a priest need?

Primarily training as a worship leader, and especially presiding at the Divine Liturgy, with all that that implies. The priest is the link between the parish and the wider church — the priest is ordained by the bishop, and cannot celebrate the Divine Liturgy without the Antimension from the bishop. The priest commemorates the bishop in the Liturgy (and, in the Preparation service, the bishop who ordained him). The qualifications of elders in the New Testament are primarily moral rather than academic, though the bishop, especially, should have enough knowledge of doctrine to be able to convict gainsayers (Titus 1:9).

Orthodox priest anointing the sick

Orthodox elder (presviteros) anointing the sick

Another interesting thing is that in the New Testament the elders (ie priests) of the church are always plural. St Paul calls to him the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:17), Titus is urged to appoint elders in every city (Titus 1:5) and when Christians are sick they should call for the priests of the church to anoint them (James 5:14). This is recognised in the Orthodox service of anointing of the sick, which, if done properly, as St Mark taught us when he brought the gospel to Africa in the first century, requires seven priests and seven deacons for its performance.

Academic theology has its place, but not every priest needs to be an academic theologian, and academic theologians do not need to be priests.

And if priests are not the ministry, but one ministry among many, what about the others, and how should they be trained? And, if people are to be trained for those ministries, we also need to ask what they are.

Ralph Winter, the Presbyterian missiolgist who died a couple of years ago, used to refer to two different kinds of ministry in the church, which he called Modality and Sodality. Those fancy names don’t tell us very much, but he believed that the Modality ministries were those that belonged to the local church, which was a community of people of all ages, and a great variety of different people. The Sodality was a more selective community; it was itinerant rather than local, and required particular skills, calling, or training. The Modality ministries, those of the local church, included the ministries of bishops, priests and deacons. The Sodality ministries included monks (who needed a monastic calling in addition to their call to be Christians), missionaries, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor/teachers and so on.

The Methodist movement, which grew up in the Church of England in the 18th century, was originally an example of a Sodality ministry. Early Methodists were members of the Church of England, so they went for the sacraments to their local Anglican parish church, but the Methodist Society, as a kind of ginger group within the church, had its own local preachers, and also had itinerant pastor/teachers who travelled in a circuit to a group of Methodist Societies to exhort, encourage and teach them. So the ministry of Methodist ministers was quite different from that of Anglican priests. It was, to use Winter’s terms, a Sodality ministry rather than a Modality ministry.

But when the Methodists broke from the Anglicans, the Anglicans no longer provided the sacraments, so Methodist ministers gradually came more and more to resemble Anglican priests, and tended to settle down in one place, and the “itinerant” part of it became no more than a nostalgic longing for a vanished past.

Conversely, in places like Zululand, Anglican priests became more like the original Methodist ministers. The priest would settle in a place and built up a mission centre (sometimes called a mission station) with a church, a school, and sometimes a clinic or hospital). Evangelists, paid and unpaid, took the gospel to the surrounding countryside and formed Christian congregations, which were called “outstations”. And the priest, like the early Methodist ministers, would itinerate to the outstations, for preaching, teaching and the sacraments. Contrary to St Paul’s instructions to Titus, they did not appoint elders (priests) in every place, but rather catechists, who were authorised to preach and teach (which they were often ill-qualified to do) but not to administer the sacraments (which they could probably have been taught to do quite easily). One catechist preached every Sunday on the working of the steam engine, which he had read about in a book.

An Anglican evangelist in Sekhukhuniland had an itinerant ministry preaching the gospel, and within a short time had planted about 30 new congregations, after which it stopped growing. Why? Because he was ordained a priest (the only one) and had a complex itinerary for visiting those congregations for the Eucharist, and so he had no time to go to new places. He had become a Mass nomad. But if, as St Paul instructed Titus, he had appointed elders in every place where he had planted a church, that problem would not have arisen. He, or someone else, could have visited them like the original Methodist ministers, as itinerant pastor/teachers, to encourage and teach them, though with a less demanding schedule and being able to spend more quality time in each place, without the need to rush off somewhere else for Mass.

