The Two Natures of the Divine Call
The Church stands or falls on the article of justification. Ask any Lutheran about justification and it won’t be long before you’re hearing about salvation by grace through faith. But follow that question up with, “And from whence does this saving faith come?”, and that same person might look at you like a deer in the headlights. Saving faith is intimately bound up with the means of grace and our Lord’s institution of the Pastoral Office. Immediately after discussing the article of justification (AC IV), The Augsburg Confession continues in AC V by answering the question, “And from whence does this saving faith come?”
So that we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted (AC V, 1).
Notice the passive voice: was instituted. Man did not take it upon himself to institute the Office of the Holy Ministry; it is a gift from God. Like salvation, the Church is from above, a gift from God. We contribute neither to our salvation nor to bringing the Church into existence. Faith is born in us through the preaching of the Word (Romans 10:17; Acts 13:48). We are born into the Church through the waters of Holy Baptism (John 3:5; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3). Our lives in Christ are sustained by the body and blood of our Lord (John 6:50-58). The Office of the Holy Ministry, having been entrusted with the stewardship of these gifts (1 Corinthians 4:1), is essential for our salvation, for it is through Word and Sacrament that the Holy Spirit works saving faith (AC V, 2).
God not only has instituted this Office; He also calls men to serve as pastors (sorry, Nadia). We might call this the “divine nature” of the Divine Call. That God does the calling is clear enough in Matthew 9:38 where our Lord says, “Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
The Lord is the one who sends out laborers. That Jesus has in mind pastors is evident from the context, for prior to making this statement, Jesus has compassion on the crowds “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a pastor,” (Matthew 9:36). That God is the One who calls pastors into this Office is also evident in Acts 20:28, where, in giving instructions to the pastors in Ephesus, St. Paul says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
But God does not speak directly from heaven when calling pastors to serve in the Pastoral Office. God is fond of working through means, even as He brings forgiveness, life and salvation through the lowly means of water, words, bread, and wine, and even as He gives us our daily bread by means of our neighbor, who has been called to serve us according to his or her vocation.
So it is with the Divine Call: God does not call pastors to serve His Church directly from heaven, but works through the means of the Church to place men into this sacred Office. This is where the “human nature” of the Divine Call comes in. The human side of the Call is evident in Titus 1:5, where St. Paul instructs Titus to “appoint elders in every town,” (“elder” or “presbyter” is used here to refer to the Office of the Holy Ministry).
The Christian faith is an incarnational faith. We rightly speak of the divine and human natures of Christ, the Scriptures, His Church, and the Divine Call. So also do the Sacraments have heavenly and physical aspects. To overemphasize or deny either nature leaves us with all sorts of Christological, Biblical, Ecclesiological, and Sacramental errors, such as Arianism and Docetism; fundamentalism and secularism; moralism and mysticism; rationalism and pietism.
We do well to remember both the human and divine aspects of the Divine Call. On the one hand, there’s the divine nature of the Call. This is a doctrine of supreme comfort and gives all glory to God. In his comments on Galatians 1:1—2, Luther says:
This doctrine has as its purpose that every minister of the Word of God should be sure of his calling. In the sight of both God and man he should boldly glory that he preaches the Gospel as one who has been called and sent. Thus the king’s emissary boasts and glories that he does not come as a private person but as the emissary of the king… To glory this way in not vain but necessary; for he does not glory in himself but in the king who has sent him and whose authority he seeks to have honored and elevated (AE 26:16).
Thus the comfort of this doctrine is evident. When you hear the Gospel, you hear Christ Himself (Luke 10:16). Sermons aren’t motivational or inspirational speeches. They are the living proclamation of the Gospel, the Absolving Voice of Jesus, so that there can be absolutely no doubt about God’s love for you. To boast in Christ’s work through the Office of the Holy Ministry is anything but vain. Indeed, it is a holy boast.
By keeping the divine aspect of the call in mind, pastors and congregations don’t need to worry so much about the call process. Yes, it can be a very anxious time for all parties involved, but rest assured that the Lord is at work to send laborers into His harvest. Selfish motives will always be at work, from both a pastoral and congregational perspective. Will congregations search for a faithful pastor, or do they want someone who will do their bidding? Will pastors make call decisions for godly reasons or selfish ones? Try as we may to suppress our sinful motives, we cannot rid ourselves of these entirely.
Comfort is found in the fact that it is a divine call. Even when we “interfere”, we know that God will work in spite of us to accomplish His good purposes (cf. Gen 50:20, Romans 8:28). We live in daily contrition and repentance and God raises us up to new life.
There was a time when the divine aspect of the call was over-emphasized to the detriment of the human. This is typified by the “casting lots” approach to calling pastors (or, in the case of the seminaries, that old joke about throwing darts at a map). While we know we cannot thwart God, we ought not put Him to the test, either. And, when we consider the human aspect of the divine call, I would suggest this method is less than prudent. A call is in many ways like a marriage, and marriages have the best chance of success where the couple’s values and worldview are compatible.
You would think that basic theological compatibility would be a given when it comes to pastors and congregations of the same synod, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. In the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, there are deep divisions over matters of doctrine and practice, which is why SET and PIF forms are necessary (a SET is a Self-Evaluation Tool and a PIF is a Personal Inventory Form, both of which are documents in which pastors are to spell out where they stand on a variety of theological matters). There was a time when, if a congregation were to call an LCMS pastor, there was no question what his doctrine and practice would look like.
Today, we seem to have swung to the opposite end of the pendulum. Not many congregations cast lots these days before calling a pastor, and gone are the days when pastors accepted calls without first gathering a great deal of information from the congregation regarding compensation, the congregation’s history, attendance, and preferred practices. Where pastors and congregations pore over SETs and PIFs, schedule interview after interview, and even have pastors preach “tryout sermons”, it seems we have put way too much emphasis on the human side of the call process. Where pastors are looking for “promotions” and congregations are concerned above all with a pastor’s personality or to find a man who will sacrifice fidelity in the name of “love”, we trifle with God. As Luther said, “A curse on a love that is observed at the expense of the doctrine of faith, to which everything must yield – love, an apostle, an angel from heaven, etc.!”(AE 27:38).
There is also a very real danger of enthusiasm in the call process. It is exceedingly dangerous to look for “signs from God” as to whether extend a call (from a congregational perspective) or to accept one (from a pastor’s perspective). God does not give us signs apart from the Sacraments, nor does He speak to us apart from His Word. As Luther says, “Whatever is praised as from the Spirit—without the Word and Sacraments—is the devil himself,” (Smalcald Articles III:VIII, 10). A faithless generation seeks after signs, and we dare not put the Lord our God to the test. All we need to hear from God has already been said in His Word (Heb 1:1—2; 2 Timothy 3:16—17). You might expect St. Peter, who was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, who heard the very voice of God the Father from heaven, to say, “Go thou and seek likewise.” But he doesn’t. Instead, he says, “We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention,” (2Pe 1:19).
Instead of looking for signs from heaven, congregations ought to look for a faithful pastor. From a pastor’s perspective, vocational considerations are primary: where can I best put the gifts God has given me to use? Where can I best provide for my family’s spiritual, emotional, and yes, even financial, needs? Common sense also plays a role here: after all, God has given us our reason and all our senses, and still takes care of them (Small Catechism, Creed: I). As we noted earlier, the presence of sin (from the human side) can complicate the call process, which makes it impossible for pastors and congregations to make decisions for purely godly reasons. Thus, we live in daily contrition and repentance and trust in the work of the Holy Spirit. God always accomplishes His purposes, whether it’s through us or in spite of us.