Three insightful videos on the topic of ordained ministry were posted recently by Alastair Roberts. Here they are, preceded by my notes:

First, on ordained ministry in the New Testament

  • There is no single form of church government that is laid down for us in the New Testament, so we need to exercise prudence.
  • Deacons (according to John Collins) are emissaries of others.
  • Church government reflects organic relationships in the community.
  • Among the older men (the elders), who had responsibility for the community, some would have been overseers.
  • Some younger men would have been emissaries or apprentices (deacons) of the older men, acting with their authority, with a father-son kind of relationship.
  • The ministers within the church act not simply on behalf of the church, but on behalf of Jesus Christ, the shepherd of the church.
  • The formal leaders maintain the form and structure, but most of the work of the church is done by the whole body, living out the life of the family of God.
  • We shouldn’t place too much weight on the formal leadership: the centre of gravity of the church does not lie with the pastoral ministry, but with the whole body.
  • The relationship between these offices and the liturgy is a matter of prudence.
  • The focus of these ministries is primarily in relationship to the wider body, not narrowly in relation to the sacraments.
  • These ministries may take many forms.
  • The laying on of hands is about appointing a representative.
  • The church’s ministry is rooted in the organic patterns of community life.
  • Women also held office, such as Phoebe, who was an emissary of the church.
  • But the pastoral office involves people acting as emissaries of Christ to the church.
  • Ordination focuses on male ministers. It is concerned with the church’s form and structure. Men are linked in Scripture with the role of forming. For example, Adam was given the rule concerning the tree. The institutional ordering of the church rests primarily on men, but for the sake of the whole body.
  • The fleshing out and filling of the life of the church is more closely associated with women. Christ gives order, and the Spirit fills.
  • We have placed too much emphasis on the institutional aspects of the church, and too little emphasis on the life of the whole church.

Second, on the ordination of women (a topic I’ve been pondering for a while)…

  • There are specific limitations in the New Testament, such as 1 Timothy 2.
  • There is also circumstantial evidence, with 12 male apostles in the New Testament, and male monarchs and priests in the Old Testament.
  • There is symbolic significance to male and female throughout Scripture. This extends even to the sacrificial system. Some sacrifices had to be of male animals or of female animals, and there is a rationale for that.
  • The man is more closely associated with heaven; the woman with the earth.
  • The womb of the woman is associated with the earth (Job 1).
  • God is Father: we do not arise from God’s womb. There is a gap between creature and creator, represented by calling God Father.
  • The pastor represents fatherly and husbandly authority in relation to the church.
  • God is not Mother, but God is Father, so God’s transcendence is symbolically masculine.
  • These symbolic connections are alien to us in modern society, because we think only in terms of a pastor fulfilling certain functions.
  • But in Scripture a pastor stands for something and represents something.
  • We respond differently to fatherly and motherly authority.
  • The pastor represents a fatherly kind of authority.
  • God as Father stands apart from us as lawgiver.
  • Men and women mean something different.
  • In addition to the above, on the symbolism of manly identity, manly traits are needed for church leadership.
  • We find it hard to talk about this in our culture.
  • We tend to think of leadership in therapeutic, nurturing ways.
  • In Scripture, pastors are the guardians of the church.
  • Shepherds were strong figures who defended the flock.
  • What about Deborah? Deborah saw herself as a mother in Israel, whose role was to raise up sons: strong men to protect Israel.
  • The men give strength and backbone to a society; the heart and life of a society is primarily focused on women.
  • The leaders of the people of God in Scripture are tough men: most of the examples in the Old Testament had killed others!
  • Shepherding requires strength, which is exercised to protect and empower the church.
  • When this strength is lost, the church ceases to fight error.
  • The corporate model has shaped our view of the pastoral office.
  • The church is primarily an organism, not primarily what the pastor does.
  • The pastor increasingly has become the person who exercises most of the church’s ministry, with the congregation as religious consumers. The result is that women have been marginalised.

Third, on the age of elders

  • Are young elders a contradiction in terms?
  • Yes.
  • But often it can be the young men doing most of the work, as apprentices or representatives of the older men (Paul and Timothy, for example).

It is likely that many will find themselves strongly disagreeing with much of the above. But I do think the points Alastair makes are worth pondering. The whole idea that there might be a symbolic meaning to male and female is utterly foreign to us. But the world of Scripture is one in which everything is saturated with meaning and significance.

Obviously it would take a whole book to unpack and defend the kind of position Alastair is presenting here. So feel free to disagree! (There are various elements about which I am not yet persuaded.) But I hope that sharing these videos here at least starts to provoke some fresh ways of thinking about these important topics.