Priest and prophet

This week in the devotional “Ein Feste Burg”, a pastor wrote, that all Christians are prophets. Well, I beg to differ. St.Paul differentiates very clearly the various gifts our good Lord Jesus Christ gave to the church and his holy congregation of saints:

And Jesus Christ himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

Ephesians 4,11f

Georg Merz does a good job of differentiating the various specificities of these various callings. So, here is what he writes. By the way, reading Georges Bernanos´ was recommended not only by Bonhoeffer to his students, but also by Beyschlag in latter years down in Erlangen.

“Diary of a country priest” by Georges Bernanos (1936)

The prophet is compelled to go into the world, before the public; he must dare to fight, he must confront the enemy, he cannot escape having “enemies.” He is obliged to draw sharp lines of difference; he must point his finger directly at those who are against God. He must openly brand those who appear to him to be ungodly and expose himself to the attacks of others whom he challenges in the name of God. In a sense he anticipates the judgment in that he calls upon the Lord God to be the judge of the present… 

The priest does not need to take this way. His influence is exerted privately. The place where he works is that of brotherly and fatherly ministry in pastoral encounter. He calls people to prayer, his mission is the ministry of the pastor of souls in which heart addresses heart and conscience speaks to conscience. This may be the reason why so little is known in history concerning the work of the priestly man. Those who work in secret have no great name in public… 

In one of his earliest writings, Karl Barth gave classical expression to the essence of priestliness. “To uphold God´s cause in the world and yet not wage war against the world; to love the world and yet be wholly faithful to God; to suffer with the world and be sensitive to its need, but at the same time open to the redeeming word of salvation for which it is waiting; to lift up the world to God and to carry God down into the world; to be an advocate of men before God and in messenger of God who brings peace to men…” 

To be able to be an advocate before God he is forced away from the world into solitude before God. One who is not able to subject himself to the discipline of this solitude cannot be a priest. But at the same time he must be bound to men, keep in intimate contact with them, learn to know their cares and put himself in their place. He must be able to be a brother and a father. 

But above all he must know the peace, the great reconciliation with God, the reconciliation that has been effected between God and men… 

Every ministry of the word of Christ lives by the miracle of divine grace. Every ministry is a matter of the fullness from which we may draw grace upon grace, truth upon truth. Every ministry has its own peculiar task. Thus, the teacher must endeavour to know the truth in its whole breath and insist upon it in its stringency and exactitude. It cannot be otherwise then that he should become “fundamental” a stickler for principles; he must reckon with the insinuation that he is an orthodox pedant. With the profit the situation is different again. He too serves the truth, at any given time he must grasp the decisive point of the truth which is at stake at the great turning points in the history of the Kingdom of God. By grasping it and holding to it on one-sidedly, he lays hold on the decisive continuity of the past and foresees the fulfilment of the future. He is able to link faith and hope together. “If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established,” says Isaiah. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” read the subscription of the great chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews which sums up the whole of Old Testament prophecy.

The Christian social worker, on the other hand, must devote himself to love. But in their work, all of them are priestly, for priestliness has its place where peace is proclaimed, the peace which passes all understanding, the peace from which joy is born, which brings the presence of the Lord in the church. but This is why the “priest” too has its place and why he too must come to the fore at times, called as a “mediator” who bears witness to the great High Priest mediated for us. 

Georg Merz quoted in “Minister`s prayerbook”, Pg. 374ff

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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