• RSS Subscribe to Blog

  • PAGES

  • RECENT PONDERINGS

  • RECENT COMMENTS

    Steve on SAINTLY?
    Paul Nicholson on SAINTLY?
    RGE on Calling the Shots
    Walter J. Tanner on MARRIAGE EXTENSION
    franiel32 on IN THIS COMPANY
  • ARCHIVES

  • BLOG STATS

    • 107,620 hits

REVISITING BAPTISMAL COVENANT

I am constantly amazed to hear otherwise orthodox leaders propose the idea that the emphasis on Baptismal Covenant in the Catechism of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is a gift to the rest of the Anglican Communion from the Episcopal Church. Don’t get me wrong.I don’t want to be tried for heresy, but I am more and more concerned that an aspect of the classical Anglican array of baptismal core doctrine has been stressed above all others at least in popular explanations of that which the Catechism teaches. The particular aspect in question, the identification of the unique High Priesthood of Christ, that of the “ministerial priesthood” and that of the laity in the Body of Christ, seems to become more and more muddled, confused and conflated, leading us outside of Anglican tradition altogether, except perhaps in the theology of the Elizabethan neo-puritan William Perkins, into the worldof the full-blown Calvinist revolutionaries like Travers and Cartwright, against whom Richard Hooker labored in his judicious “Of theLaws of Ecclesiastical Polity.”

A practical aside here for those whose interest isn’t particularly in the realm of historical theology. Our church is more and more pricing itself out in small communities where tiny congregations can no longer afford the stipend and pension paid to priests. A solution has been to call forth, by local discernment a ministerial team among whom may be parish visitors and eucharistic visitors to undertake pastoral work, preachers and lectors to preach and read the Scriptures, Catechists to teach confirmation classes and other forms of Christian education, and locally ordained priests to administer the sacraments. These teams, locally discerned, are usually under the supervision of a missioner, seminary trained and called to such a unique ministry.

The idea seems sensible and in most part is sensible. This is particularly true when the person who is ordained a priest from the team has been given the best training a diocese can provide, supplemented by wide reading and the growing volume of excellent on-line courses provided by seminaries.

One of the great traditions of Anglicanism is a learned priesthood, particularly skilled as pastors and teachers, as Ministers of Word and Sacrament. Catechists, Lectors, Parish Vistors, Eucharistic Visitors are wonderful supplementary ministries of the laity, locally discerned and valued. But their ministry is not autonomous or unique, at least in most forms of Christian ministerial theory within churches who hold the historic succession of faith and order, and in our own have always been directed and fostered by the ordained. The diaconate is another matter. Here the matter of deacons and priests being locally discerned raises the issue of polity. The unique core unit in Anglicanism is the diocese and NOT the parish. I remain uncomfortable with the idea that the initiative in discerning vocation to the diaconate and priesthood often now seems to begin in the local sub-division of the diocese, the mission or parish, and not with the bishop, and then to the parish and then with the bishop through COMS and other departments. In all this it must be remembered that unlike secular election, Christian election is always a discernment and recognition of an election which has originated in the Godhead and not in the democratic action of committees, synods or conventions.

My unease becomes greater when it is taught that all ministry is a “function” of all Christians by virtue of incorporation into “The Priesthood of All Believers” in Baptism. Now our Catechism doesn’t teach such a doctrine. It does locate ministry in four Orders, a unique turn of phrase within Anglican classical theology, but certainly not without merit.

It is at this stage in the essay that I am going to get a tad more theological. I shall refer to the classical Anglican Tradition. I suspect that my use of the word “classical” and the word “traditional” will either stop the reader walking on with me, or cause an immediate knee-jerk reaction. By classical I do not mean some narrowly partisan antique position, but rather a wide body of scholarship from Jewel to +Rowan Williams, evangelical, moderate and catholic. By Tradition I mean both the witness and experience of the Church from the beginning, expressed in theology, spirituality, liturgy, architecture, doctrine, moral theology, biblical studies, sermons, music, hymns, poetry, ceremonial, and in the lives of saints, holy women and men known and unknown and I mean the contribution of that portion of the Church described as Anglican and in some countries and regions, “Episcopal”, not all of which are TEC territory. Such a tradition is not dead but lives in contemporary reflections on the great cloud of witnesses who encompass us and look to Jesus. Tradition is alive.

