Testimony to the natural desire for leadership in the church is well illustrated by the number of books devoted to its acquisition. Presumably leadership is a craft that can be learned through the employment of certain techniques. Among Presbyterians this desire for preferment suggests our doctrine of total depravity to which a dash of original sin and a soupçon of actual sin might be added according to taste. The truth is no tribe can be composed entirely of chiefs; somebody must be a follower.
Dog or person the leader is the one who has the right, power, and wisdom to say, “Follow me!” And, of course, Christians believe those words belong properly and pre-eminently to Our Lord, Jesus Christ (Mark 2:14). All Christian leadership, then, should be derivative from him. However much leadership in the church is arrogated from him. Part of this situation is due to power needs located deep in the psyche of the individuals but part is an erroneous understanding of the gospel tolerated by anti-intellectual communities which value sincerity above truth.
For me the perfect and unforgettable demonstration occurred in September of 1960. The event was my ordination to the ministry of the Word and for more than 40 years I have passionately resented the so-called sermon to which we were subjected on that occasion. It was an astounding example of self-satisfied superficiality that undoubtedly took longer to deliver than to prepare.
The preacher read Hebrews 4:14-5:10, which would lead one to expect an explication of the High Priestly Office of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Instead, Mr. Ecks drew a cozy comparison between the great high priest who has passed through the Heavens and the rather low priest (me) who was coming into their congregation. I had never so devoutly wished for some alert and brave Presbyterian to stand up and shout, “This is false doctrine! Presbyterians have one priest only! And his name is Jesus!”
Although Presbyterians are quire committed to the concept of “ordained lay person,” they are not likely to replace the more Luther phrase “priesthood of all believers” with the more Reformed conviction of the “laity of all believers.” Undoubtedly many of our ministers will continue to be set apart by the title, “the Reverend” (or to set themselves apart with it). This practice is perhaps acceptable as a functional designation but never as an ontological designation.
Other Christian traditions may be comfortable with a sacerdotal ministry, but our forebears shed their blood protesting all forms of priestcraft. Their noble sacrifices delivered to us a church re-formed according to the Word and not formed according to the priests. Presbyterians believe (or ought to believe) that thinking and talking about ourselves as priests not only dishonors Our Lord but also our ancestors in the faith. Whatever so-called “leadership gifts” any one of us may possess, our primary call is to be followers. And a disciple is not greater than the Master (Matthew 10:24).