Tuesday, October 31, 2017

from "Enough Horses in the Barn" on the Reformation...

As Greg Ogden notes in his prophetic work on discipleship: Luther, Calvin and other Reformers…

promised to liberate the church from a hierarchical priesthood by rediscovering ‘the priesthood of all believers’. But the Reformation never fully delivered on its promise… Within Protestant circles, we are fully acquainted with the first aspect of the priesthood of all believers…all believers have direct access to God through Jesus Christ…The unfinished business and the unkept promise that has the power to unleash a grass-roots revolution in the church is the logical corollary to the priesthood of all believers: not only are all believers priests before God, but we are also priests to one another and to the world.

In this, Ogden notes a painful irony: “Protestant churches have been just as priest-ruled as Catholic churches, we just call it by a different name.” As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, how far have we really come in this regard? As Elton Trueblood noted, “Most Protestants pay lip service to the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of every believer.” The good news? “We live in a generation when the unfinished business of the Reformation may at last be completed.”

Ogden points to many causes for the current state of affairs and the forsaken promises of the Reformers. For example, he devotes a chapter to church-speak. “Saints” are considered to be spiritually elite, rather than a label for every believer (as is the case throughout the New Testament). We refer to “the ministry” as if it’s the particular province of professionals—and to “the minister” of Church X as if church members are not ministers of the Gospel. We call the professionals by formal titles like “reverend”; we designate “the clergy” as a “leadership caste” of specialists. We imagine that “the minister has a priestly aura.” They dress in clerical garb and preside over various sacraments. All of this serves to separate “them” from “us,” at least in practice.

Another example: since Kurt moved from being the pastor of a satellite campus to full-time parachurch ministry, his kids are often asked “Is your dad ever going to pastor again?” And their children blurt out: “He pastors every day!” It’s not helpful—to professionals or to lay people—to think of “ministry” in such narrow, purely-professional terms.

Even in traditions with fewer rites and speakers in more casual clothing, the “us and them” distinction still holds, more or less. We depend on professional staff more than lay pastors. We tend to see evangelism as inviting people to church so they can hear the Gospel, rather than something we can do well with the Holy Spirit, as we walk daily with Jesus. We focus on conversion and baptism over “teaching them to obey everything” Jesus has commanded, forgoing purposeful and robust discipleship within biblical community.

How did we get stuck? Ogden: “The reformed definition of the church was trapped in institutionalism” with its focus on “the word of God rightly proclaimed and sacraments rightly administered”—but delivered by the clergy. The Reformers were more focused on what was wrong than what to do properly. They exalted the role of preaching, which implies the passivity of the church members as a hopefully-attentive audience. And the Church and the local church have been enmeshed in civil society, where church, state, and the importance of professional leadership have been intertwined.

Dallas Willard adds that the Church has tended to focus so strongly on beliefs and doctrine, fending off attacks from inside and out—that Christ as a teacher about life and obedience has largely been lost. As a result, we have emphasized certain key doctrinal tenets, while implicitly ignoring a vast array of teachings that weigh on our daily lives.

Kraemer provides more reasons. The Reformers focused most of their attention on abuse and corruption in the existing system. More pressing, there was an obvious lack of disciples and disciple-makers, given the almost-universal passivity of the laity to that point. “The former members of a Church which for ages had kept its membership in a state of spiritual immaturity…could not suddenly function as spiritual adults.” As a related matter, if there are few trained laity, how does one establish reasonable order—except through the professionals?

The almost-inevitable upshot: “Already at the time of the Reformation and in the first period of its consolidation, concrete historical facts ensured that the principle of ‘the universal priesthood of believers’ could not be acted upon.” There was a strong emphasis on theology and preaching—again, quite reasonably in that context—a function that would naturally fall to trained professionals. After surveying matters thoroughly, Kraemer calls for the practice of a new ecclesiology. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, can its promises of an empowered laity be fulfilled? Is it possible—and if so, how so?

This is not what Jesus had in mind as He focused on empowering the 12. Do you have a vision for getting thoroughly equipped? If so, what's the plan?


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