Ceci n'est pas un blog

Multi-site mega-churches and their bishops

Since reading Paul Avis on the Anglican understanding of the church, I’ve been pondering the idea that, in Anglican thinking, the basic unit of the church is not the local parish church, but is the diocese, with the bishop as the senior pastor. In other words, Anglican churches are really multi-site mega-churches, with each church covering a particular part of the country (a city with the surrounding region), and with that region divided into zones (or “parishes”), with each zone having its own elder or elders and its own weekly meeting(s). The only significant difference between the Anglican model and the modern version is that I’m not aware of Anglican dioceses live-streaming videos of their bishop preaching every week.

Anyway, Andrew Wilson picks up this idea in a much more snappy way over at Think Theology: Ignatius Meets the Multi-Site Gurus. Enjoy!

The human being who rules the universe

He has raised our human nature
in the clouds to God’s right hand;
there we sit in heavenly places,
there with him in glory stand:
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
man with God is on the throne;
mighty Lord, in thine ascension
we by faith behold our own.

Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885), See, the Conqueror mounts in triumph.

The real environmental problems and how to solve them

Just came across this quote1 by Gus Speth, a professor of law and former administrator of the UN Development Programme, in the latest issue of Tearfund’s Tear Times:

I used to think the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought with 30 years of good science we could address those problems, but I was wrong.

The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy - and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation and we scientists don’t know how to do that.

I don’t think politicians and political or environmental activists know how do to that either.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the only means of bringing about this transformation is the full, unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaimed “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).

1 Compare Ken Wilson’s chapter in Practicing Sustainability, which appears to give some context to the quote.

The Catholic Faith (of the Church of England)

The Catholic Faith

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like in the Church of England, in the days when the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) was universally used, and in the days when evangelicals in the Church of England more than happy with that. How might a young person have been taught the elements of the faith in those times?

They might well have been encouraged to read The Catholic Faith: A Manual of Instruction for Members of the Church of England by W.H. Griffith Thomas, published in 1906. Griffith Thomas (1861-1924) was Principal of Wycliffe Hall in Oxford at the time, and his book seems to have been very popular. I’ve just finished reading the original edition (there’s something special about holding a book in your hands that is more than 100 years old, isn’t there?), but you 21st-Century types might prefer to read it online, in its revised edition of 1952. The note to this revised edition describes it as “this popular handbook” and notes that “Since it was first issued the book has passed through numerous editions, totaling 63,000 copies in all”.

The book is both comprehensive and concise, and very accessible. It serves as an introduction to the faith of the Catholic (i.e., universal) Church, in a way that follows closely the catechism of the BCP, and with a general approach that is not at all dissimilar to (good!) modern evangelical articulations of the faith. But it also serves as an introduction to the Church of England, particularly to the Book of Common Prayer. Finally, the third of the book deals with some “current questions”: issues of the day at the start of the 20th Century.

Probably the most useful part of the book, from my perspective, was the overview of the Book of Common Prayer, which is mainly to be found in chapters 6-15 of the second part. I had been looking for a simple commentary on the BCP, and this serves the purpose well.

Vote Green on 22 May!

I haven’t had much time for blogging lately, but I interrupt my (non-)blog silence for a brief party political broadcast.

I’ll be voting for the Green Party on 22 May, in both the European and local elections. (In fact, for the latter, as I’m fortunate enough to be living in Bebington, I’ll be voting for myself!) If I had more time, I’d give you some of my own reasons for voting Green. If I had even more time, I’d try to argue that the European Parliament actually matters, and that the European elections are not just a sideshow to the UK General Election. Suffice it to say that I don’t think the Green Party is perfect, but I do think it is saying some extremely important things that are otherwise almost entirely absent from British political discourse.

So I leave you first with a video:

And then with the Green Party mini-manifesto, which is very brief and very readable:

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: