What is the purpose of hierarchy? What is the purpose of ordination?
1. The labour of the people
4. Handing on the tradition
5. The rights of the labourer
6. The lack of rights of the labourer
1. The labour of the people
God intends to make a competent and responsive people. The Church is to take on some of the servant character of God and some of the offices of God. It is not that God ceases to exercise his offices. No statement of this sort is possible if we attempt to consider the Church in isolation from Christ its head, or to limit ourselves to statements that merely contrast two natures, identifying a work of God (activity) and a work of man (passivity) in the act of Jesus Christ, or identify after the ascension an action of man presided over by an inaction of God. This people is the work of God who presently labours by his Spirit to bring us into action. God has made man passive in order to give him a new action and life. He gives us his Spirit, and he makes the Church confess this Spirit, and theology must set out a Christological pneumatology.
The whole Christian body is elect to the work of God. This work is to be a demonstration of the victory of the unity of God over all divisive powers. The Body is to participate in its Lord’s work of releasing the world from all the alien authorities that presently hold the world captive. All Christians are members of this new assembly which speaks the truth, which teaches and enables truthful public speech, practises justice and praises God for his justice. The Church is a proleptic parliamentary and juridical assembly. All its members are citizens in a commonwealth: they will all grow up to the fullness of Christ. ‘There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men’ (1 Corinthians 12.4-11, 28). The service all Christians are engaged is to point away from the premature closure insisted on by all worldly statement, and to witness to the heavenly assembly that works with a more ambitious definition of humanity.
But the Christian body is not yet obediently at work. Teaching and leadership must presently be limited to those appointed specifically to teach and prepare others. The only purpose of the appointment of some to particular offices in the church is to prepare the whole church to exercise this single office. Authority in the Church is in the service of the Church’s authority over the world.
It is not possible for us to remain stalled at some neutral or intermediate position in which we are half-holy, neither beginners nor teachers. We remain under discipline, students of our master. We judge ourselves and each other (1 Corinthians 11.31); we are all encouragers and teachers. We must go on to become mature Christians, and to take on our own students and disciples.
2. The indivisible priesthood of Christ with his body
In the form of the Church, the world is elect. This elect community is the world. The world is already fully present in the Church, when the Church is understood as the act of God. The world does not have any being outside its election in this people. The world does not sustain itself from its own independent resources, nor hold out from its own resources against the resources God brings to it. The Church is the reconciliation of the world. It is the event in which many warring worlds are made one world. The Church-with-its-head is one single unit of mediation, the intermediary.
The Church is universal and in every place. It is Catholic and local. The bishop is the presence of the whole Church, and thus of all other local communities, present as single person. He is the ambassador and inspector sent to ensure the good order of each particular congregation. It is his presence that makes each congregation the whole indivisible Church. The Church is not divided by space into many places. Rather the Church distinguishes and sustains the difference of each place from each other, and gives it its particular place in the one place of God. The one is not prior to the many, nor the many (universal) to the one (particular).
‘As Christ (the only priest) becomes in the Holy Spirit a community (his body, the Church), his priesthood is realised and portrayed in historical existence here and now as a eucharistic community in which his ‘image’ is the head of the community offering with and on behalf of the community the eucharistic gifts. Thus the community itself becomes priestly in the sense of 1 Peter 2.5 & 9.. the priestly character…derives from… the togetherness and simultaneous gathering…of all the orders of the community.’ (Zizioulas Being as Communion p.231)
The whole Church, united with its head, represents one single action and identity of priesthood. There are not many priests. There is one priest, Christ with his body. He makes us the people (laos, laity). The whole body, clergy included is body, one people. Clergy are laity. The identification of clergy and laity as opposites divides the indivisible people of God. Everyone is ordained to a place within this people. But none is ordained to an undefined ‘lay’ status. Each is ordained to this or that particular station and office. Everyone is ordained disciple/student of a mature Christian, and leader/teacher of some other less mature set of Christians. Each is ordained to a position in which they protect (x) and are protected by (y). Every Christian is protected by the Christian on his right, and protects the Christian on his left. Every position in the Christian body is composed of at least these two offices, a ‘receiving’ office and a ‘giving’ (handing on) office. Everyone is at least these two things.
