Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Crisis of the Christian Ministry

'The deepest nature of this crisis lies in the fact that God always demands from his servants something which is, humanly speaking, impossible. One may look at the wrestling between God and Moses in the first chapters of Exodus. Why does Moses refuse to go on his errand? Why does he think up all sorts of excuses including the not very convincing argument: "Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue"? He refused to go because what God demands is “impossible”. Even if he succeeded in breaking through all the barriers of the police who were searching after him for manslaughter, of the courtiers and body-guards, and appear before his majesty the mighty ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt, was there any likelihood that the Pharoah, who enjoyed divine honours and worshipped in his temples the great gods of heaven and earth, would accede to the alleged request of an unknown god who was worshipped by some of his slaves: ”Let my people go” (Ex 5:1)? It was impossible, but Moses went simply on the promise that the Lord would be with him.'

From Hermann Sasse, The Crisis of the Christian Ministry in ‘Lutheran Theological Journal’ (Adelaide), 2.1 (May 1968), pp 34-46 [Sasse quotes from the RSV, which I have updated to the ESV].
I've begun posting again at 'What Sasse Said' after a hiatus of a couple of months. I'll be starting with extracts from this essay, which appeared in the theological journal of my church, known colloquially as 'the LTJ', in 1968. At the beginning of this essay, Sasse notes that there is the 'eternal crisis' of the ministry which arises from its very nature, and there is also the crisis of the ministry in a particular time and place. Sasse begins with the eternal crisis before examining the particular crisis of the Lutheran ministry in the late 20th century, hence the reference to Moses (later Sasse makes the interesting comment that the Ministry of the Word in the Old and New Testaments is essentially one, although the offices instituted to carry out have differed according to their place in salvation history).
I originally read this essay back in seminary days, although I can't remember much of it. I'm re-reading it now in quite a different context, trying to negotiate my way through my own particular 'crisis' in ministry, probably an early stage of 'burnout' (I'm due for 'long service leave' in one year, so I'm hanging in there). Well, as they say, 'every crisis is an opportunity to effect change'. I hope this essay will help in getting the 'big picture' to hang straight before I go trying to rearrange the other 'furniture' in the room; so far, so good - Moses is a good place to start!


Lvka said...

And more on the news today:

Further unrest in the Middle East

an Arab, thrown to the ground by a powerful explosion to his right, and looking very depressed (closed eyes, bowed head, holding his forehead in his palm)... oh, no, wait: that's Moses!

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Heh, heh...what a card you are, Lucian [I'll save you opening the dictionary: card = an eccentrically amusing person].

I've noticed before that you look at pictures and interpret them apart from their obvious frame of literary reference. That's very child-like (no value judgment implied, just an observation). Is it perhaps because English is your second language? Do you spend time contemplating the picture before reading the text? Just curious.

Lvka said...

I've noticed before that you look at pictures and interpret them apart from their obvious frame of literary reference.

The same goes for the short video-extracts I'm so fond at posting on my blog...

I've obviously recognized the two pictures immediately. But apart from my rational mind and loaded baggage of knowledge, there's also an irrational "gut" in me that can't NOT see the problem. I'm getting mixed signals concurrently.

Do you spend time contemplating the picture before reading the text?

No. The perception is direct and immediate, and simultaneous with the knowledge of its true/actual meaning.

[I don't know whether this is genetical (my father also enjoys humor: A LOT!), or because of my childhood (every year the Romanian Television had these outrageously-funny special programme for New Year's Eve), or because of my upbringing (raised alone, shy, trying to avoid having awkward moments by saying/doing something that might perhaps have unwanted conotations), or because of my education (trying to think before I speak or do something, think of the consequences or context), or a combination of the above].

Is it perhaps because English is your second language?

What on earth has language to do with movies and pictures?

P.S.: word verification: "previn": `I prevent`. :-)

Lvka said...

