Is the Priesthood Essential?

Discussion in 'Faith, Devotion & Formation' started by Tiffy, May 17, 2020.

  1. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    One thing this virus thing should have caused for the church, is a serious reconsideration of how the body of believers have access to the body and blood of Christ. Should we, the body of Christ reevaluate our assumptions and preconceptions surrounding the roles of the priest and the congregation in the consecration of the elements?

    Under a necessary lockdown it has been possible for believers to communicate with one another in many ways other than by having physical contact or proximity, which for this unusual reason of quarantine, was rightly restricted and in most cases severely curtailed.

    The one supreme expression of Christian fellowship and family has been circumstantially denied the 'body' of Christ and only the 'heads' of each local 'body' could actually consecrate and receive the sacraments of bread and wine. The rest of the body had to simply look on via TV screens or computer monitors, while the 'head' received but the 'body' starved and thirsted.

    When lockdowns are finally a thing of the past and the body can once again meet and actually partake of these most blessed sacraments I think we should not forget this enforced famine through which the 'body' has come but through which the 'heads' were mercifully supplied by their own hand. Not that I am being envious of their privilege or suggesting that they did not agonise over the enforced gulf of separation imposed between them and their flocks as they celebrated the communion of the Lord's Supper alone or with only a spouse or immediate family members. I am quite sure they were as distressed by this situation as were the 'body' of believers watching on like the crowd of witnesses, compassing about from afar, mentioned by the author of Hebrews 12:1.

    The actual prayer of consecration comes from St Paul's recollection in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25.

    For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus - on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” - For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

    The same St Paul previously had said this about the breaking and consecration of bread and wine:

    I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say. - The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 1 Cor 10:15-17.

    Notice though that Paul does not say "the bread that only one of us is allowed to break" but "The bread that we (all) break". He does not say "The cup of blessing which the priest blesses", but "The cup of blessing that we (all) bless".

    Now before anyone accuses me of heresy and causing schism in the church, I am not suggesting that all and sundry can or should be allowed to consecrate the communion elements for the body of Christ, which is the church in any locality.

    What I am suggesting though is that we look at and consider just exactly what consecration of the elements entails and where the authority for the priest to perform the rite of consecration actually resides.

    The real difficulty in the lockdown was 'the body of Christ' being unable to actually approach the throne of heavenly grace and feed on Christ in their hearts by faith with thanksgiving. It was physically impossible to so do because the bread and wine was far distant in somebody else's house or a church that was closed by government edict, to 'the body of Christ'.

    But bread and wine were freely available to all who wanted them throughout the lockdown period. I had them in my home, as did many others. I could even listen to a priest, even to the shepherd of my own local flock, speaking the words of consecration over that bread and wine in my home, in lockdown, through the loudspeaker of my TV set or computer monitor.

    If the bread is broken by we, the 'body', and the cup is blessed by we, the 'body', and not only by he, the priest, then why is it that the bread and wine in our homes is not consecrated, and yet his is?

    Do you see the issue?

    I deliberately chose to use 'he' and 'his' rather than trying to find a less gender specific more generic term, because that is another theological hot potato that I don't have time or space to deal with here.

    The way I see it, and I may be wrong, but I don't think I am, we the 'body of Christ' have entrusted the priest with the honourable task of saying the words, breaking the bread and blessing the cup, on our behalf. The authority to perform those actions comes from Christ himself through 'the body' of the church, which is us. Even the oversight and authority of the Bishops is an extension of the authority of 'the body' of Christ, not by divine right, handed down by God above, to rule over the 'body of Christ' like earthly princes. They are servants of the servant, not earthly kings set in authority by God, but they are entitled to all the due respect and honour their position deserves from us disciples of their and our master, Jesus Christ.

    Wherever the words of consecration can be heard, wherever bread and wine are present, wherever a believing, spirit filled, disciple of Jesus Christ breaks bread and blesses the wine in the cup, and calls to remembrance Christ's once for all, sacrifice and propitiation for the sins of the whole world, Christ is with us to the end of the age and right THERE, is a valid sacrament.

    Jesus said we should remember him and what he has done for us, whenever we eat bread and drink wine, 1 Cor.11:25, not just once a week or once a month, at a specially religious occasion in a purpose built building. He was not saying we should become fanatically religious. He was saying we should become habitually grateful.

