Of Slaves and Servants, Pastors and Theologians


A woman, like a child, has no inherent, independent authority. Authority is a matter of headship, or, rather, headship is a matter of authority. A child is not his own head — his father is; a woman is not her own head — her husband is. A headless body we call a corpse, and corpses do not make decisions.

Similarly, the Church is not her own head — she is the bride of Christ, and He is her Head. A body that does not obey the head we call diseased; in human relations, an agent or a slave who does not obey his master we call rebellious or faithless. A muscle that spasms or seizes is not obeying the head, but is acting independently and improperly. Headship is a matter of authority and independence for the head and a matter of obedience and dependence — of submission — for the body.

In human contractual relationships, we have the concept of agency. An agent is one who represents or acts on behalf of another (the principal) — this relationship we call agency. When an agent exceeds the authority or powers delegated to him by the principal, this we call ultra vires — ‘beyond [the] powers [delegated]’. There are levels to this. To simplify this area of the law[1], we will distinguish actual, apparent, and implied authority, and we will examine the concept of a ‘frolic’.

The scope of authority delegated to an agent is the actual authority of that agent; authority that is closely related to or entailed by the actual authority delegated to the agent is implied authority; authority that a third party reasonably believes an agent possesses is apparent authority. An agent who goes beyond the bounds of this authority and acts in his own interests is on a frolic and the principal is not bound by such actions.

The relationship between the principal and the agent is, as previously stated, contractual. The actual authority is that authority which is granted to the agent by the governing contract; the implied authority is that which is necessary to exercise the actual authority or is implied by it; the apparent authority is that which a third party would reasonably believe such an agent would possess. A set of concrete examples to make this easier to understand: A personal assistant (agent) whose employer (principal) asks him to pick up his dry cleaning has given such agent the actual authority to retrieve such dry cleaning, the implied authority to speak with the dry cleaner about such dry cleaning, and the apparent authority (from the perspective of the dry cleaner) to use the principal’s credit card to pay for said dry cleaning.[2] These three forms of authority exist for virtually all agency relationships.

In a functioning society, a woman[3] is viewed as an agent of her husband, for headship is an agency relationship. Wives generally have the apparent and also implied or actual authority to contract the purchase of, e.g., groceries or most household items, which is to say that they may bind their husbands to pay for such items. A grocer, for instance, could reasonably conclude a wife has the authority to pick up the necessary ingredients to cook meals for her household, and, thus, the grocer may permit her to charge such items to her husband’s account and her husband must pay for such items. However, there is the reasonableness limit — a wife could not, for instance, bind her husband to purchase a new vehicle, and the car dealer who let her make such a purchase could not demand her husband honor it — such a contract would be voidable by the husband. Of course, the matter would be different if the husband were to call the car dealer and authorize such purchase, or complete some paperwork granting his wife such authority. In the case of written authority to purchase a car, she would have the implied authority to choose options — colors, interior materials, et cetera. Again, as the woman is not her own head, she has no inherent, independent authority.

The Church is a woman. An agent may be granted the authority to hire subagents, but the authority of a subagent is typically more circumscribed than the authority of the managing or overseeing agent, and, at any rate, must also be contractually delineated and controlled. The ordained ministers of the Church are subagents, with the Church herself as the managing agent. The older terms, as mentioned supra, for these offices are master and servant or slave. Christ is the Master; the Church is His bride and servant; the pastorate are His slaves — δουλοι Ιησου Χριστου. Christ, as Master, has delegated authority to the Church, His servant, and has permitted her to employ slaves — pastors — to execute her duties.

Pastors qua pastors may do nothing that the Church herself may not do, for the Church cannot delegate to her slaves any authority that she herself has not been delegated.[4] In fact, pastors should generally not be seen engaging in anything but the business of the Church.[5] Beyond the bounds of Scripture, a pastor is on a frolic, and, thus, cannot bind his Master[6] — worse, he may be misrepresenting his office or being otherwise faithless to his Master. A pastor is not his own head and therefore has no inherent, independent authority — he is subordinate to the Church and she is subordinate to Christ.

