What Is A Presbyter?

Most people, upon seeing a clergyman in a cassock or in clerical collar, immediately associate that man with Roman Catholicism. For Protestants and many Evangelicals, this produces negative images, while for Catholics it produces more positive images. It seems everyone has their idea of what a presbyter (from which we get the word "priest") is- his duties and dignities.
This is one of the great misfortunes of our time, this ignorance of what a presbyter is, even before knowing what he does. The only way to know a presbyter in his reality is faith. The only knowledge that it is necessary to have when one approaches a presbyter is the knowledge of the faith. Human knowledge, what our senses tell us, is not enough. Our human experience certainly tells us something, but if you stop there, you run the risk of being deceived. Deceived? Why? Because you see only a man. You will fail to understand the unique calling of a presbyter. This leads to the extreme anti-clericalism that marked some elements of the Protestant Reformation, as well as that of the various Leftist revolutionary movements, such as the French and Mexican Revolutions. The presbyter is indeed just a man, but he is called to live another reality. He is chosen from among men - not by himself, not only by other men - but by God. God is the one who chooses him - Paul, tells us this (Heb 5:1). God is the one who chooses His presbyters. And He chooses them so as to make them His ambassadors to men, ambassadors of men to God. This choice will be made through the church, but the church makes it in the name of God. 

"In the ordinances of presbyters, we should choose no one but unstained and upright ministers."- Cyprian

When we say “ambassador”, we still don't quite grasp what is being conveyed. To us an ambassador is just a representative- like a customer service representative. Christ makes something more of a presbyter however. The presbyter is His instrument. The word “instrument” evokes many things in our minds, it is true, and perhaps we are somewhat mistaken. The presbyter is a privileged instrument, a unique instrument, who keeps his freedom, intellect and will, yet, at the same time is bound by the Word of God to a higher responsibility than any other human being. This is why James says, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."- James 3:1

This means there is a specific character, the character of the priesthood, which is a reality, but not of the corporeal order. It is a reality that will leave a mark on the soul, which is spiritual. This mark is indelible, like the sacramental character of baptism. This mark really makes him a presbyter, provides him with spiritual authority that surpass that of other of men. 

"The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honor not by purchase, but by established character."- Tertullian

This is why it is so important for Christians to support their presbyters.

"It is necessary to obey the presbyters who are in the church....for they...received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father."- Irenaeus

Whether the presbyter wears a cassock, a clerical collar, or a suit and tie- he is still worthy of our respect and, in matters where he speaks in full accord with the Sacred Scriptures, our obedience.


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