Among the early Methodists, people like John Wesley were itinerant evangelists just like the Anglican one in Sekhukhuniland, but they were able to avoid the problems in Sekhukhuniland, at least for a while, because there was already a network of Anglican parish churches. The Orthodox Church too had its John Wesley. St Cosmas the Aetolian was a contemporary of John Wesley, and had a similar itinerant evangelistic ministry in the Balkans. Under Ottoman Turkish rule most Orthodox Christians were ignorant of the Christian faith, and St Cosmas went from village to village, and would erect a cross and preach in the open air, just as Wesley did.

So what is a priest?

A priest is an elder and an elder is a priest. But priesthood (eldership) is not “the” ministry. It is one of many ministies in the church, but one of the central aspects of the ministry of priests is “presiding at the eucharist”.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. Carl permalink
    22 January 2011 10:12 am

    An interesting and provocative post. In evangelical circles, these days, the debate seems to swirl more around the question: “what is an apostle?” Are you familiar with the so-called ‘apostolic restoration movement’ spoken for by Peter Wagner et al?

    On another tack, are you attending the SAMS congress?

    • 22 January 2011 11:52 am

      I once heard a fellow called Bob Mumford speak about the restoration of the five-fold ministry. Very dispensationalist. Said apostles were the last to be restored, in our time.

      To say what apostles are would take another blog post, and probably more. But it’s much easier to say what an apostle is not. Anyone who claims to be an apostle is almost certainly not one. 🙂

  2. Carl permalink
    22 January 2011 12:09 pm

    not sure that it’s dispensational, or to do with end-time Jewish restoration. I think it has a more Charismatic origin, certainly among churches in the Durban area.

    Wagner’s term is “new apostolic restoration.” Since he’s a missiologist, I thought you may have heard of it..

  3. 22 January 2011 1:27 pm

    Dispensational in that they espoused what Ralph Winter called the BO-BO theory of church history. The light of the gospel “blinked out” after the apostolic age, and “blinked on” again at the Reformation. Actually for Mumford et al it was a faint glow, as at the Reformation only the pastor/teachers were restored, and the evangelists in the time of Wesley and the travelling evangelists, and apostles and prophets in our day. Mumford was charismatic and a member of the “Fort Lauderdale Five” that promoted the controversial “shepherding” movement. Wagner probably picked up and developed some of the ideas that were floating around then. Perhaps there’s a doctorate for someone in reasearching who influenced whom and taught what!

    Peter Wagner and Ralph Winter were, I believe, colleagues at the Fuller Seminary, which was extremely Fundamentalist in the 1960s, and anti-charismatic, but changed in the 1970s and 1980s.

    • Irulan permalink
      16 December 2011 2:03 pm

      Actually, Thamo Naidoo did a MTh (UKZN) on this movement 2 years ago,

      • 16 December 2011 7:47 pm

        The web page doesn’t say much about that, though. I’d love to see a timeline of when each of them was in South Africa and who they spoke to.

  4. 22 January 2011 3:32 pm

    A very interesting post, Steve. I’m going to make a personal comment here which I know that some who read this will not accept.

    I find myself called to the priestly, liturgical functions. I get pretty consistent feedback that my communion, wedding, funeral was the best liturgy that the person had ever seen (impossible for such a call to exist in Orthodoxy, I know, given my gender). I also find myself called to something that I’m not sure the Protestant Church has a concept for which would be the active religious life in Catholicism, except, of course I’m also married.

    I don’t know of any tradition that adequately combines all of these callings. At the age of 53, I’m now becoming pretty certain that I am called to all these vocations (I’ll call them vocations even if no church does). Being very much a “community-oriented” personality (Ennegramme type 6, if that is explanatory for you), my previous mind-set has been “No, I can’t be called to all these things because the church doesn’t have a box for them.” I’m now becoming content and convinced that these are my callings.

    By the way, I still have no idea what people mean by “apostle” when the term is used for anyone other than the eleven close disciples of Jesus (and St. Paul, according to his own claim). Any thoughts on that one?

