Saturday, August 23, 2008

No man is always right. . . excepting Jesus

One of my friends on a private blog put up a link to a rather coarse (so no link) blog essay about how damaging the phrase "the customer is always right" has been to American society - that it has destroyed a lot of simple decency in how we deal with people. If we are paying for something, we have the right to complain, even scream at people, if they don't do something we like. And they are supposed to take it, meek and mild, apologize (even if the problem is caused by the customer's stupidity), and kowtow. You've seen it - and you may have done it a bit. But this is not a union blog.

I think perhaps the vast downside to the more consumerist approach to Church that we've taken is that there is almost an undercurrent of "the parishioner is always right." Now, this is not Walther's contention that the laity should have a voice, or anything like this. Rather, there has developed the idea that because a parishioner gives to the Church, the Church should bow to his or her desires. Or meet their felt needs. Or validate everything they do.

Think of the anger that is generated when a pastor goes against what someone says or wants. No, we aren't have jugglers during your wedding. Um, unless you stop the co-habitation, you ain't getting your dream church wedding. I'm sorry, but I can't commune your daughter because even if she was confirmed her, she's a Methodist now. You are being hateful towards your neighbor and that is wrong. Um, no, we aren't going to sing that song because. . . it has no theological value whatsoever.

I think we can just chuck up the anger that arises to the "Old Adam" - and while that is true, it doesn't do much good in finding a way to beat down that old man. The Old Adam is tricksy and false and attacks from many different angles. And when we see the parishioner exploding after not getting his or her way, perhaps we should remember that Americans are always used to getting their own way, once their money is involved. Who are you - hireling - to contradict me - I pay your salary!

People can easily forget that while the Pastor's salary is paid by the congregation, while he is a servant, he still has authority. The solution to this is not to stand up and shout over and over again, "Respect my authority!" Even the wonderful example of, "Your taxes pay the policeman's salary but when he pulls you over you can't order him not to give you a ticket," while hitting the idea, isn't one to be used in a hot situation.

Rather this. That parishioner is probably shocked and angry that you would say no to them, that you would question them. It becomes a matter of a contest of wills. The thing is, they probably think that it is YOUR will verses there's. What is the pastor to do in this case? Like John the Baptist - decrease that Christ may increase - or in other words do your best to keep it impersonal (which is hard for us sinful folks when the person is screaming and us and/or seeking to do us harm) and point to the Word. In reality, it's not us they are angry with. . . it's not our will they contest, but rather God's.

(Of course the corollary to this is that if you can't point to God's Word or at least a logical conclusion there from -- they actually probably were contending with you and you might consider not being such a schmuck.)

We remember this truth. The parishioner is not always right (and yes, yes, neither is the pastor, please don't sic Captain Jack or Vehse on me) - so there are times that their wants and desires are rightly to be opposed. But never on the basis of what you want, what you like, what you think. That means you're just playing by the same consumerist rules they are. Rather this - the WORD, the WORD, the WORD. Let that be your shield and your sword - and if on an issue you find that the Valiant One and His Word isn't fighting for you, retreat.

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