Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Lutheran Pastor by G.H. Gerberding: PART I

Note: Thank you very much to Mr. Christopher Porter of the greater Detroit area for giving us an in-depth summary of The Lutheran Pastor by G.H. Gerberding. While not strictly an L-TOM, it was an influential work, and Gerberding is well worth a closer look for those interested in what Eastern American Lutherans were thinking at the time. The Lutheran Pastor was published in 1902 by the Lutheran Publication Society. It can be read online here for free. You can also buy it on Amazon. Here are some select quotations on Pr. David Jay Webber's webpage.

Gerberding was born in 1847 in Pittsburgh, PA. He was educated at Thiel College and Muhlenberg College. Ordained pastor and missionary in the ULC for PA, OH, ND and was the founder and first president of the Synod of the Northwest. He was later also a president of the Chicago Synod. He served as the president of Chicago Lutheran Seminary and Northwestern Lutheran seminary. He died in 1927. Other famous works include The Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Catechist.

A Summary of George Henry Gerberding’s The Lutheran Pastor
by Mr. Christopher Porter

A president of two Synods within the ULCA and a seminary professor, George Henry Gerberding has much of value to share regarding the Office of Ministry and its occupants.

The first main section of the work is an overview of the origin and theology of the Pastoral Office. It offers, in the main, little that is original, but presents a fairly uncontroversial picture drawn from Scripture, Luther, a number of orthodox Lutheran fathers, and from contemporary voices (including Walther). After dealing with the plurality of NT ministerial phenomena which are no longer in force (at least in their NT form) such as prophets, and evangelists, he turns to the two main foci of his concern: elders/bishops/pastors and the diaconate. Here we find one of the more controversial aspects of his understanding of the global ministry, which is that it is comprised of a “ministry of the Word” and a “ministry of mercy”.

Regarding the ministry of the Word, he says little that differs from standard Lutheran treatments of the same. The ministry of the Word is one, though it may be differentiated and graded according to the needs of the church. What is new, at least to me, is the insistence upon another valid “branch” of the total ministry which is not encompassed within the one ministry of the Word – the diaconate. For Gerberding, the diaconate is a proper order, and the NT men who served in this capacity were ordained. Included within this order are also Deaconesses, though he does not say whether or not the subsequent development of female deacons included ordination. He is quick to point out that NT Deacons did not preach, and that Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin is not a proper “sermon”. There is no commingling of the two ministerial branches of mercy and Word. Special emphasis is given to the consolation that pastors can draw from a proper understanding of their Office.

After this, he examines the call to the ministry. His presentation is fairly straightforward and the relevant Lutheran fathers are cited. There is an immediate call and a mediate call. The immediate call is a mode of call that pertains to the prophets and Apostles. The mediate call is given to those who follow them, and is externally supplied by the church. He further distinguishes the inner and external calls which are the form of the mediate call given to those who follow after the Apostles (though he is quick to show the continuity between the immediate Apostolate and the mediate apostolate). Intriguingly, the inner call is given special emphasis. He cites Gerhard to support the notion that the inner call is a sort of immediate and secret call from God, whereby necessary dispositions are generated in the soul. It is not sufficient for entering the Office of ministry, but is a necessary precondition.

Gerberding was convinced that the contemporary church’s neglect in discerning a candidate’s inner call was responsible for a certain degradation of the church’s ministry. He sets forth a series of signs which tell of a true inner call: sound mind and body, common sense (or pastoral klugheit), moral courage, earnest activity (as opposed to laziness), and a tender and sympathetic spirit. He is quick to add that these virtues are relative, and are in reality possessed in varying degrees by any given candidate. He is also quick to say that, among these, common sense is the most important. These prerequisite virtues are not absolute indicators of a candidate’s fitness for ministry, but should be thought of as significant indicators that, should they be absent, would complicate or nullify the possibility of a having an internal call. God’s grace may always provide amplification of weak virtue or the creation of capacities that are not naturally present, but Gerberding is fairly certain that, should these natural gifts be lacking, the presumption is that the candidate does not have a true internal call.

More important than these natural indications are the spiritual, which he lists as: a true and living piety (defined primarily as repentance and trusting faith), and a genuine conviction of God’s calling to the Office. The former need is supported by a number of citations from Patristic and Lutheran authorities, and the latter is discussed as a mediate compulsion wrought by the Holy Spirit – that is, an impelling conviction whose source is God Himself as He is revealed in His Word. He ends the discussion by asserting that a true inner call may be lost through negligence of prayer and study, and that even if should such a candidate receive a churchly call, he would be no more than a hireling. He is insistent that an external churchly call without the requisite inner call is a mistake, from which the church will suffer.

