Biblical, theological and contemporary perspectives
The Faith and Order Advisory Group
of the Church of England
Chapter 1 Introduction: the origin and aim of this report
Chapter 2 Ministry, the New Testament and the Church today
Chapter 3 The changing context for mission and ministry in the Church of England
Chapter 4 Towards a theology of mission and ministry, ordained and lay
Chapter 5 Summary and recommendations
Foreword The Right Reverend John Hind: Chairman of the Faith and Order Advisory Group
Questions, both theological and practical, about ministry are preoccupying many churches today. Historic patterns and understandings are being widely reconsidered as social change and ecumenical dialogue alter the context in which Christian ministry is exercised. For Anglicans, this reconsideration has focused on two main areas: the nature and exercise of the episcopate (especially in dialogue with Lutheran and Methodist churches); and the diaconate and its relation to the presbyterate, on the one hand, and to ‘lay ministries’, on the other. It is the latter set of questions that has given rise to the present study document.
The history and character of the Church of England, attempting as it does to hold together different emphases and understandings of ministry, often make it difficult for us to handle these questions in a coherent and united way. The difficulty frequently surfaces (or lies just below the surface) in General Synod debates on ecumenical, liturgical or ministry-related matters. This report is offered as a resource for ongoing discussion as the Church of England responds to challenges to renew its ministry for the twenty-first century. It may however also be of interest to other churches asking themselves the same or similar questions. Churches with the historic threefold ministry of bishops, presbyters and deacons are realising that they need to revitalise their practice and understanding. Churches which have developed other patterns of ministry and oversight are now freer than in more polemical times to consider whether the historic forms may have permanent value. Both kinds of churches are challenged by (and themselves challenge) emerging Christian communities who are either feeling their way towards or consciously resisting settled forms of ministry.
Three main factors seem to have prompted this Church-wide process of reflection and renewal.
The first factor is a renewed understanding of Christ’s call to mission. Christians (even theologians) have not always sufficiently integrated their understandings of mission and of Church. It is however increasingly acknowledged that the mission of the Son and the Spirit creates the Church and that the Church only exists in relation to the missio Dei, whose instrument it is. The Church serves God’s ‘plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.’ Because the Church only exists in relation to God’s eternal purpose, every aspect of its life and work, its faith and order should point to, reveal, announce and serve ‘the mystery of God’s will.’ The end of mission is God’s own purpose through Christ ‘to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’
This reconciliation opens the worship of heaven to ‘a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”’This being the end, it follows that, as St Augustine commented, ‘the praise of God should be the object of our meditation in this life, because in the life to come it will be forever the object of our rejoicing.’ This eschatological hope is the ultimate point of Christian ministry, and has immediate and practical earthly consequences.
As a gift of God, the Church’s ministry is oriented both towards the worship of heaven and its anticipation in this world. Both dimensions are essential to its nature. Liturgy and life are not two different things that Christians do, but the same reality seen from two perspectives. God’s gift already shapes the Church’s ministry for mission, but if this is reduced to an introspective this-worldly activity, even worship loses its heavenly reference and becomes at best a support for everyday life, while everyday life comes to be seen as lived within a closed system with no ultimate purpose. As Michael Ramsey so powerfully put it, in The Gospel and the Catholic Church (1936):‘The Christian does not share in the Liturgy in order to live aright; he lives aright in order to share in the Liturgy.’
The present age demands a full-blooded understanding of mission and a much more mission-focused approach than has been sometimes been the case. Ministry, ordained or not, is not simply about meeting the internal needs of a Christian community, but reaches out in witness, service and proclamation to the neighbourhood, to the nation and to the wider world. Of course the Church on earth does not stand apart from that world. As Paul puts it: ‘the whole creation has been groaning in travail until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.’ ‘The glorious liberty of the children of God’is both an eschatological hope and a present challenge to confront in every way all that diminishes human dignity.
