Monday, July 14, 2008

the language of ordination...

It seems to me that the euphemistic use of ordination to explain commissioning has made quite some journey where now a given Territorial Commander declares to each cadet "I commission and ordain you..."

It seems interesting to me that within TSA we are keen to maintain a certain line that causes frequent periodic debate when it comes to our non-sacramental stand with regards to baptism and communion. Battle lines drawn between those that both argue that 'to' or 'not to' is essential to our essence of church.

I'm not sure if I have come across the same rigour of debate with similar issues. While the more contemporary sacramental debate seems more black and white - it is interesting that the whole emphasis of ordination of officers doesn't receive the same intensity of attention.

Recently as I watched the Commissioning of the latest session I was struck by how far our language has moved. It seems to me that the euphemistic use of ordination to explain commissioning has made quite some journey where now a given Territorial Commander declares to each cadet "I commission and ordain you..." (or words to that effect). It seems interesting to me that a choice of language to protect the kudos of officership with our ecclesiastical cousins has become so mainstream as to now even infer a supposed 'higher calling' of officership.

But no debate, no walk outs, no resignations, no battle lines, no edicts from International Headquarters, no articles, no letters looking at such an impact on SA views on the 'priesthood of all believers' . Nothing to question the language of ordination as it, like a cuckoo, surreptitiously kicks out the centrality of dedication. I might be missing something, but essentially any discussion here would share something of the same root as that within the well worn conversation around that of our sacramental position.

So why the lack of debate in one area and intensity in another?


Anonymous said...

and marriage, as well, is a sacrament ... it's hard to be distintive without being difficult.

Cosmo said...

I think it's been said previously that maybe it is time for writing another book exploring salvationist ecclesiology for the 21st century.

Shaw Clifton has just put out a book regarding the SA and Church, but I think it is more in the line of affirming our place within the wider body. It would be interesting (if somewhat navel gazing) to read a book that wrestles with the multiple issues of ecclesiology and The Salvation Army and asks the hard questions.


Captain Andrew Clark said...

I remember Commissioner Gaither at our commissioning saying "recognizing that God has ordained you, I now commission you...." which to my mind is much more like what is going on. Otherwise officership becomes a weird thing and starts making some more ordained to serve God than others which I hope we want to step well away from saying.


Graeme said...

It could be a dangerous thing to admit for a candidate/soon-to-be-cadet to admit, but I struggle with the whole ordination term within The Salvation Army. The term ordination has a clear history behind it and is about the setting apart of a religious priesthood who then perform religious rites that have a sacramental significance.

I am uncomfortable with this and feel that the term is far more to do with presenting our officers as equals within ministerial circles than any real theological reflection on the significance of the word. Maybe this is why there has been very little obvious discussion over it?!

Interestingly, a whole other debate could be brought in by one of the definitions of the word itself which implies that ordination is the process by which someone is consecrated. Given this view it would be impossible for a TC or any other human to ordain anyone, Comm Gaither seems to have hit that one on the head, and then we have to ask whether ordination in The Salvation Army should stop just at officers!

Graeme said...

BTW Cosmo, I actually think that Phil Needham's 'Community in Mission' is as relevant today as 21 years ago. The basic tenets are timeless; its simply about putting them into practice in a way that speaks to our current world!

Cosmo said...


You might be right about Needham's book. I should go back and give it another go - I couldn't engage with it so much a few years ago.

Regarding the use of the word 'ordained' in the commissioning ceremony, this is a fairly new practice, right? What does that mean for the active officers commissioned prior to this addition?

Anonymous said...

