The distinction between the “ordinary” and the “extraordinary” is a recurring one in theology. In moral theology this distinction is essential to the discussion of certain ethical dilemmas. How far are we obligated to go in preserving the lives of those who are suffering and dying? The orthodox answer is that we are obligated to make use of every ordinary means of preserving their lives available but are not under such an obligation when it comes to extraordinary means, such as those made available by modern medical technology. Since giving people food and water is an ordinary means of preserving their lives, the practice of starving or dehydrating someone for the purpose of ending his suffering – and life – quicker is forbidden, but we are under no obligation to prolong his life and suffering, and possibly make the suffering worse, with questionable modern drugs, for the latter are extraordinary means.
Another example of this distinction, one that requires little in the way of explanation, is the distinction between God’s ordinary and extraordinary operations in the natural world. The former are the processes that God put in place in the world when He created it and which, observed and put into formulaic statement by men, are what we know as the laws of science. The latter are miracles.
It is also common for us to speak of the “ordinary means of grace”. This expression contains the implied assumption that there are also “extraordinary means of grace” although these are rarely talked about. A definition and a couple of other distinctions are necessary to understand this one. Grace is God’s favour, freely bestowed by God as Sovereign Lord upon His creatures. We distinguish between common grace and saving grace. Common grace is God’s favour as freely bestowed upon all of His creatures alike. It is what Jesus spoke of when He said that His Father sends the rain on the just and unjust alike (Matt. 5:45). Saving grace is both a) the favour God showed to rebellious, sinful, human creatures by giving us His Son to be our Saviour and b) the favour to which sinners are restored by our Saviour, Jesus Christ, Who purchased that favour for us by His Suffering and Death on the Cross, in which favour our sins are taken away and forgiven, God credits us with righteousness, we are reconciled to God, adopted as His children, and rescued from the state of spiritual death and given everlasting life. While we could speak of “means of grace” with regards to common grace as well as saving grace, we generally do not do so because every good gift from God in this life would qualify as such and so it is too broad of a concept to say much that is meaningful about it. The means of grace, therefore, are the means of saving rather than common grace. A second distinction needs to be made. When we speak of the “means of grace” we can be referring either to a) the means by which we each receive the freely given grace of God, that is the means by which we each appropriate it to ourselves, or b) the means through which God works to bring His freely given saving favour, obtained for us by Christ, to us that we may so appropriate it. The latter and not the former are what we refer to as the “ordinary means of grace”. With regards to the former, the means by which we each appropriate the saving grace of God to ourselves, there is only one such means, and that is faith in Jesus Christ, believing the Gospel about Jesus, trusting Jesus as the Saviour proclaimed in the Gospel. (1) There is no distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means with regards to this because it is the only such means. (2) The “ordinary means of grace”, therefore are the second kind of means of saving grace, the means whereby God brings His saving grace to us that we may appropriate it to ourselves by faith. The Church, the spiritual covenant society established by Jesus Christ through His Apostles, should be identified as the first such means. God did not establish Christianity as a solitary way of life to be lived out by individuals on their own but as a communal way of life to be lived out in the community of faith He provided for that purpose. Therefore, He created the Church and tasked it with the job of bringing His saving grace to everyone in the world. The Church’s performance of this task is called “preaching the Gospel”, although proclaiming might be a better word than “preaching” because “preaching” now has the connotation of “giving a sermon” and the concept of “preaching the Gospel” is not limited to that. Indeed, every Ministry of the Church, through which the grace of God is brought to us is a form of “preaching the Gospel”. This includes the Ministry of the Word – this includes both preaching in the colloquial sense of the term and teaching – and the Ministry of Sacrament – the administration of baptism, the ritual cleansing through which one becomes a member of the Church, and the Eucharist, the ceremonial representation of the death of Jesus Christ through which the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, as broken and shed on the Cross, become the spiritual food that regularly sustains the life of the faithful. All of these, and the Church’s ministry of formally proclaiming God’s forgiveness upon confession of sin, are the forms of preaching the Gospel that are called the “ordinary means of grace”. They are called this to indicate that the ordinary way that God has appointed for people to receive His saving grace through faith and to be sustained in that faith and grace is through His Church and her Ministries. The “extraordinary means of grace” would include any means God uses outside of these channels to bring people to faith in His grace through Jesus Christ. For obvious reasons they cannot be enumerated in the same way as the ordinary means. The distinction is very important, however, because it is essential for understanding how the “necessity” of the Church and her Ministries does not conflict with the New Testament emphasis on saving grace being freely given and received by faith. The “necessity” is the general necessity attached to God’s appointed normal way of doing things, not the absolute necessity that would turn baptism, Communion, Church attendance, etc. into so many marks to be checked off rather than avenues of divine blessing and render the grace of God far less gracious and free.
