The New Christians

The New Christians


Is There Ordination in the Didache?

posted by Tony Jones

didache.jpgI’m going to close out this week’s topic by looking back to the history of the church — the very early church — to gain a bit more perspective on ordination.

I’m currently writing a little book reflecting on the Didache and its use for us today (the image at left is the 10th century manuscript, lost for 800 years, and rediscovered in 1873). If you’re unfamiliar, the Didache is a manual of Christian living from the second half of the first century — contemporaneous with the letter of Paul and the synoptic Gospels. The Didache is basically broken into four parts:

  1. the moral teaching drawn from a Jewish document known as the “Two Ways” (chaps. 1-6);
  2. a liturgical treatise (chaps. 7-10);
  3. a church organization treatise (chaps. 11-15);
  4. and an apocalyptic section (chap. 16)

I hope to make our contemporary translation, which will be chapter two of the book, available online under a Creative Commons license. In the meantime, there are lots of public domain translations available online, most of which use King James type language.

Of most interest to this discussion are the middle two sections.


First, the context of the document. The Didache seems to have been a manual, used by a Nazarene synagogue (that is, a synagogue that had converted to Jesus-following-Judaism) of Hellenized Jews on the Syrian border — maybe in the rural outskirts of Antioch. The opening, Schaff Didache title page.png“There Are Two Ways,” was an older Jewish document that was amended and used by several early Christian communities, for it’s also echoed in the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas. The middle two sections may be a bit older, and some material possibly originated in the Dicache community, and the apocalypse is also reflective of other early documents.

In the liturgical section of the Didache
, there are chapters that deal with baptism (do it in flowing water, if possible) and on the Eucharist (in a setting that’s dramatically different from Paul’s setting of the Lord’s Supper). But, what’s notable for our purposes is that there is no talk of specific persons administering the sacraments to the congregation. (Neither does Paul imply that, for that matter.) Regarding baptism, the Didache is quite specific about the how, and it gives not a mention of the who. The former seemed very important to the community, the latter completely unimportant.

The Didache speaks of the Eucharist more like the daily agape meal, shared by all followers of the Way, than the weekly, monthly, or quarterly communion, parsed our by a clergyperson, to which most os us are accustomed. Again, there is no direction as to who can and who cannot say the prescribed blessings and prayers.

In the following section, dealing with the organization of the ekklesia, the Didache has much to say about how to test the genuineness of wandering prophets and teachers — it has to do with how long they stay, if they ask for money, and if they know a trade by which they can support themselves. The final section even begins,

“Appoint bishops (episkopi) for yourselves, as well as deacons (diakonia), worthy of the Lord, of meek disposition, unattached to money, truthful and proven; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers.”

Teaching the Twelve Cover.jpgAt first blush, this might look like a gathering storm of hierarchy. But in fact, the hierarchical episcopacy — i.e., one bishop per region — was not established until a few years later when Ignatius of Antioch established the episcopacy as a way to fight false teaching. Ignatius also added elder/priest (presbuterion) to the list of leadership in the church, and he commanded loyalty to these leaders in a way that the Didache does not.

In the end — and I realize that my own theological presuppositions color my judgment here — the Didache is notably silent on the office of “priest.” No one person is set apart by the community to perform baptisms or pass out communion. Teachers, prophets, bishops, and deacons are all mentioned, but the roles thereof are left undefined.



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Tim

posted May 15, 2009 at 9:12 am


Good thoughts. I find it interesting that many people automatically infer a clearly established hierarchy from the “appoint bishops” line. Seems to me that every community has leadership, but leadership does not automatically equal a drawn-out hierarchy.
Once again, the differences between the Didache and Paul reinforce the immense freedom that God gave and the early church enjoyed in terms of form. Some (Jesus Seminar, Ehrman, etc) try to argue for competing religions within traditional Christianity, but it seems much more like a bunch of people worshiping the same God in the way that seems best to them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Looking forward to your book, although i gotta say, right now i look smart whenever i pull out my “didache card”…you’ll likely ruin that…guess that’s one of the downfalls of believing in the priesthood of all believers….



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Chad

posted May 15, 2009 at 9:48 am


Tony,
There were no bloggers in the Didache, either.
Seriously though. I find it surprising that you of all people would take the 1st century church and try to make a normative argument for all times and places. The truth is, if you are going to lend credibility to the Didache in your case to eschew ordination than you must listen to the voices of Ignatius and Tertulllian to name just a few. They had very different takes on who can or cannot administer sacraments.
In any event, would you allow the Didache to influence your positions on women or homosexual Christians? My guess is that neither of those were “normative” in the 1st century.
peace,
Chad



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Tony Jones

posted May 15, 2009 at 10:36 am


Gee, Chad, I’ve reread my post, and I can’t find the word “normative” anywhere. Nor can I find the concept. Instead, I wrote that we can look to the Didache and the early church for “perspective.”



