Monday, January 31, 2011

The Year of the DP?

The Rt. Rev. David Stechholz, English District President

According to the Chinese calendar, we are in the Year of the Rabbit.  But rendering the current year according to the Missouri Synod, it may be shaping up as the Year of the District President.  First, we see the high honor of the Gottesdienst Sabre of Boldness being awarded to a Missouri Synod District President, the Rev. Brian Saunders.  Then we see this: a Missouri Synod District President, Rev. David Stechholz, wearing a miter and carrying a crosier to carry out his episcopal functions. 

Bishop Stechholz and LCMS clergymen (including Rev. David Petersen, 2nd from right) at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne)

Maybe this is our great-great-great-great-great-grandfather's church after all.  Bishops looking like bishops (instead of guys who work at the local country club pro-shop) and bishops showing not just bureaucratic leadership, but theological acumen and courage in the face of a hostile culture, have been part and parcel of Christian churchmanship since the days of the apostolic fathers.

In our very young American church body, we have traditionally shunned having any kind of episcopal oversight over pastors or churches.  We Americans are a democratic and independent people, and our churches often reflect that frontier spirit.  However, God's regime is neither a democracy nor a republic, but a hierarchical kingdom - with Jesus as the Overseer (Bishop) of our Souls.

Traditionally, the Christian church has governed itself in a hierarchical manner.  While not referred to as "pope" in the New Testament, St. Peter was clearly respected as a leader among the apostles - at very least, a "first among equals."  We see St. Titus, who seems to have been ordained by St. Paul, being instructed to appoint "elders" (Greek: presbuteroi), which is to say, pastors, in every city.  The pastors are themselves overseen.

The biblical term "presbyter" (presbuteros) is the source of the word "priest," and the biblical term "bishop" (episkopos) is the source of the word "episcopal" - as in "pertaining to bishops."

We Lutherans are not dogmatic about church polity, or how a church body is governed.  Scripture does not mandate any particular form of government other than that a congregation is overseen by what scripture calls (interchangeably) a presbyter or bishop.  Scripture also speaks of deacons in a supporting role to the presbyter/bishop.

Early on in the church (very early in fact!), the church begins to organize clusters of congregations and pastors underneath overseers.  The terminology quickly reflects this reality by presbyters (priests) generally being those ministers who oversee a congregation, and overseers (bishops) generally being those ministers that oversee the pastors and congregations.  In time, the Roman geographical term "diocese" was used to indicate a territory underneath a bishop's churchly jurisdiction.  Bishops are themselves often overseen by other bishops (overseers).  In the Latin west, the Bishop of Rome was given a status not unlike St. Peter (the first bishop of Rome) as a kind of "first among equals."  In the Greek east, several prominent bishops share oversight over other bishops.

Bishops have generally (though not exclusively) been the grade of minister used to ordain bishops, priests, and deacons.  Bishops often "confirmed" priestly baptisms by a laying on of hands.  Bishops have generally had the authority to discipline pastors and congregations.  And bishops have generally continued serving as pastors, preaching and administering sacraments, in addition to their administrative duties.

The American Lutheran churches have generally not only shunned the term "bishop," but also most of the trappings of the episcopate.  The reasons for this are complicated, and beyond the scope of this post.  In the Missouri Synod, our synodical and district overseers have traditionally been styled and titled as "presidents" instead of bishops.  One exception to this rule is the president of the English District of the LCMS (which was at one time its own synod) who also bears the title "bishop."  Most district presidents understand that they exercise episkope (oversight) as they oversee or delegate all ordinations; they discipline wayward congregations, pastors, and other rostered church workers; they place all newly-certified candidates for the holy ministry into their first calls, and they serve as "ecclesiastical supervisors" for all pastors and church workers under their jurisdiction.  But there is a hesitation to identify this office of episkope (oversight) with the office of episkopos (overseer). 

I believe there is an inconsistency here.  Either these District Presidents are merely bureaucratic advisers, or they exercise genuine episcopal oversight.  Maybe we in the LCMS are still trying to figure all that out.  I do think our bylaws and ways of governing ourselves sometimes say two different things.  But not every Lutheran church body has this American aversion to hierarchical authority.

