Self Surgery

“Physician heal thy self,” is the old canard against pastors. Well, originally quoted against the Pastor of pastors. No, not churchmen, bishops, or district presidents, but Jesus. Why doesn’t it go the other way? You would think among those who know AC XIV it could/would/should.

Here’s the situation. I go to a surgeon for a hernia repair. He sees that I’m a clergyman and opines thusly about Creation: Some things God got wrong. A hole should not be left where your insides can get back out to your outsides. But somethings were unavoidable. For example, all our reasoning goes on in the prefrontal cortex, which develops abnormally large in homo sapiens and because they walk upright the hips of woman can not be far enough apart, and so there is pain in childbirth.

Then he says, and I’m pretty close to quoting here: “It’s remarkable that though we all now regard that [creation accounts] as myth, how much it got right like the women having pain in childbirth.” I didn’t point out that: A) He’d never been around a cow giving birth. They have plenty of pain. B) Gorillas also have abnormally large heads and they can walk upright. I didn’t say any of that. I said, “Well, I belong to that small group of Christians that still regard ‘all that’ as history not myth, but I really came to talk about my hernia.”

We did, but he circled back to religion. He had said that he started out as confirmed Lutheran. I looked it up. He was ELCA. He said though you’re but in junior high, it’s amazing how much of your instruction stays with you. He said, and now I’m back to almost quoting, “It comes up time and again in the small Bible class I teach on Friday mornings.”

What I wanted to say and didn’t is: “O that’s interesting. I operate on Friday mornings.”

What I am convinced is lost on most laymen is this: If it’s absurd to think of me operating without any instruction, practice, or training in medicine, why isn’t it absurd to think of this fine surgeon teaching a Bible class without any instruction, practice, or training in theology?

But you can kill someone with a scalpel! You can do worse , eternally worse, with a sermon. True, surgery can bring about the first death, which, by the way, will come to all. In sermons, what’s at stake is the avoidable Second Death. Jesus never said it was better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be pitched into the sea than lead one to physical harm. He did say that about spiritual harm.

We see the need for only trained doctors to operate, and we don’t look for a way to get more doctors by reducing requirements. O wait we do. We call them Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners. Contrast this to the church. Anyone willing is deemed capable of teaching a Bible class. Extensive training is a plus but certainly not needed. And when, the LCMS at least, wanted to get more pastors, they dumbed down the curriculum but still called them ‘pastors’. At least medicine let’s you know when you’re getting less than fully qualified M.D.

My surgeon would never let me in a operating room with a scalpel. In fact, he’d protest, send for security, might even, rightly so, resort to physical violence to stop me from operating. But I’m suppose to not be bothered by someone with no theological training wielding the sharp, two-edge sword that is capable of cutting men to their very souls.

“Physician heal thyself.” And this doctor responds, “I’ll get right on that after I finish teaching my Bible class.”

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.
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