Ferment in the Ministry by Seward Hiltner
Ferment in the Ministry was published in 1969 by Abingdon Press. This book was prepared for Religion-Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.
Chapter 3: The Ministry as Preaching
Ever since the days of the Reformation, the dominant image of the Protestant ministry, often so obtrusive that it threatened to eliminate all others, has been that of the preacher. In cartoon-image terms it has shown1 a preacher in a pulpit with an open Bible before him.
It will be suggested later on that the total Reformation conception of the ministry was more subtle than this cartoon suggests, and was more complex than it became in some later periods. But it is certainly a fact that this image was primary, both at the time of Luther and Calvin and in most subsequent periods of most Protestant groups.
The preacher in the Pulpit with an open Bible before him represented a considerable shift from the image that had been dominant during the Middle Ages. In that era the dominant image, as H. Richard Niebuhr rightly noted, was of a priest before an altar.
Before we come to an exposition of what early Protestants were trying to say positively with their new image, it is important to understand precisely what struck them as negative about the image of the Middle Ages.
The medieval image was rejected for two basic reasons. First, Protestants wanted to reject completely any possible notion that the original sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross could or should be repeated in any form 1n order to make it efficacious for the salvation of men. Whether or not they were right in attributing the motif of efficacy through repetition to the Roman Catholic Church is a question for historians to answer. At any rate, they believed so, and they believed it so strongly that they rejected every image that could carry even a residual flavor of sacrificial repetition. For in the medieval image the priest was not merely praying; he was also offering a sacrifice.
Second, the early Protestants wanted to deny that the priest had a place before God that other Christians could not have. Godís saving grace in Jesus Christ was so incomparably great, they believed, that any man trusting solely in it might and should approach its throne. Every trace of the notion that the keys of the Kingdom, or the resources of grace, were held by a particular group of men had to be pushed away. In the medieval image it was the priest alone who belonged before the altar. Hence this image had to go.
The basic reasons for rejecting the dominant medieval image of the ministry were, then, compelling; and, if we leave aside the details, I suspect they still are. And yet there were other meanings symbolized in the medieval image that Protestants did not reject, or at any rate ought not to have rejected. But since the image had to be rejected as a whole, these positive meanings had to go, along with the negative ones; and the loss has not always been in Protestantismís favor.
What were the positive aspects of the medieval image that ought not to have been lost sight of when the image as a whole was rejected? First, there should be no objection to the priestís facing God, especially if he is on his knees, provided only that he is not, in principle, alone. There is everything to commend in the attitude of humility, or thanksgiving, or petition, or intercession before God, so long as the person with the attitude is not usurping prerogatives either of God himself or of the whole congregation of Christians. If the priest, kneeling, had been joined by a nonpriest Christian or two, there should have been no objection to the image.
Second, I believe the early Protestants should have had no objection to priest and people kneeling before some kind of table, provided the table or even "altar" is understood in terms of commemoration and communion and thanksgiving and not as a symbol of pretentious repetition. Indeed, one must go further and say that there is every merit in the reminder that the most extreme sacrifice has been made unto manís salvation. It is not the reality of blood and suffering that is to be eliminated or cleaned up, but any suggestion that the sacrifice by Jesus Christ is not sufficient.
Although this is only a footnote to the main line of this address, we may properly note in passing that some of Protestantismís subsequent difficulties with prayer and the devotional life, and with religious symbolism, come from neglect of those aspects of the medieval image of ministry that ought not to have been set aside.
We can, then, conceive the possibility that early Protestants, instead of creating a wholly new dominant image of ministry, might have corrected and cleaned up the medieval image. The priest could have been joined, in the revised image, by other Christians. The altar could have become a table or a praying station. Perhaps a cross, if rude enough, could have symbolized the once-for-all character of the sacrifice being recalled. But the fact is that the Reformers, who felt they were confronted with a revolutionary, all-or-nothing situation, were in no mood to tinker and amend. They had much bigger apologetic fish to fry, and for their purpose an entirely new dominant image was needed.
The Intent of the Preaching Image
The new image was a preacher before a pulpit with an open Bible. The positive intent of this preaching image was as follows.