There is something awesome and complete about the original expression, "the priesthood of all believers." There can be no real substitute however elaborate. Yet, an interpretive clause can be of value. "The priesthood of all believers is a shared ministry of communal prayer, proclamation, and service in Christ's name, bestowed on all faithful followers by the grace of God." God’s calling applies to the totality of God’s people – it is not restricted to leaders/officers/clergy. The myth of the ‘restricted call’ has in many ways crippled the church’s mission. Traditionally, the ‘highest calling’ has been regarded as to ordained ministry or more broadly to ‘full-time service’. Over time this has led to a two-tier distinction: the clergy and the laity. In our case, officers and soldiers. ‘Vocation’ and ‘call’ needs to be reclaimed as a corporate sense – the people of God who are summoned to participate in God’s mission in a lost world. Vocation needs to be shaped by and moulded in the context of the community as a whole. “Are you called to officership?” conjures up a very clear image that includes Training College and then ordination and commissioning to ‘full-time’ ministry. This has led to the idea of a two tiered version of ‘vocation and calling’. This in turn as seen officer become another term for clergy. The term ‘clergy’ means ‘called-kletos’ and carries the unspoken implication that the laity is not chosen or called. Subsequently, the Army has become built around the call and gifting of this elite group surrounded by a marginalized soldiery. Such a separation tends to breed resentment and struggles for power and influence- something of this struggle can be seen in what was the Lieutenant/Envoy’s system - on the one hand and passivity and avoidance of responsibility over spiritual and mission issues because they are seen as the domain of the officer. Guder in Missional Church notes that "[The concept of] leadership functioning as specialized professionals .. effectively eclipses the gifts for leadership in the non-ordained contingent of God's sent people, those known as the laity. Ministry remains identified with the static roles of clergy as priest, pedagogue, or professional, all dispensers of spiritual resources. Even where the priesthood of all believers stands as a theological conviction of the community, it is rarely practiced ..”
How a congregation and its leaders see ‘vocation’ and ‘call’ needs to be recovered in order that they no longer be seen as passive supporters of the officer and his or her mission. Leadership is discussed “outside” of the context of the functioning of the community of Christ in the world – it is not connected to the “sentness” of the church in carrying on the mission of God.
The New Testament provides a necessary corrective, emphasizing that all who are called to salvation are also called to be participants in the missio Dei in the world and the church (Gal.5:13. 1 Peter 2:9). “Mission is the participation of the people of God in God’s action in the world”. Thus the “receiving of salvation and the call to mission are not to be conceived sequentially, as if one followed the other…Rather, to receive salvation is to be called into something larger and greater than we are, to be invited to participate in God’s saving purpose and plan for the world”. All are priests – all are sent – called out into the missio Dei. The idea of participating in the mission of God in the world He so loves points to the idea that every believer is a participant, that is, taking an active part in God’s action in both the church and the world.
There is a need to recognize and appreciate the comprehensive nature of God’s mission and the nature of his call. Within this framework is also to see that our congregations are not simply made up of amateur contributors who simply support and run officer-controlled visions and programmes. We need to invest the term soldier with the idea of the term laity (laos), that is, the people of God called to a priestly and apostolic (sent) ministry. We are all members of the laity, we are all called to participate in the missio Dei – we have all been ‘sent’ (John 20:21) into the world to witness to what God has done in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Discerning missional vocation for the whole community and for all its members is the ongoing challenge for all of us. Believing that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to all, the entire community participates in God’s mission. The entire community participates in programmes and processes for identifying, commissioning, and utilizing the gifts of both new and continuing participants for service in the mission of God and the Army.Before God we are all equal in dignity, all one in Christ Jesus who alone is our lord and master. There are no special privileges. Wealth, power, position, education, all earthly statures, convey no status in the kingdom of God. For we are all one together in Christ without distinctions. As Paul says,you are all one in union with Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)The Christian ministry can best be summed up by defining it as an office of grace. The office does
not rest on our own merit but on God's divine love freely bestowed. Each then must serve according to the measure of strength God supplies, that in all service God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. (1 Peter 4:10) Wayne

Chris Heward said...

In what is a bit of an aside, and demonstrates my rubbish sense of humour, I found it amusing when Norman Ord spoke about ordination. Sounded like some kind of weird process by which the 'Ordained' person becomes adopted as a member of Norman's family.

Like I say, my humour ain't that great.

Nick Coke said...

Just came across your post. I had exactly the same feelings this year at commissioning. The whole ordination thing was far more in 'your face' this year than ever before. I couldn't believe it when I read in the programme introduction (I can't remember the exact words) but something like commissioning is an outward sign sign of an inward call. This is taking the very language of sacrament!

I think the reason it doesn't get too much attention is that it seems to have slipped in through the back door.

However, I would question the motivation behind the introduction of such language in commissioning. I think it has more to do with trying to assert the Army's place and giving its 'clergy' apparent credibility in the wider church than about theology!

Truth is, in my humble opinion, we can't begin any discussion about the SA and sacraments without admitting how sacramental we are - traditionalism is rife with it: the mercy seat, uniforms, glory marches, participation in the sections, solidership, officership etc. Then we have clear sacramental views on marriage, funeral rites, dedications and doing social action. It begs the question, then, why we get so uptight about baptism and communion?

I think you're right, Gordon - always starting the discussion from only those sacraments is flawed - how about we consider a consistent approach to all aspects of sacramental church?

Anonymous said...

Has any one read Harold Hill's book?

Leadership in the Salvation Army: a case study in clericalisation. Paternoster, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, 2006

Does it have anything to offer on this subject.

Gordon said...

HH's book is sitting on my desk and there is a whole chapter on ordination