Some (more) Thoughts on Church

Tony SigRather than going headlong into talking about ‘homosexuality’ I want to go a rather different route than I am used to seeing in these kinds of conversations.  Usually we jump right into the gay boat, with all sorts of loaded questions and assumptions.  Which inevitably leads down the road where the two sides get fixed again into a trench.  Also, there are certain weasel words that creep into the venacular:  words like “equality” “(full) inclusion” “rights” etc….

Instead I want to speak briefly of the Church, concieved as a whole, of those members who the Spirit has gifted and equipped in different ways.  I suspect I will say almost nothing controversial or new, but that’s the point.

In Ephesians Paul (yes I think it’s Paul, now the “pastorals” are a different story) sets out the grand vision of God plan now revealed.  In chp.3 he proclaims the Gospel which till this time had been ‘hidden’ awaiting the right time.  Then he begins to show how this plan is worked out in the Church.  So we see in chp.4 a sort of ad hoc list of giftings that Christ gives to his people.  A similar list shows up in 1 Corinthians 12-14.  To go through each ‘gift’ systematically would, I think, betray the way in which Paul writes.  He is certainly not meaning that these are the only gifts of Christ to his people, otherwise the lists might have needed to have been identical!  Rather the point is that the holiness bestowed on every Christian in unique, and unity comes when these giftings are put to use for the building up and training of the Church for the purpose of mission (“for the work of ministry”).

What are some of the callings and gifts that we see in the Church? (I am presupposing some sort of hierarchical structure, even if in many protestant churches it is not a sacramental role)

Well, for most Christians there is the four-fold ministry of laypersons, deacons, priests, and bishops.

Lay:  Most Christians will work their whole lives in the wider realm of the world.  This should not be seen as an absence of a calling.  Indeed, in many traditions, lay people can be amongst the greatest theologians, teachers, servants, etc… in the Church.  Think of all the great monastic thinkers who refused ordination, and how they shaped the whole of Christian thought.  Perhaps this as a ‘category’ is much too broad.  Within this sphere we see the great diversity of the Spirit working itself out for the building of the Church and the proclaimation of the Gospel.  It is no mean calling to not be called to what we might think of as “ordained” ministry.

Deacons:  In most Christian traditions, both men and women, married and celibate can be deacons.  This holds true even in Eastern Orthodoxy, and some are pushing for a renewal of women in the diaconate in this venerable tradition.  It would be hard to pin down what this means outside the context of the various bodies, but we might think of it as a sort of intensified lay ministry.  In many Evangelical churches, deacons guide the parish in making financial decisions, and even help decide who will be their next pastor.  In many liturgical traditions, deacons are able to perform many liturgical functions that “ordinary” laypeople are not allowed to do.  This seems to me to be a rather neglected role in the Church, one which I hope will fill out and be renewed.

Priest/Pastor:  Of course this does not need much explaining.  Pastors are the shepherds of the people, a focus of unity in a parish, the one who can perform the Holy Eucharist and/or the one responsible for preaching and oh so much more.  As a Pastor’s Kid I could wax eloquent but I won’t.

Bishop:  The big poopa.  The continuity with the Apostles, the focus of unity, the person who allows for worldwide mission and encouragement.

Monastic Orders:  Metropolitan Kallistos Ware said in his great little book on Orthodoxy that “renewal always comes from the monastics.”  Unfortunately this is not a visible aspect of Church life in most Protestant communities.  Indeed, in all but a few it is non-existant.  This is a shame, and might perhaps shed some light on the current issue in question.  Monastic orders constantly remind the Church of aspects of itself that it cannot as a whole yet attain.  Priests have the parish, Bishops the diocese, but monks and nuns have only prayer and service.  They are in many ways the “foot soldiers” of the Church.  They do everything from intercessary prayer, to seminary and school teaching, caring for the poor, missions, and theologize.  It is my hope that “New Monasticism” will be able to accomplish for Protestantism what traditional orders have done for the Church through history.  Did I mention that they make killer beer?

Marriage:  Christian marriage has developed theologically to be a sacramental sign on earth of the creative wisdom of God, an abiding witness to the  way of the earth to produce and sustain life, a sort of mirror of the faithful and free love of the Holy Trinity.  I speak here of “Christian” marriage and not “biblical” marriage, as Tony so aptly and sarcastically pointed out, there are various “biblical” marriages.

I’m not trying to be exhaustive, but it seems that most everyone fits into one or more of these sections.  It should be a point of praise that God so generously gives so many gifts and roles to fill up what is needed to point to a new humanity in relation to Christ.  There are no “Renaissance men” needed in the Body of Christ.

It seems to me that there are some questions and comments that flow out of this simple exposition.  More on that with the next post.

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5 Comments

  1. I love your picture from the illuminated manuscript that depicts a monk drinking what must assuredly be Chimay from a bowl while filling up a pitcher of it for his friends.

    I think one of the reasons for the “success” (at least numerical success) of mega-church evangelicalism, is that it creates structures where the average congregant does not have to take an active role in the body of Christ. People are comfortable going there because they know they won’t have to do anything. But, like many movements, the thing that makes them most successful is also the thing that spells their catastrophe (Wendell Berry says that so eloquently in “The Unsettling of America”).

    I don’t want to be too legalistic here, but can one be a follower of Jesus and not be an active member of the body of Christ? When one isn’t actively participating in the Body, whether it is in one of the functions mentioned above or in some other way, it is only a matter of time before one of two things happen: 1) The non-participating members shrivels up and falls off the body. 2) The non-participating member is healed by the power of Christ and becomes a functioning member of the body. So, why is it a problem for homosexuals to be members of the Body of Christ again?

    Reply

  2. “Christian marriage …. a sort of mirror of the faithful and free love of the Holy Trinity.”

    Of course, to the uninitiated, mirroring this Holy Trinity part might imply something other than what the Church intends, so let’s be clear that the third party in Christian marriage is the Holy Spirit. At least this is what I remember being taught.

    I’m honestly not being facetious here. This is the paradigm, right?

    Reply

  3. That’s precisely where I’m hoping to take this. To speak of a need for “full inclusion” frankly seems to me to not be fair to the current situation. Gay Christians are “included” in every one of the above ministries and callings but one, and that one there are plenty of others who are not so called.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll save it for the next one.

    Reply

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