18 August 2010

A question of Holiness, so to speak

I have been having an on going conversation with a member that goes something like this, "The altar is the holiest place in the church for it is where God resides and from where He comes to give His people His gifts." The question then is asked, does that mean that the balance of the space is not as holy and then by default that the gathered saints are not as holy as say, the pastor or others who might serve within the Chancel? The answer I give is that all is made holy by God's presence and His gifts bestowed, i.e. holy absolution, preaching, Holy Supper but they are certainly not as holy as God even though He makes His temple within them and washes, speaks, feeds them holy.

I am not saying this well to reduce some concern and thus would one or several of you clarify this for me. I say that the altar is the most holy place, the chancel being the space in which the altar stands is also most holy and thus the pastor vests to come into the most intimate presence of God. The nave is holy for God goes out to His people to make them holy. When they come to the altar rail to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus they are in the most holy and intimate relationship with God this side of glory as in His Supper heaven and earth come together.

Does this somehow make them less holy or others more holy? How might this be said in a better way or more clear and proper way. Please help! Thank you.


George and Colleen said...

Christ is our holiness. We become holy by our union with Christ. This is most clearly expressed when we participate in (commune with) the body and blood of Christ.

When the most holy Lord gives of Himself to those who receive Him faithfully (and according to His promise (i.e. the Gospel)) they are made holy (sanctified).

The altar is not a more holy rock (or table or whatever) than any other rock in and of itself. The chancel is not made of more holy wood (or rock or whatever) in and of itself. It is, however, dedicated to God for the specific purpose of communicating God's gifts to men.

This is basically the same thing with "holy water" as Luther explains in the catechism.

Likewise, you are not a more holy man in and of yourself than any other man and you don't gain intrinsic holiness via ordination. However, the Holy Spirit makes you holy by the promise of God (John 20) and consecrates you for a particular purpose. This sets you apart from other men according to calling, but not because of some internal change wrought by a mark (indelible or otherwise).

The fact that God uses you to communicate His holiness to His people (a holy nation!) is by His grace and according to his promises not according to an internal transformation.

does this help?

Pastor Foy said...

Not really as this I already know, understand and communicate. The pastor is not more holy than any other sinner, got that. But the altar is God's throne, it where He resides and that makes it more holy than the table in the Narthex.

The question is not really one of holiness of people but of space and location and how that is communicated by God to His people. Coming to or towards the altar is moving closer and closer to the Thrice Holy God and thus one should be extremely reverent and humble as one approaches.

Even so He invites and welcomes His children to the altar to receive His Body and His blood and in the giving He makes them holy, gives to the His holiness. BUt what about before, while they are just sitting in the pews is there a difference in the space, their holiness than before absolution, preaching or the Sacrament?

Susan said...

Would it help to talk about the tabernacle/temple, and how the "levels" of holiness increased from outside the fence, to the court, to the Holy Place, to the Holy of Holies and the mercyseat? Similarly, in Psalm 43 there's a progression: to the holy hill, to the tabernacle, to the altar, to God.

Father Hollywood said...

This is an example of where our emphasis on Justification can cause us confusion. I'm not saying that we shouldn't emphasize Justification, but I am saying we need to be clear what we mean by "holy."

Of course, we're all holy by virtue of the cross and baptism (just as we are all priests). But there is a holiness that has nothing to do with Justification, but rather Vocation.

Again, not that the pastor is in a "better" vocation than anyone else, but the pastoral office is *unique* (set apart) as the office through which God gives out His gifts of Word and Sacrament. *In that sense,* the pastor has a holier vocation than a lay person. But in the sense that all vocations are sanctified by God's Word and call, *in that sense* the milkmaid's vocation is as holy (and maybe even more holy in some cases) than that of the clergy.

The pastor isn't less of a sinner or better than anyone. But he has a set-apart (holy) vocation to preach and administer sacraments. And just as the OT clerical priests were permitted to go and to conduct worship in a way that was denied to the non-clerical priests (see Ex 19, especially verse 6), the same is true for the NT clerical priests (see Rom 15:16) who have a calling to conduct worship, to lead the assembly in the offering of eucharistic sacrifices (Ap 24 especially paragraphs 19, 25, 35), and preach in a way denied to the non-clerical priests (1 Pet 2:9).

If we separate Vocation from Justification, I think the defensiveness about using the term "holy" to describe the pastoral office goes away, just as when we understand the difference between propitiatory and eucharistic sacrifices, any hesitance we might have to refer to the office of the ministry as a priesthood ought to abate.

Phil said...

Pr. Foy,

It's my understanding that we Lutherans understand holiness in relation to the presence of God, in contrast to the Protestant view where holiness is basically moral rectitude (of which there are degrees). I don't think anyone here would argue that.

There aren't really degrees of God's presence--He is either present or absent (perhaps one could make the further distinction of "present" and "present to save", but these aren't really matters of degree). So, saying what the first commenter said, in different words, the space, the altar, the vessels, and the people are hallowed by the presence of God and not vice versa. The church building is a holy place because God is present there, not because holy Christians gather there; gathering there they are made holy.

So in my mind it's not a question of degree but a question of source and recipient.

Fr. Beane,

Maybe there's a better way to talk about the Office and the Priesthood:

Christians are consecrated priests at their Baptism. All Christians exercise their duties as priests. However, those Christians who are ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry exercise their priestly duties in a different manner than those who are not ordained, and the difference is precisely to the extent that they are in the Office.

Michael L. Anderson, M.D. said...

I wonder if many of the concerns raised by this absorbing thread can be addressed by the take-off phrase "A matter of Holiness, so speak" ... something directed to those specially set apart from other men, by a promise from the Holy Spirit?

The first Salutation, I think, is a critical moment in the liturgy. It captures this dynamic of "set apart" exceedingly well. The officiant blesses the saints with an assuring "The Lord be with you." The saints respond traditionally in kind, but with a twist. Recognizing that the precise nature of the "spirit" found in the community's response is controversial (if I am recalling the give and take of a liturgical conference held by Fr. Peterson of Redeemer, Ft. Wayne correctly), it may be said that the congregation is actually endorsing the pastor to be their spokesman to God Who is present: "And with your pneuma," your breath, your speech as you approach the seat of God with petitions and intercessions. "You do it for us; we are unworthy servants, but someone has to do it. You, ordained man, are it."

Indeed, the pastor upon receipt of this confidence of his flock, turns toward the New Testament Sinai and breathes the thematic Collect of the day to the Tri-unity ... with unshakeable catechismal fear and love for God and His people. His life is on the line. He is addressing Holiness, on holy ground.

In this sense, the pastor recapitulates Moses, designated by the trembling tribes of Israel to speak with God, on their behalf. To be sure, God uses the pastor to communicate His Holiness (and His grace) to His people (yes, a holy nation!); but quite early in His Service He also uses the pastor to be a priest, and to communicate for the holy nation as well. Yes, Christ is the ultimate Moses, the One Mediator between God and man. But Christ mercifully "sets apart" men, to be NT clerical priests who confidently yet humbly speak for His non-clericsl "nation of priests," gathered at the foothills.