Monday, July 25, 2005

Whither the Pastor?

As you may be able to tell from my recent posts, I've been exploring writings on the emergent church. I encountered today a truly enlightening (and disturbing) piece from Frank Viola of Present Testimony Ministry entitled The Pastor: Where Did He Come From?

In the piece, Viola establishes that there is no biblical support for the office of pastor outside of a single verse (Eph 4:11) and no support at all for the all-encompassing function of a modern pastor (as the equivalent of a modern CEO). He points out that the very notion of an office of authority was alien to the church until Ignatius of Antioch, who established the office of bishop and vested it with, for the first time, authority second only to Christ (later to be expanded to act as a stand in for Christ). Later distortions led the church to evolve into the heirarchical structure known as the Holy Roman Catholic Church. So ingrained had the authority of church offices become that even the Protestant Reformation continued the practice, albeit while rejecting the notion of the priestly function being as intermediary between man and God.

Money quote #1, with regard to the origins of the term "hocus pocus":

As Latin became the common language in the mid-fourth century, the priest would invoke the words hoc est corpus meum. These Latin words mean “This is my body.”

With these words, the priest became the overseer of the supercilious hokum that began to mark the Catholic Mass. Ambrose of Milan (339-397) can be credited for the idea that the mere utterance of hoc est corpus meum magically converted bread and wine into the Lord’s physical body and blood.[69] (The stage magic phrase “hocus pocus” comes from hoc est corpus meum.) According to Ambrose, the priest was endowed with special powers to call God down out of heaven into bread!

Money quote #2, where Viola wraps it all up in a bow:

The modern Pastor is the most unquestioned element in modern Christianity. Yet he does not have a strand of Scripture to support his existence nor a fig leaf to cover it!

Rather, the modern Pastor was born out of the single-bishop-rule first spawned by Ignatius and Cyprian. The bishop evolved into the local presbyter. In the Middle Ages, the presbyter grew into the Catholic priest. During the Reformation, he was transformed into the “Preacher,” “the Minister,” and finally “the Pastor”—the man upon whom all of Protestantism hangs. To juice it all down to one sentence: The Protestant Pastor is nothing more than a slightly reformed Catholic priest!

Catholic priests had seven duties at the time of the Reformation: Preaching, the sacraments, prayers for the flock, a godly life, discipline, church rites, supporting the poor, and visiting the sick.[239] The Protestant Pastor takes upon himself all of these responsibilities—plus he sometimes blesses civic events.

So in other words, despite the Reformation we still effectively have a priesthood distinct from, and in authority over, the priesthood of the believers.

There is much more worthwhile content on Frank's site, which I encourage you to read. He's certainly had an impact on my thinking.


At 11:04 AM, Blogger BruceD said...

I like what you've written so far. I'll be sure to stop back to see what's next.

As far as Viola goes, I do like a lot of his ideas. He is especially versed on church history, and why we do so many of the wacky things we do. But, his model for the house church (to which I subscribed for some time), I find a little over-structured for my tastes. I don't disagree with him, but I've found that a much more free and "unorganized" gathering can be more rewarding and more fostering of authentic relationships. But, that's just me, and my experience. I agree that Frank's writings are an excellent starting point for the seeker of a more meaningful church experience. I only hope that they take it the next step into the incredible freedom to enjoy God more fully.

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Zeke said...

Welcome, Bruce. Happy to have you "join the conversation," so to speak. :)

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Steve said...

So I catch so much shit on my site for saying basically the same thing as you say here Zeke...what gives? LOL.

Cmon... say it... you know you want to. All pastors need to resign. Since there is no biblical basis for the office let's just start from scratch on this one. Am I wrong for stating the obvious? Why do we hold on to this so tightly? I know I still do!

Here's my money quote from Viola in another article:

The pastor, by his mere presence, causes an unhealthy dependence upon himself for ministry, direction, and guidance. Thus, as long as he hangs around delivering sermons, the people in the church to which he belongs will never be fully set free to function on their own in a church meeting setting. Further, the pastoral office typically destroys those who populate it. Jesus Christ never intended for anyone to shoulder that kind of enormous responsibility and power.

I didn't say it, Frank did...but I agree. It's the one last strand of hope we have for the church, is for all pastors to get out of the way. For the sake of their own health and the health of the church they need to step aside. I think the Kingdom would expand and prosper in the void left from the pastoral office. It's an easy theory to throw out there though because we will never, ever know the truth. But we do have an example...look at the book of Acts. Wasn't this all done without full-time paid-pastoral leadership?

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Zeke said...

But we do have an example...look at the book of Acts. Wasn't this all done without full-time paid-pastoral leadership?

Ouch, Steve. Not to mention the fact that Paul chose to earn his way making tents rather than take a paycheck from the believers.

Here's a thought: what if someone who felt "called" to "ministry" assumed that they would never get a paycheck for it? How would that alter the way that they choose to serve? I suspect that rather than take an unpaid traditional pastor position, they might get more creative about how they make an impact and integrate it in with their working lives.


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