Priestly priorities: ordination, orders and the permanent diaconate

Whilst I’m happy with the three-fold understanding of leadership mentioned in my last post in this sequence – good character, sound doctrine, ability to teach – I think that more needs to be said. Most especially, I think that there is something essential to the priestly role which comes about through ordination. Here my Anglo-Catholic nature asserts itself!

As I understand it, one of the essential elements of ordination is that a person is being entrusted with authority by the wider church, and therefore carries that authority into their work within the local church. It is this authority – derived from the authority and nature of the Bishop’s work – which makes the difference between a congregational church and an episcopal church. Note – it is this and nothing about how people are paid (eg parish share or not) that makes the difference.

Furthermore, this authority carries over into sacramental worship; that is, sacramental worship – most especially our communion – is only rightly ordered when it is not simply a communion of a gathered congregation but the communion of that congregation with the wider church. This is why lay presidency is anathema and would destroy Anglicanism as an episcopal church. I see this ‘bearing of authority’ as an essential element of the work of the stipendiary priest, and it carries over into the nature of the work that they do.

This is why we need to be careful in considering ‘good character’ a prerequisite of ministry. There is an undoubted sense in which a church leader needs to embody the doctrine which they teach, and ‘notorious and unrepentant sinners’ are by that measure disqualified from acting in leadership. Yet sometimes the priest needs to stand over-against a particular congregation – or group within a congregation – for perfectly holy reasons, and it is through resting in that episcopally-derived authority that this becomes possible. This is an element of the Anglican patrimony that I think is quite precious. (I think there is also an aspect of priestly ministry as it relates to communion bound up with a healthy understanding of the New Temple and sacrifice – but this isn’t the post for that, I’m just putting down a marker!)

Having said the above about ordination, I would want to emphasise that priests are not the only ‘orders’ in the church. Most especially I would argue that a recovered understanding of the diaconal ministry is essential for meeting the needs that we now face, and, moreover, such a diaconal ministry needs to be based on Acts 6: “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

Doug said some good things on this here, and it is a subject dear to my own heart. I believe that one of the things that we are presently being called to do is to simultaneously a) call many, many more people to ministry for the church and b) become much clearer about the specific vocations to each order, and the differences between them. Then, perhaps, all the different parts of the body might be enabled to work together, for the greater glory of God.

4 thoughts on “Priestly priorities: ordination, orders and the permanent diaconate

  1. Sam, I have just read your post on lay presidency and I think your reasoning is fundamentally flawed. However, I’m not going to spend time on Christmas Eve arguing the point, so – Merry Christmas to you and your family!!!!

  2. I don’t see why lay-presidency would destroy Anglicanism as an episcopal church. (1) Your three biblical essentials for priestly ministry have no mention of who presides at Holy Communion (which is good, as the NT writers seem uninterested in the subject), and (2) As long as the lay-presider has the permission of the Bishop (as in Ignatius), what’s the problem? Let’s remember that ‘presbyters’ in the NT were probably much closer in function to lay-readers/church council members than to modern-day priests.

    But of course I’m going to argue for all this in the series I’ve just begun at my blog!

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