Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Being Changed

Warning: this post is deeply theological and may be of limited interest to most people!

This coming Sunday, I shall be ordained a deacon in the Church of England; and, God willing, a year later I shall be ordained a priest.

Within Anglicanism, there exists a range of views as to what happens when you are ordained. At the more Anglo-Catholic end of the spectrum, there is the belief that you undergo an Ontological Change: that is, that your fundamental being is changed, from one kind of being to another. At the more Evangelical end of the spectrum, many (most?) reject the idea of Ontological Change, whether they see ordination as a particular calling within the people (‘laos’) of God (i.e. the clergy are a distinct subset within the laity, but not separate from it; a different nature of doing but not a different nature of being) or as a purely pragmatic designation.

The Principal of the theological college where I studied (and, to be fair to the college, I use ‘study’ in a fairly loose sense to describe what I did: they should not be held liable) is of the opinion that there is an Ontological Change, but that it takes place not at ordination but at baptism. This view recognises that all who are ‘in Christ’ – baptism is the sign of being in Covenant relationship with God through Jesus – are now a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

My own view is that we undergo, or at least are meant to undergo, a continual series of ontological changes. Consider the following:
“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Yes, we are already a new creation; in a fundamental sense we have undergone an ontological change, have gone from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. But that change is not the final ontological change we will experience (1 John 3:2). Nor is this change of nature merely a two-step event, but an ongoing process (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is the ongoing process of being changed from what we are into what we were intended to be; a restoration of the original unbroken unity-in-diversity between God and humans, and between human and human.

The latter is witnessed to by another ontological change that some people experience: the change that takes place when two people marry, when two distinct human beings become ‘one flesh’ - or, one ‘earth creature,’ for, in the Genesis 2 account, the gender-neutral earthling was split in half to form two human beings, male and female (much of this is lost in English translations). That does not imply that those who are married are any more fully human; but that the nature of their being, and therefore how they relate to the other, is different from that of those who are not married. Not more fully human, but differently human.

So, just as I underwent an ontological change when I married, so I believe that I will undergo an ontological change (though not an Ontological Change) on Sunday, when a Bishop will lay his hands on my head in the cavernous Liverpool Cathedral. It is a step of faith, and an encountering God, that will leave me changed. I am aware that I do not know in what way I will be changed, and that, while I need to take responsibility for my actions – that as I grow into my changed and changing being, I act in ways consistent with the one who is changing me – I have no control over the changes God chooses to work in me. And I am also aware that none of this will make much sense to many of my friends, including many who are ordained. C’est la vie. While I want to make Jesus known more clearly, I care very little whether I as a person am understood...


  1. hope and pray all goes well for you this sunday....and in your subsequent ministry.
    fyi...i start at ridley in september!!!

  2. Great to hear from you, Phil.
    And great to hear your news - all the best for September :-)