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Timmy C.

posted May 15, 2009 at 11:39 am


BTW: I know this is secondary to your main point here, but congrats on making a contemporary translation of the Didarche open in a Creative Commoons license… Very cool…
I wish folks would do that with good modern English translations of NT works too… A future version of the Voice New Testament translation opened as a Creative Commons work — even one not allowing Commercial use, but allowing non commercial derivative works — would be incredibly powerful…



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Chad

posted May 15, 2009 at 12:23 pm


Tony,
I’m not saying you used the word “normative” in your post. However, it seems to me that your argument is: a) The Didache did not speak of ordination b) therefore, why should we?
That is more or less a normative, or universal, argument.
My hunch is that you and I both share the opinion that Kant wasn’t exactly right. Ethics, especially as they pertain to Christian living and performance of our faith is communal and particular. We see this played out in scripture. A few examples are Paul’s moderate position regarding meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8-10) and John of Patmos’ very rigid position on the same topic as it concern his particular communities of faith (Rev. 2-3). Another would be the adaptation of Mosaic Law by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 (it is fascinating how scripture was changed over the years to accommodate for the breaking down of barriers between Jews and Gentiles over time. I wrote a piece on how Acts 15 is paradigmatic for the way of Jesus that can be viewed here: http://chadholtz.wordpress.com/2008/08/11/acts-15-a-paradigm-for-the-way-of-jesus/
I am curious why you would use the Didache as you have done to make your point about ordination for today. If anything, the Didache seems to give a nod or at least gesture towards a system of ordination to provide order for the church. In any event, to ignore the other voices of the day (Ignatius, Tertullian, etc) in favor of your reading of the Didache to bolster your argument about ordination in the 21st century seems shortsighted to me.
What have I missed?
thanks,
Chad



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Larry from Dallas

posted May 15, 2009 at 12:39 pm


I have read portions of the Didache in a book called “Documents of the Christian Church.” I agree with the writer that, from what I’ve read, the Didache fails to speak to the issue of just who could conduct an Eucharistic service and baptisms. The organized church was not so organized when this document was written. Each community of faith was a bit different and emphasized different ideas about Jesus. There was little standardization of church organization or dogma during the apostolic period or during the time of Paul. Bart Ehrman has discussed these differences in his various books about first and second Christianity. But
There are references of a hierarchy in leadership roles in First Timothy and the book of Titus. These letters were probably written around the beginning of the second century, years after the death of Paul. These letters gave instructions to the churches in how to select people to serve as bishops and deacons. See First Timothy, chapter 3, Titus 1:5.
Then there is the letter of First Clement written about the same time and before the Didache. First Clement demonstrates how important it was to follow only certain leaders who were apostolic “descendants” from the original disciples. While Clement’s writing does not directly address the issue of ordination, it shows that leadership roles were only open to certain people. It would be a natural process for these leaders to perform baptisms and celebrate the Eucharist.
I think it is a stretch of logic to assume that the writers of the Didache had no interest in who celebrated the Eucharist and baptisms just because their book is silent on these matters. The issue of leadership was a big issue at that time and I think that the writers of the Didache were aware of the problem. Even so, the Didache seems to be more of a “how to” book. I think an inference about ordination can be better drawn from examining First Clement and from First Timothy and Titus than from the silence of the Didache.



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Chad

posted May 15, 2009 at 12:42 pm


Sorry for being pesky here. I’m just trying to understand where you are coming from. As I said in an earlier comment on this topic, I have followed the emerging church for some 5 years (I’m a friend) but have found this topic and your position to be the first issue that has given me pause. You, Tony, are a gifted speaker, writer and leader and have much to say when it comes to the direction the conversation surrounding EC can and will go. Forgive me if I press this issue as I find it one of extreme importance for all of us, friend or foe of EC.
You said in your comment to me above that you are using the Didache as “perspective.” That may be a shade less than “normative” but even if it were opposites it would still not make sense. Would you suggest we use the Didache to gain “perspective” on ordaining women? How about our “perspective” towards homosexuals in the church? You don’t know me so let me disclose this: I know where you stand on both of those issues and I stand beside you. So I hope you can see where my consternation is coming from.
Thanks for the opportunity to dialog.
grace and peace,
Chad



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Taylor Burton-Edwards

posted May 15, 2009 at 1:11 pm


Tony,
Good overall perspective on Didache here. I will look forward to your book.
On your final paragraph, silence about “presbyters” (elders) may not mean all that much, or at least it would be difficult to know exactly what it might mean. Philippians also only lists “bishops and deacons,” while I Timothy mentions all three titles (though we don’t know the exact role of the presbyteroi, and their qualifications are not listed as are those for episkopoi and diakonoi). What I’ve seen in the literature– both biblical and early historical scholarship– does suggest considerable diversity in the use of titles and the structures of community life at least through the middle of the second century.
The silence here could thus mean that there really wasn’t an identified, established presbyter/priest/bishop or “body of elders” in this community who would take on this kind of ritual role. It could just as easily mean that there was, as might be expected in a ritual assembly parallel to that of the synagogue, but this document didn’t bother to describe that, for whatever reason. One good reason might be that the primary users of/audience for Didache might have been a chief elder/bishop with just such a role. The only real bottom line here is that we just don’t know.
I do think it would be unwise to overplay the role of Ignatius in “normalizing” structure for all of Christianity in the second century. Clearly, his writings (if we can figure out which ones are his), represent his strong intent to do that. Again, we just don’t have the evidence to suggest that his version of the “perfect storm of hierarchy” happened at the time he called for it or the way he called for it. It Antioch, well, yes, it looks like it did– but then he was bishop there. Elsewhere? Justin Martyr doesn’t call the “president” of the congregations “bishop” or “priest” in the First Apology (the term might be better translated as “presider”), but there the “presider” seems to be a fairly defined ritual leader who is understood to have that very role, and there are also people who function like deacons. But Justin isn’t writing to try to describe church structure per se, normative or otherwise. He’s really talking about and defending Christian liturgy (in broad strokes) and doctrine.
However the structures were evolving/emerging, named, or developing in various places, there does still seem to be a larger balance of evidence compatible with the idea that Christian communities would have had identified ritual presiders who had undergone some sort of vetting– first to be Christians (catechumenate– either like Didache or like Apostolic Tradition, 215, or something else) and then to be ritual presiders (perhaps as described in I Timothy and Apostolic Tradition)– or at least would have been encouraged to do so.
But it’s also true that you can’t draw any straight lines from early Christian practice to what you describe as a “one person set apart by the community to perform baptisms or pass out communion.” If that’s all that the ordained do– well then we don’t need to be ordaining people, and I can’t see the early church wasting its time doing so, either. But if the ordained have ritual leadership because we trust them and entrust them with that leadership to help us all live faithfully through their teaching, their way of life with Jesus, their leadership among us– well then, I think biblical and early Christian and contemporary practices of ordination may represent waters flowing from the same stream.



