It seems the ugly Stephanite beast has reared its head in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  From all the letters, blog posts, and Facebook comments in the past six months, you’d think that a cabal of clergy in cope and chasuble had stormed the International Center, thrown out every layperson, abolished voters’ assemblies, and made it a crime for non-clergy to talk about Jesus or even be in His presence.  But now a popular rebellion has arisen from the very roots of the grass [led, oops, by a bunch of clergy] to tear down the clerical elite with their bishops and Article XIVs.

The latest salvo aimed at priestcraft in all its forms comes from a former president (down with bishops!) of the LCMS (which, technically, makes him more bureaucrat than clergy).  Since the moderator is a little slow to approve comments, I post my response here:

President Kieschnick, with all due respect, I think this ought to be retracted. It is unproductive and divisive, especially following a convention that was perhaps the most unified we’ve seen in decades. You smear, by implication, every pastor who wears a clerical collar as wanting to dominate and be served, rather than to serve. I confess that my old sinful flesh would rather be served, but I doubt that temptation comes more easily to one in a collar than it does to one who wears a suit and tie, or jeans and a t-shirt.

Did you speak to any of those pastors in clerical collars? Do you know them? Or are you assuming the worst of them, because this is an easy card to play?

I have seen this “clergy-focused” canard thrown around recently, but I have yet to see any real evidence of it. The fact that seven of the ten Concordias have clergy as presidents doesn’t really tell us anything, nor does the fact that our president and vice-presidents are clergy. What about Boards of Regents? The laity are always represented, according to our bylaws. Voters at Synod conventions are equally divided between clergy and lay, and voters at district conventions are equal, as well (despite recent attempts to increase lay voters at conventions).

But those things are really beside the point, since the one standing out front is, as you say, to be a servant, rather than to lord it over those in his care. Therefore, if you have evidence that those in leadership positions have been lording it over those whom they ought to be serving, you should speak to them, rather than making vague accusations on a blog.

Further, the idea that we might somehow return to a sort of “Herr Pastor” culture in the Missouri Synod is laughable. If, after Stephan, such an LCMS existed, it certainly does not exist now. In what congregation of the Synod could a pastor, abusing his authority in the Gospel, ram his opinions and his way down the throats of his congregation, and not be run out of town on the slickest rail? Pastors don’t even have the authority to implement evangelical, Scriptural practices such as communion every Lord’s day without the fiercest opposition.

For every example of clergy attempting to exercise an unbiblical and unevangelical power, I could give you two of unbiblical and unevangelical lay domineering. But what does that prove, except that we’re all a bunch of damned sinners, pastors and lay alike?

Please don’t increase the unnecessary strife between pastors and people; each member of the Body has his or her own vocation, and it does not help to tear down the pastoral vocation in order to elevate the vocations of the laity.

I went searching for actual examples of clergy dominance, and the Facebook had this to say:  fb comments

I don’t know how the first person counts, but from this page, it looks to me like there are 35 lay people to 34 pastors (LCMS career missionaries).  Of the 1-2 year and other short-term missionaries, I highly doubt that they are even primarily clergy.  And if lay people have been removed from serving as missionaries, where is the evidence that it was because they weren’t pastors?  The above are not concrete examples; they are vague insinuations that require hard evidence.  Without such evidence, they just serve to stir up division and distrust between pastors and people.  And where is a degree needed for deacon or lay minister?  The LCMS doesn’t even have uniform language for these positions, let alone required degrees.

Further, cops who don’t wear uniforms don’t want people to know they’re cops.  I doubt that’s what the commenter wanted to say about pastors not wearing collars.  And I categorically deny that there is a special class of person called “theologian.”  Everyone who talks about God is a theologian, whether informed or uninformed, good or bad.  To preserve a class of theologian, above and apart from every Christian, is to denigrate lay people who study the Scriptures and give articulate and well-formed witness to Christ.  Not only that, but I find it hard to understand how a shepherd is supposed to shepherd the flock of God if he is not a theologian.

