Kierkegaard on Militant Pastors
Pastor Ronald Marshall
In his little book, The Gospel of Sufferings (1847), Kierkegaard also discusses pastors. They are the ones who are supposed to walk in the steps of the first followers of Christ, the apostles, as they are called in the New Testament. They are the ones who are supposed to inspire and lead the rest of us to follow Christ as the first apostles did. On them, Kierkegaard writes this: “And now an apostle! He had seen the Holy One crucified. He had seen the evil and corruption of the world disclosed when the Lord and Master was scorned — with this impression the apostle went out into the world. If you possibly can, try to imagine it any other way than that this man had to wish that this same world would treat him in the same way, that this man, disheartened and deeply troubled, would have had to blame himself if he was not persecuted, whereas he could fear only one thing, whether it still would not be too great an honor to be crucified! Try it, imagine that he who was to proclaim to the world this message about the Holy One’s being crucified as a criminal between two robbers, that this man was dressed in purple and glory, that this man possessed all the world’s goods, this man who was to proclaim a crucified one’s teaching that his kingdom was not of this world [John 18:36] — try it, if you can bear the attempt….
Or imagine that the apostolic proclamation of Christianity had quickly triumphed, as they say. Imagine that an apostle could have experienced the danger in which later generations were tried, that power and glory and dominion were offered to them — not in order to stop proclaiming Christ but in order to proclaim him. I really wonder if an apostle actually could have persuaded himself to understand this. I wonder if he would not have found it inconceivable that the Lord and Master would be treated as a criminal and the pupil, ‘who is indeed not above the teacher’ [Matthew 10:24], would attain honor and high position! I wonder if an apostle would ever have changed so much that instead of affirming a militant view of life and Christianity he would have affirmed a triumphant view?
The triumphant view assumes that on the average most people, the majority of people, are of the truth; for that very reason the possession of power and honor is a sign that one is eminently good. But the militant view teaches that the good must get the worst of it [see, for instance, John 15:18-19 and Luther’s Works 24:277; 25:177; 31:227], and therefore its servants are persecuted, insulted, treated as criminals or as fools [Luther called the pastor a vir rixorum or ‘man of strife,’ LW 2:20] — alas, and by this they are known, and for that very reason they do not wish power and honor, because that implies a false admission with regard to their view. The only person who with bold confidence can possess honor and power is the one who is convinced that on the average the human race is good” (KW 15:337-339).
So what’s up with all these American Lutheran pastors belonging to the Rotary Club or to some sort of organization like it? Why do they do that? Here’s an idea — Why not use this Kierkegaard passage to discuss this with one of them? Go on, don’t be bashful, give it a try — if you dare.