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aaron

posted May 15, 2009 at 1:18 pm


Chad,
your patience is to be commended. tony isn’t giving you the chance to dialogue, for which you graciously thank him. i have much to say on this matter, but not the time and, in any case, why would i if i am going to treated the way Tony treated you in his first response. the way tony has handled this whole ordination controversy has totally ruined his message for me.
as a seminarian, i am trained to carefully weigh these kinds of issues, and i don’t take these conversations lightly–they should concern all of us. but tony’s attitude, reflected in the sarcastic and cynical tone of his response above, and in some of his other posts of late, makes me lose a lot of respect for what he is trying to say.
as a trained but neophyte historical theologian, i agree with many of Chad’s questions and would have liked to have seen a response from a historical perspective. but instead, we got a rude and condescending reply from someone who has maybe lost some footing on why the hell we are even bothering with any of this.
so tony, you don’t know me and you may not care, but here is one person whom you have alienated from your cause by your recent change in disposition toward many in the Church who are affected by the issues you have raised.



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Ted Seeber

posted May 15, 2009 at 1:41 pm


I think you’re ignoring the fact that Ignatius was actually the 2nd Bishop of Antioch- John the Apostle being the first. And that the Apostle James had a episkopate in Luke’s Acts in Jerusalem.I think you’re allowing your own biases to influence your research. You’re searching too hard to eliminate the institutional Church (I still don’t quite understand why) and you’re attempting in your congregational way to scrub history. Stop fighting it so hard, and maybe you’ll find some truths you don’t expect.
I wonder if your theology is coloring your translation as well- the freely available Roberts translation has this line in Chapter 13: “Every first-fruit, therefore, of the products of wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests.”
Priests as a part of the hierarchy weren’t needed yet- the religion wasn’t that large. A Bishop *might* have had 70 or 80 in his congregation at this time, maybe. Priests are only needed when you get to the diocese stage of things- with a Bishop overseeing several parishes.
I’d also point out that the first Priest we know of, was a wandering Prophet by the name of Paul- he wasn’t a deacon, he wasn’t a Bishop, and he wasn’t one of the 12 Apostles.



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Ted Seeber

posted May 15, 2009 at 1:48 pm


I’d also point out that maybe the reason the roles were left undefined, is because they had been so well defined elsewhere- like in the synagogues.



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Tony Jones

posted May 15, 2009 at 2:20 pm


Aaron, this is a blog, not a theological text. If you can’t handle some snark, you probably shouldn’t read blogs.
Chad, I wrote about the Didache because that’s the project I’m currently working on. I’m not saying it’s normative nor am I saying that it’s more important than the other documents that you reference. I’m just saying it’s interesting.
Geez, people, can we all lighten up a bit?



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Chad

posted May 15, 2009 at 2:28 pm


“I’m just saying it’s interesting.” – Tony
Interesting, I agree. Relevant to the topic at hand? No.
Tony, you rebuffed my critique that you were making a normative argument in favor of one that merely gives us “perspective.” Now you downgraded to merely “interesting.” Why not just admit that the Didache, while interesting, is not helpful in the current discussion, contrary to the title of this OP?
As for the “lighten up” remark, I assure you I am, um, light. You are the one being snarky here, even admitting as much to Aaron. I’m merely trying to understand why you are barking up a tree you know very well isn’t worth even a whimper.
Aaron – grace and peace.



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Chad

posted May 15, 2009 at 2:37 pm


The deeper issue surrounding this whole discussion, IMHO, and one that has not yet been addressed by Tony or others is this: Do we believe that God is still calling people to be pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets, etc? Do we believe that the Holy Spirit is still in the business of gifting whom the Spirit will gift for the purpose of building up the Church? Yes or no? If the answer to these questions is “yes” than we have already moved beyond the relevance of asking whether or not there should be some who are ordained and others who are not. What IS relevant is: how do we now live? Given the obvious reality (God-given reality, btw) that God sees fit to call and equip some for one task and others for other tasks, how then shall we live in light of that? The obvious answer is in love. Rather than using hot-button words like “power” and “caste system” and “authority” and “hierarchy”, none of which are helpful and all only serve to point out that ALL good things can be abused, why not focus on the gift that ordination actually IS and learn how we as people of the Servant Lord live better as people with unique gifts from God – gifts that render us different from each other yet unified under the same Giver of Gifts.



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Dave H.

posted May 15, 2009 at 2:45 pm


A Mennonite pastor I know of expected to baptize a few congregants and then celebrate afterwards with the Lord’s Meal, but a couple weeks beforehand developed a scheduling conflict that prohibited him from being there.
His message to the congregation was, “I’m really disappointed I won’t be there, but you guys can do it without me of course.” There was no question in anyone’s mind that any believer within the congregation could step up to do the baptizing and serve the bread and wine.
This wasn’t even controversial or commented upon. I think they chose almost at random, and had several people pitch in to do it.
Many seem offended by Tony’s insistence that a hierarchical, privileged priesthood class model should not be considered more normative than a model emphasizing the priesthood of all believers. Many don’t like it that he has pointed to the Didache as evidence this model was considered legitimate from the beginning of the Christian enterprise.
These ruffled feathers do not change the simple fact that many churches have been practicing the priesthood of all believers for hundreds of years, in radical ways, and will continue to do so. It is this biblically and historically legitimate model of leadership service that Tony is calling his friend (any anyone else who may be listening) to join.



