22 September 2008

A Step Back, a Deep Breath, and a New Prospective Perspective

The recent thread of multiple posts and many comments on the potential possibility of an evangelical rule has been interesting, to say the least; some parts invigorating, some parts frustrating, but instructive in any case. As I've noted in a couple of my notoriously long comments, my perspective and my thinking on this idea have developed in the course of discussion, and I regard that as the mark of a good conversation. I appreciate the give and take, the cut and thrust of debate, the concrete propositions, the pointed criticisms, the cautions and concerns. I'm not as thrilled with some of the specifics that have been bandied about, but I haven't felt threatened by anything. It seems to me that we ought to be able to contemplate ideas without harboring the fear or savoring the fantasy that something, once uttered, is a position irrevocably taken or a project in the process of appearing.

I'm offering some new thoughts to contemplate here, as I continue to formulate some alternative proposals for consideration and discussion. Someone has to join Brother Curtis out on the limb with the bull by the horns and the tiger by the tail, even if only to lead him back to the trunk of the tree in one piece. I'm grateful to him, not only for his daring contributions, which have generated a lively discussion, but also for his graciously patient responses to critics.

The notion of a "rule" of order is certainly not contrary to the Gospel, nor is it divisive to the life of the Church. This isn't the lawyer seeking to justify himself, but the pastor seeking to serve the flock faithfully. To be ordained is to be under orders, for the sake of the people one is called to shepherd with the Word of the Lord. To be put into an office is to be "ruled" and "ordered" by that vocation, so that others may be served by grace. Thus, there are the rules laid out for the leaders of Israel, for priests and prophets and kings. And there are the rules of the Pastoral Epistles, for the pastoral office and for the households of the parish, for husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, children, slaves, workers and such. Hence, the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism. Here is the Law serving as both curb and guide, not for the sake of justification, but for the sake of the neighbor. Those who are perfectly free before God by faith, are entirely bound to the neighbor by love. Call it whatever you like, there are "rules" by which we live to the glory of God and the good of others, and pastors are obliged to strive for the sort of practice that will best serve the Church.

It is true that we are not in a position to establish, adopt or enforce anything like the ancient canons of the great ecumenical councils, nor anything like the sixteenth-century Lutheran church orders. Those historic precedents belong to the polity and jurisdiction of the Church on earth, in a way that we are in no position or authority to emulate. We've not been aiming at the formation of a new communion, nor a new church structure. The benefit of the ancient canons and the church orders is their example of the Church's confession in response to the particular circumstances and challenges of the day and age in which they were formulated. We have our own circumstances and challenges to deal with. So how shall we best respond with a clear and consistent confession of Christ? Apart from the political structures within which the canons and church orders found their place, the way in which those canons and orders addressed specifics then can be instructive to us now. Analogous counsel, guidance and advice can be rendered in any number of ways, many of which would have nothing like the ecclesial jurisdiction or political authority of those historic examples.

Despite the reactions that some readers have had, and perhaps in spite of presuppositions that some of "us" have had to begin with, an evangelical "rule" of order would not likely deal with a lot of ceremonial details. There is guidance to be given in the realm of ceremonies, to be sure, but evangelical guidance will respect the broad catholicity of the Church as well as the freedom of the Gospel and the necessity of pastoral judgment, discretion and care. In any case, the sort of "rule" that I have more and more come to envision would be far more comprehensive, broader and more general than the fine points of liturgical practice. "Rules" pertaining to the liturgy, rites and ceremonies, would find their place alongside "rules" pertaining to pastoral care, catechesis, almsgiving, church fellowship, public witness, missions, etc. Such "rules," as I have already suggested in several comments, would not point us away from our synodical fellowship, but would encourage a conscientious respect for that fellowship and support an active participation in its polity and protocols.

What we really need, it seems to me, are not so much "rules" that describe what we're already doing well, but "rules" that call us to daily repentance and admonish us to do better in those areas where we are at our weakest, whether out of ignorance, laziness, reluctance or cynicism. We should not come up with "rules" for ourselves that are mainly aimed at correcting others; though I do not deny that we are called to correct, reprove and exhort our erring brethren. But we ought to "rule" and discipline ourselves to strive for greater and more consistent faithfulness in our own practices, especially with respect to the duties of office that are most difficult for us and the least enjoyable. That's one of the tremendous benefits of doing something together with brothers in office, so that we do not individually become caricatures of our respective strengths and negligent in areas of personal weakness.

