The church has not only the right, but the duty, to be the church of Jesus Christ. . . . The job of the priest isn’t to give you the answers to all of your questions for all of your life. But the priest is there to help you frame the questions and to point you toward the one with the answers. The goal of the priest is that you might enter into a mature relationship with God. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. Have you taken to heart the implications of your own priesthood?
This is the advice from her preaching professor back in seminary pondered by the delightful and all-too-human Rev. Mary Prichard, brand-new rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in S. Evan Walters’s well-plotted Two Faces of Death, a new mystery novel about an ordained, single, detecting, female minister.1 That the church has a “right” and “duty” to be Christ’s church is more than an afterthought—it is our mission: to share the opportunity to join the reign or rule of God with everyone around our world.
Our primal model is the early church, and each of us hopes that our denomination or non-denomination is the true configuration Christ intended. In fact, we sometimes invest too much time debating this issue, as we realize when we try to understand what the New Testament Christians meant when they described God’s gathering or remnant (ekklesia). Kuriakos, an adjective meaning “belonging to the Lord”2 and used for the “house” or “people of God,” has come down to English as a cognate, a word borrowed and modified from another language (in this case Greek), becoming “kirche, kirk, church.”3
We may trace the beginning of the church in the Old Testament to Eden’s garden, where God walks and talks and communes with Adam and Eve at the dawn of creation. After the fall, worship continues and a sacrificial system is introduced to the human children with catastrophic results; Cain’s reaction at the rejection of his offering is the first lethal disagreement over how worship should be performed (Gen. 4:3–8). By the time of Enosh, Adam and Eve’s grandson (or next significant descendant, if the Genesis record is only highlighting significant members of the human line), we are told, “people began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26 TNIV). The use of the hophal form of the verb for praise (hll, huhal) suggests to me that this “calling on the name of the Lord” involves praise and worship, so Genesis 4:26 may be describing formal worship. We know that, by the time of Moses, his father-in-law is identified as a “priest of Midian” who suggests a better structure than his son-in-law has developed to share “God’s decrees and instructions” and “be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him” (Ex. 18:1, 16, 19, see particularly 13–26). As God personally directs Moses how to structure the new nation, a day for worship, religious holidays, and a traveling place to worship with its equipment and practices are all built into place along with a civil law.
When eventually God incarnates in Jesus, God-Among-Us-In-Human-Form, the temple is in full flower, Jesus being dedicated there (Luke 2:22–23), educated so that he could converse with its teachers at twelve, the first age of maturity (Luke 2:46–47), and brought up to attend its festivals (Luke 2:41–43). The nature of the church he built was to expand. Righteous Gentiles, called “God-fearers,” who attended the temple or the synagogues, joined his Jewish disciples as he drew people of all nations to himself as Lord (John 12:32). In Matthew 16:18, he reveals his intention to build his own gathering, his ekklesia, a term the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, uses for the Jewish congregation (see Deut. 31:30). Jesus’ church included infants as entire households became a part of it, women praying and prophesying, and young people being encouraged not to let themselves be stopped from participating because of their youth (1 Tim. 4:12). So, Jesus’ church was a full family arena of activity. His New Testament also employed inclusive imagery for Jesus’ church, believing women relating to the “Bride of Christ” (Rev. 21:9) and faithful men being built into the “mature man of Christ” (Eph. 4:13, lit. andros teleios), thereby enfranchising both sexes.
What did these gatherings look like in New Testament times? We know they met in houses (Phlm. 2), took tithe offerings on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2), had a list of widows for whom each church cared (1 Tim. 5:9), chose officers, such as elders (presbuteros) responsible for maintaining order (1 Tim. 5:17), an overseer (from the term epi skopein—to look over; see 1 Tim. 3:1), and deacons or ministers (1 Tim. 3:8) who were both women (e.g., Phoebe in Rom. 16:1) and men (e.g., Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:6).
