Saturday, January 02, 2016

Seminary PC4. Ministerial Calling in History

The series, "Seminary in a Nutshell," continues. My featured text today is the first volume of Justo González's The Story of Christianity. Thus far:


The Pastor and Context
1. The Domains of Ministry
2. The Calling of a Minister
3. Ministerial Calling in Scripture

1. The process of entering ministry became increasingly institutional and less charismatic as the first generation of Christian leaders began to die off. We find traces of conflict over who should lead already in 1 Clement, a letter from around the year AD96 from the "bishop" of Rome to the church at Corinth.

Some in the Corinthian church were apparently disgruntled with their leaders and so tried to remove them. In response, Clement presents an idea that has come to be known as apostolic succession. The first apostles, like Paul, appointed "overseers" and deacons in the churches they founded. These overseers may have originally have been lead elders, but by the end of the first century, their power had already increased enough for us to call them, "bishops."

Clement tells the Corinthians that they do not have the authority simply to remove such individuals from leadership (41-42). Rather, those leaders remain bishops for life, and when they are about to pass, they can appoint their own successors. Alternatively, other leaders of repute can appoint replacements "with the consent of the whole church" (42).

This "episcopal" structure would largely stay in place until modern times. Throughout the centuries, there was little thought about calling. Individuals emerged as potential leaders in various ways. They were recognized by existing leaders. Then they were appointed to ministry by ordination.

2. As a side note, apostolic succession would become an issue for some circles after the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s. Who is genuinely a minister? In America especially, with a resurgence of "charismatic" callings, you had now many "prophetic" ministers who stood outside the unbroken chain of "apostolic succession" from the earliest apostles to today.

For example, in Baptist churches, ministers are ordained by a local congregation. Even the first "Methodist" ministers were first ordained by John Wesley, who was not a bishop but only a priest in the Church of England. He thus did not have the authority to ordain. The events of the American Revolution led him to ordain Thomas Coke as a general superintendent in 1784, [1] who then returned to America and ordained Francis Asbury. The two became the first Methodist bishops in the United States. [2]

So the notion of apostolic succession, still in play in many circles, is that a person must be ordained by someone who was ordained by someone who is in an unbroken chain of ordination going back all the way to the first apostles. My own church, The Wesleyan Church, has no formal position on this issue but informally would generally reject it as an absolute. [3] Nevertheless, there is a process of ordination that requires the recognition of one's calling by the church. One does not become a minister out of the blue.

3. The institutionalization of Christian ministry did not of course eliminate charismatic and lay ministry. It squelched it to be sure. But there will always be "informal" leadership and influence no matter what official structure you put in place.

The Montanists were a charismatic group in the late 100s who believed in prophecy and stood somewhat outside the official structure of the church. They were condemned in large part for that reason. Like many peripheral groups today, some of their ideas were weird--such as the idea that some of the towns in their area of Turkey (then western Phrygia) were going to be the new Jerusalem.

In most respects, however, their beliefs were the same as mainstream Christianity. They were condemned more for their charismatic nature than their beliefs per se. Women played a prominent role, as they usually do in prophetic movements. Two women in particular, Priscilla and Maximilla were equal leaders in the movement with Montanus. They had ecstatic experiences and made prophecies.

Traces of the movement would continue for a couple centuries.

4. The rise of asceticism--individuals devoted to rigorous physical discipline--is another example of somewhat spontaneous ministry arising in the church apart from the official structure. However, the ascetics were often inwardly rather than outwardly focused.

Anthony the Great was the first great ascetic, who lived from about 250-350. He is often called the "father of all monks." [4] His life thus spanned the time from the great Christian persecutions to the first decades after Christianity became a legal religion (in 313). Born to wealthy parents, he gave all his wealth away and largely went to live a simple, disciplined life in the desert. He is thus the first of a group known as the "Desert Fathers."

Some of these "charismatic ascetics," if you would, were somewhat bizarre. Simeon Stylites (late 300s to early 400s), for example, spend some 37 years living on top of a pillar, trying to withdraw from the world vertically. Children would bring him bits of bread.

These ascetics were known for their wisdom and were sought out by those who reverenced them. Some of their sayings are collected in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. They were also thought to have healing power.

5. Monasteries were another way in which the Spirit arguably worked to supplement the normal ministries of the church. If Anthony the Great represents a real turning point in the rise of spiritual individuals who were not priests, Benedict in the early 500s represents a real turning point for official monasticism because of the Benedictine Rule that he developed.

His origins, however, were not priestly. Like Anthony, he started off as a hermit. His calling did not come through the ordinary channels. Nevertheless, his rule indicates that there were already monasteries at the beginning of his life, and he would found a dozen. He died at the most famous one he founded at Monte Cassino in Italy.

Throughout church history, there have been several monastic orders that have arisen. These orders, like the Benedictine order, include both priests and non-priests ("laypeople"). A person feels a "calling" to them and can join upon taking vows of "poverty, chastity, and obedience" to the rules of each particular order.

6. The Protestant Reformation of the 1500s opened up the door for a return to charismatic calling to ministry on a major scale. When Martin Luther stepped outside the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, there ceased to be any common institution that could police the ordination or calling of individuals to ministry. The Lutheran movement would develop its own institutions. Then John Calvin in Switzerland would develop his own standards and institutions.

But wherever there was a space in power, there was the possibility that some individual or group would claim to be called of God outside the usual channels.

The "Radical Reformation" is where we first see this dynamic clearly. When Luther left the Roman Catholic Church, he still retained most of its theology and a good deal of its sense of structure. He and John Calvin still practiced infant baptism, for example, They still had ordination. By contrast, Radical Reformation would reject much more.

Luther, Calvin, and others claimed to be returning to the Bible as the map for Christianity. The radical reformers took this return much further. One group, the Socinians, even rejected the Trinity. This movement naturally gave rise to the "Anabaptists," a group that did not believe in baptizing infants but that only those old enough to believe should be baptized. They became known as "re-baptizers" or "ana-baptists."

Many of the leaders of this more radical movement had not been ordained as priests before the "Reformation," the split with the Roman Catholic Church. Some of those who had been ordained insisted on being re-ordained, just as they had been re-baptized. The key point is that ordination was, at least for a time, no longer a matter of an institutional church. Their later heirs, the Baptists, would ordain on the level of the local church, as we mentioned above.

7. American Christianity has especially delighted in the story of the person who is spontaneously called by God completely outside of any institutional church. This delight is often accompanied by a disdain for formal education. Sometimes even idolized is the uneducated person whom God calls out of the blue and leads to a tremendous ministry.

Dwight L. Moody, with no more than a fifth grade education, was perhaps the most influential American preacher of the 1800s. He did not have any formal ministerial training but founded three schools. Billy Sunday was a baseball player turned preacher, whose demonstrative preaching drew massive crowds in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Both of these are models of the American preacher whom God "anoints" powerfully without any formal ministerial training.

8. The twentieth century saw the rise of the charismatic movement, which then spread powerfully into Latin America. With an emphasis on the Spirit, the possibility of any individual receiving a prophetic word from the Lord has returned. The house church movement especially rejects the idea of some individuals being set aside as ministers in distinction from others in the church.

The late twentieth century also saw the rise of the idea that all Christians are ministers and should participate in the ministries of the church. The change in interpretation of Ephesians 4:12 illustrates this shift well. Previously, Christians understood the role of ministers as "the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (KJV). Now the first comma is removed. The role of ministers is now "to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (NIV). [5]

Now all God's people are ministers, and the distinction between minister and layperson almost disappears. The role of ministers becomes the equipping of others to do ministry, more than the job of ministry itself. Again, we will strategize about appropriating these models of ordained ministry for the church today at the end of the chapter.

Next week: PC5. God can call anyone to ordained ministry.

[1] Coke was already an ordained priest of the Church of England.

[2] Asbury insisted on the title of bishop over Wesley's opposition. Wesley wanted them to be "general superintendents." Asbury also insisted that all ordinations be ratified democratically, following the spirit of the newly formed United States.

[3] The Wesleyan Church is generally descended from those first "Methodist Episcopals," Coke and Asbury. However, the descendancy is complicated. Half of its heritage comes through the "Wesleyan Methodist Church," which separated from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1841 over slavery. It's other main parent body, the "Pilgrim Holiness Church" was originally composed of a number of "comeouters" from assorted churches around the turn of the twentieth century.

[4] Although there were ascetics before him. He was mentored by one, for example.

[5] Despite how popular this interpretation, adopted by all modern translations, it seems anachronistic, an almost predictable shift given American democratic culture.

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