An evangelical "rule" would simply be a way of organizing and putting into writing what ought to be happening all the time anyway: the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, the spiritual counsel of fathers in Christ for their sons in the faith, and the spiritual care of fellow pastors for one another, out of love for the office, for each other and the Church. It's a way of pooling our knowledge and experience for the benefit of one and all.

I've offered some examples of the sort of thing I have in mind, in my response to Brother Peperkorn, and I'll mention two of those again: The Concordia Catechetial Academy and Higher Things. These efforts are narrower than an evangelical "rule" would be, but in their own respective bailiwicks they give us a good picture of how to serve the Church by confessing the faith in very practical ways and with very tangible means. I've also mentioned the extraordinary example of Wilhelm Löhe, who, from his Neuendettelsau parish, served the Church far and wide in a number of significant areas: Liturgy. Missions. Pastoral Care. Diakonia. He taught by his own beautiful example, but he also worked hard to facilitate positive efforts on the part of the Church at large. He organized, catechized, recruited and inspired, exhorted and encouraged, and contributed to great lengths. Not only his example, but the fruits of his labors continue to serve the Church in our own day.

Along with these examples, my attention has been turning to other sorts of models to consider. The ancient canons and Lutheran church orders are interesting and instructive, but there are also more pertinent things to read and contemplate. Manuals of pastoral care, for example, spanning church history from St. Gregory the Great to our own C.F.W. Walther. Any number of Luther's writings, which deal with the life of the Church in the world. The Saxon Visitation Articles, which Brother Curtis also mentioned at one point, but which we haven't discussed. Similarly, the Enchiridion of Martin Chemnitz on Ministry, Word and Sacraments, which served as a measure of a man's readiness for the pastoral office. I've got a dozen or more books that I want to begin perusing and reading, as my time permits, for the sake of learning from others who have carefully considered the work of pastors in caring for the Church on earth.

My thinking, at this point, is that the sort of "rule" that might emerge from our discussions and fraternal debate would function more like a manual of pastoral care than a new "society" within our current synodical fellowship(s). It would ideally be the sort of "living document" that the Apostolic Constitutions of the early church appear to have been; that is to say, developing over time through the input of pastoral experience, and addressing ever new challenges facing the Church in her confession of the Gospel. It would be entirely free, take it or leave it. Yet, by mutual agreement and voluntary submission on the part of pastors who recognize its wisdom and benefits, an evangelical "rule" of this sort would serve and support the catechesis of the Word of God, the preaching of the Gospel, the profession of the faith, the prayer of the Church, the pastoral care of souls, and the compassionate care of orphans and widows in their distress.


wmc said...

What we really need, it seems to me, are not so much "rules" that describe what we're already doing well, but "rules" that call us to daily repentance and admonish us to do better in those areas where we are at our weakest, whether out of ignorance, laziness, reluctance or cynicism.

Isn't "calling to daily repentance" and "admonishing to do better" the work of the Law? If it is, then it better be God's Law and not our own laws, lest in keeping the traditions of men we neglect the commandments of God.

wmc said...

This comment isn't quite to the original post, but it's in the stream of discussion. One of the glaring needs is a workable set of rubrics. LSB trimmed the rubrics down for the sole purpose that all those red instructions made the hymnal look like a textbook for a liturgical course. The intent was to create a Minister's Edition that had a full set of rubrics along with historical and theological discussions.

Unfortunately, with Paul Grime off at the Fort and a new look to the CoW, I'm not sure this will ever happen. (The same thing happened with the chant book for TLH, which led to the silly spoken/sung versicle/response associated with TLH.)

Perhaps a constructive project for the rubricists among us would be to put together and publish for our mutual edification a complete set of rubrics for the services of LSB. Someone might check in with Grime to see if the MInisters Edition is dead in the water or not, first, but he hasn't been nagging me for my chapter in a long while.

This would certainly help in filling a rubrical gap left by LSB.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Of course, the call to repentance and the admonishment to do better stems from the Law of God, and not via the commandments of men. In areas of freedom, where God has neither commanded nor forbidden, there I think that the wisdom of experience can offer helpful counsel and advice, but even this is given and received in service and support of what God has said. Mainly, though, I have in mind the fact that the Law of God is to be taught and explained and repeated and applied to particular situations, in such a way that we are instructed and rightly guided in the way of truth and life.

My point, however, was not to limit the "rules" to repentance and admonition, but to suggest that our own need for repentance ought to be our first concern, rather than attempting to regulate others.