First, the presence of the Bible showed the centrality of the Word of God. This was not, as we shall see on further analysis of the image, a naive biblicism that equated Godís Word with the literal words of the Bible. But it did rightly declare that the Word of God comes to men through the Bible, and hence the Bible is indispensably present in the image. If men are to be at all attentive to the Word, they must do so through attentiveness to the Bible, not necessarily exclusively but always normatively. The Bible is both the primary communication medium and the criterion of truth.
But the image, second, is not confined to the portrayal of the Bible. There is present also a human being, a preacher. To human beings the Bible is not automatically self-interpreting. Whatever the Word may be, it is not an automatic answer that comes through the Bible as the solution of a complex problem in mathematics today comes through a giant electronic computer. The Word requires human communication. The Bible, giving testimony to the Word, requires human interpretation. Thus the preacher in the Reformation image was not excess baggage. He was not a concession. He was not present simply to symbolize human beings as receivers of the Word, although he was indeed also a receiver. He and his function are declared, by the image, to be necessary to the proclamation, communication, reception, and assimilation of the Word. It is clearly out of order to make apologetic statements about the presence of a preacher in this image. He is just as important to the whole intent of the image as is the Bible, and this fact should be stated authoritatively.
Third, the image also contains, in addition to the Bible and the preacher, a pulpit. In modern language the intent of the pulpit is to symbolize connectives or connectors. The pulpit is a connector in two senses. On the one hand, it is the means of relating the preacher and the Bible; and, on the other hand, it is a means of relating the Word from the Bible through the preacher to the people, including the preacher as, along with the people, also a receiver. Thus the pulpit is not simply a symbol of any old kind of connection, but of a connection that is proper and patterned. If we had a Bible and a preacher but no pulpit, the kind of connectedness that might exist between preacher and Bible, and hence between people and Word, might be quite arbitrary. Or, to use modem language, it might be professionally irresponsible. The pulpit symbolizes responsibility to the people. Even the truest of words, to put it sharply, are not enough if they contain no responsible attempt at communication. Thus the pulpit too belongs in the image. It is as indispensable as the Bible and the preacher. The total image conveys the many and subtle relationships among this triad: Bible, preacher, and pulpit. Without exhausting the image, at least a few additional aspects of the subtle symbolism of the image may profitably be mentioned.
There is, for example, the fact that the Bible is open. We may hope that it was not opened for the first time only when the preacher approached the pulpit. Certainly, as early Protestantism made clear, it had to be studied, as diligently and intelligently as possible, well in advance of any specific attempts to preach. And yet such study, the image tells us, was never to be rounded off in such fashion that the preacher could dispense with the open message during his preaching. The Living Word is a contemporaneous Word. It is not enough even for the preacher to have been attentive to it an hour, or fifteen minutes, before preaching. Even a recently warmed-over Word is still a leftover; and no matter if it were once cooked with gas or even radiant heat, it is still unfit for human consumption if the covers are closed around it now.
The fact that the Bible is open during the preaching says something to the people. It says that the preacher is contemporaneously, right now, attentive to the Word as it works right now, and not merely to recollections, intimations, memories, impressions, or other historical data. It suggests that every point he makes is, right now, checked against the message of the Word conveyed through the Bible.
But the Bibleís being open has also a symbolic message to the preacher. The coincidence of open Bible and open mouth comes in that order, and not in reverse! Revelation precedes otolaryngological demonstration. Geographically speaking, his preaching is always over and through the Bible, since it is open. It is never merely about or across the Bible. If the Word does not, right now as well as in previous study, speak to him, it cannot speak through him to the people. But let him have no feelings of deprecation about manifesting his tonsils. The open mouth is necessary, proper, and good, regardless of its dental aesthetics. Even smelly molars or tonsils laden with staphylococci, while not recommended, cannot impede communication of the Word in preaching. If the Bible is truly open, the mouth may also be open ó Another subtlety of the image is about who holds what. The Bible is held by the pulpit, not by the preacher. And that which holds the pulpit, whether it be floor, dais, or chancel, also holds the preacher. The preacher has no standing not shared by the pulpit. And the Bible is so supported that the preacher need not worry about its falling. Both preacher and pulpit have a common foundation.