The final example of the “ordinary” v “extraordinary” distinction that we shall look it pertains to the authority and power given by Jesus Christ to His Apostles. This authority and power was of both types. The ordinary authority and power that Jesus Christ bestowed upon His Apostles was the authority and power necessary for them to carry out their evangelistic commission from Him and to govern the Church, the spiritual society that He founded to be His Body and Spouse and the manifestation of His Kingdom in this world and over which He placed the Apostles as governors. This ordinary authority and power, the Apostles passed on to the others whom they admitted to their College of Ecclesiastical Governors and remains with these, who have been called by the title bishop (overseer) since the first century, in the Church to this day. The extraordinary authority and power that Jesus Christ bestowed upon His Apostles was a) the power to preach the Gospel by divine inspiration so that the message proclaimed and heard was the very Word of God (the sermons recorded in the Acts of the Apostles), b) in the case of select Apostles – from the original Twelve SS Matthew, Mark, John, Peter, Jude and James, if James the Just, Brother of the Lord was the same person as James the Lesser, directly commissioned by Christ to evangelize the Gentiles in the book of Acts in the case of St. Paul, or brought into the Apostolic ministry by the Twelve and St. Paul in cases of SS Mark, Luke, and James the Just if he was not the same person as James the Lesser – to write the very Word of God (the canon of the New Testament), and c) to perform the kind of miracles that served as proof that the Gospel they preached and the New Testament writings were the infallible Word of God. This authority and power was not passed on to their successors. It is vital to recognize this distinction. The ordinary authority and power bestowed upon the Apostles was the authority and power inseparably attached to their office and commission, and therefore passed on along to others with that office and commission. Extraordinary authority and power of the type described is never passed on from one person or another, but is directly given from God to individuals and while God can bestow extraordinary power and authority upon individuals of His Sovereign choosing any time He wishes, the purpose for which this specific extraordinary power and authority was bestowed was fulfilled with the completion of the New Testament canon and so will not be bestowed again.
The failure to grasp this is the source of all sorts of confusion with regards to the nature of the authority vested in the Church and that vested in the Scriptures as the written Word of God. For example, there is the confusion of those who claim that the authority of the Scriptures is derived from the authority given to the Church, by which they inevitably mean their particular Church, although it would not be true even if the Church meant were the actual Catholic Church, that is to say, every Church everywhere in organic continuity with the original Church in Jerusalem, under the governance of those in Apostolic succession, and confessing the ancient Creeds. Some of these have even gone so far as to claim that their Church has the power to turn books that are not inherently inspired by God into authoritative Scripture. (3) Obviously, however, the Scriptures being what the Church has always claimed them to be, that is the inspired (4) written Word of God - and the Church says that this is what they are because this is what they are, not the other way around - their infallible authority is derived from this fact and not from the authority of the Church.
The extraordinary authority and power given to the Apostles, therefore, can be seen in the end for which it was the means – the giving to the Church, an infallible Rule of Faith for the Gospel Covenant, in the New Testament Scriptures. In these same infallible New Testament Scriptures we find the record of Jesus Christ’s commissioning His Apostles, placing them in authority over the Church, and bestowing upon them the ordinary authority and power they would pass on to those who would join them and follow them in the government of the Church.
