Religious Reality
By A.E.J. Rawlinson

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Chapter XI - Clergy and Laity

The clergy are not the Church. They are a specialized class within it. They are men who believe themselves to be called by GOD to give themselves for life to the particular work of caring directly for the spiritual interests of their fellows. To this end they are set apart by ordination. They hold the commission and authorization of the Church to minister the Word and Sacraments of the Gospel in the name of Christ and of the Brotherhood. Their task is high and difficult. It is not wonderful if they fail. But solemn prayer is offered for them at their ordination: and the answer to the Church’s prayers is according to the measure of the Church’s faith.

The historical or Catholic system of ministry in the Church consists of a hierarchy in three orders or gradations. To the order of Bishops belongs oversight or pastorate-in-chief. It is not the business of a Bishop to be prelatical, or to lord it over GOD’S heritage, but to be the servant of the servants of GOD. A Bishop is consecrated to his office by not less than three of those who are already Bishops. He exercises all the functions of the Christian ministry, including those of confirmation and ordination and the right to take part in episcopal consecrations.

Priests and deacons are a Bishop’s delegates for certain purposes. A priest may have charge of a “parish” or subdivision of a diocese, and is competent to celebrate the Eucharist, to bless, to baptize, and to absolve. He is also authorized to preach, and to give instruction in Christian doctrine. He may not confirm or ordain apart from the Bishop, though he may co-operate with the latter in ordinations to the priesthood. He is ordained to his ministry by the Bishop acting in conjunction with certain representatives of the priesthood who take part with him in the laying on of hands.

Deacons are subordinate ministers appointed to assist parish priests in the work of parochial visiting and also, within certain limits, in the conduct of Divine worship and the administration of the sacraments. They may read parts of the service, but have no authority to bless or to absolve. They may preach by express and specific license from the Bishop. They may not celebrate the Eucharist, but may assist the priest who does so by reading the Gospel and administering the chalice. They are ordained to their office by the Bishop, and in most cases, though not invariably, proceed subsequently to the priesthood. [Footnote: In the absence of a Bishop or priest, a deacon is competent to baptize. In the absence of any of the clergy Baptism may also, in cases of urgency, be administered by a layman, and in the absence of a man, by a woman.]

The principles which underlie this system of Catholic order in the Church are important. The devolution of authority to minister through the episcopate safeguards the continuity of the Church’s corporate life and tradition, and secures that ministerial functions shall be exercised in the name and by the authority of the Christian Society as a whole. Moreover through the ordered succession of the Bishops the tradition of ministerial authority is carried back certainly to sub- apostolic, and perhaps also actually to apostolic, times: it represents in principle Christ’s commission to His Apostles–"As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.”

At the same time it is important that the doctrine of the ministry should not be allowed to become “sacerdotalist” in a wrong sense. The Christian priesthood is not in possession of any magical or exclusive powers. The essence of priesthood is the dedication of life as a whole to the service of GOD on behalf of others: and in this sense every Christian man is meant in his ordinary daily life and business to be a priest of GOD and a servant of his brethren. What the Church to-day needs most chiefly is a body of laymen who will take seriously their vocation. A layman is not a Christian of inferior type, on whose behalf the clergy are expected to display a vicarious spirituality: he is simply an unordained member of the people of GOD. The hope of the future is that laymen should do their part, not merely by supporting the efforts of the clergy, but by exercising their own proper functions as living members of Christ. The Church–and especially the Church of England–is in vital need of reform. The recently launched “Life and Liberty” Movement is a hopeful sign of the determination of a certain number of clergy and laity that reform shall be secured. In particular it is essential that the Church should recover freedom of self-government in spiritual things, and liberty to adapt her machinery and organization to changing needs, by the readjustment of her relation towards the State. This may or may not involve disestablishment, and disestablishment in turn, if it should take place, need not necessarily involve, but in practice would probably involve, some measure of partial disendowment. The Church must be prepared for all eventualities, and must be ready, should necessity arise, to take cheerfully the spoiling of her goods. For liberty is essential at all costs.

In the movement for Life and Liberty, as in every other department of her work, the Church needs the co-operation of her laity. It is their duty both to be informed in ecclesiastical affairs, and to make their voices heard. It is part of the programme of Church reformers to give the laity, through elected representatives, a more effective voice in Church affairs. The administration of finance and the raising of funds for work both at home and abroad is more particularly their province, but there is no single department of Church affairs in which the layman ought not to have his share, though no doubt the Bishops in virtue of their office have a special responsibility in matters of doctrine. Certainly there is need of a much greater extension of lay preaching, and a freer recognition of the capacity of many laymen to lead the worship and intercessions of their brethren. The administration of the sacraments, with the partial exception of baptism, is reserved for those to whom it is committed: but this need not and does not apply to the ministries of preaching and of prayer.

Clerical autocracy, where it exists, ought resolutely and firmly to be broken down. It has to be admitted that between clergy and laity at present there is a regrettable and widespread cleavage. The clergy are widely criticized, and it is certain that they have many faults. One who belongs to their number cannot help being conscious of some at least of the failings both of himself and of his class. But the faults are not all upon one side. It may be suspected that those who criticize the clergy with the greatest freedom are not always those who pray for them most earnestly. To affirm that the laity get, upon the whole, the clergy they deserve would be too hard a saying: but it is sometimes forgotten that the clergy are recruited from the ranks of the laity, and that, when not dehumanized by an undue professionalism of outlook, they are human. Many of them would be frankly grateful for friendly co-operation and criticism on the part of the lay members of their flocks. One of the difficulties about preaching is that the clergy in many instances do not really know what is in the layman’s mind. The life of the Church in England will not proceed along healthy lines until there is greater mutual candour between laymen and clergy. At present laymen will not talk freely about matters of religion in the presence of the clergy because they imagine (often quite wrongly) that the latter would be shocked. It sometimes happens conversely that the clergy hesitate to express their real minds for fear that laymen would be shocked. This attitude of mutual reserve is hopeless. No Christian, lay or clerical, has any business to be shocked at any expression of opinion whatever, orthodox or unorthodox, whether in faith or in morals. Either side may disagree with the other; but either ought to be prepared to listen to what the other has to say.


Preface  •  Author’s Preface  •  Introduction  •  Part I - The Theory of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - the Man Christ Jesus  •  Chapter II - The Revelation of the Father  •  Chapter III - The Fellowship of the Spirit  •  Chapter IV - The Holy Trinity  •  Chapter V - The Problem of Evil  •  Chapter VI - Sin and Redemption  •  Chapter VII - The Church and Her Mission in the World  •  Chapter VIII - Protestant and Catholic  •  Chapter IX - Sacraments  •  Chapter X - The Last Things  •  Chapter XI - Clergy and Laity  •  Chapter XII - The Bible  •  Part II - The Practice of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - The Christian Aim  •  Chapter II - The Way of the World  •  Chapter III - The Spirit and the Flesh  •  Chapter IV - The Works of the Devil  •  Chapter V - The Kingdom of God  •  Chapter VI - Christianity and Commerce  •  Chapter VII - Christianity and Industry  •  Chapter VIII - Christianity and Politics  •  Chapter IX - Christianity and War  •  Chapter X - Love, Courtship, and Marriage  •  Part III - The Maintenance of the Christian Life: Chapter I - How to Begin  •  Chapter II - Prayer  •  Chapter III - Self-Examination and Repentance  •  Chapter IV - Corporate Worship and Communion  •  Chapter V - The Devotional Use of the Bible  •  Chapter VI - Almsgiving and Fasting

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Religious Reality
By A. E. J. Rawlinson
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