Friday, September 18, 2009

Is the Community of Christ Priesthood a Hierarchy?

"The Community of Christ priesthood is not a hierarchy."  It is repeated often and has been long part of the church's teaching, yet the notion that our church's priesthood system is not hierarchical is simply absurd.  At a gathering of Central Mission priesthood tonight, Apostle Stassi Cramm made the claim that there is no hierarchy in our priesthood system, during her otherwise quite excellent sermon.  However, the fact that hundreds of metro area priesthood members were gathered to listen to the apostle should have at least made us suspicious of that claim.  (One of my friends remarked that when Stassi made that claim, he had the desire to shout in Joe Wilson fashion, "You lie."  I don't know if my friend's restraint means he is worth of a higher or lower priesthood office).
    The scriptural evidence is clear.  The Doctrine & Covenants talks about a higher and a lesser priesthood.  We have priests and we have high priests and even someone outside of the church can easily guess which one of the offices is above the other on the priesthood totem pole.
    I know, I know:  the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  Those that are called to lead are to be servants and all of that.  I think the hope that the priesthood system is not hierarchical is a lovely desire, yet it is far removed from reality.
    The tradition in the church was that our priesthood system was a restoration of the model from the New Testament church.  That traditional notion is not taught by the church and has been largely discredited.  (For instance, the first century church had no high priests and generally only had deacons, elders and bishops that carried out functions very different from those of deacons, elders and bishops in the Community of Christ).
    Perhaps another point could be made about priesthood offices.  If you are an Aaronic minister, you most certainly will never be hired as a professional minister in the Community of Christ, until a call, at least to Elder comes along.  If you have the priesthood office of Apostle, you almost certainly will not lose your job when the church has staff cutbacks (at least that has been pattern during the last two rounds of lay-offs).
    President Steve Veasey's efforts on Priesthood Faithfulness are welcome.  But perhaps examining the structures of priesthood itself should be a part of our faithful reflection.  It seems that being honest about realities of our priesthood system is an important step in that process.