The symbolism of all this is virtually self-explanatory. The pulpit, which represents both the people and the preacherís professional responsibility, not only shares its foundation with the preacher but is also on the same level as he. The people are not inferior. The preacher is no better than they. He stands where he stands, which is an uplifted position, because of his functional responsibility, not because of his character or his merit. It is not he who is lifted up but his function; but since he is lifted no higher than the pulpit, so are the people lifted up in their function of hearing and receiving the Word. Whatever lifting there be is shared.
Yet another suggestion of the total image concerns the way in which living and non-living realities are to be joined in human life and for human salvation. The Word is a living Word, but it is testified to and conveyed through a Book which, as book, is not organically alive. The preacher is a living human organism, as are the other people to whom the Word is also life and salvation. Preacher ó Word ó people: these are all alive. Discourse ó Book ó behavior: these are all, in a significant sense, dead because they are nonorganic. But life, the image suggests to us, is never to be apprehended with simple directness, alone and in itself. The order of the Word is "no angel visitants, no opening skies." it is, instead, through death to life, through the nonorganic to the organic, through the Book to the Living Word, through the three dead homiletical points to just possibly a receptive heart or two. Homiletically speaking, in the midst of life we are in death; and only if we learn to tolerate death ó a Book and not an angel, an idea and not just a feeling, a conviction and not merely a charitable impulse ó can we approach life.
The Reformation and Medieval Images
Having now set forth at least the principal meanings and symbolic implications of the dominant Reformation image of the ministry, we may return to a comparison and contrast of this image with that of the medieval period: preacher ó pulpit ó open-Bible in relation to priest-before-altar.
We are at once constrained to ask of the Reformation image: What has happened to knees? Are we not to confront God, or is it enough to confront one another? And why are no people but the preacher shown? Let us consider these questions in order.
We begin with knees, housemaidís or otherwise. Can the dominant Reformation image of the ministry be tenable if nobody is on his knees? Can even God tolerate a people and a preacher who have presumably taken his work in the sacrificial and costly atonement of Jesus Christ, his Son and our Lord, if their leading image of ministry and servanthood is devoid of genuflection? Is it "stiff-necked" to substitute stand-up talk and sit-down listening for the thanksgiving and confession that call for some other posture? Perhaps the priest in the medieval image had an inflated notion of the power of his knees. But at least he acknowledged by his kneeling. Godís transcendence. In the preaching image, who acknowledges any transcendence to anything? The preacher is looking horizontally, alternating between a dip at the open Bible and a stance toward the people. But in neither instance is he truly bowing his head or raising it in adoration.
In the Reformation image there is a book instead of an altar. An altar at least implies sacrifice, once-for-all or otherwise. But a book ó paperback, hard-cover, first edition, or translation ó may mean almost anything, or nothing. How can a book, even the Book, substitute for the clear and concrete symbolism of sacrifice on the part of our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, who became flesh and suffered on the cross for our sake? Surely a book is poor even as a reminder of what, through sacrificial atonement, has given us life. And the preacher in the Reformation image, whose sides have not been riven, is hardly a compensation.
The only sustainable answer to these objections is that the Reformation, while frying its particular fish, expected the toaster and the coffee pot and the sandwich broiler to be going on as usual. It was not against kneeling or atonement or prayer, or looking upward to God. It thought that it took such things for granted. But their absence from the explicit image of ministry is not above reproach, and we may continue to ask about knees and transcendence.
When something is taken for granted and not articulated, it may cease to serve as a check on various possible kinds of distortions. Thus the absence from the dominant image of the ministry in Protestantism of the permanent truths in the medieval image helped later Protestant rationalism and intellectualism to become stiff-necked and rigid and even arrogant; pietism to become detached and legalistic and self-righteous; emotional and anti-intellectual groups to become aesthetically barren and theologically illiterate; and some liturgical-minded groups to conclude that the calluses on their knees entitled them to wear plugs in their ears.
There is certainly nothing in the Reformation image itself that gives warrant for rigidity, legalism, obscurantism, or wooliness. The fact that the preacher is standing before the open Bible and pulpit is not a negation of prayer and adoration but is making central the communication and reception of the Word of God. The fact that the Bible is open on the pulpit is no denial that forehanded Bible study is needed. The presence of the pulpit in an elevated position is no invitation to arrogance or dogmatism, but a symbol that both preacher and people are lifted up to hear the Word of God. And the fact that a human being is a necessary communicator of the Word surely does not make his communications infallible.