Moreover, the LCMS is now in fellowship with many Lutheran bodies that have retained the custom of unabashed episcopal oversight.  In many places around the world - such as in Africa - Lutherans who have episcopal polity enjoy a higher level of respect among other Christian churches.  The now sainted Rt. Rev. Andrew Elisa, for example, was the synodical president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sudan.  But most African Christians did not understand what a "president" was.  After he had been serving as president for quite some time, Pastor Elisa was consecrated as a bishop by other Lutheran bishops, and Bishop Elisa was understood as the Lutheran primate of Sudan.

While American churches often seem to be pushing the envelope of "casualness" - even to the point of slovenliness - there is also a backlash the other way.  More younger pastors are wearing the traditional garb of the clergyman in their day to day life, as well as the traditional vestments of the Church in the Divine Service.  And as the LCMS has more and more international contacts, we are seeing the value of traditionalism - in thought, word, and deed.  As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his Letter to the Smyraneans around 110 AD, the church finds its unity around the bishop's office.  In our democratic "everyone a minister" and "every pastor a pope" ethos in the LCMS, we see a devastating lack of unity - even on such matters as whether or not to use the liturgy in worship.  There is a sense in the LCMS that anything and everything can be settled by a 51% majority in convention.

The oversight of bishops (the preferred polity according to our Lutheran confessions) may well serve as an antidote to our current chaos.  And if nothing else, the image of a bishop clad in historic vesture should stand and confess in stark contrast to the Protestantizing tendencies that plague our church body while reminding everyone that we are Catholic Christians.

Anyway, I applaud bishops Saunders and Stechholz for the good confession they are making, the courage to take a stand, and for their faithfulness under fire.  Leadership is more than just being elected.  It involves stepping out in faith to blaze a trail for other men likewise in the service of the Bishop of our Souls Himself.

Bishop Stechholz blesses the congregation

Note: Pictures are from Cyberstones.


Paul said...

At Redeemer, Ft. Wayne, why a post-Vatican II "ad populum" mass rather than "ad orientem"? Just curious:)

Mike Keith said...

I am in full agreement that we use the term Bishop and understand our Dps as such - for that is what they are! Outside of LCMS/LCC circles no one knows what a DP is but they do know what a Bishop is. The term president is not Church language and does not fit our situation.

Father Hollywood said...

As Bishop Pitelko used to say, "DP" strikes the ears the post-WW2 generation as "Displaced Person."

Another good reason to quit monkeying around and start talking and acting like real churchmen...

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Paul:

My guess is that it was a product of the times of Vatican II reforms. My first Mass was at Zion - Fort Wayne, and was, as customary at that altar, versus populum.

I think that was actually Luther's preference based on his bias against the eucharistic prayer.

I love serving at my east-facing altar. I really feel like I am praying with my congregation rather than to them. We only look at each other when we are in dialog - the rest of the time, I get to join them in worship.

Maybe in time we'll move back toward an ad orientem orientation in our churches.

Past Elder said...

My first thought at "DP" is Dr Pepper. Diet Dr Pepper Cherry to be exact. You might appreciate that years ago, before the drink became widespread in the North, the days of 10-2-4, a Texan told me I was the only Yankee he ever met who preferred Dr Pepper.

So here is what else I prefer re DP. I am "for" district presidents who actually preside over their districts. I am for district presidents who proclaim to the world what it doesn't want to hear, and, proclaim to their districts what they don't want to hear sometimes either, the world preferring to go on being the world and some in the church thinking we need to adapt that in our message and worship to attract them.

What I am not for is connecting that to calling our districts after the name coined by Diocletian after his own name for the districts of his reorganised empire (diocese) or dressing their presiding officers, which is to say overseers, up in get-ups descended from the garb such officers wore also being officers of the state.

"Bishops" and their attire is no guarantee or show of anything. The Anglican Communion has them, the EKD has them, to no avail re the Word rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. For that matter, Rome has them too, and if they were a bulwark against anything at all, there would have been no need for a Reformation, or if they were, a reformation could not happen without them, which is exactly Rome's claim, pre-VII in that the "Reformation" was a Revolt and the real reformation happened at Trent, post-VII in "ecumenism" wherein all "come home" to the union in which the fulness of the church subsists.