    • 22 January 2011 4:38 pm

      Pam, I suspect that the issue of gender is relatively minor when it comes to what distinguishes what you express from an Orthodox approach. When you say that “I get pretty consistent feedback that my communion, wedding, funeral was the best liturgy that the person had ever seen” you are expressing an attitude and criteria for judgment that are widespread in the contemporary West, and not only among Protestants. But in Orthodoxy it is precisely not about the personality or particular gifts of the priest. Yes, the priest needs to be able to sing and to find his way around the Liturgy, and it would be nice if he could preach, but the personality of the priest melts away as he points to something much bigger, the tradition which is given to us and which leads us into the Kingdom. One of the weaknesses that I found in the contemporary Catholic liturgy is that it gives too much space for the priest to impose his own personality on the liturgy so that it sometimes ended up becoming about his gimmicks, rather than the liturgy as handed down to us.

      This is not unrelated to the idea of “vocation”. Vocations are first and foremost ecclesial and they are rooted in the concrete realities of our lives. Whatever personal calls people have need to surely be tested both against the witness of the Church and against the concrete situation, for vocations do not belong to us as individuals but to the whole body of the Church.

      • 22 January 2011 6:21 pm

        OK, out of curiosity and given Steve’s post, how would the Orthodox distinguish a call to perform the liturgy? I admit I was assuming that it wasn’t something like “This guy is a selfish jerk and totally inept at performing the liturgy, so he must be called to it”. I admit that I was probably thinking the opposite. 🙂

        My call was tested by my denomination for close to ten years of part-time training. Yes, that added up to about 4 years of formal full time training, but it also meant that the communities of people with whom I trained had ten years to get to know my character.

        It’s not totally irrelevant to this conversation, how you might answer the question what do you do with a person whose gifts don’t fit some sort of ecclesial boxes? I guess if we assume that Orthodoxy is the only true church, then I can’t have a vocation as a priest because I’m a woman, gifts aside. I can’t have a vocation as an active religious because I’m married. So, I’m called to be married and God inexplicably gave me these other gifts that are not to be used in his service?

        • 22 January 2011 9:26 pm

          The short answer to distinguishing a call to serve the Liturgy is that one is designated by the bishop to do so. Obviously one can say more on how candidates for ordination should (or should not) be selected and trained, and the qualities that one would hope to find in priests, but those are subjective factors that do not detract from the fundamentally objective character of the priest being the one designated by the bishop to serve the Liturgy on his behalf. (And it is the bishop, to answer your earlier question, who is the apostle in the local Church).

          Regarding vocation, I think that Steve’s use of the distinction between modality and sodality is helpful here. Ordained ministries such as priesthood belong to the former. Although the way they are exercised may vary, their fundamental identity remains the same. They are also not particularly dependant on the qualities of those who exercise them – thus saying that someone has gifts that would make him or her a good priest is not necessarily an argument that he or she should be a priest.

          However, there are also vocations that are more personal and more dependent on particular contexts and I suspect that your example of active religious life belongs here. Orthodoxy does not have a “vocation category” of active religious life and even in Catholicism it is a relatively recent development that was linked to particular circumstances. It seems to me rather dangerous to view “apostolic religious life” as a specific category (and I have tended to be rather annoyed when Catholics portray “religious life” as a sort of feminine second best to priesthood!) and I suspect that it would be more helpful to ask what the various elements in it are that draw you to it. Some of those may be perfectly compatible with married life and others not.

          Orthodoxy does recognise monasticism as a specific calling in the Church and this has taken various forms historically, and celibacy is pretty central to it. There are also historical examples of married people embracing monasticism with the agreement of their spouse – not that I am advocating this! And it is certainly not uncommon to find Orthodox monastics who were once married. But it does seem clear that celibacy and marriage are mutually exclusive, at least at any one point in a person’s life. (I have seen some things online of “monastic communities” with married members – fully clothed in habits etc – but that seems to me to just be making language meaningless, and also makes me wonder what it is that motivates them). That is clearly limiting, but no more limiting than saying that one cannot be married to two people at the same time.

        • 23 January 2011 6:25 am

          I admit I was assuming that it wasn’t something like “This guy is a selfish jerk and totally inept at performing the liturgy, so he must be called to it”. I admit that I was probably thinking the opposite.?

          Unfortunately it sometimes seems to be that, and I know of some instances where it has been.

