Friday, October 23, 2009

Simple competence...

Another exciting piece of Emerging Christianity is that, really for the first time, we've stopped idealizing or being preoccupied with the top. We have turned to a search for actual gifts, real service, and proven holiness. What we need now is simple competence in doing the job of revealing, healing, and reconciling this pained humanity and this suffering world.

The first question is not, "Is she trained in theology?" or "Is he ordained?" The first question is "Can she do the job? Is he changing lives? Is it working?"

For centuries we have argued about bishops, ministers, priests, and protocol, with few results and more divisions. Now we realize that it is simple competence and holiness that finally matters. Are lives being changed? Are people meeting God, themselves, and one another in good and healing ways? All the rest is window dressing. Jesus had legitimization from no formal institution, but he sure did the job.

Adapted from the CAC webcast, Nov. 8, 2008:
I have to confess that this idea of simple competence is one of the things I miss about the Vineyard. Admittedly, in the UK at any rate, it's never been much more than an idea, or an ideal at best, but it is a beautiful idea. When God's call is filtered through years of vocation conferences, study, assignments and examinations, its edge is often blunted if it isn't lost altogether. All this may help provide a firewall against potential abuses (though tragic events have often enough proved that it isn't an impenetrable one) but it most certainly loses vocations, and breaks hearts longing to serve God.

The theology of holy orders, and the traditional roles of Bishop, Priest and Deacon are deeply attested to in the history of the Church since the earliest days - some would argue, from the apostles themselves. Perhaps the old concept of Minor Orders was intended to extend this, and in many ways roles within our own Church of England such as Licensed Lay Minister (or Lay Reader), Lay Pastoral Assistant (or Lay Pastor) are a modern equivalent. Certainly they provide a welcome and useful path to service within a disciplined ecclesial structure.

It would however take a hardy Catholic, whether Anglo- or Roman, I think, to assert that the Holy Spirit should be limited by the structures of church governance. I am excited and challenged by Rohr's words here. And Rohr, remember, is a Priest in the Roman Catholic Church, and a Franciscan (OFM).

Things are moving and changing in the church (I use the small 'C' advisedly) in ways I don't understand. Some I know feel terrified, as though the earth itself were shifting under their feet, and I sympathise. But Aslan is not a tame Lion, as Mrs Beaver observed, and we are only human. The world has changed out of all recognition in the few years I've walked around on it; should the church not change too, since it is made up of ordinary people trying to follow Christ? It is still the Body of Christ in the world, but it must be flexible in order to serve in the world, just as my hand must flex to turn a sick person's door handle if I am to be able to visit them.


  1. I love every word of this post Mike, you have expanded on Rohr's thoughts with great eloquence and more importantly, with tremendous heart and wisdom.

    Speaking of which, I thank you for your very thoughtful comments on my blog, your voice is a gift.

    BTW I am reading The Saint and The Sultan by Paul Moses. Not sure if it is available in the UK yet. It is a great story of Francis, so very well done.

  2. Mike, your smile reminds me of your goodness. Your writing shows your faith and love. Thank you.

  3. Thanks, both of you. I'm really touched by comments like this - warms the cockles of the heart! (I've always found the concept of shellfish inside one's heart slightly unsettling, but there you go...)

    Fran, The Saint and the Sultan is available in the UK - looks v. tempting. Amazon only have it in hardback. If I'm going to invest in so expensive a book, I'll see if the Friary bookshop can get it for me ;-)