07 February 2011

Because I said so

How much do principles of parenting apply to the pastoral office? This is a question that I have pondered much. Luther does say that those who teach the Word are a "third kind of father," i.e. spiritual fathers in the Large Catechism. Elsewhere I have written about the value of learning to understand ourselves as such "spiritual fathers" in relation to our congregations. But how does this look in practice?

For example, as a parent, there are times (many, in fact!) when the children want to know why we say "yea" or "nay" to something. It is not always beneficial to them to explain everything, especially if they are younger. Sometimes it is best to tell them, "Because I said so." Because I am the parent. That is why. Because this is the way I want it. It does boil down to personal preference. The reason you are to be home by 9:00 even though your friends can stay out until 10:00 is because this is what I prefer.

Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn't save ourselves a lot of headaches when it comes to matters of adiaphora (true adiaphora, that is) to simply appeal to our pastoral authority. Why do I only allow boys to be acolytes? Because I said so. Because I am the pastor. I can give you several reasons explaining my preference, but none of these would likely matter in the long run.

Of course, I realize what people will say: "Herr Pastor!" "Grabauite!" "Domineering in the Office!" "Lording it over his flock!" But is it? Where in the Scriptures does it say that all matters not commanded or forbidden by a Word of the Lord must be decided by a vote of the people, or simply by the preference of the congregation, without the input of the pastor? What would be so wrong with pastors exercising some of that fatherly authority and saying, "Because I said so. This is how I want it. I am the pastor," particularly in cases where the people have become unruly? Is this a violation of the pastor/sheep relationship?

This is the way most questions on the S.E.T. are asked: "What is your preference regarding ___________?" Mostly they don't want reasons or explanations, just to know what your preference is. Why would there be anything wrong with a pastor explaining to the congregation that this is just his preference, offer explanation as to why it is, and ask that they would honor that preference? Maybe I am just an idealist.

15 comments:

Susan said...

Regardless of whether people should be offended is irrelevant, isn't it? Right or wrong, they will be offended.

jWinters said...

The most particularly frustrating thing about "Because I said so" is that it comes without clear explanation. I would argue that it's actually bad parenting to use the "because I said so" line except as a temporary injunction to give you time to explain it in detail later.

The same goes with the Office, I would think.

We teach some by giving out rules and laws and decisions. We teach much more by showing the norms, motivations, and ideas behind those rules. And if we can teach the Gospel-based norms, motivations, and ideas - perhaps we will be better understood the next time we stand by a rule, law, or decision.

in Christ,
jW

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Three quick thoughts this morning:

1. Perhaps a more winsome way than, "Because I said so" -- something along the lines of "I am not comfortable doing _____" or "I am not sure that _____ is good and I want time to consider before I do it." Then, rather than a simply appeal to personal authority, there is a "reason" for why you are saying no, even if it isn't the fullest one.

Why can't I stay out until 10 - because I'm not comfortable with you staying out that late right now.

2. This, too, has its limits. There are places where "Because I said so" carries great weight (in the preaching of the Word and the Administration of the Sacraments)... and some where, well, frankly, what the pastor wants isn't all that important. Not everything in the Church is a spiritual matter -- the problem comes in when pastors try to be not a "third kind of father" but a three-way father, ruling in all things.

3. Actually, my first thought was this -- "Because I said so" is a sharp doubled edged sword. How many pastors could easily abused that? (We're singing this praise song because I said so.) You try to check it with the idea of adiaphora (even "true adiaphora") - but that's the kicker... there is no consensus as to what true adiaphora is - and that opens the door for all sorts of tomfoolery for whomever comes after you (I don't care if you plan on staying there forever - you could get hit by a bus tomorrow).

If we do a "because I said so" it has to be highly, highly limited - because the goal of being a pastor (or a parent) is not the simple assertion of one's own authority to make things simplier... but to teach, to train, to instruct so that they think and see and understand right and wrong as you do.

That way when the next guy says, "Hey, let's have a seeker service," they can say, "Those who are dead in sin don't seek anything because they are dead."

We need to do more than simply teach what is good, we need to teach why -- that way when someone else says, "Hey, this is good too" they will know why it isn't. "Because I said so", while okay as a temporary solution, never does that. In fact, it just paves the way for the next guy who is screwy to do something horrid.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Yeah, it was probably a stupid idea. That was just one example, but mainly I was thinking that if a pastor is a spiritual father, what does this mean in practice? What implications does it have?

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Eric, I don't know if I would ever use that as a parent, "I'm just not comfortable with that..." It's too "grey." But I agree that it could come back to bite someone.

It could be the lazy-man's answer--rather than teach and explain, it is easier simply to assert one's authority. It just bothers me that when it comes to practices in the Church that are not prescribed in the service books, it just seems like a pastor should be able to decide those things without a consensus of the whole bunch.

