Friday, January 06, 2006

Pastors and 2-Kingdom Authority

This is a response to some of the comments in my ongoing discussion with Bob Waters regarding the Left Hand (LH) and Right Hand (RH) kingdoms…

In my way of thinking, pastors do hold some LH authority, but it is not what I would call a "proper" authority, rather, an "alien" one. Another way of looking at it, might be, that pastors are accorded RH authority by virtue of their divine call, while any LH authority is that which is voluntarily accorded by the congregation. For example:

When it comes to the teaching/preaching of the Gospel (RH kingdom), the "buck stops here" so to speak.

I suppose when it comes to second and third use of the law, the same applies. The second use of the law, showing our sin, should always be with an eye toward the Gospel. Likewise there can BE no third use without the Gospel.

But would our discussion so far indicate that when it comes to the first use of the law as curb, the pastor’s authority is more coram deo than coram hominibus? The latter would fall under the realm of the state? Or is the first use wholly LH kingdom, and outside the role of the Office? Guess I need a little clarity here….

But when it comes to LH kingdom type decisions in the congregation (what color should the carpet be?) the pastor has no real authority, unless it is voluntarily given by the congregation (which it often is). Here the LH kingdom application seems to go to property ownership, and at least in our circles, the congregation (as a corporate entity under the state) “belongs” to the members. Finally, I would think a wise LH leadership would want to consult the pastor on many decisions for possible RH implications. After all, the primary purpose of a congregation is a RH one…

I know a pastor who said it this way: “If the toilet backs up, call the trustee. If the toilet backs up and floods the hallway, call the president of the congregation. If the toilet backs up, floods the hallway, and drowns three people… THEN you call the pastor.”

In the case of Stephan, here we had a faulty balance (best construction) of 2 kingdom authority. The pastor must always spend most of his time and energy in the RH kingdom, else trouble ensues. He must remember what his proper authority is, and not demand LH authority as Stephan did. Even if the LH authority is voluntarily afforded, the pastor should never let it overshadow or distract from his RH role,

This is an interesting point of debate too… should pastors have a vote in congregational meetings, council meetings, etc..??? Constitutions probably vary on this, as to what they allow, but in most cases I avoid it, personally, even though ours allows it.

I would think that such things as Confirmation instruction have some LH kingdom implications, inasmuch as the pastor performs this task on behalf of the parents (read Luther’s instructions in the front of the catechism about how the head of the household should teach this to his children – I often think about canceling confirmation classes and pointing parents to THAT). It’s not the pastor’s main responsibility to do this particular teaching (though it is to teach the word in general), however I do believe that because most parents are (sadly) not equipped to do so, it makes sense to have the pastor teach the confirmands. Having said all that, confirmation instruction, also has RH kingdom aspects too, of course. I guess I’m a little fuzzy on this one. Maybe it’s a case of both?

The dividing lines of the two kingdoms seem clearer when discussing the roles of church and state, than dividing various issues within, say the church.

Anyone else feel free to jump in here....


Bob Waters said...

Good post!

One might perhaps distinguish between the pastoral office in the abstract, and the pastoral office in concrete. Very few pastors are all that abstract, though- except perhaps in the pulpit. Overflowing toilets are a reality. In my first parish, one of my duties was to put the numbers on the hymnboard- but only if nobody else had done so first- and to turn the heat or air conditioning in the church on, with the same proviso. Since neither task was anybody's job in particular, this meant essentially being the guy who was blamed if it didn't get done!

Pastors, as a practical matter, are the people who are expected to fall on
the ball if anybody else drops it. Sometimes that means de facto LH authority in areas which have no real connection at all to what they are called to do. All too often, they have the responsibility- but not the authority!

I grew up with a succession of strong LCMS pastors. Nobody would have dared step out of live with Pastor Meier, who began my confirmation instruction.
He died in the m the middle of it, and
while we didn't know Pastor Roth, who completed it, very well, he gave the impression of being a no-nonsense type, too.

Pastor Blieck, who we called to fill the vacancy caused by Pastor Meier's death, is an ex-paratrooper who- while
he wasn't nearly as intimidating as his predecessor could be- gave me an example of the LH authority of the Office I will never forget. I will always admire him for it, too.

Our congregation was on the near Southwest Side of Chicago. One of our neighboring parishes was about ninety-eight percent African American.
Pastor Blieck agreed to accept one of their kids into our parochial school
at members' tuition rates. When she showed up on registration night, the Board of Education panicked, and refused to admit her at all- because of the color of her skin.

Pastor Blieck calmly preached on the Good Samaritan that Sunday, pointing out that he wasn't the one who had chosen that particular text for that paricular Sunday- that Somebody Else had arranged that particular coincidence. And then, in the last paragraph of his sermon, he calmly excommunicated the entire congregation
until such time as the child in question was admitted to the school.

The Voters overruled the School Board and admitted her that very afternoon.

My experience as a pastor, of course, has been in The ALC and the ELCA. A strong Pietist tradition existed in the latter especially; on the organizational chart of the congregation, the pastor could be effectively found somewhere between the janitor and the cockroaches in the church basement. This was quite a shock after the strong models of pastoral authority I had in my youth.
The greatest shock, though, was my relative lack of authority in the one area where Walther stresses that a pastor's authority, de jure divino, resides: in the proclamation of the Word.

The Word, it often turned out, was only as binding as the individual chose to let it be- and if the pastor didn't like it, he could pretty much lump it.

That problem was present to a much smaller degree in my second parish, one of German background (my first church was an Inner Mission Danish outfit- the "Holy Danes," as opposed to the "Happy" ones). But I guess it's universal today- even in the Missouri Synod.

But to quote Harry Caray, "Who'd of thunk it?

Preachrboy said...

I think it is encumbent upon the pastor, as part of his RH vocation, to instruct the laity as to his proper role as pastor. That means that if he is expected to plunge toilets, change hymnboards, etc... he needs to (gently, patiently) teach the congregation what is and isn't his proper responsibility.

Ok, you're right, practically, one can't expect the pastor to have NO such LH responsibilities, as it often just makes sense for him to do it. But this can easily become a bad habit for the pastor, and some actually pastors quite seem to like it - doing everything themselves. A sensitivity to the overall principles with a common sense approach looks best here. Sometimes the best way to get something like the hymnboard done is to let it NOT be done once... and see what happens.

Interesting thoughts about the erosion of pastoral authority as it relates not only to the LH but also RH matters. I have been pleased in that our congregation seems to intuitively land pretty close to the mark on both counts.

Of course, the authority of the pastor vis-a-vis the Word is only valid if he is preaching and teaching correctly, and there is a fine Lutheran tradition that holds the laity responsible for seeing to it. If the pastor oversteps or misuses such authority, they need to reel him in. But this authority of the laity can also be overstepped, by disregard or negation of a pastor's teaching because someone doesn't like it, when that teaching IS in fact in accord with the Word. This here's another one of them healthy Lutheran "tensions".

We have some potentially contentious decisions on the docket for January in our congregation, and while I would rather not share the details, it's interesting how much of this topic pertains to what I am dealing with. Will the congregation respect the RH teaching of its pastor(s) as it pertains to a matter with both RH and LH aspects? I hope so...

CPA said...

Amazing story about the paratrooper preacher!

But didn't I hear somewhere that in the LCMS Waltherian polity only the congregation can excommunicate someone? Or is this a total misunderstanding?

Preachrboy said...

We usually distinguish between the minor ban (which the pastor imposes himself), and the major ban (full excommunication via the congregational authority). The minor ban is a ban on communing, and seen as temporary.

Although, if there ever was a "major" minor ban, this sounds like it!

Preachrboy said...

More discussion on this topic here: