The Priority of Matthew 28:19. By Revd. Jon Shuler

The Barnabas Road Initiative (BRi) is challenging clergy to bring one young man each year into a disciple-making relationship with themselves, at the center of their ministry. There are two overlapping hopes for this project: first that the number of disciple-making men in the life of the local church would increase; and second, that the local oversight of the congregation would be reformed by their inclusion into the spiritual governance, when appropriate. Undergirding both of these hopes is the conviction that there is only one mission that encompassed all that Jesus desires for his church, and that is the Final Command. (Mt 28:19) But is this so? Do the other gospels give us a different choice?

In the Twentieth Century, the majority of New Testament scholarship became focused on the way the New Testament came to be, rather than on the authority of what it taught. As part of that transition, the question of which gospel was written first came to the fore. The primacy of Matthew was generally denied. The moment someone lifts up Matthew 28:19 as the mission of the church, he can expect to be challenged by someone querying the priority of that command over the teaching of other parts of the gospel witness. The implication is almost always leaning toward the assertion that the social dimensions of the gospel must be given at least equal, if not more, authority. But is this so?

All four gospels record clear commands of the Lord Jesus, at the very end of his earthly life and ministry, to carry on his mission by the preaching of the gospel. For anyone who is truly submitted to the Word of God written, that is a true Christian, the evidence is overwhelming. Were that not enough, the witness of the Acts of the Apostles makes manifest that the early church grew exponentially because it believed the command of the Lord to be central. Can it be doubted that the church grew because all Christians were committed to making disciples? Not just a few. They were obeying the absolutely clear commandment, given to the church, as evidenced most clearly by Matthew’s recording of the Risen Lord’s Final Command. It encompasses all the others. Nothing Jesus commanded is left out. Nothing.

Believing this to be so, and preaching and teaching it, an Anglican in North America would have been thought odd over the last several generations. Many thought that this priority made one a Baptist. But gradually that has changed. The Book of Common Prayer (2019) actually incorporates the Final Command at several places, most significantly within the Prayers of the People in the Standard Text. But sadly it places it  fourth in the petitions. In the Renewed Ancient Text, it is eliminated. Permission is even given (in the Additional Directions) to eliminate it always.

Is the Final Command really the mission of the church? If it is should it not have the priority in the life and ministry of the church, as Mathew 28:19 clearly suggests? If it is the Final Command of the Risen Lord Jesus, which the generations  have always believed, shouldn’t every faithful leader and layman know it and live by it today?

Next Week: Collective Denial

Is There Only One Mission? By Revd. Jon Shuler

The Barnabas Road Initiative (BRi) is challenging clergy to bring one young man each year into a disciple-making relationship with themselves, at the center of their ministry. There are two overlapping hopes for this project: first that the number of disciple-making men in the life of the local church would increase; and second, that the local oversight of the congregation would be reformed by their inclusion into the spiritual governance, when appropriate. Undergirding both of these hopes is the conviction that there is only one mission that encompassed all that Jesus desires for his church, and that is the Final Command. (Mt 28:19) But is this so?

Historically I would argue that it has always been believed to be so by faithful leaders, and that in every place and time that the gospel of the kingdom has been expanding to more and more people, it has been believed without question. So why is it a radical idea today in the historical churches? Though there may be many other reasons, the principal one is a loss of confidence in the truth of God’s Word written.

During the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, two forces converged to drive biblical confidence to the edge of Christendom. First was the Darwinian revolution, and second was the Freudian revolution. The intellectual ideas associated with both of them grew more and more intensely hostile to historic orthodox Christianity, and anti Christian ideas moved relentlessly through the cultural hierarchy of the western nations. By the middle of the Twentieth Century many men being trained for vocational ministry in Western seminaries were graduating with a subtle mistrust of the Holy Scriptures as fully authoritative. Nevertheless, for Anglicans, the biblical framework of the historic Book of Common Prayer served to keep many of the people of God and many clergy on an orthodox path for multiple decades. With the authorization of the BCP of 1979, and its break from historic Anglican orthodoxy, that constraint was almost entirely broken.

