A Retrieval of the Prophet: A Brownist Theology of Ordained Ministry for a Priestly Community

Prof. dr. Eddy van der Borght
Prof. dr. Henk Bakker
Prof. dr. Curtis Freeman (external)

There is a general concern for the role of the ordained ministry in contemporary theology. With the downfall of Christendom, institutional religion and its authorities have become suspect. Simultaneously, a renewed consciousness of the church’s participation in God’s mission to the world has shed new light upon the priestly ministry of the whole community, questioning the theological existence of a special ministry set apart by ordination. Among Baptists this is by many even regarded as a contradiction with congregational ecclesiology that grounds the existence of a local church in the faithful gathering under Christ’s Lordship, instead of a present priest or the Sacraments. ‘Other Baptists’ have in response to what they regard as an unduly functionalistic view of ministry – which reduced the role of the minister to a mere employee and an executor of some ecclesial tasks – reconnected with sacramental theology to formulate a theology of ordained ministry. In this study an attempt is made to rethink the present crisis of ordained ministry by a reconsideration and retrieval of the covenantal concept of ordained ministry in the literature of 16th century Separatist Robert Browne (c. 1550-1633). Against a dominant and oppressive state church, Browne envisaged a covenantal church separated from the world and grounded in God’s promise of provision and the obedience of the faithful. A communal church that recognized Godsend prophets to sustain them as a priestly community to live accordingly. Ordination is hence defined as a representation of God’s sending and the church’s reception. This Brownist theology of ordained ministry provides a fruitful theological framework for a missional church in a post-Christendom context. A special ministry called for the ministry of the church, whose existence flows from the local church instead of the other way around. In recent years theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Kevin Vanhoozer have urged to review ordained ministry in terms of prophethood and theological adequacy which bears a similar character: ordained ministers, as prophets among priests, called to sustain the church in its dramatical existence of living a different story in a violent world. Browne’s concept of covenant provides an adequate biblical framework to incorporate the church and its ordained ministry into God’s mission to the world.

For further reading see:
· “‘Is Smyth also Among the Brownists?’ A Confrontation Between John Smyth and his Predecessor Robert Browne,” The Baptist Quarterly 46, no. 3 (2015): 103-112.
· “‘To do the Lordes message’: De sacramental turn, Robert Browne, en de zoektocht naar een ambtstheologie,” chap. in Van onderen! Op zoek naar een ambtstheologie voor een priesterschap van gelovigen, eds. Jan Martijn Abrahamse, en Wout Huizing (Baptistica Reeks, vol. 8; Amsterdam: Unie van Baptistengemeenten, 2014): 128-146.
· “Robert Browne as an Unwanted Child: Explaining Separatism from the Nursery of Presbyterian Puritanism,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 40, no. 4 (2013): 349–365.

In 2011 my research proposal has been accepted by the board of professors of the VU University Amsterdam. The following year, in 2012, I worked on my first chapter under direct supervision of dr. Curtis Freeman at Duke University (Durham, NC). In subsequent years (2013-2015) my main focus was on reading and analyzing Browne’s literature and writing Chapters 2 and 3. At this time, I am writing Chapter 4 on the current proposals of Stanley Hauerwas and Kevin Vanhoozer, in order to bring Browne in debate with contemporary theology. It lies within my intent to finish a first draft of my entire dissertation toward the end of December 2016 and to defend its content somewhere in 2017.

Jan Martijn Abrahamse is predikant in Aalsmeer (CAMA) en docent systematische theologie en ethiek aan de Christelijke Hogeschool Ede. Hij promoveert op het onderwerp "A Retrieval of the Prophet: A Brownist Theology of Ordained Ministry for a Priestly Community".

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