Yet it is unmistakably true that some of the distortions of the preaching image have resulted, directly or indirectly, from the loss of positive elements of the medieval image which were discarded, along with the unacceptable elements, when the new Protestant image was created.
Pathologies of the Reformation Image
The most serious, troublesome, and subversive distortions of the ministry in Protestantism have come, however, from literalizing some single aspect of the preaching image and ignoring the indispensability of all the parts and the subtlety of their symbolic interrelationships.
Some of the pathologies of the ministry have already been alluded to, but we shall now try to be more systematic. First and most obviously, there is distortion when any one of the three main elements in the preaching image is lifted out of its context and set forth uncritically. If this is done to the Bible, even to the open Bible, it leads to biblicism or fundamentalism. The Book is confused with the Word. The preacher becomes a cross between a detective and a district attorney. And the pulpit becomes nothing but a reading stand. Surely this is pathology.
An exclusive emphasis on pulpit is also a distortion. This may mean such an exaltation of worship or of church edifice as the setting for preaching that the missionary nature of the church is forgotten and the Word is brought only to the supposedly faithful. Even more disastrously, it may mean that the central function of ministry is felt to be a discourse on Sunday morning, containing a lead, three points, and a thought for next week, not to exceed twenty-five minutes in length, set forth in a tone any self-respecting human being would reject if approached privately. Again, wrenching pulpit out of context may make it into a kind of barricade, so that utterances from behind it are impenetrable to criticism except by God, who has, with this kind of performance, undoubtedly slept through the whole thing and is too bored to criticize.
When the preacher is taken out of the context of the preaching image and treated as the whole ministerial cheese, the results are the most dire of all. This may lead to preacher cults, which are not ordinarily started by ministers but are too often gratefully received by them. A preacher who is very short on theological acumen, biblical understanding, existential relevance, and human sensitivity may nevertheless receive adulation if be has something that will probably be called "personality." Without advocating drabness or monotony, and certainly not the denial of the ministerís individuality, we may properly look askance when both Bible and pulpit receive only conventional nods and neither is permitted to stand in the way of the preacherís rapport with his audience. And it is, in this instance, aim audience, and neither a congregation nor the people of God.
It has always interested me that the principal point made in the account of the first group of run-of-the-mine Christian preachers, the seventy, is aimed precisely against this distortion in the outlook of the preacher. When the seventy returned from their first engagements, they reported, in astonishment and delight, that the tools and powers given them by their Lord in his commission had actually worked. They were told by Jesus, "Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
To take any one of the basic elements of the preaching image of the ministry, therefore, as exclusive, or to lift it out of context of the whole, produces pathology; and hardly anything that can be imagined has failed to happen in actual life. But there have been other distortions of the ministry when the delicate relationships among the elements of this image have been lost sight of. We shall note a few of them.
One such distortion is a kind of premature closure on this image as if it represented the whole goal of Christian faith and life instead of what it actually is, the basic mode of ministry to evoke faith and life. One of the real glories of the preaching image is its unabashed concern with means as essential to the achievement of ends. It shows its faith that the goals will come if there is faithful attentiveness to the communication of the Word. Its suspiciousness of goals, inattentive to the means of approaching them, is thoroughly dynamic, entirely correct, and certainly biblical.
But the preaching image of ministry is not the goal of either Christian faith or Christian life. One distortion, of which such a sophisticated theology as Barthís is not entirely innocent, is so to cloud the distinction between the preaching image and the faith and life of the people, including the preacher in the world, that speaking and hearing a reasonable facsimile of the Word of God is in danger of being confused with the mission of the church to the world and the vocation of Christians before God but to the worldís need. If you want more cartoon images, as my mind always does, think of this particular pathology as the "hydraulic fallacy." The Living Water of the Word, by this analogy, gushes down from heaven by spiritual gravity and divine love, and pulpits are or ought to be its fire hydrants. So far, the analogy has much to commend it. I also like the general suggestion that the congregation can do with a drenching, provided it is conceded that all properly human hydrants have a leaky valve at the rear, to assure that the preacher also gets wet. But from here on, hydraulics is deceptive. People and preacher will get dried off, at least until next Sunday; and the water runs down drains or ruins carpets, doing no one any good in particular.
