Wednesday, August 06, 2008

On the Priesthood

The topic of Friday's session of Liturgy & Lager will be "the Priesthood" and so I thought I'd post a few thoughts & resources.

The priesthood is an interesting angle to come at apologetics from. I often hear Reformed Christians blasting Rome for having a priesthood and a Protestant will happily direct one towards Canterbury if they're unhappy with Geneva if only they'll steer clear of Rome. I wonder why the reformed don't really have a problem with Anglicans having a priesthood and a sacrificial liturgy but they do with Rome. (This isn't rhetorical, if anyone has some ideas - share them by all means).

The lack of a priesthood is about as obvious as a separation from historic Christianity as one can get. So Reformed Christians like the PCA pastor I recently interacted with (who was far more charitable than I was) say "Yes we believe in Church authority and in historic Christianity etc... we just think Rome went astray..." but they fall short on various issues like Real Presence, regenerative baptism and I'm not sure if any is more painfully obvious than the rejection of the priesthood. In order to reject the priesthood, one must revert to a fundamentalist "solo scriptura" me-and-my-new-testament Christianity no matter how "Reformed" you are.

The adoption of the Priesthood by Christians was so early that we even have James the very "brother" of the Lord performing priestly duties according to the Levitical rites before 70 AD! (See my post here).

Yet even in this reversion to fundamentalism, the argument falls flat. It is true, the objector will mention, that in the NT, Church leaders are never referred to as "priests" (that was reserved for the Jewish Priests). They are referred to as "presbyters". If the first century Church understood the leaders to be acting out a priestly vocation, then why did they (apparently) deliberately avoid using the word for priest? I would highly recommend part 1 & part 2 of a series on this very subject found on Jimmy Akin's blog. Michael Barber on "Singing in the Reign" also has a nice post comparing Christian priests to the Levites.

Since the entirety of Christianity employed a priesthood for her first 1500 years, we can reject without further argument any Christian community which does not have one. This eliminates every Protestant sect except Anglicanism.


Chad Toney said...

I wonder why the reformed don't really have a problem with Anglicans having a priesthood and a sacrificial liturgy but they do with Rome. (This isn't rhetorical, if anyone has some ideas - share them by all means).

Easy. Because Anglicans are wrong about many things, but they haven't "anathematized the gospel" or some such nonsense. And you can easily maintain a Zwinglian or Calvinian view of the Supper within the communion.

Jason J. Stellman said...


Speaking as a PCA pastor, I can say that we fully embrace the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Supper. We don't hold to transsubstantiation, but we are also not memorialists. We affirm that by means of the bread and cup we really and truly feed upon Jesus' body and blood by faith.

On baptismal regeneration, I have no problem with language like "be baptized for the forgiveness of sins" or "be baptized and wash away your sins." We do, though, seek to distinguish (but not divorce) the signum from the res significata.

On the priesthood, there is no doubt that Paul saw his ministry as priestly and described it with priestly language:

"... because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit."

We have a long tradition of connecting the ministry of the pastor with the Levitical ministry in time past. We even believe in sacrifices, it's just that under the NC it is we, not animals, that are being offered (Rom. 12:1-2).

Hope that helps.

PS - How much did those "Protestants" charge to design your blog?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Pastor Stellman,

I know that the Reformed say they believe in such things... But such things are not catechized. (Not that I mean to be throwing stones in a glass house - the Catholic Church is pretty bad on a lot of catechesis I know).. But the liturgy itself for Catholics is catechetical.

When you use grape juice instead of wine and when you never mention the theology behind receiving Christ in fear of being misunderstood in a Catholic sense, the liturgy is not teaching anything but a memorialist view. We both know the average PCA goer would have just as much problem with me saying "we literally receive Christ Body Blood Soul & Divinity" as they would of me saying "the bread becomes the Body of Christ". For it is not the complex dogma of Transubstantiation that they have a problem with. It is truly the question of Real Presence itself that they do granting that Calvin may have believed and taught otherwise. That has been my overwhelming experience anyhow.

On baptism, I can agree that PCA/WCF is pretty darn close to Catholicism when you take away all the fluff.

But on the priesthood, I don't think it's fluff. I think its significant difference. You (PCA) say you have priestly functions, I (me) have priestly functions too and am baptized into such "priest prophet & king" but I'm not a priest.

We have ceremonial priests, liturgical priests and our liturgy is fittingly sacrificial. It is the same with the East & with England which the three compose the huge majority of Christianity now and certainly throughout history.

Reformed are decidedly disconnected from this. They have a reductionist view of the priestly ministry in that not only is no sacrifice taking place or rather being re-presented at the mass - many of the services aren't even breaking bread to begin with! That is a different discussion I know and I know some do it weekly but it is never the focus.

We (Catholic/Orthodox/Anglican) have radically different services in that ours are sacrificial liturgies of worship, yours are centered around preaching and singing. (Neither of which are bad things) but the entire focus is reversed.

You don't have a priesthood like we do and you only call your preachers "priests" or "priestly" in order to appear to have connection with the faith of the early Church. It is the same with Real Presence. What little is said in the rare occasions it is mentioned on the issue are said only to appear connected to the early Church without actually embracing her teachings.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Oh and the price for the blog design is very reasonable. They are $45 for a basic design I think.