Jesus Christ’s original commissioning of His Twelve Apostles is recorded by St. Matthew in the tenth chapter of his Gospel, by St. Mark in the fourth chapter of his Gospel, and St. Luke in the sixth chapter of his Gospel. These were already Jesus’ disciples – St. John records how SS Peter, Andrew, Philip and Nathaniel had first come to know Jesus and become His private disciples shortly after His baptism, the other Evangelists record the more public calling of SS Peter, Andrew, John, James the Greater, and Matthew to follow Jesus after His public preaching ministry began with the arrest of John the Baptist. By the time of the commission, the twelve were all among a much larger body of His disciples from which they were selected. (5) St. Luke records that He set them apart from His other disciples and gave them the title Apostle (6:13), SS Matthew and Mark record that He sent them throughout the Holy Land preaching the Gospel to the Israelites and that He gave them power to cast out demons and heal sicknesses. The commission to preach was obviously an appointment that came with ordinary authority. It is less obvious whether the power to cast out demons and heal sicknesses was ordinary or extraordinary. The Gospel of Mark records that they healed the sick by anointing them with oil (Mk. 6:13). The anointing of the sick is part of the ministry that the Apostles passed on to their successors and also to the order of presbyters that they established under their government in the Church (James 5:14). Exorcism is also a ministry that has been passed down to subsequent bishops and the presbyters under them. Therefore, it would appear that this initial power given with the first Apostolic commission, miraculous though it was, was also a case of ordinary power. However, just as the commission would be greatly expanded before Jesus ascended back to heaven, so the Apostles’ power to cast out devils and heal would be expanded at Pentecost to the point where the Apostles, like their Master, even raised the dead (Acts 9, 20).
The expansion of the Apostles’ commission, after the Resurrection and before the Ascension, is recorded in the Synoptic Gospels and the book of Acts. The original commission was limited to the Israelites - “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5-6). The expanded Commission – traditionally called the Great Commission – included the entire world – “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt. 28:19-20 – see also Mark 16:15 and Acts 1:8). The commission could not be expanded any further than that, of course.
In between the original commissioning of the Apostles and the final Great Commission, Christ had given them other powers and authority. After St. Peter’s confession of faith that He, Jesus, was “the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Jesus announced that He would build His Church “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” and told St. Peter that He would give him (“unto thee” – singular) the “keys of the kingdom of heaven”. He later told the other Apostles that they would have this same power (18:18) and following the Resurrection He breathed on them, saying to them “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” and bestowed upon them (“ye” – plural) the power of the keys (Jn. 20:22-23). This might seem like extraordinary power, especially if it is read in the extremely hyper-literal – and wrong - way of involving the arbitrary power to save and to damn others, but it is actually the ordinary authority to admit into the fellowship of the Church, exclude from such fellowship, and re-admit those formerly excluded, the authority essential to the governing of a society such as the Church. As such, it has always been understood to have been passed on to those who were later admitted into the governance of the Church with the original Apostles – to all of them, not just the successor of St. Peter in one of the Churches he had presided over. (6)
On the evening of His betrayal, while keeping the Passover Seder with His Apostles, the Lord Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Each of the Synoptic Gospels records the event – St. John, who does not, provides an earlier extended discourse from Jesus in which its significance is explained at length. He took the bread – the unleavened bread or matzot which was, of course, the only kind permitted at the “feast of unleavened bread” – and “gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” (Lk. 22:19) After the supper, He took the cup and did the same saying “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” (Lk. 22:20). By doing this, Jesus established His Apostles as a new order of priests over His Church. This does not conflict with the universal priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:4-5) any more than the establishment of the Levitical priesthood under the Aaronic high priesthood conflicted with Israel’s being a nation of priests (Ex. 19:6). That this is clearly to be understood from the account of the institution of the Eucharist is evident from the nature of the Sacrament. It takes bread and wine, the two kinds of sacrificial offerings from the Old Covenant that did not involve death and blood, and makes them the representatives of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Whose death on the Cross was the final bloody Sacrifice, to which all the others had pointed, and the Only One which could effectively take sins away and propitiate the justice of God, and therefore the means whereby this Sacrifice could become a meal feeding the faithful of the New Covenant. This takes the place under the New Covenant of the entire sacrificial system of the Old Covenant. For this reason it is something that must be performed by someone with a priestly office and commission, as only such could offer sacrifices, and therefore the institution of the Eucharist is the bestowing of just such an office and commission on the Apostles. Note that the New Testament, does not use the word ῐ̔ερεύς to describe the ministers of the Church, although, as just explained, it clearly tells of Christ bestowing such an office upon these ministers. The Greek word that was used in the New Testament, however, as the title of the second order of ministry in the Church under the Apostles - πρεσβύτερος (presbyter – literally “elder”) would became the basis for the words, such as the English “priest”, that render the meaning of ῐ̔ερεύς in many languages, even when it is a priesthood other than the Christian that is being discussed. The explanation for both of these things is probably that the New Testament was, with the exception of the Johannine writings, written while the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing and the Levitical priesthood was still performing their duties under the Old Testament. The New Testament writers likely wished to avoid the potential confusion of referring to the two ministries with the same word. At any rate, since St. Paul says that the Eucharist is to be celebrated until the Second Coming – “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26) – the priestly office and the authority attached to it, was the ordinary type that the Apostles passed down to their successors – and, in this case, as is evident from what was observed above about the etymology of priest, to the second order of ministry, the presbyters, that served under them.