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Eric

posted May 15, 2009 at 2:49 pm


I have hugely benefited from the study of this book through Huub van de Sandt and David Flussers study, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and Its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity.
The Jewish origins and theological history of the Two Ways doctrine is fascinating, from its Hassidic/Semi-Essene origins, as reflected in the homilies of Jesus and as realized in the form we know it. In particular I find the theological outworking of the “Golden Rule” from the Two Ways source utterly fascinating. There is a way that leads to life and that life reflects loving your neighbors as yourself. There is something about the Didache’s theology of salvation and theodicy that is oddly off kilter to contemporary theologies, yet seems so Jewish and it radiates the spirit of teaching and doctrines of love we see in Jesus, James, John, etc.



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Chad

posted May 15, 2009 at 3:05 pm


Dave H,
I appreciate that concrete, practical comment. It is so nice to see a discussion like this become incarnated.
I celebrate along with you (and Tony) such avenues of grace like the one you describe. It is remarkable that in that particular community there was no conflict or negativity in the way that situation was handled. It shows, obviously, that your pastor friend knew very well his context and the people he serves with to feel confident in proceeding as he did. Praise God.
What you will not hear me say (and I pray you or anyone would rebuke me if I do) is that your friend’s way is “sinful” and that you and anyone who is encouraging such modes of worship “complicit in their sin” (Those are Tony’s words, not mine).
The flip side of your story shows another stream of grace, IMO. There are many congregations who feel that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are the two most important things we as the people of God do when we gather corporately to worship. Because we give it such high precedence in our worship we are grateful that God has called some individuals to administer these sacraments on our Lord’s behalf. We do not desire that “just anyone” hop up and do them nor do we desire to do them whenever is convenient for ourselves. Rather, in our waiting for the pastor to be present we show 1) that we desire the presence of the entire community, including the pastor, a person we believe God had called to this office and 2) we show to the world that this is extremely important and vital to our worship life and is not something we do willy-nilly.
My position is that both sides of this coin should be celebrated where they are witnessed. I would not turn away from sharing Eucharist with anyone, ordained or not, just as I would not turn anyone away from the Table.
grace and peace.



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Tony Jones

posted May 15, 2009 at 3:06 pm


Ted, Eusebius writes that Ignatius was the third bishop of Antioch, following St. Peter and St. Evodius. Just a little historical note.
Chad, you stating that the Didache is irrelevant in this discussion doesn’t make it so. Obviously, several other readers disagree with you. And nearly every monograph and commentary on the Didache reports that the lack of episcopacy is noteworthy and a departure from other contemporaneous texts. I’d encourage you to read Dave H.’s comment carefully.



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Annie

posted May 15, 2009 at 3:10 pm


“I think an inference about ordination can be better drawn from examining First Clement and from First Timothy and Titus than from the silence of the Didache.”
Thank you Larry from Dallas. This is more or less what I was going to say, much less eloquently. Coming from me, it would sound more like dude, don’t make an argument from silence without examining some other sources.



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Chad

posted May 15, 2009 at 3:17 pm


Tony,
You say, “And nearly every monograph and commentary on the Didache reports that the lack of episcopacy is noteworthy and a departure from other contemporaneous texts.”
You are making my points for me. Every commentary reports that the Didache is silent on this issue.
Arguments from silence are beneath you, Tony. Thus, they are irrelevant.
I read Dave H’s comment carefully and replied. I look forward to your thoughts.
I look forward even more to the day when you apologize for calling denominations “sinful” and those of us in them or encouraging them “complicit in their sin.”
peace,
Chad



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Tony Jones

posted May 15, 2009 at 3:31 pm


Chad, you may be the one who’s not a careful reader. I did not write that those who encourage denominations are complicit in sin. I said that those who ignore the problems with the system and instead write Adam about ways to navigate the system are complicit in the sin of those systems. Considering them worthy of change is one thing. Leaving them be and figuring out ways to politically maneuver within is quite another.
Yes, I’m familiar with the letters of Clement. Love ‘em.



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Tony Jones

posted May 15, 2009 at 3:34 pm


And Chad, you’re accusing scholars of greater worth than I of stooping to banal levels. The lack of episcopacy in the Didache has been a source of much study vis a vis other texts. It’s been an issue in the dating of the Didache, the locale of the Didache, and the situation of the Didache community. Argue all you want for ordinands “guarding the table” of the Eucharist, but that argument comes several decades later from Ignatius as he’s fighting gnosticism.



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Chad

posted May 15, 2009 at 3:43 pm


Tony, where did I ever imply you are not a careful reader?
So that we are all clear, here is what you said to Adam:
What will it take for you to get the message that denominationalism and ordination are bruising, sinful institutions?
and..
this process is a sin against you. And those of you who leave comments trying to help Adam negotiate the sinful, dehumanizing system are complicit in the sin.
In your own words you call denominationalism and ordination sinful. You agree?
The process to become ordained, you declare, is a sin against Adam. Any of us who encourage that process are sinning as well. Correct? What am I not reading carefully enough?
Are you still standing behind these comments or are you downgrading them the way you did your normative argument in this OP?
Besides all this, do you have anything to say about my reply to Dave H? You seemed to think I should read that comment carefully. I did and I shared my thoughts. Is this a conversation we are having or not?
thanks
Chad



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Chad

posted May 15, 2009 at 3:48 pm


“Argue all you want for ordinands “guarding the table” of the Eucharist, but that argument comes several decades later from Ignatius as he’s fighting gnosticism.”
Now we are getting somewhere. I agree with you.
Ignatius and his contemporaries found it necessary to enact some sort of safeguards against infiltration and/or heresy. Do you suppose that allowing an “anything goes” philosophy about who preaches, who serves Eucharist, who baptizes, etc, led to that need?
I believe certain dogmas arise not out of universal norms but out of contextual need. Some communities, because of syncretism and outright heresy, required that trained people (bishops, pastors,etc) give some semblance of order to the worship service lest there be chaos. Surely you can see the good in some of this, even if you do not like the process of ordination. Is the system perfect? Of course not. But why do you presume that your way is any better? Or worse yet, why do you presume that my way is “sinful” and yours is not?



