This pamphlet uses familiar Episcopalian language for liturgical ministers. Many newcomers to St Gregory’s find this language new; others ask how Episcopalian ministers differ from those in their home denominations. Such questions have special importance in today’s ecumenical context, where grassroots relations, including sharing church members across old boundaries,can build a practical local basis for reunion. In fact the Church’s ministry has sparked debate, redefinition, reform and schism throughout history, and language confusion has played an important role. A word-study can help untangle this, and uncover the longtime unity of ministry which almost all churches share today. The following summary may serve Episcopalians and non Episcopalians who must sometimes wonder whether we are talking about the same things.
Much past conflict has arisen from confused analogies to Old Testament ministers, and chiefly to the COHEN. This hereditary Hebrew clergyman originally cast lots to determine God’s judgment decrees (tôrah), and so came to oversee temple sacrifices by seeing to it that people offered these as God had commanded. It is important to recognize that the biblical cohen only consulted, while others sacrificed; even after the exile he offered no sacrifices except on the Day of Atonement, when he scattered sacrificial blood in the sanctuary. Active religious leadership, as we would recognize it, belonged instead to the king, who was anointed (messhiach in Hebrew, christos in Greek, hence MESSIAH or CHRIST in English) with divine power, and bore the title “Son of God.” During the Jewish monarchy the cohen obeyed the king in all religious matters, even when the king commanded idolatry! After the Maccabean restoration, and only then, the chief cohen took on part of the missing king’s religious authority, while people waited for real royalty to return.
Rabbis of Jesus’ time debated how that might happen. Some awaited a single warrior king, like David; others, a renewed kingly nation (laos in Greek, hence the English “laypeople”) pure as the cohen is pure. Both groups called this deliverer “royally anointed” (Messiah/Christ). The gospels indicate Jesus dismissed any suggestion he was a king; nevertheless New Testament writers naturally use the language of popular messianic hope to describe Jesus’ victorious death and resurrection. Paul’s usage proved influential in New Testament times, and long afterward. He probably never met Jesus in the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16) and never discusses Jesus’ teaching; instead, Paul treats familiar rabbinical questions in the light of his own new faith. Paul reckons that God declared Jesus king (“Son of God”) at the resurrection (Romans 1), and that Christians share Jesus’ kingly work and identity as members of the messianic body (Galatians 6; Colossians 1; 1 Corinthians 10 & 12). In other words, Paul argues that through Jesus, God has fulfilled both rabbinical notions of the hoped-for Messiah.
Other New Testament writers combine the images of king and cohen to similar effect. The Letter to the Hebrews says Jesus the royally anointed (Christ) has taken over the cohen’s one active sacrificial job by offering his own blood in God’s true sanctuary (Hebrews 10). In other words, Jesus’ death has restored the ancient kingship with all its true religious authority, of which the post-Maccabean high-priesthood had consciously preserved a living shadow. Later letters underscore Christians’ share in Jesus’ messiahship, as a royal cohen-ish people (Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 2). In sum, first century Christians saw the ministries of anointed king, purified laos, and sacrificial cohen as the united work of Jesus and his Church.
Christian institutions developed independently of these scriptural images, however, and reshaped them. At first Jesus’ followers at Jerusalem made his brother James their leader, much as Muslims would one day vest authority in a succession of Mohammed’s blood relatives, called caliphs. There James presided over “the Twelve,” a body Jesus had chosen to symbolize a restored laos of twelve tribes: together these decided institutional questions for the growing churches. And from there the gospel spread among Jewish synagogues throughout the Roman empire,carried by countless APOSTLES. (Unlike later ages, the New Testament period did not reserve this name for”the Twelve,” but simply continued here the familiar Greek Old Testament translation for the Hebrew shaliach, meaning anyone on an authorized errand.) At the same time the apostle Paul and his fellow-apostle helpers added new gentile synagogues to their number. Suddenly, however, the Christian caliphate with its council of the Twelve vanished, after James’ murder and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d., leaving Christian synagogues elsewhere to work in conventional synagogue ways. Hence the Christian liturgical ministers we know spring from Jewish synagogues, and not from any distinctive creation by Jesus or the early Church.
|—||Fr. Richard Fabian, “Worship at St. Gregory’s, Addendum 2: A short history of liturgical minstry“|