(We thank Dr. Phillips, a church historian at Concordia University, Nebraska for passing this fine little collection on to us for publication. This is one of the finest services church historians do. They search the past for primary source material that will help us resolve the challenges of the present.)
Martin Luther On Pastors, False Preachers and the Call
Collected by C. Matthew Phillips
Concordia University, Nebraska
(Emphasis in bold added by collector)
Luther on Psalm 82:5, Luther’s Works [hereafter LW] 13: 64-65 (Written during 1530)
It is the duty of a citizen, if such a sneak comes to him, before he listens to him or lets him speak, to report the matter to the ruler or to the pastor whose parishioner he is. If he does not do this, he should know that he is breaking his oath and disobeying his ruler; that he is despising his pastor (whom he ought to honor), and thus acting against God; and that he is himself guilty and just as much a thief and rascal as the sneak himself. Psalm 50:16–20 says of these teachers in comers: “To the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to recite My statutes, or take My covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast My words behind you. If you see a thief [that is, a thief of souls, John 10:8], you are a friend of his; and you keep company with adulterers [that is, false believers and heretics]. You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother, you slander your own mother’s son.’ ”
If MÃ¼nzer and Carlstadt and their comrades had not been allowed to sneak and creep into other men’s houses and parishes, whither they had neither call nor command to go, this whole great calamity would not have happened.ï»¿38ï»¿ To be sure, the apostles did, at first, go into other men’s houses and preach there. But they had a command and were ordained and called and sent to preach the Gospel in all places; as Christ said (Mark 16:15): “Go into all the world and preach to all creatures.” Since then, however, no one has had this general apostolic command; but every bishop or pastor has had his definite diocese or parish. For this reason St. Peter (1 Peter 5:3) calls them ÎºÎ»Î·ÌÏÎ¿Ï…Ï‚, that is, “parts,” indicating that to each of them a part of the people has been committed, as Paul writes to Titus also (Titus 1:5). No one else, no stranger shall undertake to instruct his parishioners, either publicly or privately, without his knowledge and consent. On peril of body and soul no one should listen to such a man but should report him to his pastor or his ruler.
This rule should be so rigidly enforced that no preacher, however pious or upright, shall take it upon himself either to preach to the people of a papistic or heretical pastor, or to teach them privately, without the knowledge and consent of that pastor. For he has no command to do this, and what is not commanded should be left undone.ï»¿39ï»¿ If we want to perform the duties that are commanded, we have enough to do. It does not help their case to say that all Christians are priests. It is true that all Christians are priests, but not all are pastors. For to be a pastor one must be not only a Christian and a priest but must have an office and a field of work committed to him. This call and command make pastors and preachers. A burgher or layman may be a learned man; but this does not make him a lecturer and entitle him to teach publicly in the schools or to assume the teaching office, unless he is called to it.
I have had to say these things about the sneaks and false preachersâ€”of whom there are now all too manyâ€”in order to warn both pastors and rulers. They should exhort and command their people to be on their guard against these vagabonds and knaves and to avoid them as sure emissaries of the devil, unless they bring good evidence that they are called and commanded by God to do this work in that special place. Otherwise no one should let them in or listen to them, even if they were to preach the pure Gospel, nay, even if they were angels from heaven and all Gabriels at that! For it is God’s will that nothing be done as a result of one’s own choice or decision, but everything as a consequence of a command or a call. That is especially true of preaching, as St. Peter says (2 Peter 1:20, 21): “You should know this first: No prophecy was brought out by the will of man; but the holy men of God spoke, driven by the Holy Spirit.” Therefore Christ, too (Luke 4:41), would not let the devils speak when they cried out that He was the Son of God and told the truth; for He did not want to permit such an example of preaching without a call. Let everyone, then, remember this: If he wants to preach or teach, let him give proof of the call or command which drives and compels him to it, or else let him be silent. If he does not want to do this, then let the rulers hand the knave over to the right master, the police.ï»¿40ï»¿ That will be what he deserves; for he certainly intends to start a rebellion, or worse, among the people.
