Just a week ago the annual meetings of the Council of the Clergy of the General Church concluded. One of the topics discussed was church government. As we read in New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine, the priesthood–we call them ministers, pastors and bishops–are responsible for governing the church.

But what is a priest? What is our job description? One way of getting a handle on this is to look at the uses of a shepherd. (“Pastor” actually means “shepherd”.) Shepherds help their flocks by providing protection from wild animals. They guide the sheep in and out of the sheepfold. They lead them to good sources of water. And they ensure that their flock has plenty of good food.

Pastors are commanded by the Lord to do the same, only on a spiritual level. Pastors ensure order in the church by means of Divine Law. We administer external worship–Sunday morning gatherings, Holy Supper, Baptisms, Weddings and the like. We teach people the truths of faith from the Word. And then we are meant to use those truths to lead people to live a life of good, and so to lead them to the Lord. Note that teaching truths is not enough, if we are not also leading to the good of life.

In both Ezekiel and in John we read contrasts between good shepherds on the one hand, and evil shepherds and thieves on the other. What marks an “evil shepherd”? Evil pastors abuse their power. They work for the sake of their own gain and honor, rather than for the sake of the salvation of souls. And they separate the truths they teach from the life of good.

Now, the one truly good shepherd is the Lord Himself. He alone teaches, and He alone leads. But He has provided for there to be a priesthood that exists for the sake of facilitating the learning of His truths and the living of His goodness. A good shepherd, like the Lord, gathers the scattered. He works to help heal the spiritually sick and wounded. Very importantly, a good shepherd “enters by the door”, meaning a good pastor preaches not from his own intelligence and prudence, but from his understanding and perception of the Lord’s Word. And then a good pastor joins truth to good and so leads his flock to the Lord.

So what can you do with this information? Two things. First, now that you know more of what the Lord has taught us in His Word about the purpose of the priesthood, you can hold us accountable. What’s more, only by having a clear idea of what the role of the pastors is can you know how best to partner with them to help form the Lord’s church. The priesthood is not the church; we are only servants. You as the church have a responsibility to approach the Lord, learn from His Word, and live a life of charity. We clergy cannot do that for you. But be confident that we are all dedicated to helping you do that for yourselves.

[The above is a summary of the message I delivered at the Bryn Athyn Cathedral on Sunday, March 7th, 2010, at 11:00 a.m. Below are the full readings and a transcript of the complete sermon. You can also listen to it online at NewChurchAudio.org.]

Ezekiel 34.1-16:

1 The word of Jehovah came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord Jehovih: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of Jehovah: 8 As I live, declares the Lord Jehovih, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of Jehovah: 10 Thus says the Lord Jehovih, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.

11 “For thus says the Lord Jehovih: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord Jehovih. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

John 10.1-16:

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 311-319:

311. There are two things which ought to be in order with men, namely, the things which are of heaven, and the things which are of the world. The things which are of heaven are called ecclesiastical, and those which are of the world are called civil.

312. Order cannot be maintained in the world without governors, who are to observe all things which are done according to order, and which are done contrary to order; and who are to reward those who live according to order, and punish those who live contrary to order. If this be not done, the human race will perish; for the will to command others, and to possess the goods of others, from heredity is connate with everyone, whence proceed enmities, envyings, hatreds, revenges, deceits, cruelties, and many other evils. Wherefore, unless they were kept under restraint by the laws, and by rewards suited to their loves, which are honors and gains for those who do goods; and by punishments contrary to those loves, which are the loss of honors, of possessions, and of life, for those who do evils; the human race would perish.

313. There must therefore be governors to keep the assemblages of men in order, who should be skilled in the law, wise, and who fear God. There must also be order among the governors, lest anyone, from caprice or ignorance, should permit evils which are contrary to order, and thereby destroy it. This is guarded against when there are superior and inferior governors, among whom there is subordination.

