That said, I think we have to treat tradition as a source of truth – as the lived experience of life in the Spirit, you might say. I think historically, and I approach theology historically. Some people (Calvin) approach theology systematically; others (Wesley) approach it biblically. Systematic theology seems to me to always want to cut off anything that doesn’t fit in the box they already decided everything had to fit in. Meanwhile, there are lots of people who approach the Bible already convinced they know what it says, and their biblical theology tends to be reduced to slogans.
So, anyway, here are twenty theological propositions that form my suggested theology of Methodist ordination, in three series of statements.
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1. The entire plan of God for his creation is to be understood in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. The present form in which God calls the nations to himself in Christ is the Church.
3. God calls people to various forms of ministry – some as discrete tasks, some as lifestyles, some as “careers.”
4. God gives gifts to those he calls.
5. Particularly for those calls and gifts concerned with the cure of souls and other forms of church leadership, the call and the gifts need to be examined and recognized by the Church.
6. Recognition of a true call and the gifts to perform it leads to the Church authorizing certain persons to act on behalf of the whole Church.
7. The primary way in which the Church does this is ORDINATION.
8. The call to ordained ministry is not the only gift, nor even the most important gift; not only that, but there is a variety of forms of service even within the community of the ordained.
9. Recognizing a call and the gifts for ministry do not preclude fulfilling legitimate requirements and expectations: if you want us to give you authority, then you need to satisfy us that you will be able to use that authority properly. This may be a bigger challenge for some than others.
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10. The essence of our salvation is relational: we are brought into the right relationship with God through Christ, who has fulfilled the will of the Father on our behalf; the experience of our salvation is found in the redemption of our relationships: with God; with others; with ourselves.
11. The clergy – particularly, pastors – occupy a special place in the body of Christ. As they perform their functions at the table, the font, the pulpit, or among the faithful, they stand in the midst of a great vertical exchange of love and spiritual energy between God (and the hosts of heaven) and his people on earth; at the same time, they stand in the midst of a great horizontal exchange of love and spiritual energy between those reconciled and bound to each other in love in the Church. NO ONE is worthy of this amazing privilege, to step into the cross formed by those exchanges and receive the automatic respect of being “the Reverend So-and-so” – it is ALL grace, and we must constantly remind each other that despite all we have done to qualify for the position we hold, Jesus has passed all the tests that really matter FOR us.
12. Relationality is not only expressed toward the people we lead, but also toward each other. We are accountable for our life, for our teaching, and for our practice. We are stewards of the mysteries of God. And it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. Hence, the clergy executive session, where new ordinands are examined and admitted, and where we watch over each other in love.
13. Leadership has no expiration date. Certain jobs or terms of office come to an end. But the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. Once ordained and admitted to our order, we are responsible for our vows for the rest of our lives. This should not be considered strange; even in the local church, a person who is a leader is a leader for as long as he lives – or why does everyone look at Uncle Ernie and Aunt Bessie to see what they think of the new idea somebody proposed? Thus, the privileges of membership in the clergy executive session and the Conference are enjoyed even in retirement (though I’d say that we could restrict their voting if they fail to file their annual report).
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14. The prototypical form ordained ministry takes is the pastorate. Those in this position are like bards who recite the sacred Story. We initiate the young and the outsider into our tribe, the People of God. We act as a focus for the community. We preside. And we connect people to God.
15. Pastor once = bishop, but “bishop” has gone on to mean other necessary things, so pastor now implies “elder.”
16. The presbyterate is therefore the template for this kind of ministry; a bishop in our tradition is an elder consecrated to a special task.
17. We have an obligation to those called and gifted to help them advance as far as they can in spiritual maturity and in qualifying for leadership. (Putting impediments in people’s way, or creating a caste system within the clergy is just plain wrong.)
18. Deacon is part of our tradition, both as an order in its own right and as a stepping stone to the presbyterate. The understanding of “deacon” in the Reformed and Restoration churches is an alien concept.
19. We believe in the ministry of all Christians, which includes laity preaching and exhorting.
20. And we believe that the call is most likely to be heard by people trying out the different chairs they want to occupy, until they find one that is “just right” for them. So we encourage people to try out lay speaking, and we provide for some introductory and transitional forms of pastoral ministry that may or may not lead to ordination and further employment.