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What is ordained ministry?

I was asked to write something about the difference between lay and ordained ministry, with particular reference to the Church of England. Here it is...

I once saw a church which listed as its ministers, 'everyone in the church'. This is entirely appropriate, as all Christians are called and equipped to share in 'the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ' (Ephesians 4:12).1 Through the Spirit, each member has been given an important role in the body, so that no one can be told, 'I have no need of you' (1 Corinthians 12:21). As such, 'when each part is working properly,' it becomes possible for the body to 'grow so that it builds itself up in love' (Ephesians 4:16). Through Jesus, our high priest, we are all able to 'offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name' (Hebrews 13:15). It is therefore the whole church, and not a subset of the church, that is being built up 'to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ' (1 Peter 2:5).

All Christians should therefore seek to use their gifts to build up the church. Some will be particularly gifted in caring for others. Some will be particularly gifted as encouragers. Some will be particularly gifted in understanding the Scriptures, and in helping others to hear what God is saying to the church today. Some will have time available to them. Some will have other resources and abilities. All should heed Paul's exhortation: 'Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them' (Romans 12:6).

But is this all that needs to be said about the body of Christ? Is it simply a matter of each individual Christian using his or her gifts as they find themselves personally directed by the Spirit?

There is no doubt that some churches seek to function in this way. Rejecting an unbiblical 'one-man ministry', they set out to adopt a kind of 'every-member ministry' in which no person is set above any other person. But often, in due course, whether formally or informally, those churches come to recognise certain people as having a particular responsibility over the rest of the church—the responsibility of oversight.

This is reflected in the New Testament. The body of Christ is described not as an unstructured entity, but as something which is 'held together by every joint with which it is equipped' (Ephesians 4:16) and 'nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments' (Colossians 2:19). The church functions in a structured way, and certain people are set apart to oversee the life of the body. These people have the office of elder or overseer, and they are assisted in their role by another group of people known as deacons. The word overseer translates the Greek word episkopos, from which we get our English word bishop, while the word elder translates the Greek word presbuteros, from which we get our English words priest and presbyter. In the context of the New Testament, elders and overseers were apparently the same people (e.g., Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7), although the church soon began to recognise a smaller number of those people as having a more 'episcopal' role within the wider church. (It is also apparently the case that the Greek word presbuteros carried none of the sacerdotal overtones of our English word priest, and it is difficult to imagine that Cranmer consciously intended to retain those overtones when he used the word priest in the Book of Common Prayer.) But in what follows my preferred term will be overseer, as I think it contains within it the essence of the distinction between lay and ordained ministry.


Government orders "lazy" population to get out of bed earlier

The British population has been described as "lazy" and chided for "excessive lie-ins", in a scathing attack by the Chancellor.

"The reason the economy is going so badly is that you lot are just too lazy," Osborne said. "The Markets are not happy. They demand austerity. And that means less time to sleep in the mornings."

George Osborne delivered his speech to announce the start of a seven-month trial period, beginning on 30 March, in which the whole population is expected to get up an hour earlier. In order to prevent any protests, even from students, the introduction of the new regime will be presented as though it were something the clocks were doing, entirely of their own accord. Osborne explained: "As a country we are progressing. We are going forward. The economy is going forward. And the clocks are going forward too. We must obey the clocks."

If the economic crisis is still unresolved after the trial period, it is anticipated that the Chancellor will announce in October that the population is too "lazy" and needs to stay up later in the evenings.

The life and work of a priest

John PritchardJohn Pritchard is Bishop of Oxford, and has spent many years either serving in parish ministry, training others to serve in parish ministry, or overseeing the parish ministry of others. His book, The Life and Work of a Priest, is thus written with a great deal of practical wisdom and experience.

Accordingly, it's a very practical book. His purpose is not to examine the biblical and theological issues in depth, and then to use them to argue for some particular model of ordained ministry. Rather, he seeks to hit the ground running, taking in turn various aspects of the life and work of a typical Church of England vicar, and offering some comments and advice about each. As such, it's perfectly relevant for those who wouldn't normally use the word priest, it's pretty relevant for those serving other churches as the equivalent of a vicar, and it's not particularly relevant for Church of England priests who are not serving in parish ministry. The book provides an attractive, colourful and concise portrait of life as the minister of a parish church.

