Saturday, July 19, 2008

How to distribute the Lord's Body and Blood?

This is a letter I sent to a friend this week. It's part of a continuing discussion in Lutheran circles about ordination and distribution of the Supper.

"Been doing a lot of thinking about our discussion vis-a-vis the distribution of the Body and Blood.

I think since I've been pulled back a bit from it all, the arguments along these lines sound, well, so Talmudic and contorted. It's almost painful to hear. Perhaps we should simplify the rule: if you're ordained (in orders, whatever) you can touch the elements. If you're not, you can't.

We've made it way too complicated. Which, of course, comes back to my argument that there should be a whole plethora of ordinations in order to make this work.

It's easy to make fun of the small church bodies. (I've done it plenty). You have a congregation of 11 people, and 5 of them are in major orders. But why is it so difficult to make Lutherans imagine a congregation with more than one ordained guy doing the Supper? Is it that a classroom model is operating in peoples' minds? (A classroom or lecture hall has only one teacher, of course). I don't know.

The whole debate on single ministry guys, licensed deacons, etc., is painful to hear and more painful to argue. And the idea of ordaining a guy who will ipso facto be stuck to one location is -- in my opinion -- close to a denial of the catholicity of the church. Again, just ordain guys who will be assisting. Train them and ordain them or ordain them and train them, but whichever path is chosen, just do it and it solves a fair number of difficulties. (Introduces some, too, I'll give you that, but I think it solves more than it introduces).

As far as the single ministry guys, I honestly think there should be a revisiting of the monastic vow of stability. I don't know which is chicken and which egg or if they're related at all, but I suspect the moving every few years became popular at about the same time that marital divorce became more common, and with about the same effects. Pastors have problems or become bored or whatever, and put their name on a call list. With an assumption of stability, both congregation and pastor have to work through problems. Sometimes the problems are serious, and need someone to come in, absolve, hear confession, mediate, and this presupposes a bishop there who comes in with a pastoral modus, and not -- God help us -- conflict resolution checklists.

There are times when it's irreconcilable, but I wonder how many times both sides would be vastly better off if it were an assumption that they would stick to this, pray, talk, listen, and work it through? I think that so many times there's no growth, no forgiveness, no new life because we all know that when there's a problem, we'll just split up, and be done with it."

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