Friday, March 18, 2005

Qualifications for the Presbyterate

Clement still has me thinking.

I've written here before on my doubts regarding a present day apostolic succession. In short, when the earliest Christians were falling into dangerous heresies and schisms, the integrity of local communities was guarded by its leaders, who (probably) first were prophets and teachers, then presbyter-bishops, and later singular bishops. Those first presbyters were installed by the apostles, their faithfulness to the "faith once delivered" assured because their discipleship and ministry were formed in their relationship with the apostles. In turn, those leaders formed others in the faith to take their places of authority. On the basis of personal relationships and the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit, it was considered very likely that those leaders were able and faithful successors to the apostles in their ministry.

(In the late second century, it was a negative criterion whereby +Irenaeus of Lyons was able to discredit Gnostic teachers, who claimed a secret knowledge that the apostles gave to them, but not to the leaders the apostles had ordained.)

Clement unflinchingly upheld the qualifications of the Corinthians' deposed presbyters: they were ordained by the apostles as their successors, and in the utter absence of charges against them, they are not to be removed.

This raises a couple of questions that irritate my Anglican and Baptist sympathies, respectively. In what way is a contemporary apostolic succession valid? When is it really legitimate for a presbyter/pastor to leave one community for another?

An Alternative Apostolic Succession?

The Romans and some Anglicans (I won't make claims for the Eastern Orthodox) claim a mechanical succession: their presbyters and bishops were ordained by bishops ordained by bishops ... ordained by the apostles. Even if that were verifiably true, they could not make claims about their bishops being formed by those other bishops. The connection is mechanical, not relational, and it would require a special work of the Holy Spirit to give the benefits of the former relational connection in the absence of relationships. I don't think that's happened.

As a result, I'm not certain how ordination in the apostolic succession can be more legitimate than ordaination in the free (congregational) churches. It just may be that the Holy Spirit wishes for a different kind of system to emerge altogether.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit will form members of a community into Christians. Perhaps presbyters and teachers will be formed there, and all of the offices necessary for the life and growth of the Body of Christ in that particular place will be filled by Christians who have been formed for them by the Holy Spirit's work in each community. Separate communities in a region could form relationships, getting to know one another through time spent together, teaching and shared mission.

What further "recognition of ministry" would be required? If one is truly formed in the life of the community, shouldn't one serve that community? Shouldn't one be validated by one's reputation in that community, rather than the approving stamp of a denomination?

Could the Holy Spirit do a work in our midst that would do the same validating work as did the ancient apostolic succession?

I'd love to hear some perspectives on these questions.

What of itinerant ministry? More to come...


Annie said...

I've never understood the stink about the apostolic succession. Through the laying on of hands, the apostles passed on the Holy Spirit to all their converts--not just a few. Even to this day this act takes place at confirmation. As for Bishops and other clergy, although we have long since lost the history, the pedigree, if you will--completely broken in the 1500's--how likely is it that when all members of the Church have at some point been through that ceremony in one way or another, that it could be broken entirely? Obviously, how the Spirit manifests itself in the individual is varied--we call it a calling. To limit it from Bishop to Bishop is another thing entirely. Faith itself is a minimal requirement of the Holy Spirit before any validity could be obtained by the act. In actuality, the act could have been performed and the validity broken by a non-believer in the mix. We could never be certain. We try. On the other hand, I am not for tossing it. Ritual is empty if a person does not believe in it. It has value if a person does. It all comes down to faith.

Allison said...

I understand apostolic succession; I was forced to study it. On the other hand, what I don't really understand is Episcopal ecclesiology. Monarchical/"singular" bishops on the basis of apostolic I off?
One of the many things that turned me away from apostolic to a more spiritual succession was something that I read from Irenaeus (sorry it's so lengthy):

"Therefore we ought to obey only those presbyters who are in the Church, who have their succession from the Apostles, as we have shown; who with their succession in the episcopate have received the sure gift of the truth according to the pleasure of the Father. The rest, who stand aloof from the primitive succession, and assemble in any place whatever, we must regard with suspicion, either as heretics and evil-minded; or as schismatics, puffed up and complacent; or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of gain and vainglory. All these have fallen from the truth."

(Not sure what writing this came from. I've had it written down for a year or so, and remembered it when I read your post.)

I don't think "contemporary apostolic succession" IS valid or CAN BE valid. Not only is it illogical to me, but I have found no scriptural basis for it, either. I think the HS's presence in the life of a believer is itself a "validating work". What of tradition can biblically minimize the validity of a believer's ministry as apart of the Church? (I'll rearrange your "question" and make it a statement instead): Yes, we should serve in the community where our life is being formed. And I'd even go so far as to say: that should be the only necessary basis for our service and our love in that community (besides the obvious base of Scripture).

