Monday, November 25, 2013

Duties and Expectations of a Pastor's Wife

My article from this week's newspapers about duties and expectations of a pastor's wife:

Q:  What does the Bible have to say about the role of the pastor’s wife in the congregation?  Are there additional expectations of her, or special privileges in comparison to other members? 

If an individual with no experience in a church were asked to observe the life of several congregations, they would probably report that, when their pastor is married, the pastor’s wife is treated differently, to some degree, than other members of the congregation. 

In traditions with celibate clergy, this is obviously not a question, and in traditions which have instituted female clergy, the social dynamics have been reported to be different for clergy husbands, but in the majority of traditions where married, male clergy are the norm, the pastor’s wife finds herself facing a unique set of expectations not placed upon others. 

Many African-American Protestant congregations even refer to the pastor’s wife as the “first lady” of the congregation, with a role in the congregation that resembles the role of the President’s wife has in our nation.   

It has been a typical expectation in the recent history of American Christianity, that the pastor’s wife be able to play the organ, that she would teach Sunday School, participate heavily in (or frequently to lead) the ladies aid or other women’s organizations in the congregation, and possibly lead a youth group serve (without pay) as church secretary, or direct Christmas programs for good measure.  

In addition to all of this, she was expected to manage her household, largely without the assistance of her husband (who was too busy with congregational business to help at home), ensure perfectly angelic behavior from her children (both in and outside of church), and be prepared at all times to host guests at a moment’s notice in her perfectly-kept home.  And if her husband was found in any vice, such as an affair or alcohol abuse, local gossip would likely find fault with her for “driving him to it.” 

Wives who found themselves living in a parsonage (church-owned home for the pastor’s family) often faced even more challenging circumstances, as not only were their lives (with accompanying mistakes and imperfections) more easily observed by the congregation, with little privacy (what some authors have called “life in the fishbowl”), but often they were held to impossibly high standards for their care and keeping of the “congregation’s house.” 

Even when these expectations are not as severe as they once were, many of them still carry on today, but what does the Bible have to say about the role of the pastor’s wife?  Nearly nothing.

While it does seem that many of the Apostles were married, (1 Corinthians 9 mentions the apostles’ wives, and the Gospel of Luke mentions Peter’s mother-in-law) I cannot recall any instance where the wives actions are described or that their names are even mentioned.  Likewise, the roles of Barnabus, Titus and Timothy’s wives and the rest of the second generation of pastors are also not described within the Bible. 

The closest the Bible comes to describing the expectations of a pastor’s wife is when Paul writes to Timothy and Titus that the pastor must have only one wife, and that he must have his family and children in order—but these are more about the pastor than his wife. 

Biblically, there is no such office in the church as pastor’s wife.  The pastor is called to publicly proclaim God’s Word to his congregation, and the administer God’s Sacraments there—that is his office, and does not extend to her.  His wife finds herself not in the role of co-pastor, unofficial secretary, or full-time church volunteer, but instead that of wife, mother, neighbor, Christian woman, or whatever earthly vocation she has chosen to undertake.  Her she is called, first of all, to carry these out well. 

She may then do some of the things previously mentioned, but not because she is the pastor’s wife, but because she is a Christian and serves in the congregation just like the other members.  In other circumstances, her greatest contribution might not be what she is expected to do in public, but to care for her home and children and thus support her husband’s ability to be about the work of ministry on behalf of the congregation.  All are equally beneficial to the body of Christ, one is not more noble than the others, and she is free to do whatever seems most wise in her judgment for the circumstances in which she and her family live. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mortal, Venial, Lesser, Worse, or Equal Sins

My article from this week's newspapers about different types of sins:

Q:  Are there some sins that God considers more offensive or worthy of punishment than others? 

The endeavor of classifying or comparing sins is one that takes on different nuances depending on the context in which the question is asked. 

The most straightforward example of this would be the context of salvation.  In this context, both the quality and the quantity of the sin are irrelevant.  The Epistle of James reveals this concisely when it states that “Whoever keeps the whole law, yet sins at just one point, is guilty of breaking all of it.”  If one proposes to earn salvation by means of obeying the law, the standard of perfection.  The presence of any sin, great or small, means failure.  In this sense, one sin is the same as the next, whether mass murder or shoplifting, and all incur the same consequence.

In contrast to this, it has been proposed by some that there are two types of sin—mortal sins which lead to condemnation and venial sins which, while still morally wrong, do not necessarily condemn.  However, the type of sin is not what condemns, but rather the un-forgiven status of the sinner who commits it.  Mortal sins really are those committed, no matter how small, apart from Christ’s forgiveness.  Venial sins are really those committed, no matter how large, that are covered by Christ’s forgiveness. 

The fact that all sin does not cease to be true for those who become Christians.  The Bible does not tell a story of sinners and righteous people, but rather the story of one righteous man, Jesus, and a world of sinners—some forgiven and some un-forgiven.  The difference between Christians and non-Christians is not portrayed by the Bible as whether they sin or not, but as how that sin is to be handled.  For one who trusts in himself, in nothing at all, or in some other entity than Jesus, he bears the burden of repaying his sins himself, and even the smallest sin condemns.  On the other hand, for one who trusts in Jesus as his substitute in living a God-pleasing life and in suffering sin’s punishment, no sin can condemn. 

Similarly, there is the case of willful or unrepentant sin—these are sins done with the knowledge that they are wrong, but disregarding concern for the fact that they are.  This is the sort of sin would cause great concern that the one who commits it is apart from Christ.  On the other hand, there are those that might be known as sins of weakness or crimes of passion.  These are committed without contemplation of or with inadequate appreciation for their sinfulness, and might only be realized as wrong after the fact.  These might be committed by the Christian and non-Christian alike, and would include such things as an assault or murder that occurs in a flash of anger or the suicide committed in the dark depths of depression or despair.  While such actions certainly remain sins before God, they would not necessarily indicate to a pastoral care provider that the one who commits them has been denied forgiveness or separated from Christ. 

In another context, there is a distinction between a sin’s implications before God versus before man.  Before God, all sins are equally condemning, as previously described, while at the same time, those sins have varying degrees of impact here on earth.  These consequences before man are significantly different in that some sins merely cause offense to those who are sinned against, while others create a devastating ripple effect that causes immeasurable harm to those sinned against.  This is why society responds more harshly to sins like child molestation and premeditated murder than to gossip or lust and why habitual criminals are more strongly punished than first-time offenders. 

The important realization to be emphasized regarding sin is that all sin must be accounted for, either by the sinner himself, or by Jesus, and that the important factor is not the quantity or quality of the sin, but rather that it be forgiven by Jesus and the sinner reconciled to God through Him.