I do not quite know how to save this figure of spiritual hydrology for the Kingdom of God without a bit of silliness. But if you will stand that, it can be done. Suppose that both preacher and layman are equipped with living water sacs. Today, of course, these would be leak-proof, flame-proof, loss-proof, and thermally insulated. Each sac will be no bigger than the person can handle. But each sac will also have a good spiritual sprayer attached, wholly free of technical complications. As we might say today, fully dynamic but with no moving parts ó which is nice work if you can get it. Anyhow, each sac, in our imaginative picture, is used to spray living water during the next week precisely where it has the greatest chance to do good. Thus, the real box score of the act of ministry symbolized by the preaching image is not back there at all, but is rather in the appraisal of the remote and mundane hydrolysis the next week. To be sure, I agree that all this carries hydraulics a bit too far. But II am a bit tired of contemplating those drenched parishioners back in their pews. If they are stupid enough to sit there until they get pneumonia, let them not blame it on the Word. No doubt they will be prudent enough to dry themselves. But the fact is that the living water is not just for them; it is for their ministry to the world. If we really want to perpetuate this hydraulic analogy, we must go all the way with it; and I have the appalling fear that the end product may be a new kind of hosanna!
Less popular than the hydraulic notion of ministry but even more reprehensible, if you will continue to permit these analogies from elementary physics, is what may be called the "gaseous image of ministry." According to this, and no doubt in the name of something misrepresented as Spirit, everything becomes vaporous. The Reformation image, with a heavy Bible, a weighty pulpit, and an overweight preacher, all fades into some kind of aura. The gaseous goal of ministry is the creation of some kind of subjective feeling. Commonly this feeling may be described as good, as comfortable, as relieved, as positive, or even, so help us, as Christian. But it may be more subtle. It may be a feeling of "Thank God he beat me to a pulp" when the preacher has let loose with some version of fire and brimstone, even the cellophane-wrapped kind of our day. In any event, the gaseous figure of ministry limits its conceptions of the functions of ministry to subjective feelings as experienced here and now. I find myself too gravely tempted to comment, and cannot resist, that the individual molecules of a gas are wholly unpredictable and that we can predict only their mass behavior, Thus the gaseous figure of ministry is, despite its disclaimers, inherently impersonal and anti-individual. The true preaching image of ministry is not.
I have dealt with liquids and gases, and you may well wonder if I have anything to say about solids. Of course I do, but it is a bit anticlimactic. In the Reformation preaching image the Word of God may wrongly be equated with the solid lines of type in the book; the solidity of the pulpit may be misrepresented as the authoritativeness of something or other; and the preacherís power to interpret may be mistakenly equated with some kind of weight ó not necessarily the girth of his stomach, but perhaps the athletic cut of his shoulders, or more probably the weightiness of his voice. You may, if you like, pursue the figure of solids, and profitably. But these implications are, if I may say so, "duck soup." Liquids and gases, on the other hand, are elusive, and deserve the greater attention they have been given.
Let me remind you that the immediate point has been pathologies in the conception of ministry arising from subtle distortion of the relations among the three elements in the dominant Reformation image of ministry: Bible, pulpit, and preacher. I have turned to the most elementary notions of physics to get at some of these. With equal profit I might have turned to elementary chemistry and shown, for example, that our useful and harmless table salt comes from two deadly poisons, sodium and chlorine. To be sure, in that case I might have to put on an argument to demonstrate that the Bible and the preacher are both deadly poisons ó but I think that I finally could manage this.
In this brief account of pathologies of the preaching image I might of course have gone lightly on figures and analogies and moved heavily toward literal description. Since the Bible does not change, and the pulpit changes only aesthetically, that would have meant describing one or another kind of distorted attitude in preachers. Preacher attitudes may be narcissistic, solipsistic, arrogant, aggressive, masochistic, dependent, detached, wistful, whimsical, smug, snobbish, threatened, and so on to the limits of the dictionary of pejoratives. But is there any real value in a systematic categorization of all the attitudinal ills that preacher flesh is heir to? Perhaps there might be. Certainly all preacher flesh including my own, needs to think in self-appraisal about such matters. But the elaboration of this notion is not my task at this point, however important it may eventually be to our common concern.
For now, it is enough to acknowledge that the very best image of the ministry, which might or might not be Bible-pulpit-preacher, is always subject to pathological distortions. If it were not so, somebody like John Calvin would have assured us. Since he did not, we must make the best of it, and resolve to analyze the pathologies.