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Your Name

posted May 15, 2009 at 3:52 pm


Interesting thread…I’ve been saying for years that the church of today owes more to Constantine than it does to Scripture or the early apostles. I think the issue of ordination is the same. We cannot find any solid, substantial evidence of anything resembling ordination in the early church. But we do see it beginning to be developed post-Constantine. Church buildings are the same: Nothing about special buildings for Christians in the early church (homes, yes; but not a specific set-apart structure). But they start cropping up like mushrooms after a hard rain, post-Constantine! As the church developed its heirarchy to preseve tradition, establish law, demand fealty, confront false teachings and spread the gospel, all of our current systems and traditions came into being (for more on this, see Frank Viola’s excellent “Pagan Christianity?”). I am part of a denomination that ordains and I am ordained. In my tribe we say someone ordained an “elder” can administer the sacraments, but someone ordained a “deacon” cannot. I’ve never understood that. If the deacon has the theological training, why should they not be allowed to administer the sacraments? But I digress… I have maintained for years that one does not need to be ordained to serve Communion or baptise–based on Scripture and the history of the early church (pre-Constantine). However, it IS the structure that my tribe uses and one which I must submit to, regardless of my personal feelings on the matter. It’s not perfect, but then again what human system is?



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Tony Jones

posted May 15, 2009 at 3:54 pm


Chad, nice reply to Dave. Of course, you use diminutive words like “just” and “willy nilly” to characterize what Dave and I practice, so I guess that both sides of the coin aren’t equally celebrated by you.
I never claimed that the Didache was normative, so there’s no backing down from a claim that I didn’t make.
I do think that ordination, as a human process, is also sinful. Do I think God can work through it? Well, if God can work through Balaam’s ass, then I guess God can work through ordination. That, however, does not lessen its sinfulness. Nor the complicity of those who try to help Adam negotiate the system.
That’s all for today. I’ve got a book to write.



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Brian Merritt

posted May 15, 2009 at 3:58 pm


I will be interested in reading this book when it comes out. I am glad that an upcoming book that you are about to release is fitting so well into the controversial statements that you made over Adam’s ordination. I hope that this helps sell many copies and your publicist will have his/her phone ringing off the wall. Best wishes on the new book.



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Chad

posted May 15, 2009 at 4:11 pm


Tony,
Please don’t be petty. I will chalk it up to you being in the middle of writing a book. I too can respond like a jerk when I am short on time. I use the word “willy nilly” because I like it. It flows off the tongue (or fingers) nicely. It means “without direction or planning” and is a word that aptly describes a community allowing anyone who wishes to serve communion. You are welcome to introduce to me a better word that would be more amiable and would describe the same thing.
Bottom line: I DO celebrate both equally. At least give me the benefit of believing what I actually write rather than what you assume I must mean from the use of one or two words.
I’m sorry to see your insistence on calling a means of grace a sin. I hope that attitude will one day change, if not for own sake the sake of the future of the EC.
This has been instructive. As a person who considers myself “emerging” this is the first real disagreement I have had with someone who is more or less “ordained” by the EC as one of her faces. I can’t say I am all too impressed with how so-called “conversation” gets played out in the real world. I guess “snarky” was a rhetorical devise of Jesus that I had until now been unfamiliar with.
Gotta run – got a wedding to officiate (unless someone else would like to just jump up and do it?) :-)



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Ted Seeber

posted May 15, 2009 at 5:27 pm


I do think that ordination, as a human process, is also sinful. Ordination isn’t a human process. It’s a sacrament. An outward sign of inward grace, instituted by Christ Himself.I’m going to come right out and say it: The priesthood of all believers is a heresy equal to gnosticism itself. Sola Scriptura is bunk. Martin Luther suffered from scruplocity- a mental illness- and the entire reformation was based on it. This utter hatred of anything institutional is as irrational as homophobia is.



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Ted Seeber

posted May 15, 2009 at 5:45 pm


” But in fact, the hierarchical episcopacy — i.e., one bishop per region — was not established until a few years later when Ignatius of Antioch established the episcopacy as a way to fight false teaching.”
Tony, this has caused a bit of a fight. Where did you get this information, and why is it that you seem to be going against the information in Acts 15 where James is clearly defined as being the Episcopate of Jerusalem, with rights to call the first church council?
This claim on it’s face makes you look like a liar, is why I’m asking.



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Theresa Seeber

posted May 15, 2009 at 5:57 pm


Tony, considering the pressure you are under I applaud you even more than I have before. I can’t believe how badly you get nit-picked and still remain gracious. Yes, I have seen you get a little emotional in your responses to this one (“What, you actually feel when you are poked? Amazing,” they say), and yet that is only after suffering much crap. I would not have held my peace as well as you have done. I want to encourage you to keep on with the work God has given you, I know he will bless it. I believe in you. Don’t take to heart the harsh comments that are so easy to type …. I find it is easy to be mean in print. It must be even easier for those who have not met you, who do not know your kind, gentle spirit. God bless you friend. Ever praying for you and yours. Peace.



