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Tuesday, September 30, 2008 

Just A Layman? Yep.

In his monthly column in the Lutheran Witness this month President Jerry Kieschnick writes;

“When I am “out and about” and meet someone new, it is not unusual for that person to tell me his or her name and then say, “I’m just a layman (or laywomen).” When I hear those words, I reply with an affirmation of that person as a redeemed child of God, a faithful member of a congregation, and a man or women called by God to a life of service in his or her chosen vocation”

I applaud President Kieschnick in this proper response of holding up vocation as how we serve one another through the gifts and talents given by God. He goes on to talk about people who use these gifts and talents to continue to help those who have suffered because of recent tsunamis, hurricanes, and floods. It’s all good so far, right? Yep.

Now, if President Kieschnick asked me to tell him a little about myself, I would tell him my name, I explain to him that I’m a metrologist and what that is and is not (no, I’m not a TV weather guy; that’s a meteorologist), and then I would say that I’m a simple layman, a plain and simple layman.

There’s no doubt that President Kieschnick would give me a similar talk as the one he laid out in this month’s column. I would however restate that I really feel that I’m just a simple layman and that’s it. Now, if my history with giving this answer would hold true, President Kieschnick would start to get a bit of a puzzled look.

I would have to explain that because I hold such a high view of the Office of the Holy Ministry, I can say nothing else but “I’m only a layman”. Allow me to elaborate;

In a time when a deaconess who feels that her confession of what the Office of Holy Ministry means differs so much that she must resign her position to go an ELCA seminary and then be told by her district president that if she changes her mind she can come back to her old position no questions asked…

In a time when congregations can tell their pastor that he needs to take the first call that he receives or his employment will be terminated and upon bringing this to his district president he’s told that’s just the way things work…

In a time when congregations promoted as what the future church should look like state publicly that there is no difference between the pastor and the lay elders…

In a time when a pastor at his district convocation can publicly state that he has his elders read his sermons because that’s just not something he’s good at without anyone batting an eye…

In a time when laypersons have such a low view of the Office of Holy Ministry that they can call their pastor by his last name only without being corrected by anyone around them…

In a time when laypersons who chair mission boards talk of “hiring a pastor for six months or so” as if they were hiring someone to clean up the yard or sweep the floors with not a word of admonition from the ten ordained clergy sitting around the table…

In a time when so many laymen and laywomen express such a low view of the Office of Holy Ministry, I go out of my way to make sure to say that “I’m only a layman.” What I see in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is an unwillingness to defend what the Office is. What should be done is a proper catechesis, that is teaching, of the fact that the Office of Holy Ministry was instituted by Christ himself for the preaching of His Gospel and the administering of His Sacraments. Don’t believe me? Read about the Office of Holy Ministry here in John 20:22-23, Matt 16:19, Matt 28:18-20 or here in the Small Catechism.

In addition, there is an unwillingness to properly instruct laymen and laywomen on the doctrine of vocation. Instead, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has fallen headfirst into the Americanized Christianity’s trap that everyone’s a minister.

The end result of this mistake is not the elevation of a laypersons God given gifts used to take care his brothers and sisters in his or her vocation but rather a tearing down of the Office of the Holy Ministry. None of the examples I listed occurred in a vacuum but did and do occur precisely because of a lack of a willingness to properly teach what the Office and vocation are and what that means for both pastors and laypersons.

In the middle ages there were parents who would promise their children to monastic orders to insure that they would earn their place in heaven. That’s not really all that surprising when you consider the low view of the common layperson that was held back then by church officials.

Today we have something of an opposite situation where folks are held up for praise not based on purity of doctrine that they are willing to give a defense for; but rather how many people they talked to about Jesus, how many website hits they recorded and publicly logged, and how much money they raised which is outside the arena of duties covered by the Office of the Holy Ministry. The pendulum has now swung back and hit us all squarely on the head. If you feel that you have Jesus in your heart and are willing to do something worthy enough for a mention in a circuit, district, or synodical newsletter, to be sure you’ll be awarded the title of ministry of something or other; guaranteed.

Yes, we need to minister to our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, everyone including our enemies, but we are not all ministers. Without a proper call from a congregation, you know what I am? I’m a metrologist and a darned good one at that, but I’m only a layman. And at the end of the day, being just a layman, well, that’s good enough for me.

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Great post, Frank. Even I understood it, and I agree with everything you said (how weird is that?).

Do you think that the trend is following the same path as our education system; i.e. 'dumbing down' the standards so that everyone feels equal?

Is this a dumbing down equivalent to what’s happening to our education system? No, this is very different. This is a tearing down of one office to elevate another.

First off, I should state to anyone reading this that I'm not a Lutheran--but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. No, seriously, I'm not Lutheran. So, take this comment for what it is.

