5.10.09

Offices in the early Church

Charismatic - exercising ministry in virtue of giftings
 
Office: ministry as permanent function in which the holder can be succeeded by others and to which they are appointed by some ecclesiastical authority other than themselves

We look at 1 Cor 12 and Acts 20 and wonder whether these passages describe  offices or charismatic gifts? It is God who appoints. This Corinthian community didn't have an official appointments system. This is a charismatic ordering of things. Similarly, Acts 2 reveals a charismatic allocation of gifts because there is no idea of permanance or succession.

In the pastorals (thought to be written by someone in the Pauline circle), there are qualities attached to the offices. These offices are by appointment: Episcopos, presbyteros and diakonos.

The early church now introduces an institutional process. How did we get from 1 Cor 12 to the Pastorals? Paul's Spirit-led, ad hoc system needs to be solidified in the face of false teaching. These offices need to be organised because it becomes apparent that Jesus will not be returning as soon as it was at first thought.

So that Christianity can be recognised across cultural locations, a pattern is set.

The Johnanine epistles have a single elder in charge and the Petrine epistles advocate a body of elders in place. The Didache (end of the first century, contemporaneous with the epistles) have apostles and prophets, Bishops and deacons.

Ignatius of Antioch has a mono-epicopate and then deacons for each ecclesial community. The Bishop is a prophet because he speaks God's word, he is an instrument of unity and a representative of the community and a fulcrum of liturgy (the person who presides over the liturgy).

Many Anglicans look back to this as the pattern that we have inherited. Then there are the presyters: a council of elders, modeled on the idea that Christ was surrounded by the disciples and then the deacons perform the diakonia of Jesus Christ. Unity in the bishop is expressive of Jesus Christ and your condition of union with God.

How representative is this and how has it developed?

Irenaeus and Tertullian

Irenaeus is concerned with addressing heresy and makes the bishops protectors of apostolic authority.

Tertullian distinguishes ordo and plebs - the clergy from the laity.

Women in ministry issues are touched upon and our attention is drawn to the various opinions on each side of the debate. The prominent ministry of women was perhaps tainted by the large part women had to play in heretical groups such as in the Montanists and the Gnostics. There is epigraphic evidence that women were in ministry and there is evidence of opposition so there must have been women administering the eucharist for this to be protested against. There were always women deacons. Macrina and the power of the female ascetics were accorded authority where their teaching was valued by both genders. They had a degree of authority due to their attained holiness. These ideas can inform the debate today.

I think that it is always better to look at the Greek though, but it depends how much regard you accord tradition. I'm made of good evangelical stock.

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.