Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pastor as Icon of Christ

Do Pastors think of themselves as Christ for their people and do their people see the Christ who works through the voice and hands of their Pastors?  It is not that the Pastor takes Christ's place but that Christ has promised to work through the Pastor in his exercise of the means of grace.  It seems that we do not think in these terms anymore and I wonder why?  This is not the Pastor as Herr Pastor but the Pastor as the voice and hands of Jesus washing, feeding, and speaking the kingdom that comes to us through the Word and Sacraments.  This has little to do with authority or respect and everything to do with the way we see the means of grace.  It has nothing to do with the Pastor's personal righteousness and everything to do with our confidence in the way the Lord has promised to do His work and build His kingdom here on earth.

19 comments:

Dixie said...

It seems that we do not think in these terms anymore and I wonder why?

Just an observation from my time as a Lutheran. A lot of effort is made to show how Lutheran pastors are not like Catholic priests. They are not "special". They haven't been given special powers. They are just like you (well not you because you are one!) and me. Nothing special, no special grace, nada.

When so much effort is made to make the pastor "not special" it becomes more difficult to see things another way.

William Weedon said...

I'd vary only slightly on Dixie's observation: our people have not been taught what that sacred office IS and exists for. The focus should be on the office, not the interchangeable and highly flawed men who fill it.

When they do, they will realize that - precisely as an icon is to function - a pastor is a window into a whole different realm. He never "represents his own person" - as our Confessions note - but always is to represent the person of Christ. As Nagel said it so wonderfully: "So you have a pastor. That was our Lord's idea not something you came up with."

P.S. Dixie, on something utterly different. Have you read Wheat Belly? If so, any thoughts? You can email me if so. Pax!

Janis Williams said...

Another thought: Today's popular culture is one of the celebrity. Witness the Rock Star pastors of the mega churches. The reaction to all this celebrity is to ensure the pastor knows he's no big shakes.

We need to discern the difference between the pastor as 'icon' of Christ, and pastor as idol.

Anonymous said...

Well said Fr. Weedon! Why is it though, when a pastor tries to explain this to parishioners in loving kindness, they view him as one with a superior agenda, ignoring all that Holy Writ as well as the catechism(s) has taught us? Indeed, there are pastors currently serving in the LCMS that refer to these "closet-catholics" as Herr Pastors? Why these guys even wear their clerics on a daily basis so people can identify them as serving in a divinely instituted office!

Anonymous said...

The New Testament views pastors as
undershepherds of the Good Shepherd,
Jesus Christ. We are to shepherd the
flock to which we have been called.
1 Peter 5, reminds pastors to be
examples to the flock and not be
domineering. To be Christ-like is
the challenge of every pastor. As
human men this is difficult yet by
God's grace pastors strive to be the
best examples they can be to their
flock.

Carl Vehse said...

Such an aristocratic image is not an icon, but instead it is a claim of a pastor being the ecclesiastical embodiment of Christ. In 1998 the Rev. James Kalthoff address this false image in his "The Pastor: God’s Servant for God’s People," (from Church and Ministry The Collected Papers of The 150th Anniversary Theological Convocation of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, edited by Jerald C. Joerz and Paul T. McCain, 1998, pp. 135-7):

"One of the controversies that a few district presidents of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod have encountered involves a certain concept connected with this “aristocratic view” of the Office of the Public Ministry. A number of them have reported instances where pastors have made statements to the effect that whenever they are serving before the altar they should be looked upon as being “the ecclesiastical embodiment of Christ.” When a pastor is serving before the altar, it is sometimes said, he “becomes the Christ.”...

"It is time for us to put a halt to this kind of careless and very misunderstood description that some of our pastors have been appropriating to themselves! Again, they represent Christ; they do not become Christ when they are carrying out the duties of their office. Jesus Christ is Lord, but His servants do not appropriate to themselves that title or even seek that kind of recognition. On Paul’s first missionary journey, he healed a crippled man. The miracle created quite a stir among the locals. They brought forward a priest of Zeus to offer sacrifices to the missionaries! “Men, why are you doing these things?”, Paul cried. “We are only men, human beings like you” (Acts 14:15 EB). They did not see themselves as in some way having become, in that moment, the Divinity they served, but rather mere men, just like everyone else. Likewise, it is true of pastors today, they represent Christ, it is true, but they are men, like everyone else in every way."

Anonymous said...

I have often heard the charge against those aristocratic pastors but I have never heard any pastor anywhere ever say anything that would lend support to the charge some raise against them. An icon is not but does represent; the Pastor is not Christ embodied but represents Christ to the people. Our confessions identify this as the reason for the ministry, to provide the means of grace that call and sustain faith. I have spent time on both coasts, near the Canadia border and in the deep South and I have never heard a pastor claim be Christ embodied. But I have heard countless Lutherans speak of the ministry as nothing but an orderly way for the church to do what is the privilege and right that belongs to all the baptized. It seems to me that we need to be a little more careful about charges and reactions. Our problem in Missouri is far more everyone a pastor than a few pastors thinking they are Christ for all intents and purposes. Besides, did not Luther suggest that in the same way Pastors are Christ to the people, the people are Christ to the world?

