From the Anglican Catechism
122 What is ordination?
Through prayer and the laying on of the bishop’s hands, ordination consecrates, authorizes, and empowers persons called to serve Christ and his Church in the ministry of Word and Sacrament. (1 Timothy 1:5; 5:22; Acts 6:6)
123 What grace does God give in ordination?
In ordination, God confirms the gifts and calling of the candidates, conveys the gift of the Holy Spirit for the office and work of bishop, priest or deacon, and sets them apart to act on behalf of the Church and in the name of Christ.
124 What are the three ordained ministries in the Anglican Church?
The three orders are bishops, priests, and deacons.
125 What is the work of bishops?
The work of bishops is to represent and serve Christ and the Church as chief pastors, to lead in preaching and teaching the faith and in shepherding the faithful, to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church, and to bless, confirm and ordain, thus following in the tradition of the Apostles. (Titus 1:7-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Acts 20:28)
126 What is the work of priests?
The work of priests, serving Christ under their bishops, is to nurture congregations through the full ministry of the Word preached and Sacraments rightly administered, and to pronounce absolution and blessing in God’s name. (Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1)
127 What is the work of deacons?
The work of deacons, serving Christ under their bishops, is to assist priests in public worship, instruct both young and old in the catechism, and care for those in need. (Acts 6:1- 6; 1 Timothy 3:8-13)
“To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” – Genesis 4:26
“When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God…Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:4-10
“And Moses said to the congregation, ‘This is the thing that the LORD has commanded to be done.’ And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. … as the LORD commanded Moses. Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and consecrated them.” Leviticus 10:5-10.
“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.” – Numbers 11:16-17
“And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And He appointed twelve (whom He also named apostles) so that they might be with Him and He might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve.” Mark 3:13
“The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves… Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” – Luke 10:1-12
“Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:11-16
“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” – Titus 1:5
In the Anglican Communion, we have the 3 orders within the Church, since New Testament times, still part of our practice and worship. These are:
Bishops , Priests, and Deacons
Successors to the Apostles in time and space, as seen in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus above. The earliest of apostolic fathers, Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, were men who were discipled by the apostles and appointed by them, as were Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete. Clement and Ignatius both spell out the importance of keeping the practice of the apostles on-going. About 80 years later, Ireneaus, the last apostolic father, articulates the Church’s practice since the Apostles into a defined teaching termed ‘apostolic succession.’
“Our apostles likewise knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife over the bishop’s office. For this reason, therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the leaders mentioned earlier and afterwards they gave the offices a permanent character; that is, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. These, therefore, who were appointed by them or, later on, by other reputable men with the consent of the whole church, and who have ministered to the flock of Christ blamelessly, humbly, peaceably, and unselfishly, and for a long time have been well-spoken of by all—these we consider to be unjustly removed from their ministry.”
Clement, 44:1-3, circa 95 A.D.
“For when you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, it is evident to me that you are living not in accordance with human standards but in accordance with Jesus Christ, who died for us in order that by believing in His death you might escape death. It is essential, therefore, that you continue your current practice and do nothing without the bishop, but be subject also to the council of presbyters [priests] as to the apostles of Jesus Christ, our hope, in whom we shall be found, if we so live. Furthermore, it is necessary that those who are deacons of the mysteries of Jesus Christ please everyone in every respect. For they are not merely deacons of food and drink but ministers of God’s church.”
– Ignatius, Trallians 2:1-3, circa 105 A.D.
“But, again, when we refer [the gnostics] to that tradition which originates from the apostles, which is preserved by means of the succession of elders in the churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the elders, but even than the apostles.” – Ireneaus, Against Heresies III:2:2, circa 175 A.D.
The English word ‘priest’ comes , through history, from the Greek word ‘presbytros.’ The Anglican church has retained the use of the term “priest,” instead of a literal rendering “elder” because of our belief in the sacramental acts in the Church. The priests in the Church are those who have been made sharers in the apostolic ministry of the Bishops, and other priests, to administer the Eucharist and declare Absolution.
When Jesus breathed on the apostles at Easter with the charge to “forgive” and “not forgive” sin, with the Holy Spirit coming on them in authority, Jesus was making known that the whole of the sacrificial offerings of Old Covenant had now been fulfilled in Him and His death and resurrection (John 20:20-23). The apostles now have a priestly element in their ministry of making Jesus’ kingdom known through preaching and the Sacrament (Rom. 15:14-20).
In Acts 6, the apostles share the Spirit’s authority in the ministry. As there were 2 elders (Eldad and Medad) in Numbers 11 who received the Spirit to help Moses lead the people of Israel, and prophesied once.
The Old covenant is fulfilled, and the New covenant realizes and enhances the greater glory seen in types of the Old. We do not see the Old dissolved or undone, we see it fulfilled. Christ is the greatest sacrifice. Also, the Priests of the New Covenant minister in the fulfillment of what the Old covenant hoped.
So in Acts chapters 6-8, there are 2 appointed by the apostles who receive the Spirit and go on to do continuous signs, wonders, and mighty works (Stephen and Philip).
Paul is referring to this same practice of impartation and authorization when he writes to Timothy about continuing in his ministry and making use of the gifts given him by God through Paul and the other Priest (Presbyters) hands (1 Tim. 4:14).
Thus, the bishops, priests, and deacons are the ordained leaders in the Church who preach the Gospel in word, sacrament, and service.
Concerning the people of God:
- The priesthood of all believers,
- The prophethood
- The kingly rule of all believers
There is not a priestly class that is superior to the people of God. It is from the people of God that the Spirit calls, equips, and empowers specific members to lead. While all believers are priests of this New Covenant, only the Bishops and Priests offer the Eucharist and Absolve because it was to the 12 that Jesus gave this authority and responsibility. The Church is called to agree and share in this under her leaders (1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2; 3 John).
While all believers share in the Spirit by virtue of water baptism, and all are to be filled with the Spirit, not all believers who live in their prophetic vocation will prophesy in a formal sense. The Spirit gives gifts as He will, and it is in this general sense that we affirm the prophetic nature of God’s people.
Also, as a “royal” people, the people of God are called into service. Jesus’ kingship was displayed when He washed the apostles’ feet. The people of God are seated with Jesus in the heavens (Eph. 2:1-10), and manifest that reign in acts of charity, love, compassion, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
We consider the people of God, the laity, who are Confirmed by the Bishop as commissioned into their ministry both in the parish and the workplace the Lord has called them into as Spirit-empowered witnesses sharing the good news about Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Acts 8:16-17; 19:1-10).
The New Testament tells us about the fivefold ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11-17). It also, as described above, has the fourfold order of bishop, priest, deacon, and lay (Acts 1:8; 2:4, 38-40; 6:1ff; 8:16-17; 1 Tim. 3:1ff; 4:14; Titus 1:5). Not all fivefold ministers will be Ordained as bishops, priests, or deacons, though it is a good practice. The laity are the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. While Anglicans continue and honor the Ordained clergy, we believe the Ordained clergy are to help the laity discern and effectively walk in the power of the Spirit to make Jesus known.