One of the cool things about living in Maynooth is the number of very smart people around you. It is disproportionate. No one is objective about their own family and no one is objective about their own church but mine is a seriously illuminating community to be a part of if you have an interest in anything from international logistics to how to program robots to play soccer to the contextual meaning of 1 Corinthians 11.
One of my closest church friends is an example of this insanity. A quick pint with him last night turned into a three and a half hour discussion about the affect of religious toleration on the intellectual landscape of the western world. It strayed into questions of modern denominational renewal, whether or not we live in an Empire and why “the vicar of Christ” was so much more offensive to Reformed Christian ears in the 17th Century than “the vicar of Peter”.
One of the cool things this historian friend of mine had to say was about the nascent ideas inherent within the founding documents and initial trajectories of Presbyterianism which have never materialised. In his pretty in depth reading of the world in which the tradition I am a part of was born, many of the expressions of church that became typically “Presbyterian” need not have been that way.
In fact, in some cases, there are far more legitimate ways to inherit the tradition and be “truly” Reformed or “thoroughly” Presbyterian than have yet been explored.
Specifically, for example, is in the way that a church is lead. Presbyterians, as good reformed guys proclaim from the rooftops that the church is a priesthood of all believers. All well and good you say. But in practice in Ireland at least, over the centuries, the Presbyterian church has been a priesthood of the Minister. We have functioned with a kind of Reformed clericalism. The Minister is the centre of the church and does everything. There is, within this logic, no greater calling in life than ordained ministry. Sucks to you cancer researchers!
A fully legitimate and perhaps even more compelling mode of being Presbyterian is to see the Minister as the equipper of the Saints for works of service, as the person who holds a series of teams together to perform the ministry of the church. One might say that the idea “Priesthood of all believers” contains within it as a subset, the ministry of all believers.
Now that is a radically egalitarian ecclessial structure that is waiting to be fully unwrapped through a systematic and truly Reformed theology. I think the church I am a part of is functioning in this fashion and that is a culture that has been encouraged and evolved by the Minister. But the idea that we are not tinkering with the Presbyterian formula but returning to the core of it something that I can get very excited about. It is something you can convince hard-liners with. It is something that can transform the self-understanding of a whole denomination.
Now how do I tell the story without letting the Ballymena boys that we thought it up in the pub…
Your Correspondent, Ready for the challenge