In regards to leaving one community for another...You and I both realize (I think) -- that you just know when your time is done. You know when/if the time comes for moving on. I'd like to expand, but this comment is already ridiculously long. And...itinerant ministry, well, I'll save that for another day.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Personally, I think the whole concept of Apostolic Sucession is a load of horse hockey. The way I see it, the only time the doctrine is ever trotted out is for negative purposes, i.e. to label someone else a heretic or schismatic.
The people that might possibly have a claim to it, and even then its pretty shaky historicity, is the Roman Catholic church. Assuming such a doctrine ever really existed in actuality, it seems to me they forfeited any claim to it with the corruption and scandal in the Middle Ages.
I personally think the doctrine cannot stand if one is a good Anglican who believes in the incarnation of Christ in the world. I mean, God can move through people regardless of whether they have a church that can legitimately claim "apostolic sucession"

Kyle said...

Good thoughts, folks; thanks for commenting.

Annie, you make a good point about the expansive nature of the Spirit's gifts: is the Spirit polite enough to limit charisms to people in the mechanical succession just because we ask?

I do get uncomfortable talking about "faith" in this context, especially if we consider a "basic faith" to be itself a gift of God. (And what the heck would that mean, anyway?) On what basis does God make a person a bishop or presbyter, if indeed God does?

More to the point, I don't suggest "tossing it" out, but rather ask, "should those of us who don't have it, try to get it?"

Allison, are you implying that you reject apostolic succession because +Irenaeus was so adamant in its favor? ;0)

And no, I don't think any idea of the AS itself leads to a practice of singular episcopacy; I think they are unrelated.

I'll maintain that our boy Irenaeus had a good argument against Gnosticism in the AS, but to make it a primary doctrine of the Church...? Not convinced.

I agree with you, Ryan. What's mechanical apostolic pedagree worth when so many have purchased it with money? Remember what the Apostles said to Simon Magus... ;0)

Any problems with the (merely) relational validation of ministry?

Allison said...

I reject A.S., my dear Kyle, not because Irenaeus was so adamant in its favor...but because I think, overall, that its acceptance does more harm than good.

And, I think Irenaeus' quote is implicative of more than just the Gnosticism heresy...if that's what you were implying.

Not sure I understand your question there at the end, so I'll leave that one alone for now.

Annie said...

I think we must look at these things on different levels. First of all, if you search out references to it in Acts and the few in the Gospels (laying on of hands) you see that it is an ancient practice probably recognized by the Jews themselves. And yes, in Acts we see that the ability to bestow certain gifts are limited to a few specific individuals, that different gifts are apparently bestowed. I think this understanding is totally lost. I believe that it might have been a valuable thing if we had maintained the true succession. I do believe that it was broken in the early church. Spiritual people know they are spiritual and understand gifts. Yes, I do believe faith is a gift, too.

On another layer we have faith and what helps belief. Is baptism necessary? Probably not. But we place a great deal of importance on it. Is God limited to those he himself has ordained through the Lof H? I doubt it. But ritual, though its purpose has been forgotten, is an assist to seeking God within. It all plays a part in helping us visualize what has taken place at a higher level. This is why I say that when we decide that ritual is empty and we cast it out, we have lost a valuable asset that cannot be replaced. All of the rituals in the church have value. But, if you think not, there are numerous churches that have tossed ritual already and precious few that maintain it. If ritual is empty for you, seek understanding. You could be tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

You ask me: More to the point, I don't suggest "tossing it" out, but rather ask, "should those of us who don't have it, try to get it?"

Surely! The promise is rich! To have life and to have it abundantly. I consider scripture to be merely a beginners manual to faith, the church a means of fostering faith and ritual a means of experiencing it. You are told to seek, knock and ask. I recommend you do. :)


Annie said...

I hope you will forgive me. I took your comment rather out of context and I answered a little bit more on my own blog. :) (Episcopal blog ring: Myriad Musings-->go to Musing Mysticism)

Yes, I am a bit ...different. :)


Kyle said...

I don't mind - out of context indeed!

I think we're speaking of different things; my argument has nothing to do with the practice of ordination, or any "ritual" of any church. I speak of a particular teaching, and to employ the cliche, I'm not certain if there's a baby to be found in that bathwater.

Thanks for commenting!

Annie said...

Sure. I reread your original post and I come to the same conclusion.