What is at stake in the “Gender Roles” debate?

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My previous post seemed to prompt a myriad of other questions from readers and from my own ruminations.  There can be little argument that gender roles have been and will continue to be an issue for much of the Christian church for many years (perhaps generations) to come.  This all prompts the beginning of what has become an important exercise for me.  Whenever I get into the middle of a polemical debate, eventually I want to know what people are protecting; and, so, I begin deconstructing the various arguments trying to find out what is at stake for each group in the argument.  Unfortunately, sometimes the breadth of the issue extends beyond my personal expertise.  The argument over gender roles  is quickly turning into one of those discussions that obviously has pertinence in a variety of fields – effectively dismantling my ability to efficiently tease out the prominent theological issues.  There seems to me to be clear interference in identifying theologically sound gender roles coming from cultural narratives.  Even the soft sciences point to the fact that much of our gender identity comes from environment.  Consequently, the loop I get stuck in comes, in part, from the fact that those soft sciences identify religion as one of the environmental factors that produce sexism (here is an example of what I mean).  So, what are the questions that best identify what is at stake when we discuss gender roles and their practical impact on Christian theology?  Here are a few of the things that I have been thinking about and researching as I try to identify some of the root issues.

1.  To what extent, if any, does the biological function of gender play?  Namely, there are some writing from the Christian perspective that seem invested in framing gender roles within the confines of anatomical differences, why?  There are, of course, a series of questions that follow – and this will require the most exploration, because I know the least about it.  Does your reproductive function (your maleness or femaleness) actually have bearing on anything outside of, well, reproduction?  In other words, does having a certain anatomical characteristic extend beyond the anatomy’s actual function?  In an entirely biological sense, I am a male because my body produces “small, typically motile gametes, esp. spermatozoa, with which a female may be fertilized or inseminated to produce offspring.”  Is that the end of gender distinction?  Do the hormones that cause my body to serve a certain reproductive function also program my personality to only serve a certain social function?  Does that programmed social function constitute the will of God for my life?  In fact, by the 1990’s we have an interdisciplinary field trying to explain how these questions get answered – sociobiology.

2.  Are some Christians trying to prop up their bibliology?  Here, I must confess a personal bias.  I have read many evangelical scholars that essentially paint themselves into a corner on this issue.  Many have attempted to defend certain notions of inerrancy and infallibility in our modern translations only to retreat to defending them in the manuscripts, only to retreat to defending them in autographs, only to defending them in “essential” New Testament material (see this text by G.K. Beale for a discussion of the “erosion” as he calls it

3.  Are some Christians trying to prop up their ecclesiology?  Let’s be honest, the huge ordination debate centers on the fact that traditionalist understandings of gender roles prevail in most churches. A few articles that interact with some different nuances of the issue are here, herehere, and here.

4.  Are some Christian men trying to prop up their patriarchy?  Here is an even-handed text that addresses these (and other) kinds of questions.

5.  What is the real (if any) significance that Jesus was male, and how is that significance offset by a robust Mariology in the Church?

6.  How much of Scripture’s account regarding this material is meant to be prescriptive; and how much is, by virtue of context, only descriptive?

I don’t currently belive that there is a clear-cut answer to all of these types of questions.  I think gender and gender identity is created by a variety of things, but I can assert with certainty at least one thing: whatever differences gender identity and roles introduce, there is no value difference between men and women and to the extent that our theology allows men to be held above women our theology is wrong.

So, what do you think is really at stake in the debate over gender roles?  What do you think people are protecting?

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24 Comments

  1. As for #1, I want to add one correction/complication: it’s important to keep sex and gender two different but working concepts as you think through these questions. You’re sex is male because of biological marking; you’re gender is male because of social construction of maleness.

    You might also be interested in a fascinating book that came out last year called “Pink Brain, Blue Brain” about the science of gender difference in childhood. Here’s my review:
    http://signonthewindow.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/review-of-pink-brain-blue-brain/

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  2. The thing that really gets me is the division of virtues and failings.