I agree that "filling in the gaps" in the rubrics of LSB is another key area that an evangelical "rule" could address in a helpful way. But I don't think that would be the only purpose or benefit of such a "rule," nor even the main point.

Dizziness said...

As one aspiring to the office, a Minister's Edition of LSB would be a useful addition. I need my chancel clumsiness worked out by a decent set of rubrics.

wmc said...

I'm not really sure how Higher Things or the CCA fit into this idea of an "evangelical rule." Could you please explain the analogy?

Paul McCain said...

Unfortunately, with Paul Grime off at the Fort and a new look to the CoW, I'm not sure this will ever happen. (The same thing happened with the chant book for TLH, which led to the silly spoken/sung versicle/response associated with TLH.)

Bite your tongue...or...your fingers.

It is, in fact, happening even as we speak! It's a couple years off now, but...that book is scheduled, planned and very much in the works, along with a fantastic "handbook" for all the LSB hymns that is going to be better than anything done before like this. Vieker is working on that one. Grime and Vieker are working on the "manual" too.

The Altar Book also has more rubrics.

And, come on guys, if you need a "rubric" to tell you each and every last "nth" detail....well....you are being way too German.

: )

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Maybe the problem comes in with the word "rule". A rule is something that, if broken, yields punishment. You break the rule, you are out of our club - you break the rule, you are a bad Lutheran.

Might I suggest rather an "ideal" or "idealized approach"? How, ideally, would the service be conducted and why is this the ideal? How ought a matter of pastoral care ideally be handled - and why? And if it is an ideal it is something to work to - a useful guide, yet also something that we can each on our own acknowledge exceptions to (and also use as a mirror to see if our "exceptions" are really matters of our situation being unable to live up to an ideal or just us being lazy pastors or lazy laity).

I think some concrete goals or ideals (concrete ideals? Man, am I Platonic or what!) would be a useful tool - and a tool that would help to promote unity without being threatening.

Or we just declare Cwirla our Pope. >=o)

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember a conversation with Vieker where he indicated that almost all of his duties at his point are finishing up all those companion volumes, including the Minister's Desk Edition.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

The term "rule" has been an integral part of the rubrics ever since Jesus said, "This do."

Since we do not have a bishop, or a pope, or even a council (which I am not proposing), we need something if we are to retain a semblance of catholicity in the best sense of the word.

Part of catholicity has to do with rules. It's in the fabric of the Church's manner of speaking from her earliest days.

All this talk of being queasy over the use of the term "rule" has me wondering, frankly, if we aren't beginning to see a bit of unfortunate political correctness in the liturgical realm.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Yes, Pastor Cwirla, I will continue doing my best to explain how and why I have suggested that Higher Things and the CCA are good examples of what I envision an evangelical rule looking like and doing. That's what I've been aiming at with my way-too-long comments and, now also, in this new post.

Higher Things and the CCA are both more narrowly focused than a comprehensive "rule" would be, but each of them, in its own area, is organized for the guidance and assistance of the Church. They encourage and assist pastors and congregations to do the very sorts of things that pastors and congregations are given to do. And they do so as organizations comprised of people within the LCMS, yet not as any part of the official synodical structure. They have a structure and polity of their own, with rules and guidelines and standards and protocols. They teach by example, by providing materials, but giving instruction, by hosting conferences, by establishing networks, by word of mouth, etc.

The CCA has done such things with respect to catechesis (and related matters of faith and life). Higher Things has done so with respect to youth work (and with a host of other things connected to the faith and life of the entire Church). So these are individual slices of a larger picture, but, again, in their respective areas, this is the sort of example and encouragement and guidance and support that I suppose an evangelical "rule" could provide.

The particular sort of polity, structure and governance involved is not such a big deal to me. I'm more interested in the way that pastors, working from within their God-given (not self-appointed) office and vocation, can serve and support and assist their colleagues and the church at large by providing a positive example, sharing the wisdom of experience, encouraging and even admonishing, discussing and even debating, and offering assistance in the work that we are all given to exercise.

Higher Things began with a group of pastors saying, "What can we do to serve our youth and any other LCMS youth who may care to join us?" And look what's been accomplished. The CCA began with Brother Bender aiming to serve his own people and to share with others what he received from his own fathers in Christ. That's the sort of mindset and approach that I have begun to envision, only over a more comprehensive scope. What sort of form or structure it might take, I don't know, and I'm less concerned about. I'm more interested in asking the question, for now, as to what sorts of things we have to share with one another and to learn from one another. In liturgical practice, in catechesis, in pastoral care, in missions and evangelism, in the distribution of alms, in the practice of church discipline, etc.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The term "rule" has been an integral part of the rubrics ever since Jesus said, "This do."