The exact time at which the extraordinary powers, as opposed to the ordinary powers, were bestowed upon the Apostles is not explicitly spelled out in the New Testament, although it can be reasonably concluded that this occurred on the first Whitsunday (Christian Pentecost) when the Holy Ghost descended upon them in the upper room, they preached the Gospel to the assembled multitude and each heard in his own tongue, and St. Peter preached the sermon recorded in Acts 2 that brought about the conversion and baptism of about three thousand. In the book of Acts, we find the Apostles exercising their ordinary authority of government to establish the two orders of ministry beneath their own. The reasons for the establishing of the order of deacons are spelled out in detail in the sixth chapter of Acts, leading to the account of the first Christian martyrdom, that of one of the deacons St. Stephen. The reasons for the establishment of the order of presbyters are not similarly spelled out, but SS Paul and Barnabas are described as ordaining them in the Churches they planted in the fourteenth chapter of Acts, and they are described as being part of the Jerusalem Council along with the Apostles in the fifteenth chapter. By this point in time the Apostles had already begun expanding their own College. Apart from St. Matthias’ having been chosen to take Judas Iscariot’s place, and St. Paul’s dramatic conversion and calling following the martyrdom of St. Stephen, St. Barnabas had been made an Apostle by the fourteenth chapter, probably around the time he was sent by the Church of Jerusalem to Antioch in the eleventh chapter. In the Pastoral Epistles we find St. Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus, who had been admitted to the College (as evident from their having the power of ordination) and set over the Churches of Ephesus and Crete respectively. This appears to have been during a time of terminological tradition. SS Timothy and Titus are not described by the term Apostle as St. Barnabas had been in Acts, but the term bishop has not yet been appropriated for the members of the College and is still used interchangeably with presbyters for the lower order. Their having specific jurisdiction over Ephesus and Crete is further evidence that the assigning of episcopal oversight to specific Churches was not something introduced after the era of the Apostles – earlier evidence, for this, of course, can be seen in the fact that St. James the Just had been made bishop of Jerusalem – as the position would later be called – before the Jerusalem Council, over which he presided as bishop of the Church hosting the Council.
Thus we see, how the ordinary authority and power which Jesus gave to His Apostles when setting them in government over His Church, survives in the Episcopal College to this day, whereas the extraordinary authority and power bestowed upon them at Pentecost, having served its purpose was not passed on, except in the form of the infallible Rule of Faith, the New Testament Scriptures, that it was given to produce.
(1)Often the New Testament links repentance to faith/believing in identifying the response the Gospel calls for, but the role of repentance in that response is different from the role of faith. It is not repentance’s role to appropriate the grace of God, or to assist faith in so appropriating it, but to bring the sinner into the condition, one of brokenness and humility, in which the Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel, forms faith in the sinner’s heart.