    A virtue is a virtue, and a failing is a failing, regardless of gender.

    If it is virtuous for a man to be brave enough to risk or even sacrifice his life for his loved ones, it is virtuous for a woman as well.

    If it is virtuous for a woman to behave with a gentleness of spirit, to turn the other cheek and to act from kindness and love, it is virtuous for a man as well.

    I simply cannot comprehend how we can get to the state in this gender rhetoric, that something that is the epitome of goodness in one gender is considered weakness in the other. Sure, each gender may generally be more inclined towards particular virtues over others, but at the end of the day we must pay attention to the virtues that are natural in the individual, regardless of whether or not we consider them to be typical of his or her gender.

    Likewise, a woman who experiences the “stereotypically male” temptation of power, is being tempted towards sin. Just as a man who experiences the “stereotypically female” temptation of gossip is being tempted. It does not help us to identity these failings in ourselves and root them out, if we are taught to believe they are exclusively the temptations of the opposite gender.

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  3. “Signonthewindow,”

    I appreciate the link. Something that is a further complication: I don’t think ALL of the gender roles that are socially programmed into us are bad. My wife, on first impression, is the quintessential “lady.” It’s something she enjoys, and I don’t see a problem with it. The problem I have is when someone would suggest that being a lady also means that she must be subordinate to any man, simply because he is a man.

    Fiona,

    Well said. Thanks for your comments, and thank you for rounding out the conversation with this important observation. I have known a lot of powerful, driven women in my life. I have known a few gentle, compassionate men in my life. It never occurred to me to think of any of them as “in sin,” because they were deviating from their socially established gender traits. Virtues are virtues for anyone if they are virtues at all.

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  4. “Sign,”

    This article points out another item I should add to the list – people are trying to prop up their notions of sexuality. For some odd reason, that hadn’t even occurred to me. Something that’s funny – my sons (4 and 7) ask me to flip back to a channel with cheerleaders or beauty pageants on the rare occasion that we channel surf, because they are attracted to the women (though they couldn’t really articulate that for you – well, maybe the 7 year old could now, but he’d blush and squeal through the whole conversation); they also spent nearly the entire summer last year with their toe nails painted because of their cherished mani-pedi parties with their mom and aunts. :0)

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  5. Great post; clearly marking discrete areas of concern.

    How do we add spiritual discernment to this, or should we? Is there any sense of God working in my life through/with/despite/in my gender?

    Is the issue only biological (#1) social (#2-4) biblical (#5-6)?

    I guess what I’m “not wanting to give up” is God in all parts of our lives. The six categories you list are great, but all are rational. Is there a non-rational issue here as well?

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  6. I’ll offer up a few opinions.

    First it seems that some in society desire to test the concept that celebrate women acting or being male and others that desire women and men are the same bluring the reality of gender all together. Clearly they are the same with respect to virtues and vices but that is from our common humanity not our gender.

    I particularily like the unique way Pope John Paul II stated the unique position have in Evangelium vitae

    99. In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a “new feminism” which rejects the temptation of imitating models of “male domination”, in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation…

    The experience of motherhood makes you acutely aware of the other person and, at the same time, confers on you a particular task: “Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb … This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings not only towards her own child, but every human being, which profoundly marks the woman’s personality”. A mother welcomes and carries in herself another human being, enabling it to grow inside her, giving it room, respecting it in its otherness. Women first learn and then teach others that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health. This is the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity expect from women. And it is the indispensable prerequisite for an authentic cultural change.

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25031995_evangelium-vitae_en.html

    The differences btwn men and women is part of God’s design not social constructs.

    My church has ruled definitively that women can not be priests when Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was issued
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_22051994_ordinatio-sacerdotalis_en.html

    The reason is that the mission of the Incarnate Word was chosen by God to be excerised via bein born male and in His role as priest (which I will risk was passed onto the Protestant reformation) will always be performed by males. No because males are superior in any way to females, but simply because God chose it.

