Friday, June 29, 2007

The Difference Between Public and Private

I think sometimes that in Confessional circles we have abandonned the distinction between public and private (I'm not doing to go and deconstruct why at the moment, rather just noting that this is the way it is). There is such a strong emphasis on the rights and dignity of the Pastor - the one who holds the Office of the Public Ministry - that we can neglect the duties of any Christian within their vocations in the world.

Over at Beisel's blog there is a discussion on "Absolution" - which is what got me thinking (and I'm not posting a link. . . I'm bad with that and that's why the blog roll is there to your left). There is a lot of a desire to make a firm, hard distinction between the Absolution which a Pastor declares and the Absolution/Forgiveness (slashed as there is debate as to what it really is) - which is something that Luther doesn't do.

If I may make an analogy (no, you can never do theology by analogy - oh shut up, I'm dealing with a concept!) As a Father, you have the responsibility of protecting your family. Indeed, you are to provide for and secure your home - and if someone were to enter your house with ill intent towards your family, it would be your duty to prevent this villain from his heinous acts. But you aren't a thereby a policeman - who have been placed into the Public Office (hence - Police OFFICIER) designed for the protection of not just their private property and family but the Public at large. Indeed, the police are to assist and come to your aid in your own defense of your own family and home - but you still have that responsibility as well.

Likewise Fathers and Pastors. There is great significance that Luther designates that the Head of the Household is to teach his family. But aren't Pastors "preachers and teachers"? Yes - but that doesn't mean the laity sit on a block of ice just waiting for the Pastor to arrive and make everything all right. Now, ought a father expect his pastor to be able to aid him in teaching - indeed, might he reasonably expect his pastor to provide a multitude to classes dealing with teaching? Yes - but still, dad's got to see to his own family - that's his job.

All Christians are instructed to forgive. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. And I'm sorry, when Jesus says, "Go forgive" you are supposed to go and forgive people, and it actually is real forgiveness. However, what a Pastor does is different - not in what it is (it is still forgiveness spoken by God's command) - but in scope. A Pastor does this forgiveness publicly - in worship - and also by making himself available not just to a select few but to any and all who desire forgiveness. What we refer to as "Private Confession" is actually an exercise of the Public Office - one of the Public comes to the Public servant of God for aid and comfort (although it is called Private as what is discussed is not to be divulged). All Christians are expected to be able to speak the things of the faith - but a Pastor is to be able to provide assistance in their own speaking (Pastor, a neighbor asked X - what do I say?) and also to be a person to whom folks with question can be directed.

(Now for a bit of deconstruction) - I know many pastors have been sorely abused and treated as though they were of no importance. But the response to this is not to say, "I do things you can't you and in no way do, I am different from you." Being different doesn't command respect. Rather the response should be, "God has placed me into this Office where I am to be your pastor - and as such I am to speak God's Word publicly. If you don't like it, your problem is not with me, but with God. In fact, you yourself agreed publicly that God sent me here when you called me. As such, you're beef isn't with me, but with God - and you need to think and sort that out." Throw them to the word - and let them be broken upon it. If you can't throw them to the Word - then repent of your own actions, for you ought do nothing apart from the Word.

That's easy for you, Brown, at your cushy parish, what have you suffered? Little compared to some - but I have had to teach about respect for the office - which as far as I can tell has been strongly lacking since the 70s when they removed a Seminex guy - and as is demonstrated that they nagged my predecessor into early retirement. We teach, and we focus simply on God's Word. We don't elevate ourselves - rather we must decrease that He may increase. And then let them rail against God if they will.

1 comment:

William Weedon said...

Amen, Pr. Brown. I must confess that I do not understand how it is possible to subscribe the Symbols and deny that the laity may speak absolution. I'd like to hear what those who take the opposing position make of LC, Exhortation to Confession, 14!