Monday, June 3, 2019

Clericalism. . .

Pope Francis has long claimed that the sex abuse scandals within Rome had at least as much to do with clericalism as anything else, perhaps almost exclusively so.  It is his contention that when priests are placed on pedestals, they can get away with things they should not.  Perhaps he believes the same about bishops on their pedestals (though certainly not popes!).  This is an odd statement from a church body in which their is little semblance of democracy and, in nearly everything local, the priest rules, and in about everything else, the bishop, and above them all sits the man in the white cassock.  It is further presumed that this clericalism is a fruit of those who take the office more seriously, who are more traditional in style personally and liturgically.  Clericalism is a bad thing and the way to clean up the church, at least according to Francis, is to make it less clergy dominant.  In reality, those in favor of the Latin Mass, for example, cannot fairly be charged as clericalists.

The funny thing is that this same idea often gets pumped through the veins of Missouri Synod Lutherans.  Clericalism is a bad thing and pastors on their pedestals is a bad thing (Herr Pastor) and this clericalism is at the root of many problems in our own church body.  On the one hand you have had a person like Herman Otten who has insisted that clericalists devalue the voters' assemblies of the congregations and impose their rule on the laity, depriving them of their godly right to vote.  On the other hand, you have a certain party in Synod that likes to talk about unhealthy centralization, about the need for locals to make local decisions, of the need to abandon historic liturgical forms for the worship preference of the moment, and to leave all episcope to DPs and leave the SP out of it all.  We hear complaints against the hierarchical way our current SP works (instead of a more collegial system in which the Council of Presidents, our version of the college of cardinals, is treated as at least equal to the SP).  Strangely, many of these complaints have come from structural changes in which more power and authority was placed in the Synod President and his office by those who abandoned our older system of commissions and staff --  changes he did not favor but, surprise, he was elected to inaugurate.

As one who has been called brilliant on the pages of Otten's newspaper and at the same time been characterized by the worse possible charge -- being a hypo-euro-sacerdoctalist -- I find this somewhat odd.  The rather strange alliance between those trying to elect a DP or California Pastor and the weekly New Haven, Missouri, tabloid against those who uphold the Confessions, the Office, the orthodox Lutheran fathers, the historic church year, and the liturgy is hard to explain.  But if both groups are charging clericalism against the current SP and many who support him, it is a false charge.  While I have no doubt that there are plenty of pastors who might fit the definition of a clericalist, I submit that their positions on everything from the office itself to the liturgy have little to do with it. 

Is there anything more like clericalism than using pastoral prerogative to substitute an invented worship service each week over the liturgy?  Is there anything more like clericalism than presuming to know what Scripture should be preached instead of the church year?  Is there anything more like clericalism than insisting that vestments are not your personal style but polos and khakis are?  Is there anything more like clericalism than using non-constitutional or new constitutional means to self-perpetuating boards of directors and appointing paid staff to them?  Is there anything more like clericalism than governing the congregation like a CEO (the way so many Lutheran parachurch groups suggest)?  Is there anything more like clericalism than leading the congregation away from their identity as Lutheran or LCMS in favor of the current names du jour from evangelicalism?  Is there anything more like clericalism than abandoning the catechism in favor of something which emphasizes feelings over truth and reason over Scripture?

Not too long ago some complained about seeing clerical collars at the Synod convention or genuflection or too much from the hymnal.  Some complain that the Synod should fear those who wear a chasuble or elevate the host or kneel or ring bells or swing smells.  How foolish!  Our Synod is not in danger of losing our Lutheran identity from those who add to the historic liturgy or practice as Lutherans once were accustomed but she is in grave danger of losing her identity from those who abandon these things in favor of casual entertainmentfests in which the pastor is center stage complete with back up singers and look like the latest big box non-denominational church down the street.  Clericalism is alive and well but it cannot be equated with vestments or rubrics or those who follow them.  It is far more dangerous.  It makes personal preference the god of the moment and makes everything else subservient to this.

Although the common charge is clericalism, and the common enemy seems to be those on the more confessional and liturgical side of things, the charge cannot fairly be made against these folks but it might be more than I could hope for them to figure out the mistaken identity.

3 comments:

Mathew said...

Pope Francis is right - but, I suspect, not in the way he thinks he is. The one huge reason why I could never join the RCC is that the power and authority of the priesthood is placed in the person rather than the office. Many do not realize that, in RCC theology, even a laicized priest retains the power to consecrate the sacraments etc. And the pope, of course, as vicar of Christ can speak for God directly without necessarily being restricted to Scripture. When a person, rather than an office, is a direct representative of God, that gives the person a tremendous amount of power - power, not only for good, but also for abuse and the covering up of abuse. Not to mention it gives the Church a tremendous motivation to cover the sins of those who hold the office. When the person is conflated with the office, it become difficult to distinguish the sins of the person from the office they hold.

And, yes I agree that when the pastor moves from the liturgical to the "contemporary" he makes himself the center and puts far more emphasis on himself as a person than on the office he holds. I have neither like nor dislike for Pastor Harrison. But the whole "congregations matters" website, which really should be titled "DP's pissing and moaning" is looking to take us down a road of more abuse of power, not less.

John J. Flanagan said...

These are all distractions, posturing, and unproductive. The focus of the church is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The rest is mere fluff and useless wrangling about organization and lines of authority and succession.

Anonymous said...

It is always shocking to read statements from Hyper-Euro sacerdotalists. Here is what these guys have been saying:

I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.