CONTEMPORARY DISCUSSION: RENEWAL OR RE-INVENTION?
It would not be possible to study the diaconate in the Church without considering two of the main issues that have emerged in recent years: the challenge to previous understandings of the Greek word diakonia (and what that might mean for deacons today) and whether the practice of sequential ordination, which is still current in some denominations, should continue.
Back in the first topic of this study, we took note of the work of biblical scholar, John Collins. His main contribution to discussion of diakonia came about not as a direct focus on the diaconate but as a result of an in-depth examination of the concept of ministry as found in the New Testament. At this stage a good place for us to start is another extract from the Church of England paper on the mission and ministry of the whole Church. Perhaps more than any other recent report from that church, this one tries to come to grips with the implications of the challenge by Collins and it begins with a useful summary of the issue.
‘The Mission and Ministry of the Whole Church: Biblical, theological and contemporary perspectives’ by the Faith and Order Advisory Group of the Church of England, 2007, pp.17-30.
The Report correctly points out that Collins’ work offers more on what the diaconate is not (or should not be) rather than what it might be for the Church today. The next reading comes from an Australian Roman Catholic deacon who although supporting Collins’ arguments reminds us that “what we are looking for is a diaconate for today”.
‘Deacons and the Servant Myth’ by Anthony Gooley, in The Pastoral Review, October 2007.
I once rather provocatively entitled a talk I gave on the diaconate as ‘Recycling the Diaconate’. Recycling is becoming a feature of environment-conscious Western society - we are recycling everything from paper and plastic to bottles and cans. Recycling involves respecting and valuing Creation – past, present and future. Recycling usually involves taking something that is past its most useful and changing it in some way to better fit it for a future use. Recycling acknowledges that what is useful at one time may not be so useful at another when needs have changed. Recycling comes from an understanding that resources are limited and we must make the very best use of what we have.
What difference does it make whether the diaconate develops from “the practice of the charitable diaconate movement” rather than Scripture and the early tradition of the Church? Is the Church called to renew or re-invent (or recycle) the diaconate? You will have an opportunity to explore this debate further in your final assignment if you wish.
Two more reflections; the first from an Australian Anglican deacon who lectures in theology and liturgy, Peter Pocock, both discuss Collins’ work and takes us again into the everyday reality for deacons offering ministry in the Church today. Then, from the United Methodist Church in the United States, comes again a brief glimpse of renewal of the diaconate related to the needs of the world and mission of the Church.
‘Diakonia, the Diaconate and the Anglican Church Today: A Response to John N. Collins’ by Peter G. Pocock (unpublished, 2007).
The Deacon: Ministry through Words of Faith and Acts of Love by Ben L.Hartley and Paul E. Van Buren, published by the United Methodist Church, Nashville Tennessee, 2000, pp. 1-11.
Note that in the last reading we were reminded that in the United Methodist Church the diaconate was sometimes perceived as a ‘stepping stone’ ministry – all clergy were ordained deacons before becoming elders. That has now changed. Indeed out of contemporary discussion on ordained ministry has come a strong challenge to the way some denominations have treated the various orders in relation to one another. As we have seen, in some denominations, ordained roles are still viewed as having a hierarchical relationship to one another; in other words, some ordained roles are seen as pre-requisites for others. The three-fold order as currently expressed in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches would be a good example: to be ordained a priest one must have first been ordained a deacon, and a bishop must have been ordained both, i.e. sequential ordination or cursus honorum .
As has been argued, however, this is not the picture we get from the early church and with our revision of understanding of ministry, there ought also to be a revision of a hierarchical structure to ordained ministry. Indeed, some argue that the very renewal of the diaconate will be hampered until direct ordination to each of the offices is pursued. The following readings give you a chance to hear from those who support direct ordination and those who do not.
In one of the extracts we read from The Mission and Ministry of the Whole Church, it seems that the authors of that report see strong reasons to continue and even lengthen the period all ordained ministers spend as a deacon before being ordained to other orders. In the next Readings, you will read arguments for and against direct ordination. See also Barnett’s comments as found on pages 152 and 153 of the textbook.
‘Considering the Possibilities of Direct Ordination’ by John St. H. Gibaut in Equipping the Saints: Ordination in Anglicanism Today. Papers from the Sixth International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, Dowling and Holeton, editors, 2006, 85-104.
Selections from: The Orders of Ministry: Reflections on Direct Ordination, 1996. Edwin F. Hallenbeck, editor. Published by the North American Association for the Diaconate, Providence, Rhode Island. Pages: 47-51; 53-65.
This debate (around direct ordination) seems to be most active in the Anglican Church; in the Roman Catholic Church the priesthood and episcopacy are simply not open to the large numbers of married men who are deacons, and in a number of the reformed churches the orders are seen as complementary rather than pre-requisites for one another.
Direct Ordination in this country?
The Anglican Church in New Zealand received the Berkeley Statement at the 2002 General Synod and commended it to bishops and Episcopal units. The Standing Committee of General Synod appointed a Commission on Doctrine and Theological Questions to consider doctrinal implications and report to the next General Synod.
That Commission noted:
- Theological arguments and historical precedents have been advanced to support both sequential and direct ordination.
- There are not sufficient grounds on the basis of the church’s history to regard any direct ordination as invalid.
- That it does not know of any doctrinal objections to direct ordination
- There is theological support for the orders of Bishop, Priest and Deacon, which are the components of the sequence of ordination.1
You can explore this debate more fully by reading another article by John St. H. Gibaut, Sequential or Direct Ordination? A Return to the Sources published by Grove Books as one of their Joint Liturgical Studies, (55), 2003.
Reminder: these worksheets require SHORT answers each as part of an ongoing reflection on the material being read. Answers may be written out (two-three sentences each ) and posted or, preferably, sent to me directly by email as soon as they are completed. Answers will not be graded but merit will be accorded upon satisfactory completion of all the worksheets.
In the worksheet below, you are invited to offer your opinion on one of the issues discussed.
Please answer as simply as possible and send as soon as you complete it.
- What is one argument for direct ordination (briefly)
- What is one argument against? (briefly)
- Which of these is more convincing to you at this stage of your study?
- Cited by George Connor in ‘Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia’ , Equipping the saints. Ordination in Anglicanism Today, Ronald Dowling and David Holeton, editors, (Dublin: The Columba Press. 2006) 160-165