Wednesday, 8 December 2010

When Pastors Become Priests

Many modern Christians think that we left the evils of professional priesthood behind at the Reformation, but Glen Scrivener, in the opening paragraphs of an article for Theology Network, highlights the pernicious dynamic of a psychological priesthood that can arise in any church when people accept the attitude that they "pay" someone to do their (biblical) thinking / praying / evangelising / caring / sacraments for them...

Invariably when people are asked to imagine “an evangelist” they picture a bold enthusiast with boundless energy. A salesman who could sell ice to Eskimos but, praise God, now they’re selling Jesus. They are born communicators and can turn a pub discussion of the off-side rule into a proclamation of Christ – our Last Defender.
We are inspired by them sometimes. Daunted by them more often. Do we warm to them? Well, we’re grateful that they’re out there. Because, Lord knows we couldn’t do what they do. We are not “evangelists” – not like them anyway. So God bless them in their efforts.
Every once in a while we’ll rein them in off the streets to turn their wild-eyed enthusiasm on us – drumming up support for the church’s next ‘big push.’ But once that’s over they will ride off into the sunset and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
I’m exaggerating. Slightly. But, lest you think I’m setting up a straw-man, try this experiment at your church. Raise the topic of ‘evangelizing your friends’ and then count down the seconds until someone complains ‘But I’m no Billy Graham.’
What does this kind of thinking betray?
It reveals, for one thing, a belief worryingly similar to that medieval division between clergy and laity. At root there is the constant guilt felt by ordinary folk who know their failings. And then there’s the offer of some small relief. The riff-raff can pay for professional Christians to live the really holy life for them. The professionals (this strange breed of “evangelists”) are secretly delighted to be put on such a pedestal. And inevitably these experts aggravate as much as alleviate the guilt feelings of the common folk. But really, once the guilt is in place, the divide will follow. And both sides will have strong reasons to reinforce it.
How can we possibly address this situation? There’s a big problem here. If anyone tries to remove the guilt from ordinary Christians they’ll be accused of building up the dividing wall: Are you saying the ordinary folk are off the hook?? Are you saying only certain people can/should evangelize!!? And if anyone tries to remove the division they’ll be accused of guilt-mongering: Are you saying everyone’s under this burden?? Are you saying we all need to be Billy Grahams!!?
But the gospel flushes that whole paradigm down the toilet where it belongs. The gospel addresses both the guilt issue and the division issue. And it doesn’t just re-balance them, it abolishes them. Think of the priesthood of Christ. It means the end of guilt. And then think of the complement to that truth – the priesthood of all believers in Him. It means the end of divisions.
So what would evangelism look like which glories in the perfect priesthood of Christ and the corporate priesthood of all believers? What would evangelism look like if it was motivated not by the high-octane marketeers but by the goodness of the gospel itself?  Continue reading here
Of course there's nothing at all wrong with financially supporting those who serve the church, in fact it's biblical to do so, nor is there anything wrong with using any gift God has given you, so long as it never leads to the abdication of responsibility by the rest of us who aren't paid/gifted for that particular task.

One of the values of the church I serve in is "The church is not run by professional clergy who do all the work." I am so privileged to be part of a spiritual family where we see outstanding service given so often by so many, (both salaried and volunteer) as seen this last week.

And may it ever be thus. :-)


Ian Greig said...

Excellent post... and it hits the nail on the head. I'm a strong believer in full-time, salaried Christian leaders to serve the church well.

But serve it how? By being the star players? And bigging themselves up more and more?

Not at all. It is a privilege to be set apart, and trained, and recognised. However, there is one key task and one only, which Eph 4: 12 describes as "the equipping of the saints for works of service".

That releases the body, and the mission. Rather than locking up the gift in a so-called 'professional', it multiplies the gift so that everyone can go into their world and begin making disciples.

Richard Walker said...

Good point! I like the Eph 4:12 ref.