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Theresa Seeber

posted May 15, 2009 at 6:04 pm


Ted! Will you please be more gentle? I can ask you specifically as I know you. (Some may see the similarity in our names…. Ted is my husband’s cousin LOL)I also know Tony. Actually I know Tony better than I know you and I can say for a fact Tony is not a liar, and is one of the most gentle, honest people I have ever met. He just doesn’t deserve the heat he is taking and I just cannot stand to see you talk to him that way. I cannot stand to see anyone talk to him that way. And Tony hasn’t started a fight, I thought perhaps you and I might if we were not careful.
Let us at least strive to be one as the Father and the Son are one. Jesus wants it for us so badly. This isn’t the way to do it. And please don’t blame Tony for the disunity, anyone who wants to read my words then turn them around in that direction. There is nothing wrong with Tony’s reasoning, I have been watching the whole thing myself. He, and we all, have the right to question the system, especially when it is hindering not only unity but a person’s right to walk in their giftings (ie, Adam WC and countless others).



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Dennis Coles

posted May 15, 2009 at 6:13 pm


“The priesthood of all believers is a heresy equal to gnosticism itself”
Hey Ted, tell that to God and Peter (the Vicar of Christ and First Bishop of Rome himself):
Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” ~ Exodus 19:3-6
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~ 1 Peter 2:4-6, 9
Sorry to appeal to Scripture on this one, but there is also the lay apostolate in the Roman Catholic Church, and it is an awful lot like the Protestant idea of the priesthood of all believers.



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Ted Seeber

posted May 15, 2009 at 6:44 pm


Dennis: “Sorry to appeal to Scripture on this one, but there is also the lay apostolate in the Roman Catholic Church, and it is an awful lot like the Protestant idea of the priesthood of all believers.”
Yes, but at least the Lay Apostolate doesn’t have teaching authority. And doesn’t put out 30,000 different interpretations of scripture that are all so incompatible that they can’t live within the hierarchy.
The Priests are nothing without the Congregations. But the Congregations need their Priests- else they go off in all sorts of odd directions, certainly not the way Christ intended. If we are to be one as Christ and the Father are one- well, Christ didn’t question the will of the Father, go off, and be rebellious.
Theresa: “Let us at least strive to be one as the Father and the Son are one. Jesus wants it for us so badly. This isn’t the way to do it. And please don’t blame Tony for the disunity, anyone who wants to read my words then turn them around in that direction. There is nothing wrong with Tony’s reasoning, I have been watching the whole thing myself. He, and we all, have the right to question the system, especially when it is hindering not only unity but a person’s right to walk in their giftings (ie, Adam WC and countless others).”
We have the right to question, and let our consciences become informed- for only then can we believe. We do NOT have the right to promulgate outright falsehoods such as “But in fact, the hierarchical episcopacy — i.e., one bishop per region — was not established until a few years later when Ignatius of Antioch established the episcopacy as a way to fight false teaching.” without a high degree of proof that it is so.
I question this the same way I question the Papal teaching on the right of man to migrate for work- it’s so far outside anything in my experience that it appears, at first, to be a lie. I’m asking for that proof- why does this seem to contradict Acts 15, the Letters of Clement, and so many other works? Have I misunderstood Tony’s claim that the episkopate did not exist before Ignatius of Antioch? And where does that leave the whole understanding that Catholicism, indeed Christianity, started out as a sect of Judaism which had a strong hierarchy to begin with?



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Glenn

posted May 15, 2009 at 7:26 pm


Please pardon me for the simple question, but, why (other than historical interest) should anyone bother with ancient opinion on how the church should conduct itself when we have God’s Word already?



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Dave H.

posted May 16, 2009 at 12:59 am


Howdy!
We seem to be winding down as night settles in and we turn to other responsibilities. I’ll respond to one small point that may not be of interest to most.
Chad, (whose posts I value and appreciate, even where we disagree) defended his use of the phrase “willy-nilly” as a characterization of the baptism/communion I described in an earlier comment, by saying:
“I use the word “willy nilly” because I like it…. It means “without direction or planning” and is a word that aptly describes a community allowing anyone who wishes to serve communion.”
Chad. Dude. :-) I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn my eyebrows shot up at this.
I’m not posting this as an attack or airing of disagreement, but as a genuine invitation to learn a bit more about how the priesthood of believers can operate in some traditions. i believe you when you say you value multiple models of church leadership, so I’m confident you’ll find any new stuff you learn about this edifying.
I laughed out loud at the notion that Mennonites are even capable of doing something “without direction or planning.” We are obsessed with both, at times to a fault, and seem unable to order pizza together without a lengthy discernment process including a listening committee and commission on minority voices!
My invitation to you is to consider a wholly other paradigm for ordered church life. Many people misunderstand the priesthood of all believers model Tony espouses by framing it from the perspective of their own traditions. They might imagine their own tradition, except with the leadership structure abolished. That surely would mean chaos and disaster, and I’m sure would result in a lot of willy and no small amount of nilly.
Instead, you need to understand that to take on a church structure in which the priesthood of believers is codified in leadership, this would re-orient all other aspects of church life into a new way of doing everything — specifically to avoid an “anything goes” approach.
The Mennos made a decision 450 years ago (with varying levels of success and consistency since) to structure church community life under this system, eschewing empowered hierarchies in favor of what Tony calls for. But hierarchies exist for reasons. Just because a church rejects an authoritarian clergy class doesn’t mean those reasons simply vanish. They must be addressed, so churches who more radically practice the priesthood of believers have to develop different practices and traditions than churches with more hierarchical ordination systems.
The very definition of “sacrament” is understood differently, and there’s a long developed history of fashioning church life into a shape that functions intentionally, non-randomly, with clear direction and careful planning.
Sorry to ramble, I’m fascinated by and in love with aspects of my faith tradition, and enjoy the chance to talk with others. My main point is that if we were Presbyterians who did everything like Presbys do, but just had no pastoral staff, your perception would be apt. But because we are operating in a completely different mode, “allowing anyone who wishes to serve communion” comes with a whole lotta other praxis that steers us away from any sense that we can be loose or undirected about it.
I hope this helps explain a little what it’s like, and intrigues you to learn more about how the priesthood of believers model works — how it succeeds as well as falls short!
Peace y’all!
Dave



