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#3: A Priest, A Rabbi, and a Minister Walk into a Bar, Part 2

M. J. Young

Retired User
Overall there's a lot of good stuff here; but I think I would have made a significant distinction between a Rabbi and a Minister, and not based on the religious affiliation.

Of course, in practice they are much the same; yet in their fundamental conception they are very different. Rabbi means teacher, and so very much fits the description you give. Minister, though, means servant, and comes from a tradition in which the leader is viewed as the one who serves everyone else.

This distinction runs through much of the differences between them. A minister is usually "ordained" or "recognized" or sometimes "licensed" by his church, either by a local congregation or by a hierarchical authority. Rabbis, though, are certified by their schools. In fact, I know a professor of Biblical Studies at an Evangelical Christian college who is a member of an Episcopalian church, but who is a recognized Jewish Rabbi because he got his doctorate from Hebrew Union Theological Seminary, and thus upon graduation he became a rabbi. The difference exists because Rabbis are teachers, whose primary qualification is knowledge and understanding of the texts and tenets of their faith, and Ministers are servants, whose primary qualification is the willingness and ability to minister to or serve the needs of others within the faith.

Christian teachers are ministers, but not necessarily pastors. Christian pastors are also ministers, but not necessarily teachers. There are many other ministers within Christendom, including missionaries, administrators, school teachers, medical professionals, and writers, who share in common that they work to meet the needs of the rest of the church.

Thus your description fits some ministers, but not nearly all of them.

I hope this is helpful.

--M. J. Young
(Chaplain, Christian Gamers Guild)
 

smascrns

New member
Banned
Your distinction between priests and ministers seems apt until we look at the examples. Roman Catholics have priests because religious authority is based on rituals? Then why does one need to go through extensive teological studies in order to be ordained? And anyone that has been into a RC mass must have realised that a great deal of it is actually about "to interpret sacred knowledge for the individual lives and problems of believers", something you reserve to ministers.

Actually, on what concerns a RC priest one can aptly say that "Their authority in the religious community comes from certification of their knowledge of the religion's teachings. They are officially qualified to authoritatively advise the people in their spiritual and moral life". Of course, they are also those in charge of the religious rituals, but that's because there are no pure knowledge-based religions, all require rituals.

The next paragraph also aptly applies to RC priests: "The types of worship services they preside over tend to be non-ritual. The focus of the services is prayer and discussion of the sacred teachings, so charisma is going to be much more important to their success then to the success of a priest. There may be rituals, but they would be seen in a more symbolic way than in a priestly religion. Also, the minister's authority to perform the ritual is based on their knowledge of that ritual, not on any religious power. If a rabbi blesses a kosher kitchen, it is because that rabbi is qualified to declare the kitchen kosher." Ditto for the paragraph on hierarchy.

The Protestant fight against RC was in part based on a challenge to hierarchy and to the monopoly of hierarchy to control the interpretation of the sacred texts. The challenge to rituals was a third concern (the second concern were political struggles between different comunities and social classes).

I think your distinction between priests and ministers is not a black and white matter. Religious officials are both interpreters of the sacred texts and performers of rituals. Some religions may be tilted more to the word, others to the behaviour. And this can change in time within a particular religion. Pointing to these two aspects is important, but trying to break up religious practitioners into two categories based on them is spurious.
 

Mirkady

Registered User
Validated User
To some extent all catagorisations are going to be spurious and there is surely always going to be a degree of overlap, I'd suggest. However, although there may appear to be little difference between the Roman Catholic priest and the minister as described in the article in most people's minds these days, it is worthwhile remembering that the traditional conception of the Roman Catholic priest is that he is capable of working divine magic.

At the heart of medieval catholic teachings and the protestant rejection of them, was the contentious issue of what happens when the priest blesses the sacrement. ROman Catholicism still maintains an actual physical transubstantiation
into the literal body and blood of Christ; protestant sects hold to the view that it is either a metaphorical transformation or (the slightly higher church view) an actual, but spiritual, transformation. To this extent certainly, therefore, the priest's blessing is not simply based on knowledge but on the ability to channel the power of God into performing a miracle.
 

lemurbouy

Retired User
I believe the real goal here is not to try to categorize real world priests and preachers but rather to look at the very different roles you can choose in a game setting. How we relate either our class abilities to the real world logic or how we create our characters so that there is more internal consistancy is the real crux, I believe. I know I ran into this situation in DnD when I made a gnome cleric but I wanted him to be more of the scholarly type so magic was definitely on the backburner and I prioritized knowledge of religion and history but not only that, I gave him a real place within the confines of the religion, in this case as a monk. Because I defined him within his world and fleshed out what his role was, he was a lot more interesting to play even though he was rarely called on to give sermons or lecture on ancient church fathers. Having that basis and knowing how real world people have related to their faiths can really help any game setting where religion plays a role.
 

smascrns

New member
Banned
Mirkady, let me first state from where I come: I'm an atheist but my family and social background is Roman Catholic. My contacts with religion have been superficial, most of them with Roman Catholicism but also with Hinduism (for the last 6 years I've been living in India). I know Protestantism from readings in the history if thought - a more philosophical approach -, history of Europe, Anglo-Saxon cinema, tv and other cultural products, and... brief encounters with Miracle Channels.