I have indeed attempted to interpret and defend the basic Reformation image of the ministry, with its representation of preacher before open Bible on pulpit. There is nothing in any age ó be it atomic, anxious, organization-man, or one-world ó that renders this image superfluous, if we understand it aright. No apologies are needed for its projection into 1975.
What this image properly declares is that the Living Word of God is relevant and decisive for all sorts and conditions of men provided they will hear and heed; that the Word comes through men who, even until the eleventh preaching hour, study and try to be receptive to it as given through the Bible in dialogic reflection upon life experience; and that the pulpit is the juncture point of Word and interpretation. This image is basic but not exhaustive. It assumes things that are not made explicit in it.
Backward, it assumes a Christian community that comes to church not solely to feel better but also to find its Christian duty and vocation. Forward, it assumes empowerment and guidance on what the Christian ó every Christian ó actually does in and to and for the world.
No single image can get all that in. Every image must be a cross-section. It is like a color slide. Perhaps this is why, with all my concern for movement and dynamics, I have finally given up home movies and have concentrated on stills. Properly presented and interpreted, stills also may be dynamic, as the preaching image shows.
Like every other image of ministry that will come before us for serious inspection, the preaching image emphasizes some things and neglects others. Always, in order to understand properly the emphasis a cartoon image is making, it is necessary mentally to add to it what it assumes but does not make explicit. In the preaching image we need especially to add the following items. First, a congregation is to be added. It is now presupposed. Second, add a previous view of the preacher working on the open Bible in his study before he comes to preach from it in the pulpit. Third, add a later view of preacher and congregation all going out into the world, to serve its needs and to communicate the Christian gospel to it. Fourth, add some befores and afters that include prayer, adoration, singing, and communion. The preaching image is properly set in this larger context, and we distort it if we are unaware of that context. But of course if we insisted on the literal inclusion of all these elements, we should have no image at all but only a kind of filmstrip. Let us, by all means, keep the image. But let us be aware of why it emphasizes what it does.
Preaching and Pastoral Care
The continuing utility of any particular image of ministry depends partly upon what we find, on analyzing it, that it truly represents, and how important we believe that to be. But it may depend also upon our ability to separate from the image some kinds of meanings that may have become attached to it and which conflict with meanings of other important images that we wish to retain. In our day one of the most important questions about the preaching image is this: Does it conflict with pastoral care? Even though our account has not yet set forth the image of pastoral care, we can still make a preliminary appraisal of the preaching image to see whether, as is often charged, it is in opposition to the ministry of pastoral care.
The question is sometimes posed in this way. In preaching the minister is supposed to speak from the Word of God, and he is not to please or placate any man. He is to speak the truth in love as God gives him to see the truth. But in pastoral care we are to listen to people, to accept them, to be sensitive and considerate to see things from their point of view. Can these injunctions be reconciled? Or must a minister be one kind of person in preaching and quite another in pastoral care?
We may begin to get toward an answer to this question ó and I believe there is one ó by first making a longer statement of the question from each perspective.
In preaching the minister must indeed speak the whole gospel ó not in every sermon, but eventually. Indeed, each partial speaking should point beyond itself in the direction of the whole gospel. And the minister should speak with humble authority; that is with an authority that transcends his person but is humble in its awareness of the limitations of that person. He humbly acknowledges himself to be a kind of midwife, and yet he knows he is charged to perform that function creatively. He cannot simply tell a congregation what it may want to hear, whether that is a coddling or a spanking. He must do his best to let the gospel speak truly, let the chips fall where they may. Even when he speaks "comfortable words" as appropriate parts of the gospel, he must remember that such words are to "enhearten" and not to make easy.
In pastoral care it is certainly necessary, whatever the minister may try to do eventually, that he begin by getting as far inside the frame of reference of the person as the person permits him to do. Not only is this necessary for any understanding of the other person in his concreteness. It is also necessary if the pastor wants to convey to the person acceptance that undercuts conflicts and divisions and doubts and fears. Acceptance is required not only at the horizontal level of interpersonal relationships but also in order to convey, beneath all the difficulties, the acceptance by God himself. If the pastor rejects part of the person, then it is difficult to demonstrate what Godís total acceptance may mean. And thus in pastoral care we do attempt to listen, to understand, to accept, and to clarify. We do not sound off lightly, telling the person what we think he should do with no notion of how, from the inside, he looks at life.
