Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rethinking Ordination and Pastors

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. VIII: Morality - Petersen

Ordination and Tradition have gone hand in hand for hundreds of years, so much so that ordination is assumed to be part of the Biblical New Testament method of doing things in the Christian church. As the Seventh-day Adventist church is confronted with the controversial idea of ordination/commissioning of Adventists Pastors this would be a good time to reconsider the whole process. As much as women pastors may break Adventist tradition I would suggest that our whole system is based upon early church authoritarian standards which don’t work that well in the modern Western world. I won’t go over the evidence for that conclusion other than to say that in general Christianity is in decline in the Western World and Christianity is more often the joke of society because it has held to traditions which are counter productive.

From New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge vol 8 page 266 says:

“The distinction between clergy and laity arose gradually in the second century. It shows an influence of the Jewish differentiation between priesthood and people. Traces of it are seen in the first epistle of Clement and in the apostolic church order. Clement of Alexandria uses the three terms, presbyters, deacons, and laymen {Strom, III., xii.),..”

It is with this early church history in mind that most look back at the New Testament verses and read them with the idea of clergy and laymen in mind. To understand the method I will be referring to a well written article entitled “WHY DOES THE CHURCH ORDAIN FOR MINISTRY?. Most knowledgeable people know that the New Testament gives no instruction for ordination, it has been a tradition which is felt to be implied by various New Testament texts. The article linked to above present these texts and offers the traditional Christian interpretation but I would suggest that the traditional interpretation is not necessarily the interpretation that was intended by the authors. In simple terms the idea of clergy and laity is not consistent with the New Testament context of church.

We first begin with the Pastor, this word comes from the Greek for a shepherd. The idea being someone who guides and helps support and comfort other people. With tradition separating clergy and laity and even later the idea of one Bishop per city and then one Bishop per congregation the idea became that there should be one Pastor per church. This seems to even remain today in huge churches which have multiple Pastors with one generally classed as the head Pastor. But what if we got rid of the clergy laity definition, what would a pastor be then? Pastors then would be like teachers in that the church could have many pastors even small churches as the pastors would be people who possess the ability to guide people, to comfort and support their fellow church members. Pastors then like teachers could be capable of directing their efforts to those they feel most comfortable with. Just as we don’t assume that a kindergarten teachers is going to be a good youth teacher or a good grade school teacher will be a good adult teacher we would accept that a pastor is not adequate to comfort and guide everyone but that they have a talent for certain people groups.

Can you imagine the difference in a church if we took the pastoral role and allowed the laity to perform those duties which in fact are the main duties that the New Testament ascribes to Elders/Bishops. For far too long we have assumed that the Pastor in the clergy laity division is the one who is responsible to preach and baptize and visit and head the day to day activities of the business of a church. The fact is that without the clergy laity division there are numerous people who could preach though I will admit that preaching is probably the least useful method of teaching, reaching or inspiring people. With multiple pastors multiple methods of instruction inside the church could be preformed at the same time. (I will use pastors for the multiple pastor concept and Pastor for the traditional Christian Pastor concept.) We don’t all have to sit around like lumps listening to someone pontificate from the pulpit. The making of disciples could be far more active and engaging, more social and more fun than our tradition has made it. Further there is no Biblical indication that baptism is only appropriately performed by a clergy member.

Once you move beyond the clergy laity division many of the traditions which the church holds become little more then hindrances upon the church, denomination traditions being no less hindrances. This is what we are finding now when the Adventist church declares that they cannot support women’s ordination as a whole denomination. Some conferences do support and others don’t and both assert they have Biblical authority on their side. Yet without a clear Biblical definition of ordination neither side really has Biblical authority they just have different methods of interpretation and acceptance of tradition and culture.

Now let us look at the arguments that a denomination would use to back up their position for ordination but let us remember that it could be possible that the clergy laity division is not the proper method of interpretation. How can we look at the classic Christian traditional interpretations when we keep in mind the idea of one body made up by the many members acting with Christ as the head?

The first reason from the article “WHY DOES THE CHURCH ORDAIN FOR MINISTRY?:

Ordination is not intended to bestow honor; it is intended to bestow authority for service. When one thinks of this authority, the need for certification is obvious. A minister is authorized to teach the Scriptures and the doctrines of the church. This requires more than Sunday School knowledge; it calls for serious prior supervised study and eventual certification. In their line of duty, ministers may enter the homes of the community to visit a young family, or to pray with a housebound elderly person. Ministers may call on hospital patients on the eve of their surgery. Or they may be called on to counsel parties to a crumbling marriage, or to hear the painful confessions of a deeply troubled conscience. Ministers may also be called upon to represent their church at a community function.

As with the clergy versus laity division the assumption is clergy has authority, we all know of course that clergy can be just as wrong as any member of the laity and that members of the laity can have a better understanding of God then the clergy. So what authority do they mean here? Answer; denominational authority. This is the hierarchy goal of a denomination. Where they can ensure that their denominational beliefs are maintained, this serves to stifle innovation and relational development, it seeks to cling to denominational concepts above all else, right or wrong. When you cling to something because it is your tradition the possibility of recognizing areas where you are wrong is very limited. But that is what the authority of one Pastor sets in place. When you read the rest of the quoted paragraph you see that all of those duties could be handled by multiple people with their multiple areas of expertise. Personally I think it would be unwise to get marital counseling from a Pastor just because the denomination has certified him/her; specialized training would be advisable and since there could be multiple pastors at any one church it would be possible to have people who can do the various tasks. The difference here is again authority because the Pastor gets paid by the denomination to do these things. But the local church actually pays the cost and if they were not attempting to support the denominational authority they could support their active pastors. Certainly small churches are exceptions in such cases it may not be possible for the small church to obtain specialized training for the laity pastors but still with the multiple pastors concept it may be possible for people to find supportive pastors who can help since often just listening is useful and they can certainly direct to local counselors in the community.

