In the Pastoral Epistles, in the choice of presbyters the emphasis is laid on the possession of qualities of character which are needed for pastoral supervision and teaching (I Tim3.1-7, cp. 5.17, Tit 1.7-9). So S. Peter places in the forefront of the duty of presbyters the general oversight of the flock (I Pet. 5.1-4).
Based on a proper understanding of the Biblical evidence, one title we find in Anglican churches is very sound, for it is rooted in Scripture. That title, no matter how odd it may sound to Fundamentalists is Rector. It comes from the Latin for ruler. Properly understood, however, it cannot and does not suggest tyranny or oppressive authoritarianism, but rather the loving and fatherly care of the ministry of a presbyter (priest, elder, all the same word in the Greek New Testament: πρεσβύτερος - presbyteros). I explained this before, as follows:
Indeed, the larger emphasis in the ancient Church was on [the presbyter's] role as an elder, and his pastoral care for the Church was explained both in scripture and in other early Christian writings, usually by employing the word "rule" (προΐστημι, proïstēmi). This kind of ruling has the Bible for its support. Look at these examples from the New Testament epistles.
"Let the elders (πρεσβύτερος) that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." I Tim. 5:17
"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." Heb. 13:17
Though not using the word "rule," the same thing is expressed in this passage: "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves." I Thes. 5:12, 13
In his classic work, Regula Pastoralis (literally, Rule of the Pastors, better known in English by the title, Pastoral Care), Pope St. Gregory the Great (circa 540 to 604) defines the word "rule" as it applies to presbyters. In this book, St. Gregory displayed a better understanding of human psychology than many modern doctors possess, examining repeatedly the attitudes and presumptions people have, and in each case the opposite. He does so in light of the need every person has strictly in light of the Christian doctrine of the Fall. Knowing that sin and death have weakened everyone, creating specific and varying deficiencies of character in just about everybody, Gregory instructs the presbyter in how to meet the needs of those whom he "rules." We learn from this that the rule of pastors in God's church is medicinal, a part of the healing that the Lord provides for his flock. The rule is not a dictatorial or tyrannical or authoritarian position taken as lords over God's people, but a remedial ministry of those who are ordained to be fathers in God's family. "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?"asks St. Paul, rhetorically (I Tim 3:5).
During the Middle Ages, the concept of the office of a presbyter became imbalanced, to the point where his sacerdotal role took over almost completely, almost to the exclusion of all else. This imbalance was the basis for the most glaring errors of Apostolicae Curae (1896), although the excellent Anglican refutations of that Papal Bull have been very thorough, most have criticized this specific aspect only briefly (see the links above for more details). It is E.J. Bicknell's defense of Anglican Orders that is the most useful for the average reader even though, in its brevity, it is not enough for a serious student unless serving as a summary of the larger and more detailed Saepius Officio (1897) by the Archbishops of England.
Even so, it is Bicknell who dared to state, boldly, what our mostly High Church Continuum movement needs to hear, if we are to develop fully the pastoral ministry of our priesthood, so as to meet the deepest needs of all our people. It is in a footnote that Bicknell cuts to the chase:
As we have said, the English word priest by derivation simply means 'presbyter'. But it has acquired the meaning of 'sacerdos'. The Christian presbyter in virtue of his office is a 'priest'. Priesthood is one of his functions.
By reminding us that the priest is a pastor and teacher, not only a sacerdos or a Kohan at the altar, Bicknell helps us return, our Anglican fathers long ago having led the way, to the emphasis that is Biblical and Patristic. Indeed, if during the early centuries of the Church, anyone would have said to the Fathers who wrote, or to the bishops who met in Ecumenical Councils, something to the effect that the main role of a πρεσβύτερος is to be a "sacrificing priest," and that teaching, preaching and every other aspect of pastoral care is relatively unimportant in comparison, an argument to the contrary would likely ensue.
However, if anyone cares to prove otherwise, here is the opportunity to do so. Anyone who believes that quotations from Scripture and/or the Fathers of the Church can demonstrate that the πρεσβύτερος was, in the early centuries of the Church, primarily, above all other duties, a "sacrificing priest," may write comments that directly quote the primary sources. Otherwise, let Bicknell's words stand: "Priesthood is one of his functions." So too is teaching; so too is ruling as an elder who cares for the people, as a shepherd who cares for the flock, as a father who cares for the family.
1. A Theological Introduction to The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, page 339