Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Doug Hagler & Aric Clark on baptism, the priesthood of the believer and LGBTQ ordination: my thoughts from an Evangelical Reformed position

Doug Hagler and Aric Clark of Two Friars and a Fool have written a paper entitled, "Answering Common Arguments Against LGBTQ Ordination and Making Our Own in Favor of Inclusion." Dr. Tom Hobson followed with an excellent rebuttal, "Answering [Hagler and Clark's] 'LGBTQ Ordination Resource.'" However since Clark and I have already, several years ago, had some debate over a couple of his points I will place my focus on those same issues, baptism, ordination and the priesthood of the believer.[1]

Clark and Hagler use two theological positions as a means to advocate for LGBTQ people for ordination. They write:

Our first and most important ordination is in baptism
Our first and most important ordination is in Baptism, where we are adopted into Jesus Christ and given the ministry of every disciple. Ordination to a specific ministry in the church, whether of an Elder, Deacon, or Minister of Word and Sacrament does not confer any ontological change, override, supersede, or even amend the prior ordination into the ministry of the baptised. The distinction we make in the offices of the church is one of function and not of holiness. By saying that a baptised, called, and gifted individual is ineligible for a particular ministry by virtue of supposed insufficient holiness we are denying their Baptism. If one’s Baptism can be annulled by supposed sin, or is dependent on our effort and perfection, then we are all doomed.

And:

The priesthood is composed of all believers
In the Reformed tradition, from the very beginning, it was understood that every believer is responsible as part of the priesthood -that priesthood was not a special ontological status conferred by the church, but was rather a general calling conferred by the grace of God on all baptised believers. The fact is that every LGBTQ Christian is already called to ministry.
The following is my Reply:

Clark and Hagler rest part of their argument that the Church should ordain LGBT people on their belief that baptism is ordination. Connected to this view is their understanding that baptism is regenerative. This is why in the statement on baptism they write that other ordinations do not confer any ontological change on the individual. They believe that baptism does.[2]

Yet, in neither the Bible, the Confessions or the Book of Order, from a Reformed position, is baptism considered the point at which a person is made new in Jesus Christ. John Calvin has a great deal to say on all of these matters; he gives Reformed answers to Hagler’s and Clark’s statements.

John Calvin is very clear about the difference between regeneration and baptism. When writing of baptism he insists that it is a sign of what God has already done and should not be administered to adults unless they already have faith. Of both adults and infants Calvin writes:

Those who, in adult age, embrace the faith of Christ, having hitherto been aliens from the covenant, are not to receive the sign of baptism without previous faith and repentance. These alone can give them access to the fellowship of the covenant, whereas children, deriving their origins from Christians, as they are immediately on their birth received by God as heirs of the covenant, are also to be admitted to baptism. [3] (Chapter XVI; Paragraph 24)
Calvin ties regeneration only to the work of Christ on the cross both for adults and infants and believes that “children are baptized for future repentance and faith. Though these are not yet formed in them, yet the seed of both lies hid in them by the secret operation of the Spirit.” (Paragraphs 17-20)

There is no doubt that the gift of baptism to the believer is meant as a sign of what God has already done in the believer. It is as Calvin reminds us the evidence that Jesus Christ has already washed us in his blood. “Calvin writing that the believer’ “may thereby assure themselves of that sole and perpetual ablution which we have in the blood of Christ,’ once again states that the sinner who is distressed by his sins should remember his baptism.”[4]

And as the Westminster Confession states:

5. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordnance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated. (6.158)
Besides resting part of their case against G-6.0106b on baptismal regeneration Clark and Hagler write, “By saying that a baptised, called, and gifted individual is ineligible for a particular ministry by virtue of supposed insufficient holiness we are denying their Baptism.” It would seem that they are also pleading the case for antinomianism. That is they are suggesting that once a person is baptized there is no accounting for their actions. A Christian’s manner of living seemingly has no bearing on Church leadership.

So a problem arises out of insisting that baptism is ordination and that a sinful lifestyle among leaders cannot be called into question because of such baptism. But the real problem is the theological confusion going on behind these statements.

Although I am uncertain that this is the case with Clark and Hagler, sometimes progressive Christians equate the anointing of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism with the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. But this is not the same thing as Jesus’ anointing as the Christ. Some contemporary theologians maintain that the man Jesus was baptized with the Holy Spirit becoming Christ, and that now the whole body is Christ, in the same manner, because of their baptism. This would set all aside for ministry by a form of anointing or ordination.

For instance, feminist Elizabeth A. Johnson, author of She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, a book Clark has recommended, holds the above position. She writes:

Challenging a naïve physicalism that would collapse the totality of the Christ into the human man Jesus, biblical metaphors such as the Pauline body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-27) and the Johanne branches abiding in the vine (Jn 15:1-11) expand the reality of Christ to include potentially all of redeemed humanity, sisters and brothers, still on the way. (161-62) [5]
This understanding fails to account for the believer’s union with the bodily resurrected Jesus Christ. It is that unity with the resurrected Jesus by each member of the Church which causes Paul to speak of the Church as the body of Christ. But none of this has anything to do with ordination.

As to the offices of the Church, that is those ordained, Calvin using Eph 4:4-16 as a helpful text, writes of the care the church must exert to properly maintain such ministry. Seeing such ordained offices as providing unity, safety, renewal and edification to the body of Christ, Calvin writes:

Whoever, therefore, studies to abolish this order and kind of government of which we speak, or disparages it as of minor importance, plots the devastation, or rather the ruin and destruction, of the Church. For neither are the light and heat of the sun, nor meat and drink, so necessary to sustain and cherish the present life, as is the apostolical and pastoral offices to preserve a Church in the earth. (Book 4; Chap 111 (2))
Clark and Hagler also tie the priesthood of the believer to ordination. And they of course rest this on the belief that baptism equals regeneration. So first, from the above, one must understand that the priesthood of the believer rests with Jesus’ regeneration of the believer. But is the priesthood of the believer connected to ordination?

