Friday, April 8, 2022

Utterly useless. . .

There is a farm expression for useless things -- they are as useless as ____ on a boar.  That is probably about as far as I need to take that.  You get my drift.  There are things that might be a little beneficial but are unnecessary and then there are those things that are a complete waste.  I wonder if that is not where we are headed with the Pastoral Office.  It is not simply optional and not essential to many, it is a complete waste and useless to others.  Still others might find the pastor to be downright opposed to the Church and faith.  Sad to say, some of them are Lutherans.

Protestants have always derived the pastoral office from the priesthood of believers and rendered it a benefit (when the preacher is good) but not essential.  Anyone can preach and administer the sacred ordinances and, among some, these duties are passed around among the people.  The functions may be important but not the office.  Preaching is all well and good but who preaches is not all that important -- there is not much required of that preacher except an internal calling and an aptitude.

Although this is not the Lutheran perspective, some Lutherans hold to a rather functional view of the ministry -- ministry is not an office but what is done and the doing is divinely appointed although who does it and how it is done is a thing indifferent.  At least that is pretty much what I get from the Wisconsin Synod.  They value the office as function very highly but the ministers themselves are really just lay people with a paycheck.  It is not orderly (and Germans love order) to have everyone doing these things, so the priesthood elects one to act on behalf of all -- not of God necessarily but of all the priesthood.  That has been some of the tension that contributed to the rift between Wisconsin and Missouri.

Missouri is clear in theology.  The office is not simply optional or essential (That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.  ACV).  The office is not the delegation of the priesthood of the baptized but is a divine creation and those who fill it derive not from the assembly that calls them but from Christ.  They are successors of the apostolate and those on whom the Church has elected, trained, and examined and the Spirit breathed -- all manifested in a moment in the laying on of the hands of the presbyterate (or episcopate, depending upon your polity).  In theory the priesthood of believers exercises its role in the choice or acceptance of the pastor but not in deciding whether or not to have one.  But in practice, the pastor can still seem like a mere hireling -- nice to have but not essential -- or at least treated as such.

In an age of shrinking budget, many congregations are rethinking the value of the office and whether a pastor can be rented on the cheap as opposed to outright purchase with extended warranty.  The end result of this is to treat the office as function rather than office and to treat the pastor as beneficial but not quite essential.  Perhaps even worse, it makes the pastor into a entrepreneur or artisan who builds his own congregation or rents out his skills to those who want them.  Now there is function to the extreme!  It also means that the means of grace can be treated as the tools of the minister and located in him rather than Christ's gifts to the Church which the pastor administers on Christ's behalf.  He can offer them online in virtual sacraments and it already seems that the people are not sure there is any substantive or real difference between hearing something online or in person.  The pandemic has accelerated the idea that along with church, clergy are not necessarily essential.

Professor John Pless told the story of an Englishman overheard telling another that he was “as useless as a clergyman.”   My own story is of a wedding reception which I attended after presiding at the marriage rite only to have one of the guests tell me at my table, over appetizers no less, that pastors are blood sucking leaches."  In either case the spiritual but not religious hardly have need for clergy and the world even less.  The image illustrates how the role of the clergy has come to be seen and valued in our society and perhaps even in the Church.  After all, in a church that has no set doctrine, views online as the same as in person, and caters to the whims of the individual, any clergy may be too many.  Plus, when there is no mediator between God and man or need for any grace to be sacramentally conveyed, what role does the clergy play in a religion of feelings?  You can feed from whatever trough suits you or none at all -- since you are the arbiter of truth anyway.

Yes, I will admit.  Some we have done to ourselves as a group suffering for the sexual sins of the few and the outlandish behavior of others.  But mostly we don't value the things of God and so we do not value the bearer of God's things either.  Protestants certainly come by this conclusion naturally -- that clergy is nice but not necessary.  Lutherans should not agree to it at all even though some of us do.  In the end, the role of the clergy and their popularity and support is tied to whether we think they are necessary, affordable, and useful -- no matter what God says about it.  And that is why it is sooooo sad.

