Ceci n'est pas un blog
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'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.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
Kevin 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.
I seem to have found my way onto the letters page of this week's Wirral Globe. Here's the letter (title is editorial):
Wind power debate is full of hot air
LAST week's Globe letters page contained two reminders of the power of wind.
First was Tom Lear's dramatic photo of the storms at New Brighton, an example of the kind of extreme weather we can expect more of, the more carbon we pump into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels.
It’s a matter of personal preference, of course, but given the choice, I’d rather see more of the latter than of the former.
Anthony Smith, Bebington
Todd Hunter, in the video below, is a bishop in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). Now, strictly speaking, ACNA is not (yet) part of the (official) Anglican Communion, but its style of spirituality is very distinctively Anglican.
In contrast, the evangelical parts of the Church of England most certainly do belong to the (official) Anglican Communion. But, to a greater or lesser degree, and often to a greater degree, their style of spirituality has nothing distinctively Anglican about it at all. Apart from the presence of a corporate confession, an affirmation of faith, the Lord's Prayer and "This is the word of the Lord / Thanks be to God" at the end of the readings, you could easily be mistaken for thinking you had gone to the baptist or independent evangelical church down the road by mistake. And if that's the sum total of what it means to be Anglican, then, frankly, why bother? As James K.A. Smith provocatively tweeted last week, "One thing I will never understand: 'evangelical' Anglicanism in England. #buryingthetreasure" and "There are Reformed & Presbyterian churches in the USA that are better stewards of BCP spirituality than evangelical Anglicans in England".
So I post this [link to a] video here, as part of my longing that evangelical Anglicans in the Church of England would recover some of the treasure of adopting a spirituality that is both evangelical and Anglican.
Hope in an Age of Despair: The gospel and the future of life on earth
By Jonathan Moo and Robert White
RRP £11.99 (paperback and ebook)
This book was written out of the conviction that “our view of the future can and does have a profound effect on how we engage with the present” (p.19). The authors worked together in Cambridge on a project entitled “Hope for Creation”, administered jointly by the Faraday Institute (of which White is now the director) and the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics (KLICE). White, Professor of Geophysics at the University of Cambridge, was the director of this project, with Moo as a postdoctoral researcher before he took up a teaching position in biblical studies at Whitworth College, Seattle, in 2010.
The first (and shorter) half of the book deals with the present environmental crisis. It is written with the not-quite-convinced reader in mind, and helpfully leaves the discussion of global climate change to a separate chapter, first exploring such topics as biodiversity, water, nitrogen, food and land use. They write in a way that is winsome, authoritative and persuasive, making it clear that “that there is in fact plenty of cause for concern” (p.15).
Their “task in the second half of this book is to reflect on just what difference it makes to how we respond to the environmental challenges facing us if we take seriously the picture of the future that Scripture paints for us” (p.17). The Christian doctrine of the future is often a subject of controversy, and “there is plenty of evidence that some versions of future expectation do in fact lead to present neglect” (p.90). Nonetheless, the authors tackle the subject head-on, refusing to “ignore what … Scripture says about the ways in which creation itself is caught up in the drama of fall and redemption”.
In looking at the biblical doctrine of the future and its implications for creation care, Moo and White focus on four key New Testament passages, devoting one chapter to each. First, “Romans 8 makes it clear that this very same creation that is groaning now has a future in God’s ultimate purposes” (p.123). Next, 2 Peter 3, rightly understood, speaks not of the “dissolution of the world into non-existence” (p.134), but of the catastrophic transformation it will undergo when evil and injustice are finally dealt with. Third, Jesus himself in Luke 12 exhorts us to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man, and in the light of that coming to live lives not of fear, but of love, stewardship and hope. Finally, in Revelation we get a glimpse of the renewal of all things. God’s good purposes for this world will most certainly be fulfilled. This promise acts as the strongest antidote to despair.
I was hoping for a reassuring promise that the environmental crisis will quickly be resolved. But no such easy answers are provided. “Our sure and certain hope in the resurrection and the new creation does not keep us from weeping while we yet live in a world of wounds. Only in the new heaven and the new earth will our tears be wiped away, once and for all, by God himself” (p.191f.).