What Makes Ordained Ministry Possible?
a Christian response to John Bodycomb's article in Crosslight (Nov 2002)

What makes ordained ministry possible for younger people?  The same thing that makes it possible for any person, whatever their age, stage or circumstances.  What makes ordained ministry possible is the gracious call and election of God.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The ministry of the ordained is rooted in the ministry of the baptised.  In baptism a new covenant is established between God and human beings, a covenant which joins the gracious call of God to the graced response of human beings.  For in the historical mission of Jesus, people are called by a loving God to turn away from the tragic obsession with themselves and their own projects, and turn instead to God and God's purposes.  Mark has Jesus say:  "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Mk 8.34, 35).  The only way in which human beings may be released from the terrible burden of their miserable lives is to let such lives go, to reliquish control and submit to Christ.  "I have been crucified with Christ," said St. Paul, "and now I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."  (Gal 2.20)  In baptism, that "letting go and letting God" is vividly figured in the image of an old self drowned and buried under the water, and a new self raised by God to walk in the freedom of Christ.  "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free," writes Paul in the same letter, "therefore do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (5.1).  All this is of course from God, the God who is love from first to last.  What we learn from Jesus is that God is irrevocably for us, even to the point of death, death on a cross.  So the ministry of the ordained does not stand on its own.  It is rooted and sustained by the grace of our common baptism.  It is one of the many forms of discipleship which baptism, and baptism alone, makes possible.

Ordained ministers are therefore first of all disciples.  Their ordination adds nothing to this accept the church's recognition that their discipleship should take a particular shape and form.  In the rites of ordination, both ordinand and church agree that God has called this person to be a pastoral leader, to stand before the church as a permanent reminder of the grace and responsibility that is ours in our baptism.  It is the special calling of the ordained to preserve and teach, by word and by sacrament, the apostolic message that God's love is stronger than death or ego, or any other pretentious power in heaven or on earth.  "If God is for us," wrote Paul, "then who can stand against us?" (Rom 8.31).  It is not a message which the powers of this world like to hear.  In fact, the powers become quite upset!  So the ordained - because of their visibility, and more perhaps than other Christians - cop a lot of flack.  What sustains them through these difficulties?  The same as that which sustained the apostles who went before.  Not the thought of self-preservation, not a terrific superannuation scheme, but a fervant belief and faith that in following this way of Jesus "our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2 Cor 4.17).

It is not for the ordained, or for any Christian, to expect that life will be easy.  It will not.  The Christian life is a battle, a battle against the egotism of our own souls, first of all, and then against the powers of evil in the world.  And the only weapons we have to fight with are the faith, love and hope given us in Christ (1 Thess 5.8).  This is to confront our detractors not with "strength," but with weakness, not with words of "wisdom," but of folly (1 Cor 1.18ff).  For what appears as weakness to our detractors is, for us, the path to salvation, and what appears to be foolishness is the wisdom of God.

My difficulty, therefore, with what Dr. Bodycomb has been saying is simply this:  that he is not approaching the question of ordination for young people out of the riches of an authentic Christian spirituality.  What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.  In the schema and logic of God, even the bastard son of a provincial carpenter can become the light of the world.  How might young people be induced to become minsters?  Not by clever marketing and better pay-packets.  But only by the faith-full preaching and living of the word of the cross, which is foolishness to sociologists but the very power of God to those who are being saved.  Perhaps, if we were to live and believe this way, then more (young) people would know that God is alive in the world.

Garry Deverell,
November 2002
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