So, what structure exactly does the early church develop? First Timothy 5:17–18, 1 Peter 5:1–4, and Acts 14:23 all emphasize rule by elders, a representative structure with which any Presbyterian like myself would resonate. Folks of the more hierarchical (in the best sense) persuasions would reference 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:7–9, which mention the episkopos, often translated “bishop,” as well as Acts 1:15–20, which refers to the disciples “appointing” (cheirotoneō) elders. Congregationalists can point out
1 Peter 2:4–5, 10, which emphasizes the “priesthood” of the whole “people of God” as the church; Matthew 18:17–25, which shows Jesus designating the whole church as the final court of appeal; and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, which show the Holy Spirit gifting everyone, not just the leadership, to argue that the overseer is the minister and the elders its trustees to verify congregational rule.
We also see that these terms for leadership positions continued to be employed after the close of the revelation that comprised the canon of Scripture, as Ignatius, who ministered during the closing years of the life of the Apostle John, in the reign of Trajan, a.d. 98–117, identifies himself as overseer of the church in Antioch in the various letters he writes to the churches he visits on his way to martyrdom. About forty years later, Justin Martyr defended the faith against charges of being “godless” (i.e., atheists)4 by providing an explanation of what Christians do in worship in his First Apology 67. He writes, “On the day called Sunday there is a meeting in one place of those who live in cities or the country, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits.”5 These may have been “chanted” by the reader, who apparently went on in a relaxed fashion, the overseer stopping the reader when the overseers considered “enough had been read.”6 Next came the sermon: “[T]he
president in a discourse urges and invites [us] to the imitation of these noble things.” Everyone then stood up and prayed and then bread and wine and water were “brought” forward, and the one presiding “similarly sends up prayers and thanksgivings to the best of his ability.” The congregation affirmed these with an “Amen” (a “so be it!”). Communion was distributed and also “sent to the absent by the deacons.” The offering was now taken as “those who prosper, and who so wish, contribute, each one as much as he chooses to,” so there was no compulsion to give. The one presiding took custody of the offering and “takes care of orphans and widows, and those who are in want on account of sickness or any other cause,” as well as those who have been imprisoned, and, interestingly, also “the strangers who are sojourners among [us],” so that the overseer “is the protector of all those in need.”7 The service was very simple but flexible, allowing each of the present church structures to relate and feel connected.
Today, one of the most exciting new developments is the expansion of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Under the leadership of the African bishops, the Anglican Church has expanded, for example, into the United States and is church planting as a sister denomination to our Episcopal Church. In the town in which I live, the Anglican and Episcopal churches share joint groups together and see themselves as cooperative, not competitive. This issue of Priscilla Papers, which is focused on the church, pays special attention to this exciting new development. We at Christians for Biblical Equality want to welcome and encourage the entire worldwide Anglican Communion to empower its clergy and membership so that godly women along with godly men are ordained and all women and men within the communion are encouraged to use all of the gifts God has given them in ministry.
Toward that end, our issue opens with a dear brother whose ministry has informed and encouraged us all, Anglican priest Kevin Giles, who gives us a study on early house churches. Dr. John Jefferson Davis of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary follows with an in-depth examination of the ordination of women to the priesthood. University of Durham Professor Ann Loades offers a look at one of the most famous Anglicans for evangelicals, C. S. Lewis, critiquing his view of gender and women’s ordination. The Rev. Joel Scandrett, a priest in the new evangelical Anglican Church in the United States, then centers further in on “gender, ministry, and the mediation of Christ.” Our poet, Linda Guderian, adds a first-person view of what it feels like to be excluded from ministry, while Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall of
McMaster Divinity College introduces many of us to a recent book that examines Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes. Our cover depicts Rev. Canon Susan Skillen, who serves the Anglican Diocese in New England as Canon for Spiritual Formation.
- S. Evan Walters, Two Faces of Death (Indianapolis: Ind.: New Century Publishing, 2008), 177–78.
- Greek definitions are from Barclay M. Newman, Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/United Bible Societies, 1993).
- William Childs Robinson, “Church,” in Baker Dictionary of Theology, ed. Everett F. Harrison et al. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1960), 123.
- Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin, the Martyr,” 6, in Early Christian Fathers, trans. and ed. Cyril E. Richardson (New York, N.Y.: Collier, 1970), 245.
- Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin, the Martyr,” 67, in Early Christian Fathers, 287.
- Aίda Besançon Spencer, “Justin Martyr: The Earliest Recorded Christian Service” (church bulletin, March 26, 1982), 4.
- Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin, the Martyr,” 67, in Early Church Fathers, 287.