What you say about RC is correct but my perception of it is that it is mostly based on knowledge. Yes, there are rituals but those are limited. The ones I've come across more often are rituals of passage (baptism, first communion, christening, marriage, death) most of which have equivalents in Protestantism. In daily life there are some rituals during the mass but most of it is dedicated to moral exhortations based on interpretation of the Bible ("ministering" in the terminology of the columns). And as I can testimony in India in contemporary RC there is a trend to vary these rituals from place to place according to local culture - what is called "inculturation".

Yes, RC has some "magical" aspects to it but most of it is indirect magic: If you do the right thing you are blessed. This is derived from an application of knowledge, not from some magical ritual. RC "active magic" is, as far as I can tell, reduced today to the increasingly hard to demonstrate miracles and to the less and less frequent exorcisms. I'm not counting here popular religion practices that are not supported by the Church.

On the other hand, the perception I have is that Protestant sects, specially those that drift away from the more traditional ones and that are more agressively expansive, ressort to "magical rituals" at a much higher level than RC. I'm referring to the kind of Miracle Channel Christianism where Ministers behave more like Priests according to the columnist's classification.

Lemurbouy, I share your expectations but the columns are using real world has the standard of comparision and inspiration. If they fail to portray real world religions in correct terms, their ability to fulfill the expectations is diminished. Has you say, "knowing how real world people have related to their faiths can really help any game setting where religion plays a role". If that knowledge is faulty, we cannot get the help we are looking for.
 

Tom_K

Registered User
Validated User
Thank you, everyone, for your comments and clarifications. In writing this column I struggle with trying to use the most accessible vocabulary and concepts; however I do appreciate any corrections in errors. I’d like to respond to a couple of comments specifically.

M.J. Young, I should have used “Pastor” instead of “Minister.” I forgot the wide variety of Ministry, and thank you for reminding me. I think the basic point still stands. The average Protestant pastor is a spiritual leader to their congregation. The authority of their leadership comes from their knowledge of the Bible and Christian theology, certified by a seminary or their denomination. If this is incorrect, please let me know.

Smascrns, I think your comments illustrate the overall goal of the column. The role that Protestant and Catholic clergy play in their communities (moral guidance and ritual) is very similar, as anyone could see. However, the reason for their authority (their ability to provide that moral guidance and ritual) is different. I believe the average Protestant Pastor has that authority from their knowledge of the beliefs and teachings of their faith. The same is true for some Muslim Jurists and Rabbis. Catholic Priests derive their authority from the ritual of Ordination, when (Catholics believe) they inherit the power and authority Jesus gave to the 12 Apostles, most obviously the power to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Priests go through a long education similar to a Pastor’s, in order to learn how to correctly use their authority. However, even when all of the education is complete, a man is not a Priest until the Ordination ritual.

The reason a Pastor believes they can tell you the right way to live is because they have studied Christian belief. The reason a Priest believes they can tell you how to live is because the have inherited the special authority of the Apostles. This is what I meant by figuring out the why of religious authority. The average gamer can figure out what a clergy PC does in society, but I wanted to give them some suggestions for why they do those things.

Of course, there are some exceptions to this role. “Charismatic” or “Pentecostal” Christians are those you see on the Miracle Channel. They are Protestant, but their Pastors are probably believed to have special powers of miraculous prayer through the blessing of God or personal holiness. Those churches tend to be built around the Pastor, not really a part of any denomination or hierarchical structure. I meant the column to be specifically for people role-playing clergy in a greater religious organization, and I believe that for them my basic model is accurate. However, I should have been clearer on that point.
 

M. J. Young

Retired User
M.J. Young, I should have used “Pastor” instead of “Minister.” I forgot the wide variety of Ministry, and thank you for reminding me. I think the basic point still stands. The average Protestant pastor is a spiritual leader to their congregation. The authority of their leadership comes from their knowledge of the Bible and Christian theology, certified by a seminary or their denomination. If this is incorrect, please let me know.
I think it's more complicated than that, because "Protestantism" is so broad. Certainly it is the case that the older, more mainstream, and upper-class denominations have a high emphasis on educated clergy. Most Lutheran denominations will not permit member congregations to call pastoral candidates who have not completed seminary. In the mid twentieth century, Methodist leadership insisted that pastors be fluent in German or French, so as to be able to keep up on current trends in theology in Europe without having to wait for translations. Presbyterians by and large have a highly educated laity, and so their clergy must be similarly educated to hold the respect of the congregation. However, "low church" Protestantism does not have the same notions of education; some even ridicule seminary training as antithetical to genuine ministry. Here, the emphasis on "calling" (which pervades all of Protestantism and also Catholicism) tends to point to those who are charismatic, either dynamic orators or highly magnetic easy-to-like people. You find this among Pentecostal denominations, but also in some of the Baptist groups, more conservative and older Methodist congregations, independent/fundamentalist churches, and newer Charismatic denominations such as Vineyard and Foursquare. Not all of these eschew education, but all do downplay it. What matters here is not so much that the preacher/pastor/teacher is well-schooled, but that he (or she, and so throughout, although not all Protestant denominations recognize female clergy) has a divine call and the gifts necessary to do the job.