But no one is ordained to remain within any fixed set of offices. Each station is ordained to prepare us for the next. Each is eagerly to desire the greater gifts (1 Corinthians 12.31). Being stationary is not ordained. Growth is ordained. We are to grow up, move up and take on more. Anything else is to be stalled, and to hold back the whole body.
We are ordained to a particular place and work. The particular and local is in a mutually constitutive relation with the universal and catholic.
3.1 Baptism is ordination
By our baptism we are given a particular place and identity in a congregation. We set to do a specific work within that congregation. Every baptism is an ordination. Ordination is the act of the congregation moving a Christian from one specific work and place to another. A congregation may send a member to another congregation in another city because it recognises the needs of that congregation. It takes pity on this other place, and passes on to it some of the blessing it has received, by sending something of itself in the person of this particular Christian. It chooses a Christian and lays hands on him (2 Timothy 1.6). Every member is implicated in this act of conferring this office and exercise of (Spirit-operated) ability. This sending of gifts and embassies ties together all places and gives them a eucharistic definition. Ordination must be to a particular place, by the bishop and the congregation that forms the Church in that place.
3.2 Bishops, locality and particularity
The bishop is a supervisor (epi-scope). He is the ambassador and the gift sent by all other local congregations to this particular local congregation. He represents them in this locality. He stands for the world as a whole, a whole which the future will reveal. The universal Church does not come before the many local churches, nor do the many local churches exist before the universal Church. The single local church is as original as the universal Church that includes every different localities. The ‘part’ will coincide with the whole. They will all of them together be the whole world, not world-parts, but particulars that are one whole. The one is not prior to the many, nor the many prior to the one. The doctrine of the bishop is a doctrine about the universal and the local, about place and about particularity and incarnation, the irreducible difference and givenness of each place, and of each community and each person. In each bishop all the other congregations of the Church, and places of the world, are present to this particular congregation. The bishop must attend and receive his authority from councils. Modernity assumes that one place is infinitely replaceable by another. The witness of the bishop is of the absolutely particular status each place receives from its place in the body of Christ.
There is no general ordination to clergy office. Ordination is not a sacrament. It is induction to a new congregation, or even within a congregation. The church moves its people around to reinforce whichever congregation needs them to give it the necessary range of gifts. The point of ordaining a clergy was to make them Scripture-literate (see 4.2). But to send them to the modern university is to take them away from the Church, and trains them in a rationality opposed to Christian discipline, which enforces an alien and universalizing discipline on them.
3.3 Ordination as an evacuation of baptism
The clerical-sacerdotal concept of priesthood makes a two-tier Church. It is an implicit refusal to be the laity and so contrasts priesthood to laity, and divides what God has united.
The assumption operating beneath this distinction between priest and laity is that priests have the fullness of being. This is given to them by the transfer of essence, through the succession of priests from the apostles. The event of their ordination transfers to them a one-time deposit of the fullness of being, or sacramental power. Then it is assumed that the laity are only fully human insofar as their humanity is supplied to them by their relation to a priest via the act of consecration in which the priest constitutes the sacraments.
Such a concept of priesthood is derived from a scholastic and Aristotelian understanding that a priest represents the fullness of being, the highest in the hierarchy of being, as Aristotle assumed that the male represented the fullness of being. Everything below man participates in differing degrees in his being, so for example, women are three-quarters men, children and slaves are half-men. On this definition the priest is what he is by essence, or nature. He alone is not constituted in relationship, but everything else is what it is in relationship to him and dependence on him.
The Christian Church must contradict this substance ontology. It says that we become a human only as our being is given to us by other persons. We are constituted persons by relationships. We are human (and redeemed and perfected) as we really receive, and the Spirit implements in us, the offices, charisms and fullness of being given us in Christ. When Christ is all in all, and the whole body is complete, each of us will receive our proper gendered humanity and definition as men and women, through the many relations and roles given us and in which we consist. Man and woman receive their definition spiritually and therefore eschatologically, not from nature.
