The origin of the terms chapel and chaplain in the story of Martin of Tours invites a focus on the passage in the gospel of Matthew that is said to have inspired him to act as he did.
An examination of the passage (or pericope) of Matthew 25:31-46 gives rise to a conceptualisation of chaplaincy that sees it as a role that is centred on providing loving and mindful service to human beings in a manner that
◾deeply and actively reveres both
◾Christ as shepherd, King, judge and the glorified Son of man, and
◾those they serve as having Christ present in them, and in keeping with this
◾is centred on the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
Chaplains, thus conceived, would be expected to have and constantly be seeking to develop spirituality, character and competencies related to understanding of
◾Son of Man,
◾immediate and present in those to whom they minister;
◾the presence and coming of the Kingdom of God that is represented in their ministry in terms which include and are at once
◾apocalyptic (understanding the nature of the spiritual conflict and warfare involved in the coming of the Kingdom of God), and
◾eschatological (understanding the nature of the hope and life fulfilled in the resurrection and the new heavens and the new earth);
◾the human beings they serve within the contexts of the
◾circumstances (services, industries or events),
◾spiritual, social and psychological status, and
of those to whom they minister.
Christ as ...
Before considering the ways in which Christ is presented in Matthew 25:31-46, it is important to first establish who Christ is understood to be and relate this to the role of chaplains. Whilst in times gone by such a consideration might have been thought to be unnecessary within Christian circles, as Christ would invariably have been understood to be God incarnate in accord with Biblical Christian orthodoxy, recent years have seen the inroads of variant views that would previously have been instantly recognised as deviations from or dilutions of the Biblical witness.
That Christ is God incarnate (at once fully God and fully man) is declared unambiguously in many New Testament scriptures. Churches of Christ Chaplains must therefore be people who deeply and reverently understand and embrace the reality that they represent the loving creator and redeemer to all they serve as the one who has
reconciled to himself all things,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
In addition to this, Chaplains must have a similarly deep and reverent realisation and embrace of the reality that those they serve were purposed in God before the creation of the world (cf. Ephesians 1:4).
Relevance for Chaplains
Such consideration is relevant and essential for Chaplains for at least the following reasons:
◾who a Chaplain believes Christ to be
◾defines who it is they see themselves as representing, and
◾influences how they will
◾understand what it is they are doing when they represent Him,
◾conduct themselves in representing Him, and
◾prepare themselves to represent Him;
◾what a recipient of the ministry of a Chaplain believes Christ to be
◾defines what they will see as relevant in what a Chaplain has to offer, and
◾influences how they will conduct themselves in receiving the ministry of the Chaplain; and
◾amongst those whom Chaplains will come to serve, may be those who variously
◾share the Biblical understanding of Christ to which Churches of Christ Chaplain’s are committed,
◾belong to groups that profess an allegiance to or respect for a conceptualisation of Christ that differs greatly from or is even at odds with the Biblical witness;
◾do not believe in Christ in any way;
◾are ambivalent or in opposition to Christ as they have conceived Him; or even
◾see such considerations as an irritating irrelevance.
Role of Chaplains
Arising from these considerations, Churches of Christ Chaplains must be people who, practising of the presence of God in their lives:◾help and mentor those who share a Biblical understanding of Christ to
◾draw comfort from their faith in times of need,
◾grow in their faith,
◾and share their faith with others through their practice of God's presence;
◾respectfully and reverently serve, without proselytising, contention or inappropriate intrusion, those who do not share a Biblical understanding of Christ, as ones who are nevertheless objects of His love and purpose regardless of their distance from Him;
◾give an account of their faith in Christ to those who inquire,
◾are committed to life-long learning in the development of both
◾their spirituality and
◾skills appropriate to meeting the needs of those they serve within the contexts in which they serve, and
◾maintain a living and refreshed personal relationship with God through the exercise of appropriate spiritual disciplines.
Christ as Shepherd
Matthew uses poimen (poimen), the noun for shepherd three times in his Gospel and the verb poimaino (poimaivno) once. These terms are never used literally. They draw on the metaphorical use of the shepherd as has been used in the Old Testament and its context in the Ancient Near East. Within the structure of Matthew, they are framed within the structure of a literary device known as an inclusio. Observing the use of this device enables a reader to recognise the significance of the theme of Christ as Shepherd within this Gospel.
Role of Chaplains
Given that the term Pastor and the concept of pastoral care which is central to the role of Chaplains is derived from the metaphor of the shepherd, it is important for those who are seeking to exercise a Biblically grounded exercise of this role to have a competent grasp of how this term has gained the multi-layered and rich meaning it has in the Gospel of Matthew the New Testament scriptures in general.
