Friday, August 2, 2013

A Clergy Optional Church?

In a blog post yesterday, former LCMS President Jerry Kieschnick opined that some in our synod "seem intent on moving us toward a clergy dominated church." He provides three examples for why he has arrived at this opinion: 1) the abundance of black shirts and white collars at the recent LCMS Convention, 2) the exclusion of laity from consideration for positions of significant leadership in our church body, and 3) a discernible aloofness and even pharisaical demeanor exhibited by some pastors, obvious during worship services and in pastoral ministry functions as well, which telegraphs a "holier than thou" attitude.

On his first example, I'm not sure which Convention Jerry attended a couple weeks back. I watched a great deal of the Convention via online streaming and I certainly did not see an abundance of black shirts and white collars. In fact, the black shirts and white collars were few and far between. The overwhelming majority of pastoral delegates in attendance were not clad in clergy attire. A few were; most were not. Same with the Council of Presidents. Some wore black; most didn't. Thus, if the prevalence of black shirts and white collars was an actual indicator of some sort of shift toward a clergy dominated LCMS, any objective observer would have to conclude that Jerry has nothing to fear. Of course, this is not an actual indicator of any such thing, and it's beyond silly to pretend as though it is. But, again, if it was an indicator, it would indicate the exact opposite of what Jerry is contending. Doesn't he realize that?

The second example Jerry puts forth is as mind-boggling as the first, given the fact that laity have always been excluded from consideration for certain positions of significant leadership in our church body. The unknowing reader of Jerry's blog post might get the impression that drastic changes were made at our most recent Convention, which resulted in new exclusions of laity serving in leadership positions in our church body. Um, that did not happen. Of course, Jerry doesn't actually point his readers to any actual changes that have been made here. He just sort of throws this out there and leaves it to the imaginations of his readers. I guess we're just supposed to make our own assumptions and draw our own conclusions as to what he's trying to say, which I think is purposeful on his part. This is called fear-mongering. I think we're going to see a lot of this from Jerry and some of his pals on the Council of Presidents over the next triennium, just as we saw some of this from them in the weeks leading up to the Convention a couple weeks back. Fear-mongering is an oft-used tactic in secular politics, but it's a shame when it is a tactic employed by leaders, and former leaders, in a church body. But, hey, desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess.

The worst of the three examples Jerry provides is the third. What does he mean by "discernible aloofness" and "pharisaical demeanor"? Does it bother him when pastors conduct themselves in a reverent fashion as they lead worship or perform other pastoral duties? Would he be happier if pastors wore t-shirts and performed their duties in a nonchalant, informal manner, as though they were not serving in the actual Presence of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? Actually, based on years of listening to Jerry's thoughts on this issue, I think he would be happier were that the case. After all, during his tenure as our synodical president, he never tired of highlighting pastors and congregations in our synod whose worship practices emulated the worship practices of the Americanized Protestants, who do not believe Jesus is Present during worship. He even had a link in the President's section of our synod's website devoted to highlighting such pastors and congregations. And, as he wrote in an email missive last year (March 1, 2012), which is referenced in a blog post I wrote here, his opinion is that "to the greatest extent possible, pastors and other worship leaders do well to design and conduct services that . . . are conducted in what might be called a spirit of dignified informality." Evidently, if pastors conduct themselves in a spirit of dignified formality, they exhibit a "discernible aloofness" and "pharisaical demeanor." I mean, God forbid that pastors actually behave as though they believe they're in the actual Presence of Jesus, and that reverence and awe are in order because of that. If they behave that way, the laity might start believing that stuff, too. We can't have that. That would take all the fun and entertainment out of worship, and we've been trying really hard since the 1980s to show the world that Lutheran worship can be just as fun and entertaining as the worship of the non-denominational mega-church down the road. Sigh.

Besides the fact that Jerry's "dignified informality" position is oxymoronic, as I point out in the blog post linked above, I hasten to point out that his inclusion of this third example in yesterday's blog post reeks of a "holier than thou" attitude on his part. Not only that, but, given that he makes this observation in light of our recent Convention, he seems to be slamming Pastors William Weedon and Ben Ball, who were the Chaplains during the Convention and lead the worship services. No doubt it irked Jerry when he saw both of these fine, faithful pastors conduct themselves with dignified formality, rather than the dignified informality he prefers. I can only imagine his angst when he saw them bow at the Name of the Holy Trinity or hold their hands together when reading God's Holy Word, etc. Oh, what discernible aloofness and pharisaical demeanor they displayed! Sigh (again).

None of the three examples Jerry puts forth supports his conclusion that we're moving in the direction of being a clergy dominated church. All three are examples of fear-mongering. Nothing more and nothing less. What Jerry and his pals are really worried about is the sense they have that their "Everyone a Minister" theology, which they spent so much effort introducing among us, is beginning to fizzle away. They are worried that our Lutheran theology of the Office of the Holy Ministry, which in no way dishonors our theology of the priesthood of all believers, is beginning to resurface among us. They are worried that their faulty view and understanding of the so-called "Great Commission," which comes not from our Lutheran theology, but from the theology and principles advanced by the proponents of the Church Growth Movement, will be shown to be faulty (for an excellent summary of the popular, but faulty, view and understanding of the so-called "Great Commission," see Pr. Todd Wilken's two-part article in the Summer 2011 and Fall 2011 "Issues, Etc. Journal"). They are worried that the clergy optional church they've been championing for years will be shown to be incompatible with our Lutheran confession of the faith.