Such stuff no more saved the church, or will now, than the Tetrarchy amd its units saved the Roman Empire.

It was the genius of Walther and the other founders of LCMS, to counter the sorry state of Lutheranism here, that in doing so we do not need to mimic the structure and trappings, drawn from the Roman and Holy Roman Empires and the Eastern Roman Empire, of the church in the old countries.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

No, instead, the model in America is to mimic the trappings of secular democracy and business, with bishops (as the bible calls them) typically attired like senators or bankers or golf pros.

Episcopal oversight is indeed a panacea. Episcopal oversight will fix everything. For Jesus is the "bishop of our souls" (1 Peter 2:25). Bishop Jesus is the solution to all that ails the world. When the devil is thrown into the lake of fire and we live in resurrected bliss in eternity, it will be under a hierarchical king and bishop - not a democratic form of polity - that we will live under. That's how the Lord created the universe to work - in heaven and on earth.

That's why the Reformers did not abolish the holy office (as did some in the radical reformation) and moreover, why the confessions express a heartfelt desire to retain the orders and traditions received up to that point.

We pastors, as imperfect bishops who can only struggle to imitate our Good Shepherd, and we can only oversee our flocks under our Overseer in submitting to His episcopacy and episkope. Jesus established an office of oversight, not of facilitator, CEO, representative, or life-coach. And in the Church Militant, we will see disgraceful behavior from pastors - be they mitered bishops or Baton Rouge televangelists who troll for streetwalkers and wear a business suit.

The point is that bishops (the biblical term after all) should not shun being bishops - whether they oversee a single parish or oversee other bishops. The church has its own culture - one that transcends the local culture. And in the church's culture, Christians around the world know what the uniform of the bishop who oversees pastors and congregations looks like - all around the world.

Even in Communist Russia where chess was so popular, atheists were constantly reminded about what a bishop was and what he looked like. We Americans, like our Marxist brethren, resist hierarchical oversight. We, like the Communists, believe in "vox populi." But God established a *kingdom* not a democracy.

The American Protestant minister's typical garb was established after the French Revolution as a statement of "leveling." And this is part of the reason many Americans detest episcopal oversight as well as the uniform identifying the office. We Americans are heirs of the Enlightenment and Thomas Jefferson.

In spite of our American egalitarianism, uniforms are not only helpful in order for others to identify the one in the uniform, but also for the man wearing the uniform himself. The vesture is a reminder of the office we bear.

I think churchmen should look like churchmen - but even more importantly, they should be churchmen. And in God's kingdom, that means having (as the bible calls them) overseers/elders (pastors).

There is a reason why the Reformation did not abolish the episcopal system - and when the bishops submit to Bishop Jesus and the hierarchy of the Word, we see a flowering of the Gospel as we do in Africa and the Baltics and Russia and Scandinavia.

Past Elder said...

Certainly, we are all accountable to oversight, and there are those responsible for overseeing.

No argument there. My point is, rather, that such oversight is bound up with trappings of an Imperial state not by necessity but history, and history from which a reformation was needed.

Nor is there an argument from me re that the church is not a democracy. Yet, it was exactly this same error, that the church took on the offices and trappings of the state, by which the oversight of the church styled itself as a monarchy, and even worse, an empire, a city of God (as bogus a pile of neoPlatonic crap as there is), exchanging the Kingdom of God for a kingdom of men, Christendom.

Scripture does not liken the church to any form of human government, all of them being the creation of Man, but to the human body, it being the creation of God.

The church is not a democracy, but it is not a kingdom either, nor is it co-extensive with the Kingdom of God. If church overseers ought not dress like secular overseers dress now, why should they dress like secular overseers from centuries ago?

(I suppose this means theroad trip to Baton Rouge is out of the question. I could do a pretty good "Let Down Your Net" right there in Gretna though!)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

Jesus is the King of the Church. The church is indeed a kingdom.

Also, keep in mind that the reformation was not about abolishing bishops (in fact, the confessions express a preference, though not a necessity of the existing episcopal system).

The reason for the reformation was not to get rid of the bishops but to make the bishops do their duty to preach the gospel.