Rather the priesthood of the believer has to do with the believer’s privilege of coming to the Father in prayer because of the sacrifice made by our great High Priest Jesus Christ. As the writer of Hebrews states, “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb 7:25) and:

Therefore brethren since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 9:19-22)
In Calvin’s words, “Christ now bears the office of priest, not only that by the eternal law of reconciliation he may render the Father favourable and propitious to us, but also admit us into this most honourable alliance. For we, though in ourselves polluted, in him being priests (Rev. i. 6), offer ourselves and our all to God, and freely enter the heavenly sanctuary, so that the sacrifices of prayer and praise which we present are grateful and of sweet odor to him.” (Book 11; Chap XV; (6))

Also the Second Helvetic Confession, as it refutes the Roman Catholic priesthood, states:

To be sure, Christ’s apostles call all who believe in Christ “priests,” but not on account of an office, but because, all the faithful having been made kings and priests we are able to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God though Christ(Ex. 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Rev.1:6.). Therefore the priesthood and the ministry are very different from one another. For the priesthood, as we have just said, is common to all Christians, not so the ministry. (5.153a)
Certainly all believers are called into a priestly relationship with God. That is, united to Jesus Christ, they are called to intersession for both the body of Christ and the world. But this is not a calling to an office of the Church. And furthermore all believers have been claimed by Jesus Christ, washed in his blood, made new and given the gift of baptism as a sign and seal of what Jesus Christ has already done. But none of this has anything to do with ordination.

[1] Part of my response comes from a letter I sent during the earlier debate to the Editor of CHURCHandWORLD (Presbyweb).
[2] Aric held this view of baptism when he was interviewed for scrupling G-6.0106b. I wrote about that: “He was interviewed by More Light Presbyterian, Heather Reichgott about his scrupling. Clark, when asked the question, “So why was the ordination of gays and lesbians the thing you declared a scruple on?” answered in part “The ontological change of a person from the old creation to the new happens in baptism.”

[3](Institutes of the Christian Religion, Henry Beveridge, trans., John Murray, Intro., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing 1989).
[4] Viola Larson, John Calvin on the Sacraments: A Summary, Sep/Oct 2007, p. 1 , Theology Matters.
[5] Aric Clark in a comment on my blog posting Using History to Understand Evangelicals stated, “Read some Elizabeth Johnson she is really an extraordinarily good interpreter of scripture, a solid academic in dialogue with all the great theologians, and rightfully calling the Church to its true vocation in the manner of all true reformers.”

5 comments:

Doug Hagler said...

Interesting; I'll have to comment in much more detail when I get the time.

At no point do we claim that baptism is the same as regeneration. We actually do not deal with regeneration anywhere in the entire document - so I think that's just a misreading.

Also, it looks like you and I agree very closely on the priesthood of all believers compared to ordination to ministry of word and sacrament.

Viola Larson said...

So I have to ask, what do you mean by ontological change. And also do you and Aric agree in all points on these issues.Does Aric still believe what he stated in his interview with Heather?
And you do seem to be equating the priesthood of all believers with the offices of ministry when you state "that priesthood was not a special ontological status conferred by the church, but was rather a general calling conferred by the grace of God on all baptised believers. The fact is that every LGBTQ Christian is already called to ministry."

What is the point you are making if you are not equating ordination to the priesthood of believers?

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Let us not forget that the Christian Royal Priesthood is not the first general priesthood God has given His church. You'll recall that from the time of Adam, men who were in covenant with God served Him as priests - offering prayers and oblations to Him. The patriarchs were practicing priests (the priesthood is the most ancient continuous religious institution), and when God established His covenant with Moses the Levitical priesthood was established as a sign to that priesthood. What is clear, then, is that among God's covenant-keeping people, the priesthood is exercised publicly (i.e. officially) by men with certain characteristics and family lines. None of that changed in the New Covenant.

Just as in Israel not every man was allowed to act publicly as a priest, nor every Levite to hold the High Priesthood...so also, in Christianity not every Christian - or even every seemingly qualified Christian - is allowed to exercise the fullness of the priesthood in an official manner. Thus the lists of qualities given by Paul in the pastoral epistles and the "handing on" (Latin, traditio) of this public office by the apostles to faithful men capable of teaching.

Viola Larson said...

Chris,

Perhaps at another time we can have a debate about that-but I am totally reformed and that is the position I am arguing with Aric and Doug from. Notice what I quoted from the Second Helvetic Confession, and for the sake of what I am arguing about leave it there:

"To be sure, Christ’s apostles call all who believe in Christ “priests,” but not on account of an office, but because, all the faithful having been made kings and priests we are able to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God though Christ(Ex. 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Rev.1:6.). Therefore the priesthood and the ministry are very different from one another. For the priesthood, as we have just said, is common to all Christians, not so the ministry. (5.153a)"

Doug Hagler said...

I don't think I'll have time - too much work on our own project of expanding each of our arguments. If you're interested, it's on the TFF blog.

Just a final note here - we have repeatedly asked you for the courtesy of letting us know when you will be posting about us personally on your blog. To my knowledge, we have let you know the few times we have mentioned you in ours. Once again, I ask you for that basic courtesy, and regardless, we will continue to show it to you. In the event that we fail to, please let us know.