Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lutherans and Deacons

Weedon and others have talked about deacons and I am with them.  It is a good office whose restoration would have salutary effect for the churches and our whole Synod... IF... if we can get past something.

Before the diaconal office would work, we Lutherans have to get past the idea that you must do Word and Sacrament ministry to be anybody in the Church.  Strange that we put such a premium on Word and Sacrament ministry only to spend most of our time doing administrative stuff.  It has become an effective shibboleth for us.  The reason women want to be Pastors is because they believe you have to do Word and Sacrament ministry to be anybody of substance in the Church.  The reason laymen want to do Word and Sacrament ministry is to prove they are just as good as clergy and because they know that in this church body you have to do Word and Sacrament ministry to be anybody or somebody.

It is sort of like the way we say that women's work in the home is good and wonderful but then we treat women different if they have a job or career or degree behind their names.  We romanticize the idea of women at home like June Cleaver but we seem to ditch that idea pretty quickly when it comes to practical terms.

We do the same thing for Pastors.  We romanticize Word and Sacrament ministry and then we expect them to be CEOs or CFOs, fund raising, administering, keeping folks happy, keeping the show running...  Then we diminish the work of lay people as not as important as Word and Sacrament ministry and wonder why they are not content with teaching Sunday school or keeping the church facility in good order or making sure we keep track of all the funds and make wise financial decisions.  So some of them want to be Pastors because they think that is where all the glamour and prestige is.  In other words, we pay lip service to the vocation of the baptized and we talk a good talk about deacons -- all the while setting up a two tier level of authority, service, and honor (with Word and Sacrament being highest).

Now, don't get me wrong.  I think that the Word and Sacrament is a very high office and a noble calling indeed (Scripture says that).  But I also think that the areas of diaconal service (non-sacramental in particular) are high and noble and worthy.  I believe that what lay folks do inside the Church and outside the Church to be high and noble and worthy.  Until we hold up diaconal responsibilities as being important and worthwhile, we will only toy with the idea of deacons.  Nothing could be worse than to have deacons and not value what they do or to have deacons and imply that they must do what Pastors do in order to be valuable.

On the one hand we trivialize Word and Sacrament ministry when we make everything a ministry (from clowns or puppets to the worship nursery).  On the other hand, we diminish Word and Sacrament ministry by making it one amony many things that are functionally the same.  Why can't we understand a complimentary relationship without trying to elevate others or put down others?  I think we have the theory spelled out clearly enough.  This is mostly a practical, attitudinal issue.  We don't need to make everyone a minister and neither do we need to cut Pastors down to size.  We need to see the baptismal vocation and the Pastoral vocation as complimentary and not competitive.

I can think of nothing as trivial as those church bulletins or signboards which say "Joe Blow, Pastor;  All members of the congregation, ministers."  Really.  It sounds as goofy as it is.  It is demeaning to both Joe Blow and the members of the parish.  Oddly enough, those "high church" guys are the one who seem to be most interested in and most serious about restoring actual deacons in the Church (not the made up kind that we have done is the past or the kind that basically do what Pastors do but on the cheap like we seem to be doing now). 

You know the folks who like being called Father and wearing clerics all the time except when they are wearing Eucharistic vestments.  And I am talking real deacons -- with a liturgical role and place but at the same time performing the value service of teaching, preaching (under supervision), directing the caring agencies of the parish, taking care of (parish) business (so to speak), and visitation (to name the most prominent).  Not the made up office.  The real deacons who are clergy but not Pastors, who are set apart by Word and prayer (dare I call it ordination).  Whose value is not defined by the size of their paycheck or whether they can do everything that Pastor does but because of their service (Biblical, historical, and essential). I would benefit greatly from a half a dozen or dozen of them in my parish.  I venture to say we all would (Pastors and parishes).  But it ain't gonna happen until the theory (theology) finds real, pracitical application (without succombing to the tendencies cited above).

Just a few thoughs...


Janis Williams said...

So right on glamorizing the minister of Word and Sacrament. When in grad school everyone expected me to get my "MRS." degree and marry a pastor (what a relief I didn't! He wouldn't have been Lutheran!). I always told them "no way."

The Lutheran theology(?) of Vocation is spot-on. We are all valuable to our neighbors when we fulfill our vocation. However, we have to arrange everything by level of importance. We do devalue others by doing this. Besides, we are sinful; how do we know what's really important unless God tells us in Scripture?

Could say more, but...

Ted Badje said...

DCEs do a lot of the needs and ministries of the Church, but people have problems with calling them 'ordained'. Missouri is long due to define what the Offices of Ministry mean. We have some ideas from 150 years ago, but no modern statement. There is also the issue of Lay Administrators at the different churches.

Anonymous said...

Pastor, would you explain how the office (?) of deacon is biblical?

Also, could I ask that you write a sequel to this post that focuses on the office (?) of deaconess? Does the female deaconate have true, rock solid biblical legitimacy ( example other than Phoebe would be helpful).

Steve said...

Hi Pastor,
Thank you for this post. I'm one of those guys who would love to be a deacon along the lines of what you have written. I'm working towards it by earning a Master's in Religion through Concordia Chicago prayerfully hoping that I can spend the rest of my life just helping a pastor. You are most correct-the two roles biblically are different; and most pastors I know could really use the help as well as the churches they shepherd. Finally, yes, I am also one of those high church folks. The need is definitely there. I believe I'm led to at least try to move in that direction and God and the church will decide the result.

Steve Foxx SSP

Pastor Peters said...

The "office" of deacon is well attested in Acts 6/7 and in 1 Timothy 3. Surely we do not need more explicit reference than this? We hold to other things that considerably less direct attestation.

Anonymous said...

Pastor, you mention others discussing deacons recently. Were those public discussions and, if so, do you have links? Thanks!