As a consequence of those changes at least two other factors reinforced the damage being done. Losing complete confidence in Holy Scripture changed the preaching normally heard in an Episcopal (Anglican) congregation. Clear teaching of the gospel of Christ diminished, and thematic, anecdotal, and psychological teaching took its place. The biblical truth that a baptized child must grow up to personally affirm the faith, and be demonstrably born again of the Spirit, almost entirely disappeared. Conversion was no longer understood to be the bedrock of orthodox Christianity. At the same time, the Sexual Revolution which erupted in the 1960’s, swept more and more churchgoing people into an unexamined moral and theological framework that was destructive of the family, the church, and society.

Nevertheless, every bible printed placed Matthew’s Gospel at the front of the New Testament, and its final verses made explicit that the one work the church was to do, the mission she was given by her Risen Lord, was to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Today, globally, God is awakening faithful leaders to its absolute priority.

Next Week: The Priority of Matthew 28:19

Canons & Parochial Freedom. By Revd. Jon Shuler

The Barnabas Road Initiative (BRi) is challenging clergy to bring one young man each year into a disciple-making relationship with themselves, at the center of their ministry. There are two overlapping hopes for this project: first that the number of disciple-making men in the life of the local church would increase; and second, that the local oversight of the congregation would be reformed by their inclusion into the spiritual governance, when appropriate. I am arguing that this would be a return to early apostolic and sub-apostolic patterns. Today let us think about the authority of the local parish in the light of the Canons. Can one parish reform the ministry in its own household?

Canonical lawyers are a unique breed, and I am not one of them. I do, however, hold tenaciously to the truth that the Canons are for the good of the church in its ministry to save souls. Whatever assists that end is a good rule for the church.

Recent court decisions in South Carolina have devastated some parishes, and seek to turn their properties over to those who have no right to them at all, in the sight of God. It is a moral and legal travesty, but it is the civil law. In the church, a law that is immoral would be excised from the canon. Indeed, it should never have been there in the first place. The same is true of any law that restricts, unduly, the ministry of the salvation of souls. It is not helping the ministry of the church, it is impeding it. No person of good faith would deny this. But what if the accumulation of canonical precedent is drowning the churches ability to get on with its primary task? Not that any of it is of evil intent, but, that it crushes the very advance of the kingdom of God by its burden?

Suppose that a diocesan bishop was willing to give a parish that desired it the opportunity to try this experimental reform. Could they not give a specific dispensation from canons that would be contrary or prohibitive, and grant a season of trial reform? The Vestry of such a parish, and the necessary bylaws, could be temporarily suspended. That parish could then prayerfully move toward the call and ordering of a local ministerial college, that would be overseen by the rector. Such a step could include a regular, perhaps annual, review of the reform by the diocesan bishop. He could retain the right, similar to that of the Episcopal Visitor of a religious order, to adjudicate any problem that had become intractable, and bring godly counsel. Those who joined the trial leadership team would know that it was a probationary venture.

If a bishop was willing to oversee such a change, how would those called to join this local team be chosen? Surely the clear guidance given by the apostles in the New Testament would be the guide. The qualification of a presbyter/elder, and that of a deacon, is clearly given in the Pastoral Epistles. The congregation and rector would make prayerful selection of those candidates chosen and set apart to serve.

The whole purpose of such a trial would be to see if it helped the spiritual growth of the body of Christ. Are more true disciple-making disciples of Jesus being made?

Next Week: Is There Only One Mission?

Thomas Cranmer’s Ordinal in 2022. By Revd. Jon Shuler

The Barnabas Road Initiative (BRi) is challenging clergy to bring one young man each year into a disciple-making relationship with themselves, at the center of their ministry. There are two overlapping hopes for this project: first that the number of disciple-making men in the life of the local church would increase; and second, that the local oversight of the congregation would be reformed by their inclusion into the spiritual governance, when appropriate. I am arguing that this would be a return to early apostolic and sub-apostolic patterns. Today let us again look at the Ordinal that prevailed in all the churches of the Anglican Family until the late 20th Century. That of Thomas Cranmer.

