Vatican Council II sought to reopen a new path to the authentic understanding of the identity of the priesthood. So why in the world did there come, just after the Council, a crisis in its identity comparable historically only to the consequences of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century?As I have often observed, it is typical of all parties to stereotype the positions of their theological opponents and although the guilt can be equally shared this does not justify the practice. For Lutherans the priest is NOT a representative of the community nor is the office of the minister derived from the spiritual priesthood of all the baptized. The priest (pastor) represents Christ to the community, not on the basis of an ontological difference between the priest and those to whom his priestly ministry is addressed but as the one on whom the Church confers by examination, call, and ordination the office which belongs to the whole church. The real problem with so many is that individual and often isolated statements of Martin Luther are used to define what Lutherans believe, confess, and teach. In reality, the Lutheran position is born not of Luther's many words but the specific words of the Lutheran Confessions (of which Luther's words form a part of these Confessions).
I am thinking of the crisis in the teaching of the priesthood that took place during the Protestant Reformation, a crisis on the dogmatic level, by which the priest was reduced to a mere representative of the community, through an elimination of the essential difference between the ordained priesthood and the common one of all the faithful. And then of the existential and spiritual crisis that took place in the second half of the 20th century, which in chronological terms exploded after Vatican Council II - but certainly not because of the Council - the consequences of which we are still suffering from today.
The truth is that Rome had not much to say about Augustana XIV except to note that it presumed that rite vocatus referred to the ordinary understanding (examination, call, and ordination). While Rome may complain about the lack of episcopal ordination, this was an emergency required when there were not evangelical bishops to ordain (at least not in Germany since there were in Sweden, for example). Rome should not complain that for Lutherans the priest or pastor is a glorified layman who represents the congregation. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, Lutherans were tarred and feathered by the radical reformers for not being reformed enough in this regard and for retaining far too much of a sacramental priesthood to make Zwingli and others comfortable.
I know it is fashionable to blame Vatican II and the aftermath upon the Reformation and Luther, but this argument is a good example of the straw man fallacy. I would have expected Müller to be more careful since he, like BXVI, is German and should have had more than a passing familiarity with Lutherans. We have many problems to be sure and there are some Lutherans who would sell their soul to the Reformed for a song but Lutherans in their confessional documents do NOT define the ministry as a functional office nor do they derive the office from the common priesthood of all the baptized and they most certainly do not describe the pastor as merely a glorified layman, a representative layman, or a functionary who exists only for the sake of good order. Yet, I find it hard to fault Müller since it is sadly true that Lutherans themselves talk out of both sides of their mouths on this and often feel more comfortable with an evangelical preacher than a catholic and evangelical pastor.
The Lutheran view of the priesthood as a holy office and an apostolic succession is correct in my view. However, on a practical level, not all men who aspire to the office are suitable and therefore they are unqualified. These are men who have theological education and seminary training, but are lacking in basic preaching skills, lazy in carrying out the duties of their office, and sometimes appear too carnally attached to the world, the culture's values, and their own ideas. We must recognize this reality. A pastor is as much a sinner as the congregation he leads. I for one have been on line on the Internet commenting on articles by young, educated LCMS pastors who are so contemporary and cool, so enamored of their own point of view, into sports, drinking beer, and modernity. If they spent more time off the internet and more time developing good sermons, and feeding the little flocks in their care, perhaps they would be more effective messengers of the Gospel. I believe the LCMS should actually focus on preaching more, and expand the Sunday sermon to more than the quick 20 minute interlude. And some LCMS pastors who are steeped in modernity and casualness, need to stop preaching in jeans and sneakers as if the Sunday service is just a youth conference, therefore dumbing down the office they aspire to represent.
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