October 3, 2009

The Coinherent Bishop

An online conversation with a bishop, friend, and colleague sparked a few thoughts about ministry, particularly the ministry of bishops. What I will say here applies to all of the "ordered" ministries of bishop, priest, and deacon, but also to the wider ministry of the whole people of God. Indeed, my fundamental thesis is that no ordered ministry properly functions apart from the people of God.

Drawing on the language of Trinitarian theology, one can say that any ordained ministry is coinherent with the other ordained ministries and with the ministry of the faithful. For the purposes of this brief reflection, I will focus on the episcopate, and its coinherence with the church. Certainly we've had enough of incoherent bishops of late, from the abreactions of Durham to the megalomania of Pittsburgh, as well as somewhat less than pellucid prose from the chair of Augustine.

The bishop is, first and foremost, also a priest and deacon — one of the best arguments against per saltum ordination lies in this coinherent reality. That is, the bishop exercises both the gathering and teaching ministries of the priesthood, as well as the missional and prophetic ministries of the diaconate — and note as well that all of these ministries subsist in relation to the whole people of God: calling together the assembly which is the church (the ekklesia), teaching and convicting them and leading them in prayer with boldness and spirit, and sending them forth to do the work of God in the power of that self-same Spirit. It all hangs together.

Or it hangs separately, as Franklin observed. For when any of the ordered ministers of the church takes it into his or her mind to be a loner, unless their witness is ratified by the Spirit acting in the life of the church, repenting as they did at the sign of Jonah (his preaching), the very singularity of the act, and the lack of reception, reveals the misguidedness of the solitary or schismatical motion.

This is one of the reasons that episcopal acts, even those undertaken by a validly consecrated bishop, are of no effect if exercised apart from the church. The "power" or authority of a bishop is not a personal power exercised for the church, but the corporate power of the whole church exercised through that person. This relates to the doctrines of the Incarnation and Atonement. As William Law pointed out, Christ did not suffer and die in our place (that is, we still all suffer and die) but for our sakes. He did this having assumed unto himself all of human nature; that is, our flesh and blood, from the womb of his Blessed Mother. He was not simply a representative human, but all of humanity itself, human Being itself, together with God's Being in one person.

So too with the ministers of the church, perhaps especially bishops who are called upon in many circumstances to be the voice of the church to the larger world (though I note that this is a ministry they share with deacons, and still as deacons, priests), it is vital they recall that they speak in the church's true accent, rather than merely their own. The bishop is coinherent with the whole body of the church, and acts not in its place, but as its instrument. One of the positive notes in the proposed Ridley-Cambridge draft of an Anglican Covenant, is the recognition of the role of bishop's personal ministry not only in Synod, but "collegially and within and for the eucharistic community." (3.1.2-3) The bishop is not a monarch, but a minister. His or her "power" is not magical and individual, but derives entirely from the larger church of which she or he is an integral part and organ. Otherwise it would be Harry Potter instead of Henry Potter!

The bishop acting outside or apart from the church as an episcopus vagans is like an electric fan unplugged from its source of power. Its blades may show some signs of movement in a strong wind, but are of no effect in actually generating a breeze. And the same is true of any minister, ordered or lay, who amputated from the body of fellow-believers attempts still to function as an organ of the body.

We are, in the long run, all in this together. Lone wolves go hungry. And shepherds are nothing without their sheep.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Daniel Weir said...

A priest who served on the Commission on Ministry always responded to those who decribed their call to ordained minsitry as a call to a wider ministry by asserting that it was, in fact, a narrower ministry. I think he was right, because it disabused aspirants of the notion that they wouldn't be under orders if ordained. And I think he was wrong, because all the baptized are under orders. I have for years disagreed with the wording of the BCP Catechism when it lists the ministers of the Church. The Minister is Christ and we all sahre in that ministry. I can't always remember to say it, but I try to speak of my work in ministry rather than my ministry.

June Butler said...

Tobias, I initially misread your title, of course. ;o)

Perhaps I'm becoming a bit paranoid, but as I was reading through the biographies of the candidates for bishop in the Diocese of Louisiana, I looked for references by the candidates to a desire to hear the voices of the faithful in the parishes, and not just those of the priest and the vestry.

Over the 13 years that I've been part of the Episcopal Church, at times I've been tempted to stay home with my Bible and my prayer book, because I felt very much out of sync with my church community. But I cannot do that. I need my church community, more than I know, though we may bump elbows painfully at times.

Presently, we have an amazing group of people in our church who meet for adult study. We're a community within the larger community, but by no means an exclusive community. Anyone is welcome.

What a joy! We're viewing the CDs of the "Living the Questions" series. The talks spark lively conversations. No subject is off limits, no questions are squelched. This I would have missed had I stayed home.

We are, in the long run, all in this together.


R said...

It is no small coincidence that just this morning in a retreat with our Eucharistic ministers, we reflected deeply on how Eucharist ceases to be if it is divorced from the Body. There is no such thing as individual communion. Every aspect of our sacraments, orders, and ministries are only in as much as they are in relationship with the Body of Christ.

Yet another nail in the coffin of recent trends towards "l'eglise c'est moi!"

Ormonde Plater said...

Tobias, I find your argument against the ancient practice of per saltum ordination troubling. It seems to me that the priestly and diaconal aspects of bishops come from their ordination as bishops, not as priests and deacons. For evidence of this, simply look at the ordination rite.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Ormonde,
I would say that what we see in the ordination rite for bishops is rather a kind of "ordering" the gifts or charisms received in diaconal and presbyteral ordination, and the specific addition of some new ones, particularly the "supervisory" capacity that gives the episcopate its name ("to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church..."), the ministry of ordination itself, and the global scope of leadership. Many of the other aspects of ministry (shared with deacons and priests) are repeated in the ordinal for bishops -- which does open the door for per saltum ordination, of course. But it seems to me that as presently constituted, while each ministry has its distinctive character and direction and charism, there is still in our rite a suggestion of that cumulative concept that is still very much a part of our canonical rule.

This is not to say I oppose the concept of per saltum ordination, and certainly not to suggest that I think there is no distinction to the ministries of the orders -- I've been too long a defender of the distinctive diaconate to fall into that trap. But my experience is that too many priests forget the diaconal aspects of their own ministry, and too many bishops, too. Instead of seeing the episcopate as the "fountain" of ministry, I prefer to see the diaconate as the foundation of all ministry, and am eager to remind priests and bishops that they have no place to stand if they forget that Christ-like ministry of service. If there is to be per saltum I would suggest the most appropriate "leap" should be from deacon to bishop.

Marshall Scott said...

And actually distinctive ministry of the diaconate is the reason I oppose per saltum ordination. I believe priests would more thoroughly appreciate the distinctive ministry of the diaconate if in fact they were required to spend more time in the diaconate, and were required to spend that time functioning as deacons instead of "junior priests." I'd recommend two years, with designated responsibilities for outreach and pastoral ministries. (And this, too, has its traditional roots: it seems to have been common enough for the Medieval Church.)

Back on topic, though: I once had a student from an evangelical tradition who leaned hard toward the (self-perceived) action of the Spirit as the primary source of vocation. He opined, "If the Spirit calls me, I can stand on a street corner and preach the Gospel." "Perhaps," I said, "but if there is no congregation that can affirm your ministry, to whom are you preaching? And if to no one, what is the meaning of that call?"

I'm struck by the decision of the Diocese of Chicago announced today that speaks to reconsidering just how the Church recognizes and acknowledged vocations. Perhaps we waver between the catholic (Catholic?) tradition of the Church forming ministers, and the evangelical tradition of acknowledging the individual's sense of the call of the Spirit.