There are four texts which state the concept of shepherding directly and one in which it is clearly implied. From these five texts Chaplains may be seen as participating in the ministry of Christ as
◾Agents of hope,
◾Driven by compassion,
◾Anticipating the judgement on unkindness, and
◾Gathering the scattered to Christ.
Hedrick, T. J. (2007). Jesus as shepherd in the gospel of Matthew. Unpublished Doctoral (PhD), Durham University.
Christ as Son of Man
The first identification of Jesus as Son of Man in this passage is in Jesus opening words in verse 31. This reads,
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory …”
The meaning of the phrase “the Son of Man” (ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου) has been the source of much controversy over the centuries with the varying interpretations gaining prominence in different epochs and eras. In this regard, Burkett (2000) noted that this phrase plays a key role in the Christology of the gospels. Noting that most uses of this phrase occur within the Gospels, Burkett noted that in many passages, Jesus was clearly referring to Himself but that on occasions it might be inferred that he was speaking of someone other than Himself. Following and developing Burkett’s summary of the study this term, the various interpretations of the phrase may be seen as falling into one of three categories. It seems reasonable to see all three of these categories of interpretation as valid with each reflecting an aspect or dimension of the meanings that may be drawn from it in prayerful reflection. That is this phrase may be deliberately multilayered in its meaning. The three categories are that the phrase “the Son of Man” is
◾an expression of Jesus humanity with an emphasis on the His human lowliness in contrast with His divinity,
◾a title derived from Daniel 7:13 providing an emphasis on His mission as the prophesied Messiah or Christ in apocalyptic terms who is drawing humanity to the Father as the Ancient of Days, and
◾an idiom by which He was referring to Himself providing an emphasis on Himself in immediate and personal terms.
In this light the comments which may seem to allow reference to “someone other than Himself” may be seen as relating to a third-person reference to Himself as the fulfilment of the person referred to in prophecy.
Luz (1992, p.15) helpfully suggests that the expression, “the Son of Man”, functions as a common thread that is tied to other stages in the history of Jesus and is often used polemically against those who opposed Jesus. Considerable irony may be seen to have been used in some very pointed and poignant passages. For example when in Matthew
◾8.20, Jesus speaks about the homelessness of the son of the man, this is in stark contrast with He who has become the risen, exalted and coming judge of the world;
◾11:19, Jesus is judged for his association with gluttons and wine bibbers, He, the coming judge of the world is presented as being judged by those of whom He is the ultimate Judge; and
◾13:40-43, the future judgment of Jesus the son of the man generation is presented, He is one who, in the fullness of the gospel story, has shared in His humanity, the fullness of human life, death, joy and suffering and who has atoned for all for which the sons of men might be judged.
The full identification of Jesus with our humanity is beautifully illustrated in Ephesians 3:5 where the word “people” in the New International version is literally “the sons of men” (τοῖς υἱοῖς τῶν ἀνθρώπων)
Given the significance of the pericope of Matthew 25:31-46 in that
◾it sits as the final statement in the five discourses of the teachings of Jesus in this gospel and
◾it immediately precedes the narrative of Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and the giving of the great commission,
the use of the term “Son of Man” powerfully declares that the words spoken in this passage are at the same time
◾proclamations of the highest sovereign authority,
◾consistent with Jesus’ intense identification with us and
◾reminders of His passionate commitment to love, grace and mercy..
Role of Chaplains
Chaplains, therefore, as co-labourers with Christ, the Son of Man, may therefore be seen as ones who are committed to be representatives of Jesus in all three of the categories related to the Son of Man. They may therefore be seen as representatives of Jesus in His
◾humanity as the Son of Man,
◾mission as the Messiah or Christ coming to draw all humanity to the Father love of God, and
◾immediate and personal commitment to those with whom he present.
Burkett, D. (2000). The Son of Man Debate: A History and Evaluation (): Cambridge University Press
Collins, A. Y., & Collins, J. J. (2008). Messiah and Son of Man . In King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature (pp. 75-100): Eerdmans Pub Co.
John Paul II. (1987). Jesus Christ, Son of Man: April 29, 1987 – General Audience: Jesus Son and Savior: Catechesis on the Creed, part II. Retrieved 14th August, 2013, from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/alpha/data/aud19870429en.html.
Luz, U. (1992). The Son of Man in Matthew: Heavenly Judge or Human Christ. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 15(48), 3-20.
Piper, J. (2008). Why is Jesus called "Son of Man"?. Retrieved 15th August, 2013, from http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/why-is-jesus-called-son-of-man.
Vermes, G. (2003). The Present State of the Son of Man Debate. In Jesus in His Jewish Context (pp. 81-9)