The theologian is not so bound. Unlike the pastor, the theologian does not draw his authority from one source — the Church as subordinate to Scripture; rather, he draws his authority from two sources: 1) Scripture and 2) Nature. God is not Author of only one book; Scripture is neither God’s first nor His greatest ‘book’ — Creation is. God does not appeal to Scripture when He speaks of His greatness to Job or when He reminds His people of His works or when He inspired the Psalmist[7]. Although the Gospel is known from Scripture alone, the works of God testify to His nature and His glory. The theologian of the higher class draws his authority from Scripture on the one hand and the gifts God has given him on the other. The former authority is no greater than that granted a pastor, although the greater capabilities of the theologian may entitle him to speak on Scripture where the pastor must hold his tongue, but the latter authority is not mediated and flows directly from God; consequently, the theologian is bound only by the limitations God has placed on his abilities. The pastor may appeal to the theologian as a fellow worker under the Church and her governing Document; the theologian may bind the pastor insofar as the theologian speaks the truth — whether from Scripture or natural revelation.

God prepares many men for the pastorate, but He gifts the Church and His people few men equipped to be theologians. It is the duty of pastors to feed the sheep; it is the duty of theologians to identify threats to the sheep — sometimes novel threats of which sheep and pastors alike are unaware. Once identified, the theologian trains pastors to identify such threats using rubrics developed by theologians. The pastor who wrongly considers – or, worse, declares — himself a theologian betrays his office, endangers the sheep, and becomes a faithless and unprofitable slave of the Master. Theologians are certainly trained, but they are just as certainly born — a man without the natural gifts cannot be trained to have them any more than a dog can be trained to fly or a woman can be trained to be her own head.

The office of theologian is as superior to that of pastor as the office of overseer is to that of workman. It is not the duty of the theologian to exercise daily oversight of pastors[8], but it is the duty of the theologian to rebuke the individual pastor when he or even the collective pastorate when they err. This office does not come free — from the hand of the pastor, the Good Shepherd will demand a pasture of sheep, but, from the hand of the theologian, the Master will demand a territory, a nation, an era of His sheep. If Chrysostom would call the road to Hell paved with the bones of pastors and the skulls of bishops the lamps that light the way, then one dare not even venture a guess at the fate that awaits the faithless theologian. Hell is not uniform.

We, in the modern world, have lost our conception of lower and higher, of lesser and greater, of hierarchy as anything but a word. The gifts of God are not uniform — He gives to one less and to another more. What fools we would be if we were to question the wisdom and the goodness of God. To one it is given to see the glory of Creation and to another it is given to understand it. To the pastor are entrusted the administration of the Mysteries and the Word; to the theologian it is given to understand some depth of the richness of the glory of God — and to transmit some of this knowledge to his fellow workers and to his fellow sheep. The theologian must not disdain or denigrate the pastorate, but the pastorate must not usurp or rebel against the theologian. The Church is a servant of the Master and so is the theologian; their tasks are distinct, but they are also intimately connected, intertwined, and even overlapping. Both the pastor and, yes, the Church are poorer without the theologian, and this should not be a hard saying or a surprising one. The good grass and the clean water are necessary to the life and health of the sheep, but would they not be poorer by far if they could not look up and see the stars?

Sacerdotalism has always been a threat to and within and a plague upon the Church. The pastor, at his best, is a faithful under-shepherd of the manager of the Master’s flocks. The faithless and rebellious slave attempts to usurp the office and authority of the manager[9], and it is the duty of other faithful servants of the Master to strike down such slaves. Where the pastor and the theologian conflict, the latter must fear lest he misspeak and the former must fear lest he overstep, but it is the sheep who suffer most and the Master Whose anger may be quickly kindled.

Ein jeder lern sein Lektion,

dann wird es wohl im Hause stohn![10]

Kyrie eleison.

  1. If I need to tell you that this is not legal advice (it obviously is not), then my only advice to you is that you may need to consult an attorney. ↩︎

  2. If the agent were to stop and pick up opera tickets for himself on the way to the dry cleaner, that errand would be a frolic. ↩︎

  3. Or a child, but that is not the salient comparison for the sake of this article. ↩︎

  4. In fact, the authority of pastors is much more circumscribed than that of the Church, but that is a matter for another time. ↩︎

  5. 2 Timothy 2:4 (ESV): »No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.« ↩︎

  6. Naturally, the pastor cannot bind his Master to anything, as only God can bind Himself — and has done so via the promises contained in His Word. ↩︎

  7. The Psalmist does, of course, appeal to the greatness of God’s Law or Word, but the primary appeal to God’s greatness is always first and foremost to Creation and the greatness thereof. ↩︎

  8. And this would remain true even if the numerical issue were not present. ↩︎

  9. And some foolish few may even grasp after the Master’s stars. ↩︎

  10. “Let each his lesson learn with care, / and all the household well shall fare.” — the concluding maxim to Table of Duties of the Small Catechism. ↩︎