A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Abolition of the Laity
Stevens' thesis is that the idea of the laity is not biblical and that what is needed is the abolition of the laity and the recovery of a theology for the whole people of God. His argument hinges on the premise that the 'New Testament presupposes a community in which every person is a theologian of application, trying to make sense out of his or her life in order to live for the praise of God's glory: theology of, for and by the whole people of God'. He proposes a 'tholg-wrung-ot-of -life , (characteristic of Luther), as opposed to a 'trickle down' theology of instruction from the pulpit.
Stevens does not believe in a compensatory theology which stresses the role of the laity. This would be detrimental in the attempt to heal theology of the clergy/laity divide. He wants to transcend clericalism and discover what God originally intended for his people. Neither can he find in the Bible a hierarchical pattern of ordination, only the charism of leadership.
He succinctly traces the root meaning of words used in the New Testament to describe the people of God and concludes that up until the 3rd century the terms 'laity' and 'clergy' were not in use. Their late inclusion into the vocabulary of the church reflected an understanding of hierarchy which causes him to state emphatically that a line drawn between ordained ministry and the faithful lay-person then , became 'a certain fact in the history of the church'. It is a line as 'thin as a hair, but as hard as a diamond' (Oden).
The author proposes the, trinity as a model for ministry because each person contributes to its life. Each person shares in the others: 'being in one another - drawn to the other, contained in the other, interpenetrating each other by' drawing life from and pouring life to each other -as the communion of love' (Edwin Hui). Stevens wants to move away from individualism and a' hierarchical approach to ministry and towards a community of people who need one another and contribute to the diversity of the ministry of the whole.
In both Old and New Testaments the emphasis is on a covenantal ministering people, an entire people called to belong to God and to serve his purposes. In the age of the Spirit all are appointed and empowered. All are called to belong to God, to be God's people in community and to be co-workers with him. This is worked out in detail in the final section, with special reference, to the roles of prophet, priest and king.
The technical approach throughout the book and the attention to the historic argument throughout can tend to make for dense writing and sometimes the thread of the argument is lost in too much, detail. Nevertheless the point is well made and gives much food for thought