Imagine how that would work in the family if Dad always had to consult the kids about decisions he makes. Democracy should not be the way things are decided in a family. I like John Rosemond's idea that a parent is more like a Benevolent Dictator. We act in the best interests of our family, and if the kids are mature enough and willing to listen, then we will explain.

BerlinerinPoet said...

Although I don't think "because I said so" is a legitimate way to deal with a child, sometimes you don't have time to explain your reasons to him. I would imagine that as a pastor dealing with adults, sometimes a bit more explanation should got into it.

It's two different spheres: the church and the family, and they will operate differently. You could extend this to the President, but I think it would be a bad idea.

Carl Vehse said...

"What would be so wrong with pastors exercising some of that fatherly authority and saying, "Because I said so."

Well, here's some Scripture that points out what is wrong about it: Matt. 20: 25,26; 23:3-12; John 18:36; 2 Cor. 8:8;1 Pet. 5:1-3

And one could also refer to C.F.W. Walther's Thesis IX on the ministry: "Respect and also unconditional obedience are due to the ministry of the Word if the preacher presents God’s Word. But the preacher has no lordship over the church. Therefore he has no right to introduce new laws, arbitrarily to establish adiaphora or ceremonies..."

Supporting evidence from Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and other Lutheran theologians can be found in Die Stimme unserer Kirche in der Frage von Kirche und Amt, Thesis IX.B, p. 370ff.

Rebekah said...

"Because I said so" is a legitimate and sufficient answer for parents to give children. It may not be prudent to leave it to stand on its own depending on the situation and/or age of the child. A parent may decide that a child will sometimes be better served with additional explanation. But children are called to obey on the basis of parents' authority alone, not their wisdom or reason. Acts 5:29 gives the only exception to this rule. Children of various ages need to hear "because I said so," sometimes just by itself, so that they will learn what authority and obedience mean. For God surely does not explain to us all the Law, nor does He own us any explanation.

What this might mean for pastors, I don't know. I speak as a daughter (and a mom).

Pastor Hemmer said...

A close corollary to "Because I said so" is "You'll understand when you're older." Now _that_ would be a winsome answer.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Thanks for that, Carl, because I had never thought about those verses before.

Pastor Foy said...

I believe we might be missing the point here. If we get to "because I said so", that would be the response to the one who had already been taught and was now being obdurate. If we teach our children (family and church children) what is right and wrong, what is good and what is better or best, then when we exercise proper and loving authority in doing something or forbidding something, they already know why and the reasons behind it even if they don't like it.

One Sunday many years back I stood before the congregation before service began and read from Luther about kneeling during the creed. I said that I was convicted that I could no longer remain upright and was compelled to kneel. I also told them clearly that I was not watching or judging them and their behavior. This is adiaphora and yet it is of the one holy and catholic Church.

Teach (2Tim 2:24-26) and then do. Those who oppose or resist may be further catechized, rebuked or whatever the loving and nurturing father deems to be loving and compassionate.

Unlike the household, the Church is very rarely the place of dire urgency and requiring of "Because I said so." Your child going out on a date might be.

All that said, I was rightly rebuked by our brother Fr. Petersen recently when I questioned the possible arrogance of teaching of the authority and responsibility of the office. He said to drop the false humility and teach. He is right. They don't know, the teaching and the comfort that comes from that teaching have been lost in a world of individuals who resist authority. "By the command and in the stead" does not really register with most and thus they truly have a hard time receiving and believing the absolution. Who does this guy with a collar think he is. Well, what have we taught them that we are?

God bless you all. This is not easy and it takes a great deal of time and I believe much courage and conviction.

Myrtle said...

I am the last person who should post on this subject, but I wish to proffer one position.

It seems to me the purpose of the question is about pastors being spiritual fathers, rather than one particular answer a father might give. Not having had a father be a father, when I first read this in the Large Catechism, I loved the idea, hungered at the wonder that I might get to have a father somehow...and still think it is vitally important.

I think you should remember that a lot of people out there haven't had fathers or who had fathers who did not teach them or who taught them the wrong things.

God, in his infinite mercy, gave me an adoptive father in the Gospel, but he is finding it hard going trying to teach me about fathers when I have no frame of reference that is meet, right, or salutary. He has continued his valiant, almost Sisyphian effort because my idea of a father is NOT what God is as my Father in heaven. Needless to say, whenever Luther starts talking about what I am supposed to expect from God as my father, I despair. I do not expect such things--not just because I am a sinner, but because fathers are not good things, they do not give good things, and you definitely do not go about asking them for or expecting good things from them. Father references in sermons just about drown me in guilt because I am not welcoming of them, do not understand them, and basically dread them for the confusion they bring.

That said, last summer, I asked my pastor about a problem I was facing and how to handle it. I did not like his answer in any way, shape, or form. In fact, truth be told, there might actually have been sputtering involved in my protest at his answer that was repeated, more than once, just to be sure I was hearing correctly (i.e, hoping he would change his mind).

