Don't Mention "it"

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According to our Reformed theology pastors are most closely tied to the office of prophets.  The more I study the prophets the more that I understand that and the more it scares me.  On the one hand prophets are blessed because they weren't employed by a specific congregation who houses them, pays their wages, provides insurance, and helps with their retirement.  On the other hand, when I hear how the prophets were treated I can't imagine that sort of life, especially while having a family.

As I spend more years at the current church (which is my first as an ordained minister) I find more and more battles and subjects that aren't worth my fighting and discussing.  We know that we can't change people and it becomes painfully obvious in council meetings or when the same person keeps "discussing" the same issue with you for years.  I have a hard time with this because I am called to bring the Word of God to them even when it is hard to hear, even when they disagree with it.  So, I would like to ask two things here.  First, what do you do with issues that cause more problems and drive a wedge between yourself and the congregation (not just individuals)?  Second, what are issues that you can't talk about because even the mention of them brings a deluge of anger?

Some of the items that I have found I can't talk about are social justice (after all, I'm told it is related to socialism and therefore it leads to Hitler somehow), the UN, the second Sunday Worship service, politics (especially anything related to Democrats), abd Christian School (particularly that it is not evil to send your child to a public school).  These are just a few.  What about you?

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First, I'd disagree with the correlation of pastor and prophet, even though it's firmly embedded in our Reformed tradition and tied to the three-fold office of Jesus. The schema of equating the three-fold office of Christ to our three main offices (or are they two, with one being a specialized elder), stretches beyond the breaking-point of good theology. It's a schema that we should hold lightly to, if at all. Certainly the Bible never echoes the schema.

As for the heart of what it means to hold this office, which is still officially called Minister of the Word, or Minister of Word and Sacrament, I spend time in the pastoral epistles and look for Paul's advice to young Timothy & Titus. I find it interesting that the title "pastor" doesn't occur in the pastorals, nor do the typical duties associated with the shepherd of a flock (visiting the sick, comforting the suffering, etc.) find much traction there - at least not directly. The one thing that gets the most traction is preaching and teaching the Word, watching out for false teaching, and the careful appointment of elders and deacons, as well as some other advice on dealing with certain in-house management issues in their respective churches. That's interesting to me.

The prophetic office (in the O.T.) is certainly not about what the prophets were against, it's not primariy about speaking against injustice, or government corruption. The prophets were individually and specifically commissioned by God to speak His words to those He specifically told them to speak. Those words always called people back to faithfulness to God and His ways (Torah), and warned about what specifically would happen if they did not return to Him and follow His ways. If you have not received specific instruction on what to say, who to say it to, and when to say it; you're not a prophet. If you want to preach the full council of God, your a preacher of the gospel, an evangelist (in the Biblical use of that word). The NT does not use the word "prophet" to describe preaching of the Gospel. To equate the two, is to ignore or violate the NT understanding of both roles (offices?).

As far as hot/controversial topics goes, I stay away from them only because they can't be discussed. To try is to invite anger, opposition and force folks to pick 'sides.' Polarlizing issues tend to polarize.

A better 'strategy' (if that's the right word), is to deal with these matters through the back door. As far as social justice is concerned, we speak first of mercy, of responding to Jesus' call to help those in need, to side with those who have been wronged, etc. Leave the whole matter of how to deal with government out of the discussion (for now), it will come up, as folks find that the system is part of the problem.

BTW, part of the problem with our concept of 'social justice' is that for us the word 'justice' itself brings up the adversarial 'justice' system in our country. No wonder we fight about it, since 'justice' in our heads, is always a fight for my side, or yours. That's just dumb. Biblical justice is about the establishment of shalom, not about who can prove their case with better arguments.

Okay, back on track. I don't speak from the pulpit about politics or what we tend to call 'issues,' Christian day schools, or whether it's proper to have a U.S. flag in the worship space. I speak privately with those who ask me about those things, and then only if I'm sure they want to discuss, rather than rally support for their 'side' and against the other 'side.' I don't like 'sacred cows' but unceremoniously grinding them into hamburger is no way to lead a church to unity (a central value in the NT for churches). Once folks take 'sides' the battle is already lost. If we can't have differences without taking sides, we are a church in need of deep healing.

Who does it help to be right about all the 'issues' and divided with the brothers and sisters with whom we disagree? 'Issues' should never be the center of our discussion; Jesus should be the center of our discussion, the 'issues' are all to be seen as incidental to our mission to go and make disciples. In my limited experience issue oriented churches and issue oriented pastors find division the norm, either within their body, or between their body and bodies of other believers. In such groups, or with such pastors, the emphasis is on the wrong syllable, so to speak, as is always the case when justice outweighs grace as the chief modus operandi of the church. And mentioning this irritates such folks, who (rightly) claim that the two are not opposed to each other, to which I reply that the one (justice) must be subservient to the other (grace) as the main emphasis of the churches message on every occassion.

The bigger issue is to deal with differences with love and understanding. In Phil 4:2 Paul urges "Euodia and Syntyche to agree in the Lord." He says nothing about who is right, or wrong, or even state what the issues were. He simply urges Syzygus (or his 'loyal yokefellow') and Clement to help them resolve their differences. The issue wasn't the issue here, unity was the issue. There are many things that I and other members of the church disagree on where I am. They also disagree with each other. But we do love each other, and that governs how we talk to each other (usually!).

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