The book is structured around what someone once said were the only things a priest had to be concerned with, namely, "the glory of God, the pain of the world and the renewal (repentance) of the Church" (p.x). You can get a feel for the book's contents by the following list of the subject matter of each chapter. After an introduction, we have:

The glory of God

  • The priest as leader of worship
  • The priest as person of prayer
  • The priest as preacher
  • The priest as apologist
  • The priest as theologian

The pain of the world

  • The priest as intercessor
  • The priest as pastor
  • The priest as apostle
  • The priest as parson
  • The priest as prophet

The renewal of the Church

  • The priest as team leader
  • The priest as evangelist
  • The priest as teacher
  • The priest as pioneer
  • The priest as manager

And finally:

  • The priest as a Christian

Clearly a daunting but enormously stimulating role!

When is a priest not a priest?

Our English word priest comes from the Latin word presbyter, which itself comes from the Greek word presbuteros. When this Greek word appears in the Bible, most English versions translate it not as "priest", but as "elder".

However, the word priest does still appear in English Bibles, but it is used to translate the Greek word hiereus or the Hebrew word kohen (compare the surname Cohen), with the Latin equivalent being sacerdos, from which we get the English word sacerdotal ("priestly"). This kind of priest is not an elder, but is someone who offers sacrifices in a temple.

How did we end up in this linguistic mess?

It's fairly easy to see how "priest" would cease to be used as a translation of presbyter. By the time of the Reformation, a "priest" was seen as someone who had a special role in the mass, in which it was believed that the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross became a present reality as the bread and wine became the body and blood of Jesus. The Protestant Reformers were keen to distance themselves from this understanding of the Lord's Supper, and in due course they came to prefer not to use the word priest to translate presbuteros. Thus, whereas The Wycliffe Bible (c.1395) speaks of Paul and Barnabas appointing "priests" (or "prestis"), from Tyndale's translation (c.1525) onwards, Protestant translations almost always speak of them appointing "elders". Perhaps as a consequence of the King James Version not using "priest" as a translation of presbuteros, you will never find a "priest" in a Protestant English-speaking church — with perhaps one very obvious exception! Instead, you will find elders, ministers, pastors, presbyters and the like.

But how did "priest" gain a sacerdotal meaning in the first place? It turns out this happened very early on. According to David Allan Hubbard,

The church's priesthood in the NT is corporate: no individual minister or leader is called 'priest'. The post-apostolic writings, however, move quickly in that direction: Clement (ad 95–96) describes Christian ministry in terms of high priest, priest and Levites (1 Clem. 40–44); the Didache (13:3) likens prophets to high priests. Tertullian (On Baptism 17) and Hippolytus (Refutation of All Heresies, preface) seemed to have pioneered the use of the titles 'priest' and 'high priest' for Christian ministers (c. ad 200) (Priests and Levites, in New Bible Dictionary, 3rd edition, IVP).

I suppose this was all linked with the church's developing ideas about the Lord's Supper.

So what about the exception I mentioned above? Of course, this is the Church of England, in which the "normal" word for an elder is priest. It seems that Cranmer didn't try to get rid of the word, given its inclusion even in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, and he clearly saw no problem in using the word priest while strongly denying the Roman Catholic understanding of the mass. Hence there is some justification in claiming that, in the Church of England, "priest" is just another word for "presbyter" or "elder".

In fact, this seems to have become official with the Ordinal from the Alternative Service Book (1980), which speaks of "The Ordination of Priests (also called Presbyters)", and even more official in 2005, with the removal of the parentheses in the Common Worship Ordinal, in which may be found "The Ordination of Priests, also called Presbyters". In the text of this Ordinal, this "priests aren't actually priests" motif is perhaps emphasised still further by the inclusion of phrases such as "a royal priesthood, a universal Church", intended to emphasise the (sacerdotal) priesthood of the whole church, as opposed to the (presbyteral) priesthood of the newly-ordained "priests". But it really gets confusing when these two are put in close conjunction:

And now we give you thanks
that you have called these your servants,
whom we ordain in your name,
to share as [presbyteral] priests in the ministry of the gospel of Christ,
the Apostle and High [sacerdotal] Priest of our faith,
and the Shepherd of our souls.

(These elements weren't present in the 1662 Ordinal.)

One could be forgiven for finding this disparity between ecclesiastical vocabulary (presbuteros = "priest") and biblical vocabulary (presbuteros = "elder") to be less than helpful! So it's no surprise that many in the Church of England (including most evangelicals) tend to avoid the p-word as much as possible.

I'm a Christian and this is why I vote Green

I'd love to write a post under this title, but, fortunately for me (and for you!), fellow Green Party member Stephen Gray has saved me the hard work!

His reasons for voting Green stem from God's concern for the environment, and God's concern for the poor.

You can read his article on the God and Politics blog. (There are also posts by other people on why they vote Conservative and Labour, and maybe more in the pipeline.)

But, if you are desperate to read something from my own pen (or fingers) about my membership of the Green Party, try reading these posts from when I joined the Green Party in 2011:

Climate change is here now: an urgent call to action

Harsh though it may sound, I'm glad that we are experiencing yet more crazy weather here in the West. Not glad for those people suffering real hardship, of course. But glad for those people in the years to come who are bound to experience much worse, unless we change our ways.

The present climate chaos must serve as an urgent wake-up call for all of us. Extreme weather is precisely what we would expect from a warmer climate, largely for the simple reason that warmer air can carry more water vapour. And a warmer climate is exactly what we would expect to get if we release huge quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, as we clearly have done, and as we clearly continue to do.

Now is the time to be decisively cutting our emissions, and to be investing seriously in low-carbon technology. We need to do this as individuals, and we need to put pressure on our elected leaders to do the same, by making it clear that we absolutely won't vote for them if they don't prioritise our response to climate change. And now is the time to be increasing the aid we give, both as individuals and as countries, to those parts of the world that are suffering much more seriously the consequences of our profligate ways.

I write this having just read Nicholas Stern's powerful article from yesterday, "Climate change is here now and it could lead to global conflict". Can I urge you all to read that now?

WordPress to Jekyll

If either of you read my posts by actually visiting this site, rather than by using an RSS feed reader (such as feedly), then you may have noticed some changes in its appearance. That's because I've moved this (non-)blog from WordPress to Jekyll.

JekyllJekyll is a blog-aware generator for static sites. What does that mean, in English? Basically, it means that Jekyll is much simpler than something like WordPress. When you visit a WordPress site and ask to see something, it says, "Just a moment, let me cobble together something for you to look at," and then it shows you the page. With Jekyll, that cobbling together happens once and only once each time you update the site. The WordPress approach of cobbling the site together on the fly is a great approach if the site needs to interact with the readers in an intelligent way. But for a typical blog that's complete overkill—especially as so much dynamic content can be added to otherwise static pages simply by copying and pasting a few lines of Javascript (have a look on this site at the Disqus comments system, the Google search box and the Twitter box, for example).

What I've said so far is really from a reader's perspective. What about from a writer's perspective? Here, Jekyll is much less advanced than WordPress. With WordPress, a blog author can log in via a web page, do lots of pointing and clicking, add content using a nice editor that lets you do more pointing and clicking, and generally manage the content by pointing and clicking. Very friendly indeed.

In contrast, Jekyll is really designed with slightly geeky people in mind. (Having said that, it's not inconceivable that there might be some non-geek-friendly sites or applications that are internally powered by Jekyll: leave a comment below if you know of any.) But the level of geekness required is not very high. You might struggle if you are using Windows (full stop!), but if you are using a Mac or Linux and if you are comfortable using the terminal, then it's quite straightforward. Just follow the quick-start guide. And if you aspire one of these days to become even a semi-geek (go on, admit it!), then starting a Jekyll blog would be a great way to start. And it's free!

I'm doing a lot more work "under the bonnet" now, but I'm actually finding it easier, and much more fun, than faffing about with WordPress plugins.

If you want to know more about migrating from WordPress to Jekyll, I made some notes about the transition on my software blog, which is also now powered by Jekyll.

And if you want to see how it works under the bonnet, have a look at this site's repository on GitHub.

Why winds explain the warming hiatus

There has been a lot of talk recently about a suppose "pause" in global warming. Well, a study led by Professor Matt England of the University of New South Wales seems to have found an explanation. The past couple of decades have witnessed very strong trade winds in the Pacific, which would transfer heat from the ocean surface to the ocean depths.

The bad news is that, as and when these trade winds die down, the oceans will start releasing heat, rather than absorbing it. So, "out of this hiatus we're expecting quite rapid warming to occur," as England says in the video below.

There's also a helpful article in the Guardian, if you want to read more.

What is the mission of the church?

Kevin DeYoungKevin DeYoung is very concerned about the church fulfilling its calling to proclaim the gospel. And rightly so: people's greatest need is for a restored relationship with the God who made them, and that restored relationship will come about only through people hearing the good news and responding with faith. So if a church simply seeks to serve the society and transform the culture, without putting any effort into evangelism, then it has completely lost the plot. Evangelism is essential.

So far so good.

But DeYoung's method of calling the church not to forsake evangelism is more questionable. His method is to pose the question, "What is the mission of the church?" This was the title of his 2011 book, coauthored by Greg Gilbert, and this was the title of two talks he gave a couple of weeks ago for the Annual Conference of the North West Partnership. (I've not read the book, but I have listened to the talks, only the first of which is relevant.)

In order to make the question, "What is the mission of the church?" yield the answer, "Evangelism is really important!" DeYoung needs to use a very specific meaning for the word "church". "'Church' is not simply plural for 'Christian'" (talk 1, 9:47), but "church" is that local institution that has sacraments, ordinances, officers (i.e., elders and deacons) and structures.

As such, to ask, "What is the mission of the church?" is not to ask, "What does God want me, personally, to do with my life?" or, "What should God's people do in the world?" Perhaps the most important thing God wants you to do with your life is to give round-the-clock care to your elderly parents. And perhaps your elderly parents are already Christians. Are you neglecting evangelism? Should you let them die of neglect and instead go and be a missionary? No, that's not what DeYoung is saying. Perhaps you are campaigning tirelessly against human trafficking. Should you give that up and instead become a church planter? Or get a high-paying job so you can give lots of money to support evangelists? No, that's not what DeYoung is saying either. Rather, he is saying that, when you think of the life of the church not as the sum total of the lives of all the members of the church, but more narrowly as that part of our common life that ought to be concerned with the proclamation of the gospel, then the proclamation of the gospel must be the central priority.

This narrow definition of "church", and hence of "mission", causes DeYoung's temperature to go up when he hears people (such as Chris Wright and John Stott) talking about "church" and "mission" in different ways. For example, if someone said that God's mission is the renewal of the whole created order, and that the church's mission is to partner with God in this work of renewal (with evangelism having an important role in that), then alarm bells would go off in DeYoung's mind. He would be concerned that gospel proclamation is at risk of being pushed to the margins and ultimately neglected, because he think's the church's mission in the world is evangelism (with good works having an important role in corroborating the gospel message). I think this is a simple misunderstanding, based on different uses of the words "church" and "mission". But what a lot of heat is generated when people use words in different ways!

I've consciously avoided entering this debate, because it strikes me as being so fruitless. Yes, evangelism matters. Yes, everything else matters too. Now, can we agree about that and move on?


I've always had lots of links on this site ("always" as in "since before 2002"). Such a list was a good idea in the days before Google (BG). But now I think it serves a limited purpose. Probably hardly anyone ever looks at it, and it takes a lot of maintenance to keep it up to date. Or it would take a lot of maintenance to keep it up to date...

I'm going to be migrating this site soon, so I'm looking to retire some features that are not worth keeping. So, for posterity, here are my links, in today's out-of-date version. Some of them probably don't work any more. Some of them are no longer relevant. And plenty of now-relevant things do not feature in the list but should do.