314. Governors over those things with men which relate to heaven, or over ecclesiastical affairs, are called priests, and their office is called the priesthood. But governors over those things with men which relate to the world, or over civil affairs, are called magistrates, and their chief, where such a form of government prevails, is called king.

315. With respect to the priests, they ought to teach men the way to heaven, and also to lead them; they ought to teach them according to the doctrine of their church from the Word, and to lead them to live according to it. Priests who teach truths, and thereby lead to the good of life, and so to the Lord, are good shepherds of the sheep; but they who teach and do not lead to the good of life, and so to the Lord, are evil shepherds.

316. Priests ought not to claim to themselves any power over the souls of men, because they do not know in what state the interiors of a man are; still less ought they to claim the power of opening and shutting heaven, since that power belongs to the Lord alone.

317. Dignity and honor ought to be paid to priests on account of the holy things which they administer; but they who are wise give the honor to the Lord, from whom the holy things are, and not to themselves; but they who are not wise attribute the honor to themselves; these take it away from the Lord. They who attribute honor to themselves, on account of the holy things which they administer, prefer honor and gain to the salvation of souls, which they ought to provide for; but they who give the honor to the Lord, and not to themselves, prefer the salvation of souls to honor and gain. The honor of any employment is not in the person, but is adjoined to him according to the dignity of the thing which he administers; and what is adjoined does not belong to the person himself, and is also separated from him with the employment. All personal honor is the honor of wisdom and the fear of the Lord.

318. Priests ought to teach the people, and to lead them by truths to the good of life, but still they ought to compel no one, since no one can be compelled to believe contrary to what he thinks from his heart to be true. He who believes otherwise than the priest, and makes no disturbance, ought to be left in peace; but he who makes disturbance, ought to be separated; for this also is of order, for the sake of which the priesthood is established.

319. As priests are appointed to administer those things which relate to the Divine law and worship, so kings and magistrates are appointed to administer those things which relate to civil law and judgment.

Rev. Glenn “Mac” Frazier:

Just a week ago we concluded the annual meeting of the Council of the Clergy of the General Church of the New Jerusalem. Ministers, pastors, bishops from all over the world were gathered here in Bryn Athyn. People from Kenya, Togo, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, South Africa, Korea, Brazil, Canada, all over the United States, other places, were all here for a week, some of them longer, to discuss the matters of the church.

One of the topics discussed was the government of the church. As we read in the New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine (n. 311-319), the priesthood was established as the governors of the Church. But what does that mean?

One of the terms for a priest is “pastor”. Specifically, within the General Church, we designate pastors with a blue stole. We don’t often use these particular terms this strictly, but technically a “minister” has a white stole, a “pastor” has a blue stole, and a “bishop” has a red stole.

But that’s our particular use of these terms. More generally, the Writings talk about pastors, and the word pastor means “shepherd”. And there’s a reason for this. The Lord Himself over and over again is compared to a shepherd. And He is described as a shepherd perhaps most famously in the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd….”

In our reading from Ezekiel (34:1-16), He declared that He was the Good Shepherd and that He would personally shepherd His people. Again, in the reading from John (10:1-16), he said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” And we can look at what a shepherd is and what it means and from that gain a better understanding of the role of the priesthood in the Church.

Now, this is a doctrine that does not get preached very often. If you’re going into theological school, it’s something that you probably spend a good bit of time looking at because it pertains directly to your life. But because of this it doesn’t get preached from the pulpit very often. We hear it, maybe, when we’re witnessing an ordination.

But it’s important for the entire Church to understand what the role of the priesthood is, because the Church as a whole has to make decisions. And without understanding the role of the priesthood and what it really is—rather than what, perhaps, we’ve come to expect it to be—we can’t make good decisions.

Now, the Lord as a shepherd is represented by King David. David himself was both shepherd and king. The Lord has a priestly component and a kingly component. The shepherdly part is that priestly component.