There can be absolutely no doubt that his Ordinal, first published in 1550, understands the Ordination of a Presbyter/Priest to be a return to biblical and apostolic patterns. He is being set apart to exercise the ministry that Christ gave to his church. He is to become a part of the very same office that is described in Ephesians Chapter 4. Nothing in that Ordinal calls the man ordained to submit to any ungodly requirement or unbiblical command. He is under the authority of the Word of God. He is being set apart as a servant of Christ to serve the church that submits to Christ. It is also plain, that he is being set apart to serve a local congregation, as the apostolic leader, overseer, of those people. Why can he not have the authority returned to him, in 2022, to order the ministry of that local church in accord with biblical and apostolic precedent?

Historical development has gotten us where we are today. Bishops who once oversaw local congregations now oversee large diocese. Their ministry, once to the people of a local parish (parochia in Greek), is now largely to scattered presbyters and committees of the diocese. Presbyters, who once served in a college of their peers in a local setting, now largely serve alone. Deacons, once a part of the daily life of the local church, are now either largely liturgical ministers or men on the path to priesthood. This modern pattern has moved a long way from early, and much blessed, ways of ministry. It can be and should be different, but how?

The devolution of ministerial authority to parish priests by bishops in the early Middle Ages could show the way. If the bishops could give authority for parishes to priests, why can not the authority of a priest be given to local elders and deacons?

Historically, the authority for all ordinations has been retained by the bishops, and that tradition remains powerful to this day among the historical churches that claim a catholic heritage. I am not suggesting its overturn. But could not this earlier example provide a similar path for restoring a collegial ministry to every parish? The authority given  to a rector could be for one parish, and one parish only. A man could be ordained as an elder or a deacon for his parish, but the Diocesan Bishop alone could ordain him for a wider ministry. The role of the local priest and congregation in the call and ordination would have to be codified. It would bring to life the dream of Thomas Cranmer, and with God’s blessing could open a door to new life and growth in every congregation.

Next Week: Canons & Parochial Freedom

 Conscience and Reform. By Revd. Jon Shuler

The Barnabas Road Initiative (BRi) is challenging clergy to bring one young man each year into a disciple-making relationship with themselves, at the center of their ministry. There are two overlapping hopes for this project: first that the number of disciple-making men in the life of the local church would increase; and second, that the local oversight of the congregation would be reformed by their inclusion into the spiritual governance, when appropriate. I am arguing that this would be a return to early apostolic and sub-apostolic patterns, but am aware that this suggestion causes many good men to balk.

My personal experience, when I make this proposal, has been to be encouraged to leave the Anglican Family to find another home. I have remained because I believe that not only was I called to this family by Almighty God, but because I believe such reform would be consistent with Anglican principles long stated. Holy Scriptures are not opposed, nor is historical tradition, rightly understood. To argue against what I am proposing for local ministerial reform is to argue against at least the first three centuries of Christian History. What then would oppose it? Church Tradition, as it developed later. This was not to be our highest authority, as explicitly stated in the English Reformation, though many clergymen are clearly bound by this later tradition.

When a man is ordained, he takes a major step that many call a “solemn oath,” apparently unaware that the Lord Jesus explicitly tells us not to do so. Yet this man has most certainly given his “Yes” to a ministry that binds him to obedience, if he obeys the Lord’s command. But obedience to what? Any careful study of the Ordinal reveals a multitude of obligations laid on the ordained, that require some distinction of primacy. Clearly, obedience to God and his Word are given the highest priority. His duty to the ways of the church, though real, is subordinate to that higher authority. Sometimes his conscience wrongly gets applied to a secondary matter. It can even happen to bishops.

In my lifetime, the authority exercised by diocesan bishops has grown and grown. Far from the site of most ministry to the body of Christ, that is the local parish, they are functioning in a supra-episcopal fashion, at least if compared to the episcopate of the early centuries. They are generally protective of their inherited prerogatives and powers, and believe them to be for the good of the people of God. Opposition to ministerial reform of the three-fold episcopate, when they express it, is frequently in fact unexamined support for an unhistorical and theologically indefensible position. I do not doubt that such opposition is rooted in their conscientious convictions, but I do believe they are in error.

