Friday, August 30, 2013
No, but I played one on TV...
I do not say this to impugn the motives of either those who have "authorized" these laymen functioning as Pastors nor those who serve as lay Pastors. My point here is neither to make this about the people or about the individual congregations that feel compelled to choose this path in order to have regula Word and Sacrament ministry. My concern is rather to illustrate how something may appear to be small irregularity when looking at it through a local lens can become a very large abnormal norm when viewed over the scope of the whole Synod.
This is no strange oddity or theoretical issue. As so often happens, what happens on the fringes or in the shadows has serious and significant impact upon the center and what is seen in the light as normative for the Church. We have a history and a regular practice with respect the training, examination, call, and ordination. This accords with the Augustana XIV article of our confession though, as is consistently Lutheran, individual jurisdictions have taken slightly different tacks in their appropriation and description of how these actually work. Some Lutherans have bishops, some have a synodical system, some function with a more presbyteral structure. All, however, have agreed that no one may publicly exercise the Office of Pastor without rite vocatus (regular call). Now, before some commenter takes these words in some minimalistic sense, rite vocatus has always been understood in light of the practice of the day – including not simply a call but a regular call, according to the historic pattern and rite of the Church, preparation, examination,, call, and ordination. The lack of serious conflict on this article noted in the Roman Confutation supports the fuller understanding of what was meant by rite vocatus.
Missouri has never as a Synod defined, established, or regularized the use of non rite vocatus men in the forms now regularly known in districts as licensed lay deacons. What happened in Wichita in 1989 was an aberration whose consequences continue to be felt throughout the Synod and create a circumstance in which was was conceived as an emergency measure has, indeed, become normal in many, I would say, too many places. The many districts who have established and set up regular parameters for such lay service of Word and Sacrament have, in effect, given rite vocatus status, authority, and responsibility to those our Confessions say cannot have it.
If there are as many as 100 or as little as 50 of these lay people serving as unordained Pastors, this is no longer an emergency situation in which extraordinary measures are used for extraordinary situations with extenuating circumstances. It has become a new norm but one that violates what we say in our Confessions cannot be violated.
Again, I do not doubt that these are good men seeking to do good work among good people who truly believe that there are no other alternatives. But as a church body, we have left them in a terrible predicament. We have given them cover, even legitimacy, to that which by our Confession is always irregular and illegitimate. It is always what happens when we let emergencies define regular practice. As a church body, we have done these people and these parishes a grave disservice. Both these men and these congregations deserve something better, a solution which does not give offense to what we say we believe, confess, and teach. These irregular situations have to be answered with a solution that does not require the surrender of our confessional integrity. If we expect God to bless the work of these men and these congregations, we must do better.
Although I am not confident to say that either these sacraments are invalid (not even Lutheran terminology) or valid, what I can say is that they leave room for doubt in the minds of those who are to receive the Word and Sacrament ministry of the Lord from them. There are certainly those who receive this ministry from them who would insist that they are sure it is valid because they need it, because they believe it to be valid, or because it has been meaningful to them. I do not doubt their feelings on this but our confidence is not based on feelings -- not even on the competence of those functioning in the place of a Pastor. Our confidence lies in the Lord, in His Word, and in the order or practice which derives from that Word. Here is the problem. We say no one can regularly preach or administer the sacraments without a regular call -- this is no invented order of Lutherans but the order reflected throughout Christian history since St. Paul spoke of the laying on of hands to Timothy as a young man upon whom the Church conferred the authority of the Pastoral Office.