(This article was originally published in October 2005)
If I didn’t know the obvious truth, I might be tempted to be flattered by the fact that I was recently quoted by two scholars at two scholarly conclaves. My brother, a non-scholar like me, was also quoted. Luther once said that God placed before him the task of translating the Bible so he wouldn’t die thinking he was a learned man. The same applies to the editors of the Motley Magpie. This enterprise, now at an end, has made us all the more appreciative of true scholarship when we see that rare gift in others. As lightweight as our scholarship has been, writing for the ‘Pie has been a Godsend. If this journal has provided our readers with a fraction of the blessing which we have received in writing it, then we have done what we set out to do. By the way, the scholars who quoted us quoted from our now defunked journal. Our readers will not be surprised to learn that the scholars were not pleased.
One of the aforementioned scholars leveled a charge that we hold to a “Romanizing” view of the Holy Ministry. The charge was made by the Reverend Father, Doctor John Brug, a professor at the Wisconsin Synod’s seminary in Mequon, Wisconsin. The occasion for the charge was at a pastor’s conference in my old stomping grounds of Michigan. Since the two papers which cited quotes from the MM were delivered in academic settings, it is only appropriate that they receive academic grading. First of all: Tone. Not bad, but both papers could’ve had a bit more edge to them. Grade: B-.
Dr. Brug took umbrage at my assertion, in a March ’03 article entitled “lutheran lady lectors,” that Pauline prohibitions about female pastors are a reflection of deeper ontological realities, namely the person and nature of God. That God is called Father, that Christ is called the Bridegroom, that Christ selects an all male apostolate, etc. are some of the deeper realities behind Paul’s prohibitions, and it would be wise to consider these realities when doing exegesis. Dr. Brug ruled this a faulty hermeneutic. As an example of how Lutherans have supposedly rejected this method he says,
When the Reformed accused the Lutherans of basing their doctrine of the real presence…on Christology, the Lutherans rejected the assertion and responded that they based their doctrine of the Lord’s Supper on the sedes for the [Supper].
Since Dr. Brug has undoubtedly read cover to cover volumes 36-38 of the American Edition of Luther’s works, I will have to charge him with being disingenuous (Grade: A+). The good doctor knows that proper Christology was very much an issue in the discussions with the Sacramentarians, in addition to how the sedes were approached. The Lutherans didn’t exclude the deeper realities of Christ’s nature from the discussion. What they objected to was a Christology which verged on Nestorianism. For Luther Christ’s ubiquity was enough to prove the real presence. Of course, Jesus revealed much more about this truth on the night of his betrayal. Luther wrote,
…even if Christ had never spoke or set forth these words at the Supper, “This is my body,” still the words, “Christ sits at the right hand of God,” would require that his body and blood may be there as well as at all other places, and that although there need be no transubstantiation or transformation of the bread into his body, it can well be present nonetheless… (AE 37, p 64)
Since the WELS has rejected an ontological approach to the matter of the Holy Ministry, it will be hamstrung as it attempts to handle attacks on the Office.
Dr. Brug also objected to my statement that the male pastor stands in an iconic relationship to Christ. Brug asserts that all Christians are an icon of Christ. True enough, but what he fails to state is that men and women do not entirely reflect that image in the same way, as Paul notes in his distinction that man is “the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man” (1 Co 11:7).
Brug is irked that the word icon is used at all in relation to the pastoral office. After giving the definition of an icon as a thing that is “uncritically adored”, he asks, “Why would a Lutheran pastor want to use such a term of himself?” That’s what you get when you let Webster do your theology for you. Brug also cautions about the use of the title Father, a title approved by Luther (AE 22 p. 99). He claims that it can easily lead to mischief, as if the titles Pastor and Doctor are somehow mischief proof.
Dr. Brug labeled as blasphemous this statement in the same MM article: “Just as the heavenly Bridegroom gives life, so his stand-in (viz the pastor) gives Life.” Before the good doctor takes up stones I must remind him of the words of Paul, “For I became your father (literally “begat you” or “gave you life”) in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (1 Co 4:15) When the pastor plants the Seed, Jesus, who is Life, in the hearing and mouths of his people, he gives Life.
At the annual fall symposium at the WELS seminary the Rev. Fr. Paul Naumann leveled the charge of allegorizing against the editors of the MM. We were duly warned at the WELS seminary about an alleged tendency of the ancient church fathers toward allegorizing. WELS pastors have forwarded that warning to their people, but not because they have ever read the church fathers. When “Luther’s Works” for the average WELS pastor means the three volume set of “What Luther Says,” you can well imagine that they’re not going to cough up the dough for a set of “The Sermons of the Ancient Church Fathers”. Fr. Naumann takes exception to a sermon published by my brother in which he identifies Christ as the Good Samaritan, the oil and wine of the parable as the sacraments, and the donkey as the pastor (if you know my brother “jackass” is a word that may come to mind).
Perhaps Fr. Naumann prefers Luther’s interpretation – wine symbolizes the troubles of life and oil the gospel. One is in a quandary over these interpretive conundrums: Does he go with the likes of Luther and Ambrose and see Christ as the Good Samaritan, or does he side with Fr. Naumann who sees you and me as the good guy? Hmm…Luther/Ambrose? or Naumann?… Hmm... Isn’t this interesting: All who approach this parable must assign meanings to its various parts, otherwise there’s no purpose to the parable. Now why is it that if you assign yourself the role of the Good Samaritan it isn’t allegorizing, but if you assign Christ to this picture it is allegorizing? (Double Standard? Grade: A+)
One wonders if Peter had not revealed the baptismal parallel to the Flood whether these great scholars would have a clue. The WELS hermeneutical approach is summed up in the song (you know the tune), “Noah’s flood is baptismal, for the Bible tells me so. Moses’ crossing is also, for St. Paul said it was so. Jordan’s crossing CANNOT be, cuz I ain’t got no Bible verse on that one, and it ain’t in the Peoples’ Bible; besides, I didn’t get the hermeneutical key that was so clearly held in front of my face by St. Peter.” (So I can’t write children’s songs.)
The propensity for wrongheaded thinking such as this in my former synod was the chief impetus behind the MM. Yet the WELS is not alone – all of Lutheranism is an awful mess. As our readers know, those of us in Missouri are now all Ablaze! As I gaze across the great gulf fixed between me and others I long for someone to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in the midst of this Protestantized Lutheranism. But isn’t that what we should expect? Besides, longings for a better situation usually go in the way of the Theology of Glory. The faithful have often wondered, “Who knows that we are the children of God?” Yet that’s the way it ought to be, for Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness. (1 Co 12) And after all, it’s all about Jesus, the Good Samaritan. Right? But of course. §
The Reverend Peter M. Berg is a rostered pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and resides in Chicago, Illinois.