Evangelicalism and Ordination

A friend recently sent me a link to a website encouraging readers to consider ordination, and to attend a certain conference in furtherance of that goal. It appeared to be aimed at Episcopalians, and was being held at an Episcopal Church, although there was no clue as to who was sponsoring or organising the conference. The following paragraph is typical of its many words in praise of ordained ministry:

‘The privilege of standing in the person of Christ, representing God to humanity for the forgiveness of sins, welcoming them to the new life of Baptism, and placing in their hands and on their lips the holy food of heaven. We stand there representing to the World, her God and our God.’

This Old Testament view of priesthood is the exact contrary of the New Testament view of ministry. According to the New Testament, there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (I Timothy 2.5) who is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us (Romans 8.34). Ordained ministry in the New Testament is a ministry of preaching conversion to the unsaved and encouragement to the saved. I believe this attitude to ministry has weakened the faith of Anglicans generally and Episcopalians in particular, making too many of them dependent on their clergy for their spiritual lives. Those attracted by this sort of appeal need them to be dependent, for otherwise what privilege will be left for the clergy?

The closing words, ‘Who else gets to do this?’ are an appeal to the readers’ worst instincts. The answer to the question, given the antecedent of ‘this’, is NO ONE, Christ has already done it, and any suggestion that His work needs to be continued by others is bad news, the antigospel, because there is NO ONE ELSE who can do it.

God’s word says so.


church_society_logo_140_sans_strapAt the recent conference for Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, there was much discussion of lay ministry (see this post). An ordinand in the Church of England, Chris Edwards, makes a great contribution to that subject on the Church Society blog:

When we say “the church’s ministry depends on volunteers” we are making a sub-biblical distinction between the church on the one hand and her people on the other. We restrict what we mean by ‘the church’s ministry’ to the corporate projects in which her leaders decide to engage. And our best expectation for everyone else – the ‘volunteers’ – is that they will wholeheartedly throw themselves into the leaders’ plan. The distinction is subtle, but it is a dangerous one, because it makes the church a two-tier place. Yes, of course there must be leadership – and, indeed, submission to leadership. And I am not meaning to undermine the notion of ordination. But drawing a distinction between ‘church’ and ‘volunteers’ does not help people marvel at the wonder of what it means to belong – fully – to the Body of Christ.

Check it out here.

From the Reform web-site:

New Book on Bishops by Michael Keulemans: The changing nature of the Anglican episcopate in mainland Britain

“This book, one of only two major studies on the subject for over sixty years and certainly the first ever written from an Evangelical standpoint, looks at the New Testament and Early Church evidence for the episcopate and traces its development in Britain from Roman times.  It discovers that it became increasingly politicised almost from the start, a process which was not halted by the English Reformation, even though, at least on paper, Cranmer returned it to its original teaching function.

“Particular attention is paid to how Queen Victoria and her Prime Ministers sought to balance the bench between the Latitudinarians, the Evangelicals and the new Catholic party, while the backgrounds and careers of all diocesan bishops between 1905 and 2005 are examined in detail.  Developments within the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church are also given a chapter each.  The results of a major statistical survey of clergy and churchwardens in the dioceses of Leicester, Bradford, Monmouth and Edinburgh are probed to see how these two groups view the modern functions of a bishop, compared with the opinions of recently retired bishops.

“In the final chapter suggestions are made for the reform of the episcopate to make it more Spirit-filled and attuned to the pastoral needs of the parishes.  A practical proposal is also presented to solve the impasse over women bishops in a way that is scrupulously fair and provides opportunities to both sides of the debate.”

Should be interesting to all those wondering who’s going to replace Rowan Williams as ‘Archbishop’ (whatever that is), and actually useful to anyone in a diocese that is beginning the process of electing a bishop—although reforming the American episcopate is an even bigger task than reforming the English one, I’d say.

As I read the latest outburst from AMiE (it seems more charitable to account for its incoherence by regarding it as an outburst of frustration rather than a carefully thought-out statement) in today’s Church Times, I was struck by how far removed from classical evangelicalism the AMiE spokesmen are. Read the whole thing here. At the end of a paragraph about the events that led to the ‘Arab Spring’ comes the statement ‘In the C of E, following years of similar problems, a bishop refused to say he would teach that homosexual practice was a sin and thus young men were unable to accept ordination from him.’ I am resisting the temptation to explore the similarities between the sufferings of people in Egypt under Mubarak with those of Evangelicals in the Church of England ‘under’ Rowan Williams, but cannot let pass the suggestion that because a bishop refuses to accept the biblical teaching on sexuality, he cannot ordain faithful biblical people for ministry in the church.

This suggestion can only be made by one who does not accept the classical evangelical position on ordination, which is that it is functional rather than ontological. A brief description of the difference, along with a commendation of the ontological position, can be found on Leander Harding‘s blog, here. Leander talks about the difference mostly in terms of the function to be exercised by the person ordained, but the important element in the case quoted by AMiE is the function of the bishop in ordaining. Surely no Evangelical could believe for a minute that the bishop is conveying to the ordinand anything but permission to function as a minister in the church. The classical evangelical understanding is that in ordination the bishop functions on behalf of the church, and that his own holiness, let alone his theological acumen, are beside the point. The bishop is an officer in the church with certain duties, and he can carry them out efficiently for Evangelicals even if he is an Anglo-Catholic or a Liberal.

Not only is this the classical evangelical view, which AMiE claims to uphold, but it is also the position of the Thirty Nine Articles, which AMiE also claims to uphold. ‘In the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry’—Article XXVI.

If faithful biblical people cannot be ordained by unfaithful or unbiblical bishops, there will soon be no faithful biblical ministry in the church. Evangelicals who undermine the functional view of ordination are undermining the ability of their own church to attract Evangelicals into ministry, and will end up in a church that promotes the ontological view. I wish they would reconsider their position.