The apostle has taught us that conscience should be obeyed. But he also knew, and taught, that what we believe to be right can be wrong in the sight of God. Our consciences can be in error, damaged, or even hardened against God. Biblical reform of the ordained ministry is a critical step in turning the tide of the decline of the Christian Church in North America. It is not contrary to the promises clergy have made to God.

Next WeeK: Thomas Cranmer’s Ordinal in 2022

Local Reform & Historic Tradition. By Revd. Jon Shuler 

The Barnabas Road Initiative (BRi) is challenging clergy to bring one young man each year into a disciple-making relationship with themselves, at the center of their ministry. The whole point of such an action is to increase the number of disciple-making leaders in the church. If it was also desired that the three-fold ministry be restored to the local parish, what would stand in the way? Would it be the Word of God or Historic Tradition? Clearly, it would be the latter.

Well-informed Anglicans have always known that the modern form of the three-fold ministry is a development from the ancient pattern. The Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) makes this plain when it says: “The historic episcopate locally adapted to the needs of the peoples to whom it has been given.” That statement was factually necessary since archdeacons, deans, vicars, rectors, diocesan bishops, archbishops, and primates were unknown in the early church. Historical and theological truth does not stand in the way of ministerial reform to a more local approximation of the ancient patterns. But tradition is a powerful impediment.

The distinction between the Tradition of Faith (capital “T”) and the many traditions (lower case “t”) is a well-known one. The reality of this distinction is evident in all of the formularies of the English Church: the Book of Common Prayer (1662); the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (1571); and the Ordinal (1550). Nearly everything that would be cited to resist the proposal I am making is related to small “t” tradition. If a diocesan bishop desired to see these local reforms, what would stand in his way? Biblical prohibition? Canonical precedent? Provincial displeasure? The church claims of herself that she does not believe anything ordained “contrary to God’s Word written” to be authoritative. (Article XIX ) This proposal is clearly not.

Canonical laws are meant to serve the mission of the church, not to impede it. Duly constituted authority can change those laws at any time if there are any of them that truly would forbid the changes I propose. Or they could be temporarily suspended for just and godly cause. That would leave us with peer displeasure. Criticism from those we esteem is never pleasant, but it is surely not something that we ought to let stand in the way of doing what seems right in the sight of God? Can any sustained argument be brought against my proposal that has the authority of God? Not if the authority of the “Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” is truly “the rule and ultimate standard of the Faith and Order” as we have asserted since 1888.

The Quadrilateral has two other sections, one on the Creeds, and one on the Gospel Sacraments. Would they forbid these changes? Nothing in either, explicitly or implicitly, would do so. The Quadrilateral would not be overturned by a reformation of the three-fold episcopate. Such a challenge to the settled practice is likely to be deeply troubling for many orthodox leaders, but is it their conscience or small “t” tradition that resists?

Next Week: Conscience and Reform

A Council of Elders? By Revd. Jon Shuler 

The Barnabas Road Initiative (BRi) is challenging clergy to bring one young man each year into a disciple-making relationship with themselves, at the center of their ministry. The whole point of such an action is to increase the number of leaders in the church who are devoted to being disciple-making leaders. Today let us discuss the idea of a council of disciple-making elders in each parish.

There can be no dispute that there was a council of leaders in the first churches formed after Pentecost. The Scripture bears witness to this in Jerusalem and in the churches planted by the apostles. There is no exception to this rule in the post-biblical historical record for centuries. What does happen, however, with the coming of the Constantinian Settlement in the 4th Century is a gradual change. With the church blessed by the state comes evidence of an administrative development that begins to separate the bishop and his jurisdiction from the local church. The norm will become a single presbyter, elder, in each congregation, with a bishop and deacons in the central (or cathedral) church. Now the council of elders will be a dispersed body of presbyters, and the ruling authority will be more and more the bishop alone.

