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June 19, 2024: Duty of the Ordained

Saul answered Samuel, “I have sinned. I have transgressed the Lord’s command and your words. Because I was afraid of the people, I obeyed them. Now therefore, please forgive my sin and return with me so I can worship the Lord.” Samuel replied to Saul, “I will not return with you. Because you rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel. (1 Samuel 15:24–26, CSB)

Saul was commanded to destroy the Amalekites and everything belonging to them, for God was bringing them under judgment. But instead of destroying everything, Saul only destroyed “the worthless and unwanted things” (v.9). The choice livestock he kept, the king he allowed to live. Saul tells Samuel, “…I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.” (1 Samuel 15:13) “Samuel replied, “Then what is this sound of sheep, goats, and cattle I hear? …So why didn’t you obey the Lord? Why did you rush on the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”(1 Samuel 15:14, 19, CSB)

Saul responds: I have transgressed the Lord’s command and your words. Because I was afraid of the people, I obeyed them. Here we see the crux of leadership: To lead is to follow duty not to chase popularity. The word duty is not stressed in our culture as much as in the past. The word has etymological roots in what is “due.” Thus, a leader acts with respect to what is due. Thus, in republican government an office holder will generally take an oath of office. The one taken by the President of the United States is familiar: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 8). Thus, a president’s duty is defined by the Constitution and not by the outcomes of polls.

Saul’s duty was directly to God. Though a king, his duty is more like the duty of a pastor or a bishop in the modern context. At the ordination of a priest in the ACNA, his oath binds him to conform his life and ministry to the Holy Scriptures, to our “Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship, to obedience in all things lawful to the bishop. This solemn duty requires that we resist the common temptations of our office. Like Saul, some have deserted duty for their own gain. Others have abandoned duty because they “fear the people.” Our duty, however, is centered in Holy Scripture as the central authority.

Throughout the history of the Church, there have been deacons, priests, and bishops who have failed do their duty. Some have forsaken duty for personal gain. Others have acted to appease others—appease their congregations or the world at large. Many have abandoned God’s Word for a word of their own. This becomes a wide-spread issue where there is a lack of accountability. Mainline churches—those "seven sisters of American Protestantism"—have collapsed in the past several decades. The Episcopal Church has lost 43% over the last decade, the PCUSA has lost 63% of its membership since 1984, and I expect the United Methodist Church will show loses of well over 50% in this decade alone. This loss is not the fruit of poor marketing; it is not their failure to be culturally relevant. Mainline Christianity’s demise primarily stems from clergies’ faithlessness to duty—to live out the responsibilities to which they have been ordained.  Ordination carries with it an awesome responsibility which requires accountability.


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