Monday, September 21, 2009
I'm in quite the unique position right now. As an Ordained layperson, I get to see things from both sides of the communion rail. I hope this post doesn't come off sounding like sour grapes. Since I'm not a parish pastor at the moment, I'm not speaking about any particular congregation.
For the most part, Americans trust the professionals with whom they interact. When we call the doctor, we trust the advice they give and usually take the medicine they prescribe. After medical school and residency, we trust that a doctor generally knows what he's talking about. When we want our will drawn up, we call a lawyer. After all, that's what she went to law school for, and we trust that someone who has passed the bar exam can help us with legal issues. The same is true for most professionals, whether it's plumbers or architects or stylists or home security installers.
Sadly, the same cannot be said about how we interact with pastors. Too often pastors are viewed with skepticism. Sure, we extend Calls to these men to care for our souls, but when the rubber meets the road, too often we are ready to ignore what they have to say. Why do we not accord our pastors the same trust?
Let me share with you one example that I've encountered all over the country. Historically the Church and its congregations have received the Lord's Supper every Sunday. This practice fell by the wayside in Lutheranism during the 1700s, when it became common to offer the Lord's Supper only once every three months. For the most part Lutheran congregations have at least gotten back to the point where they offer the Eucharist twice a month on alternating Sundays. The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod in convention has encouraged a return to offering and receiving the Sacrament of the Altar every Sunday, and our seminaries teach that this is a salutary practice. Nonetheless, many congregations resist this practice. One of the most common reasons given is, "If we have this too often, it will seem less special." I find it distressing that someone might think that the Lord's Supper could ever be less than special. After all, it is the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins; what could be more special?
But that's beside the point. When our doctor informs us we have an infection and tells us to take the penicillin until we have finished the prescription, we follow her directions. When our lawyer tells us we're facing criminal charges and tells us not to answer any questions without her being present, we listen. When the exterminator comes and tells us that we have an infestation, by all means we tell him to eradicate it. Yet when our pastor tells us that we can have the potent and efficacious remedy to sin and death every week, we tell him we'd rather not have it, that we don't need it.
Ideally, your pastor went to seminary for four years of intensive theological training, just as doctors and lawyers receive intensive training in their fields. He has worked diligently in the original languages of Scripture. He has studied church history and systematic theology. He has been trained to care for your soul. Though he is a sinner just like you, he brings you forgiveness in the stead and by the command of Jesus. This has nothing to do with the personality of the man who is your pastor and everything to do with the powerful gifts God delivers to you through him.
You are suffering the disease of sin, and there is no disease that is more terminal. Yes, you can read your Bible at home. Yes, God made the world, and He is present everywhere, so you don't have to go to church to be in His presence. But when your soul is in distress, this is no time to self-medicate. You are suffering the disease of sin, and there is no disease that is more terminal. Trust the man to whom God has given the care of your soul. Take the medicine he brings you from God as often as prescribed, whether it's the Lord's Supper, the Word of holy absolution, or the preaching of Law and Gospel. You cannot overdose, and this medicine will never fail you . . . even if the sinner who is your pastor does.