          Macrina has said most of what I want to say on the topic. I don’t know if you have been to many Orthodox services, but the primary requirement (apart from the New Testament qualifications I referred to in the post) are competence in reading the text and following the rubrics. Most of the text is actually read (or sung) by the people, led by the choir. It is one of the activities for which it is quite easy to set “outcomes” for outcomes-based education. I suspect that what you were referring to was creativity, but in the Orthodox Church the primary requirement for leading worship is not creativity but competence. But perhaps that is the topic for another blog post. I have blogged on such things before (for example here, but perhaps there is more to be said on that. For more on the qualities one should took for in the people who lead worship, and especially ordained ministries of priests and deacons I think the books of Roland Allen are a good guide.

          • 23 January 2011 2:50 pm

            Steve: I’m happy for you to have another blog post on the subject. No, I wasn’t thinking about creativity. I actually have a gift for making a set liturgy come alive. I can’t really explain that in words.

            Much of your initial post reminded me of Vincent Donovan’s book “Christianity Rediscovered”. A Roman Catholic missionary to the Masai, he basically assigned different individuals in the communities he founded to perform different parts of the Mass. Celebrants, readers, preachers, etc., according to their gifts. In one instance, it was a woman who had the gift of presiding at the Eucharist. All highly unorthodox, of course. But otherwise, the community would have had Mass something like once a year.

    • 22 January 2011 9:11 pm


      I can’t say much about the first part of your comment.

      But concerning the Orthodox understanding of apostles other than the 11 disciples of Jesus the main thing is the part they played in the spread of the Gospel, either to places where it has not been heard before, or to revive the church. So St Cosmas the Aetolian. whom I mentioned in the post, is regarded as “Isapostolos”, that is Equal to the Apostles. It was not something he claimed for himself, but something the church recognised in his ministry. Another (Dan Brown notwithstanding) is St Mary Magdalene. She is called the “Apostle to the Apostles” because she took the good news of the resurrection to the 11. Pioneer missionaries are apostles, such as St Innocent of Alaska, St Nicholas of Japan and St Nina of Georgia. St Vladimir and Olga are the apostles of Russia. They were royals, yet Nina was a slave. So their circyumstances were often qute different, yet they exercised an apostolic ministry.

      • PamBG permalink
        22 January 2011 10:43 pm

        So basically an evangelist?

        Actually, I think you’re ducking out of the substance of the very intriguing conversation you started here. There is a sense in which, if the church calls a priest to do everything (which I too think is unrealistic), then that is what the call is.

        • 23 January 2011 6:37 am

          An apostle is not so much an evangelist as a missionary church planter, though there are some exceptions.

          But the “substance” is not so much what the call is as the different perceptions of the nature of ministry and ministries in the church.

  5. 22 January 2011 4:18 pm

    I’ve often thought that talk about lay presidency is just completely non-sensical. I’ve been fully in favour of broadening out who one allows to preside at the Eucharist (along the lines of Bishop Lobinger’s ideas in the Catholic Church) but that can only occur with the blessing of the bishop and, well, are we not then simply talking about ordaining them as priests, albeit a sociologically different sort of priest to what people are used to? But your post is useful in linking this daftness to clericalism (priests being threatened etc) and really serves to underline the confusion between sociological conceptions of the Church and ministry and theological/ecclesial ones (which I seem to remember you posting on a while ago).

    Where I’m a bit unclear is your clear identification of NT eldership and priesthood. I don’t have texts to check this with at present and my memory is a bit hazy, but I was inclined to think both that the NT doesn’t provide such a clear cut pattern of ministries (and that terms tend to be used interchangeably) and that it is primarily the bishop who presides at the Eucharist and is the centre of unity in the Church, and that the priest presides in his name.

    • 23 January 2011 6:43 am

      It is indeed the bishop who presides, and that is why priests are ordained by the bishop (and can only serve the Divine Liturgy on an Antimension signed by the bishop), and that is why “lay presidency” signifies a massive change in ecclesiology. I think you have put your finger on it — the clericalism consists in being wedded to the sociologcial form and model of ministry. The theology can change radically, but the sociological role must not, whereas what am am advocating (as did Roland Allen), is keeping the theology, and changing the sociological expectations of the role.

