Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We find in our readings for today, in the Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 23.16-29) and also the gospel, warnings against false teachers or false prophets. How does our Lord describe them?
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves." The prophet Jeremiah also warned against those who prophesy lies in the name of God.
They have the appearance of men of God, but their motives are not holy or pure. Their goal is to deceive you, or lead you astray. So, they are agents of the devil. We must be careful because many people say, "This is the Word of God" about what is not taught in the Bible or is against what the Bible says.
In our Lutheran Church, we have a rule about this. Here is the Book of Concord, the collection of documents that say what we as Lutherans believe, written first against the errors of the Roman Catholic church, also against the errors of Baptists and other sects. In the leading document, the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV, "Ecclesiastical government", reads:
"As for the ecclesiastical government, it isis taught that no one should publicly teach or preach in church or administer the sacraments without a regular call."
What is a legitimate call? We believe that the Lord instituted the pastoral office or the office of preaching and administering the sacraments. He sent His apostles to the whole world with this mission, to proclaim the gospel, to baptize and teach people everything the Lord has commanded. The apostles received the authority to train others to continue the apostolic work until today. So there is a ministry of the Word and the sacraments and no one can enter this ministry without a legitimate call.
The Augsburg Confession was written to explain to Charles V, Emperor of all Europe, what is the Lutheran Church. The Roman church said that Lutherans were not of the Christian church, were rebels without legitimate authorities. Anyone could believe whatever they want, anyone could preach whatever they want. In the Roman church all authority is centered in the Pope, who has the same authority as Christ. The Pope grants authority to the bishops and bishops to parish priests. Without the Pope, there is no authority, according to the Roman church.
The Augsburg Confession says, yes, there is authority among us. We are not enthusiasts. At that time, the sects were called"enthusiasts" because the word "enthusiasm" is derived from the Greek, "en theos," God in me. We do not need external authority. I have a thought that God wants me to preach. God spoke to me in a dream. What the prophet Jeremiah about this?
"Do not listen to the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you fade away; they speak a vision of their heart, not from the mouth of the Lord ... I have heard what the prophets said, who prophesy lies in my name, saying, I dreamed, I dreamed. How long will this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their heart? "
In the sixteenth century they had to deal with these false prophets, today we have those who say they have revelations directly from God that are not in the Scriptures. But in our church, a thought of the heart, a dream at night, is not enough to authorize someone to preach in the name of God. The theme of the Reformation was "Scripture alone". That is, Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit is the source of our doctrine, it alone is the infallible rule of faith. Our interpretation of Scripture is not our own interpretation, but the interpretation of the apostolic church. Christ gave to the apostles and disciples of the apostles the authority to preach the Word of God on His behalf. However the apostolic mission is also the mission of the whole church, that is, the communion of all believers. The whole church has the authority and responsibility to train, examine and send pastors to care for the flock of God through preaching and the sacraments. This process of preparation, review and management is a legitimate call.
A candidate for the pastor office is to be prepared, usually for three or four years as the Lord prepared his apostles for more or less three years. True, this process is time consuming and costly. Therefore, today, there are those who have said this process is too much for small congregations. Why not assign a deacon to preach the Word and administer the sacraments in these cases?
The word "deacon" is derived from a Greek word. We find this word in the New Testament, also three words for the pastoral office. Ποιμήν, one who cares for sheep, translates into Spanish as pastor. Ἐπίσκοπος means "supervisor" translates into Spanish as "bishop." Πρεσβύτερος often translated as "elder" also means a minister of the Word and the sacraments. In the context of the New Testament, all are equal, all are the same ministry.
Διάκονος word means in the broad sense, "servant" or "helper". A deacon or deaconess is a member of the congregation who has much understanding of doctrine and helps the pastor in various ways. The difference between the pastor and a deacon is the preparation and approval of the church to preach the Word and administer the sacraments. A pastor should be ready to leave his parents, friends and community to preach the Word and the sacraments anywhere necessary, but the deacon or deaconess can serve in their own community.
There are requirements for pastors and deacons as found in the first letter to Timothy, chapter 3. As to pastors or bishops, it reads:
"Faithful saying: If a man desires the episcopate, he desires a good work. It is therefore appropriate that the bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, hospitable, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; who rules his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For he who can not govern his house, how will he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being puffed up he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have good testimony of outsiders, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. "
The requirements for deacons are almost equal:
"Likewise deacons must be honest, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. And these also first be proved; and so minister, if they are blameless. The women must be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Deacons should be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their homes. For those who serve well earn for themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus."
The requiremens for deacons lack only "apt to teach" for the purpose of the diaconate is to help the pastor, not replace the pastor. A deacon may help the pastor with the distribution of bread and wine, but can not bless the elements. In an emergency, a deacon can read a sermon aloud written by the pastor. But the deacon can not exercise the same pastoral authority.
This is a precaution against false prophets. In addition to the approval of the church, we the pastor to commit to preach the Word of God full time. This practice accords with our confessions, also the Word of God. Therefore, we must reject the idea that it is enough for a deacon to preach to a small congregation.
In this last week the national assemblyof the Synod of Missouri in the US, corrected a mistake made 30 years ago to allow deacons to preach and administer the sacraments. This Synod sent missionaries to establish our national church, the Lutheran Church of Venezuela, in the 1950s Since its inception, the Lutheran Church of Venezuela has been in accordance with the doctrine of the Synod of Missouri, sometimes with their mistakes. In the past our church allowed deacons to preach, but not now. It is difficult to prepare pastors according to the Scriptures and our confessions, but it is necessary.
Thank God for the faithfulness of our national churches, but this is not the whole story. A pastor called and ordained is still a sinner, and sometimes the devil deceives one or another of these servants. Therefore, it is necessary for all of you to study the Bible to judge the preaching of the pastor, if it is according to the Scriptures or not.
As St. Paul says in the Epistle (Romans 8.12-17), "For all who are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ; if we suffer with him, that with him we may be glorified. "
The Holy Spirit is active in the preaching of the Word and the sacraments. So, if we remain in these things, we are guided by the Spirit.
We thank God for all his gifts: the Word, the sacraments, the Holy Spirit and the church. Above all, we give thanks for the salvation and peace that passeth all understanding. Amen.
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