...or maybe it's because I've watched Connections way too many times when I was young... Or perhaps, being a mathematician, just like my dad, I "see things" (links) between stuff, even when the connections aren't really there (like that guy in "A Beautiful Mind", another mathematician). An online-friend of mine, Robert, once told me that I reminded him of that weird Kabbalistic Rabbi from the movie `Pi`, by Darren Aronofsky, also about a mathematician.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

'What have pictures to do with a second language?' When people are reading a text in a second language, and pictures are printed along with the text, they will often focus on the picture in an attempt to decipher the text.

Lvka said...


(No, I've been able to understand English since I was in the fourth or fifth grade... it's not exactly a "foreign" language by any means).

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Yes, I should have realized, as your English is excellent. So, do you work as a mathematician, Lucian?

Lvka said...

Oh, I don't work, Father: -- I'm saved by faith ALONE, so I don't have to... :D (I'm an unemployed computer-programmer).

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Ah, that explains why you have so much time to surf the net. But what a waste of talents for someone who is obviously intelligent and educated. What is the economic situation like in Romania? Have you ever thought of emigrating?

Lvka said...

Yeah, I thought of emigrating (having an internationally-recognized German-language-diploma and some relatives in Canada)... until this girl I liked when I was in the eleventh grade told me on the bus, when I asked her that same question, (and she also mastered English and German), that she'd never do it, since it'd mean to leave all close family and dear friends behind for a life among strangers... that kinda put the nail in the coffin to that idea for me.

someone who is obviously intelligent and educated

And just what exactly are you trying to insinuate here, Father? :-\

What is the economic situation like in Romania?

It's OK. [Much worse than in the West, of course...]

To unpack:

An average Romanian man earns around $300 monthly; the maximum monthly expenses [hot and cold water; gas; electricity; etc] are $150 during winter, and $100 or less during summer (for a three-person family); the price of a bread is about $1; a bottle of mineral water: $0.66; juice, $1.33; a large pizza is $6; a modern TV set is $200; a computer is between $500 and $700; a normal car is a year's salary or more; books are in-between $5 and $30: You judge.

Half of Romanians are peasants.

We don't have a car, but Romanian towns are very small compared to the cities of the West. (It takes no more than 30-45 min to walk across the best portion of the town by foot, without any hurry). A tramway ticket is $0.5; if you take a taxi, it's $3; a monthly tramway-ticket is $20.

I personally never lacked anything in my entire life, my family's monthly income being about $500 or so.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Actually, that sounds quite reasonable, Lucian. You didn't mention rent or mortage payments though. In Australia they would be the highest expense for a family. And a car is essential here because public transport is poor and the cities/distances are large.

For comparison:

Bread : $3
Mineral water: $1.50
Large pizza: $6
TV set: $200-400 basic, $1000 plasma
Computer: My netbook cost me $250, but a good laptop or desktop $1000
Car: 2nd hand $5000; new $12000 - $60 000 for a family sedan.
Electricity: $300 per month winter
$100-200 per month summer
Rent/mortagage: $300-800 per week depending where you live. Some rents go up to $1200 per week for a normal house in areas where mining for minerals has led to a 'boom'.

Maybe I'll emigrate to Romania?

Actually, my wife (a nurse) and I have sometimes thought of emigrating to the US or Canada, where the cost of living is much lower (my wife has relatives in California). Australia's cost of living is absurd when you compare it to other countries.

Btw, we have Romanians here - the closest Orthodox Church to where I live is Romanian; it is c. 80 kms away.

Lvka said...

Well, food [vegies, local fruits, bread, meat, cheese, milk] cost probably visibly less than in the West, AND it's natural (from peasants who sell in the market-places). A liter of milk costs $1, for instance.

And since half of Romanians are peasants anyway (though the rural population is in steady decline), our grandparents who live in the country-side provide us with food without us having to pay (extra) for it.

The distance from my own town to the closest next one is 60 km. Our towns are only a few km (10?) in cross-section.

Rent is not among my problems; but it ranges from $150 to $400 a month (with NO expenses included).