Chasing Two Rabbits or Only Seeing One

Having “slandered” old African proverbs in another post, I thought I’d move on in the spirit of the recent Olympic Games to praise new Chinese fortune cookies.

Out to eat at a Chinese restaurant a few months ago I got these words of wisdom in my fortune cookie.  “If you chase two rabbits both will escape.”  This is a truism every bird hunter knows.  You try to shoot two birds at one time and you’ll hit neither.

In theology, this happens when a false dichotomy is made between doctrine and practice, outreach and in-reach, evangelizing and theologizing.  You chase both and both escape.  But pursue doctrine, in-reach, and theologizing and the practice, outreach, and evangelizing will follow.  However, if you pursue practice, outreach, and evangelizing, you are really pursuing results, numbers, success, and these can be “caught” without pure doctrine, real in-reach, or genuine theologizing.  Your best church growth churchmen know this, so they say chase both, but as the Chinese know you can’t do that.

Yet we don’t want to see one thing when there are really two.  There are things that must remain distinct: Law-Gospel, body-soul.  If you mingle Law and Gospel you destroy both.  If you mingle body and soul, when the body dies so does the soul. What about when you mingle clergy and laity?

Walther said in Thesis I of Church and Ministry, “The holy ministry or pastoral office is an office distinct from the priesthood of all believers.”  The LCMS affirmed that this thesis was part of her official teaching on Church and Ministry in 1852 and, as an earlier post noted, reaffirmed it in 2001.  But in the name of missions the 1965 “Report of Mission Self-Study and Survey [Mission Affirmations] said “…When we understand the church as Christ’s mission to the world, we can no longer maintain…a distinction between the clergy and the laity.”

I apologize for the ellipsises.  I am quoting the Mission Affirmations as found in Heritage in Motion page 323. It cites its source as Convention Workbook, 1965, 113-40.  If you go to this document you will find on page 116 that the ellipsis between “maintain” and “a distinction” represents one word “such.”  It reads in full: “When we understand the church as Christ’s mission to the world, we can no longer maintain such a distinction between the clergy and the laity.”  The word “such” refers to the misunderstanding mentioned in the sentences above which is clergy alone are the Church and the laity is to pay for the clergy to do the work of the Church

Now I don’t wish to defend the 1965 Mission Affirmations.  Along with much of the 60s they could be tossed with little damage or regret. (Classic rock and roll of course being excepted from such a judgment.)  Nor do I wish to cast aspersions on the editors of Heritage in Motion as to why they left out the word “such.”  It’s such a small word but such an important one in this context.  What I wish to point out is that Ablaze! theology in practice purposely leaves out the “such.”

In the name of missions, we can no longer maintain the distinction between clergy and laity. That’s why the Ablaze! ramp up program for the laity, “Fan into Flames,” can use as its proof passage Paul’s instruction to Pastor Timothy to fan into flames the gift bestowed on him by other pastors laying their hands on him.  That’s why the 2001 and 2004 conventions declined to do away with Word and Sacrament ministry by laymen.  That’s why the 2007 convention approved quick ways to make some layman pastors.  That’s why when you search the internet you will find laymen doing Word and Sacrament ministry.  Austin City Church lists Thomas Billings as “Community Pastor.”

In the minds of churchmen ablaze, if we maintain the distinction between lay and clergy we will be chasing two rabbits at the expense of missions.  However, if we don’t maintain it, if we put together what God meant to be apart, we end up caught by the wolf.  Then again maybe not.  When the sons of Korah tried to erase the distinction (Numbers 16), they were caught by God. 

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
This entry was posted in Ablaze. Bookmark the permalink.