A few more thoughts on what he said

The Lutheran Witness magazine printed a letter and response regarding the pastor’s self-communion.  A fine liturgical and rubrical analysis of the practice is available from our friends at  Gottesdienst (Motto : Rubrics – The more the merrier!).  Liturgically, I have nothing to add to what they have said.

However, what are the doctrinal implications for the practice (or not) of self-communion?  That is, what does our orandi say about our credendi?

Let us consider this in the context of the pastoral office (Predigtamt), and the authority which is given.

From where does the authority to preach and administer the sacraments orginate?  From Christ, of course.  But where does it go from there?  One’s view of self-communion gives, I believe, a pretty clear insight into a person’s opinions.

Does this authority flow from God only to the local congregation, which then gives it to the pastor by means of a call (usually mediated through the voter’s assembly)?  The pastor then is operating on Christ’s authority, mediated solely by the congregation.  If one accepts this rationale, the authority comes from Christ, to the congregation, which turns it over to the one who is “Steward of the mysteries” on their behalf.  When it comes time to administer the sacrament to the pastor therefore, the one who has given the steward the mysteries (in this case the congregation) now administers the mystery to him. If the pastor self-communes, it appears as if the pastor is exalting not the ministry (which he received from the congregation), but is exalting the person who is serving them by virtue of his refusing to recognize the authority of the congregation over him. (“the Church is above the ministers” Treatise)

However, if one sees in Kirche und Amt : Amt art VI the same use of the noun ‘Gemeinde’ as one has in K&A : Kirche art I, then the ‘Gemeinde’ which has called the pastor (on behalf of God) is NOT solely the local congregation, but rather is “the aggregate of those who, called out of the lost and condemned human race by the Holy Spirit through the Word, truly believe in Christ and by faith are sanctified and incorporated into Christ.”  Or, to put it more succinctly, the “allgemeine katholische, Kirche” the universal catholic church.  In the case of our dear synod, the congregation acts on behalf of the one holy catholic and apostolic church in calling a pastor to serve them.  But such action is solely by human arrangement. (Just as the Roman “top down” approach is also by human arrangement)  And they do not act alone.  On behalf of the church catholic, area clergy gather to vest and give assent to this.  At ordination, this assent is shown in part and especially by the laying on of hands.  At a subsequent installation, it is by their presence and participation in the service (the processional is not simply  so that all the pastors put on pretty dresses and stoles.)  In addition, the one installing is usually a president or bishop (depending on the local custom for naming those who preside over the parishes)

Now, if this point of view is true, the congregation does not call on its own authority, but as a part of the church to whom the Lord has given pastors to serve as overseers and bishops.  While they could  call and ordain without the assistance of the wider church, such would only be rite (heh-heh) in cases of emergency, or in cases where the local president/bishop refused to provide a pastor.  (As can be seen in the Reformation Era.)

In this schema. while it is true that the whole church possesses the authority, that would be like saying that the entire nation of the United States possesses the authority to elect the president.  Yes, true.  But that in no way means that I personally ever held the power of the presidency, any more than the state of Wyoming does so.   The pastor speaks on Christ’s authority, and performs the functions of the office (preaching and administering the sacraments) because of that Christ-given authority.  He has the testimony of the whole church that he does indeed speak with that authority through his ordination.  Therefore, it seems silly for him to hand over the administration of the sacrament to a member of the congregation.  If he did so, he would do it under his authority as the one who is responsible for administering the sacrament,  so that the sacrament can then be administered to him by one whom he as authorized to administer it.  That is to say, according to this way of thinking, the pastor is using his authority for adminstering the sacrament to authorize someone to administer it to him.  So he is still vicariously administering it to himself.   But, what he also does is send the message that the administration of the sacrament is something which can be delegated to others.   What then of the consecration?  Must he do that, or can he authorize someone to do it on his behalf?  How about preaching?  Baptizing?  Absolving?  In this way of looking at things, delegating the tasks that Christ has delegated to him is simply not kosher (as it were).  To what extent, if he does so, is he then still responsible for what happens once he has done so? In the “congregation-only” model above, he can do so with the approval of the congregation, which gave him this authority in the first place.

For the pastor who believes the latter formulation to be true, if he is called to serve in Christ’s stead (which call is  admittedly mediated through the church) then he must be willing to serve.  To administer the sacrament is one of the explicit purposes of that service, and can not be delegated to another, unless it is done according to the mandate of the one who instituted the office and called him to it (and I am blissfully unaware of any such provision).  Therefore, the pastor who believes self communion is the preferred (or only acceptable) practice, likely also believes that the call to ministry is given by God, mediated through the church.  The (local) congregation is not the possessor-of-all-power-who-then-passes-it-over-to-him.  Rather, the authority of the Predigtamt is given by Christ.  As a poor miserable sinner, the pastor, like everyone else, humbly accepts the sacrament from the one called by Christ to administer it to the church.

For those who see things according to the first method of understanding, you can see why it would cause offense to see the pastor acting so arrogantly.  For those who see it according to the latter, you can see why they would be utterly baffled at the offense caused by this act of humility.

Not that the Forest Boar is necessarily saying he prefers the latter view over the former (lest I be accused of base and vile things, like sacerdotalism, or calling Holy Orders a Sacrament.)  I am just working out the implications of both positions.  Remember this as you post your comments:  I am Switzerland.  (In the sense of totally neutral, not in the sense of Calvinist or Zwinglian).

Pax sit vobiscum.


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