Nevertheless, the episcopal uniform is a good thing. Just as the U.S. Marines have retained many elements of the uniform we might consider "obsolete" (for one thing, a sword, for crying out loud!) - there is value in it. Every Marine knows he is connected to the past by these traditions. Even the red stripe on the trousers has a reason - although a pragmatist would deny such a thing and would tell them just to wear jeans and a t-shirt.

Some elements of the Marine uniform predate the United States itself. And yet nobody argues that the uniform is bad because it is associated with elements connected to un-American and non-republican governments.

My pastoral uniform has many times gotten me admission to my parishioners in the hospital. People knock the clerical collar and accuse it of being "too catholic" or outmoded. But on one occasion I was able to get into the ER and visit with someone seconds before they died because of the collar. The family sure appreciated it. A Baptist minister would likely have not gotten under the wire.

I was also waved through by the national guard in the aftermath of Katrina while others were detained and turned away. People can make fun all they want - but I see every day the practical value to God's kingdom of something so "out of fashion."

And I don't care if pants were invented by heathen Persians. I'm still going to wear them. ;-)

Past Elder said...

OK FH, I'm back in the ring.

I don't think I can recall a passage calling the church a kingdom.

I'm not about abolishing what are called bishops, nor do I think the Reformation, or at least the Lutheran Reformation, was either.

But I am about saying that having an overseer who presides over his district For the preaching of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments has to do with just that, and whether that is done in ancient administrative or executive dress, or with a title derived from a late corrupt Latin word (biscopus) for the office is absolutely inconsequential.

As to uniforms, ain't no armed services here. But even if one presses the analogy, in the military there is not just a uniform. There are battle dress uniforms and garrison dress uniforms. the former worn for engagements and the latter for functions. It confuses the analogy to cite use of the clerical BDU as a justification for dress uniforms.

Judas H Priest in camis, even the military is so acronym crazy these days there ain't no BDU anymore anyway. The Marines you mention were the first to do that, now the Army has its ACU (Army Combat Uniform), the Air Force its ABU (Airman Battle Uniform) etc.

I recognise my unit by the Word rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered, not a uniform.

Speaking of which, weren't you suspected of being General Scuttlebutt? I'm still pissed that nobody suspected me. But I guess it was clear he was a pastor, and a past elder doesn't cut it.

Hell, we ain't even got collars!

The Exiled said...

Father Hollywood, I take offense at your comment, "instead of guys who work at the local country club pro-shop." My brother-in-law works full-time at a private golf course in AZ, and he dresses MUCH better than any DP I have ever seen! Please stop slandering those who actually work for a living and know how to dress.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Exiled:

No offense intended toward those who work for a living! It's just that bishops ought to look like bishops instead of coveting what is respected in the eyes of the world.

Guys who work in country clubs should look like golf pros (and they generally do); it would be weird indeed to see a golf pro decked out in a miter and cope. Similarly, bishops ought not perform their official office in a golf shirt and khakis - at least that's my opinion and argument.

I hope that clarifies things. I was not ashamed to wear a Hollywood Video shirt when I worked in that capacity. We should not be ashamed of the vocation the Lord gives us.


Anonymous said...

This looks like pseudo-catholicism (or at least pseudo-episcopalianism).
Why waste all this money on expensive vestments, in a recession?
What's next-having to kiss his ring?

Theophilus said...

The fancy garb is a cover-up! Jesus wore the ordinary garb of his day. It was not a distraction.

As for hierarchy, it never was, is not, and never shall be authentic in the church. There simply are no rankings in the one Body of Christ.

The pastor's primary mission is not to look like a hierarchical authority, but to proclaim Jesus' covenant/gospel message of glad tidings. Church tradition, whether it is the dogma-tradition or the garb-tradition overshadows Jesus' actual message which alone can make broken lives new and whole.

The bishop's primary role is not to defend and preserve the institution, but to encourage pastors to be faithful proclaimers of Jesus' actual message. Fancy garb fosters only hierarchy and creates distance from the people. But then, some people prefer to look and admire rather than listen and live righteous lives in the following of Jesus, our brother.


Fr John Fenton said...

John 12.5