    It is not that women as priests isn’t desirable its that the church as the pope stated “has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women”.

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    1. I won’t enter too far into the thread, I’ll leave it to Shawn, but I wanted to respond to Quickbeam as it’s always enjoyable when he comments.

      I’m curious as to how motherhood can be the defining characteristic of being of the female gender. Immediately I wonder about religious women, virgins, the barren, those who were never married, etc… Unless “motherhood” is somehow hardwired in the female chromosomes regardless of whether they ever actually experience motherhood, how can this be considered a universal and divinely given aspect to being a woman?

      As far as social constructs, I don’t think there is no such thing as sexual difference, but what we consider appropriate to a gender or what particular virtues a gender “ought” to have seems deeply tied to how we socialize ourselves. And this obviously changes – as a sort of basic example see my link on the last post’s thread, or too John Milbank’s essay “The Gospel of Affinity” in his “Being Reconciled” book.

      On women in the priesthood, we’ve discussed before. I do of course respect the Catholic church’s position on the matter and recognize the long-standing practice that substantiates such a position. Also I get that it in no way tries to set up a hierarchy of “male superiority.” Nevertheless I stand by the mind that Jesus’s priesthood, like his humanity, is universal and not at all tied to his male gender (nor his Jewish ethnicity!). After the day of Pentecost we as a Church are given diverse gifts for the building up of the Church and it is the pneumatological bestowal that determines all places, priest, lay, religious, etc…

      Peace, this Maunday Thursday/Good Friday.

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  7. quickbeam reminds me of why I am so thankful that the Anabaptist scriptural traditions rests in the hands of the Spirit-led community, not in the hands of the magisterium.

    I don’t want to get too off track but I do want to say that I think JPII shortchanges men by attributing a unique attitude towards otherness. While that’s really nice, I certainly know men who exhibit the “mark” of caring for the poor, the disabled, the elderly. With the number of abortions and women who are choosing not to have children at all it seems strange to make an essentialist move of this kind.

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  8. Tony-
    I wouldn’t call motherhood THE defining characteristic, but it is an exclusive one reserved too women. It’s not scientific but 50+ years of observation is that women as a generalization are more “intune” for lack of a better word to the spiritual than men and I personally would attribute that in some way to the biological difference. Whether its hardwire or learn social behaviour I don’t know, but its a benefit to society in general.

    “Jesus’s priesthood, like his humanity, is universal and not at all tied to his male gender (nor his Jewish ethnicity!).”

    I don’t agree or at least I think you’ve misapplied it.

    The first priesthood is found in Gen 14 & Ps 110 and expanded in Hebrews 7. The Order of Melchizedek is not universal any more than the Levitical one which followed after it. The Melchizedek is eternal not limited to time or space. The maleness issue of Jesus creates other issues as well.

    If you meant the Royal priesthood as universal I would agree, but there is atleast in my communion a difference not just degree but of order/type.

    “After the day of Pentecost we as a Church are given diverse gifts for the building up of the Church and it is the pneumatological bestowal that determines all places, priest, lay, religious, etc…”

    Well I certainly agree that the Spirit is not limited by the church; yet I think the Spirit has spoken both through scripture and Oral tradition that the selection to the priesthood is made by the Spirit through those individuals who were selected by Christ and they in turn through the centuries to this present time all males.

    I don’t see how the development of social constructs in forming a circle disproves the proponderance of evidence in the theological field of the square peg of a male priesthood.

    Like Chesterton I lean towards the Spirit the “democracy of the death”. He said if we don’t understand the reason for some ancient tradition or institution, that is a good reason for not abolishing it. If you come across a strange building in an unexpected place, it is really foolish to knock it down because you don’t understand its purpose.

    I would submit that modernity has difficulty with all its technological knowledge in grasping what gender means.

    Finally just my opinion but this confusion can only lead to a confused understanding of God and the relationship btwn Christ and His church.