This pattern has prevailed for at least sixteen hundred years, but it must be rethought. Today the administrative and financial burden required by this developed system is weighing down the ability of the church effectively to spread the kingdom of God. A simpler and more apostolic pattern needs to be reclaimed. It would be faithful to the Holy Scriptures, and the earliest evidence from the sub-apostolic church. The letters of Ignatius of Antioch, generally dated to about AD 115, certainly show this.

In every church that Ignatius writes to he mentions the bishop (singular), the presbyters (plural), and the deacons (plural). He gives principal voice to the bishop, clearly as primus inter pares, but he always speaks of the three orders functioning as one. Can the modern churches which jealously claim the historic succession of this pattern accept a reform that would restore its earliest form?

Functionally the thriving local parish has a version of this ancient pattern. The rector, assistant clergy, and lay staff are precisely mirroring this ancient order. The rector has principal oversight (episcopos), shared with the ordained staff (presbyteros), and senior lay staff (diaconos).

The one church Ignatius wrote to which does not show this pattern is the church in Rome. There he mentions no bishop, but he does acknowledge the presbyters and deacons.

Could the historic church reauthorize the three fold ministry in a local form? Of course.

Next Week: Local Reform & Historic Tradition

Need He Be Ordained? By Revd. Jon Shuler 

The Barnabas Road Initiative (BRi) is challenging clergy to bring one young man each year into a disciple-making relationship with themselves, at the center of their ministry. The whole point of such an action is to increase the number of leaders in the church who are devoted to being disciple-making leaders. Today let us discuss if he needs to be ordained?

What does it mean to be ordained in the Anglican Family? It has come to mean to be one of those added to the set apart ministry of the church, authorized to function within the congregation and in public worship according to the Constitution and Canons of the Province. The standards and qualifications are usually quite elaborate, and the time and education required before becoming ordained are both extensive. Once ordained they are accorded special privileges and deference by the majority of the church, along with titles of distinction. Rarely is there more than one ordained person per parish.

Nothing in the former paragraph illuminates the leadership that the BRi is hoping to see raised up in the church. What we are wanting to see is strong disciple-making leadership. Leadership rooted in the Holy Scriptures and bearing fruit in the multiplying of disciples. But need they be ordained? Should they be?

What we are advocating is a return to the patterns of apostolic ministry among all leaders, and that means disciple-making leadership. If this is present what the church needs is present, whether ordained or not. Yet if this leadership is present where non disciple-making leadership has the authority, and is honored above all other ministries, there will be grave problems. There will be a leadership inversion. So it seems that he ought to be ordained, but what will that entail?

In the diocese in which I am canonically resident, the process to becoming a Deacon takes multiple years. It includes almost all the steps that were required of me fifty-five years ago to become an ordained presbyter. A similar pattern is required for ordination to the presbyterate normally requiring about five years. Is this actually according to the “apostles teaching” and example? I think not. It rarely produces a disciple-making leader. How then can that leadership become the norm for ordination?

The long term solution is to win the support of the current leaders of the church for a day of Reformation to come upon us. Also there must be a readiness among us to seek a new expression of the ancient three-fold ministry, for the 21st Century, returned to the local congregation. But in the mean time what can we do with our new young leader?

Currently almost every ministry that really matters, except presiding at the Holy Table, can be exercised in a parish by a layman who is blessed by and supported by the rector. What if there was also a council of elders in the parish, who could grant their authority for him to be part of the parish ministry, once examined and proved locally?

Next Week: A Council of Elders?

The Birth of the Vestry. By Revd. Jon Shuler 

The Barnabas Road Initiative (BRi) is challenging clergy to bring one young man each year into a disciple-making relationship with themselves, at the center of their ministry. Our desire is to add him to the ranks of those men leading the church. But where do we add him? Leadership in the modern Anglican congregation is thought to be the Rector and Vestry, but it this really so?