But perhaps you will say to me, “Why do you, by your books, teach throughout the world, when you are only preacher in Wittenberg?” I answer: I have never wanted to do it and do not want to do it now. I was forced and driven into this position in the first place, when I had to become Doctor of Holy Scripture against my will.ï»¿41ï»¿ Then, as a Doctor in a general free university, I began, at the command of pope and emperor, to do what such a doctor is sworn to do, expounding the Scriptures for all the world and teaching everybody. Once in this position, I have had to stay in it, and I cannot give it up or leave it yet with a good conscience, even though both pope and emperor were to put me under the ban for not doing so. For what I began as a Doctor, made and called at their command, I must truly confess to the end of my life. I cannot keep silent or cease to teach, though I would like to do so and am weary and unhappy because of the great and unendurable ingratitude of the people. And even if I were not a Doctor, I am, nevertheless, a regularly called preacher and may teach my own people with writings. If others have desired these writings of mine and have asked for them, it is my duty to accede to their request. For I have never pushed myself in or desired or asked that anyone should read these writings, but have acted just like other pious pastors and preachers. They write books and neither prevent people from reading them nor drive them to do so; thus they teach throughout the world. They do not run and sneak like these worthless, uncalled knaves into the offices of others without the knowledge and consent of the pastors; but they have a definite office and position by which they are driven and compelled.
Luther, Lectures on Genesis, LW 5: 248 (Genesis 28:17) (1530s)
In the meantime, however, we must accustom ourselves to be able to make that addition which Jacob and the angels in heaven make at this place. For the flesh fixes its eyes only on the water, on the bread, on the wine, and on the ground where Jacob slept; but the spirit must see the water, the hand, the Word of God, and God in the water. The flesh sees so keenly that it judges that the water is water and excludes God, as the Sacramentarians and the Anabaptists do. Therefore one must learn contrary to the view of the flesh that it is not a simple word and only an empty sound, but that it is the Word of the Creator of heaven and earth. Thus the imposition of hands is not a tradition of men, but God makes and ordains ministers. Nor is it the pastor who absolves you, but the mouth and hand of the minister is the mouth and hand of God.
Luther, Lectures on Isaiah, LW 17: 150 (Is 47:10)
You cannot adequately pay a good pastor who is wise in the fear of God. At the court of the prince he serves his prince in fear and humility. On the contrary, no pestilence is more pestilential than a pastor who is presumptuous and smug. He also renders the prince and the king smug and presumptuous. The prophet calls all evil prophets sorcerers and enchanters.
Luther, Commentary on Galatians (1535), LW 26:17-19
God calls in two ways, either by means or without means. Today He calls all of us into the ministry of the Word by a mediated call, that is, one that comes through means, namely, through man. But the apostles were called immediately by Christ Himself, as the prophets in the Old Testament had been called by God Himself. Afterwards the apostles called their disciples, as Paul called Timothy, Titus, etc. These men called bishops, as in Titus 1:5 ff.; and the bishops called their successors down to our own time, and so on to the end of the world. This is a mediated calling, since it is done by man. Nevertheless, it is divine.
Thus when someone is called by a prince or a magistrate or me, he has his calling through man. Since the time of the apostles this has been the usual method of calling in the world. It should not be changed; it should be exalted, on account of the sectarians, who despise it and lay claim to another calling, by which they say that the Spirit drives them to teach. But they are liars and impostors, for they are being driven by a spirit who is not good but evil. It is not lawful for me to forsake my assigned station as a preacher, to go to another city where I have no call, and to preach there.ï»¿6ï»¿ (As a doctor of divinity, of course, I could preach throughout the papacy, provided that they let me.)ï»¿7ï»¿ I have no right to do this even if I hear that false doctrine is being taught and that souls are being seduced and condemned which I could rescue from error and condemnation by my sound doctrine. But I should commit the matter to God, who in His own time will find the opportunity to call ministers lawfully and to give the Word. For He is the Lord of the harvest who will send laborers into His harvest; our task is to pray (Matt. 9:38).