There can be no satisfactory essentialist understanding of the sacraments. There is no conferral of spiritual substance. The priest does not consecrate the bread by laying his hands on it. All talk of priesthood on the basis of substance (essence) conferred, holiness conferred by laying on of priestly hands, puts a concept of substance in place of the action of God. God is himself the medium of all these transformations. The medium of God’s work is himself a person. It is not a substance or essence, but it is he himself. The Holy Spirit is the person of God’s working. Only a pneumatology can rescue from the otherwise inevitable assumption that what God does he does in reliance on some basis or other. We need this pneumatology to say that God attacks, seizes and brings to nothing all bases. He brings to nothing all substance that is not of his own working. He builds only on his own. He is the foundation of all his work. The Spirit attacks the other lordships, their constructions and all that they have managed to produce. This pneumatology demands a relational ontology.
We must therefore at least ask whether to be ordained is to leave behind those who are not ordained, and so to vitiate and disparage their own ministering status. Do those who go in for such a second blessing not get themselves circumcised in defiance of the injunction ‘I tell you if you let yourself be circumcised Christ will be of no value to you at all?’ (Galatians 5.2). Do they not want to intend to distinguish themselves above the people (laos), to abandon the work of witnessing to the tension of identity and to gain a premature security by a conspicuous public identity? But the world must be continually asking who the Christians are, and fail to subsume them under any familiar category. The refusal of worldly identity is what Christian witness is. To take the clerical identity is to refuse to suffer this crisis of public identity that Christ lays upon his followers. Non-clerical Christians who are not taught and encouraged in this ministry of defiance of worldly-identity will be left open to loss of confidence in this cross and vulnerable to gradual descent into individualism.
3.4 Difference in the Church & discerning the body
The teacher is of a higher status than the learner. Proper distinction of the differences and identification of the parts is required to celebrate the reconciliation that makes the unity of the one body. The evidence of the end time is visible in the Lord’s supper where all contraries and enemies meet and the master eats with his slave. These are the signs that the hierarchy and rationality of the world is being replaced. From it the world and its rulers must recognise that their house is divided and their time is up. This is the event of the reconciliation of the divisions and oppositions imposed on the world by the rival gods. Their defeat is visible in the unity of the Christian assembly.
Discerning the body involves submitting to continual assessment by and the discipline of our colleagues in order to improve the performance of the whole community in demonstrating for the world the unity and freedom that God now establishes. The body is only present when the least visible member is present. It is not the ninety-nine, but the missing one who must be searched for and found before the flock is constituted.
The leaders of the Church may create offices in the same way as a primary school teacher creates a range of jobs for children to do (blackboard monitor, register monitor etc). There is a regular ceremony of ordination and review, in which some are promoted and other demoted, and people are circulated through the jobs. There may be a buddy-buddy system in which each is paired with someone more experienced, each covering for each other and bearing the whole consequences of the action of the pair.
4. Handing on the whole gospel
4.1 Come to your congregation bearing gifts
Do not go to your congregation empty handed: take them the gift they don’t have. Do not try to construct a basis for communication before you preach or teach the gospel. Do not intend to introduce them to the cross only when they indicate that they are ready for it. Hand over to the whole congregation the whole gospel and the whole range of gifts and tasks. Hand on the Scripture, the tradition and all the practices of corporate self-discipline. It is your job to break open the limitless wealth of the Christian tradition and from it to feed this generation. The Church can only be nurtured on this whole body of tradition. It must hand it on in good condition. From this tradition we receive the guidance and rulings that keep the Church in good order, which define and defend its borders, and prevent excessive ambiguity in its witness. The assembled Church must also act as a law-court which judges individual hard cases. It has the power of expulsion. The Church is to be able to set out the Christian syllabus (catechism) and legislation.
4.2 The modern Church and the gospel
The word of the Church does not belong to the Church. It belongs to God, and it belongs to the world that God intends it for. It must be spoken. If it is not spoken it has not properly been heard. What God breathes out the Church must breathe in, and breathe out again to the world. If its holds his word in it will become a curse to the Church. The Word is the sacrament: the lesson and sermon are eucharistic elements.
The sermon opens Scripture. The sermon is expansion on the lessons. It links the readings together, and links them to previous and future lessons. The sermon is to spell out the relationships between the readings, and so to indicate where in the wilderness the Church presently is. This will determine what the Church must now ask for in the eucharistic prayers. The sermon is not an opportunity for displaying individual subjectivity.