(2) Works of righteousness, justice and mercy play no role in appropriating the grace of God or in preparing the sinner’s heart to receive the grace of God by faith – and the mistake of thinking that they do is spiritually deadly because if someone thinks his own works play a role in obtaining God’s favour this will prevent him from placing his faith in Jesus Christ and His works rather than in his own. The New Testament, especially the Pauline and Johannine writings, is quite clear on this. Works are not the basis of grace, nor the means of receiving it, but are the fruit of grace in the Christian life. Without intending to discount entirely the insights of E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, and the other “New Perspective on Paul” scholars, the works contrasted with faith in St. Paul’s writings cannot be merely the external, ceremonial, aspects of the Law that established Israel’s national distinctiveness from the Gentiles. Certainly this is emphasized in some of St. Paul’s epistles – Ephesians, especially – but it would make absolute nonsense out of Romans 4:4-5 and Titus 3:5 to read the “works” and “works of righteousness” in them as ceremonial works. Nor does it make sense to explain away the Pauline doctrine by saying that he was talking about “works of the law” not “works of love” as the entire difference between the two is eliminated if the latter are said to be conditions of salvation. The difference is that “works of the law” are done in order to obtain God’s favour, whereas “works of love” are done out of the love for God that can only arise in a heart that has received God’s favour, purchased for him by Christ, freely through faith, in response to God’s own love (1 John 4:19, cf. verse 10). The very concept of “works of love” or “faith working by love” is eliminated if “works of love” are made into conditions whereby we obtain God’s favour or remain in God’s favour. The old debate about whether sola fide is a heresy or “the article upon which the Church stands or falls” can be truthfully answered either way depending upon the question to which it is offered as the answer. If the question is something along the lines of “what does the Christian life consist of?” or “what duties and obligations are placed upon God’s people under the New Covenant”, then to answer with “faith alone” would indeed be rank heresy. If the question is “how may I receive the saving grace of God which Jesus Christ has purchased for me on the Cross” then “faith alone” is the right answer and indeed the very fundamental article that the famous paraphrase of Dr. Luther makes it out to be. Note there is no conflict between Jacobean and Pauline doctrine on this. While many of the same terms – “justification”, “faith”, “works” – and illustrations – Abraham – can be found in Romans 4 and James 2, with two seemingly opposite conclusions, a word that is prominent in Romans 4 and therefore noticeable by its absence in James 2, is “grace”. The justification that St. James the Just was talking about is not justification in the sight of God by His grace. St. Paul, who wrote after St. James, and is therefore St. James’ interpreter rather than the other way around, explains this in the second verse of his fourth chapter.
(3) Albert Pighius, in his Hierarchiae Ecclesiasticae Assertio (1545), Book III, chapter 3, made this absurd claim, for example.
(4) Inspiration with regards to the Scriptures does not mean the same thing as inspiration with regards to great works of art, music, and literature. When people speak of the latter as being inspired, they are – often unconsciously – evoking the concept of the Muses from Greco-Roman mythology. Inspiration in this sense, never meant that Homer’s Iliad, for example, was the “word of Calliope”. Inspiration with regards to the Holy Bible, is what St. Paul asserts in II Timothy 3:16 with the words πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος (“all scripture is given by inspiration of God”). The word θεόπνευστος means “breathed out by God”. Oddly, it is translated by a word that if broken down by the meaning of its component parts would be in a way the opposite of this – “breathed in” as opposed to “breathed out”. The more exact equivalent exspired, however, is not in common usage and would, due to its being a homophone of expired, be more problematic than inspired. The point to be grasped is that inspiration with regards to the Scripture, means more than just the bringing out of the inner talent of the writer, it means that the words written are the words of God and not just of the human writer.
(5) St. Luke in the tenth chapter of his Gospel also records Christ’s appointing seventy other disciples whom He sent out in pairs with a similar commission at a later date – there is no record of their commission and powers ever being expanded. If the list of them attributed to St. Hippolytus of Rome is at all accurate then other figures who feature prominently alongside the Twelve in the Acts were among them. St. Matthias, whom the Eleven chose by lot to take the place of Judas Iscariot, and the other candidate in the lot toss St. Joseph Barsabas (Justus), have always been considered to have been among the Seventy, a reasonable conclusion from Acts 1:21-23. The Eastern Church counts all of the Seventy as Apostles, others have suggested that they were the prophets referred to by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:28 (“God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets…”)
(6) Before going to Rome and leading the Church there, St. Peter had been the first bishop of the Church of Antioch. If the keys were unique to St. Peter there is no logical reason why his successor at Antioch would not have as much claim to them – if not a better claim, seeing as St. Peter was at Antioch first – than his successor at Rome. Note that the bishop of Antioch like the bishop of Rome was one of the three bishops (the other was the bishop of Alexandria) that the Council of Nicaea recognized in its sixth canon as having broad jurisdiction (larger than that of a metropolitan bishop), and one of the five (the three plus the bishop of Jerusalem and the bishop of Constantinople) who were the Patriarchs of the Pentarchy. For most of the first millennium, to the extent that the Patriarch of Rome was regarded as having a place of priority over these others, it was a case of primum inter pares, the primacy arising out of Rome’s political status as the Imperial Capital, not out of the bishop’s status as the (second of two) successors of St. Peter. On top of all of this, it is quite obvious that the Mother Church of all true Churches was not the Church of Rome, but the Church of Jerusalem whose first bishop was St. James the Just. The exaggerated claims of the papacy are historical bunk, and it is quite clear from Matthew 18 and John 20, that the keys were given to all the Apostles, not just St. Peter, and thus are held collectively by all true bishops of all true Churches today.