Office of the Ministry: What Is It Really?
Text – Romans 10:5-17
5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, i“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
St. Paul takes that a step further in his letter to Corinth:
4 Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court.[a] In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. I Cor. 4:1-4.
Those who know me well know I have a nickname for us Pastors – it is Weird Collar Wearer. But you know, once folk outside the Church see my weird collar, they know what I do. The now sainted Professor Marquart of the Fort Wayne Seminary, at whose feet I sat and learned the finest points of theology and to whom I am forever grateful once said, in his simple but complex Australian/Estonian accent;
“Ah . . . Gentlemen – if you have the johb, weah the uniform.”
I have always taken that bit of advice! On June 15th, 1986, I was Ordained as a Minister of the Gospel in the LCMS. Over 31 years and experiences ago, and yet, it seems like last week.
So today I’d like to answer, best I know how, the question:
The Holy Ministry: What Is It REALLY?
One of the more ridiculous notions fed to the Church in recent decades is this one-liner – “Every man a minister.” Wrongo! There are ONLY called and ordained Ministers, who hold the Divine Office Christ established when He called His Apostles, and in turn, when the Pastors were ordained they were likewise told to continue ordaining the right men, as St. Paul told Timothy.
Our beloved Confessions, which we celebrate as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his theses on the Wittenburg Church door, have this to say about the Holy Ministry – first in the Augsburg Confession, under the title Order in the Church – short, sweet and to the point! –
“Our Churches teach that on one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.” AC, Article XIV
It should be noted that in our Lutheran confession, a rightly ordered call can be both ordination, and/or a call to a congregation. One can only be ordained once, while one may receive and take more than one “call.”
And more from the Apology under Ordination:
But if Ordination is understood as carrying out the Ministry of the Word, then we are willing to call ordination a Sacrament. For the Ministry of the Word has God’s command, and has glorious promises, “The Gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Likewise “So shall My Word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose” (Is. 55:11).
If Ordination is understood in this way, neither will we refuse to call the laying on of hands a Sacrament. For the Church has the command to appoint Ministers, which should be most pleasing to us, because we know that God approves of this Ministry and is present in the Ministry that God will preach and work through men and those who have been chosen by men. It is helpful, as far as it can be done, to honor the Ministry of the Word with every kind of praise against fanatical people. (Apology 184-5:11-12)
Part of the work of the Ministry proper can and should be a shared matter, such as evangelism, Altar Guild, Ladies Guild, Men’s groups, Sunday School, etc. But all of those are done under the direct supervision of the called Pastor. They are, in the end – his responsibility – no one else’s.
Ordination is the sacramental gift conferred by the Church through the Holy Spirit, by Christ’s command, when a man receives his first Call. Thereafter – he is forever ordained, and at a new call is only installed – it is not a re-ordination. Ordination is a one time event. Retirement does not change that, and one can, as I am doing, come back out of retirement and take a Call.
When a Pastor is called to shepherd a flock, he takes a public vow to preach and teach according to the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions. He is to administer the Blessed Sacraments. He is to visit and care for the sick and infirmed, or “shut-ins,” Make home visitation a priority. I always set out for yearly visits – but in several of my congregations I could make all the yearly visits in a couple of months. He is to evangelize in a “proper” sense – for his flock to the public, and to others that visit or express interest. He is to counsel those wishing to celebrate Holy Matrimony, and counsel couples both prior and, should the need arise, afterward. Not the least of matters, he is to pray for his flock constantly, but also for the very best possible construction on every situation and everyone, and to actively practice the same compassion Christ did. His family must be in order. It’s a long list of matters to which we vow to commit ourselves. And none of it is easy.
The old joke about Pastor’s only working one day a week is a joke, and almost blasphemy against the Office Christ established. I am sure that if Ervin or Earl or whoever handles recordings, checks, they will find my sermon last week of 1702 words was approximately 17 minutes long. The unwritten standard is one hour preparation for each minute preached. I will tell you I have never spent just 17 hours on a sermon. I spend half that alone on Saturdays and into the wee hours of Sunday morning re-writing it to get it just right before I ever step into the pulpit, and even then, when I am preaching I can see 4-5 things I still could have done better. I am my own worst critic on my sermons.
