Church Write-Up: Sacerdotalism and Functionalism, Isaiah 6 and Acts 9, Fish

Here are some items from today’s LCMS Bible study. The topic was God’s call.

A. The pastor distinguished between two schools of thought. The first school of thought is known as sacerdotalism. This view emphasizes the pastor or the priest. In Roman Catholicism, the priest is a representative of Christ, conveying God’s forgiveness to those in Christ’s body. People come to the priest, confess their sin, and walk away absolved; the priest plays a necessary role in a person receiving grace. The second school of thought is functionalism, which de-emphasizes the pastor and priest and instead stresses the power of the word of God: the Spirit works through the word of God, and that is what is efficacious. The word of God makes things happen, not the person in office.

B. The pastor then shared how sacerdotalism and functionalism have played out in the Missouri Synod Lutheran church. He referred to Wilhelm Loehe, who denied sacerdotalism and held that the word of God was God’s agent in the church. Arthur Carl Piepkorn, on the other hand, brought back sacerdotalism; for instance, he brought back the cope, which is an outer garment that is very high church. My impression is that the LCMS is in between sacerdotalism and functionalism, with different pastors leaning one way or the other. Our pastor characterized himself as a functionalist. One reason is that he was influenced by the Springfield Concordia campus, where Loehe was influential, even though he himself graduated from the St. Louis Concordia, which was where Piepkorn was prominent. The pastor also said that he believes, from experience, that the Holy Spirit can make any sermon effective, for the Holy Spirit used some of his own sermons to touch people’s lives, even though he felt that those particular sermons were not any good; what was important was the word and the Spirit, not him personally. On the other side, the pastor quoted a prominent LCMS official who characterized functionalism as treating pastors like light bulbs: you unscrew it when it gets old and replace it with another, and it makes no difference. Personally, I think sacerdotalism can be taken in that direction, too, in that it seems to portray the priest as a functionary: why care about what the pastor is like, under sacerdotalism, since what is important is that he perform the rituals that are essential for grace? The Donatist controversy explored such territory. My characterization is likely unfair, though, since Roman Catholics conceive of the priest as a shepherd who should feed the flock by preaching and example. Functionalism needs not to treat the pastor as utterly dispensable, and sacerdotalism needs not to disregard the power of the word of God.

C. The pastor talked about the Herr Pastor, the types of pastors who assume a special authority in the church; some even claim that they alone can convey God’s forgiveness of sins in the church. According to this midset, if one person sins against another, they can share God’s forgiveness with each other, but only the pastor can speak the absolution from God. (Our pastor disagrees with that idea.) The pastor speculated that the concept of a Herr Pastor may go back to Lutheran immigrants in the nineteenth century. Most of them knew their trade, but the pastor was the best educated among them, so people came to him to draw up their wills and for advice on problems.

D. The pastor talked some about apostolic succession. England broke away from the church of Rome, yet the bishops of the Anglican church had been previously ordained by the bishops of Rome. The Anglicans continued a line of apostolic succession from those bishops. Something similar happened with the Swedish Lutherans. The LCMS, by contrast, believes that the word of God is what ordains and calls people to service.

E. Two of our texts were Isaiah 6:1-8 and Galatians 1:11-24, which concern the calling of Isaiah and Paul, respectively. The pastor brought Acts 9 into the mix. In Acts 9, when Jesus appears to Saul of Tarsus and blinds him, the people around Saul hear Jesus’s voice but do not see him (v. 7). The pastor tied this with Isaiah 6:9: “And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not” (KJV). The people around Saul hear the voice but do not understand it; Saul cannot see, but he perceives Jesus.