My ongoing ficht with these wretched cancers has given me time to visit some old friends. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the late Boone Porter, under whose tutorship I did post-graduate studies in late 16th and the 17th century Divines, Caroline and others. I also owe a debt of great importance to the late Archbishop Henry McAdoo of Dublin, who co-chaired ARCIC for many years. He was reknown as an expert classical Anglican tradition, not as an antiquarian but as an exponent of that tradition as it relates to the modern world. He died fairly recently. His heir is Bishop Kenneth Stevenson of Portsmouth.

So I bought for a song from Canterbury Press, a wonderful resource publisher linked to SCM, a book of McAdoo’s I hadn’t read. Its title is “The Eucharistic Theology of Jeremy Taylor Today”, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 1988, ISBN 1 85311 004 3. It’s on sale.

Now to a lengthy quote from page 100. Meditating on Hebrews 7: 24, Taylor asserts that Christ’s High Priesthood is unique and intransmissible. The ministerial priesthood is unique but on another plane, that of “sacramental presentation”. Quoting Taylor in his “Holy Living”, As Christ represents to the Father the one Sacrifice, ‘So he hath appointed that the same ministry upon earth too, in our manner, according to our proportion.’

McAdoo notes that this is essentially what the ARCIC statement says. He continues by saying that the relationship between the Priesthood of Christ and the ministeral priesthood is relational and not identical.

McAdoo goes on to say “This is an important matter both in the doctrine of the eucharist and that of the ministry, that nowhere in Taylor’s work, as far as I am aware, is there any trace of the view that the ministerial priesthood and/or the RoyalPriesthood of believers is a sharing in the priesthood of Christ. Quite the contrary, since for Taylor it is clear that there are two frames of reference….Taylor speaks of the ‘excellent and supernatural abilities’ of the ministerial priesthood as ‘deriving from Christ upon his ministers’ by delegation from Him who is the fountain of evangelical ministry.’ The Archbishop then goes on to quote with approval a work by Jean Tillard, which he notes again parallels the Anglican Tradition expressed in the ARCIC document “Ministry and Ordination”.

Tillard writes: “None (of the NT texts) treats explicitly of the Christian Ministry. It even seems necessary to add that none establishes in a clear and inescapable way, any relationship between the Priesthood of Christ and that of the Church as a whole other than the following: because of the Priesthood of Christ, the faithful can offer sacrifices acceptable to God (Hebrews); because of the Sacrifice of Christ, the baptized are the People who bear the holy priesthood which is exercised in spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter). Nowhere is it said that the Priesthood of the Church ( a RoyalPriesthood, a priesthood of holiness of life) constitutes a participation in the priesthood of Christ. Nowhere is there any question of this Priesthood of the Church and that exercised in ritual worship…We had rather to do with a priesthood sui generis wholly related to the unique priestly act of
Christ, intended to assure the contact of the community with that act in the hic and nunc -here and now. This priesthood only yields up its meaning when in the light of the Memorial (in the technical sense of the term) which is the sacramental mirror reflecting hic and nunc to the Church the event of the Passover of Christ. Thanks to this priesthood the community can sit at the table where the death of the unique Priest is celebrated.”

Now in all this, if you are still with me gentle reader, is the Anglican tradition as expressed in Hooker, Andrewes, Herbert, Bramhall, Taylor, even Wesley and to this day in Ramsey and Williams. It steers a “mean between the two extremes” of the form of Roman sacerdotalism at least popularly taught in Reormation times and the Puritan reaction in its doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers, except among ministers who seemed to have been excluded in various degrees from particular priesthood. The old form of theological argument, see what your enemy says and argue the opposite quoting proof texts galore. Today the more dangerous version seems to come from those among us driven by secular egalitarianism, often with silly references to straw priests who- some did -say “Father knows best”; nor mentioning lay cabals of often unelected parish lay guardians who were often as powerful. There is also a distrust of hierarchy save that of bishops. A failure to translate secular terms into the Christian vocation therefore translates hierarchy into dominating ‘force-power’ rather than Christ modeled servant power, a hallmark of all Christian leadership. A theory of ordained and lay ministry derived as function from baptism has no biblical, traditional or reasonable tradition save in the theory if not the practice of Congregational churches of the 17th Century.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: