Thursday, December 09, 2004

Prophets and Priests I

Thanks, David, for giving me something to blog about; I usually have to be primed before my brain cells start working. This is really about priests.

As I read the O.T. (from a liberal viewpoint, at least), I'm impressed that as a whole it shapes up as a continuous conflict between prophet and priest (the idea is not original with me). This conflict found its culmination in the N.T., where Jesus prophetically struggled against the priestly tradition. Overturning the tables of the moneychangers may be seen as a poetic statement of that fundamental truth.

The priests seemed to win, but we know better. "He arose; he arose; hallelujah Christ arose" (a favorite Clayton hymn since before I was born). Matthew tells us that at Jesus' death a fundamental structural change of the Judaic faith took place.

I'm quoting here John Wesley's note on Matthew 27:51:
"Immediately upon his death, while the sun was still darkened, the veil of the temple, which separated the holy of holies from the court of the priests, though made of the richest and strongest tapestry, was rent in two from the top to the bottom: so that while the priest was ministering at the golden altar (it being the time of the sacrifice) the sacred oracle, by an invisible power was laid open to full view: God thereby signifying the speedy removal of the veil of the Jewish ceremonies the casting down the partition wall, so that the Jews and Gentiles were now admitted to equal privileges, and the opening a way through the veil of his flesh for all believers into the most holy place."

The N.T. figure we know most about, Paul, said that he never took money for what he did and said. In nurturing the young churches he may have been forced into a priestly role at times, but he resisted the idea according to his letters. Paul was a tentmaker. Today we have tentmaking ministers: those who don't take money for church leadership.

One of the primary tenants of the Refomation was the priesthood of the believer. Unfortunately Luther, having disposed of the priests, soon instituted a very comparable heirarchical structure. Thus it has always been: sooner or later the ordinary people decide they need someone to watch over them and insure their entry into heaven.

To go back to Weiman, mentioned in the previous post, the creative event (in this case our direct relationship with God) is soon superceded by the created good, a more stable and static entity.

In my history of the church I use the term gnostic rather than prophet because those struggling against priestly orthodoxy were usually groups of people rather than mere individuals. (Of course there were communities of prophets in the O.T.) The last gnostics named in that work were the Quakers.

Why should they be called gnostics? Because they act from their personal experience of God rather than from a priest's instructions. Fox from his earliest days as a religious revolutionist denounced the hireling priests. (He must have turned over in his grave when what became the FUM started having professional ministers.)

I'm sure there have been thousands of debates in Quaker circles re the matter of a paid clergy, and it may be continued here (that's okay). I've been primarily associated with the "unprogrammed Friends", who don't have a professional leadership. However with one experience I had with programmed Friends (years before I became a Quaker), I concluded that those people resembled a very good Methodist Church.

At one point Jesus said to us, "Call no man father." That to me seems like a clear admonition to trust in the leadership of the Holy Spirit rather than a human religious leader


david said...

At the risk of turning this into anotgher anti-Capitalist rant blog -- I think modern Capitalism may make paid clergy a necessity amongst Friends.

I speak as one who -- on a pilot project was paid to travel in teh minstry. I don't think it worked -- but it had more to do with geography (Canada is a BIG place) than spirituality/faith issues.

A rural Quakerism can afford itinerant ministers. One farmer can work teh other guy's land while visits the King of Sweden or whatever. But a teacher can't fill in for a lawyer, or an accountant. And the pace of modern urban life puts a real drain on energies -- aming volunteer labour increasingly hard to come by.

And the work is incraesing. A hundred yaers ago Yearly Meeting was done in a weekend and now a week is too short to addreess the accumulated busy-ness.

And try expressing these concerns on the floor of business meetinga nd you will be judged a heretic, and promptly burnt at the stake (in the most kind and non-violent manner possible of course).

Larry said...

David, I perceive a strong and continuous pressure of some people to turn their spiritual duties over to a professional. Also a strong and continuous pressure to make the organization stronger, more professional, more active.
I don't believe in the these large organizations. In the parish ministry I found myself trying to protect my local congregation against the multiplying acquisitiveness of the multiplying professionals.
To me small groups, such as ours here, are where the spiritual power resides and can be released.
Frankly I have less and less interest in the superstructure.
Next month in Florida we unprogrammed Quakers are invited to the Mitchener Lectures, supposedly paid for Mr. Mitchener, but every year they cost a little more. This year they want $18: 10 for the meal and 8 for the lecture.
No thanks, we have more attractive ways to spend our money. The local level is where it goes. If someone in the group feels led to travel to Quaker meetings, we might feel led to support him/her. Otherwise I've had enough of raising money for the home office.
Well, sorry, I got worked up about it.