Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Priesthood

This note is a bit of a catchall on a subject that has many sharp thistles. I have twisted them all together so they lack a certain coherence, but hold it carefully or you night get pricked.

Doug at Metacatholic has written on priesthood. He had a few comments from Peter Kirk and me on the first post and promised to write more. Alas, our scintillating comments got lost by the service provider - and that's just fine. We can't really lose anything or come behind in any gift. I more or less agreed with Peter though I expect his tradition with respect to the use of the term priesthood is different from mine. I grew up in my later years in the Anglican Church - my relationship with the ordained has been difficult. Unlike certain bloggers, I do not harp on the abusers of others since I was a target for such abuse myself from one of the cloth. I assure you, I have found forgiveness for this tortured man, a product of 900 years of abuse himself, and I do not hold a grudge against the ordained for this or any other reason.

There is no argument for or against governance. It is a necessity. We do things in due order for God is not a God of confusion but of peace. But order is not hieros - a word not used in the NT except as it applies to the priests of Israel.

When I began to read in the first flush of a desperate faith after years of atheism, I remember an old priest telling me that I had no business reading Hebrews, but that Hebrews should be read by priests only. I don't know what that comment was supposed to mean but I didn't take it as good teaching. Many years later when I was searching to describe the experience of my baptism into Christ's death, my first written sermon got this response from a priest: so what!

The teaching I have had from priests has been variable. I cannot say I learned Christ from them. I search for good sermons and find few. The problem is that they are the only ones licensed to preach and while some of them do it well, most don't. It is not a matter of education or original languages, but of gift. The governance structure of the Churches has tended to maintain the power structures of the society. Such a hidden motive does not desire that the gifts of the people be found and exercised. I can't say that the non-episcopalians have done a lot better - if we aren't maintaining social order, we seem to be good at devouring widow's houses. (This is not accusation. I said 'we' deliberately.)

I read Hebrews last year with the folks at St Andrews - I have never worked so hard for a short conference. I read many books and loved the work of Albert Vanhoye - I diagrammed his work here. There is nothing in Hebrews that is inimical to Jews - it should not be read as polemic. And there is a justification for all the robes and drama of the liturgy - we celebrate the entry of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies - and us with him through the veil that is to say his flesh.

While there is justification for the appropriation of the ancient cult, there is no justification for the insinuation of hierarchy in the Church. It shall not be so among you.

Only recently I honoured Paul's priestly allusions in Romans, but he is not a Kohen - he is a Benjaminite. I have not thought much about his priesthood - but I dare say I share it though I am not ordained. I asked Doug in my lost comment if I could bless a congregation using the word 'you'. That would be a priestly act. It is not an act representing order but an act showing the power of the Spirit. I was once criticised for using the blessing of Hebrews 13 at the close of compline and not changing the you to an us. This is error - long tradition notwithstanding. Ecclesiam semper reformandam. There is no reason why one who is leading a service should not pronounce a blessing or an absolution or conduct a baptism or preside at a Eucharist. I have not in my recollection baptised anyone or absolved anyone, but I would not hesitate if the time and place were right. I have pronounced blessings and I have con-celebrated a Eucharist (in Turkey where there were Christians but no members of the cloth) but it is not my general practice since I am an Anglican. The priests would give me 40 lashes save 1 for disobeying canon law but they would not be justified for their actions.

And this is the main problem. Leadership enables. It does not control for power's sake. When leadership fails to enable, the status quo needs to change. Christendom is like software - there is error upon error upon error. You cannot justify error by its longevity. 1500 years of error is still error.

A very good man in my congregation asked me for help with the finances. We got to talking about the Psalms (that subject always comes up.) And he asked - 'O, do the Jews have the same psalter?' He is in his mid 50s, has attended that congregation for many years. Would I be proud as leader if that were the state of the education of my flock? When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. Perhaps in this case it should read - every one of you has a spreadsheet and a power point presentation - but we have no idea what a psalm is.

Well, it is not mine to judge, for God is able to make this elder brother stand and who knows, his question to me was perhaps a beginning of a new understanding - so I shouldn't dine out so often on his ignorance!

The software needs to be fixed, not endured further. The time of Christendom is over, of course. But the rule of Christ is not. He is a most wonderful peer for software review. Once the version of the software is in the library, it is ready for execution. How will we stir each other up to get all these elder modules some of whom can't find the library working to the capacity of their glory?

1 comment:

John said...

Thank you for a beautiful post.

You do an excellent job of pointing out the damage done by clerics (those with and those without a collar) whose actions are far from bringing glory to the Highest.