    So am I advocating the abolishment of the priesthood?

    Far from it, quite the opposite in fact. While we are able to gather together and honour those who preside at the Table of the Lord and who have been entrusted with the Care of our Souls, our Shepherds in the faith, ordained by God through our Bishops, we should continue to do so, thankfully, frequently and joyfully.

    If circumstances however conspire to deprive us of the comfort of the sacraments we should not despair.

    We each have bread, we each have wine, we each know the prayer of consecration, we each know our Master's promise to be with us to the end of the age. So let's not let our hearts be troubled, neither let us let them be afraid. Jesus does not give as the world gives and everything we receive from him needs no other intermediary. John 14:27.
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  2. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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  3. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Many will find your proposition un-Anglican, and Protestant. Therein lies a problem: we compartmentalize ideas with labels.

    Perhaps we can rephrase the issue. "Eucharist" means "thanksgiving." We certainly can give thanks to Jesus, at any time and without ado, for His redemptive sacrifice and the grace He has bestowed upon us who believe. He is already in us and we are in Him (parts of His body). So, can we partake of a thanksgiving ceremony without the immediate presence of a celebrant?

    Of course, the early church couldn't foresee the internet. :) But I wonder if a discussion ever came up in the early writings, addressing whether authority to consecrate flowed through the body of believers in attendance or strictly through the bishop who ordained the celebrant.

    Tangentially, I would be curious to know at what point in time (in early church writings) consecration by a priest was stated as mandatory.
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2020
  4. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    But the Church of England is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant. It is Catholic and Reformed.

    A priesthood developed gradually in the early Christian church as first bishops and then elders, or “presbyters,” began to exercise certain priestly functions, mainly in connection with celebration of the Eucharist. By the end of the 2nd century, the church's bishops were called priests.

    Before that time presumably a celebrant was any elected individual with good standing among a congregation.

    If a replacement for one of the twelve disciples of Christ's inner circle, an apostle, was found by casting lots between two chosen candidates we may assume similar procedures may have been resorted to to elect celebrants also in the early years of the church.

    At that time there were no Bishops as we know them today, only deacons or presbeters or apostles. Since apostles claimed that title because they had met and known Christ himself, they eventually died out.

    The church however has continued to evolve to the situation existing today worldwide, which is quite variable, depending on location and tradition.
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    Last edited: May 17, 2020
  5. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    The problem I have with his post is only this, that he doesn’t cite any fathers, theologians, and tries to make shift theology from scratch. That’s the only non-Anglican thing about it. If we consult the centuries and millennia of enlightened saints who can’t before us, we would find them pondering on these topics and formulating concepts such as “spiritual communion” which lets us partake of the sacred Body and Blood without being present at the Church. Bam, problem solved.

    We don’t need to reinvent theology from scratch every time, that surely is un-Anglican.
     
  6. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    It is an interesting proposition, however I am not sure that I can support it. The incarnation is not a virtual event. The core of the Gospel accounts is that matter matters, Jesus a real person, real counters, and seemingly several references to touch. Even the centurion who daughter was unwell who accepted the idea of long distance healing, found Jesus in his house, and Jesus lifting the girl tabbita cum.

    It would seem since at least late first century the Eucharist was presided over by a local presbyter, or distributed by deacons from a celebration of a little distance. It is in the nature of the essence of the sacrament that through the tangible we touch the eternal. Sometimes we have to make do with the best we can do, and the pandemic lockdown certainly asks us to consider our options, however I don't think it calls for an anti-clerical response as that runs the risk of alienating us from the vine.
     
  7. AnglicanAgnostic

    AnglicanAgnostic Active Member

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    Actually it is a Protestant Reformed religion. From the Coronation oath."Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law?"
    But I sort of agree with your hypothesis anyway.:)
     
  8. AnglicanAgnostic

    AnglicanAgnostic Active Member

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    Just to clarify was it the centurions daughter or servant that was unwell?
     
  9. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    Sorry, It was a quick response this morning.

    Luke 7:1-10
    Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant

    After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

    Mark 4:21-43
    A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed

    When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ So he went with him.

    And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?”’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

    While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.​

    The question I was raising was the long term viability of contactless communion and virtual church. Whilst I accept it may be what is needed in the short term, I don't see it as viable or desirable for the long term for the wellbeing of the faithful and sustaining our mission in the world.
     
