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.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.

Comments

Pastors Are Not To Subject God’s People To “Their Laws and To The Works Ordained By Them,” But To God’s Word Alone — 3 Comments

  1. “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.”

    Is this to say that nothing helpful to church ministry has been learned since the Book of Concord was compiled? Should pastors ignore knowledge gained since the Reformation in disciplines like Bible archaeology, counseling psychology, cultural studies, etc.? Is it not appropriate for a pastor to share his own insights?

    Pastors I know have more than Bibles and a Book of Concord in their libraries. What is meant by “new knowledge”? New knowledge about what?

  2. @Carl H #1: Pastors I know have more than Bibles and a Book of Concord in their libraries. What is meant by “new knowledge”? New knowledge about what?

    Within the context of the paragraph from which the quoted sentence was taken, the phrase, “new knowledge” would seem to mean new and different revelations replacing or revising the “truth according to the Word and the church’s confession of faith” and “what the church already has accepted to be true.”

    The phrase does not appear to refer to other information, e.g., Bible archaeology, counseling psychology, cultural studies, etc.,” which may support church ministry in teaching that “truth according to the Word and the church’s confession of faith” and “what the church already has accepted to be true.”

  3. Pastors are also administrators and rulers of that carnal , temporal , earthly government that Apology VII and VIII calls the “Holy Catholic Church”.

    Father Chemnitz understood this. This is why he could order the women in his congretation to show up for the Holy Supper dressed in simple black with no jewelwry. Imagine the hewn cry if a pastor ruled in such a fashion today. He also instituted a mandatory common liturgy in what he headed that was roughly equivalent to a synod.

    If the doctrine of the Church is understood through the Law and Gospel lense in the form of Two Kingdoms as found in Apology VII and VIII, there would be alot more clarity on things such as liturgy and doctrine and the place of the Law in the visible church.

    Instead, amazingly, modern Lutherans reach for the article on “Ecclesiastical Power” to define the Church. I suppose this is because it seems to fit better in the american context of the separation of church and state.

    That is a real pity!

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