Yesterday a commenter framed this discussion with the terms ‘appointed’ and ‘anointed’
That is to say, the traditional church could be guilty of trusting itself more than the leading of God’s Spirit. Trusting and preserving certain ideas, methods, paradigms and personalities. Despising the new, different or challenging.
The last thing I want to do is to make this into a ‘liberal or conservative’ argument, so that dichotomy is not where I shall leave this discussion.
The commenter prefaced this thought with the notion of entitlement.
Those who are the church’s appointed authorities are understood to have the final say on all matters. Degrees and professional recommendations replace prayerful discernment and communal recognition as the foundation of a vocational calling. Those who beat the system become the guardians of it and those who failed are dismissed.
And so one particular type of person will inevitably be preferred by what can be a highly academic selection process. Such a person may have invested many years and thousands of pounds to pursue what they believed was a calling from God. They may have exhaustingly lept through every hoop, trying their hardest to show their church authorities that they have what it takes to be a minister.
After such an exhausting effort it it natural that a new minister would become very guarded of his position and how he got there. Perhaps a sense of ‘If I did it, you should too.’
Yet is it not true that God calls all kinds of people to all kinds of roles in his Church?
As Paul wrote:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:27-31a)
It is tragic that sometimes those with a unique calling do not find a place to serve in the traditional church.
It is, as we have discussed, a great loss.
In Paul’s day – yes, even within the first generation of leadership – there were those who raised the issue of credentials with the Apostle. His famous proclamation of his substantial credentials (Phil. 3:2-6) ends in humble confession of the Gospel:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Phil. 3:7-8)
It would be very easy to say to the higher ups in the church hierarchies that they all needed to remember the Gospel. It is more necessary that we hear these words for ourselves.
It is easy to blame a system that has not worked for us, or to be disappointed with people who impeded our ministry. However, did we honestly think we were entitled to ministry any more than they?
In every church community there are credentials which are held up to be the measure of a minister:
Speaking in tongues.
Not speaking in tongues.
Being a winsome speaker.
Degree from a certain school.
Not having anything to do with another school.
Using the BCP.
Not using the BCP.
It’s a moving target.
Yet for Paul, Christ-centeredness was the measure.
Can we all admit that both sides of the debate often miss this most fundamental of foundations?