Friday, October 28, 2011

Presentation Response

Below is the response I wrote to the presentation at my district pastoral conference which I referenced in my prior post.


A Pastoral Response to “Spiritual Warfare”
Presentation of Pastor *****
General Pastoral Conference, October 18, 2011
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Dr. Martin Luther, Chicago, IL
On Tuesday afternoon of our recent General Pastoral Conference, Pastor ***** gave a challenging presentation on his ministry and theology of healing. I call this presentation “challenging” because he seems to be challenging the classic Lutheran understanding of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, acknowledging several times during his presentation that “this isn’t what they taught me at the seminary.” For Pastor *****, something new has happened to him, and he desires to share this with others.
The purpose of this paper is not to attack Pastor *****, nor to question his motives (which I am sure are honorable and Christian), nor to argue with his experiences. This would be foolish, since I was not there when Pastor ***** was healed and I have not witnessed any part of his healing ministry. I cannot say what has happened. Also, let me say that I rejoice with Pastor ***** that he was healed from his very serious affliction. The purpose of this paper is also not to provide a theology of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit - that is too big a topic for a short response paper. My goal is simply to provide a corrective to what seems to me to be some possibly inaccurate and misleading assertions made by Pastor ***** in his presentation - again, not to attack him, but because I am concerned for my brothers in the ministry who heard his presentation and may have questions about the presentation in general and about their own pastoral ministry.
My goal is to be scholarly and sober in discussing these issues. To be otherwise would be of no help to anyone. If I am mistaken in any of my assertions, I am open to correction, especially since I am only relying on my memory and notes from his presentation. 
(1.) “Jesus did it, so we should do it.”
This was Pastor *****’s rationale for why there should be a healing ministry in the church today. Several times in the course of his talk, he asked the question why, if Jesus was preaching, teaching, and healing, do we only do the first two? We should do as Jesus did. Along this same line of argumentation, he also talked about the apostles and quoted Mark 16:20: “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.” His conclusion being: Jesus healed, he confirmed the message of the apostles through signs (healing), and so it is today as well.
Quite simply, I question the soundness of this hermeneutic. Just because Jesus did something does not, in fact, mean that we should do it. In his Genesis lectures, Luther talks at length that not every word of God is for every person (Luther’s Works, Volume 2, p 271). Certainly, all the Scriptures are God’s Word and all are for our learning, but not all are for us to do and imitate. Two examples Luther gives are God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and Jesus’ command to the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor (Mark 10). Luther takes the monks of his day to task for applying this latter statement to the entire church, when, he says, it is a command only to the rich young man. Since I do not expect Pastor ***** to do this, nor do I expect of him to sacrifice his children, there seems to be a bit of an inconsistency in his argumentation here.
Further, there are many other things Jesus did that we do not do, including walking on the water, cursing a fig tree, feeding the five thousand, and pulling a coin from a fish’s mouth. Therefore, Pastor *****’s rationale here simply will not do. Not all of Jesus’ words and commands are directed at us today. It would be a legitimate debate and a perhaps helpful discussion to talk about which are and which are not, but to simply issue a blanket statement that “because Jesus did it, we should do it” is simplistic and misleading.
Further, Pastor *****’s choice of Mark 16:20 is interesting. His assertion is that this text shows us that Jesus continued to do signs and wonders (including healing) through the apostles after His ascension. But that is begging the question. That fact clearly cannot be disputed, as is clear from many other texts in the Acts of the Apostles. Nothing is proven by this verse. The questions are, rather: Can this statement be extended beyond the apostles? Did the apostles have a unique place in the church? Again, that is a legitimate question for debate and discussion, but simply asserting this verse proves nothing.
In fact, to return to the initial statement of Pastor ***** referred to here, that Jesus was “preaching, teaching, and healing,” and so we should do the same and not just the first two, one could point to the Great Commission, where preaching and teaching are mentioned, but healing is not. An interesting omission, yes? Could this verse not be used as a counter assertion, that these are exactly the two things we should be doing? Perhaps that is the reason this verse is used in the rites of ordination and installation of a pastor.
(2.) Cessationism as a product of John Calvin
During his presentation, Pastor ***** asked the question: “Do you know why we believe these gifts stopped? Because John Calvin said so.” I believe the meaning of such a point is to say that cessationism is a new teaching in the church, one that is un-Lutheran and perhaps also unknown in the church before the time of John Calvin. But history shows that this is simply not true.
St. John Chrysostom, in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 12 (concerning spiritual gifts) says:
This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more? (NPNF, First Series, Volume 12, p 168)
And then also in a sermon on Romans 8:
But the Spirit Itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” This statement is not clear, owing to the cessation of many of the wonders which then used to take place. (NPNF, First Series, Volume 11, p 447)
A little later, St. Augustine would write:
For the Holy Spirit is not only given by the laying on of hands amid the testimony of temporal sensible miracles, as He was given in former days to be the credentials of a rudimentary faith, and for the extension of the first beginnings of the Church.  For who expects in these days that those on whom hands are laid that they may receive the Holy Spirit should forthwith begin to speak with tongues? (NPNF, First Series, Volume 4, p 443)