Are these two approaches as restated, then, incompatible? Do they require two different kinds of minister? Or is the apparent difference between them only situational and not fundamental? I believe the last to be true.
The preacher is indeed to preach the whole gospel. But as our image analysis has shown, he preaches nothing to other people that he does not also preach to himself. If that is so, he cannot possibly, on psychological grounds, treat the gospel as if some aspects of it merely called down vengeance on people. He can preach the critical, wrathful, or law aspects of the gospel to himself as well as to other people only if these judgmental dimensions are understood in a context of love that transcends or undercuts them. So understood, they may at times be negative, sharp, or hurting, but never simply so, and never out of context with a deeper love that makes the hurt or the sharpness both tolerable and acceptable.
Only the man who knows he has been forgiven can know the enormity of his sin. Only the preacher deeply aware that even Godís judgment is a manifestation of his love can acknowledge its reality, for himself and others, and realize that the very capacity to acknowledge it is itself a demonstration of the grace that guides it. And since he is communicating this subtle relationship to others as well as articulating it for himself, he cannot possibly succeed unless he gets inside the frame of reference of others. If they view Godís judgment as a simple negativity, and react defensively against it, he must acknowledge and articulate this error, and demonstrate that it is an error. Even his most prophetic utterances cannot remain unconcerned with the frame of reference of others. He may indeed try to alter opinions, to correct errors, to demonstrate truth. And some people may reject his interpretations. But a God whose judgment is only a situational difference within the context of his love cannot properly be represented, at any point, as intending a simple negative.
When we turn, in the light of these preaching comments, to pastoral care, the critical question is whether the attempts to understand and accept, to get inside the other personís frame of reference, to apprehend and help to clarify the nature of his specific conflicting feelings, all together imply the absence of judgment. The answer is certainly not; instead, this is the one framework in which judgments in the Christian sense can be realized and accepted.
Suppose that you or I, in exercising our pastoral care function, have done all the things that my books on this matter have advocated and which I sometimes remember to carry out myself. Suppose that we have been understanding; that, without probing or pressing, we have grasped the subtle and specific nature of the interior and conflicted viewpoint of the person, and have begun to help him sort out and clarify all these inner feelings. Certainly the person, with this kind of help, will begin to feel some kind of release. But release is never unaccompanied by exposure. The joyful awareness that some shackles have been removed is at once followed by the recognition that the old defenses and excuses, previously justified by the shackles, will no longer do. One is tempted, despite his new joy in freedom, to revert, to deny that the more realistic self-judgment is meaningful and relevant. The critical and decisive stage comes when he either accepts the new judgment as benevolent or retreats from it. He simply cannot enjoy the gains of freedom without accepting the responsibilities it brings. With pastoral help, he may take both.
Thus, the true manifestation of acceptance and understanding in the relationship of pastoral care is not some simple positivity, as if one felt two degrees better today and four degrees tomorrow. There is no simple upward line. If genuine, learning to feel joy means, should the situation warrant it, equal increase in ability to feel sad. In pastoral care all this has little or nothing to do with who says what to whom. The experience of assimilating judgment is impressively important. The pastoral utterance of judgmental words may or may not be relevant to this end, and certainly is not relevant if the context appears to be rejection or misunderstanding.
Preaching is not, procedurally speaking, pastoral care to larger numbers of people. Pastoral care is not, procedurally speaking effective preaching to one person. Such literalistic notions distort both functions. But in terms of fundamental aims and attitudes there is astonishingly little difference between preaching and pastoral care or pastoral counseling. Both make progress as that which is unpleasant but necessary becomes capable of assimilation because of the context, environment, atmosphere, and conviction that manifests the love within judgment, the grace within or beneath law, the freedom within responsibility. And in preaching and pastoral care alike, apparently these things can appear only in relationship.
There are many procedural differences between preaching and pastoral care. Both involve realms of expert knowledge that must be studied directly and cannot merely be inferred or derived. But if these learning processes have been undergone, through experience as well as thinking, then it is unthinkable that preaching and pastoral care, rightly understood and humbly practiced, can be in fundamental contradiction within the functions of the Christian minister.