Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: Church & Ministry Part 1: Exegetical and Historical Treatment by Jobst Schone

The first two articles reprinted in A Reader in Pastoral Theology are by Jobst Schone, entitled "Church & Ministry."  Schone kicks off his two articles with an historical treatment of the ministry distinctives of Lutheran views of church and ministry.  Counter to Calvinists, Lutherans do not speak of an "ordo, quo Dominus ecclesiam suam gubernari voluit" (an order by which the Lord wishes to govern his Church).   Lutherans have historically allowed for various types of ecclesiastical order to coexist, side by side, realizing that the Lord has not imposed a clear structure on the church.  

In the New Testament, people involved in what we would call "the ministry" are "those who preach the Gospel, shepherd Christ's flock by the means of grace and administer the holy Sacraments" (p. 12).  This kind of distinctive work, indicated in the New Testament by the words λειτοθργία or διακονία, seems to be primarily a work of service to Christ's people rather than a role of leadership and political power.  However it does appear that not all believers are in the same role of service.  There seem to be various offices in the church, conferred by God, which are used to serve the gathered believers.  

Prior to the Reformation the ministry began to be considered as comparable to the Levitical priesthood, a role of making actual sacrifices and advancing in merit beyond that of the average believer.  This had a net result of moving some clergy away from day to day pastoral care and toward political and social influence.

Luther spoke to these issues, trying to strike a balance between the decay of ministry under papal authority and rejection of the distinct role of people in ministry under the radical reformers.  His practice, as was common among the first Lutherans, was to look to ancient Christian tradition, observing that in the earliest days of the Christian Church, the bishops, elders, pastors and teachers would have the role of teaching, preaching, and administration of the Sacraments.  They were not political and judicial figures.  They were actively engaged in serving Christians with the Word of God.  While all Christians are part of a royal priesthood with Christ, there are certain Christians who have a vocation which specifically engages them in teaching, preaching, and administration of the sacraments for the benefit of the whole body of Christ.

Within the radical reformation, those who considered all believers to be in the same type of service before Christ have tended to erode the view of a distinctive group of bishops, elders, pastors and teachers, to the point where the nineteenth century saw a proliferation of people essentially ordaining themselves to ministry and groups which affirm that all believers are equally authorized to lead in preaching, teaching, and administration of sacraments.  

The natural outcome of this point of view is that every individual believer becomes a law unto himself.  Everyone speaks with the same authority, even when misinterpreting Scripture.  There are no checks and balances.  There is no definitive way of identifying those whose teaching is understood to be orthodox and those who have not been thoroughly tested.  In contrast to this, Lutherans worldwide have attempted to guard the distinctive role of the minister.  Have they succeeded?  Sometimes.

We'll look at the next part of Schone's article another time.

No comments: