Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Ministry of Word and Sacrament

Sometimes I think we hold on to suspect theology because we do not wish to question the wisdom of the traditions we have received.  Take the concept of the 'minister' who is involved in the ministry of 'word and sacrament.'

Firstly, there is the labeling some people as 'ministers'.  Paul talks in Ephesians of those who prepare people for works of 'ministry' (Ephesians 4:12, ESV).  All Christians are to be seen as ministers.  Then there is the fact that we ordain those we refer to as the 'ministers'.  Derek Tidball claims that ‘nothing like the contemporary practice of ordination, as practiced by most denominations, can be derived from Acts.’  These 'ordained' 'minsiters' use the title 'Reverend'; even thoough Jesus warned the religious leaders of first century Palestine to be aware of the temptation towards status-seeking (Matthew 23:6-12).  This 'titleing' of 'minsiters' is not simply confined to 'mainstream' denominations; in some churches 'pastor' is used as a form of address and title rather than simply a description of role. 

We place these 'Reverand minsiters' in clerical collars even though vestments are really only a part of the old covenant priesthood.  To make matters worse some call these 'Reverand minsiters' 'priests' (thus confusing the covenants and undermining the priesthood of all believers).  Some denominations even have an elite group of 'bishops' (a second century addition).

While the Bible links a ministry of Word and prayer (Acts 6) many denominations speak of a ministry of 'word and sacrament'.  I think that 'ordinace' is a better word than 'sacrament', so as not to be confused with the Roman Catholic view that thinks that sacraments themselves actually convey grace.   If the Protestant belief of two sacraments (or ordinances) is accepted then it is worth noting that Scripture does not specify any restrictions on who can perform the ceremony of baptism or who should administer the Lord’s Supper.  This means that a ministry of sacrament is not necessarily to be limited to those who are seen as 'Reverend minsiters'.

I know this is a rant.  Indeed it might be considered to be an arrogant 'I know better than the tradition of the church' rant.  However, I enjoy thinking through these things and I think it can be helpful at times to question what has been handed down.


Virtual Methodist said...

Found this quite an interesting quote re the use of church tradition in helping us understand scripture, and it is from a relatively conservative evangelical, not a lily livered liberal like myself!
“As soon as we start arguing that the church has got it wrong until our generation appeared, all the warning lights should begin to flash.”
David Jackman
The issue of presiding at communion and baptism, may not have been settled within scripture but then neither was infant baptism etc, but was one that was pretty much settled by the time of Clement and the Didache, so, if you are going to over-turn 19 centuries of emerging tradition you may as well up stumps and join the Brethern, or one of the fellowships who have suddenly rediscovered what it is to be a new testament church! That's my rant over...

To whom it may concern said...

Thanks VM. I appreciate your input.