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Table of Duties

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Trinity 7
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Sun, Jul 26, 2020 

Today the Table of Duties touches on the Holy Ministry.  The phrase “holy ministry” is perhaps not the best description.  The word “ministry” means the position or work of service.  We say that all the saints on earth render holy service to God and their neighbor.  We used to understood better that the word “ministry” indicates the specific work of the pastoral office.  Today many people have bought into the idea that anyone can do anything in the church, and a pastor is really no different than anyone.

A better phrase might be “the preaching office”.  It specifies one chief part of the work particular to pastors.

Scripture never settles on one name for ministers.  In some places they are called shepherds, that is, pastors.  Elsewhere, Scripture calls them preachers, or else bishops, that is, overseers.  Even the name “Father” can be drawn from some Scriptures for the men in the preaching ministry.  The name “Elder” in the Bible refers to pastors, which is different than our somewhat confused practice of calling men elders who are not pastors.

Now at this point I have to stop and talk about why I am preaching this.  It is not for me, mainly.  It would be absurd for me to preach a whole sermon at myself while you take a nap.  But I am the only one here with a call to this office, and the sermon is about the duties of this office.  Since none of you have these duties, why bother?

But I am preaching so as to benefit you as you overhear the duties given to me.  The benefits and distinctiveness of the preaching office are set in place by God on your behalf.  They are not for me only.  But it is my duty to perform my office so that the gifts may flow through the ministry to you.

So what are these benefits and distinctiveness?  Our Augsburg Confession says, “That we may obtain saving faith, the ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.  For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, that is to say, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.  Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.”

So there are wonderful, eternal blessings of grace that God gives through the preaching office.  On the other hand, if we want to ignore or reject the ministry, we ignore and reject the blessings that come through it, at exceedingly grave peril to our souls.

The Lutheran Church has also confessed in the Augsburg Confession that, “Of ecclesiastical order it is taught that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.”

This is the necessary distinctiveness of the pastoral ministry.  Only the properly called minister should be the preacher and administrator of the Sacraments.  That is what he is called to do.  Preach the Gospel, teach the Word, Baptize, distribute the Lord’s Supper, forgive sins both privately and publicly, and where necessary, retain sins of the unrepentant.

Maintaining the distinctiveness of the preaching office is especially necessary against those who think that everyone is a minister.  Many people think that the pastor is not really any different than any person in the church, only he does church work as his full time vocation.  But we must maintain that the call to ministry is from God.  The call bestows authority on the minister to do certain actions.  The power and permission to do these things must be from God, since they are His actions done through a man.  Not just anyone can claim the power to act in the stead and by the command of Christ.  So we do well to guard the distinctiveness of the pastoral office.

It is hard to state too much the importance of knowing who is in the ministry and who is not.  Is the man in the pulpit truly the called preacher, or not?  If someone else gets up and wants to teach the Word when they do not have a call, we should stop up our ears and refuse to listen.  But when the called man is caring for our souls, we know he is sent by God for our benefit, and that the Gospel he speaks and pours and distributes are from God, not him.  That is a very great comfort.

Now, there are exceptions, as when someone is filling in on a Sunday when the regular pastor is absent.  But even then, the distinctiveness of the pastoral office should be maintained.  Emphasis should be given to the fact that this is not happening without the preacher’s knowledge.  Or if a lay elder reads a sermon, it should be clear that it is the pastor’s sermon, not the elder’s.

So the pastor is the one sent to do the works of the ministry, and we need to be clear who that man is, who our pastor is.

But there are times when people get annoyed or angry at their pastor.  Then it becomes tempting to avoid him or sneak around behind his back.  For example, a couple is getting married, but they want another pastor do the wedding, maybe a former pastor whom they liked better.  A baby needs Baptism, so sneak another minister in to do the job.  The devil delights in such divisiveness because the real danger is to the hearers of the Gospel.  They are no longer listening because here is the forgiveness of sins, but listening because here is a man they like.  God protect us from that.

On the contrary, we should understand that the man called to be our shepherd is sent from God for us.  That is what the call means.

This is much like a marriage.  One man and one woman are joined together.  Now they should seek only from their spouse the things that belong to the marital union.  If a man goes seeking another, then he is cheating on his spouse.  In the same way, to go seeking another pastor when God has provided one for your benefit is to be unfaithful to the call and institution of Christ.

All this should not be seen as me puffing myself up.  The office is not me.  It happens to come through me, that is all.  You should not think that you need to pay attention to me because I am such a wonderful guy.  That is easy to refute.

Nor does the call give me free license to do whatever I want.  In both life and teaching, I must be purely in accord with Scripture.  If I stumble, I must repent and amend.

In the same way, if you see me committing sin, by all means call me to repentance.  Please do.  If I am not aware of a sin, I need to be informed all the more.  Of course, make sure that it is really a sin.

If my teaching goes bad, then talk to me about it.  It may be that I am mistaken about something, or perhaps you are.  We can and should work it out.  What we must not do is ignore differences in teaching, or simply begin avoiding or ignoring your pastor if you think he is wrong.  Maybe he is, but you need to verify by our doctrinal standard, which is the Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.  By these all disputes should be resolved.

Especially popular is to reject a pastor’s teaching if it does not agree with our feelings.  But I think you know well enough by now how dangerous and destructive that is.

What about the standard for the ethical life of the pastor?  These are given mainly by Saint Paul.  “A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; not a novice; holding fast the faithful Word as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”

These cannot be absolute commands, as if a pastor can never slip up on the tiniest point.  For instance, you could watch a pastor’s children like a hawk, and when they engage in some misbehavior, you pounce and cry out, “Aha!  Pastor is not having his children in subjection!”

Yet these are indeed directives from God that should be taken seriously.  For instance, no drunkard should be in the preaching office.  Also, no woman.  No man who has destroyed his marriage by adultery.  No covetous man who wants more and more because his heart is set on money, not the care of sheep.  Again, this is not to say that every pastor must be absolutely free of covetousness.  No such man exists.

People tend to go to two extremes.  A shepherd can never please some, they will find fault in nearly everything, and no matter what he does they must treat him as if he is no pastor to them.  On the other hand, some people want to so exalt the power of the Gospel that no matter how badly a pastor has disgraced himself, there is no removing him.  Sometimes this is because their favorite pastor was caught in a sin, but oh, he has such God-given gifts, he really should be a preacher, they say.

God keep us from both these extremes, and keep all pastors vigilant and faithful, and their listeners the same.  Amen.

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