Since we do not have a bishop, or a pope, or even a council (which I am not proposing), we need something if we are to retain a semblance of catholicity in the best sense of the word.

Since Jesus said, "This do" -- okay. That is firm law - thou shalt. Are we establishing firm laws whereby we bind one anothers' consciences? Would this rule suddenly become definitional of what it is to be a follower of Christ (this sounds more annoyed that I am - I am just asking the question)? If it is on the level of Jesus saying, "Do this" - it is mandatory.

Or would this rule be more similar to something like the Rule of Benedict - a voluntary association - as we are not Pope or Council and cannot rightly demand compliance? If that is the case - does a voluntary rule ensure catholicity or simply establish a subset of like minded folks within the Church? Did Benedict establish and preserve Catholicity, or did he just determine one (of eventually many) way of being a monk?

Rule does imply authority. On whose authority are we basing the rule? Only Christ's authority is the basic of true Catholicity - and that is universal and not optional. This do. If it is voluntary, it can ensure uniformity within a group of volunteers, but not Catholicity, precisely because it is limited to a small group. Nor would it really ensure a more Catholic nature among us because the people who voluntarily agree to it would already be striving to uphold the Catholic nature of the Church already.

I don't know if by writing a rule we can establish or create - the Law is not creative. Rules imply hammers. However, we could make a guide for people to grow towards - perhaps. Or, at worst, we make a holy club that maybe the cool people would want to join.

Just raising questions about the goals. . . (Don't Panic!)

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

If you think "This do..." is Law in the same sense as the Ten Commandments, then I think you really don't understand the Sacrament. Those words are the sweetest Gospel. They are no more Law than a mother telling her sick son, "Take this medicine."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

In addition to HT and CCA, one might look at the LHF as an example - one that works on mission and translation, and does it very well. And you've got things like the Blind group (can't think of the name) and the like that deal with sources for those without sight?

The above groups are limited in their scope. Perhaps we should consider what the limits of any rule would be. Would its focus be mainly liturgical? Or perhaps in matters of casuistry? Or would we want even more just support for pastors who are trying to stem the tide of rampant Evangelicalism?

Perhaps we, instead of trying to start off all-encompassing, should start small with the highest priority that we have and then expand out. It took almost 300 years to get the Cannons of Nicea - we can take a few years to set up something like that.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for the feedback, fellows. A few follow-ups, for now, from my end:

Lutheran Heritage Foundation is certainly a good example to the Church, but it presents a little different scenario than the CCA and Higher Things. The LHF is a case of an organization working together to do the sorts of things that few if any of us could do on our own. The CCA and Higher Things, on the other hand, serve and support and exemplify the very sort of pastoral and parish work that each of us is given to do.

On the Words of our Lord, "This do," I would have to agree with the comments that Brother Eckardt and Brother Brown have made. Of course, Brother Beisel, the Holy Supper is pure Gospel, and even our Lord's invitation to "eat" and "drink," while imperatives, are sweet gifts of His grace and mercy. I would suggest, however, that "This do" refers not to the eating and drinking, but to the administration of the Sacrament. In other words, it is directed not to communicants as recipients of the Holy Supper, but to the Church and her Ministers as those responsible for giving it to the disciples of Jesus.

Following a suggestion from Dr. John Kleinig a number of years ago, I noted that "This do" is not used in the institution accounts where the "eat" and "drink" are recorded. "This do" sounds like an invitation to eat and drink, because of the conflation of texts that we use liturgically, but, as I say, I believe it refers to the responsibility of the Apostles and Ministers of Christ to administer the Sacrament, rather than to the receiving of the Sacrament.

It is precisely such ministerial responsibilities that I have in mind as I continue thinking about the prospect of an evangelical rule.

There are some things commanded explicitly by God, and there are other things that arise as needs within the life of the Church. All such things need to be addressed, in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another, but obviously there is a different weight of obligation on the one hand than the other. Even where God has clearly commanded something, the way in which we are given to go about keeping His Word may depend on a host of circumstances within our particular context. In some cases we are hindered by a lack of knowledge and experience; other cases are simply difficult to discern and deal with. This is why and how we benefit from the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, and in particular from the wisdom of our fathers in Christ.

