Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thoughts on Priests and Spiritual Authority

If you read the Bible enough, you start to pick up on certain patterns. One major pattern is how God chose His representatives on earth. Often, the most unlikely candidate would be set aside and tasked to do major things such as leading Israel out of Egyptian captivity or building a temple. I've been humbled to realize that God uses at times the most frail human beings to accomplish the most fantastic things for His Kingdom.

If you look at the apostles of Jesus Christ, you couldn't have been blamed for thinking, "They are going to change the world?" We're talking very normal, and if you will, "blue-collar" types, here. They were fishermen. A bunch of smelly, sweaty men who probably felt more comfortable puttering around a boat than standing up in front of a bunch of strangers and preaching the Gospel. They were not Harvard grads. They were hard workers, laboring with their hands, being faithful in their daily duties, never imagining, I'm sure, that they would be the first in the line of a multitude of "fishermen." The same could be said for tax collectors, who were considered the scum of the earth. All of them had been transformed from an earthly role into a heavenly one - God's representatives on earth.

I've been examining my understanding of the priesthood more thoroughly since my return to the Catholic Church. I cannot help but compare the definition of spiritual authority from my non-denominational days with that of the Catholic Church. I will freely admit I still have a long way to go, but will share a few thoughts I've had so far.

Spiritual hierarchy and church government are Biblical. This may sound like a "duh" moment for those of you who have been in the Catholic Church all your lives, but for those of us who have experienced other types of churches, it isn't a given. But what was interesting to me was all the ways a non-denominational church tried to implement hierarchy and government. Many churches have tried to imitate Rome but if you told them that, would vehemently deny it. Yet many non-Catholic churches have their own Bishops and Reverends, some even designing their own catechism.

Stepping away from Protestant denominations (which often have a direct correlation of Catholic practices), the non-denominational church struggles to put their understanding of Biblical government and spiritual authority into practice. Unfortunately, there are many immature Christians who are given authority that they are either unwilling or unable to handle. And who gives this authority? Larger "mega-churches" rely on delegating authority, which often means that the senior pastor has no idea who is suddenly being tapped for leadership.

Many churches have a training program, which is to discipline a person who is being groomed for leadership. However, a non-denominational church's understanding of "leadership" is often anyone willing to take the time to do a job no one else either wants to do. The understanding of spiritual responsibility is rarely emphasized, but instead, a "facilitator" approach is embraced. Small groups may have a leader but too often, that leader is really just a facilitator. The training programs often last a year, not years.

Since returning to the Catholic Church, I've noticed so many things, especially anything having to do with church government. Good brothers and sisters of Christ who aren't Catholic or aware of Catholicism, may not understand the differences. I used to think the hierarchy of Catholic church government was unnecessarily mired in the past, cumbersome and unrealistic. When I was younger, I enjoyed the feeling of "freedom" from attending a church without the complex, internal structure of the Catholic Church. I thought such freedom allowed the Holy Spirit to work more broadly, as though having consistently enforced doctrine was hampering Him.

How different everything seems, now. As much as "organized religion" is bashed, I now appreciate it. I've seen the chaos. I've witnessed the hurt and disillusionment that comes with sloppy leadership. Yes, the Catholic Church has its failings, but the failings have been of a few priests who have fallen - not an overall failing of church government. If we were all touched by God's Spirit to accept Jesus Christ as His Son, and then automatically lived the life of a saint, perhaps government wouldn't be an issue. But God is a God of order (1 Cor. 14:40). If we look at how God ordained worship for the Israelites, we realize there is purpose and intent in everything He has created. The Church is the Body of Christ and we know our physical bodies operate in an orderly fashion. Our church should be no different.

Spiritual authority was given from Jesus Christ to His disciples. His disciples were able to confirm a God-ordained authority upon their successors. This process was not taken lightly, but prayed upon and seriously considered.

At my the last non-denominational church I attended, the service was filled with young people. Now I have nothing against young people, in fact, I love them. I love their energy and zeal. However, many are still immature and few are ready for spiritual leadership, at least on a larger scale. I remember one young man in particular, who was chosen by the "second-in-command" pastor to lead a prayer team. He may have been seen as having "spiritual gifting" but he lacked wisdom. He would often admonish people just to prove he was in charge. This is not leadership and I wondered how wise it was to place young people in charge of older believers.

Spiritual authority is serious because anyone in authority realizes they are responsible. Responsible for leading a spiritual life of excellence and responsible for helping others attain salvation. It's not to be taken lightly and finally, I can appreciate all that the Catholic Church does to ensure we have solid leaders.

We are very, very blessed.


Elizabeth said...

AMEN! to that. I always find it interesting that so many converts come into the church BECAUSE the Magesterium has teaching authority!
Thanks for another great explanation of the non-denominational churches.
Pax Christi


How young are we talking about being too young to be a leader?

I understand what you're talking about not just putting anyone with "spiritual Giftings" into a leadership role, but there are young people that can step up or be lead into the role.

I know quite a few priests where I live, and for example from my own experience
There is 1 priest who is like 29 and 1 who is like 55, and the younger priest is a really good listener when you need that, but sometimes he just doesn't know what say, partly due to inexperience's of life, where as the older guy I find normally knows exactly what to say, but talks a whole lot more :)