Mysteries of Anglican Governance, Part Two
Who Gives the Orders Around Here?
And Other Mysteries of Anglican Governance (part 2)
A few days ago, I posted the first in a series of short articles about Anglican Church governance. This has become a topic of conversation recently, given a recent meeting that was in the news, as well as an upcoming change of bishops in our own Diocese.
In this post, I was going to start talking about issues in the world-wide church, but then decided to give you more context before we get to that. So, this is article is about what bishops, priests, and deacons are.
I’ll be posting a series of short articles over the next few weeks on this topic. As I post, if you have follow up questions, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.
Part Two: Orders (Bishops, Priests, and Deacons)
Everyone who is in Christ is a priest (1 Peter 2:9). Every Christian has been given spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7). Every member of the church is called to minister the good news of Jesus to all people (Mark 16:15). By virtue of baptism and confirmation, all Christians are part of Christ’s ministry in the church and the world. In that context, the church has always set some people aside for particular works of service. Over the centuries, those set aside fell into three categories called “orders.” The rite by which someone is placed into one of these orders is called “ordination.” The three orders are those of bishops, priests, and deacons.
Ordination in the Anglican Church only happens after a long and careful process. No one is spontaneously or quickly ordained. The process usually includes discernment by a pastor, the church congregation, local leaders, diocesan committees, and the bishop. A significant amount of education, training, spiritual direction, written and verbal testing, and demonstration of ministerial ability are required, along with assessments of psychological, physical, marital, spiritual, theological, and moral health. Becoming a bishop is even more complicated, as it demands the witness of the other bishops in the province. As part of a long tradition, anyone being ordained must be made a deacon first. Later, they may be made priest. Only a priest may someday be made a bishop.
A bishop is a representative of the unity of the church. He stands as the direct descendant of the Apostles through faithfulness to their doctrine and the unbroken succession of the laying on of hands. The bishop is called to guard the faith of the church. This means he must teach correct doctrine, and he must drive out false teachings (and sometimes false teachers).
The bishop must represent the Apostles in the way he lives his life. His love, faithfulness, and integrity are no less important than his doctrine. Bishops are the chief pastors of the church. They are spiritual fathers, as the Apostles were (1 Corinthians 4:15). Each bishop is the head pastor, under Christ, of all the congregations in his care.
Bishops are responsible for leading the church. They are often, but not always, heads of dioceses. Together, they establish the councils of the church. Authorizing and maintaining correct forms of worship, right interpretation of Scripture within the greater tradition, and godly discipline are all parts of their ministry.
Bishops represent the Anglican Church to other Christian bodies, to other religious groups, and to secular organizations. They have the responsibility of reminding other institutions, including governments, of Christ’s Lordship. In the midst of all of this, they are responsible for remembering the marginalized, the poor, and those in greatest need of our compassion.
A priest is a servant-leader in a Eucharistic community. A priest’s calling is to preach and teach the Word, lead Eucharistic worship, and to form their congregations in the way of Jesus. From time to time, a priest is assigned to duties outside of the church, but the church is where the bulk of priestly ministry occurs.
All Christians are called to represent Christ. Priests serve as representational figures of Christ to their congregations, especially in worship. That is why they typically perform the functions that Christ would, if he were physically present. They celebrate communion, bless the people, and absolve them of their sins. These acts truly belong to Christ, but the priest has the terrifying duty of standing in for our Lord—a duty that should never be taken lightly!
Priests represent the congregation to Christ, especially in prayer. They represent the church to the world, especially in the public sphere of their normal lives. They also represent the bishop to their congregation, as they serve their parish on his behalf. None of this means that they are more Christ-like than other Christians. Rather, it simply means that they’ve been called to serve the church in this specific way.
Priests often lead churches, or assist in their leading. They start new churches, schools, and other ministries. Priests are sometimes called to train other ministers, especially in colleges and seminaries. They may serve as chaplains in places like hospitals, schools, or the military.
Deacons serve the needy. Their specific call is to minister to those on the margins of society. If priests minister in the church, and laypeople minister in the world, deacons minister to those on the edges of both.
Deacons work with the powerless. They visit the sick and the suffering. They aid in the care of immigrants, orphans, widows, the very old, and the very young. They may do their work in institutions, such as shelters and hospitals. They might also do their work on the streets and in other secular places. Deacons have served as missionaries to unbelievers, as well as messengers of hope to those who have left the church.
Deacons represent the world to the church, and the church to the world. They should constantly remind the church of the needs of the world, never letting us become internally focused. A deacon is called to be a holy pain-in-the-butt to the self-satisfied religious, particularly to priests and bishops. In this context, it’s important to note that every priest was first a deacon. The priests among us still have this calling.
As a result of their calling and office, deacons are sometimes called upon to serve at the Eucharist, to read the Gospel, to lead the prayers or the confession, to say the collect of the day, and to give the dismissal. This isn’t their primary role in the church, but rather a symbolic outgrowth of their ministries.
This article comes directly from my book The Anglican Way. The next article will be more about bishops, and why they are so important in our denomination.