F. Paul’s detractors in Galatia, the Judaizers, were saying that Paul’s authority was not from Christ but from men. Their claim was that Paul was not giving the Galatians the full story—that they needed to keep the Jewish law—because Paul himself had not learned it at the feet of Jesus. Paul responds that he received his Gospel through a direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

G. The pastor moved on to Luke 5:1-11, the calling of Simon Peter. It takes place in Capernaum. In Luke 4:38, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law at Simon’s house. The pastor said that Simon’s house was Jesus’s base of operations, since Jesus did not have a house of his own. He referred to scholar Paul Maier, who argues that Simon’s house is beneath a church in Capernaum. That has been the traditional claim, but the pastor wondered what archaeological evidence there is for that, since there was not any china in the house with a label saying, “This china belongs to Simon’s mother-in-law.” I found this brief article by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor. The article states that the house is like the house in the Gospels, but so were other houses. This house, though, is different in one respect: as early as 50 CE, one of its rooms was used for public gatherings. Murphy-O’Connor believes those were Christian gatherings.

H. Now for the pastor’s comments on Luke 5:1-11. Peter knows Jesus and has seen some of Jesus’s miracles, such as Jesus’s healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and his exorcisms. Peter has also allowed Jesus to use his fishing boat for public preaching. But who Jesus is has not quite sunk into Peter’s head. It finally does, however, when Jesus enters Peter’s realm, namely, fishing. When Jesus instructs Peter to go out into the deep and launch his net, Peter assumes that he knows more than Jesus. “What can this cityboy know about fishing?”, Peter likely wondered to himself. “Isn’t his dad a carpenter?” But Jesus is a rabbi, and, out of respect, Peter does what Jesus says. The pastor was portraying Jesus’s command as a bit daunting: Jewish fisherman liked to stay near the shore rather than launching into the deep, since the deep and the sea were associated with the unknown and with chaos. But Peter does what Jesus says and catches a lot of fish, and that is when he recognizes that Jesus is much more than a nice rabbi who does tricks. Peter is now like Isaiah, who felt unclean in the presence of a holy God who could squish him. Jesus tells Peter to be not afraid, and the pastor’s handout says that the verb tense here conveys the idea of “Stop being afraid,” meaning the forgiveness has a lasting impact. (The verb form is a present imperative. It occurs elsewhere in the LXX and the New Testament; at times, it appears to refer to specific situations—do not be afraid about this present circumstance—but I am not ruling out that it could be an exhortation not to fear in general, due to who God is or what Jesus is doing. I have not done a thorough study of this.) We are okay being in God’s presence as a result of Jesus’s word to us. Jesus then tells Peter that he will fish for people. Jesus enters Simon’s world and puts Simon’s identity and skillset into the service of the Gospel. Similarly, God took Isaiah, a temple employee who knew what was going on in Jerusalem and had access to the king, and put him into God’s service, such that Isaiah became more than a temple employee. God puts us in service to the Gospel where we are.

I. Peter went back to fishing in John 21, resuming his former life when the risen Jesus was slow in coming to Galilee. Jesus performs the same miracle there that he did at Peter’s calling, and Jesus uses that to call Peter into a deeper relationship. The pastor said that Jesus personalizes. The class had a brief discussion about apostasy, and the pastor said that some people may have difficulty connecting the Gospel to their pain and hurt.

J. The pastor said that apostasy is a result of sanctified free will. He did not elaborate on this, but that could be Lutheran monergism talking. By our free will as sinful human beings, we are unable to accept the Gospel. It is when God regenerates Christians that they are able to have faith, or to walk away from the faith that they have as a result of regeneration. I am speculating here.

K. Ezekiel 47:10 talks about fisherman standing beside the shore of the river, catching great varieties of fish. The fish will be plentiful, from the river of fresh water flowing from God’s sanctuary. The pastor said that the fish represent believers: there are so many believers in the river of God, flowing from his presence.

L. The pastor said that Jesus calling disciples was unusual, since ordinarily students came to rabbis asking to follow them. I have not done a fact check of this. It would make sense, though: Jesus was not just a rabbi teaching the law to his students but was enlisting people in his kingdom mission.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Church, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.