Friday, August 14, 2009

Is the Church a Democracy?

[Note: No, I'm not trying to sound like St. Luke with the "Dear Theophilus" business, rather this is a reply to FH reader "Theophilus" in his comments to this post].

Dear Theophilus:

Thanks again for your comments.

I would advise you against skipping around from church to church, you will not find consistency in what they teach, especially regarding the Lord's Supper, Baptism, the Office of the Ministry, the Sabbath, Eschatology, etc. Church skipping also temps the flesh with not being accountable to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Committing to one congregation is like committing to one spouse. Bouncing around enables a person to "call the shots" rather than submit to the Word and commit to a specific flock of brothers and sisters.

I would also caution you against imposing American (and Jeffersonian) democracy on the church. God establishes the universe and the church in a hierarchical way. This is very unpopular among us egalitarian Americans (I count myself as a Jeffersonian, politically speaking).

God created a definite pecking order. There are legions and orders of angels. God created man in His image, but not the animals. God breathed His breath (spirit) into animals but not into inanimate objects. Man was given dominion over the earth (Gen 1 & 2).

The one who first bucked this system and insisted on "equality with God" was not our Lord Jesus (who truly is God, and yet did not consider this "equality a thing to be grasped" Phil 2:6), but rather Satan - who though he was God's inferior, sought to dethrone Him.

Similarly, the Lord gave Adam and Eve "dominion" over the earth, and gave Adam a position of authority over his wife. And yet, they were to be servants of God. Satan (who didn't like the hierarchy and all that "institutional" stuff) tempted Eve to not only bypass her husband in the chain of command, but also to seek to "be like God" (Gen 3:5).

Every form of sin is a rebellion against the pecking order.

Feminism is a sin because it seeks to overthrow the male headship of the family (Eph 5:22-24). The more radical elements of the animal rights movements that seek to make animals and humans to be equal violates the "dominion mandate" (Gen 1:28) as well as ignoring the fact that man bears the "image of God" (Gen 1:27). The submission of children to parents is the fourth commandment (Ex 20:12). Homosexuality is a sinful confusion of the sexes, which are to be distinguished, even according to natural law (Rom 1:24-27). We are called upon to submit to earthly government (Rom 13:1). The Lord maintains order through a system of delegated authority.

In the Church, we see the same hierarchical use of authority. The Lord Jesus always describes the Church as a "Kingdom" - never a "democracy" nor "republic" (though both forms of government were well-established and well-understood at the time of the NT).

Jesus calls the apostles, and gives them the "authority" (Matt 28:18) that was given to Him to preach, forgive sins, baptize, and administer the Lord's Supper (Matt 28:16-20, Luke 22:19, John 20:19-23). This calling (vocation) is not given to everyone, but is given to the apostles, and they, in turn hand that authority over to other men ordained into this ministry (e.g. Paul ordains Timothy, 1 Tim 1:6).

The men ordained into the this office are called many things in Scripture: pastors (shepherds), overseers (bishops), elders (presbyters), and in one case, "priests" (Rom 15:16) - though "priest" is an embarrassment to many Protestants, whose English translations often refuse to properly translate the Greek word "hierourgounta" (lit: "priesting") - and, by the way, do you see the word "hierarchy" in there?).

Paul, in 1 Tim 3, uses the term "episcopos" for the minister. The word is sometimes translated traditionally as "bishop" or more literally as "overseer" (epi = "over" and "skopos" involves "seeing" - like a telescope or microscopr).

The pastor is "over" the congregation in the sense of his authority. He is a leader and is to be obeyed as long as he himself is submitting to God's Word.

"Obey your leaders and submit to them," the inspired writer of Hebrews says (Heb 13:17), "for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."

This is pretty politically incorrect stuff, and it runs against our democratic impulse - which might explain why all of these passages ended up on the cutting room floor in Montecello.

Now, authority does not mean power for the sake of power, but rather out of love - even as Paul exhorts the husbands, as heads of the family, to be willing to die for their wives (Eph 5:25-33) as Christ dies for His bride, the Church. And if you read on, you see further exhortations to the hierarchy in Eph 6:1-4: children to parents, and 6:5-9: slaves to masters).

There is a sense in which we do share equality before God, that of our worth and value, of our salvation by grace (see Gal 3:28). But our equality before the Lord in this way no more authorizes everyone to be a preacher, leader, or hierarch in the church than does our equality as American citizens mean that I have the authority to walk into the White House any time I want, or perform surgery, drive a bus, wear a badge, or sport the insignia of a colonel on my lapel. For I do not have such authority and vocations.

We are at war against the forces of darkness. The Lord's Kingdom is, in that sense, a vast army. Armies are hierarchical, and so is the Lord's Kingdom. We all have a place and a calling in the Lord's Kingdom, and not all are equal in authority (Eph 4:11-13).

This is another reason for you to settle in to a congregation. How can you "obey your leaders, and submit to them" if you are bouncing hither and yon? It would be like a corporal jumping from army to army every time he receives an order he doesn't feel like obeying, or encounters an officer he doesn't want to submit to. You are currently unable to do what our Lord bids you to do in Heb 13:17.

Thanks again for the discussion!


Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

The church certainly isn't a democracy, and ideally people shouldn't be church-shopping, but ideally pastors shouldn't be souring the Gospel with platitudes and soft law or with talks of transforming the congregation. It's a two way street.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dan:

If the pastor is not preaching the Gospel rightly and administering the sacraments in their purity, he should be deposed and defrocked.