  10. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    It's not as if this problem has never before come under consideration by the church. You are quite right to want references to church fathers and theologians. I thought it best to leave that to those who are more informed than I care to become regarding extra biblical comment.

    I don't remember "inventing" any theology in my post though. I only really discussed some pre-existing theology.

    We have many examples of leper squints in ancient churches. Has anyone had sight of the theological reasoning which was behind just allowing them to see the eucharist being performed by the priest, or did they actually receive any of the elements? Perhaps you would know Stalwart.

    Did I actually make any proposals or suggest any change in praxis? I didn't think I had. The issue about touching the elements is, I think, a red herring or wild goose chase. We are not talking here about the theological nonsense of the priest being in loco parentis for Christ at the eucharist. Christ is in the congregation and the priest and the elements, not only in the person of the priest. The eucharist is not a restaging of the last supper with the priest acting as a stand in for Christ, surely. Wouldn't that notion be aproaching idolatry? Anglicans do not believe in a perpetually re-enacted sacrifice either.

    My hope was merely that this recent covid lockdown experience might get the church thinking about WHY we meet regularly to receive the body and blood of Christ and just exactly what we believe is going on when it becomes our spiritual food, or is it already our spiritual food if we truly believe it to be so, through our own faith alone, in lock down, prison, isolation in a leper colony or covid ward, etc.
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    Last edited: May 18, 2020
  11. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Agreed! But that is not really the debate I was hoping to open out. As I said: "While we are able to gather together and honour those who preside at the Table of the Lord and who have been entrusted with the Care of our Souls, our Shepherds in the faith, ordained by God through our Bishops, we should continue to do so, thankfully, frequently and joyfully."

    I just question whether many people in our congregations have a healthy theological understanding of the why's and wherefores of what actually happens at the consecration and why it is important to the faith community that we understand that we are never separated from the love of God in Jesus Christ by physically being merely unable to receive the sacraments of bread and wine consecrated upon the altar in a church building by an ordained priest.
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  12. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    Liturgy - from the greek λειτουργία which means the peoples work. We should not subscribe to some sort of sacerdotal concept of priesthood, such as the priest he spoke to me about making God on the Altar, a phrase I still cringe at the thought of. But Anglicans have traditionally embraced the ancient practice of the post apostolic church as expressed the the threefold orders of the sacred ministry, namely Bishops, Priests and Deacons, and I personally see this as one of the defining characteristics of Anglicanism, and where it was not present I would have difficulty discerning Anglicanism.

    A couple of the Australian Dioceses have been having active discussion on the subject of lay presidency, which I would see as a move in the wrong direction. Anglicans are an ordered communion of faith.
     
  13. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Being a minister in the Church of England, I most certainly am not suggesting that the priesthood or any of the threefold ministry should be abolished or even tampered with. Far from it and perish the very thought. It has served the church well for two millienia almost. I do believe it is high time however for the Anglican Church to clarify just exactly what it believes to be the theological function of the priesthood and the meaning of the eucharist meal, in terms of individual and corporate salvation.

    There is still, I think, a tendency in some quarters, to entertain the notion that communion brings us closer to Christ in such a way as to make it essential to salvation. Whereas scripture tells us that:

    Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? [or an indefinitely extended covid lock-down]. As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

    Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    Rom.8:35-39.

    It is well to remember that these words were written a century at least before any threefold ministry had been developed in the church.

    And we shall certainly not be 'separated' by being unable under lock-down to receive the sacraments in both kinds or even none at all.

    Even if none of us could ever eat consecrated wafers or sip consecrated wine ever again until our deaths, we could not in any way be separated from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Nevertheless the eucharist still has an irresistable attraction to us Anglicans, and rightly so.

    The difficulty is just finding the words to explain exactly why that is so in sound theological reasoning.
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    Last edited: May 18, 2020
  14. AnglicanAgnostic

    AnglicanAgnostic Active Member

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    I knew there was something about your quoted verse. Why do you think Matthew said the Centurion and not the Jewish elders went to Jesus? "
    When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
    Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”(Matt 8:5-7)
     
  15. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    The problem I have with this post is only this, that it seems to imply that there is no problem or that it has already been solved. The solution proposed seems to be the theology that the priest himself can consume and imbibe the elements on behalf of the body of christ, the church, thus rendering actual reception of the elements of bread and wine by the congregation non-essential, i.e. the only essential persons required for their salvation being the priest, his reception of the elements and Christ himself, who is the only saviour.

