On ministers, and spoon-fed faith.

I’m wrestling with the idea of ministers. I’m wrestling with it from several directions. I have an issue with ordained ministers. I have an issue with people who aren’t ordained and call themselves ministers. Then I have an issue with the entire idea of ministers at all. So I’m going to try to work out where I’m coming from and where I’m going by writing about it.

I believe that each person has within them a unique perspective. I think that each person’s insight into what is Truth is valuable. I liken it to the story of the five blind men and the elephant. Each person in the story was touching a different part of the elephant and each person thought they had the whole thing. They thought that their particular understanding of what they were experiencing was truth. But each person was wrong because they only had a small part of it. It was only when they started comparing what they were experiencing did they start to understand that the elephant was far bigger than they had apprehended. This story is usually used to illustrate how each faith tradition should interact with each other and that no one faith has a lock on who God (YHWH, Allah, The Divine, the Creator…) is. But I expand this story. I use it to point out that each person’s understanding of God is valuable. Everybody needs to share.

With a top-down lead church, with a minister in charge, nobody gets to share. It is a passive experience. The people sit and listen to one person say what God is. Perhaps some people need that for a while. Perhaps they need a God with training wheels. But I’d rather them learn that they are strong enough to ride on their own.

I have a big problem with the entire idea of people being passive about their faith. I think it is dangerous. I think our souls are too important to be handed over to another person. I think we all need to be accountable to each other, and we need to be in community. I’m not about mavericks. But I think everybody needs to participate in the conversation as to who God is. When we entrust our spiritual health and our spiritual path to one person it is giving away our own power.

I believe that knowing Truth is like looking into the heart of a diamond. I believe that each person sees the heart of the diamond in a different way. What you see is valid for you, and what I see is valid for me. Together, when we compare notes, we gain a better understanding of what is there.

Then these pop-up strip-mall churches concern me. There is no training. Would you go to a doctor who gets his authority just because he says he is a doctor? He hasn’t been to medical school. As far as you know he hasn’t even read a medical book. He believed that he has a gift for healing so he says he is a doctor and starts accepting patients. He also has no oversight. There is no established authority over him that monitors what he does. There is no recourse when he does something wrong. So why not have the same training and oversight for a self-proclaimed minister? If you are going to say you are in charge of the spiritual health of others, then it is important that you aren’t going to mislead them.

There is a guy in California who styles himself Archbishop Carl Bean. He founded the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church in Los Angeles. Archbishop? Really? Is that all it takes? Get people to listen to your take on the Bible and then apparantly you can call yourself anything you want. Most of the links on his church’s website are asking for donations for his retirement fund. I find this highly suspicious. I had a coworker whose grandfather started the church that he goes to. The grandfather’s title is Bishop. Again, we have the same issue. Start a church, get a title. Something seems very wrong about this. I also know of a lady in Nashville who calls herself “Minister Lois Grady”. She uses this title on her book and her Facebook page. I know people who are ordained priests who don’t use their title on their Facebook page. They’ve had three years of graduate school and gone through enough paperwork to kill several trees and more committees than the President meets with to get that title. In every mainline church there are rules about who gets to be called Bishop or any other title. You can’t just declare yourself Bishop. You can’t just declare yourself a minister, either, which is the first step.

But then what does Jesus say about ministers? Let’s look at Matthew 23: 8-12. Jesus says “8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (NRSV)

So it sounds like Jesus is against the idea of anybody calling themselves “Father” or “Rabbi” or “Teacher” – or any other title indicating authority.

None of the apostles were ordained. Neither was Saint Francis, who founded the order of the Franciscans. Neither was Mother Theresa.

Then there is the idea that every person who is a baptized Christian is a minister. We are all called to preach the Gospel, the good news that God loves us and has forgiven us of all our mistakes and faults. We are all commanded to love and show love. In the same way that Jesus loved, we are to love.

There are faiths where there are no ordained ministers. Quaker and Sikh are two that come to mind. But then there are establishing faiths that have a very strict system in place to ordain ministers, and that is still not a guarantee that they are any good. They can in fact be criminals in cassocks. Just because you have passed a criminal background check does not mean that you won’t ever break a law in the future. And when they do break laws, their crimes are covered up so they can continue to damage their congregants. So being ordained and part of a faith tradition that says there is oversight is no guarantee of safety or true teaching.

I’m not alone in seeing problems with the church. There are Facebook groups called “Christians for a Change”, “Christians tired of being misrepresented,” “Kissing fish: Christianity for people who don’t like Christianity,” and “The Christian Left.” There are hundreds of books talking about how it is time to strip away a lot of the “stuff”

I believe each person needs to take an active role in their faith. I believe that every person needs to wrestle with their faith in a similar manner as Jacob. I believe that each person needs to read every holy scripture from every faith tradition. I believe that people need to stop having their faith spoon-fed to them.