Thursday, May 21, 2009

Final from Why Priests

This is the final extract from Why Priests. I hope you have enjoyed the little snippets.

How does the apostolic ideal image of a Church leader look, as lived by Paul? Paul enjoyed an amazing authority and influence in his churches, which stemmed from his human abilities, but above all from the apostolic mandate given him. He never hesitated to bring his authority powerfully into play. But it is characteristic of the Spirit of Christ which moved Paul that the apostle does not expand or develop his authority or give it the form of a sacral juridical relationship. On the contrary, he repeatedly limited his authority voluntarily because he was convinced that his churches do not belong to him but to the Lord and are therefore free in the Spirit: called to freedom and not slaves to men. Paul sees very clearly that his churches are immature in many ways and that they make mistakes. In spite of this, he never behaves toward them as if he, the prudent teacher, must first educate them to freedom. On the contrary, he takes this freedom for granted as a given; he respects it, fights for it, so that his congregations will follow him not out of compulsion but in freedom. Of course, where there is question of abandoning Christ and his gospel for another gospel, he must threaten to curse and excommunicate. He actually carried this out in the case of an individual—a temporary exclusion from the congregation aimed at achieving an improvement—but never did it to a congregation, even when the infidelities were very serious. He is as restrained as possible in the use of his authority: instead of a command a personal appeal, instead of a prohibition an appeal to one's own good judgment and sense of responsibility, instead of compulsion an effort to win over, instead of the imperative the hortative, instead of the you form the we form, instead of punishment the word of forgiveness, instead of suppressing freedom the invitation to freedom.

And so Paul never misused his power to establish the domination of men over men. On the contrary, in matters of Church discipline he refrains from making an authoritative decision where he could very well have done so. In moral questions too, where the Lord and his word are not at stake, he prefers to leave his congregations their freedom and not put any pressure on them. And even in cases where the decision is obvious to him, he avoids unilateral measures and gets the congregation involved. He holds back even where he clearly has received authority to intervene vigorously; he expressly begs his congregation that he not have to make use of it. Even where he has a right, he does not want to exercise it.

Paul thus never confronts his congregations as lord, nor as priest. It is not the apostle who is the lord. Jesus is the Lord, and this Lord sets the norm for his churches and for Paul himself. He can never treat his Christians simply as children but always as “brothers,” whom he serves in patience, frankness and love. His desire to be faithful to the Lord in his ministry—and not a mere concern with etiquette or human civility—is the reason why he is always ready to refrain from using his authority. It is precisely in this way that he uses it not to tear down but to build up.

Nor did Paul want to be a superman. He was well aware of his humanity and fragility and made no claim to infallibility. It is equally important that his counterpart in the New Testament too, Peter, is always described as on who errs, makes mistakes, fails. And it looks almost scandalous the way each of the three classical texts for the preeminence of Peter is accompanied by an extraordinarily sharp counterpoint: to the three lofty promises correspond three profound lapses. All of this served as both warning and encouragement alike to today's Church leader.—Why Priests?, pages 110-111

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