Carl Vehse said...

"An icon is not but does represent"

True, but as I noted, "Such an aristocratic image is not an icon, but instead it is a claim of a pastor being the ecclesiastical embodiment of Christ.

"Our problem in Missouri is far more everyone a pastor than a few pastors thinking they are Christ for all intents and purposes."

I have spent time on both coasts and in the Midwest, from Chicago to Texas, and I have never heard any layman in Missouri thinking they were a pastor. But regardless of what either of us, or district presidents, may or may not have heard, a pastor claiming in one way or another to be the embodied Christ should be more alarming than a layman claiming he's a pastor.

"Besides, did not Luther suggest that in the same way Pastors are Christ to the people, the people are Christ to the world?"

I don't know. Did he? And if so, where? Of course, all true Christians belong to the holy Christian Church, which is the body of Christ.

Anonymous said...

When Christ instituted the Eucharist
he did not wear a chasuble, or a
pectoral cross. On Maundy Thursday
he simply shared the meal with his
disciples with no pretense. He says
to pastors of the 21st century,
"Go and Do Likewise."

Past Elder said...

Free falling Judas in a wind tunnel, aren't those pictures from the Baltimore Catechism?

Not to mention, whether they are or are not, showing a set-up you ain't agonna see in hardly any church, Catholic or Lutheran.

Nonetheless, and not to mention importing "icon" for all this, I agree with the point. It is Christ who acts in the means of grace.

And if that is an antidote to superstar pastors with smash hit sermons, it should also be an antidote to whether the smells, bells and sounds were all that great or not.

Great pseudonymical Judas, I'm signed in as Past Elder. That's Terry Maher.

William Weedon said...

Dr. Strickert,

I think the passage alluded to was from Freedom of the Christian: "I will therefore give myself as a sort of Christ, to my neighbour, as Christ has given Himself to me; and will do nothing in this life except what I see will be needful, advantageous, and wholesome for my neighbour, since by faith I abound in all good things in Christ."

Note the "sort of." To speak of pastor, similarly, as icon of Christ is to note exactly that the pastor IS NOT CHRIST, even as the icon is not Christ. I've not yet met a single pastor who spoke of being himself "the embodied Christ" and I've travelled a fair bit in this country and Canada. It's just not out there that I've seen. Sometimes District Presidents can have an over active imagination...

Carl Vehse said...

In response to my claim that the "aristocratic image" is not an icon, but instead it is a claim of a pastor being the ecclesiastical embodiment of Christ, an anonymous person rhetorically stated: "Besides, did not Luther suggest that in the same way Pastors are Christ to the people, the people are Christ to the world?" without listing a reference. Rev. Weedon provided a quote from Martin Luther's November 1520 treatise, "On the Freedom of a Christian (Note: sometimes called, "A Treatise on Christian Liberty" and in German, "Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen") However, let's look at the context of the translated quote:

"Thus a Christian, like Christ his head, being full and in abundance through his faith, ought to be content with this form of God, obtained by faith... Though he is thus free from all works, yet he ought to empty himself of this liberty, take on him the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in fashion as a man, serve, help, and in every way act towards his neighbor as be sees that God through Christ has acted and is acting towards him. All this he should do freely, and with regard to nothing but the good pleasure of God, and he should reason thus:

"Lo! my God, without merit on my part, of His pure and free mercy, has given to me, an unworthy, condemned, and contemptible creature, all the riches of justification and salvation in Christ... I will therefore give myself, as a sort of Christ, to my neighbor, as Christ has given Himself to me; and will do nothing in this life, except what I see will be needful, advantageous, and wholesome for my neighbor, since by faith I abound in all good things in Christ."

It is clear that Luther is not referring to a pastor uniquely through his office having the embodiment of Christ. Instead Luther is talking about all Christians becoming a "sort of Christ" in treating and helping their neighbor, a sort of "Good Samaritan." Luther reaffirms this analogy of "sort of Christ," two paragraphs later:

"Therefore, just as our neighbor is in want, and has need of our abundance, so we too in the sight of God were in want, and bad need of His mercy. And as our heavenly Father has freely helped us in Christ, so ought we freely to help our neighbor by our body and works, and each should become to other a sort of Christ, so that we may be mutually Christs, and that the same Christ may be in all of us; that is, that we may be truly Christians."

Lutherans should leave the swill of sacerdotalism to the Romanists.

(Text translation: Henry Wace and C. A. Buchheim, First Principles of the Reformation, London: John Murray, 1883; translated by Prof. C.A. Buchheim, King's College, London; also found in Luther's Primary Works, issued by The Lutheran Publications Society.)

William Weedon said...