The next section deals with the church’s external call. Gerberding recounts several competing understandings of the external call: the “hierarchical model” (as in Rome, the East, and Anglicanism), identification of the Office with the general priesthood of believers, the “transference theory” (which, though he cites those who grant it seems to be Luther’s doctrine, he also rejects it as problematic), and his own understanding, which may be described as the “special and specific call”. Gerberding spills much ink in his effort to refute the transference theory. He holds that the Lutheran dogmaticians – specifically Chemnitz and Gerhard - correctly expounded the doctrine of the external call where Luther seemed, constrained as he was by his moment in history, rhetorically lopsided or in error. Here is a citation from J. A. W. Haas:

“The transference theory has been developed in antithesis to Rome, and in it Lutherans have agreed with the Reformed. But in its baldness and lack of connection with the means of grace, it becomes essentially Reformed, makes the ministry an organ growing out of the congregation, which ill befits the divine origin of the ministry, and ought consistently allow only sacrificial service. In it the main accent is placed on the vocation, of which ordination is the attestation. Apparently it is in harmony with the Augsburg Confession (Art. XIV). But the call is there used in a wider sense to include ordination, which is used interchangeably with call by Luther and Melanchthon before 1535. (Erl. Ed., xxxi. 348 ; C. R., iii. 236 : xxi. 103.) The adherents of the doctrine of transference should have the ordination performed, as ordered in the Eighteenth Article of the Second Helvetic Confession, namely, by the lay elders of the congregation, for whose Lutheran legitimacy Walther contended. This would be the attestation of the spiritual priests properly and directly, though it is not the practice of the Lutheran Church, and never has been. Its constant usage of ordination by the ministry alone increases the incongruity of transference with the central place of the means of grace in the Lutheran system, particularly in the doctrine of the Church, which is so closely bound up with that of the ministry.”
Gerberding’s own conception of the external [ministerial] call, which he finds to be that of the dogmaticians, is that it is distinct from the baptismal calling which includes all Christians and designates and authorizes those so-called for ministerial acts beyond those which fall to all Christians. It is not a call that is mediated by the laity only, nor by the clergy only, but by the entire church – clergy and laity. It is a specific call, isolating specific men for specific duties in a specific place. It is also an unlimited call; it is not in its nature temporally conditioned. A pastor may forfeit his calling, though Gerberding seems reluctant to outline absolute conditions for such an event. He may also leave one specific calling to a specific place for another – as he is first the Lord’s servant, and so may be led to other pastures. Once more, he is reluctant to offer much in the way of indications as to when such a move may be made.

Subsequent to this is a consideration of Ordination, and here Gerberding closely mirrors the principles previously outlined relating to the external churchly call. In this, he rejects both Lohe and Vilmar in their doctrine of a closed self-perpetuating ministry, as well as what he considers to be the opposite extreme - ordination as a function within the transference theory.

Following this, Gerberding does provide a list of considerations for pursuing calls to other congregations. In so doing, it is clear that he is attempting to lay out ideals that would inform any particular consideration. They are all rooted in a profound concern to resist fleshly or worldly factors in such decisions. For Gerberding, the presumption is always to remain in one’s particular calling until one has made significant scrutinies. The pastor’s own desires for advance, ease, lucre, or station ought to have no part in the decision to pursue a call.

The next main section is devoted to what may be termed clerical culture. What should a minister be like? What are his habits? What is his prayer life like? What virtues should he constantly be cultivating? What of his social etiquette? What amusements will he pursue? What will he forego? Should he become political? What should he wear? Especially intriguing is his treatment of a minister’s use of tobacco. Characterized neither by pietistic moralism, not antinomian pride, it is prudent and responsive to its time and context. Though I found this entire section to be one of the most interesting and potentially helpful, I will not summarize it in great detail. The sheer fact that he considered such things worth writing about, along with the high standards which he presents, were impressive and suggestive. How many have given such sustained thought to the social etiquette of a pastor? For Gerberding, the ideal of the “Christian gentleman” was no romantically archaic feature of a bygone age, inaccessible to our own, but a veritable necessity for the discharge of duties which fall within the ministerial Office. The inclusion of this material recalls a gentler and more civil age, and it is a welcome addition to the more standard doctrinal and practical treatments on offer.

Some time is spent providing a description of a good pastor’s study and related habits. There is much specific advice concerning the rhythms and patterns, as well as which sort of books a pastor ought to own. Gerberding is quite sure that a pastor ought to devote some of his time to becoming familiar with the zeitgeist, though he is careful to place this sort of study within definite bounds. Suggestions are made for a pastor’s proper literary concerns, which are coupled with a commendation of the physical sciences. More directly relevant to the pastor’s specific Office, Gerberding commends deep and regular involvement in the Scriptural languages – which comes as no surprise. The Fathers and Luther are granted distinction as helpful guides. Anthropology, and all the resources that illuminate the nature of mankind (Scriptural, philosophical and aesthetic) are commended. Gerberding concludes this section by outlining a course of yearly study in some detail.

A lengthy section on “the closet” which includes many dimensions of piety and spiritual discipline follows. The section has much to commend it and would be better read than truncated by summary. The section is formally similar to the preceding in that it makes assertions, collects the citations of various authorities, and then submits a pattern to be followed in regard to prayer and other disciplines.

The work continues with careful examinations of the duties which properly belong to the ministerial Office. Conduct at the Altar, The Preparatory Service, a robust and thoroughly Lutheran section on Preaching, the Holy Communion, Catechizing (Confirmation), Marriage, Christian Burial, And Visitation follow. Each subject is worthily treated at length. Of particular note are the sections on the Holy Communion, Matrimony, and Visitation.

[...which will be taken up in PART II]

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