I just don't see this separation of "holy ministers" and "lay persons" in scripture. Most of the apostles were little more than lay persons. Many of them led very simple lives before they were upended (in a great way) by Christ.

The three scriptural examples that you give are directed to all believers. There is no distinction. And when it comes to the subject of vocation, I highly recommend a book called, The Call by Os Guiness. He's no lightweight and neither is the book.

I DO believe that congregations should go out of their way to look after their professional (for lack of a better word) ministers.

I can say this from both ends of the spectrum. I've served as a minister in a church in the past. Today, I'm a layman. My father-in-law is the pastor of my current church.

To me, holding ministers in higher regard than laymen goes against the spirit of Luther's writings and actions.

Well, I'm sure I just lit a bomb. Sorry. I still enjoy your blog.

Roger

Hey BD, no apologies necessary. I’ve always allowed folks who completely disagree with me to comment and lay out their case (if done respectfully and coherently which you have done in spades) and tell me how and why I’m wrong.

Truth be told, I think arguing about theology is fun as well as necessary to define what it is that we believe and confess. Too often folks who whose confessions of what the faith is and Scripture says agree to disagree and wind up with an amalgamated version that resembles neither of the original positions.

An extensive answer to your question is probably a whole other post. I may just do that but in the meantime let me address one thing; when you write “To me, holding ministers in higher regard than laymen goes against the spirit of Luther's writings and actions.” you are 100% right. One of the problems that led to the reformation was the idea that the priestly caste were elevated to a higher position than the laity in terms of being right with God based on the work that they did for the roman church. I am not falling into this error although I do understand why you might think that. What I hold in high regard is the office of the holy ministry itself not the person holding that office.

Putting a secular spin on it… it’s sorta like my view of the office of president of the United States. Even if I despise the person holding that office, if he walks into my living room; I’m calling him Mr. President. It doesn’t matter if I voted for him or not; he holds an office that is distinct and worth of respect.

What is happening in my little corner of the church is that in order to make the laity “feel” better about themselves, the Office of the Holy Ministry is being treated as a vocation no different than that of a common employee waiting tables (You know why I word it that way dontchya?). Instead of honoring the office that Christ instituted to feed his sheep, the office of pastor is being attacked.

Am I making sense here?

I understand what you're saying, so let me make a few more comments.

The only two offices (again, for lack of a better term) mentioned in the NT with regards to the church are elders and deacons. Their responsibilities and qualifications are laid out mostly in the epistles. Ironically, you mentioned the descriptive term, "waiting tables" as a vocation. My guess is that you already know that a deacon is described in the NT as the equivalent of someone that waits on tables. It's a humble, servant role. Jesus washed Peter's feet. He was a humble servant. Therefore, deacons are equal with Jesus (ha ha--just thought I'd pull out some false logic for no reason at all).

But seriously, I DO agree that we should hold our elders and deacons in high regard and respect them. However, this level of respect should be shared between lay elders and deacons as well as staff elders and deacons. Another good reason for this is to prevent one person from assuming control or sole leadership of a body of Christ. The elders (also called "overseers") of the church are to be in total agreement when they make decisions (as opposed to a majority rule vote as we like to do here in the US of A).

I think much of what you say comes from the traditions of your church--and you have a LOT of tradition to fall back on which should be respected. This is something that evangelical churches (not to say that your church is not evangelical--you know what I mean) are missing out on. We have this idea that we're the first group of people to figure out what the church is supposed to be and we have our own little useless reformations going on all the time (i.e. a few people leave one church to start their own church and do it the "right" way). When Luther left the Roman Catholic church, he did so with a heavy heart. In fact, he never really wanted to leave--just make things better (and you know all of this already).

The real problem (and I think that you already touched on this) is that the church is so desperate for leaders that they're willing to make ANY WILLING (OR EVEN NON-WILLING) PARTICIPANT A LEADER--and then they bestow on that person responsibilities that he or she is not mature enough to handle.

Ok, I've said enough for today.

Actually, I was thinking of Acts 6 when I brought up waiting tables:

Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

Luke isn’t saying that people that wait tables have a lesser vocation but rather pastors have a distinct one; the Office of the Holy Ministry for which they were called. The seven in Acts 6 were called to be pastors by multitude or congregation.

Yeah, I knew what deacon meant. I think part of the problem that I see is that a good many people don’t want to take the servants role. I think that is part of why the office of pastor is being treated like it is. Submission and service to one another is a tough thing to understand in our culture today. Too often we think that having to submit or serve is beneath us. By saying that the office of pastor is no different than that of waiter, both lose their distinctiveness and both lose their value.

Here's an article I'm sure you'd love:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/3210877/Forcing-priests-to-wear-robes-absurd-says-theologian.html

Not LCMS, but relevant anyways.

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  • From The Haut South
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