Pastors Are Not To Subject God’s People To “Their Laws and To The Works Ordained By Them,” But To God’s Word Alone

Pastors are called to be servants of the flock. The congregation elects pastors. The congregation calls pastors. The congregation ordains pastors. Since this is the case, it certainly sounds as if the pastor is accountable to the will of the congregation, or is he?

Let it be said that the pastor is obviously accountable to the church by the standards laid forth by the Apostle Paul in the Pastoral Epistles. If he fails morally speaking or teaches false doctrine, the church certainly has the authority to remove him. Because this is true, is the pastor solely accountable to parishioners? In other words, where is the location of the pastor’s control center for his ministry? Does the pastor’s control center rest in the opinions and suggestions of the congregation or himself? Actually, the answer is, “neither.”

800px-Russian_ISS_Flight_Control_RoomEugene Klug referencing Martin Luther states, “God’s Word is, therefore, the control center in a pastor’s ministry. Pastors are not to subject God’s people to ‘their laws and to the works ordained by them,’ but to God’s Word alone, and thus ‘be ruled by faith’ in that Word of God.” [1] In other words, the pastor is called to publicly preach, teach and administer the sacraments according to the Word of God on behalf of the congregation and for the congregation in accordance to the church’s constitution and its statement of faith. What this means is that there will be times where the pastor may find himself between a rock and hard place. The congregation may want to have their ears tickled and the pastor may be tempted to do so because of subtle pressures that he feels from the parish. He may be tempted to think, “I am called to serve; I better not upset the hand that feeds me.” However, the pastor can never forget that he is called not solely to be a servant of the congregation but he has also been called to be a servant to the Word of God. In other words, he is called to the Word of God and in light of the church’s confession he is called to ministers to the congregation. Klug, referencing Luther, goes on to say, “Ideally ministers of the Gospel are such who ‘with the grace received from Thee (God) further administer it to others’ and who ‘by expounding the Scriptures labor to bring out the bread of the Word of God, as the farmer brings bread out of the earth by tilling the soil.'”[2]

503227_opinion_page_of_newspaperThe pastor’s control center is not the popular opinions of the parish and it is certainly not the popular trends found within North American Christendom, but his control center is the Word as expressed in the Lutheran Confessions. Pastors stand underneath the scriptures and are formed by the Word. Thus, as pastors proclaim and teach the Scriptures, this truth will penetrate the ears, hearts, worldviews, and epistemological systems of our hearers. The Scriptures will challenge hearers’ behaviors, feelings, worldview and epistemologies because God is actually present and exercising power in His Word in oral, written, and sacramental forms.

On the other hand, parishioners need to be reminded that they continually come to Divine Service to receive the Word and Sacrament as well as to be reformed by the Word. If the church merely gathers together for social or fellowship reasons and the Word is not present, the church is no different than a common rotary club. In a striking statement William Willimon once stated, “’Community,’ untested by any criterion other than our need to huddle in groups, can be demonic.”[3] Therefore, according to Willimon we should not be surprised when, “…modern congregations may express surprise and even offense at hearing the ancient biblical story.”[4] Willimon goes on to share in his book, “Shaped by the Bible,” that it is not the job of a pastor to apologize for the scriptures but to simply be faithful proclaimers of the Word. Appealing to Jesus he states, “The story caused offense when it was first preached in places like Nazareth; we should not be surprised that it continues to offend. In fact, we preachers ought to be troubled when our handling of the Bible never offends!”[5]

In summary, pastors are not to lessen the worldview conflicts, alleviate the epistemological crisis, and/or tickle the ears of the flock, as many pastors in our day and age do. Rather, the calling is to be faithful expositors of truth according to the Word and the church’s confession of faith while at the same time graciously standing by the side of the congregation as they experience small and large worldview conflicts, as well as small and large epistemological crises. Furthermore, the pastor is not to introduce any new knowledge to the congregation, but knowledge that is printed in the Word, historically adopted by the church, and presented in the official statement of faith. Pastors are simply called to be a vessel to proclaim to the Church what the church already has accepted to be true even though at times they may have forgotten it.

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[1] Eugene Klug, Church and Ministry: The Role of Church, Pastor, and People from Luther to Walther (Concordia Publishing House, 1993), 188.

[2] Ibid.

[3] William Willimon, Shaped By The Bible (Abingdon Press, 1991), 85.

[4] Willimon, 63.

[5] Ibid.

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