What do shepherds do for their sheep? Just from common knowledge, but also from descriptions in the Old and New Testament, shepherds (as one way of dividing it up) provide four uses to the sheep.

First of all, a shepherd protects the flock. Animals will try to steal sheep, and it’s the shepherd’s responsibility to fight off those animals and to separate them from the flock. Two animals that come up several times in the Old Testament are lions and bears. And these are symbols of evils and falsities, in particular the falsity of faith separate from charity that will attack a church or a flock. And so it is a responsibility of the priesthood to protect the Church, just as it is a responsibility of a shepherd to protect the flock.

A second thing that shepherds do is they guide the sheep. Typically in the ancient Near East, multiple flocks would be kept in a sheepfold or a pen that would often be attached to a house, and a shepherd would go in through the gate and call out his particular flock and then lead them out into the hills. And when sheep get lost, it’s the shepherd’s job to bring those sheep back together and to maintain that flock. So that’s the second use that a shepherd performs, is he guides the sheep from place to place and where they need to go.

The third thing that a shepherd does—as part of that guiding—is to make certain that the sheep find good water. And that they have enough water. And that it’s a clean supply so that they can drink from it.

The fourth thing that a shepherd provides is food—pasture, green grass—and he makes certain that the sheep have enough to eat and that they eat the right things.

So on a natural level, this is what a shepherd does, and on the spiritual level, this is what a pastor is meant to be doing, too.

We talked a little bit about how a pastor is meant to protect the flock. We also read about the idea of separating a disturbance from the church. A lot could be said about that. A lot has been studied along those lines. It has been debated. It’s not the focus of today’s sermon, but it’s something that’s definitely worth spending some time talking about.

In terms of guiding, there are a couple of different forms of leadership that the priesthood provides. One of them, on a very external level: the priesthood has been established to lead in worship. We have numerous teachings about this. In a wedding, it’s supposed to be a member of the priesthood that blesses the couple. We’re the ones who are meant to lead in Holy Supper, just as we will lead Holy Supper today after this service. Holy Supper is something that is lead by the priesthood. The priesthood is responsible for baptisms. And for leading worship in general. That’s one form of leadership.

Within worship, one of the primary functions of the priesthood is to teach—to instruct. Specifically, to teach truths from the Word.

The final part of the responsibility of the priesthood is vitally important. Let me go back very briefly to this idea of the Lord having a kingly part and a priestly part.

The part of the Lord who is King is responsible for truth. The Lord as Divine Truth is like a king. He’s about rules and laws and judgments. The Lord as Priest is about Divine Love. He’s about the life of good, and about healing the broken?hearted.

The possibly-most-important part of the whole priestly role is to take those truths and to then use them to lead to good. A minister can stand and give you information—data, truth—for hours and hours, can load you up with more truth than you know what to do with, and then send you out the door. But unless there is a connection to good, he’s not really doing his job.

This is the central truth of our Church: that truth must be wed to good. Faith and charity cannot be separated and survive. And so it is not just enough for us to preach the truth, but to preach the truth in a way that you can use in your life. That you can connect to good in a way that then leads you to the Lord.

Now it’s not the priesthood that leads you to the Lord. And, in fact, it’s not really the priesthood that teaches you the truth.

Yes, it sounds like I just contradicted everything that’s been said up to this point. On a deeper level, the Lord alone teaches, and the Lord alone leads. But He has established a priesthood for the sake of facilitating that.

So for instance, if I have a good idea and I preach my good ideas to you, that’s not the Lord teaching, that’s me teaching. That would be somebody not entering through the door to the sheepfold to call the sheep out, but sneaking over the fence to try to steal the sheep. When the Lord said that the good shepherd “enters through the door”, he was saying that a good pastor (among other things) teaches the truths of the Word. We all have opinions, theories, ideas, education, that’re useful to one another. But the role of the priesthood isn’t just to give out good ideas, but to take what the Lord says in His Word and to try to connect it for people and to share it with people and to teach that to people.

