Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Christology from the Mouths of Babes

Mrs. Hollywood and I took Lion Boy to a Gretna playground this afternoon. While we ate dinner, Leo played and romped with a passel of little children - one of which was a little girl who attends Salem Lutheran School. After a while, she ran over to me, smiled, and said: "Hey, I know you."

"You do?" I replied. "Who am I?"

Her answer: "Jesus!"

I laughed. "Not quite. I'm Pastor Beane." "Oh," she answered, and ran off to resume her play.

Little children instinctively seem to understand that the pastor, the preacher, the one who is always talking about Jesus, the one who wears churchly vestments, stands in the front of the church, and makes the sign of the cross - is somehow inextricably linked to Jesus.

Maybe this is why our Lord says we must become as little children to inherit the Kingdom. When we get older, many of us no longer see a man in persona Christi, but rather a hireling, a functionary, a guy with a job. We begin to see the minister not for who he is and for Whom he acts (ontologically), but rather for what he does (functionally) - and then we are quick to posit that anyone else can do the same job. We begin to see ordination as nothing more than a quaint little ceremony and the ministry as merely a function that can be carried out by vicars, "lay ministers," DCEs, and lay elders. After all, lots of people are "ministers" who have a "divine call" - not just "ministers of religion - ordained" (as the bureaucrats would say).

This is how it is that we have dirty little secrets in the LCMS, horrific things like: forcing vicars to violate their consciences by bullying them into pre-ordinational "consecration" with no authority to do so, and like having the laity lay hands on elders and send them off to celebrate the Mass - for that authority comes from Christ and is given, according to the Lutheran confessions, "rite vocatus" (through the "call according to the rite" (of ordination)) - which follows a period of pastoral training, formation, and public oaths to doctrinal fidelity.

The laity have a holy vocation, no less holy than the clergy. But only the clergy have the vocation to preach and administer sacraments. We Lutherans never proposed a change to that article of faith of the church catholic (the only question under debate in article 14 of the Augsburg Confession boiled down to the discussion about whether the minister of ordination had to be a bishop, or whether priests likewise had the authority to ordain - the question of lay people ordaining and/or officiating at sacraments was never on the table).

And certainly all Christians are called upon to be "little Christs" - in the words of Luther. All Christians have the priestly vocation to pray and to offer their lives as living sacrifices to the Lord, to be witnesses of the faith. Christians are called to confess to each other, and lead a life of forgiveness. But as this little girl was confessing in her own way, pastors, men who are rite vocatus, called through the process of ritual ordination, speak publically, authoritatively, and vocationally in their own priestly way on behalf of, and by authority of, Jesus.

"So Jesus said to them again, 'Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (John 20:21-23).

It's too bad when Christians "grow up" and start "doing their own thing" according to their own reasoning apart from the collective testimony and wisdom of their ancestors in the faith - not to mention the Word of God.

Maybe if more of our leadership spent more time in the real world with little children and less time reading the latest trendy books written by business gurus and fad church poobahs, they too would get it.


Mike Keith said...

A truly excellent post. I believe, and have stated several times in various settings, that the issue of our tim eis the Office of the Holy Ministry. The 60s and 70s dealt with Higher Criticism, the 80s and 90s with Church Growth, and today we must deal with the Office of the Holy Ministry. It is apparent we in the Lutheran church have drifted from our theological moorings. Where and when did it begin? I am not sure and that would be an important study - but I think the Brief Statement is at least a starting point.

josh said...

great post. I especially like the paragraphs about the vocation of Christians who are not rite vocatus. And agreeing with Mike, this issue does seem to be the root of much evil in our circles. The problem I run into, even when discussing this with family, is that people hear pastors trying to fend for their turf over against the laity. Proper discussion of vocation calms the argument down, but I wonder if we start from that point would the discussion run smoother? Perhaps not. Just typing out loud.

Scott Diekmann said...

If you force someone repeatedly to violate their conscience (which really is impossible), eventually they learn to ignore their conscience. Is that what we're doing in the case of vicars and Communion? The vicars are told to keep the practice "quiet." Why are they told that? Obviously those who are requiring them to do such things know it's wrong.

"This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth."
1 John 1:5-6

Father Hollywood said...


Excellent observations, all. Thank you.