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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Pastors Need Pastors

Comments in a previous post started me thinking (again) about the matter of the spiritual needs of the pastor. Who feeds the shepherd?

Although the pastor benefits from the same Gospel he preaches, and receives the same sacrament he administers, thus receiving the full forgiveness of all sins, it's also imperative that the pastor have his own pastor. He needs another man to absolve him and to be his spiritual counselor. He needs this weapon against the devil and his flesh.

I was involved in a rather extensive debate, over at a private discussion board at CAT41, on the question of whether or not the pastor is personally absolved by the the words of corporate absolution which he speaks a la the TLH page 15 formula. That formula, you will recall, is not a mere declaration of grace, though it is arguably a conditional absolution, as Fr. Petersen has explained in a Gottesdienst article about a year or so ago. The pastor says, "Upon this your confession," which is at least by implication the condition, "I by virtue of my office . . . forgive you all your sins . . ."

The matter of whether that corporate absolution is conditional (I believe Fr. Petersen's argument is persuasive) is related to the question whether as such it is not a true absolution (I'm a little less convinced about this). It's a matter of semantics, but what stands out in the formula, whatever you want to call it, is the personal application of grace--personal not so much in terms of the recipient, but in terms of the one administering it: "I forgive you" is not the same thing as "God forgives you," although in both cases it is God's forgiveness. The personal pronoun provides that the man saying the words is doing the forgiving, exercising the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The use of this formula in the corporate setting is admittedly weak, and a host of questions about its propriety are warranted. I use it, if only because I use TLH.

But what I have insisted the formula does not allow, in any case, is for the pastor to suppose that by the formula "I forgive you" he is thereby forgiving also himself. The grammar of "I forgive you" does not allow it, period.

Hence, in order to receive the benefit of hearing the word of personal absolution, the pastor must seek out another pastor. And if the argument obtains that the corporate formula, for all its benefits, is nonetheless altogether weak, then the pastor must seek out another pastor in private.

The formula for private absolution, although the implication is clearly present that faith is necessary for one to benefit from it ("as you believe, so let it be done for you"), is itself without question an unconditional declaration: ". . . and I as a called and ordained servant of the word, forgive you your sins . . ." As such, it is to be coveted as a special and extraordinary means of grace.

In short, the pastor should know that if wants to avail himself of all the varied means that God provides for receiving mercy, he may not allow himself to think he is receiving absolution only because he is hearing the words of the formula which he himself speaks. He needs to go to a pastor to get this, just like everybody else.
Fr BFEcare of souls13 Comments