    With our limited ability to understand the infinite Being, it was revealed that the 1st person of the Trinity is male(Father) in His relation to the 2nd Person of the Trinity, and the 2nd Person of the Trinity is male (son) in relation to the 1st. Additionally it was materially disclosed by His Incarnation which He still has as part of His humanity. The relationship btwn the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Blessed Mother is one of maleness.

    An from your own tradition C.S. Lewis addressed that if the women can represent God as a priest, then “the masculine imagery is not inspired,it is merely human in origin. And this is surely intolerable; or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favor of Christian priestesses but against Christianity”
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0802808689/qid=1104248085/sr=2-1/ref=pd_ka_b_2_1
    pg234-239.

    If priesthood is just a job or a career like any other profession, then I’d support women in that choice. However I’m of the mind it is not; it is rather a vocation in which one is called & selected by God via an established process created by Himself. We are ironically eunuch’s powerless to modify it.

    Shawn – on your question 3,4,& 5. If Jesus is the Divine image of the 1st person of the Trinity, could Jesus been Incarnated as a woman and still be that image, and if so is gender irrevelant as far as the Trinity is to be grasped?

    Rather then defending bibliology, ecclesiology, or patriarchy; isn’t it just as plausible that they are defending that humanity regardless of gender is all spiritually feminine in relation to God?

    The Christian God creates from without, not like the pagan gods of the ancients, only God creates never humanity. God imfuses the universe with life, not the other way around.

    Blessed Maunday Thursday to you Tony and all here.

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  9. My parish has a married male priest, a gay male deacon in a long-term committed relationship, and a widowed female seminarian. With the exception of letting me be a lay witness, they split homilies and other responsibilities (short of those reserved for ordained priests) pretty much equally. The whole congregation serves without real regard for gender or sexual identity. I’m not saying that we’re not without problems, but for the most part it’s the most harmonious experience of the local church in which I’ve ever participated. I can’t imagine any difference if you take any one of those three (two clergy, one on the way) and switch places…well, not any difference based solely on gender identity. The whole experience has challenged and reformed my presuppositions (I come from conservative, non-denominational Christianity), but for the life of me I can only see it as a positive.

    I’m not ready to see the church split more because of this stuff, but on the Christian “street” this gender-bent stuff is less than earth-shattering, and doesn’t feel like the apocalypse that Lewis (whom I love) seems to think it would be.

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  10. Charismanglican,

    How do you view Christ’s selection of the 12 Apostles as bishops? Given the surrounding cultures which accepted women priestesses (Vestal Virgins of Rome, Oracle of Delphi etc) was His selection to be understood as arbitrary or specficially to contrast it against the false worship of the pagans?

    I thought that Anglicans accepted the theology of In persona Christi. If not then all that’s needed is the denial of the Real Presence or the need for Confession, then I guess it would be a moot point since there wouldn’t be any need for priest or priestesses.

    “I’m not ready to see the church split more because of this stuff, but on the Christian “street” this gender-bent stuff is less than earth-shattering, and doesn’t feel like the apocalypse that Lewis (whom I love) seems to think it would be.”

    So you really think the only issue is gender specific duties of a priest, instead of the Christian concepts of the Three Persons relationship in the godhead and Christ’s relationship btwn Himself and His church?

    I don’t see how those critical issues can be avoided when discussing womens ordination, but I admit I’m restrained by my communions teaching on the issue since its inception. And I guess I’m grateful for it.

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    1. Joey – I’m right there with you.

      Tom – I’ve been thinking about this all day and I’m realizing that clearly I won’t convince you, you are an admirably loyal Catholic and I have huge respect for you. But also that to spell out some thoughts on the priesthood would be very beneficial at some point. But not today. For now I’ll just echo your own sentiments and say that I’m glad the Anglican bishops met in council and using their God-given role as overseers determined this is a matter of local discipline and discernment that ought not be communion breaking.

      To all: Christ is risen!

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  11. QBOA – I’m thinking your name is Tom? Thanks for the questions.