It is what it is.
Likewise – I practice the Divine Liturgy all the way through a number of times during the week. I have done all of them in the hymnal and am comfortable with any of them and will gladly chant – it is the most traditional Lutheran format dating back to Luther and the Confessions, and back even to the First Century! It is the language of the WHOLE Church down through the ages, and as Chesterton once said – the Church is the only “Democracy of the dead” – that is – the saints who have gone before us all have a say in how we worship!
All of that and even more is in your Pastor’s mind and a part of his Call as he goes about his business for you, the Church – the Saints in this place you call St. John’s, Wharton, as he was called to do. And I cannot begin to explain all the mental efforts we go through each week thinking of how we can best give you, not ourselves, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified as He called us Pastors to do.
You ask us for faithfulness to our vows – and in all my years I know of only one or two isolated case where that didn’t happen. But there is the other half of the equation, and that is to remind you, the saints in this place, of your obligations – forgotten in far too many congregations! It is put well in the Call documents – ask the Elders to see them if you doubt me. And they are, as follows:
Congregational Vows – Why do we ask the below questions of our congregations? Because they are a necessary commitment on the part of the congregation: “Will you honor and uphold your pastor as he serves Christ in all his God-pleasing responsibilities? Will you aid him as he cares for his family? Will you be diligent to “put the best construction on everything,” recognizing that “love covers a multitude of sins”? If so, then answer: We will, with the help of God.” (Call Document)
Let me say this, personally – There are only three questions there, and they are as great a responsibility upon all of you as are ALL of a Pastor’s upon him! We Pastors stand under double culpability/possible damnation for our failures, and I know I take that eternally serious, as I am absolutely certain Pastor Lutjens does (again – I love his emphasis on the Small Catechism!!!). This Ministry is not ours to mold and shape, it is given by Christ through the Holy Spirit for both the Pastor and the flock. Those vows before God are just that – Divine Vows. Consider them and consider “best construction” when you are tempted to speak in less than complimentary terms of your Pastor. We will never know until it is too late – but . . . Jesus will know, be sure of that!
A little article I read the last week or ten days ago sums that up perfectly. It asks: “Who is your favorite Pastor?” It was very interesting, because everybody has a personal opinion as to their favorite, and how he did this or that. But the article came to the only Biblical answer possible – “The Pastor called to serve your congregation is the Pastor God considers your favorite Pastor, and he should be to you, too!”
Hmmmm. Isn’t that interesting? But Who put your Pastor here in your midst? The Lord Christ. So if Jesus thinks your Pastor is His favorite for St. John’s, then he must be yours, too, right?
I say these many things about the Holy Ministry for two reasons. One – it is easy to be tempted by the devil, who will put all the wrong thoughts in you minds to kill the ministry of a Pastor. Two – my every impression thus far is that you do love and cherish your Pastor, and I don’t want you to forget. I can say some things to y’all he probably wouldn’t say for fear of tooting his own horn. But even I need such reminders, because until I have a call I am under the spiritual care of Pastor Schueler in Rosenberg. Personally – I love the man. But I would never dream of uttering a negative word to any other member about his labors, and I would ask the Lord to rid me of the devil if I ever did begin to wonder. The Office of the Holy Ministry is HOW we and our children and our brothers and sisters in the household of faith receive the Holy Gospel. Think about that!
And pray for him always. He, like most all of us weird collar wearers, feel a bit uncomfortable asking for the prayers of our flock, because we are busy praying for all of them – you!
And remember – we must preach the Law. We don’t like doing so, because we ourselves flinch from the accusations of the Law as much as does anyone else, but we are commanded to do so, so that all of us may see our sins. Then – we follow the Law with the soul-satisfying and healing news of the Gospel, of the complete forgiveness of all our sins and membership in the Kingdom forever. Finally we assist all with the exhortations of the Law in a very positive sense to assist us in godly and right living.
It’s what we do, and how we do it. I could probably go on until Tuesday afternoon, but there you have the gist of it all. That is why St. Paul blessed the feet of those who carry the Gospel to you – not to elevate us weird collar wearers, but to elevate all of you to the Heavenly reaches forever.
Pray for us . . . please?