And yes, we bring in other ideas from other fields. And we point to things in nature as examples. But in the end, it’s about the Lord’s Word and showing people the Lord in His Word.

We read in Ezekiel and then again in John comparisons of evil shepherds with good shepherds. And there are other similar comparisons throughout the Word. The entire book of Jeremiah is full of things about bad shepherds.

What does an evil shepherd do? An evil shepherd abuses their power. They use the sheep for their own gain. And they work for themselves.

We have a number of doctrines that tell us that a priest can be just as effective as a good person or a bad person. The truth he preaches is still the truth, but he does it for different reasons. But a truly good shepherd is concerned primarily with the salvation of souls, not with all of the honor and gain that might come with being an “important” person.

Evil shepherds also will separate truth from good. It is easy to stand and appear spiritually wealthy by showing off great amounts of spiritual wealth (which is truth), and to come off as “learned”, when the most important thing is to give somebody at least one truth that they can live. And to connect that to good. There are a lot of churches that you can go to where you will hear things from the Word, but then be told “and it doesn’t matter what you do. Just accept this teaching in your mind and you’ll be OK.” And that’s separating truth from good.

So it’s one of the responsibilities of the priesthood to say not only “You need to know this information,” but also, “You have to change your life to live according to it.” And so part of the priest’s job is to give uncomfortable information. To say “here’s the truth, and here’s a path towards following it.”

Now with that providing of the truth and instruction, there has to be leadership. This is why people can come to a priest when they are struggling with a temptation or a decision or a situation and say, “I heard you say on Sunday that I can’t look at people that way. That I can’t treat people that way, that I can’t speak that way. How can I stop?” And then it’s the priest’s responsibility to sit with them, to pray with them, to show them how to repent. To encourage them. To lead them as a shepherd.

Good shepherds—the Lord said that He would gather the scattered, that He would heal the sick and the wounded. These are important parts of what it means to be a good shepherd. He said that good shepherds “enter by the door”, which means they teach from the Word. And the good shepherd joins together truth and good. And the good shepherd brings the church together into one flock.

Now this does not mean that all teaching and leadership and all related circumstances are purely the matters of the priesthood. We have other teachings that talk about the role of parents and of other teachers in instructing people. We have teachings about heads of households teaching their servants. Not many of us have servants today, but it stands as an example of the fact that teaching and leading are not solely the realm of the priesthood.

But they are the particular realm of the priesthood. It’s what we are meant to train for. It is what we are meant to spend every day of our lives doing.

So this is a lot of information. And I would be a bad shepherd if I just gave you information and then walked away. Why are we hearing a sermon on the Doctrine of the Priesthood today? Most of you are not in the priesthood. Most of you have no plans on joining the priesthood.

It’s because you have to understand what the role of the priesthood is within the context of the church. We priests are not the church; you are the church. And we are servants of the church. And for us to be able to work together, we have to understand one another’s roles.

And Sunday after Sunday after Sunday you hear sermons about the life of charity, about repentance, about the Ten Commandments, about marriage. All the things that really have concrete meaning in your lives. But as a church you also make decisions. And in order to make decisions as a church, you have to understand the role of the priesthood.

So here’s what you can do with this information.

First of all, you can hold us accountable to it. You now know what the Lord has commanded us to do. Make sure we do it.

What’s more now that you know the role of the priesthood—or have been reminded of it—that gives you the ability to cooperate with us. Because the purpose of the church is not the purpose of the priesthood.

If the shepherd’s job is to teach truth, and to lead to good, the church’s job is to go to the Word and learn truth, and to do good. As individuals, and as a spiritual community.

The priesthood can’t do these things for you. No minister can “regenerate” for you, repent for you. A minister’s prayer is not going to change you as much as your own prayer will. But we are dedicated to helping you live the life of charity and approach the Lord in His Word. Working in cooperation together, we together can become more and more the Lord’s Church.