The shortage of ministers is a problem throughout the country. While, in the last two years seminary enrollment has climbed slightly, over the last five years there has been a decrease. Most denominations speak of critical shortages and are waging intensive recruitment programs. To add to these woes, many ministers are resigning from the ministry. A recent article in the Saturday Evening Post entitled “Why I Quit The Ministry” stirred considerable comment and was even the “text” for a sermon or two here or there.
The Roman Catholic Church is also faced with a shortage of priests. To help solve this problem, the Vatican Council is investigating the possibility of encouraging laymen to enter certain kinds of church work. Many Protestants have done this already for years, and are leaning more and more upon laymen to do the work that ministers ordinarily would do. Laymen are taking over much of the administrative work of ministers; they are doing more and more of the committee work; they are, if professionals, taking over sick visitation, psychiatric care, marriage counseling and youth programs. They are used for Catechetical instruction, as presidents of societies and clubs, and even for missionary work of one kind or another. In many churches laymen will even lead services on Sunday and preach an occasional sermon. There is very little that ministers do which laymen are not asked to do today.
All this brings us to the minister shortage within our own denomination. We could, of course, give some work to laymen. But those aspects of a minister’s calling which deal with the official preaching of the Word belong to the office of minister of the gospel. A minister shucks off these duties to the spiritual detriment of the congregation.
Why is there such a shortage?
One answer is obviously that in the past decade many ministers have forsaken the truth and left their congregations shepherdless. The shortage of ministers has persisted since 1953.
But the question remains, Why are there no more young men who seek the ministry of the gospel?
I suppose that there is no complete answer to this question. But it strikes me sometimes that part of the answer lies in the materialistic emphasis that corrupts our times. Our children are, from childhood on, exposed to the prevalent notion that “security” (whatever that may be) is to be obtained only through financial success. The quickest road to happiness is the road of successful earnings. The path to contentment is paved with money. When one has a fine house, a large bank account, a number of life insurance policies, a good hospitalization plan, a guarantee of retirement benefits, then he has attained a secure life. Our children are taught in existing schools (I doubt whether our own) that education is necessary only to command high-paying salaries. This is often presented as the sole motive for pursuing an education. Even in our homes, much of the conversation children overhear in the presence of their parents deals with financial problems and material considerations so that, whether we intend it or not, our children come to think of these things as the only real important things of life. We may tell them to the contrary, but our example is always more forcible instruction than anything we say.
It is simply a fact that within our Churches ministers are far from overpaid. This is something which prospective students for the ministry no doubt face. And the whole idea of entering a profession where there are little monetary rewards loses appeal when money is such an important consideration these days. This is not to say that we ought to favor low salaries for our ministers. But the fact remains that our people themselves oftentimes have heavy financial burdens in the support of their own local churches, in the denominational causes to which they contribute, and in the monetary provisions of our schools. They often do the very best they can. But the fact remains that we are placing too much emphasis on material things in our lives. This emphasis is wrong.
To be a minister is to be engaged in the highest and noblest calling given to man here upon earth. He stands alone as the mouthpiece of Christ and as an ambassador of God. The rewards of this calling cannot be measured in terms of dollars and cents.
God has committed to us the heritage of His truth. It will never do to push the work of the ministry of the Word on to laymen. The official ministry in preaching, Catechism and pastoral care belongs to one who is clothed with the authority of Christ. This work must be jealously preserved for the minister alone. But with this glorious truth which we confess comes the high calling to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. If this is our failing—to point our children to this calling, by our words and by our own life, let us then rather inspire our children with this privilege of the saints that is given us of grace—to be devoted and consecrated to the cause of our Redeemer. It is hoped that this will be conducive to lead our young men to seek the calling of the ministry of the gospel so that our congregations do not suffer spiritually because there are none to lead them in the green pastures of God’s Word.
PRAYERS FOR THE DEAD—AN ECUMENICAL PRAYER?
The editor of the Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor, suggests in a recent issue that prayers for those who died and are now in purgatory is really a type of prayer which Protestants make as well as Roman Catholics. He gives several reasons why this is his conclusion.
1. First of all, he cites the example of his own life. When he had not yet reached adulthood, he was still a Protestant. It was evidently in his twenties that he adopted Roman Catholicism as his religion. But even when he was still a Protestant, he claims, he was already praying for the dead. He did this spontaneously and without instruction which is proof of the fact that evidently the Spirit prompted this prayer within him.
2. Secondly, he quotes a certain Protestant minister who is but one example among others who frankly speaks of the need of prayers for the dead who have need of some sort of cleansing from sin before they can arrive safely in heaven. This Protestant minister writes:
In principle, I agree with my Catholic friends. Our Lord taught clearly it is the pure in heart who see God and the author of the epistle to the Hebrews told his readers that without holiness no man would see the Lord. Few are pure and holy when they encounter death and it seems credible to me that further cleansing will be necessary upon our departure from this world.
As a Protestant minister, I have been asked a number of times, following a death or a funeral, “Is it all right to pray for him now, even though he is gone from this life?”
And I have always said, “God loves him more than you do and every impulse to prayer comes from His Spirit. By all means continue to pray for him now.”
3. Thirdly, the editor suggests that the reluctance of Protestants to mention a purgatory is not that they do not really favor the idea; but is rather because of a misunderstanding of Roman Catholic theology. All are agreed, he is sure, that no one is so perfect that, at the moment of death, he is prepared to enter heaven. But some are wary of the idea that purgatory might imply that people spend a certain amount of time in a particular place. Nothing, he says, could be farther from the truth. Purgatory is in eternity. This is timelessness. Therefore it is nonsense to speak of spending time in purgatory. Furthermore, purgatory is outside the limits of this earthly creation. It is therefore not in space. Purgatory is not a place; it is merely a condition, a kind of a state. He is rather certain that, if these questions are cleared up. Protestants will find that, after all, they agree with the Roman Catholic Church on this question. And another obstacle is removed on the road to Church union.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Not all prayers are prompted by the Spirit of Christ. Certainly the prayer of the Pharisee in the temple was not the fruit of the Spirit. If someone ignorantly prays for the dead, this is by all means not an infallible sign that he has the Spirit in his, heart. The editor of Our Sunday Visitor had bad instruction from his parents. For, whether they told him to pray for the dead or not, they failed evidently to tell him that God takes his people into heaven at the moment of death.
Secondly, it matters not one whit what those Protestants who are tumbling over each other to get in the good graces of Rome may say. But it makes all the difference in the world that Paul says, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” II Corinthians 5:1. No doubt about it that every saint is very imperfect at death. But death is precisely the laying aside of this sinful earthly tabernacle. At the moment of death we have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Sanctification is perfected at the moment of death and through the final resurrection of the body.
Thirdly, I do not know what the editor is trying to say when he claims that purgatory is outside space and time. If purgatory is eternal, does it continue beyond the end of the world? Is there always the need for some to be there? Or is it after a while, an empty compartment of hell? Moreover, if purgatory is eternal, and one does not spend time there, he must spend eternity there. It has to be one or the other. But then there is no need to pray for these dead either. They are there forever.
One may claim perhaps that purgatory is not a place; that is merely; a state or condition. But this must also be true then of heaven and hell. This Scripture contradicts. It is true that there is in heaven or hell no space as we know it now. There is also no time there as we experience it in this present history. But surely one who goes either to heaven or to hell does not become eternal and omnipresent. These are attributes that belong to God alone. Man does not become God.
It is wrong to pray for the dead. The matter is finished at the moment of death. The everlasting destiny of every man is fixed when life departs. And this destiny is fixed by the immutable decree of the sovereign God.
TEN TOP RELIGIOUS NEWS STORIES
Religious editors and reporters were polled so that it might be determined which were the ten top religious news stories in 1962. These ten top stories in their order of importance were:
1. The Second Vatican Council in Rome. 2. The Supreme Court decision outlawing a prescribed prayer in New York Schools. 3. The anti-segregation demonstrations by clergymen in Atlanta, Georgia. 4. The formation of the Lutheran Church in America from our existing Lutheran denominations. 5. The agreement of three other major Lutheran bodies to form a new co-operative agency. 6. The beginning of talks by representatives of four denominations in the Blake-Pike plan for church merger. 7. The burning of some Negro churches in the South as a protest against registration of Negro voters. 8. Karl Barth’s visit to America. 9. The decision of the United Presbyterian General Assembly which permitted Dr. John Hick to hold membership in the New Brunswick presbytery even though he refused to affirm his belief in the virgin birth of Christ. 10. The visit of American church leaders to the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia.
The standards of newsmen are surely not the standard of God. Surely the most important news event must be the gathering and preservation of the true Church of Jesus Christ. For this is the goal and purpose of all history; everything must be subservient to it. “All things are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” But these things do not find their way into the religious news media.