Pastoral Authority And The Priesthood Of Believers From Cyprian To Calvin -- By: E. Glenn Hinson

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 07:1 (Fall 1989)
Article: Pastoral Authority And The Priesthood Of Believers From Cyprian To Calvin
Author: E. Glenn Hinson


Pastoral Authority And The Priesthood Of Believers
From Cyprian To Calvin

E. Glenn Hinson

David T. Porter Professor of Church History
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky

Throughout the history of Christianity pastoral authority and the priesthood of believers have coexisted with now one and now the other ascendant. As pastoral authority has increased, the priesthood of the whole people of God has decreased; as the priesthood of the whole people has increased, pastoral authority has decreased. Escalation of pastoral authority has been a more or less natural concomitant of expansion of structures or institutions. The smaller the corporate body, the less need there has been for defining authority and creating authority figures. As the corporation has grown, however, the body corporate has tended to thrust responsibility increasingly into the hands of an official clergy. A crisis here or there has accelerated a process set in motion by natural growth, for small powerful groups can act with greater effectiveness than large amorphous ones.

At no times during the thirteen centuries covered by this article did either pastoral authority or the priesthood of believers completely supplant the other. During the Middle Ages in the West, to be sure, official statements increasingly located the Church in the hierarchy rather than in its whole constituency. Yet even here powerful protests were issued by lay persons and groups, all obviously from within the Church in a time when all belonged to the Church more or less automatically. Waves of resentment about second-class status eventually washed over the Church in the Protestant Reformation, which was, as much as anything, an effort to recover the royal priesthood of the faithful.

Cyprian to Constantine

Prior to Constantine, lay persons played significant roles in the life of the churches everywhere, but noticeable erosion occurred as the episcopal office assumed greater importance. Persecution, struggle for identity, and other crises encouraged centralization. By the time of Cyprian (Bishop of Carthage 248–258) the West had already attained the basic model on which it would operate throughout the next several centuries.

Cyprian, confronted with both a fierce persecution under Decius (249–251) and schism in his own flock as a consequence of debate over readmitting those who lapsed during it, took long steps in the direction of Ignatius’s pleas to “Do nothing without the bishop!” The Church is in the bishop, Cyprian contended. Whoever is not with the bishop,

therefore, is not in the church. The bishop baptized, confirmed, presided over the euchar...

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