Priests to Each Other

In today’s mail, I received a copy of Priests to Each Other by Baptist radical Carlyle Marney (1916-1978), who was originally from down the way in Harriman, Tennessee.   I have only read the first few pages, but I can already tell this is going to be fun.  (Warning to my professional clergy friends:  If you read further, you may need to take a stiff drink and hold on to your chair!)  I’ll post more when I get further into the book, but just to give you the flavor….

What if a kept clergy is always a harlotry?  What if, as Krister Stendahl put it at a party, “no prophet has a salary”?  What if clergy have a fatal disadvantage and have largely missed the meaning of their role?  What if usurpation of place and power on a grand scale has emptied the only priesthood of its power to bless?  And what if clergy cannot give the power of the priesthood back, even symbolically by defrocking themselves, but laymen have to come and take it? (p.2)

Relevant Christianity requires the healing of the inhabited world of men, and this demands a new priesthood: a priesthood that believes in the redemption of the world, not the redemption of the church.  For centuries the church has refused to see the need to put a priest at every elbow.  No professional clergy can do what the church is called to do. (p.3)

Since 1640, on this continent we have elevated the clergy into a kept harlotry.  This coronation didn’t go too well. We have proliferated the “calling” until now it is broken into little specialties.  We have multiplied institutions and orders and organizations, masking the needs behind the robe, the title, and the office; we have increased function and form over relation and redemption, and we do this in order to evade the cat on our own back, which is our own priesthood. The result has been the creation of a schizophrenic ministry that does not know what it is for, and a confused laity being used for the wrong ends.  (pp.3-4)

And it just gets better from there!  By some strange grace, I am reading this simultaneously with Theurgy: The Art of Effective Worship by Mouni Sadhu (pseudonym of Mieczyslaw Sudowski, Roman Catholic esotericist), which is, in a very real sense, about the same thing – claiming and practicing our priesthood in Christ!

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5 Responses to “Priests to Each Other”

  1. Pyracantha Says:

    John, I read your Blog almost every day and find it inspiring. I have no vocation to the priesthood but what stays with me when I think of “priests” is a rather silly thing: the costuming. As a costumer I think of donning garb or vestments as a kind of religious act. When I wear certain colors I think of it as a priestly act. I explain it to people in religious terms. For instance during Lent I will put aside my usual orange garb and wear black and purple and blue. When they ask, I will say I am wearing it for Lent, and the orange will come back after Easter. I am not much of a church goer nor a ceremonialist nor a social worker or a helper of the needy, but at least I can do this much for my Christian witness.

  2. John Says:

    HMGS – What a great incarnational practice! I look forward to seeing you in April.

  3. The Liberal Rite Says:

    Divorce the church from money, power and control and you stand a chance of fulfilling the intentions of the Master Jesus.

    When I ask “full-time” salaried clergy what they actually do I am continually surprised by the amount of time spent on the peripherals – administration, upkeep of the buildings, committee meetings etc.

    Earning a living keeps it real for the priest and means that he or she is not isolated from the community they serve. And there is plenty of work there that can make our world a better place.

  4. Will Says:

    I agree that there is a place for trained clergy that have degrees which they can utilize to help others (i.e. counseling, abuse issues, and all of those issues that often require specialized training). Then again, having MFT or LCSW certification is a ministry in itself.

    What I get frustrated with is the prevailing thought that those without an ATS accredited degree are not, even on their own volition, well versed in spiritual and theological matters. The classic case is the professional clergyperson with no social skills or spiritual life, but there is also the case of the haphazard clergyperson who is not prepared to take on some of the trials and tribulations of more specialized ministry (see comments above).

    In the end, each of us has our own unique ministry to share our individualized theological, spiritual, and emotional understandings. I understand that it is a very scary thing to have your temporal needs bound to a church that might disapprove of sharing these understandings and observations. Perhaps, then, Dr. Marney is onto somthing.

  5. John Says:

    Thanks Will. I think it is helpful to remember that Marney spent most of his life as a professional Baptist preacher, and that he occupied a lot of his later years with ministering (in formal and informal ways) to ministers who (like him) had crashed and burned. He, too, sees a place for professional clergy, but thinks the role has been badly misconceived in most American churches. He’s definitely polemical in style (which, frankly, I enjoy), but well worth reading, regardless of where one stands on the issues.

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