I don’t know about anyone else, but what I, as a pastor, want more than anything else is a theologically well-educated laity.  No, I don’t mean a seminary education.  I mean knowing the Scriptures and the Confessions, in order that they might do exactly what the above commenters want: to present the Gospel clearly and succinctly to their unbelieving family, friends, and neighbors within their vocations.  I want that.  And guess what?  They don’t have to be pastors to do it!  The cry of “clericalism!” (besides coming, strangely, from clergy) often comes from those who are, in practice, the most hyper-clerical of all.  Because they seem to think that lay people who are living out their vocations as Christians in the world are somehow not enough.  Instead of bearing witness within the places where God has put them, these anti-anti-clericalists want lay people to be “ministers.”  We’ve had this modernization of medieval monasticism feuchted on us for long enough.  (That is, unless you’re engaged in “ministry,” you’re not doing “Christian” work.)  If everyone is a minister, no one is.  And I wonder if that’s not what the end goal is.  There are more than a few people in the LCMS who think that the role/goal of pastors is to “work themselves out of a job.”  In other words, from a false translation of Ephesians 4 (see here, here, and here [as well as another essay by Hamann: “Church and Ministry: An Exegesis of Ephesians 4:1-16,” Lutheran Theological Journal 16:3 (December 1982)] for the technical evidence) has come a false idea of what a pastor is and is for.

A pastor is indeed given to the Church for the equipment of Christ’s saints, but not for the purpose of making them into little ministers.  He equips them for their life in the world (to do what they’ve been given to do) by doing what he’s been given to do: preach, teach, baptize, absolve, and give them Jesus’ Body and Blood.  This has nothing to do with pride, arrogance, or lording it over the flock of God which the pastor has been put there to serve; nor is it even about ability or education (but why would any congregation want a pastor who does not have the aptitude to teach and who can go no further in the Scriptures than the latest English translation combined with his feelings?).  This is simply about an Office, which–Lutherans confess–Jesus Himself has established, for the giving out of the forgiveness of sins.  Can lay people forgive sins?  Absolutely: within their vocations.  Can lay people preach the Gospel (as they clearly do in Acts 8:4)?  Absolutely: within their vocations.  Can lay people baptize?  Absolutely: within their vocations, as emergencies arise.

The whole “clergy-focused” argument is a denial of vocation and a return to what Luther vociferously opposed: the elevating of a certain vocation above all others.  It says to pastors: don’t do your vocation, we want to do it.  It says to lay people: don’t do your vocations, do the pastor’s.  When I as a pastor insist on doing my own vocation, it is exactly the opposite of clericalism: it is the upholding of every vocation as holy in Christ, including the pastor’s.

Is it clericalism to insist that the correct interpretation of the Scriptural Office of the Ministry is found in Articles V and XIV (as well as XXVIII) of the Augsburg Confession?  Then every single pastor in the LCMS and every single congregation of the LCMS is “clergy-focused,” because it is exactly these articles pastors vow to uphold in their ordinations and which congregations uphold in their constitutions.

Is it clericalism to want, as far as possible, the best trained pastors for every congregation in the Synod?  Then what is it to insist on giving congregations (who could otherwise have a fully trained pastor) pastors who don’t know the Biblical languages?

Is it clericalism to ask that our congregations abide by the Confessions they claim to, well, confess, and for them to put lay people who are publicly preaching and administering the Sacraments into the Office which was created by God for that purpose?  How would this deprive them of anything?  In fact, it would assure them that the man who is giving out the gifts of God in Christ is indeed put there to do exactly that.  No further degree necessary (although, again, is learning the Scriptures more deeply a bad thing?), no further cost.  Simply prayer and the laying on of hands to signify that this man is put into the one Office by God.  Instead of making up new terms, such as “licensing,” why not simply do what the Church has always done, and ordain them?  (And what is ordination, but a “license” to preach and teach according to AC XIV?  What’s with the neologisms?)

Is it clericalism to ask that churches that are planted have a man in the Office to do the AC V things?  How does this limit the missionary activity of lay people?

Vocation, vocation, vocation!  If we could get this straight, the struggles over and between pastors and lay people would essentially dry up (except, of course, for the peccator that remains in every pastor and every lay person!).  Pastors, you have a vocation partially outlined by your ordination vows and your Diploma of Vocation(!).  Do it.  If you don’t want to do it, don’t be a pastor.  Laymen, you have a vocation outlined by your relationships and what various people require from you.  Do it.  If you want to be a pastor, go through the process and be put into the Office.  Live your vocation.  It’s holy in Christ.  You don’t have to be a “professional church worker,” or even a non-professional church worker.  God has put the Body together in the way He wants it, and all the parts work together.  Let’s stop tearing down certain parts of the Body to elevate others, and let’s stop implying that certain members of the Body are less important because they’re not “doing ministry.”

Timotheos 

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Comments
  1. Dr. Ralph E. Spraker, Jr. says:

    Wonderful defense of Vocation! In Evangelicalism (two universities), every chapel was about being a “Missionary” or “Pastor” and never about being in vocation placed by Our Creator. It takes the pressure off the sheep that is a false standard.

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