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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Lutherans, Pastors, Authority

Hosanna LutheranI worshiped with the local Lutherans today (LCMS). It was a very nice morning. The liturgy was rich, the hymnody stimulating, the preaching thoughtful, and the people seemingly very friendly. Though I don’t know it well, I was blessed to share the morning with this part of my family tree.

As a career pastor, I was struck by the wardrobe adorned by the leadership. The white robes, green sashes, crosses around the neck – it was clear who the consecrated ministers were. And there were several men adorned this way…which made me wonder about how leadership is chosen in this tradition.

what about pastorsSo, as I headed out, I picked up a publication in the foyer entitled “What About…Pastors.” In it, an explanation is given for what pastors are, what they do, how they are ordained, and how they should be treated. That’s when I stumbled on this quote from Luther’s Small Catechism:

Book-MartinLuthersCatechism-1868-Fair“When the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command…this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”

Wow.

I’ve been a leader in the church for a quarter century. Not only have I never been treated like this by the people I’ve led, but I have never expected this kind of response. Rather, I have always thought that no right-minded person would have the audacity to equate the validity of his or her leadership to being as valid as Christ’s. To do so would be an over-reach of one’s appropriate role, correct?

In this month’s edition of Christianity Today (Oct. 2013), there is a thoughtful article by Andy Crouch about the role of power in the church. In speaking about “power distance,” he juxtaposes those who create distance between themselves and those they lead through visible expressions of power (high distance), and those who try to look less powerful than they really are (low distance). He then remarks that, “America, today, is about as low power distance as it has ever been – and so is the American Church.”

pastor authorityI get this, and feel it. I remember from the days of my youth the bumper stickers on many hippie-driven cars and microbuses in Southern California that called us to “Question Authority.” That cultural ethos, coupled with some colossal leadership failures in the public world (Nixon, Bakker, Swaggert, Clinton, Edwards, Haggard, Weiner), have left us with little honor for, and therefore little allegiance to, our leaders. So, we’re uneasy when any leaders claim or flaunt their authority. (As an example…the image to the left is the first one that appears when I did an internet search for “pastor authority.” I think it represents our stereotypes well.)

Still, the Bible tells us that authority is both God-given, and very important. Peter tells us to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” This is for our protection, and our advantage, because they are sent by God “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13-14). But not only do we miss a blessing if we are out from under authority, we are also in incredible danger. Peter tells us elsewhere that “the Lord knows how…to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgement, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:9-10). Despising authority is an especially grievous offence to God – and it is standard practice in our 21st century western culture.

Francis ObedienceMy ancient and medieval brothers and sisters had an understanding of the value of obedience to authorities. The standard vow made by vocational monks and nuns was always to lives of poverty, chastity, and obedienceFrom the day they were received into the monastery, it was expected that they would give unquestioned obedience to their abbot or abbess – as a sign of their consecration to God Himself. We see that as strange today, don’t we? Do you think they would see our aversion of authority as even more troubling?

So…as I try to reconnect myself to the fullness of my Christian lineage, I do find myself longing to be under Biblcial, God-ordained authorities. I know there is blessing for me there. But where do I find it? Who truly has it, and might even expect it? Who exercises it well? And, if they do, whose expression of “power distance” is high enough that I can recognize it?

Lord, forgive me for despising authority. Teach me godly submission. May your church experience your provision of authority in increasingly healthy ways. For your honor’s sake, and for the blessings that are promised.

-EO

 
 

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Our Love-Hate Relationship With Our Family Prophets

Stoning

The Apostle Paul said, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy…the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” Then again, Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 

Is it appropriate to make this correlation: That prophetic words…

a) are the most important gifts for the church,

b) are intended to take people from where they are to where they could be (e.g., change their lives), and

c) will be rejected by the family they intend to serve?

As I go spelunking into the caverns of church history, I have begun to notice an all-too-common theme. There are many men and women who seem to have had uniquely clear vision in their day to see their condition, and a path to its improvement. With 20-20 historical hindsight, we honor these people. But most, in their day, faced stern resistance, rejection, and even extermination.

The sad thing? So many of these simply wanted the best for the church. They died for having a grander vision of what the church family could be than the rest of them could see.

Luther preachingI’ve come to find out in my short time here on the planet this less-than-profound truth: People want to enjoy themselves. That goes for my church family, too. In our age and place, with so many church options to choose from, most will pick a place that they likeOf course. Why would you pick a place you don’t like?

The church, though, is not designed to cater to our wants. It is, by definition, a place of discipleship, therefore discipline. As the author of Hebrews says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all … God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:7-8, 10-11). When Jesus commanded the Apostles to make “disciples” of all nations (Matthew 28:19), he was charging them baptize people into communities of discipline all over the world. Melding these passages together, Jesus was calling these men to broadcast a call to a life of painful hardship that will train you to become righteous, holy, peaceful and good. Anything less is illegitimate.

Prophets – those gifted by God to see truth, and boldly proclaim it in the church family – are on the front lines of this disciplined life. Like that really hard teacher in high school, or the over-the-top aerobics instructor, or that drill sergeant from your military days, the prophet is the one who calls you out of your present, and into your future. As the contemporary adage says, “No pain, no gain.” When we look back on these disciplinarians, some – especially those who rejected their leadership – might see them as obnoxious. But many of us are now grateful for the vision that they had for our lives, and their persistent drive to see us change. Those who endured bear the fruit, and are thankful.

Cranmer

Despite this whatever belated appreciation we can muster, it is a spiritual axiom that those with prophetic giftings will face rejection from the very family they are trying to serve. They are also indispensable to the life of the family. Paul tells us be especially ardent in seeking this gift … but really, who wants it?

Most all of our most famous aunts and uncles of the faith faced bitter rejection at the hands of the churches they served. Like their leader, they also become “the stone the builders rejected.” Paul. Athanasius. Benedict. Wycliffe. Hus. More. Luther. Hubmaier. Cranmer. Edwards. And a cavalcade of saints in local churches from our modern world. We may not say it … we may not even realize it! … but we’re eternally thankful for your faithfulness.

-eo

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2013 in church, leadership, Uncategorized

 

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