I’ve said it before, I say it again. Few writers are as tough on us clergy as Soren Kierkegaard, that melancholy Dane. However, few writers better remind me of the high calling to which we clergy have been summoned.
Kierkegaard, here in his Journals, notes that in his day clergy had moved from being powerful people in their societies to “being controlled” by the surrounding culture. The result was a desperate attempt on the part of the clergy to be useful, to get a hearing, to appear to be relevant to whatever it was that the culture wanted. Thus was Christianity “watered down,” according to Kierkegaard.
The good news is that the situation now calls for clergy who are as tough on ourselves as the gospel is tough on humanity. Lacking the former crutches and accolades of the culture, we now must get our courage strictly from the gospel itself. We clergy must begin by applying the gospel to ourselves, before we apply it to others.
“Even then,” says Kierkegaard, “things may go badly”:
As long as the clergy were exalted, sacrosanct in the eyes of men, Christianity
continued to be preached in all its severity. For even if the clergy did
not take it too strictly, people dared not argue with the clergy, and they could
quite well lay on the burden and dare to be severe.
But gradually, as the nimbus faded away, the clergy got into the position of themselves being controlled. So there was nothing to do but to water down
Christianity. And so they continued to water it down till in the end they
achieved perfect conformity with an ordinary worldly run of ideas – which were
proclaimed as Christianity. That is more or less Protestantism as it is now.
The good thing is that it is not longer possible to be severe to others
if one is not so towards oneself. Only someone who is really strict with
himself can dare nowadays to proclaim Christianity in its severity, and even
then things may go badly for him.
Still, all things being considered, being a pastor is a high vocation, a great way to expend a life. The way of Christ is narrow and demanding, but it is also a great gift, even “in its severity.”
These are my thoughts, thinking with Kierkegaard looking over my shoulder, as I begin this week of ministry.
 The Journals of Kierkegaard, Ed. Alexander Dru, Harper Torchbooks, 1958, 205.