Therefore we should not intrude into someone else’s harvest, as the devil does through his sectarians. With ardent zeal they claim to be saddened that men are being so miserably led astray, and to want to teach them the truth and rescue them from the devil’s clutches. Therefore even when a man seeks, with pious zeal and good intentions, to rescue with his sound doctrine those who have been led astray into error, this is still a bad example, which gives ungodly teachers an excuse to intrude themselves, after which Satan himself occupies the see. This example does a great deal of damage.
But when the prince or some other magistrate calls me, then, with firm confidence, I can boast against the devil and the enemies of the Gospel that I have been called by the command of God through the voice of a man; for the command of God comes through the mouth of the prince, and this is a genuine call. Therefore we, too, have been called by divine authorityâ€”not by Christ immediately, as the apostles were, but “through man.”
Now this doctrine of the certainty of the call is extremely necessary on account of the pernicious and demonic spirits. Every minister of the Word may boast with John the Baptist (Luke 3:2): “The Word of the Lord has come upon me.” Therefore when I preach, baptize, or administer the sacraments, I do so as one who has a command and a call. For the voice of the Lord has come to me, not in some corner, as the sectarians boast, but through the mouth of a man who is carrying out his lawful right. But if one or two citizens were to ask me to preach, I should not follow such a private call; for this would open the window to the ministers of Satan, who would follow this example and work harm, as we have said above. But when those who are in public office ask me, then I should obey.
Luther, Infiltrating and Clandestine Preachers, LW 40:385 (c.1530)
A parish pastor can claim that he possesses the office of the ministry, baptism, the sacrament, the care of souls, and is commissioned, publicly and legally. Therefore the people should go to him for these things. But the alien interlopers and plotters can make no such claim and must confess that they are strangers and graspingly seek what is not theirs. This cannot be of the Holy Spirit, but of an exasperating devil.
Luther, Concerning the Ministry, LW 40:11 (1523)
The public ministry of the Word, I hold, by which the mysteries of God are made known, ought to be established by holy ordination as the highest and greatest of the functions of the church, on which the whole power of the church depends, since the church is nothing without the Word and everything in it exists by virtue of the Word alone. But my papists do not even dream of this in their ordinations.
Luther, On the Councils and the Church, LW 41:154 (1539)
Fifth, the church is recognized externally by the fact that it consecrates or calls ministers, or has offices that it is to administer. There must be bishops, pastors, or preachers, who publicly and privately give, administer, and use the aforementioned four things or holy possessions in behalf of and in the name of the church, or rather by reason of their institution by Christ, as St. Paul states in Ephesians 4 [:8], “He received gifts among men …”ï»¿398ï»¿â€”his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some teachers and governors, etc. The people as a whole cannot do these things, but must entrust or have them entrusted to one person. Otherwise, what would happen if everyone wanted to speak or administer, and no one wanted to give way to the other? It must be entrusted to one person, and he alone should be allowed to preach, to baptize, to absolve, and to administer the sacraments. The others should be content with this arrangement and agree to it. Wherever you see this done, be assured that God’s people, the holy Christian people, are present.
Luther, Second Sunday after Easterâ€”Misercordias Sunday (Second Sermon), Luther’s House Postils, vol. 2, p. 81 (1534)
Whoever wishes to be a pastor must be committed with his whole heart to seek only the glory of God and the welfare of his fellowman. If, however, he does not solely seek God’s honor and the good of his fellowman, but by his office seeks for personal gain or his neighbor’s hurt, you may be sure that he will not stay the course. Either he will shamefully flee and leave the little flock, or he will be silent and leave the sheep without pasture, that is, bereft and deprived of the Word. These are the hirelings who preach for their own aggrandizement; they are greedy and are never satisfied with what God daily and benevolently provides for sustenance. We preachers really require no more from our calling than food or raiment. Those who want more are hirelings who have no love for the flock; a devout pastor, on the other hand, gives up everything for the flock, even body and life.
Luther, Eighth Sunday after Trinity (First Sermon), Luther’s House Postils, vol. 2, p 337 (1532)
Many indeed blurt out that they no longer require pastors and preachers, since they can read the Word for themselves at home. But the fact is that they don’t do it. Or if they read it at home, the Word is not as productive, nor as dynamic, as it is when publicly proclaimed through the mouth of the preacher whom God has called and ordained to do such preaching for them.