The article states:

The detail about the preparation of persons for ordained ministry is buried deep in the history of the New Testament church. There we are not told everything we would like to know. Even so, although the explicit word for ordination does not appear in the Greek Scriptures, there are a number of indications to show that care was taken to set apart certain believers for the special task of ministry or oversight. For example, from his wider throng of disciples, and after a whole night of prayer, our Lord set apart twelve of his followers as “apostles” (Lk. 6;12-16). The word means, “one sent with a commission.” Jesus gave them authority to carry out a special ministry on his behalf.

There is nothing here I am disagreeing with but I think it is useful to point out that all believers are given a special task of ministry and oversight. It is incumbent in the New Testament command of making disciples of all men. Being a follower of Christ includes concepts of treating your neighbor as yourself and not judging by a standard that you are not willing to be judged by. As ambassadors of Christ we preach reconciliation to God, all Christians are set aside for a sacred purpose.

The second point of the article on why ordination is:

The fullest insight into the developing practices of the early church is given in the pastoral epistles. In writing to Timothy, the Apostle Paul exhorted, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you (1 Tim. 4:14). Three things stand out in this concise word. (1) What he was to exercise was given to him as a gift (charisma); in other words a spiritual endowment he would need for the work of ministering. (2) The gift was apparently bestowed in his case through a prophetic message. (3) The gift was conferred by means of the laying on of hands.

It is unfortunate that when seeking to make scripture conform to tradition people jump to conclusions like this. We in fact don’t know what the gift was other then Timothy should not neglect it, we don’t know what the prophetic message was and what have no reason to think that the laying on of hands initiated the gift. But somehow this instance become the “fullest insight”. We could debate what the laying on of hands means or symbolized, I would submit it represents a connection of the community to the one who they are laying their hands on. I would not tend to believe it represents the commutation of authority upon someone rather the blessing of the community on someone. Support and acceptance and encouragement as well as connection, similarities to the laying on of a hand to an animal to be sacrificed, where the idea is this is my sacrifice I am connected to it, the laying on of hands represent the connection the relationship between those involved.

The third point in the article:

One thing that stands out in the pastoral references to the setting apart of leaders in the New Testament church was the emphasis on integrity of character. Much is said about this. The overseer must “fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience” (1 Tim. 1:19). He must be “above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self controlled, respectable ...” (1 Tim. 3:2ff). In the same passage, he must be “apt to teach” and therefore is expected to be well taught in the Scriptures and the formulation of Christian doctrine. Given such high requirements, it is not surprising that Paul’s instructions included that an ordinand “must not be a recent convert ...” (1 Tim. 3:6) and this is matched by the Apostle’s later instructions “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands,” (1 Tim. 5:22). This is an obvious reference to what the church through the centuries has called ordination.

The exhortation to live as a Christian is essential to all Christians. We all have to fight the good fight and hold on to faith. The context of “not be hasty laying on hands” is most likely dealing with accepting someone into the community of believers befor they are sure that they are really believers. This is particularly important when the Gnostics were about with their distortion of Christ and God while using much of the same language as the proto Christians. It is interesting to read 1 Timothy in the light of its church organization topics as it does give a good indication that the book is much later that Paul’s writings. It reflects the usage that the 3rd century leaders had assigned to themselves as authorities yet it is written so completely differently from Paul’s other books. But that is another subject. The advice in the book is still sound as those who help to shepherd or teach should not be new converts and should be sound thinkers and familiar with Christianity.

Ultimately ordination is not the problem it is the problem of denominational authoritarianism and employment. Laying on hands or acknowledging that a member of a congregation is set apart for a task in God’s community is completely reasonable. A symbol that the entire church can see and get behind and acknowledge; but that can become a problem when we deny that symbol to someone based upon their gender. It become an ethical problem when we deny someone equal employment compensation as well. But as it is we have become a denomination that is far to top heavy and we are in need of serious overhaul.

A funny thing about the Adventist women’s ordination controversy is that in the same portion of the Bible that talks about pastors it talks of teachers. Yet our educational system has no problem employing male and female teachers at equivalent pay. It is so interesting to see how cultural traditions work to interpret the Biblical text and how difficult it is too move people away from their traditions.

(Eph 4:11-12 NIV) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

Even the most popular text used of Elders may not be meant at all in connection with Pastors as it was a specific instruction for Titus in attempting to start new churches in new towns and combat those opposing Christians.

(Titus 1:5-9 NIV) 5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Of course given the cultural climate one would certainly not have sent out a woman to be a founding Elder but as we can see there is something more than Biblical hermeneutics going on here with both ordination and Pastoral roles, that is there is an attempt to make tradition both Christian and denomination our authority. That is something that we have to get away from, so go ahead and call me post modern I will accept the title gladly I just won't accept the status quo.

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