Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bottleneck or Conduit? - Part One

A seminary professor once told me that my job as a pastor is to work myself out of a job. That is, the pastoral task is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). That's true, as far as it goes.

But it has become a cliché, a talking point, an ideology that doesn't go anywhere. If it's true, that my job is to help people under my care to grow in their gifts, and to do the work that I do (preaching, teaching, and sacraments), then we hit an ecclesiastical wall at full speed.

The wall we hit is the sacraments. A big part of my job is to baptize and preside at holy communion. In other words, I went to seminary for four years, read thousands of pages, wrote volumes of papers, been poked and prodded by ecclesial pooh-bahs, so I can stand behind an altar and read from a book, or hunch over the baptismal font and pour water over someone's head.

Did really I need to get a master's degree to do THAT? It's actually not all that hard.

We allow “laypeople” to preach, but not preside at the sacraments. I think preaching has more danger attached to it than communion, because who knows what someone's going to say. Doctrine can be more easily controlled by reading from an approved set of prayers (although I usually use my own while celebrating the sacraments). Sermons have a greater capacity for abuse than communion.

I've often wondered aloud that we have a sacramental theology that is more interested in keeping the power structures of the status quo than helping people live out their baptismal callings. I wonder if our sacramental theology is simply a justification for the pastoral office. We say that it's only the clergy who can preside at holy communion and holy baptism (except in emergencies when the “Rev” has his/her cell phone turned off) because of “good order” as if this is the only order that is “good.”

Article V of the Augsburg Confession says, “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.”

Oddly, Melancthon offers no bible verse to cite where God instituted the office of the ministry. I'm not saying that God didn't. But I find it telling that there's no biblical verse to back up what he's saying. As a sola scriptura people, I find that interesting.

It's not that I don't like my job. I LOVE what I do. It's a real privilege to be a minister of the gospel. I just worry that I'll become a bottle neck in helping people live out their Christian callings, and that the system we've created is not adequate to meet the needs of a post-Christian Canada. And I worry about the religious caste system, acknowledged or not, that we've created.

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