After six installments dealing with spiritual headship in the home, we now turn to the subject of the same in the church. And in a very fitting way this brings us full circle, back to the first two articles in this series and especially Article # 2 entitled “Jesus is Lord.”
These three words certainly sum up spiritual headship in the church. At this point, I could just say “Amen” and end it here. Jesus is Lord. He is the head of the church… period! And yet, the church’s sovereign head, Christ the King, has given authority to His church and called men in the church to lead and guide it in His Word, in His will and in His ways… all to His glory.
Who are these men? Some we know as pastors… the shepherds of God’s flock. Men who have been called and ordained to be stewards of the mysteries of God… to preach the Word, God’s Word, and administer the Sacraments according to our Lord’s bidding. These men also exercise the Office of the Keys on behalf of the church, joyfully declaring to the penitent the full and complete forgiveness of sins that is ours in Christ Jesus, but also sharing with the unrepentant that their sins are still bound to them as long as they do not repent.
Pastors are called to be “watchmen” … to be ever vigilant in looking out for anyone and anything that would seek to do harm to the flock entrusted to their care… to look out for that which would cause commotion and instill panic and fear among the sheep… scatter and divide them… or kill them spiritually.
Of course, a watchman is of no benefit if he cannot recognize danger. And this requires him to be very astute and perceptive. Danger is rarely obvious. It is, rather, subtle and well disguised, oftentimes clothed in what appears to be harmless and even beneficial.
And too, looking out for danger is one thing, acting upon it is another. A watchman does no good if in standing his post he only spots an intruder. He must sound the alarm and do whatever he can to prevent that which is dangerous from even getting close to God’s people.
In all of these things, ministers of the Word do not act on their own or with their own authority. They have none. It is all by the authority vested in them, given to them, by the Lord of the Church, our Savior, Christ Jesus. The pastoral office is a sacred calling… a sacred responsibility… a sacred trust. And thanks be to God that there are many faithful pastors who see it just that way and who humbly seek to carry out their divine vocation to the best of their ability with true love, mercy, patience and longsuffering, as well as with great intensity, tenacity and fervor given to them by God the Holy Spirit. We know and take great comfort that the flock is precious to the Lord our God. Christ the Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep and yet there are those who are serving as under-shepherds who are derelict in their duty, putting the sheep in great spiritual danger and peril. I am not saying that they do this deliberately or consciously, but the effect is still the same.
There are those who have the title of “pastor” but do not act as true shepherds, opting instead to take on such roles as chief executive officers, performers, production managers and marketing directors. And, I might add, dressing the part. I ought to know, I once was “a suit” when I served in hospital administration. Interestingly enough, in that role, I like to think that I was making a difference, but the truth of the matter is, I was not involved in the day-to-day caring of the sick and injured – those who were hurting in body, soul and mind.
There are so-called pastors out there who are not zealous for the Lord. Not really… because to be the same means being zealous for God’s Word and His immutable will and ways. It means being zealous for the one true Christian faith in both doctrine and practice.
There are those pastors who are not passionate about seeing to the needs of God’s people. Not really… because what matters most to them are numbers… or keeping things on an “even keel”… to not “rock the boat” or “stir the pot” even though it is called for and many times desperately needed. For them, it would mean too much work, aggravation, suffering and maybe a downturn in their popularity.
In my very first year of ministry, I found myself in the position of having to put two of my members under Christian discipline. To make it even more “interesting,” they were both officers of the congregation and the preceding pastor, who retired, did little or nothing about the situation. I had no doubt about what I needed to do, but the way to go about it was something I wanted to discuss with some seasoned brothers in the ministry. Thankfully, I received some valuable assistance from one of our seminary professors at Concordia, Fort Wayne. This included words of caution, care and encouragement. I then called my circuit counselor who was also a retired pastor living in the area. I told him the situation, what I planned to do and then asked for his advice. There was silence on the other end and then he said “Mark, Mark, I was a pastor for some 34 years (or whatever the number) and in all that time, I never had to put anyone under Christian discipline.” Wow. How does that work? I honestly do not remember anything he said after that. I was too much in shock!
The words of the Apostle Paul to a fellow pastor in Christ, Timothy, keep ringing in my ears. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:2-5
With God’s Word in mind, we will end the topic for now. Just so you know where I am heading from here… more needs to be said about pastors and spiritual headship in the church. From there, we will move on to the role of the laity and especially laymen in regard to the topic at hand. Until then, may the Lord continue to bless you and keep you in His care.
The Rev. Mark H. Hein
Pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church