Monday, June 29, 2009

What Is Sacerdotalism?

Whenever Pastor Herman Otten warns of the so-called "Hyper-euro" clergy in the LCMS, the accusation that immediately follows is the charge of "sacerdotalism." This was leveled against unamed pastors once again in the recent issue memorializing Pastor Bischoff (June 29, 2009, page 4.) Now whether his caricature of these pastors is even close to the truth remains an open question, at best. They are accused of rejecting all aspects of the traditional governance of the Missouri Synod, and thus the "rights" of the laymen, in favor of a complete return to an episcopal form of governance. They are said to insist on ordination as a third or fourth sacrament of the church equal to Baptism and Communion. In short, they reject the heart of what makes Missouri good, and are no better than the Church Growthers or the Higher Critical folks who still question the verasity of Holy Scripture. Or so it sounds to me in the pages of CN month after month.

The charge of "sacerdotalism," however, remains a very troubling accusation, especially since it is a false charge and misunderstanding of the term. According to Wikipedia, as linked above, sacerdotalism is the Roman Catholic teaching that ""through the ministry of priests, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the [eternal] sacrifice of Christ, the sole Mediator. Through the hands of the priests and in the name of the whole Church, the Lord's sacrifice is offered in the Eucharist in an unbloody and sacramental manner until He Himself returns" (see the Documents of Vatican II.) According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, sacerdotalism is the "religious belief emphasizing the powers of priests as essential mediators between God and humankind."

Rev. Jack Cascione, back in 2001, wrote in the online journal Reclaiming Walther, that "A Hyper-Euro-Lutheran is anyone who seeks a return to pre-Walther European Lutheran Hierarchy in LC-MS congregations. It is just an alternate term for Sacerdotalism, the pastor becoming the vehicle of God's grace as in the Catholic Church."

It appears, putting the best construction on the charge, there has been a great misunderstanding of those pastors that have a high view of the ministry and worship of the church. Because they take seriously the words "in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ" (as recited in the official absolution from the Divine Service), and because they believe that the Lord's Supper should be again a central part of Sunday worship, and because they often appear a little too Romish for their taste in their clerical collars and chasubles, and because they are rather reverent about the holy things of God, the assumption given is that they have therefore adopted the Roman Catholic teaching of the priesthood.

The accusations of Cascione and Otten unfortunately assume many things that remain undocumented. Drawing a conclusion based on appearances and personal opinion regarding those opinions, or drawing a conclusion based on what a person does not write (as in lacking a defense of what you desire), is quickly taken to be proof positive the pastor is a closet Romanist.

Personally I am very weary of this senseless labeling and unfounded attack on the many pastors who faithfully represent their Lord Jesus, taking serious their vocation to be the "stewards of the mysteries of God," and still working well within the boundaries of their LCMS-approved constitutions. I would like, for the record, to see a printed and documented record of a LCMS pastor who has claimed the doctrine of sacerdotalism as it is properly understood and not as it is conveniently redefined by Cascione. Perhaps someone out there knows of a source? I have yet to see one.


Christian Soul said...

Thanks for this post. You make a very good point. From my experience these so called "Hyper-Euro-Lutherans are faithfully proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and do not deserve such abuse. They are true Lutheran theologians.

Christian Soul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was a member of a LCMS church whose pastor was a sacerdotalist. It split the church. My husband was an elder at the time. There are not enough words to describe the destruction done by this pastor. He actively set out to change our constitution and said we had done things wrong for 150 years (the age of our congregation.) But it doesn't sound like you want the truth. Pastors defend pastors. Lawyers defend lawyers.

Don Engebretson said...

Dear Anonymous,
I am sorry for the division your former pastor caused. Such actions are inexcusable, to say the least. Your charge that "it doesn't sound like you want the truth," however, is not fair. My intent is not to defend the abuses that you describe in your former pastor, but merely to note that the charge of "sacerdotalism," as usually presented, is often overgeneralized and unnecessarily broad-brushed in its accusations of other faithful pastors. In fact, the term itself, as my post indicates, is also inaccurately used in many instances. Perhaps in cases such as you describe the charge might more accurately be domineering and possibly legalistic with regard to liturgical practice. Unless, of course, he was indeed a closet Catholic, which I can not determine from your comment.

Nevertheless, thank you for reading and commenting. Again, I am sorry for the harm your former pastor caused.

Anonymous said...

I cannot get a fix on precisely what this "hyper-Euro-Lutheranism" entails. I have read someone who utilizes that term rightly condemn ordination as a sacrament. However, I have never met a Lutheran pastor who says that. The same person also condemns episcopal ecclesiology. The trouble is that the form of church governance is an adiaphoron, open many options because Scripture is silent on the topic. Does "hyper-Euro" also include genuflecting, making the sign of the cross, pastors wearing a chasuble? If so, are they not condemning Martin Luther himself? My rubrics and practice include these, and being of Japanese ancestry, I dare then to call me Euro anything. BTW, are you a relative of my friend in Florida, same surname, named Mark?