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Brian Merritt

posted May 16, 2009 at 7:27 am


btw I should tell you that I was one of the first people to sign your petition (ironic or not). Even though I have been critical of your sin comments I disagree with most my PC(USA) sisters and brothers about this petition. I think it was as good of thing as was possible to occur at this messy situation. It will hopefully keet it from being less than a transparent process. I am also very critical of the ordination process within my own denomination. Although I disagree that Luther, Calvin or Wesley would agree that your idea of “Priesthood of All believers” would necessarily flatten out a congregational structure so that everyone was ordained, I understand that from your congregational background that is a viable option (I am in a congregational church and I am constantly offering my church to ordain people stuck in their denominational structure, including Adam). I just didn’t want you to think that I disagreed with the premiss that these ordination systems are a complete mess, at least in my denomination. Even though you have never really responded to any of my comments I think that this is why I love blogs. Usually by the end of my commenting I have a clearer idea of why the issue is important to me.
Again, good luck on the book and I hope that all of this helps you sell more books and many speaking engagements. Even if most of the church doesn’t agree with you (including me) it forces issues that many are content keeping in committees and safe.



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Tony Jones

posted May 16, 2009 at 7:44 am


Thanks, Brian. I agree: the Reformers (except Menno and the Puritans) would not have abided the changes I’ve been pushing this week. What I’m saying is that we take their commitment to the “priesthood of all believers” to its logical conclusion. Almost everyone I talk to who is part of a denominational system agrees with you — they say that it’s overgrown and abusive and needs to change dramatically. Now.
Sorry I didn’t address your questions directly.
Chad, Dave’s response was more gracious and thorough than mine would be, but our bottom line is this: Your commitment to your system (aka “means of grace”) seems to blind you to the fact that ours is completely different. Your unwitting use of pejorative words to describe ours makes that clear. It’s also a double standard for you to call me out for my vocabulary, as you have many times this week, then recoil when I call you out for yours.
Secondly, you souring on emergent because of my series of posts this week is odd. It’s like me saying I no longer appreciate North Carolinians because your comments have been abrasive. I’ve made it clear that my position on ordination is not reflective of the emergent movement.
Finally, I think that you have a much more traditional opinion of “grace” and how sacred rituals can functions as “means of grace” than I. I can understand how, believing what you believe, me calling PC(USA) ordination an abusive and sinful process was highly offensive. But from where I sit, I really didn’t mean it to be offensive in that way.



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Chad

posted May 16, 2009 at 12:23 pm


Good grief. Tony calls what I do “sinful” and yet when I use the word “willy nilly” all hell breaks loose.
It would be great if you guys would try to take in the spirit of my post rather than honing in on the one word you dislike and harping on that. What I said, and what I think is more important, is that I celebrate both sides of the coin here. IOW, I am willing to meet half way. Tony, you seem adamant that it is your way or the highway on this issue. That is not only unfortunate, but seems to be inconsistent with the EC.
Tony, you flatter yourself to think my take on everything EC is soured by your view on this. What I said was that I am grateful there are other voices besides yours here and that I hope the EC does not jump on your bandwagon as it relates to this topic.
Finally, what has been absent is any remark to a comment I left yesterday (and on the other OP’s about this) which asked whether or not you believe God is still in the business of calling pastors, teachers, evangelists and prophets? Does the Holy Spirt still gift whom the Spirit wills? If the given reality is that God sets some apart for particular vocations than how do we live faithfully into that reality? Or are you insisting we ignore that reality and make our own?
grace and peace,
Chad



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Jules

posted May 16, 2009 at 2:22 pm


Tony-
In following all of this my Restoration Movement background has been screaming. Have you ever read the Last Will that it was founded on? On my journey I continue to find myself looking at that document and feeling it states how I see community and the how the gathering should look.
Jules



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Preson Phillips

posted May 17, 2009 at 9:18 pm


Church History tells us that the Apostle John himself ordained St. Antipas of Pergamum to be the missionary to the cities of Asia Minor. I would also argue for the evidence that Poycarp was too.
It can easily be shown that ordination happened PRIOR to the Didache.



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Ted Seeber

posted May 18, 2009 at 1:27 pm


Preson- I fully agree, and find it very interesting that Tony failed to address this quibble with his understanding of history.
Heck, the first ordination was Stephen- chosen to replace Judas.



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Jason

posted May 20, 2009 at 10:54 am


Gee, Chad, I’ve reread my post, and I can’t find the word “normative” anywhere. Nor can I find the concept. Instead, I wrote that we can look to the Didache and the early church for “perspective.”
You’re wiggling, Tony. You are appealing to the Didache as a norm for our thought about the Church. That’s precisely what it means to look to something for “perspective.” You are implying that the Didache is in some sense normative, or ought to be. Otherwise, who cares what it says about ordination? Why worry over it? And why would you write a book about it? If there’s not ordination in the Didache, and if we don’t think it is normative in any way, then its content is unbinding and insignificant for Christians. It might as well be the Qur’an. But you don’t really think that. You think it represents an early Church, and that therefore it ought to be in some sense normative for the Church today. Be consistent.
Also, who are all these “scholars” who say there isn’t ordination in the Didache? Could you point us to the monographs you’ve worked through? Since you’re writing a book on this, I suppose you have a pretty hefty bibliography. Did any of the Jesuits like de Lubac or Danielou cover this ground? I suppose you’ll be producing your findings at NAPS or SBL, right?