If that can't be done, then people do need to leave that parish and seek another pastor. And I know that happens all too frequently.

However, what also often happens in the LCMS (thankfully not at my congregation), is that a pastor will be doing what he is supposed to be doing, but congregational leaders and certain parishioners who have some form of leverage or other have some other beef with him - and are rebellious, refuse to submit, and treat the pastor as an employee.

This is an example of where the church is not a democracy. It is a hierarchy.

If you start chatting with a random group of LCMS pastors, you will always find more than a few who were treated as hirelings at some point in their ministry and either fired or threatened with being fired for such things as: closed communion, moving to institute weekly communion, upholding traditional liturgy, or practicing church discipline against someone (or someone's relative) who is living scandalously in some way.

In that case, it is not a two-way street.

It is a difficult thing to make proud, independent, adult Americans (especially those who put the money in the plate that goes to the pastor's salary) understand that there are indeed times when they are to submit to anyone - let alone the pastor they "hire" and "pay."

My advice to "Theophilus" was given to him based on his chosen way of living the Christian life that involves never committing to any particular confession or congregation. I don't see how anyone can lead a Christian life that way. To have a pastor is to have a shepherd, an overseer. That's how the Lord orders His Church - which is swimming upstream in the modern American culture.

I hope that clarifies things a bit!

Christian Soul said...

Is the church polity of the LCMS faithful to the hierarchical order of God? I am referring specifically to the synodical structure and not that of pastors and lay members in individual congregations.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear CS:

As we confess in our Lutheran Symbols, specific forms of polity are not demanded in Scripture. I think there is a lot of flexibility regarding polity and structure above the congregational level - and we Lutherans have historically had all different kinds of church government.

But what gives me great pause is the idea that doctrine can be voted on with a show of hands. We deny that doctrine can be put to a vote, but how can one argue, for example, with the late Prof. Marquart's contention that the Wicheta Convention of 1989 passed an amendment to Augsburg Confession Article XIV in authorizing unordained "lay ministers"?

As far as having a group of congregations join some kind of fellowship or a group of clergy joining a synod or ministerium - and electing supervisors, presidents, or bishops - I don't see that as really a problem.

Do you have something in particular in mind when you say "synodical structure"?

SLJubilee said...

Excellent post.

From the feminine gender, only by acting in a manner most unequal to God is it possible to be like him.

For example, The Virgin Mary demonstrated this complete femininity - utter surrender and vulnerability - when she submitted to God's will at the annunciation.

As a result, she became the Mother of God. She became the physical mother of our Lord and the spiritual mother of all Christians.

It is in motherhood that a woman experiences the same imagination and sacrifice for her children as the strongest warrior poet demonstrates for his dominion.

Motherhood is the shadow of the character of God, just as the imaginative and meek(gentle) warrior(sacrificially brave) is the masculine manifestation.

King David and Mary were the man and woman after God's own heart, who through his begotten son demonstrated quite clearly the essence of masculinity; imagination and sacrifice.

Christian Soul said...

Fr. Hollywood,

Thanks for your response.

I wrote "synodical structure" only to distinguish between synodical and congregational structure or order. I probably shouldn't mention the word "structure" in light of the most recent blue ribbon task force.

I am curious to learn more about order in the Church at large and about how it is carried out in the LCMS, so I have some more questions.
1. What is the purpose of the voters assembly in the LCMS? My guess is that it is simply to carry out church business and extend calls to pastors.
2. Does a voters assembly have a part in the practice of church discipline?
3. Do Circuit Counselors and District Presidents have authority over pastors in the LCMS? My guess on this one is that they only have authority in cases where pastors have not been faithful to their call. I assume that they are simply elected to carry out church business voted upon in convention.
4. What is a Bishop and is it a nonessential office?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear CS:

Wow! Outstanding questions that would make for a great theological symposium.

1) I think you're exactly right about the voters' assembly - though you might well find great variations among the constitutions of various congregations.

2) It is my understanding that in most of our churches the Voters have the final say in church discipline. On other words, in public unrepentance, the VA formally excommunicates the person. I found some aspects of this approach to church discipline to be inconsistent with our confessions, and I wrote my M.Div. thesis on this topic.

In one case, which I believe was in Walther's pastoral theology, a vote to excommunicate was taken. In those days, women did not vote - except in cases of excommuncation, which had to be unanimous. The vote was unanimous except for the vote of one woman who refused to excommunicate. So, she was in turn placed under discipline, excommunicated, and then the original vote was acted on, and the person was also excommunicated. This was presented as a godly way to go about church discipline. To me, it just seems like mob rule. I see no reason why this should not be the pastor's call, as is often asserted in our Symbols.

3) I may be the wrong guy to ask, but it is my understanding that the DP can't remove a man from a parish - only his parish can do that. But he can be placed on restriction, thus rendering him unable to take a call elsewhere. The DPs act as the placement committee for initial calls.

4) Per our confessions, all pastors are bishops by divine right. That is an essential office. We may, by human right, organize ourselves to have bishops overseeing parish pastors (which is the preferred and traditional polity, but not mandated by Scripture) - that is a non-essential office. In the LCMS, the English District president is also a bishop. I have seen the Atlantic District president also styled a bishop.

All interesting questions!