Economic, post-pandemic lessons applied, and an inherent suspicion of clergy along with the clergy's own witless and foolish administration of the office have all combined to suggest that a pastor, if you get a good one, might be worth it, but not necessarily...


Anonymous said...

Schaller’s functional version of the ministry claims to take AC V seriously, but places all authority for the ministry in the congregation, which can carry out the ministry in a variety of ways. The authority of the ministry is rooted in the priesthood of all believers. Everyone’s a minister. Yet WELS also recognizes the pastoral office as a divine office that carries out specific public administrations of the ministry, i.e. preaching and the sacraments. The tension between the Protestant removal of a hierarchical “class” of priests who mediate between man and God and the necessity of public ministers is resolved in a theologically attractive way by reinterpreting ministry as a formless thing given to the Church that is instantiated in different ways. God gives to the church apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers, all of whom are “ministers” doing “ministry.”

The WELS version of the ministry has strong exegetical support in both the New Testament and an attractive systematic logic that resolves both fidelity to the Confessions while making up for the lack of a systematic theology of the ministry from Luther. Missouri’s theologians in turn have largely 1) tacitly accepted the WELS view of ministry, 2) remained silent about it, or 3) adopted an ultra version of the office of ministry which flirts with the idea of a “class” of ministers who alone wield all authority and functions of ministry.

The classic LCMS version of “the ministry” and ministry embraces the somewhat nebulous “both/and” of much of Lutheran theology. There is a divine office of public ministry instituted by Christ (“Go and make disciples, baptizing,” “Feed my sheep,” etc.) that wields actual authority in dispensing grace and remitting sins. There is also the general ministry of believers that has the exact same authority, yet locates the administration of this authority in the office of pastor. This does not mean that believers are to neglect evangelizing or have no ability to baptize in an emergency. The LCMS finds it challenging to explain however the why behind why believers can or must do these things if there already exists a divine public office entrusted with the public authority to carry these out. Equally problematic is explaining the “why not” when it comes to topics such as lay preaching or home communion, both of which the WELS should have no problem with, but which the LCMS emphatically rejects. As is the case with many biblical both/ands, LCMS Lutherans can only point to the fact that Scripture teaches both a public divine office and a general ministry given to the Church, which are not systematically reconcilable.

This traditional approach leads to modern controversies over where exactly the boundaries lie. If the Church, which is all believers, has all authority to preach and administer the sacraments, what’s the problem with online communion? Or home communion? WELS would say that there is no problem, since lay men and women are simply instantiating the ministry in their homes. Luther’s description of house churches where preaching and baptizing take place lends credence to the WELS point of view. But LCMS Lutherans would say that where the office of public ministry already exists, then that authority may not be exercised by the congregation beyond the office itself. Hence, no online communion because the pastor must be publicly administering the Sacrament, not virtually administering the Sacrament. What about if the worship service is being streamed in real time? Isn’t that real? Here you see the sorts of ludicrous questions that the LCMS gets entangled in that the WELS can avoid entirely. The LCMS then has to devise some defense of the oral Word aurally heard in person to constitute valid exercise and application of the authority of the pastoral office. Which we have yet to do, and, despite calls from certain districts to do so, will probably not, simply because Scripture says nothing of the sort and we do not have the freedom to individually make up new ways of receiving the Sacrament.

hoenecke said...

WELS guy here. Dr. Brug's paper "The Meaning of Predigtamt in Augsburg Confession V" states that "The word Amt is not limited to an office or position held by an incumbent. It often refers to a task or
action, or, if you will, a function..." He goes on to proof-text Adolf Hoenecke's dogmatics. (while ignoring Hoenecke's first thesis on the ministry: "The teaching office, by which we here mean the pastors, the estate composed of the servants of the Word, is divinely instituted" - a translator's note alerts the reader that the WELS' current view was different.)

I agree with you, it's an office not a function.