Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"Pastors, Not Functionaries"

That is the line that Rocco Palmo pulled out of a sermon by Pope Francis, delivered at a recent service of ordination.  The sermon is posted at Whispers in the Loggia, and well worth a read.

Tow sections grab our attention.  In the first, Francis briefly distinguishes the general from the particular priesthood:

It is true that God has made his entire holy people a royal priesthood in Christ. Nevertheless, our great Priest himself, Jesus Christ, chose certain disciples to carry out publicly in his name, and on behalf of mankind, a priestly office in the Church. For Christ was sent by the Father and he in turn sent the Apostles into the world, so that through them and their successors, the Bishops, he might continue to exercise his office of Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd. ...
After mature deliberation and prayer, these, our brothers, are now to be ordained to the priesthood in the Order of the presbyterate so as to serve Christ the Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd, by whose ministry his body, that is, the Church, is built and grows into the people of God, a holy temple.
In being configured to Christ the eternal High Priest and joined to the priesthood of the Bishops, they will be consecrated as true priests of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s people, and to celebrate the sacred Liturgy, especially the Lord’s sacrifice.

This is a lucid statement of something we have long tried to communicate to our fellow Evangelicals.  The "priesthood of all believers" -- a phrase not to be found in Luther -- is built, in the Confessions, on just the passage to which Francis refers here, 1 Peter 2:9.  Some Lutherans like to imagine that our Confessions establish the Evangelical priesthood on a basis quite distinct from the Catholic one, but it has never been clear to us that they are correct.

Rather the opposite; the various theories (one cannot call them doctrines) concerning the office of ministry abroad in the Lutheran churches are surpassed in their inadequacy only by our myriad and conflicting ecclesiologies.  One of the much-remarked-upon ironies of Lutheran life is that we have sustained a generally competent and traditional priestly practice despite a dismal supporting theology.

A shocking number of Lutherans are taught to believe that, since all the baptized are priests, there are no essential differences in their ministries.  At its most extreme, this leads to lay presidency at the Eucharist, pastors ordained without bishops, and congregations reciting the Collect en masse, as if to spite the millennia.  (Some days, we do not know which of these abuses is worst.)  But even without these gross abuses, the simplistic understanding of the general priesthood has led to many smaller failures.  How many congregations treat their pastor with barely suppressed contempt, the result of an anxiety about the office that leads to inadvertent anticlericalism?  How many treat the pastor as an employee, a subordinate rather than a leader?  And how many pastors let them?

It seems to us that the Confessions permit a more traditional reading, and that indeed the hermeneutic of Apology 14:1 practically demands it.  The general priesthood is a Biblical reality; but so long as it cannot be proven to overthrow the particular priesthood, we must assume that both institutions continue, as they have throughout the history of the Church, distinct and complementary.

And Francis describes the duties of the particular priesthood in language that Lutherans will recognize:  to preach the Gospel and celebrate the sacraments, and to shepherd -- to pastor, to lead -- God's people. No matter how confused, contradictory and inadequate our theories have been, our practice has almost always recognized that these are duties peculiar to the people set aside and blessed for them.

He then goes on to talk about something Lutherans have buried like pirate's treasure, keeping it as far from our everyday conversationas we can:  the rites of confession and forgiveness.  We at the Egg are constantly astonished by the umber of lifelong Lutherans who can recall from memory which page of the LBW or SBH or TLH their favorite hymn was on, but who do not even know that those books contain an order for individual confession.  How many recall, with varying degrees of affection, a confirmation class in which they were asked to memorize the Catechism -- and yet never seem to have stumbled across Chapter 5?

Anyway, it is in this context that Francis offers wise advice to the whole  clergy, and especially to those newly ordained, or soon to be ordained:
Today I ask you in the name of Christ and the Church, never tire of being merciful. You will comfort the sick and the elderly with holy oil: do not hesitate to show tenderness towards the elderly. When you celebrate the sacred rites, when you offer prayers of praise and thanks to God throughout the hours of the day, not only for the people of God but for the world—remember then that you are taken from among men and appointed on their behalf for those things that pertain to God. Therefore, carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to those of Jesus Christ. You are pastors, not functionaries. Be mediators, not intermediaries.

1 comment:

David Housholder said...

Just found your blog. Quirky, Erudite, Hip.

Rock on.

I once had a liturgy "Zine" in the days before the internet: /LivingStones/.

Kinda similar.

Now I just blog: http://ThornHeart.com