    When I think of Jesus selecting 12 men as apostles, I’m not as versed in good Catholic theology on the subject. From the point of view of biblical theology, I suppose the choosing of the twelve would have made perfect sense to his Jewish audience: he was re-constituting Israel. The 12 represent the 12 sons of Jacob. I suppose he could have been more subversive and selected women (a look at DaVinci’s Last Supper might make you think at least two were ladies), but that doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ style. Though I think his message is subversive often enough (that is to say, nearly always) Jesus still seeme to retain a number of Jewish prejudices simply by being fully human. He did call a Canaanite woman a bitch.

    In regards to “in persona Christi”, I wish I knew more about the underpinnings of the Catholic doctrines. My gut just says that gender doesn’t really matter in this regard…or at least that we have to make allowances for our own warped ideas about sexual identity. Can a married man be in persona Christi? I have a married RC priest just around the corner. How about a closeted or abstinent gay priest? That covers a lot of people. Maybe I just don’t understand the doctrine, or am too infected with the idea that the people of God are a kingdom of priests (this is true of Israel, too), so that the priesthood is a sign of something that is in many ways true of the whole. Every Christian is being fashioned in the image of Christ, male or female, gay or straight…the goal is for each one to live the Christlife. As a Roman Catholic priest told my Dad: Baptism is ordination into the priesthood.

    In regards to how Trinitarian theology affects/is affected by our beliefs on gender, I’m not sure there’s a hard line that can be drawn. When Jesus wanted to take Jerusalem under his arm like a mother hen, I don’t assume that he’s a female…or a chicken. Isn’t most of our language about God (especially the Father and the Spirit) provisional enough to think that most of the feminine imagery of God (and there’s plenty in the Bible) means at least that God is neither male nor female? As for Christ, I certainly believe that being male is an important part of his incarnated life, and I wouldn’t have expected Jesus to be born a eunuch or a hermaphrodite. But I’m also confident that women, especially baptized women, are called to be Christlike in any and every way men are.

    I just read a wonderful book of theology from Paulist Press by Kathleen Fischer and Thomas Hart that speaks a little to this issue from a Catholic perspective, but if you can point me to better resources I would love to read them.

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  12. Mark,

    Thanks for visiting and posting. I understand your question, but I am not sure how to answer it. If you would indulge me – how would you go about identifying the spiritual components of gender?

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  13. Charismanglican,

    Yes its Tom.

    I think what your proposing in your first paragraph involves the concept of the Hypostatic Union of the Divine and Human natures in Christ of which several of the early councils dealt with it and I don’t what to drift off topic.

    On the second paragraph we’re speaking basically about one of Luther’s points “the Priesthood of all believers”which is what I believed you brought up.
    http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/mackenzieearlyluther.pdf

    Luther believed that all Christians were the same in regard to possessing what is essential to the Church and differed only in respect to “the work that God has given them to do.

    In Catholicism both the laity and the clergy are the same in regard to possessing what is essential to the Church in that they both have essential roles, but those roles are not the same. It doesn’t make clergy more holy than the laity, since both are sinners.

    As a Catholic I offer my sacrifice up on the altar every week along with all the other Catholics from the collection of goods taken up, which are then given up on the altar. The priest however offers up the body of Christ to the Father in union with the gifts of the laity (including women naturally) to the Father. We are all acting as priest in one sense, but the capacity to offer is different. No man has the right to act as a priest before God unless that right is given to him by Christ directly or by one whom He directly appointed. IOW this goes into apostolic succession & Holy Orders, something I believe Anglicans believe or did believe in at one time.

    Once those concepts are rejected then it naturally becomes one’s right to clerical status a question of natural aptitude and academic training. And then I would agree the concept of “fairness” would come into play and it would be immoral to deny women the priesthood.