    This medieval notion probably then explains the origin of sanctus bells, letting the workers in the fields know that someone had prepared a table before them, with a generously filled cup, Ps.23:5, and was getting ready to partake of the meal on their behalf.

    Since that supposed solution to the problem logically supported the saying of masses for the dead, the selling of indulgences and financially subsidizing large numbers of mass priests, while the poor and ignorant were relieved of the onerus responsibility of partaking of the sacraments, I don't think it should be thought quite the "Bam, problem solved", solution that you seemingly suggest Stalwart.

    That may have been well and good in a monastic setting or in a surf society but to my sensibilities, in this church era today, it is evocative of the pangs of conscience that one might feel when sitting watching adverts or news showing famine victims starving on one's TV, while sitting on a sofa eating pizza and nonchalantly drinking a bottle of beer.
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    Last edited: May 19, 2020
  16. bwallac2335

    bwallac2335 Well-Known Member

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    The priests are essential. Only a priest can create the sacraments. A lay person, without Holy Orders, can say the prayers but their is no sacrament created.
     
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  17. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    The traditional Anglican doctrine.
     
  18. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    So for the first 200 years of the church's history the church was without an 'essential' order of ministry?

    Priests, 'create', a sacrament?

    Surely at most the priest only 'declares' the elementsto have become sacraments, by faith, not by 'creative' action and we 'believe' them to be sacramental also through our faith in God, not in the priest. Though of course we honour our priests as worthy to 'declare' on our behalf the bread and wine to indeed be the body and blood of Christ, our spiritual food, as indeed it is, if, as an individual, we believe it to be so.

    It is not the faith of the priest alone that is involved though, is it?

    It is God that 'creates' the sacrament surely. No one else 'creates' but God.

    Can you justify or explain such amazing 'creativity' from a mere human being such as ourselves?

    Can the priest do it alone or does the priest need another person present to make a valid quarum? Matt. 18:20.

    Just to absolutely clear though, I have not suggested at any point in this discussion that lay persons could or even should, 'create' sacraments.
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    Last edited: May 19, 2020
  19. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    I think Stalwart and Tiffy are looking at two different meanings of "spiritual communion." Obviously the medieval RC meaning was wrong, but since our Eucharist is a time of "feeding on Him in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving," doesn't this imply that every such Communion is a spiritual Communion (with a physical token that feeds the body)?

    Saying that the priests are essential implies that the physical reception of the Eucharist is essential. Essential to what? To salvation? Certainly not. Since Almighty God has already taken up residence within us and has caused us to be born into new life, what is the essential nature of the Eucharist? Jesus answered that question when He said, "Do this in remembrance of Me." Did Jesus say to do this for salvation, or to do this as a means of grace, or anything else? No, He just said to do it in remembrance of Him. Did Paul or any other apostle teach otherwise? No.

    Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
    Rom 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

    Eph 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
    Eph 1:4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:...
    Eph 1:7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; ...
    Eph 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; ...
    Eph 2:6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

    Col 1:27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:

    Col 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
    Col 2:9 For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
    Col 2:10 And ye are complete in him...


    Any Christian can do a remembrance at home. The Spirit of God already lives inside him. We can feed on Christ in our hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving at any time, priest or no priest. The elements won't be consecrated by an ordained priest (although in a sense we could say that we have been made kings and priests by God), so we can assume that they will not be the Body and Blood of Christ. But what exactly is the necessity of that transmutation? Isn't the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, a type of our coming to Christ through faith and repentance? Don't we already have the antitype (the real thing, "Christ in us, the hope of glory")?
     
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  20. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    Quite so Rexlion. I deliberately chose to use the word 'essential' for good reason. The reason being the one you have hit upon in your post, which I consider worthy of several 'likes' if we could award multiple ones.

    The word I would use for the priesthood in the Anglican Church would be 'Wholesome' rather than essential.

    "Is the priesthood wholesome"?

    To which I would answer most certainly, yes! 1 Tim 6:3-4.
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