The second factor stimulating the renewal of ministry in our time has been ecumenical dialogue, interaction and partnership. The ecumenical movement has already given Christians and churches of different traditions a better awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of each other’s patterns of ministry and the theologies that underlie them. We can learn from each other’s ‘successes’ and from each other’s ‘mistakes’. Approaches to ministry today are not only ‘confessional’ (in the sense of being rooted in the traditions and theological emphases of particular churches), but also ecumenical. Even where profound differences remain, these are increasingly recognised as a shared challenge rather than as merely a cause of separation. Those churches that believe their ministry to be an authentic manifestation of a ministry of the universal Church, the basic reality of which, even if not the detail, rests on the will of Christ and the work of his apostles, have a particular responsibility to attend to the potential implications of what they do in relation to ministry, as in other areas.
Some developments in biblical scholarship have been the third influence on the renewal of ministry. Although research into the New Testament and the early Church does not remove all uncertainty about the emergence of patterns of ministry in the early years of the Church, and can not prescribe how normative those are, some developments are well enough established to affect the thinking and policy making of the churches. One such area of research has been the re-appraisal of the Greek New Testament terminology related to our words ‘deacon’ and ‘diaconate’ (especially in the writings of St Paul and St Luke.) This work has been particularly associated with the name of Dr John N. Collins. His work has not so far been shown wanting in principle by other experts in the field, but, while his findings are being taken increasingly seriously by biblical scholars, their practical implications for patterns of ministry have yet to be received into the life of the churches.
One reason may lie in the fact that modern English Bibles often translate diakonia as ‘service’, rather than ‘ministry’, and diakonos as ‘servant’, rather than ‘minister.’ This reinforces the idea that the heart of the Church’s task is ‘humble service’, so leading to concentration of the ‘Church as servant’ and to an emphasis on the deacon as assistant. While this has been a necessary corrective to ecclesiastical arrogance and ‘imperialism’, it has also tended to blunt the Church’s proclamation in recent decades and distorted the understanding of ministry in general and of the diaconate in particular. Although ‘servant’ and ‘minister’ are both acceptable translations of the Greek, their different overtones in modern English make it important to clarify where emphasis lies in the New Testament (compare ‘civil servant’ and ‘government minister’).
Collins’ argues that, in both classical and New Testament Greek, diakon- words generally refer to the carrying out of a mandated task on behalf of someone in authority. Sometimes that task may be of a rather menial nature (such as waiting at table), but at other times it may involve considerable responsibility. When the Apostle Paul speaks of the diakonia that he has received from God he is referring to his divine commission to bring the revelation of the gospel of Christ to all. This report accepts this interpretation and argues that, on the basis of New Testament usage, ’diaconal’ language about the Church and the ministry is primarily ‘missional’. This has profound implications for every aspect of Church life and very particularly for the ministry and ministries, ordained and lay, which express and serve this fundamental purpose of the Church, and particularly for the diaconate.
The Church of England has not been alone in not knowing quite what to make of the diaconate, although successive debates in the General Synod, going back thirty years, suggest some unique features to our own dilemma. Alongside the ordained ministry, the Church of England provides for authorised ‘lay’ ministries, namely Reader, Evangelist and Lay Worker. In addition to these canonical orders or offices, there has been an explosion of other ministries receiving a variety of forms of commission. While this growth has undoubtedly been a source of enrichment, it has also led to considerable confusion and even self-questioning on the part of clergy and authorised lay ministers, especially readers, as to the implications for their own ministry. As the scope of some of these ministries has grown and permitted many, though not all, of the functions of the diaconate, questions have inevitably been raised about the relationship of ordained and lay ministry. Renewed interest in the diaconate throughout the Church has, moreover, led to extensive ecumenical reappraisal. Some churches with a ‘lay’ diaconate have begun to move to an ordained diaconate. Other churches, like our own, are having to consider the implications of the promotion in some dioceses of the ‘distinctive’ or ‘permanent’ diaconate.
This report seeks to help by offering a fresh perspective on the diaconal calling of the whole Church, in the sense described, of being commissioned by God to convey the revelation of the gospel of Christ to the world.
This fundamental calling of the whole Church is served by specific ministries, ordained and lay. All alike are expressions of the one ministry of the Church. Authorised lay ministries are an indispensable sign of the Church as a single body, not only having particular functions to perform, but also encouraging the exercise by all the baptised of the gifts and graces they have received through faith and baptism.