Make no mistake, the "Everyone a Minister" theology adhered to by Jerry and friends does lead to a Clergy Optional Church. It posits that pastors are nice and all, but they aren't necessary. Anyone who is "lead by the Spirit" can preach or baptize or administer communion, according to this theology. In fact, the main purpose of pastors or "any spirit-lead church leaders," according to this theology, is to "equip the laity to do the Ministry." We're all in this together, after all, clergy and laity alike - it's our joint mission to save the lost and make disciples of Jesus.

The main Biblical texts used to support this theology are Matthew 28:18-20 (the so-called "Great Commission" text) and Ephesians 4:11-12, quoted by Jerry in his blog post. Again, see Pr. Wilken's fine, two-part article linked above regarding the so-called "Great Commission" text. Just as that text does not support the "Everyone a Minister" theology, neither does the text from Ephesians 4, contrary to Jerry's assertion otherwise.

Now, I understand Jerry's confusion on this one, to be sure. Most modern English translations render Eph. 4:12 in such a way as to have the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers of verse 11 "equipping the saints for the work of ministry." Indeed, translated this way, Eph. 4:12 has become a sedes doctrinae for the "Everyone a Minister" theology that rules Americanized Protestantism. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers exist to equip the saints, the people, the laity, to do the work of the ministry. The ministry and mission of the Church is done by the people out in the world; the purpose of the Church's leaders, whatever they may be called, is to train and equip the people to get out there and get that work done. So, yes, I understand Jerry's confusion. He's just parroting the popular understanding of this controverted verse, much as he does with the so-called "Great Commission" text, as well as that ever-so-popular "all things to all people" text (1 Cor. 9:22), which is often proudly marshaled out by those defending contemporary worship and the dignified informality Jerry prefers, because, you know, that's what St. Paul meant by that verse . . . not. But, I digress.

The problem for Jerry is that his understanding of Eph. 4:11-12, while certainly in line with Americanized Protestantism, and with the principles of the Church Growth Movement, is not consistent with our Lutheran confession of the faith, or with the way these verses have been traditionally translated and interpreted throughout the history of the church catholic. The controversy over the translation of Eph. 4:12, which has to do with how that verse should be punctuated, has produced much ink over the past couple centuries, but, prior to that, the controversy simply didn't exist. The traditional understanding of these controverted verses, and the one our own Lutheran forefathers held, was that the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers of verse 11, all of which belong to the One Office of the Holy Ministry, are given to the Church "to perfect the saints, for the work of the Ministry, and for the edifying (building up) of the Body of Christ." In other words, the three prepositional phrases of verse 12 are functions performed by our Lord Jesus Christ through the men He calls into His Office of the Holy Ministry.

Of course, my pointing this out will just add fuel to Jerry's fears, setting them ablaze (see what I did there?). I'm a black-shirt, white-collar wearing clergy type, after all. What's worse, I'm one of those "holier than thou" types, who conducts the Divine Service in a spirit not of dignified informality, but of reverent formality. I make the sign of the cross, bow, elevate, genuflect, chant, preach Law and Gospel, and hold my hands just so, and not out of some "unintended byproduct of a deep and sincere piety," which Jerry may find in his heart to excuse, but in an intended, deliberate, ceremonial fashion, so as to teach the saints I'm blessed to serve that our Lord Jesus Christ is Present among us and that, because of that glorious reality, reverence and awe are certainly in order, which Jerry would not excuse, but identify as "discernible aloofness" and "pharisaical demeanor." It's guys like me that Jerry's warning you about. But, I'm okay with that. Really, I am.

People in the Missouri Synod can rest easy. We're not moving in the direction of becoming some fearful, clergy dominated church body. We're rediscovering our Lutheran confession of the faith, and that's a wonderful thing, for our Lutheran confession of the faith does not pit clergy against laity, as the fear-mongerers among us will continue to suggest, but rather maintains the Biblical and Confessional distinction between them, without elevating one over the other. Luther himself is the champion par excellance of the priesthood of all believers theology, but he would have some pretty choice words to express in opposition to the popular "Everyone a Minister" theology so prevalent today, which has bewitched our own synod into forsaking AC XIV (and, really, AC V, along with it), something that a great many of us, clergy and laity alike, are prayerfully hoping will soon be corrected.

