Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Office of Pastor, and the Job of the Pastor

This is a blog-only special edition, sparked by some further thoughts regarding my September newsletter.

In my September newsletter, I mentioned that even teaching the Catechism isn't properly something that I do, but something the parents do, and that when I teach confirmation class I'm helping the parents rather than doing something that is proper to my office, and that it is certainly acceptable for the parents (or anyone else they trust to assist them, not only the pastor) to do the actual teaching.

On the other hand, just about every pastor in the Missouri Synod (including myself) teaches the Catechism to almost all children and adults who wish to be confirmed, and their congregations would rightly accuse a pastor of not doing his job if he refused to do so.

So which is it?  Is teaching the Catechism my job or the parents'?  And what about this idea, very, very, very common among graduates of our various Concordia Universities, that teachers and other commissioned ministers partake, in one way or another, in the pastoral office?  How should we view that?

(It should be noted, by the way, that the idea that teachers are also pastors in some way - at least the male ones - is an idea which is actually the doctrinal position of the Wisconsin Synod and not the Missouri Synod.  Many Missouri Synod theologians usually call it, somewhat scornfully, the "Wauwatosa Theology," and it is one of the doctrinal issues which continue to divide these two former partner church bodies.  In the Missouri Synod, the formal doctrinal position is that the Office of the Ministry is distinct from any other Churchly job or office, in the sense that the office of the pastor is divinely instituted, while the other Churchly vocations are not.  But, as has been pointed out many times in many discussions of this matter by theologians, Missouri practices what Wisconsin  believes, while Wisconsin practices what Missouri believes.  Interesting mess, no?)

I think that, perhaps, we need to distinguish what is proper to the pastor's Office (no, not the physical room, which is properly called the "study" anyway, but certain aspects of what pastors are to do inherent in God's institution of the Holy Ministry), and what is his "job."  There are many things which are part of the pastor's "job," which congregations have a right to expect from him, which are nevertheless not part of his Office.  The "jobs" a pastor may be required to do vary from one congregation to another, from one culture to another, and from one time period in the Church's history to another.  The Office of the pastor refers to those things that only a pastor may do, and which, if someone else takes it upon himself to do them, should be regarded as a serious transgression of the Third Commandment (not to mention what we Lutherans confess in Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession).

The Office of the pastor properly includes the "public" preaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments.  While there are some "gray areas" that, at least in Missouri's recent history, have been performed also by congregational elders, such as reading the Scriptures and assisting with the distribution of Communion, preaching the Word "publicly" and administering the Sacraments are those things which are proper to the Office of the Holy Ministry.  Whether even the readings and the distribution should be given to elders or not is something that is also a matter of some debate among certain Missouri theologians, but I'm not all that concerned about it because as a Synod we have much bigger fish to fry.  The elders assist the pastor precisely in his Office, and therefore they are to be men who could, at least theoretically, qualify to become pastors themselves. Because of this, the question of whether they should assist him during the Divine Service is a matter which, while I have my own opinion on it, is not really a major theological concern compared to some of the other things which Missouri has historically (and recently!) argued about.  By the way, I do believe that having women (or laymen who aren't congregational elders, for that matter) read the Scriptures publicly and distribute Communion (to say nothing of preaching from the pulpit and consecrating the Supper!) is a practice not in accord with the Scriptures or the Lutheran Confessions, as reading the Scriptures publicly is a form of preaching them (after all, a dramatic reading - or even an undramatic one - is a form of interpretation, that is to say, preaching).

(By the way, the congregational elders are those men(!) who work most closely with the pastor as he carries out his duties.  In addition to sometimes reading the Scriptures and assisting with the Distribution, they assist him with pastoral care by visiting the members of the congregation and encouraging them in their life of faith, helping him keep track of delinquent members as well as the sick and shut-in, and encouraging the pastor himself as he carries out both his job and his office, as well as being the "point men" for the right and duty of every Christian to judge the doctrine taught by his pastor.  And yet, even though these men are more closely associated with the pastor as he carries out his Office than any other Churchly vocation, they are never mentioned in the most important recent document regarding Churchly vocations among Missourians, The Ministry: Offices, Procedures, and Nomenclature, (1985, Commission on Theology and Church Relations).  This document (which, it should be noted, is not part of our formal confession of faith as set forth in Article II of our Synod's Constitution) is perhaps the most clear and influential presentation of the view that certain Churchly vocations are, in fact, either part of, or at least subsidiary to, the Office of the Holy Ministry.  And yet, that vocation within the Church which is most closely associated with those duties which are proper to the pastor's Office (i.e., preaching the Word publicly and administering the Sacraments), namely that of congregational elder, isn't even given a mention in that document!  That document only talks about Synodically rostered career Church workers.  Something is definitely fishy here!)

As to the pastor's "job," there are many things which pastors have been expected to do in the course of their daily and weekly duties which are not proper to their Office, but which are beneficial to the Church precisely because it is the pastor who does them (and which, therefore, congregations can legitimately expect the pastor to do).  One such "job" is that of assisting the parents as they catechize their children in the Christian faith.  This is not proper to the Office of the Holy Ministry, but it is highly beneficial in most cases that the pastor also be the teacher, since he happens to be the one who has a Master's degree in theology.  Lutheran school teachers also have a hand in this area as well, since they're also more educated than the average laymen regarding what Scripture teaches and the Catechism confesses.  And by the way, for this reason I do think it's a good idea for the Synod to keep track of (i.e., roster) those teachers and other paid church workers which have received such education.  My only quibble is with how our Synod's vocabulary has gotten somewhat confused regarding the relation of those who have been ordained to the Office to the other rostered church workers.  Admitting the catechumens to the Lord's Table upon examination and absolution, on the other hand, is proper to the Office, as it is an essential part of administering the Sacraments.  If it were part of my Office to teach the catechumens, then those parents who decide to do it themselves would be violating the Third Commandment (more on that below), despite the fact that the Catechism clearly makes catechesis a fundamental aspect of the vocation of parent, and not of the Office of the Ministry.