There must be a Scripture-literate cadre, which understands the bible is a single canon and indivisible testament of God. Modern Christians are taught to divide the Old Testament from the New, prefer the New testament from the Old and so to divide the indivisible testament of God. They are not taught not to take what God has given in its totality, but to impose some aesthetic of their own on it. When the Old Testament is demoted or discarded with it goes all understanding that we (gentiles) are the latecomers, inserted into a long-existing community. Without this understanding that the work of God has begun before us, and has created a community that precedes us, goes all understanding that God has made us one with what we were previously opposed to, and this work he has grasped us, and only consequently and dependently do we grasp him. This is a pneumatology. The ‘theology’ of the modern Church teaches Christians to assume that they may read the Scriptures without the Church, its tradition or any teacher. When it finds that this individual reading produces no gratification, it replaces the bible with less demanding reading. The Church has only to mistrust the Old Testament and the New testament will become closed to it, and will then serve only to reflect only our own modern self-consciousness. The test of all clergy is whether they are competent at the undivided canon of Scripture that is both old and new.
Without such an understanding that God is his own effective communicator and translator, we are left only with theories of clergy or institution of the Church as the guarantee of the continuity and efficacy of the gospel. God’s speaking voice and acting hand is muffled and opposed by the Church that prefers Christ to stay in heaven to let his clerical lieutenants continue his work without him (see Farrow). The consequence of not challenging modern dichotomies (institution versus individual) is that the modern Church has not been taught any pneumatology, so the clergy have replaced Christ as worker.
4.3 Truth-telling and wielding of authority
There is a Christian duty of truth telling, of identifying what is wrong and saying so. The truth of Christ is not obvious. It is revealed. Where it is not revealed, it remains unknown. The world does not know unless we tell it. There must be positive prepositional truth-telling. It takes as its source the dual gift of Scripture and the tradition of its interpretation. It is didactic and dogmatic. A Socratic inductive approach is required only for checking and reinforcing what has been taught, and to teach the skills of reasoning from one case to another (case law, casuistry). The leader must teach (catechise) the congregation. They must teach Christian knowledge as practical know-how about what do next in order to move each member towards the next gift and level of instruction. The leader has to lead, teach and judge and to prepare a cadre of leaders, teachers and judges. They must understand that it is more merciful to judge and correct early, to prevent a clumsy act becoming a habit or a blemish becoming contagious.
4.4 Determination of doctrine, orthodoxy, discipline, excommunication
The means of expelling people out of the Church, and of the stages in which they can be admitted again must be known. Such discipline of self-control sustains and gives definition to any community.
5. The rights of the labourer
The teacher is of a higher status than the learner. ‘No doubt there have to be differences among to show which of you have God’s approval’ (1 Corinthians 11.19). There is no equality in the Church, but only complementarity. The leader of the congregation must ensure that there is a visible hierarchy of talents. There is no equality and are no rights. Christians are not all the same, and their sanctification is not homogenization, but rather as they are conformed to Christ they become increasingly distinct and different from one another.
6. The lack of rights of the labourer
Christians are refusniks. They do not accept the world’s definition of things. The leader must lead the corporate action of withdrawal from the world (asceticism, fasting) in order to gain self-control from the leadership of the enemy and the old bonds and inhibitions. This self-control comes from being under law and discipline of the Church. It therefore involves the active exercise of modelling the new action, and disciplining these ready to learn from discipline, in order to abandon worldly instincts for the instincts of Christ. Without it we remain complicit in the undisciplined and unsatisfiable assertion of our ‘needs’. The Christians must provide a public demonstration of the reduction of desire (‘Demand’, the terminology of economics) in worldly definition and the development of desire. They must display a new ambition and greed for the work and sustenance that the Spirit intends to supply his people.
The Christian duty of truth telling and of identifying what is wrong and saying so, requires that Christians put up with the condemnation that this brings them. It requires the monastic imperative of total loss of rights, being separated from the things of this world in order to see past them. There are no human rights, but only generosity and good stewardship.
Justice depends upon God’s sanctifying of our relations to material possessions. Political right comes from the love of God and our neighbour. To claim property in defiance of the law of love is to forego our right to that possession. Every possession and right to exercise leadership is entirely a spiritual possession and right. It always remains the possession of the Spirit who can withdraw it from us.