At the end of the day, Jerry's argument is not with our current synodical administration or with pastors like me, but with Christ Himself, who created the Office of the Holy Ministry, and distinguished this Office from the priesthood of all believers, giving this Office the task of preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name; of baptizing and catechizing the saints and leading them to the Holy Altar, where He fulfills His promise to be with His Church always. Contrary to the clergy optional, "Everyone a Minister" theology, the making of disciples - the Ministry and Mission of Christ's Holy Church - is fulfilled at the font, pulpit, and altar in the Church, not out in the neighborhoods by the saints "equipped to do the Ministry." The saints are not equipped to do the Ministry, but are blessed recipients of the Ministry. They do not go out into the world as missionaries and evangelists, but as baptized believers in Christ, who live out their Holy Spirit-given faith within their God-given vocations. Should they always be ready to provide a defense for the hope that they have in Jesus? Sure. But, to pretend as though they are Ministers or Missionaries, equipped and sent out to do the work of the Ministry, is to completely misunderstand both the Office of the Holy Ministry and the priesthood of all believers. Not only that, but it places an unnecessary burden upon the laity that our Lord Himself did not place upon them. They need not worry themselves over whether or not they're doing their part to reach and save the lost; it's not given them to reach and save the lost. In fact, that's not even given to the men who bear the yoke of the stole in Christ's Office. Christ Himself will reach and save all the lost who will be reached and saved. It's His Ministry and Mission, and He will fulfill it perfectly, even while using imperfect people, both clergy and laity, each in their distinctive roles, to do so.

A Clergy Dominated Church? No, not at all. A Clergy Optional Church? Nope, not that either. Christ's Holy Church, made up of all believers in Him, where He fulfills His Ministry and Mission in the manner He Himself has established? Amen.


Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

Did you ask permission to use the word "ablaze"?

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

LOL! I notice you forget the (tm) as well, brother. ;)

Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

I'm a writer. Word theft is an art form. *wink*

Rev. Paul L. Beisel said...

I thought it was interesting that Jerry uses Ephesians 4, which speaks entirely of clergy, to say that there is evidence in Scripture that lay people should also be involved in the service of the Church.

Jay Watson said...

Too many words (though I agree with them all) Fr. Thomas.
I could have blogged the same with brevity: "Jerry is an ass!"

Paul said...

Perhaps, as well, a major case of "sour grapes" as the delegates weren't treated to a sock spinning rendition of "spin me, Jesus!", see pastoral meanderings for the full context of that reference.

El Cid said...

I have personally experienced the clergy ruling over the congregation as if it were his personal business.

Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

El Cid--I have personal experience with being forced out of a Call by the lay leaders of the congregation for reasons having nothing to do with false doctrine, gross and unrepentant sin, or an inability to do the work to which I was Called.

Michael L. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D said...

"I have personally experienced the clergy ruling over the congregation as if it were his personal business."

I'm guessing the clergy was personally clothed in flesh. And I further guess that the enfleshed cleric was properly called by the warrior-sheep El Cid and his colleagues, so as to be staffed and rodded by the cleric if need be. And for El Cid's "comfort", according to the finger of holy God (Ps 23). Even His chastisements flow from mercy!

I have personally read about an anointed of God with 3000 men in hot pursuit of a saint, i.e., David (1 Sam 26:2). David was urged by Abishai to take matter into in his own hands while he had the golden chance, to give the order for Abishai to personally pin bossy King Saul to the ground with a spear, because the King was giving David "the business."

And you know what St. David, that man after the Lord's own heart, barked to Abishai? He said "Don't destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD's anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the LORD lives ... the LORD Himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORD's anointed."

You can lay a hand on the LORD's anointed, with evil intent, in more ways than brandishing a spear. A tongue will do. So will an attitude. These are serious things. Words like "Raca," says Christ Jesus, can earn a one-way ticket to hell. Bears mauled some teenagers quite badly, for mocking and despising the man of God (Elisha).

Our Lutheran clergy have been ordained by the laying on of hands (Acts 8), by which means they have been anointed with the Holy Spirit to preach God's Word, and to serve and administer God's Word in edible and washing forms ... all, for the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. He the orthodox Lutheran cleric is the under-shepherd of our dear crucified LORD, but he is not a hireling to be fired on the mere whim or offended ego of a sheep. It had better be the under-shepherd's "personal business" to take his job seriously, with a dignified formality and with accountability ... in light of the demeanor of the Boss (Rev. 1:12-16), who stands there in the midst of golden lampstands (which entities, symbolize the congregations of God). Christ is Present in our churches, St. John of Patmos perceives. He knows what's going on, and He will judge actions accordingly and deal out proper justice and rewards ... not El Cid, and not collar-counting ex-prexies.

Now then, gentlemen. If David could graciously put up with the antics of the anointed Saul ... for just and righteous principle and reverence for God ... then perhaps the El Cids of this world can find the courage and patience of a saint to put up with those also touched by God, by His will, if not by oil then through means of hands. Let's pray for the El Cids of the congregation, of the synod, and of the world at large, to be more like David.

See, David the warrior was dealing with a man seized by an evil spirit ... a spirit sorely wishing to terminate the line of David, and the fleshly ancestors of the Incarnate God. El Cid the warrior was probably dealing, at most, with someone's noisome personality (or maybe a faithful wielder of the shepherd's tools).

So which warrior-man was facing the tussle of his life?

Your (unworthy) servant,
Herr Doktor, S.S.P.