Some pastors in small congregations also serve as "church secretaries," preparing the Sunday bulletin and the newsletter, answering the phone, etc.  This was the case in several of my previous congregations.  Of course here at Holy Cross we have a paid secretary, partially because as a bi-vocational pastor I simply don't have the time to do all that (though I do prefer to prepare the liturgical part of the bulletin because it's easier for me as the preacher and administrator of the sacraments to set it up myself rather than doing a lot of back-and-forth with the secretary about which setting of the Service we're using, proofreading, changes in the liturgy due to festivals and other distinctive parts of the Church Year, etc., again due to a lack of time because of my bi-vocational status).  And there are many other things which a congregation may, because of circumstances or cultural considerations, rightfully expect the pastor to do which are nevertheless not a formal part of the Office of the Holy Ministry.  For example, in the early days of the Missouri Synod, the man most educated on many subjects (not just theology) in a frontier community was the pastor, and so he was also the schoolteacher, not just of religion, but also reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic.  Again, not proper to the pastor's office, but a very helpful thing for him to do and therefore part of his "job" as congregations in that circumstance defined it.  (This, by the way, is part of the reason the Missouri Synod has always had such a heavy emphasis on congregationally-owned Lutheran Schools, because having those with a theological education as part of their teacher training, whether ordained or not, is a great blessing to the Church and her families.)

Perhaps the most useful tool for understanding these matters is the Third Commandment, which forbids Christians to "despise preaching and His Word," as Luther puts it in the Catechism.  If a Christian despises or avoids the public preaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments (those things which are fundamental and proper to the divinely-instituted Office of the Ministry), he is failing to do as God requires in this Commandment.  However, if parents decide to home-school their children, or send them to public or other private schools (even ones owned by the Roman Catholics or the Assemblies of God, as well as Wisconsin Synod schools such as, e.g., Shoreland High School in Somers), they are not violating the Third Commandment.

(It should be noted that confusion on this matter almost led to a split between Missouri and Wisconsin way back in the 1890's and 1900's, long before the split over Missouri's leftward drift and other serious theological problems regarding the doctrine of Holy Scripture and Law and Gospel in 1961.  Back then, while both Synods were still predominantly German and the whole controversy over Scripture (which dominated Missouri from the 1950's to at least the 1980's and to some extent even down to our own day) had not even begun to show itself on the horizon, a serious division arose regarding the nature and status of Lutheran schools.  What happened was this: there was a Missouri Synod congregation in Cincinnati which excommunicated a family because they decided to send their children to the local public school rather than the congregation's Lutheran school.  The reasoning given was that by not making use of the Lutheran school the parents were violating the Third Commandment.  Well, the Missouri Synod disagreed, and suspended the congregation from its membership in the Missouri Synod over the matter.  While the Wisconsin Synod refused to accept the congregation's application for membership (likely for the same reason that we would rightly refuse a transfer from somebody who had unresolved sin and forgiveness issues with his former congregation), many of the local Wisconsin Synod congregations practised fellowship with this congregation and agreed that they were right to excommunicate the family in question.  Now, there were other questions that were raised, such as whether the suspension from the Missouri Synod constituted an "excommunication," since it indicated a break in communion fellowship, or whether only congregations, and not church bodies, can properly "excommunicate," and that question itself led to all sorts of other debate, but the primary question here, that of whether the family did, in fact, violate the Third Commandment, can be viewed as the beginning of Missouri and Wisconsin's disagreement over the subject of the Office of the Ministry and its relation to other Churchly vocations.  The history of this matter is set out in Rolf Preus's online document, The Old Ministry Debate in the Synods of the Synodical Conference and in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod Today.  Many of you at Holy Cross will remember Rolf as the pastor of St. John's here in Racine preceding Pastor Quinn.)

All Churchly vocations are a great blessing to the Church.  In fact all legitimate vocations are a great blessing from God both to the Church and to the world, and all serve God in one way or another.  The reason why the discussion I've set out here is important, however, is because each vocation is unique, and each has its own unique contribution to make to the body of the Church (and indeed, the body of humanity in the world).  As St. Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 16, just because the hand is not the eye, doesn't give it the right to complain that it's not part of the body (nor even that it's not an important part of the body), nor does it give the eye justification for looking down at the hand and despising its contribution to the body.  To make every part of Christ's body, the Church, equal and identical with the Office of the Holy Ministry, is to violate this principle.  Everyone has his own God-given proper role, and we despise those roles when we start making "everyone an eye," as if everyone (or everyone who has a Church-related career, for that matter) were the same part of the body.  (By the way, check out last fall's Disney movie "Wreck-it Ralph" for an interesting example of someone stumbling upon the Lutheran doctrine of vocation, as each video game character, not just the "good guys" and the non-player characters, have their own unique contributions to make to the good of the whole game and even to the whole video-game arcade.)  Everyone is a servant, everyone has a calling.  But each has their own service, each has their own vocation (the Latin word for "calling").  Instead of complaining that things aren't "fair" in terms of how God places each in his own role, we rejoice that God has given so many good and unique ways to work in the Church and in the world.

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