The place of the threefold ordained ministry within the people of God as a whole is well expressed in Baptism Eucharist and Ministry (M12 & 13).
(12) All members of the believing community, ordained and lay, are interrelated. On the one hand the community needs ordained ministers. Their presence reminds the community of the divine initiative, and of the dependence of the Church on Jesus Christ, who is the source of its mission and the foundation of its unity. They serve to build up the community in Christ and to strengthen its witness. In them the Church seeks an example of holiness and loving concern. On the other hand, the ordained ministry has no existence apart from the community. Ordained ministers can fulfil their calling only in and for the community. They cannot dispense with the recognition, the support and the encouragement of the community. (13) The chief responsibility of the ordained ministry is to assemble and build up the body of Christ by proclaiming and teaching the Word of God, by celebrating the sacraments, and by guiding the life of the community in its worship, its mission and its caring ministry.
The Commentary on M13 adds: ‘The ordained ministry fulfils these functions in a representative way, providing the focus for the unity of the life and witness of the community.’
All ministries, lay and ordained, find their place within the economy of God for the Church. Each should be affirmed and supported and made the most of. Each requires a theological rationale drawn from Scripture and the tradition of the Church. Each must be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances and fresh challenges – in our case these challenges include the demand for mission initiatives that go beyond conventional parish structures, but above all the refreshment and re-energising of the whole Church in worship and mission.
When, in November 2001, the General Synod debated For Such a Time as This: A Renewed Diaconate in the Church of England, the report was referred back for further work, seeking to relate ordained and lay forms of ministry to each other. The present report arises from that request and is offered as a resource and contribution to the renewal of mission and ministry in the Church of Christ. I hope that it will prove a source of encouragement and insight to many, especially to all those – whether lay or ordained – who are called to serve God and the Church in various forms of ministry.
On behalf of the Faith and Order Advisory Group, I would like to express special thanks to the members of FOAG’s working party and especially to the main drafters of the text that is now before us.
The Faith and Order Advisory Group of the Church of England is a constituted body of the Council for Christian Unity, with links to the House of Bishops. The working party that was initially responsible for the text consisted of Canon Dr Paula Gooder (Canon Theologian of Birmingham; Lecturer at the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham; Reader), the Revd Canon Professor Robert Hannaford (St Martin’s College, Lancaster), the Revd Canon Vernon White (Principal of the Southern Theological Education and Training Course, Salisbury), the Revd Prebendary Dr Paul Avis (General Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity; convener of the working party) and Dr Martin Davie (Theological Secretary of the CCU; Theological Consultant to the House of Bishops; secretary of the working party).
The differences of style in the various sections of the report are due, not only to the nature of the material, but also to the need to deploy various areas of expertise. The hands at work are, in order, Paula Gooder, Martin Davie and Paul Avis.
The whole text in draft was considered by FOAG, by the House of Bishops Theological Group, and by the House as a whole, when many valuable suggestions were made. The Faith and Order Committee of the Methodist Church and the Theological Education for the Anglican Communion (TEAC) steering group of the Anglican Communion also offered comments.
In a wide-ranging consultation exercise, the following individuals offered substantial comments:
The Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Revd Graham Dow (Chairman of the Central Readers Board); the Bishop of Norwich, the Right Revd Graham James (Chairman of the Ministry Division); the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Revd Dr Michael Nazir-Ali; the Bishop of Beverley, the Right Revd Martyn Jarrett; the Secretary General, Mr William Fittall; the Director of Ministry, the Ven. Christopher Lowson, and Dr David Way; Dr Colin Podmore; Ms Joanna Cox (Board of Education); the Revd Canon Steve Croft (Director of Fresh Expressions); Canon Tim Dakin (Church Mission Society); Mrs Clare Amos; the Revd Professor Frances Young; and the Revd Canon Professor Anthony Thiselton.
In addition, Dr Gooder, the Bishop of Peterborough and Dr Avis held a day conference with Dr John N. Collins in York in July 2005.