The development of the Vestry was a late medieval attempt to make up a gap in the ancient apostolic pattern. They were functionally the deacons of the parish, caring for the poor. After the Reformation proposals to bring back the ministry of elders (presbyters) in each local congregation were made, but they died in the Church of England during the 17th Century. Educated churchmen in colonial Virginia tried again in the 18th Century and the modern Vestry was born. It was an attempt to restore to each congregation, by addition, a partially equivalent form of the apostolic presbyterate, a council of male elders assisting the clergy. But the hope died soon. Enshrined in secular law as the legal fiduciary of the parish, their patterns soon became all too secular.

Fast forward to the Twenty-first Century and you have the now typical Anglican Vestry. Today it is men and women who are rarely spiritual leaders in the congregation. They are often talented leaders from various walks of life, though not always active Sunday worshippers. Few are involved in any parish ministry in between Vestry meetings. When they gather they often function as any secular board might. This Is not where we want to insert a rising leader, yet sometimes it does happen.

When I first became an adult member of a parish, at 22, I was immediately recruited to the Vestry, trained as a Lay Reader, and put in charge of the High School Sunday School and Youth Group. But I was never even asked about what I believed. Had I been, it would have become clear that I was not converted. I was a fine young churchman, or so it was thought, but I was never discipled. Still, I was sent off to Seminary the following year, and completed four full years of Anglican theological education without a single question asked about the condition of my heart. I was baptized, but I did not have a baptized heart. Though my journey was later redeemed, this is not a model for developing gospel leadership. My story is backwards..

I suggest instead that we raise a new gospel leader by adding him to the staff leadership of the parish, if there is a staff. Further that we include him in as many of our ministry actions and functions as possible, that he be encouraged to develop a group of other men to disciple, and that we give him quality attention most days of the week. He needs to begin to open the Word of God in our company, and to learn how to apply it to his life, as well as to those who start to take his lead. If we have selected and called him well, he will soon rise in the parishes estimation. I suggest he be called a Pastoral Assistant. There will then be a Timothy beside your Paul.

Next Week: Need He Be Ordained?

 The Local Leadership Team. By Revd. Jon Shuler

The Barnabas Road Initiative (BRi) is challenging clergy to bring one man each year into a disciple-making relationship with themselves, at the center of their ministry. Today let us think about where that man should first serve, if at all?  On the staff, the vestry, or some other place? It is a critical question that requires some historical reflection.

It is undeniable that the first church had a plurality of leadership. The apostles and elders in Jerusalem are clearly distinguished as holding this position, and it is also clear that James, the brother of the Lord, was in some sense soon the head of the group. The Jerusalem example, I would argue, could not have been established if it was contrary to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It even seems to me unreasonable to argue that it could have been contrary to the express will of the Lord Jesus in the days before the Ascension. If we had no other evidence in the New Testament, this would seem to be determinative, but we do.

We soon see the apostles Paul and Barnabas appointing elders in every church that God has allowed to spring up, as a result of the apostolic gospel being received. A new church has been planted, it must have elders. Before one generation of Christians has believed we see only plural leadership in every local church. This is shown to us even more clearly when, near the end of his life, the apostle Paul writes to Timothy and Titus about who to call into the ministry of deacon and presbyter (elder). From that time to this, faithful biblical Christians have understood that the local church should have a plurality of leadership. Why then are so many churches today led by one man? How can this have happened?

The answer, in a nut shell, is that many of the leaders of the Reformation did not recognize how much of Medieval Culture they had internalized. The local congregations of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries were almost all led by a single priest. After the Reformation they were almost all led by one pastor. When the church was young and faithfully vibrant, the local congregation had been led by a team.

The Church of England stoutly defended its form of ministry as holding fast to apostolic precedent, retaining the offices of deacon, presbyter, and bishop. Thus, as it was called,  maintaining “the three-fold apostolic ministry.” Some would say this reflects apostolic plurality, but that must be challenged. These ancient apostolic offices had completely been separated from their historic roots in one local congregation. Now they were scattered over the nation of England. Less than two dozen bishops, over ten thousand presbyters, and the House of Commons representing all the laity of the church.

Thoughtful leaders and theologians were aware of these differences from the early church, but the power of human tradition, or custom, prevented any significant challenge. The English solution was addition.

Next Week: The Birth of the Vestry