Quite obviously, no passage from Freedom of the Christian could be cited as demonstrating any form of sacerdotalism! Anon cited it, however, as an example that ALL Christians have the calling to be sort of like Christ to their neighbors; how much more do pastors (as Christians) share that calling - and in a very special way. In Rome, the emphasis is on the priest's giving to God (and so Christ's offering to the Father); in Lutheranism it always is and must remain on the pastor as delivery man: he forks over to the faithful what Christ commands him to give to them: His saving Gospel; His body and blood; His laver of regeneration; His absolution. The point of Pr. Peters original posting (leaving aside the picture!), is that people must come to see behind the man who is doing the delivery of the gifts, the Giver of the gifts Himself. Hence, the icon lingo. FWIW.

Unknown said...

This will be difficult for me to write, because I once aspired to the Office of Pastor. Looking back over many years to see the hand of God in my life, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to study in the Synodical System, and I am not obsessing about the fact that I did not become a Pastor. One of the things I have come to recognize about myself is that I do not make a good servant, and as such would not have made a good Pastor, and it may seem hypocritical for one who is not a good servant to speak of the need for a Pastor to be a servant. Nevertheless, being one who does not have this gift does not prevent me from recognizing that it is this that makes one great in the Kingdom of God. I need only refer to St. Paul’s wonderful words in Philippians about our Lord Who became a servant.

Since the Pastor performs the liturgy, explains to us the Word of God, and speaks the Words by which we receive the Sacrament of the Altar, He becomes an authority figure and most people experience a certain degree of discomfort in dealing with an authority figure. In my entire life I have met no more than two Pastors with whom I was entirely comfortable speaking, because it was clear that servanthood was part of their makeup. One of these made it a point to commune, or to be communed last, simply as a gesture to the congregation that he does not consider himself first. It reminded me of what our Lord said in Luke 17, "7 Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? 8 Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'?” So it is the servant who eats last. But is it possible to overturn centuries of liturgical practice in this matter, that is based on anything but servanthood?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Carl Vehse said...

Another excerpt from Martin Luther's "Treatise on Christian Liberty":

Here you will ask: "If all who are in the Church are priests by what character are those, whom we now call priests, to be distinguished from the laity? " I reply: By the use of these words, "priest," "clergy," "spiritual person," "ecclesiastic," an injustice has been done, since they have been transferred from the remaining body of Christians to those few, who are now, by a hurtful custom, called ecclesiastics. For Holy Scripture makes no distinction between them, except that those, who are now boastfully called popes, bishops, and lords, it calls ministers, servants, and stewards, who are to serve the rest in the ministry of the Word, for teaching the faith of Christ and the liberty of believers. For though it is true that we are all equally priests, yet we cannot, nor, if we could, ought we all to minister and teach publicly. Thus Paul says "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." (1 Cor. iv. 1.)

Pastor Peters said...

Funny how I try to make a point of focusing upon the office and the means of grace (isn't that what seeing Christ in the Pastor means) and not focusing upon the person or personality and all sorts of warning shots are fired about "aristocratic" Pastors (whatever in the world that means) or Pastors who see themselves as Christ embodied (I have been a Pastor 32 years and never ever heard any LCMS Pastor say anything remotely like this). My point was simply to focus upon the office and the means of grace and people will be less disappointed in the failings or limitations of the man and the Pastor will be held in proper esteem. Growing up in the 1950s with HERR PASTOR who was too holy to sin was a whole lot more dangerous than what I was advocating. Gee whiz, guys, can we cut each other some slack???

Terry Maher said...

In Biblical culture, the culture of Christ, it is not that the servant eats last, it is that the host eats last, after the guests -- and animals too, btw -- are fed.

The pastor always communed last in my first experience as a Lutheran, and coming out of the putrid and polluted waters of the Tiber, what a beautiful thing to see that was -- not to mention such a contrast with a "priest's communion", and the only one with both elements always, before general communion, as in the Roman Mass.

How pictures from the Baltimore Catechism could not connote, if not denote, a sacerdotalism is beyond me. It does not depict a means of grace at all. It depicts Christ re-presenting, literally, making present again, in an unbloody manner his one sacrifice of Calvary. A monstrous perversion of the means of grace.

Carl Vehse said...

"My point was simply to focus upon the office and the means of grace"

That is a commendable goal, since it is the office that publicly preaches and administers the means of grace. But the New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism (Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1969) is not the place to look for illustrations to make that point. So can't you find anything in Lutheran literature and art that provide doctrinally congruent images?

Gee whiz, guys, can we cut each other some slack???"

And this is from someone who stated, "Growing up in the 1950s with HERR PASTOR who was too holy to sin was a whole lot more dangerous than what I was advocating"? I've been in the Lutheran Church since I was baptized as an infant and I never heard any LCMS pastor (or layman) say anything remotely like this. In fact the last Lutheran pastor I recall who claimed anything like that was given a rowboat ride across the Mississippi to Illinois.

Pastor Peters said...

Ahhh that was my point. I slipped that in to focus on false hoods that parade as piety -- just like those who raise warnings about aristocratic or Christ-embodied Lutheran Pastors.

Okay, so you don't like the graphic from the New Baltimore Catechism. Find me another one that you like better that matches the point of my post!