But his answer was given very much in the way I imagine a father would give, in complete authority, expecting me to heed the Word and obey. He did not just demand; he did explain when I began sputtering. The manner in which he addressed me taught me as much as his answer did and was a great gift to me...even though, I think, I might actually be older than he.

What he asked me to do was so difficult it took two weeks to actually do the first part and I struggle with the second part all the time. But he was and is right. I obeyed him and I am still trying to do so.

I am still new to Lutheranism, comparatively speaking to all my years of being a Protestant. But I think that it is beneficial to remember that there are millions of children and adults (who still carry around children inside them) out there who have not had fathers who parented them, much less catechized them, and very much need their undershepherd to be a spiritual father.

I happen to think God had a very good reason for having Luther put that bit in there and having it survive throughout all the wrangling that took place for the Book of Concord to become our Confessions.

I am more wrong than right, but one of the first things I learned as an undergraduate in education was that children need and crave boundaries. My adoptive father will fall over in a dead faint since I struggle with this more than anything else, but I need and crave boundaries. All children do. And no matter how old we are or you are, we parishioners are your spiritual children.

To use the more common metaphor, we are sheep. Anyone who knows a single thing about sheep knows they need boundaries. That is what the shepherd does as a part of his care for them. That is what is often needed from undershepherds who stand in the office and stead of our Good Shepherd.

I am the worst kind of child and the worst kind of sheep, but if you are thinking about that bit about being a spiritual father, consider my words. Don't be so quick to think it is some historical bit that doesn't really apply anymore or is not as necessary as the other most lovely, most difficult things in that most precious gift that is wealth beyond measure in the heritage of our faith.

Father Hollywood said...

Sometimes the pastor simply has to make a decision, and sometimes it is the principle of The Clash "Should I stay or should I go?" Some decisions will tick off 50% of the congregation ("If I go there will be trouble..."), while the opposite decision will tick off the other 50% ("An’ if I stay it will be double").

One solution is to vote on everything, and the pastor is completely covered by the majority, be it 51% or 90%. As long as there is an odd number of voters, it works like a charm!

You can simply put every decision to a vote: what Bible version to use, what lectionary to use, what hymns to sing next Sunday, whether to use wheat or white bread for wafers (or perhaps gluten-free rice bread), what kind of wine to use (or perhaps grape-juice), how many candles to have on the altar (or whether we should have the electric ones), genuflect or not, chant or not; chalice, glass, or plastic; what stops to pull out on the organ (or whether to ditch the organ for a guitar), whether the acolytes can wear tennis shoes or not, dancing girls or not, which version of A Mighty Fortress to sing, whether to forgive or retain a particular sin, etc.

Of course, dads (as the head of the household) can also use this technique to avoid unhappiness in the home: have families vote on things like: where to go on vacation, what to eat for dinner, how late the children can stay up, whether or not toddlers can play with electric drills, what kind and how many pets to have, how much to spend on the new TV, where little Johnny's birthday party will be held, how many chores the children should be required to do, etc.

We Americans like having a voice and we like getting our way (especially if we can sway 51% to vote with us) and we don't like to submit to any authority.

That's the genius of democracy! Democracy is the pastor's best friend - at least as long as he is willing to submit to The Majority.

Ted Badje said...

I'm sorry. 'Because I said so' will not cut it with most adults. If the pastor can say 'This is what God's word says...' or 'Here is what we need to do for good order...', that would be better. I have seen too many instances of autocratic behavior with pastors, whether telling brides' maids where to stand for the ceremony so it's symmetrical (is this really the pastor's expertise?), or the ghastly behavior some pastors display with teachers and DCEs. I believe the pastor should review what is taught in Sunday School and Confirmation, but not browbeat other people in offices of ministry. If a pastor is able to conduct Confirmation by himself, all the better, but logistics doesn't always allow it.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Ted, I generally agree with you. My post was mainly exploratory. I hope everyone realizes that. What works for little children may not be the best pastoral approach. I get that.

A better pastoral approach would be what you suggested: explaining that "for the sake of good order," it would be best if we did/did not do this or that. Or, "for the sake of reverence in the church... I was talking to my congregation yesterday in Bible class about the distinction that we make between traditions of men and the Word and command of God. We retain many of the traditions of the Church for some good reasons: their teaching value; because they serve the purpose of good order, or reverence, etc. But we make a sharp distinction there. There is much freedom in this regard, but we are not free to be disorderly, or irreverent.

Anyway, I appreciate your response as well as all of them. I do believe that there are some instances where an explanation will be lost on someone who really does not want to know the reasons. Children who are mature enough to listn to an explanation can handle an explanation. Same with church members. But sometimes it is just a waste of breath.