    Now other Protestant traditions outside of Anglicanism have come to the same conclusion as well since they hold that the authority to chose pastors resides in the local community. St. Clement of Rome dealt with that issue back in 90 A.D. in his letter to the Corinthians, 44.1

    IF the early Church believed that ordination was a power of the local congregation, then it would have been inconsistent to believe that other local congregations [heretics depending on who’s point of view one held] did not also have the same power to ordain. This is because there would be no principled reason to say that one local congregation had validly ordained clergy and the other did not since both congregations inherently had the right to ordain whomever they wanted. Hence the unity of the Body of Christ itself is tied up in the issue and therefore I don’t understand how this can be delegated to the local level.

    Why even Christ Himself was appointed High-Priest by the Father not simply because He is the mediator btwn God and man.

    I can’t think of any book I’ve read about in persona Christ, but I see what I can find.

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  14. Shawn, I guess I’m asking (not from an ordination standpoint) if gender has spiritual neutrality. Is my relation to the divine changed by the fact that I am male or female? If gender has no connection to my spiritual life, then haven’t we dualistically separated our physicality from our spirituality?

    What I’m not asking is if my gender gives me different access to God in some way. But i dont want to say gender is as spiritually irrelevant as my eye color, so to speak. That seems to deny a major facet of my self-understanding and personhood.

    Many thanks for an engaging dialogue.

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  15. Is it too late to ask everyone: does what we call “priests” today have anything to do with Levitical priesthood other than a position of leadership among the people of God? What we call “priests” is an evolution of the Greek word “presbuteros”, meaning elder, not the new covenant version of Jewish priesthood. Am I wrong? Although traditions have made distinctions between bishops (episcopos), priests and pastors, that’s a development. The elders of the early church weren’t really “priests” other than how all the rest of the Christians were priests, right? All had access to the Spirit, all offered sacrifices of Christlikeness.

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  16. Tom – I just took the time to read the paper to which you linked. I have no idea, frankly, what the official Anglican take on ordination is…though I suspect it varies between Anglo-Catholics and Reformed Anglicans. I was surprised to find that I agreed with much of the writer of the essay/Luther. I’m far more skeptical of the way authority is exercised congregationally, even in interpretation of the scriptures, but it seems to me that what it has to say about priests is in line with the scriptures and early Christian practice. It becomes a question of tradition: is tradition merely doing what is scriptural, or is it the Holy Spirit’s work in the Church? I haven’t totally resolved this, but it’s important right off (and this is where I’m kinda Catholic) that the scriptures themselves can not be distinguished from tradition: they were written, read, distributed, collected, canonized all through the catholic tradition. So I would differ from Luther in that I think that Church tradition is a work of the Spirit that can and does go beyond the scriptures themselves, but can not go against the scriptures (at least not willy-nilly. the scriptures, being traditioned themselves, sometimes go against each other! a difficult topic for another discussion.) The point is that I have more trust in the Spirit through the church than in the individual believer’s interpretation of scripture. Which, frankly, means that although I agree with Luther’s take on the scriptures regarding judging those to be ordained, I am skeptical enough of my own scriptural authority to think that I need to be more/not less Catholic in regards to ordination.

    Basically, you’re talking to a Christian that has fallen halfway into the great tradition of the church, is mostly ignorant, longs for church unity, and yet retains his skepticism about much of church life. If you’re looking for consistency, I’m not the right dialogue partner 😛

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    1. Joey Here’s a link to what the Roman Catholic Catechism has to say about Holy Orders. It’s really good (as is most of their awesome catechism). Put simply, there doesn’t appear to be any “direct link” between either the Aaronic priesthood, nor Christ’s priesthood of Melchizadek to the priesthood differing in kind from the priesthood of believers, which Roman Catholics affirm. Again, I just don’t have the time really to dedicate fully to this conversation. It’s worth talking about, but it would involve a very close reading of at least the Gospels, Hebrews and Paul, St. Ignatius and St. Maximus the Confessor.

      You’re definitely right that what we call “the priesthood” developed in time, but St. Paul used priestly language of himself very often, so the theme is not totally absent. And of course “development” doesn’t rule anything out tout court. St. Ignatius is a great example of how episcopacy came to be seen of in a “priestly” sense and specifically connected with the Eucharist and unity.