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Barry

posted May 21, 2009 at 2:48 pm


Chad,
You asked Tony: “whether or not [he] believes God is still in the business of calling pastors, teachers, evangelists and prophets? Does the Holy Spirt still gift whom the Spirit wills? If the given reality is that God sets some apart for particular vocations than how do we live faithfully into that reality?”
Let me try and answer this one.
First, a problem I see with interpreting this is our baggage of institutional, systematic ecclesiology. Your question implies that these gifts are ‘vocations’. Within the larger context of the New Testament, I think that a better approach to this passage of scripture would be to say that these gifts from the Holy Spirit may never even be recognized by the body. Jesus says that the least will be lifted up.
For example, the elderly lady who never says a word publicly and yet ministers to others by her simple encouraging remarks in private may in fact be the Holy Spirits gift of a ‘pastor’ to the body. She may never be recognized by men but still be God’s gift to the body.
Likewise, the gangly teenager who is reject by his peers but whom is not afraid to share his faith in powerful encounters one on one, may be the Spirit’s gift of an evangelist.
My point is that we read this passage (and many others) with our organized, institutional mindset and see ‘vocation’ were the text itself never says this.
(Of course, I may be completely wrong as I am only a ‘fisherman’ who has never attended a bible school let alone a seminary).



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Chad

posted May 21, 2009 at 3:27 pm


Barry,
Thank you for being (I think) the first and only to address what I think is a rather important question as it relates to this topic.
While I agree with you that these gifts can certainly present themselves in non-vocational means that is not to say that this is always the case. But you are right to point out that I do believe there are some who are called into a particular *vocation* that fills certain offices.
By virtue of our baptism we are ALL priests. We are all ministers. But within these ranks of the baptized God has seen fit to call some to be shepherds of the baptized because God desires a “kingdom of priests.” From the beginning it was obvious that the church required certain leadership. The first move the apostles made after Jesus ascended was to replace Judas. In Acts 6 the apostles determined that they needed to devote themselves to prayer and study and teaching while others tended to the widows. And of course there is the dramatic call of Saul to be a an instrument of the church to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. It is difficult to read the entire story from Gen to Rev. and not get come away with the sense that God calls individual men and women into a particular vocation to serve God’s people. This is not a relationship OVER or GREATER than any other person in the church but is merely descriptive of what the relationship in the community of the baptized is. In other words, it is never meant to be a hierarchy nor about power.
Paul is quite clear with his rhetorical questions: Are all pastors? Are all prophets? Are all evangelists? Are all teachers? The obvious answer to his questions is, “no.” Not all are. Some are. In every generation God has seen fit to call such people for the benefit of the Church. When I hear a member of my youth come to me because they are disturbed day and night by a call to be a pastor and that they are having dreams and even swear they hear an audible voice (a similar call story to my own), I rejoice because it is one more confirmation that God has not and will not abandon God’s Church.
grace and peace,
Chad



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Barry

posted May 21, 2009 at 4:50 pm


Chad,
What do you say about the idea that Jesus spoke against the idea of having positions of an ‘office’ in Matthew 23:8-12. I have read and I have come to believe that Jesus was directly targeting the Jewish idea of having an ‘office’ ministry?
I have no problem with leadership or the idea that there are some who may function differently. But even with the older lady and gangly teenager examples that I gave, I could say with Paul, “Are all pastors? Are all prophets? Are all evangelists? Are all teachers?”
I do have a problem with the seeming disregard for the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 23:8-12). And I do not think he was worried about labels “teacher, pastor, …” but with the idea of holding a position or office.



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Greg

posted October 8, 2009 at 12:40 pm


A bit late, but I think what sets people off is this specific wording:
“At first blush, this might look like a gathering storm of hierarchy. But in fact, the hierarchical episcopacy — i.e., one bishop per region — was not established until a few years later when Ignatius of Antioch established the episcopacy as a way to fight false teaching.”
There’s no reasonable basis given the extant evidence to suggest that Ignatius “established the episcopacy”. That’s, frankly, counter-factual. The episcopacy seems to clearly have been of Apostolic origin. Christianity had spread rapidly enough at that point that broadly normative practices would have been very hard to introduce at a later stage.
In any case, the Eucharist was always seen as an offering of the people. This is why, in Eastern services, for example, the bread and wine is brought forward from the people to this day. Many of the later “safe guards” were introduced to stem abuses of the consecrated offerings. That much is known with some high probability of being correct. But that seems to be orthogonal from the point you are trying to suggest as fact, ie, that no hierarchical authority presided over the Eucharistic offering at all. That seems highly unlikely, though at best we will have to make educated guesses either way. From that perspective, what if any implications this has for contemporary praxis is unclear to me.



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Pat

posted November 7, 2011 at 11:00 am


In fact St Paul already spoke about Bishops and prelates and so forth. So it’s a misunderstanding to say St Ignatius who took the chair in Antioch after St Peter was making himself a position.
Read St Irenaeus who gives an account of the chair of St Peter since his death.
One must read the entirely of the writings and history in order to comprehend the different pieces outside of the closed revelation and canon the Church and Pope Leo chose in 382 AD.
Peace



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