Although not as clearly stated as St. Chrysostom, Augustine seems to be saying here that the “temporal sensible miracles” that were given in the past are no longer seen or expected in his day. The reason for them was to “credential the rudimentary faith.”
I quote these church fathers not to be definitive statements upon which we should base the teaching and doctrine of our church. In no way! Yet they do clearly show that the teaching of cessationism has a very long history and was in existence in the church long before John Calvin. Already at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth centuries, it seems as if this is a given in Constantinople and Hippo (Carthage).
Now, it could be that Chrysostom and Augustine are wrong (and again, this could be a topic for discussion and debate), but except for making for a good sound bite, pointing to John Calvin as the basis of this teaching is not something we could point to and say, “This is most certainly true!”
(3.) The presence of sin “blocks” Jesus’ ability to bless.
In relating stories that have happened in his travels, Pastor ***** made several assertions of this nature - that the presence of sin in our lives, for example, the sins of anger or unforgiveness, prevent Jesus from healing and blessing. Now, certainly, it should be the desire of every Christian to root out of our hearts and lives anger, bitterness, and a lack of forgiveness towards our neighbors. This is most certainly true! But to assert that this is the basis for healing or not, for blessing or not, is troublesome and could be damaging to faith.
For even though Pastor ***** (and others that day) repeatedly said that “this is all about Jesus,” in actuality he made it all about us, by focusing on what we have to do in order to receive healing and blessing. This is the message he conveyed when saying that we have to get rid of our sin first. This is, in reality, the preaching of the Law, the solution to which is not to tell us to do more or do better, but to direct our eyes to the cross of Christ. For there is the solution to our spiritual sickness, the forgiveness He won for us not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. Without this teaching, we are left in our sin and despair. 
Now, perhaps Pastor ***** assumed that because he was speaking to a room full of pastors this did not need to be said. But it does need to be said! Pastors are sinners just like everyone else, and also need the assurance of the Gospel. We need not only direct our parishioner’s eyes to the cross, we need to be directed there as well. Pastor’s conferences are the perfect time to do this, an opportunity that in this case, was missed.
But there is another, bigger problem here as well: with this teaching, levels of Christians and faith are set up. This is the problem in all churches (charismatic and otherwise) that direct us to our faith and works as the basis of receiving the blessings of God. There are those who are blessed and those who are not. There are those who can and those who can’t. There are those who have gifts and those who do not. Or, to put it in a way some churches do, there are those who are real Christians, real disciples, and those who are aspiring to be but haven’t made it yet.
Again, I do not believe Pastor ***** was purposefully putting himself above others; he himself recognizes the need for humility. But as I add it up, the result of his theology is to do this very thing. This teaching, along with his teaching already addressed, that “if Jesus did it, we should do it,” carries with it the implication that if you’re not doing these things, if you are a pastor doing “only” Word and Sacrament ministry, you are not being all you can be, or should be, to your people. There is more for them that you are not doing. Just like those who need to put away their sin in order to be healed or blessed, you, too, need to raise yourself up and be this kind of pastor.
This is a damaging teaching. We have many fine and faithful pastors who are laboring hard for their flocks in teaching and preaching and giving the Sacraments of our Lord, visiting the sick, forgiving sins, reaching the lost, caring for young and old alike, and for them to be implicitly (or explicitly) told: you are not being the pastor you should be for your people, is crushing.
For I believe that every pastor knows he is not the pastor he should be. No matter how much we do, there is always more we could and should be doing. The needs of our flock are never ending. The pastors of our district and synod need uplifting and encouragement, not simply be told to do more.
Unfortunately, while this encouragement was given the first day - especially in Pastor McMiller’s excellent sermon! - it was not in Pastor *****’s presentation. To this sinner’s ears, there was only Law that left the hearer questioning and in doubt. Now, perhaps this feeling was mine alone and was not shared by the brothers; perhaps I am overly sensitive. But in speaking with many afterwards, I found that I was not alone.
Finally, the biblical witness does not confirm that the sin in us prevents Jesus from blessing us. If that were true, we all would be lost. One need only think of the many sinners Jesus dealt with in His public ministry. Sinners who were unworthy but were not told to believe more or clean out their hearts before Jesus could do anything for them! He came to them and gave them the faith, forgiveness, blessing, and sometimes yes, the healing, they needed. Sadly, this presentation did not direct us to this assurance, the assurance of the cross, but to the doubt and uncertainly of our own hearts and lives.
It is no secret that there is disagreement in our synod these days over a number of issues. Yes, there is much we agree on, but also things that we do not. It is helpful to recognize these difference and to discuss them, not ignore them. Pastor *****’s presentation at our General Pastoral Conference revealed one of these areas of disagreement. To respond is not something that I gladly or even willingly take upon myself, nor am I the most qualified to do so. But I felt such a response was needed for the sake of my brothers - especially those younger and newer pastors and vicars - who may have had questions and concerns arise from this presentation.
As I said, it is not my desire to attack Pastor *****. He is a brother in Christ and is and remains in my prayers. But a public presentation such as this needs a public response. I hope that my paper addressed some areas of concern in a Christian and helpful manner. 

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