Friday, August 8, 2008

Accountability for Pews and Pastors

When I traveled to Lithuania in May, I visited two Russian Orthodox churches. Neither had pews, chairs or anywhere to sit except a couple of benches along the wall for the infirm. I stood through more than an hour of worship one Friday evening with everyone else.

Normally, here in the USA, we want to sit during at least part of our worship time. We have "pews" or benches because they are traditional, you can squeeze lots of people in, and they can be cheaper and quieter than lots of chairs. Because, in our culture, we need to sit down, I think pews are great because they promote a sense of community. In my opinion, there is too much individualism in our society. Let pews stand against that trend.

But obviously, pews aren't essential. In 1984 I went with my then internship supervisor, Pastor Walter Dörr to homes (without pews) in Brazil to lead worship. I've led worship in many kind places since then, including in local apartment buildings and nursing homes. I've even thought it might be good to have a place, away from the church building here in Cokato where people who are uncomfortable with our beautiful sanctuary might gather for worship. Even some of our long time members are uncomfortable sitting in pews.

What about the pastor? Do you need one of those? Some acquaintances of mine publish a magazine called Searching Together. Its goal is to "speak the truth in love" Ephesians 4:15. The editors are part of what might be called a "house church." They challenge the idea of pastors, pews and the need to pay for them.

Those folks challenge me! The most recent issue of their magazine is an attack on tithing! The lead article critically reviews a book called Pastor Driven Stewardship. The review deals with "two huge unsubstantiated assumptions" that pastors use to "drive" their flocks to give money. Quoting the review, those assumptions are (1) "that today's institutional 'church' is a model of church life spoken of the the New Testament" and (2) "that giving money to support the institutional 'church' is the same as 'giving to God.'" There is also an excerpt from the book Pagan Christianity called "Tithing and Clergy Salaries: Sore Spots on the Wallet." OUCH! **

Our tradition is to call and support pastors who are freed up from the normal responsibilities of life so they can dedicate time to equipping YOU for the work of ministry (also Ephesians 4). We do this by preaching and teaching and leading worship.

There are, however, other ways of being the church. You can gather with others at home around the scriptures. There's not even anything biblical about our Lutheran tradition that only pastors can celebrate communion! In the Lutheran tradition, we even don't try to justify "clergy" biblically. We say we have them for "good order" and to "represent the divine initiative and express the connection of the local community with other local communities in the universal Church."

That's what we say. But, because we can't justify it scripturally, we need to argue for pastors in the same way we do for pews. We need to make sure pastors are helpful and worth the price. In the wider Christian community, we'll continue to debate this until our Lord returns.

Until then, as a pastor of the "institutional church," I am accountable to the Lord--but I'm also accountable the local church, and to those in the wider church. That's one reason I started this blog.

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**Take a look at Searching Together's articles for lots more provocative material.

2 comments:

  1. The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at
    http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org
    It’s also available on Amazon.com. Frank is also blogging now at http://www.frankviola.wordpress.com

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  2. Thanks Jilliefl1. I appreciate your comments and would love to take a look at Reimagining Church. My blog reference to Pagan Christianity was second hand (from the Searching Together folks) so I haven't read that book either! Peace to you in Jesus' name.

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