Recently I was teaching a Bible Study on 1 Corinthians at the congregation I serve and took a week to share a sermon by C.F.W Walther on the text of 1 Cor. 4:1-5 (found in “Old Standard Epistles”). This sermon was also notable that it was the installation sermon for the Rev. Dr. George Stoeckhardt. Walther rejoices that Stoeckhardt had come to the United States to serve not only this congregation, but also the St. Louis Seminary and American Lutheranism.
Walther’s theme for the whole sermon is “When is the day a minister takes up his duties a day of joy for the congregation?”
There are instantly a couple of occasions that Walther calls as times when it is not a joy to receive a pastor, and they are related to a congregation receiving a false prophet, but even worse when a congregation “deliberately takes upon itself a false prophet after its own lusts. Sad to say this happens too frequently in this land of complete religious liberty.” (emphasis added)
Another joy-less occasion happens when a preacher knows all of the chief articles of the faith but doesn’t embrace all of the ministry. If he:
“desires the dignity but not the drudgery of the ‘good work’ of the office of bishop, if in this office he looks out for himself instead of caring for souls, seeking ease and good days, wealth, and the favor and honor of men, the day he enters upon his duties is no less a day of joy for the congregation, but it is likewise one of God’s visitation in wrath and bitter sorrow for all of God’s children.”
Walther goes on to describe a joyous occasion of receiving a minister of Christ, that is a servant of Christ. He also discusses the idea of the minister being a steward of the mysteries of God to which he comments:
“Two thoughts lie in also this portion; first of all, that a true preacher does not come with his own mysteries, nor with the mysteries of his phantasy or science, nor with the mysteries of his heart and imagination, but only with the mysteries of the great God as revealed in the Scriptures; in short, he comes not with human words but only with God’s Word.”
This of course contradicts much of what happens when pastors are asked to cast visions (visioneering) and have their own personal ideas about the church and what direction it needs to be taken (I never understood why “stand fast” has turned into moving towards something). Such men have abandoned the truth of God’s Word and should repent. Congregations demanding such things from their pastor also should repent, for they ask nothing less than he depart from the Word of God and trust his own imaginations.
Walther also preaches about the congregation’s solemn responsibility to hold their pastors accountable to the Word of God. As Stewards of the mysteries of God, they are to be found faithful. That is success in the ministry. Implied here is that the laity know the Word of God and love their pastor enough to approach him when he is going astray. Walther preaches:
“Yet when our text warns not to require more of a minister than that he ‘be found faithful’, the apostle thereby desires that a congregation does not require less. While faithfulness in doctrine and life is important to a minister, it is just as important that the congregation demands that of him. Woe to a congregation, when their pastor wants to be faithful in teaching God’s Word but the congregation demands that he preach publicly or privately something else than God’s pure Word! Woe to a congregation, when their pastor wishes to refute faithfully all error which is dangerous to their souls, and they demand that he be silent because they want temporal peace! Woe to a congregation when their pastor wants to reprimand faithfully all ungodly life, and they demand that he ‘speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits (Isa 30:10) just as the Jews of Isaiah’s times demanded that of the prophets! Woe to a congregation when their pastor wishes to administer that church discipline faithfully which Christ has prescribed, and they want to use only the key to loose but not to retain sins.”
Walther exhorts the congregation:
The flesh, the world, and the devil will daily tempt our pastor; oh let us all who can pray bear him daily in prayer! If his courage fails, let us try to console him so that he will take courage again! If he is weak in faith or in a necessary work, let us cheer him up! If sorrow comes upon him, let us comfort him! If he stumbles, let us with a gentle spirit help him to his feet again! If we see that he is faithful in God’s house, let him be the more dear to us for his work’s sake and hold worthy of double honor! If he joyfully precedes us on the narrow, rough, and steep way to the heavenly Jerusalem, let us follow him gladly!
This time of year can be very hard on pastors, with the added work of the ministry (added services but also often added care for souls), distance from family and friends and the general deterioration of our times. Please pray for them daily. If you are a congregation looking for a shepherd, look first for one who is faithful – and there are many good and faithful ones both serving parishes already and also ones waiting for a call because they have suffered for being faithful (CRM status).