      As a final note, the “official Anglican take” on ordination can be found here (go to the link on the left “Episcopal Services”). Or just look in your BCP! 🙂 Since the beginning we have maintained the historic threefold order of bishop, priest and deacon. Our episcopacy has stringently kept the same apostolic succession as the Roman Catholic church, our Mother, having at the very least three other “appropriately made” bishops in succession consecrate the new bishop. To the extent that a “Reformed” or “Anglo-catholic” Anglican deviates from this, they may hold a “theologoumena” but it is not the mind of our church. It’s worth looking at what the priest does and says in the liturgy of the Eucharist as well.

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  17. “does what we call “priests” today have anything to do with Levitical priesthood other than a position of leadership among the people of God? ”

    No the Levitical priesthood came after the Order of Melchizedek. The offering of the latter was bread and wine. Jesus as Highpriest is also the Lamb of God offered up to God the Father by the priest under the form of bread and wine today. The former’s sacrifice didn’t clean anyone from sin.

    “What we call “priests” is an evolution of the Greek word “presbuteros”, meaning elder, not the new covenant version of Jewish priesthood. Am I wrong? ”

    The overseers and elders office did overlap in the beginning. Elders/priests didn’t offer up sacrifices in the Christian church only the overseer. The priest enforced Christian teaching and exercised. jurisdictional authority. At some point in the second century the Bishops permitted the priest to offer up sacrifice and absorbed the priests authority under their own. The “ideal” concept was to have a bishop for every local church. Priests in general didn’t become bishops in the early church, they were drawn from the deacon with the arch deacon normally getting the nod. You can check on the Popes of Rome and the arch deacon in many cases become pope.

    “Although traditions have made distinctions between bishops (episcopos), priests and pastors, that’s a development. The elders of the early church weren’t really “priests” other than how all the rest of the Christians were priests, right?”

    And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. And let no man, having his dispute with his fellow, join your assembly until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled; for this sacrifice it is that was spoken of by the Lord; {In every place and at every time offer Me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great king, saith the Lord and My name is wonderful among the nations.}Didache 14:1-5

    The strongest piece IMO is St. Justin Martry who wrote the Emperor in a plea to relent against the Christians in the 2nd century:

    “God speaks through Malachias, one of the twelve, [minor prophets] as follows: ‘I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord; and I will not accept your sacrifices from your hands; for from the rising of the sun until its setting, my name has been glorified among the gentiles; and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a clean offering: for great is my name among the gentiles, says the Lord; but you profane it.’164 It is of the sacrifices offered to Him in every place by us, the gentiles, that is, of the Bread of the Eucharist and likewise of the cup of the Eucharist, that He speaks at that time; and He says that we glorify His name, while you profane it.”

    St. Ambrose in the 4th century:

    We saw the Prince of Priests coming to us, we saw and heard Him offering His blood for us. We follow inasmuch as we are able, being priests; and we offer the sacrifice on behalf of the people. And even if we are of but little merit, still, in the sacrifice, we are honorable. For even if Christ is not now seen as the one who offers the sacrifice, nevertheless it is He Himself that is offered in sacrifice here on earth when the Body of Christ is offered. Indeed, to offer Himself He is made visible in us, He whose words make holy the sacrifice that is offered.On Twelve Psalms, 38.25

    The early church believe it was offering Jesus’ resurrected Body and Blood to the Father in heaven as an actually and eternal sacrifice and that the Bishops and eventually the priests offer it up not the laity.

    “All had access to the Spirit, all offered sacrifices of Christlikeness.”

    Yes the laity does offer up their own but it is linked to the efficacious offering of Jesus otherwise it would be for not.There are two separate offerings. I assume that in Anglican services you have a collection which is gathered up and placed at the foot of the altar and the priest then offers up the bread and wine as the offering.

    I’d suggest that Thomas Cranmer is the one who changed/modified the understand of the Liturgy for Anglicans so perhaps your answer lies with him? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Cranmer

    Reply

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