What happens in this, though, is that this reflects a fundamental attitude underlying all of Protestantism, that the minister/pastor needs a calling from God, and the gifts to do the job to which he is called. No matter how much emphasis a denomination puts on education, this is always secondary, a matter of giving the minister the tools needed to do the job better.

I quibble on this point precisely because it is in stark contrast to the position of Rabbi. As the example of Dr. Marvin Wilson (the Evangelical Biblical scholar whose doctorate is from Hebrew Union) demonstrates, you don't even actually have to be Jewish to be recognized as a Rabbi--you just have to have the essential knowledge and the willingness to teach it as you were taught. This distinction is again seen in the fact that Rabbis are ordained by their schools and ministers by their churches. For the Rabbi, what matters is that you have the education; for the Minister, what matters is that you are perceived as having the call to serve, and that means to put yourself in the service of the congregation.
The reason a Pastor believes they can tell you the right way to live is because they have studied Christian belief. The reason a Priest believes they can tell you how to live is because the have inherited the special authority of the Apostles.
Much of what you say about Catholic priests seems accurate to me (I am not Catholic, but do have more than passing knowledge of the beliefs). What you say of Pastors is more applicable to Rabbis. The reason a Pastor believes he can tell you the right way to live is because he has been called and sent by God to serve in a particular service role in the lives of his congregation. Understanding scripture is an important part of this, but it is the secondary part. Hearing from God is the more fundamental part. Protestants believe that all Christians have this connection to God, but that Pastors are particularly gifted in knowing how to help other Christians find God's will for them.

From your perspective of the "why", both Catholics and Protestants would say that it is because God chose the man. Catholics would then go on to say that God chose the man, and the church conferred upon him the authority to exercise the apostolic powers. Protestants would go on to say that the church recognized this call and the associated gifts, without the church having given more than recognition to this. Thus Catholic authority is channeled through the church, while Protestant authority is channeled through the Spirit of God. Ministers have authority because God chose them; the church recognizes this, but has little influence over it.

The Protestant position does look a bit fuzzy sometimes. Part of that is because of the range of practice across its spectrum (in some churches, you are recognized by the church hierarchy, in others by the congregations, and in still others by select members whose gifts are in the ability to perceive the callings of others but who have no authority over those they recognize). Part of it is because there is a tension between the individual call and the corporate recognition, in which the individual call is usually thought to be the critical component but the corporate recognition is functionally necessary.

I've enjoyed the series immensely; please don't take my critique harshly. More than whether Protestants fall into one niche or another, what is of value here is that there is this other possibility for how clergy come to their authority.

Thanks for writing.

--M. J. Young
 

Tom_K

Registered User
Validated User
Thank you very much for your clarifications. I am aware of the general large variety of theology in Protestantism, but I always appreciate more specific information. I meant this terminology to apply to gamers playing as clergy who are members of greater religious organizations- hierarchies and denominations. My main experience of those sorts of institutions involved acquaintances in seminary, training to be Ministers. Thank you for spelling out more of the general theology of vocation for me. I am also aware that some denominations of Protestantism believe in a more “priesthood” style ministry (Anglicans and some Lutherans). I was trying to generalize, and it seems I was over simplifying. Thank you as well for your encouragement. I really appreciate it.
 

smascrns

New member
Banned
M.J. Young, I'm not sold on what you write about Rabbis based on a single contemporary example. Rabbis accept an American Protestant scholar as a Rabbi? How much of this is "political correctness" emerging from contemporary needs and the drive to get the support of the type of people that Dr. Marvin Wilson represents? Would Rabbis a generation ago accept something like this? Two generations ago? 200 years ago? Would Rabbis accept into their fold an Islamic scholar?

No, your example just doesn't seem to me to be representative enough to sustain your conclusions.

In Christianism there's a difference between the Theologist and the Priest, the one that studies religion and is able to frame religious understanding and the one that leads the congregation of the faithful. Anyone, even an atheist, can study Theology and research on it, increasing the Theological knowledge basis. Unlike what Tom seems to imply, the break up between knowledge and practice cuts across all Christian varieties - this we seem to agree to. I tend to consider that Theological studies are what really separates Christianism from other religions since there's nothing similar to it in Islam, Budism, Hinduism, etc., or at least I'm not aware of it. On the other hand, religious practices tend to be based on similar concepts and patterns of behaviour.
 
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