  6. Ian Bruce permalink
    22 January 2011 8:54 pm

    Seems to me the original post laments the growth of democracy in the world, specifically among
    certain Anglican groups.

    Hierarchical organizations, including the Church of Christ, are often very efficient in achieving their
    mandates. The power to do good is vested in one or few at the top. As opposed to committees
    headed by presidents or chairpersons which manifest a lot of discussion, and sometimes argument-filled conflict,

    However, as one top-drawer theologian of the 20th century observed generally the goodness of humans,especially those driven by and centered on the Holy Spirit, makes effective honest democratic institutions possible. Of course, their perennial egotism, lust and greed make
    democracy (with checks and balances exemplified in the U.S. constitution) possible. The
    group as a whole, including many churches of the Calvinist persuasion, may, faced with
    less than stellar performance coupled with a high-handed administration, review curtail/contain
    and terminate the power of those in high office. So maybe bishops/Presidents serving for a fixed
    number of years and subject to the review every year or two is a good idea.
    Certainly worth a try. Give it the old experimental whirl and then decide if ancient
    patterns of group governance are wisely discarded forever.

    • Ian Bruce permalink
      22 January 2011 8:57 pm

      Ian Bruce adds correction – the egotism rather makes democracy necessary.

  7. Doug permalink
    23 January 2011 4:31 am

    Key issue here is that the discussion doesn’t start from the question of baptism – baptism is the commissioning for ministry for all who commit to being disciples of Jesus.

    Too little is made of this so that most Christians do not realise they have been commissioned and empowered to the ministry of the people of God scattered through out the world. The issue is how then the community discerns and acknowledges the gifts necessary to sustain its gathered life. That’s where this argument is located – but the way we get tied up in notes over these internal matters repeats the cycle of attention on these internal matters.

  8. 29 January 2011 7:47 pm

    “And all this talk of “lay presidency” and “diaconal presidency” seems to be just the other side of the coin. After loading the priest with all the ministries of the whole team, they now want to take the one ministry that is actually characteristic of a priest and give that to everyone else. It’s as if, in the Formula I team, the Driver changes the wheels, watches the computers, makes the tea, and organises the spares, but anyone else does the actual driving.”

    Very well put. I appreciate the analogy of a stock car team. In the Catholic Church today we are still struggling with how to best live out the “universal call to holiness”. Too often we have made that be seen as lay people taking on the liturgical roles of the priest, while making the priest a business manager. It seems we have gotten it backwards when we approach things this way.

    • Millie Varney permalink
      10 May 2014 10:22 pm

      In my experience, priests have too much time on their hands. They get into bad habits because they are in a bad lifestyle. They eat too much, drink too much, smoke too much. They gradually get so out of touch with real life they don’t really notice how distorted and empty their lifestyle really is. But perhaps that was the whole point of ‘formation’. You know, the frog in boiling water technique?

  9. 7 February 2011 2:28 am

    Forgive me if I’m speaking nonsense or not grasping the issue –

    But isn’t this part of the outworking of the evangelical lack of belief in the ceremonial/special/(at all!) nature of the sacraments?

    “A priest is an elder and an elder is a priest. But priesthood (eldership) is not “the” ministry. It is one of many ministies in the church, but one of the central aspects of the ministry of priests is ‘presiding at the eucharist’.”

    I don’t think you’ll have much serious disagreement anywhere with the first half (“not _the_ ministry”), but where is the case for the second half built?

  10. 17 January 2018 12:45 pm

    Some interesting thoughts about different types of priesthood here – thank you. Particularly the difference between creativity in ritual and liturgical competence. Ronald Grimes (ritual theorist) has some interesting things to say about the different modes of ritual (there’s a diagram in the article linked here).

    So, if I read this and your deacon blogpost correctly, a priest is one who presides at the Eucharist and leads the people in liturgy (the “work of the people”), whereas a deacon is one who carries out pastoral duties such as visiting and anointing the sick?

    • 26 January 2018 5:14 am

      Yes, I think you read me more or less correctly. Liturgically the deacon is a sort of go-between.


  1. What is a Priest? « Faith in Hand

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: