Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Thought from Uncle Marty

"Any work that is not done solely for the purpose of keeping the body under control or of serving one’s neighbor, as long as he asks nothing contrary to God, is not good or Christian. For this reason I greatly fear that few or no colleges, monasteries, altars, and offices of the church are really Christian in our day—nor the special fasts and prayers on certain saints’ days. I fear, I say, that in all these we seek only our profit, thinking that through them our sins are purged away and that we find salvation in them. In this way Christian liberty perishes altogether. This is a consequence of our ignorance of Christian faith and liberty." (LW 31:370)

There are some books that a Christian should read once a year. "On the Freedom of a Christian" is one of these. Note that the idea that the things we do are to be for our neighbor are not just for our outside life, but even for our life within the Church - yea indeed, for us of the cloth, it is the direction for all our actions as Pastors.

Thus for any action, decision, tact, or direction - be it with what is preached, what is taught, what is sung, what is prayed, what is observed, what is omitted - the question must be "how does this serve the people of my congregation." Otherwise it is vain and arrogant and self-rightous -- be it choosing to do something (and showing how knowledgable you are) or be it choosing to not do something (and showing how unstodgy you are) -- they both serve the self and not the neighbor.

This is why the Lutherans were quick to point out that rites and customs need not be the same everywhere - because in every place there are different people who have different needs (and I'm not talking about felt needs here - I'm talking about sitz in lebin type of needs - are at different places) - and so the pastoral care given must be different in each of those places. Same doctrine, same truth - different application (or aspect of doctrine applied).

Oh, that sounds like situational liturgics! That sounds like situational preaching! Well. . . it is. You, you yourself, are the pastor of very specific and individual sheep - so deal with it. I can't be Peter Cage - I'm short and I'm not preaching to folks in Muncie. I must be Eric Brown - who preaches and teaches and leads the folks in Lahoma, OK in worship.

When we will remember this - it will keep us from going into the self-righteous-prig phase that comes so easily to pastors - and more over, we as pastors will be better able to help and aid one another - not by simply telling them what is best (which happens to be what I do), but by guiding and supporting others in this idea - that every action one takes needs to be for the benefit not of people in general, not of people in the abstract, not of people in some idealized congregation - but for the benefit of those sinners you've been given to deal with. Then we can discuss why we do things that we do (which happen to be different), then we can discuss what might be better, not in the abstract, not in the idealized sense - but right now, right here (or there, if it is your fellow pastor's question) what is the best treatment for the spiritual ill in question. And we can do this without being sanctimonious. We never just simply ask what is best, we ask "What is best for your neighbor". Period.

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