There has been much rejoicing this past week. The NFL got its real referees back! If you weren’t aware, or don’t care about football (gasp!), the replacement referees were struggling terribly. There were missed calls, botched calls, and contradicting calls. None probably greater than the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back from last Monday night’s game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled from the pocket and threw to the corner of the end zone as the clock expired. Seattle receiver Golden Tate shoved Green Bay defender Sam Shields out of the way, and then wrestled with Green Bay’s M. D. Jennings for possession of the ball. It was ruled on the field as a touchdown and after a lengthy review, referee Wayne Elliott came out from under the hood and announced “the ruling on the field stands” and Seattle’s Century Link Field erupted in celebration.
However, it was utterly obvious that the pass was intercepted. NFL fans, especially those of the “cheesehead” kind, were outraged. Combined with the numerous shortcomings of the officiating crews from other games around the league, people were at wits end. “That’s not how the game is to be played!” “It’s ruing the league!” “We deserve better!” Players and coaches were unequivocal. Many “tweeted” their grievances. Many simply spoke out about them at post game conferences. Everyone wanted the “real” refs back!
Interestingly enough, only 48 hours after the botched call, it was announced that a deal had been reached and the “real” refs were put back to work. Fans were so appreciative of the referees return that before Thursday night’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns, they stood and applauded the officials as the seven referees tipped their caps to the fans. (Also interesting is that the league wanted to make sure a solid officiating crew would work the game so they picked a veteran crew of referees with a combined 70 seasons of NFL experience.)
I find this to be utterly fascinating. People desire the real thing. And it wasn’t just the NFL players and coaches, but people across the country were weighing in. From commentators to politicians, even President Obama gave a sharp criticism of the botched call. It seems people instinctively know there is something about having the real thing, about having competent, well versed and well equipped people at the helm. At least for sports, that is.
Then again, even though I know basic CPR, and have even had to use it twice, I know that doesn’t make me a surgeon. And though I do get the mail from my mailbox every day, it doesn’t make me a mailman. And just because I can run a calculator doesn’t qualify me to prepare your taxes. It’s an interesting standard. People recognize it. They see the need for it. They want it. People value expertise. They want proficiency. They need proper service—NFL referees included.
I have written much about the value of vocations. But my point here is a bit more directed than just the affirmation of the service that various vocations provide.
Even though they were collegiate or world league referees, the replacement refs still didn’t measure up. Their ability to handle the games, know all the rules and the procedures, maintain order, and give a sense of authority was simply not there. In one case, it prompted NFL coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots to run out and physically grab one official to ask for clarity about another game ending uncertain call. (That was a definite “no no” on Belichick’s part. He received a $50,000 fine by the NFL for touching the referee.)
What’s my point with all of this? Since October is pastor appreciation month, I thought I might make a small observation. Over the last number of decades there has been the movement among many churches to remove and replace what has been considered an unnecessary divide between the clergy and the laity. The thought is that because the people of this world are so desperately in need of the Gospel (and yes, I absolutely agree they are!), we need to rid ourselves of just having the select few well trained, well equipped, and duly qualified people to serve as pastors and missionaries.
As a result, since all Christians know Jesus and know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, why shouldn’t all Christians be “ministers” and “missionaries.” Subsequently, many practice that “everyone is a minister” and hold that “everyone is a missionary” After all, they say, what’s really the difference between a pastor and people?
Perhaps the NFL replacement referees helped us see the difference. The care of souls (being a pastor) is far more detailed and demanding than simply sharing the faith. I absolutely 100% agree that every Christian can and should share their faith in the midst of their various vocations. In fact, I wrote a book about it! But that does not thereby make everyone a minister (pastor) and everyone a missionary, not as they have been biblically defined, traditionally understood, and historically taught. Nor would simply knowing Jesus automatically make one qualified for the job or cause them to know the vastness and the burdens of that office.
There is intricate spiritual diagnosis and detailed care that must be tended to by pastors. Sins perpetrated and sins suffered must be lovingly and patiently fleshed out, and then brought to the cross of Christ. There are significant maladies, miseries, and misbeliefs, that need adequate, informed, and compassionate law/Gospel application. Life is complicated. Sinners are complicated. Being a pastor is complicated.
The mission of the church (and pastors) goes far beyond simply getting the message of the Gospel out. Once the Gospel message is out, there is great and profound spiritual care that needs to be administered to those who will continue to suffer from the effects of sin (you and me included). Yes, being a disciple of Jesus means freedom from sin in Christ, but not freedom from being a sinner. (At least, not this side of eternity.) Nor does it mean freedom from living under the curse of sin and the afflictions of Satan.
This is why pastors have been authorized, equipped, called, ordained, and sent—yes, to seek and save the lost—but also to shepherd God’s people, to meticulously administer law and Gospel, to give a real and raw word of hope and forgiveness, to baptize and to commune. In the words of Jesus, to “feed my sheep.”
This is not a slight against all those who desperately want others to know Jesus and to receive the forgiveness of sins. I want that too! And yes, of course, the priesthood of all believers does play a part in that. Rather, this is simply an appeal for the Holy Christian Church to recognize what the sports world so openly did this past week. Replacements for the real thing are not the real thing.
As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.