Evangelical Questions: Ordain Every Man in the Church?
by Jennifer Roach, MDiv, LMHC
Welcome back to Come Follow Me with FAIR: Faithful Answers to New Testament Questions. My name is Jennifer Roach and today we’re going to talk about why in the world ALL men in the church can be ordained as a priest, not just a few. As you know, we’re going through the Come Follow Me readings and addressing common questions that Evangelicals ask about our faith as we go along. Our purpose here is not to fuel debate but to help you understand where your Evangelical friends and family are coming from so that you can have better conversations with them, and perhaps even be able to offer them a bit of our faith in a way they can understand.
You will also notice I am not in my regular spot. I’m in the airport waiting on a delayed flight. I planned on recording when I got home, and that is not going to happen. But I got to have a fantastic girl’s weekend with friends that I know from growing up in Modesto, CA. So, this video is going to be shorter, and well, it’s an airport. So, yeah. Here we go.
The word, “priesthood” is a very loaded word. At least when we’re trying to talk about how different groups use that word, and the situation between Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals is one area where it gets hard in about 8 different directions. But, luckily, we’re spending 2 weeks in Hebrews, and then some time in 1 Peter, so I’ve got 3 episodes worth of material to try and unpack this. Today we are only going to focus on the aspect that we come across in Hebrews 5 which is this:
For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
So the question that comes up here might not even be obvious to you as a Latter-day Saint if you haven’t spent much time in other Christian churches. For this episode, we’re going to talk about “priest” as a category, not necessarily a job title. Most Evangelical churches are not going to use the word, “priest” except in the context of, “priesthood of all believers” and we will get to that specific issue once we hit 1 Peter. However, today we’re just going to stay tightly focused on the issue of why most men are ordained to the priesthood in our church. It’s a rather unique thing. I actually can’t think of another denomination where that happens – where every eligible man is ordained. If you know of one, hit me up in the comments.
In Evangelical churches the word priest morphs into “pastor” and all the variations on that word. But we’re in the same category, sort of. But we need a little history lesson first.
For most of the history of Christianity churches were led by pastors, and those pastors were overseen by a bishop – maybe they didn’t call him bishop, but that’s the category of the role. So it goes, congregation, pastor, bishop, and then someone over him, and up some more. And initially, Evangelical churches were organized this way too, at least in th e1950’s and well into the 1960’s. By the late 70’s, and certainly by the 1980’s this structure had significantly disappeared. The nature of Evangelical churches lends itself very much toward independent churches that are not overseen by a bishop. This is not scientific evidence, but I messaged a handful of my Evangelical friends who all attend church regularly and asked if any of their churches had this set up, and not one did. It’s mostly gone away. So what they have now is congregation, pastor, and maybe he has some kind of advisory board, but there is no one above him. And so the language started to change in the 80’s and into the 90’s. They started to say things like, “Every member a minister” and the idea was that the senior pastor was now the overseer of all the members of the chuch, who are actually the ministers. It’s no longer a bishop overseeing a number of churches in the same city, but a pastor overseeing non-ordained people who mostly do the work of the church.
This set up should sound somewhat familiar to you. An Evangelical would look at how our local wards are set up and wonder why someone is being called the Bishop (I mean, if they know the word at all) because he’s only over 1 congregation and traditionally bishops were over multiple churches. But if you go up one level in structure we have Stake Presidents who essentially are in the same category that would traditionally be called Bishop – he oversees multiple congregations. And it’s not immediately intuitive to Evangelicals that we have formalized a structure that they arrived at because of the changing landscape of how churches work. So, back to our question, why is every eligible man and boy ordained? But the only structural difference there is that we have formalized what they keep informal. They actually do see each member (men and women, for the most part) as ministers – they just grab the title “priesthood of all believers” to sort of cover them in that role.
This is one of those fascinating situations where, at first glance, we are in very different structures…..but as it turns out, no, not really. Now, questions about priesthood certainly don’t stop at understanding who is ordained and why. We’ll get to the rest in parts 2 and 3.
But I do hope this clears up a bit of the language difference between us. We use a formal ordination process for “ordinary” men – and they use an informal process that accomplishes the same thing.
This is a short episode, but I’m in the airport. So. Come back next week and we’ll take up the next bit on priesthood.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
Jennifer Roach earned a Master of Divinity from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and a Master of Counseling from Argosy University. Before her conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints she was an ordained minister in the Anglican church. Her own experience of sexual abuse from a pastor during her teen years led her to care deeply about issues of abuse in faith communities.