In his book, Now is the Acceptable Time, Stephen Bayne writes talks about the tendency of individuals to talk about "their" ministries and points out, There is but one ministry, Christ's ministry. He is the only minister there is in the church. This idea is further developed by Kenneth Kirk, in his book, The Vision of God he writes, ... Jesus, though he spoke little about "seeing God" brought God more vividly before the spiritual eyes of his contemporaries than any other has ever done. He gave a vision of God where others could only speak of it.
Priesthood is a defined role: we act within given parameters so it is not a licence to do our own thing but there is no exact template and if there was no one would fit it. One thing that does need flagging up, though, is that the call is Christ's but it is not a call to every role and aspect of priesthood but a clear inner calling to some of it. How one writes about priesthood is obviously influenced by personal perception and experience. Throughout my adult life I have had the good fortune to know priests who reflected in different ways the attractive image of Christ the Good Shepherd as they witnessed to the radicalism of the Gospel.
Priests are Christians before they are priests so whatever is special about Christians, or about the whole body of Christians, the church, will apply to priests too. We need to be clear from the start that the priest is not called in the first place to do something, but rather to be something: a person who reflects the person of Jesus and grows into his likeness in a distinctive way that builds up the body of the church. Writing in the introduction to Bonhoeffer’s No Rusty Swords, E. H. Robertson explains Bonhoeffer’s idea of a renewal of the mind from within which could only be accomplished as the mind of Christ was formed in the Christian. He [Bonhoeffer] took this beyond the “Be like Jesus” mantra and recognised that this renewal was a process and not a formula. This is not to be seen so much as a religious process, nor one that leads to the “religious person”, but as leading to “the person”.
One of the key things that my time with the Lutherans taught me was that the efficacy of the sacraments derives from their being God’s sacraments and therefore the worthiness (or otherwise) of the priest is an irrelevance. This is fully consistent with the doctrine of Justification through Faith by Grace Alone and I find this immensely reassuring as I don’t think I could contemplate the priesthood without understanding this fundamental of the fact that it isn’t all about me. No one is ever worthy of the priesthood: the Disciples themselves were a very mixed bag, with their own weaknesses and doubts. I remember Simon Peter's words to Jesus as he sensed him calling him to service: “Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5. 8). But Jesus called Peter all the same. What matters is not how I feel, but that Christ is calling me. It is not for me to ask, Why me?' (Although I do, constantly). God does the choosing. I am not chosen because I am better than others, or more worthy than them. Like God's people in the Old Testament, I am special because I have been chosen, not chosen because I am special. The priest is no less in need of salvation, forgiveness and healing than any other disciple. It is the Holy Spirit who unites the priest to Jesus Christ in a special way at his ordination, and the priest is totally dependent throughout his ministry on the continual indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The point is, as Michael Ramsey puts it in his book, The Christian Priest Today, Christ gives the gift of ordained priesthood and calls men [and women] to it. in the same way that he called the twelve and the wider group of followers.
During the actual service of ordination the Bishop reminds those to be ordained that they are called to “grow up into his (Jesus’) likeness and sanctify the lives of all with whom they have to do." I have always thought of the priest as being Jesus’ understudy in this world but an understudy who is also a representative of fallen humanity. Christlike? Me? If only! And yet we are called to be “alter Christus” - another Christ. In a very real way we, as priests, mediate between man and God and between God and man in the same way that the High Priests of the Old Testament did and in the same way that Hebrews asserts Jesus “our Great High Priest” did. In 2010, Pope Benedict told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square that a priestly vocation is “not chosen by anyone for himself,” but a call to serve God in the Christian community. When he answers that call, the priest represents Jesus, who is never absent in the Church. A priest "never acts in the name of someone absent, but in the person of the Risen Christ.” Catholic teaching notwithstanding, that sounds like a universal model, what Ramsey calls the representative nature of ministry.
In their book, The Fire and The Clay: The Priest in Today’s Church, Peter Allan, George Guiver et al. note, The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10.45). This image is given a more concrete presentation by John in his description of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples on the eve of his passion. As applied to priesthood, the image suggests the quality of humble labour for other, in obedience to the Father, and to the point of sacrificing one’s own life. This must characterise the life of the priest. This is one of the realities of Christ’s life into which priests must seek to grow, and thus make it present for their people.
I remember when I was on my parish placement in Estonia, asking my supervisor about his views on the priesthood. It may have been a cultural or linguistic thing, but he talked almost exclusively in terms of “doing” and it wasn’t until he began to talk in terms of “being” that much of what he had just said made more sense. It is what we are that matters. We do what we do because we are what we are: priests of Jesus Christ.
This, of course, needs to be balanced by St. Paul's words to the Christians in Rome, I appeal to you therefore brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect. This means our whole being, a transformation which is effected by God, by divine grace.
However, we need to remember that while the priest may well be personally involved in mission, much of the time it will be about equipping others for the process of mission and evangelism. As priests we are members of a ministering church and the church is called to be a servant church in many ways. Within the Lutheran tradition diakonia - the diaconate - has most generally been interpreted in terms of social responsibility.