Let's consider one primary example. There are two basic "rules of prayer" in the New Testament: "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5), and that "prayers and entreaties, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men" (1 Tim. 2). With respect to the first of these, the question has pressed itself upon the Church throughout her history: "What does this mean?" There have been some pretty different answers given. Cathedral vs. Monastic prayer is a basic breakdown. Is prayer a way of life, or life a way of prayer, or both, or how does this work? Is prayer chiefly didactic and devotional, or doxological, or both, and how do these fit together? How does the layperson pray without ceasing, as compared to the way a pastor prays without ceasing? How does the Church pray together, and how does a pastor help his people to pray within their own homes and families?

If prayer is to be an actual practice, rather than simply an ideal, there can and should be solid pastoral guidance given. But pastors, too, can benefit from the guidance of others, as also by their own study and experience. An evangelical "rule" would set forth such guidance, in order to serve and support in concrete terms the underlying lex orandi.

That's one example of the sort of thing I envision in a host of other areas, including liturgical practice, pastoral care, missions and evangelism, almsgiving, etc. As my time permits, I'll share some further organization of these thoughts in a subsequent post; but for now, I'm enjoying and appreciate the comments here.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I mentioned in my post that I've identified a dozen or more books that I want to read or peruse in thinking about this topic. Here are the titles that I grabbed off my shelves the other day; not an exhaustive list, obviously, but some things that struck me as useful to these considerations:

Joseph J. Allen, The Ministry of the Church: Image of Pastoral Care

Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion

Werner Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism

Johann Gerhard, On the Duties of Ministers of the Church (LCMS World Relief and Human Care)

St. Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule (SVS Press)

Jonathan F. Grothe, Reclaiming Patterns of Pastoral Ministry: Jesus and Paul

Wilhelm Loehe, Three Books About the Church

Martin Luther, "On the Councils and the Church" (1539)

Martin Luther, "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate" (1520)

Philip Melanchthon, "Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors in Electoral Saxony" (1528)

Norbert Mueller and George Kraus, Pastoral Theology

Carl S. Mundinger, Government in the Missouri Synod: The Genesis of Decentralized Government in the Missouri Synod

The Pastor: Readings from the Patristic Period (Fortress)

Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction

Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity

David C. Ratke, Confession and Mission, Word and Sacrament: The Ecclesial Theology of Wilhelm Loehe

Thomas Richstatter, Liturgical Law: New Style, New Spirit

John Shahovskoy, The Orthodox Pastor: A Guide to Pastoral Theology

Carl A. Volz, Pastoral Life and Practice in the Early Church

C.F.W. Walther, Pastoral Theology

solarblogger said...

I like that Eugene Peterson was included in the list of books. He has written some new books in Pastoral Theology lately. Mars Hill Audio also has a good interview with him available at their site for a small fee ($5 for the MP3 download):

wmc said...

The term "rule" has been an integral part of the rubrics ever since Jesus said, "This do."


solarblogger said...

According to Skeat's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, the term 'rubric' derives from the fact that such rules were printed in red. Jesus' words, "This do" are printed in red. Mark 10:42 is also printed in red, "But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them...." Fire engines are also red, and you always see them rushin' around, so that's why we call the Russians reds. Oh, wait. What was the question?

wmc said...

I like that Eugene Peterson was included in the list of books.

Eugene Peterson rocks. I'd include "The Unnecessary Pastor" into the list, but that means you guys would have to read some Marva Dawn. It'll do 'ya good.

Paul McCain said...

I think this would be a nice touch, to give it a real flavor of "canon law."

Make sure you end it with:

No one whatsoever may infringe this our written decision, declaration, precept, injunction, assignation, will, decree; or rashly contravene it. Should anyone dare to attempt such a thing, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I trust this was offered with a smile on your face, Brother McCain.

It should certainly be clear and evident from the conversation that no one here is advocating a burden upon anyone's conscience, nor seeking to impose anything on anyone by way of threat or punishment.

I'm honestly surprised by some of the reactions, which seem fearful of any discussion by which "we" might discipline ourselves to do better and serve more faithfully. The yoke of office under which we serve is not for the binding of our neighbors, but for the benefit of those entrusted to our care.

I'm appreciative of zealous concerns for the freedom and free course of the Gospel, and I'm sympathetic to fears stemming from past experiences with legalism. Can we not simpy have a discussion and debate, however, in which we assume the best about each other?

I would not have guessed that asking my brethren for instruction, guidance, correction, reproof and a good example would bring down upon my head accusations of legalism. Wow. It's no wonder that some brothers become cynical and weary.