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“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
“Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (I Corinthians 4:1f).
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses” (I Timothy 5:17-19).
Christ established the Office of the Ministry in the Church and for the Church, His Bride, “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish”(Ephesians 5:26f). Christ’s ultimate purpose in establishing the Office is to serve as His voice, hands, and feet in order “that [His Bride] should be holy and without blemish.” We know and acknowledge of course that only “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7), and thus it is Christ’s accomplished work in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension which did the heavy lifting. Even so, in a sense not wholly separated from John the Baptist’s role at Jesus’ Baptism “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), the pastor is placed in the Office to carry out his role through which Christ’s Bride is “sanctif[ied] (set apart) and cleanse[d] … with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church … holy and without blemish.”
On account of this critical end result of having a “glorious church”which is “holy and without blemish,” Jesus’ warning to “beware of false prophets … in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15) is of paramount importance to the Church. This warning comes directly on the heels of His exhortation regarding the two ways of life which are distinguished by the narrow gate and narrow way – versus the wide gate and wide way. The difference between the two He describes respectively as the “few who find it,” versus the “many who go in by it” (7:13f). On account of this vast difference, and the damning nature of getting it wrong, when Scripture speaks of pastors “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God,” it further qualifies this office when it adds, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (I Corinthians 4:1f).
Faithful pastors, then, are essential to the Triune God’s work on earth, not so much because He needs them on His part, but because His pilgrims and sojourners on earth need the services provided through“the elders who rule well … especially those who labor in word and doctrine” (I Timothy 5:17). Why? Because the Triune God has bound His Church to His rightly proclaimed Word as the means by which He delivers pilgrims and sojourners out of their sin into eternal life with Him. This essential correlation between God, pastors, people, and the Word is so important that St. Paul sets forth two admonitions in the next two verses which are given as a safeguard to prevent wrongful mistreatment of God’s instruments. “For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,”and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.”(I Timothy 5:17-19).
First, it is most important to God that pastors be paid a livable wage in order that they can carry out their “labors in Word and doctrine”without being hindered with temporal concerns which the hearers are able to alleviate through their combined firstfruits giving. After all, it is to the hearer’s temporal and eternal benefit that their pastor be unhindered in his God-given vocation. Second, because of the nature of their office being a divine institution, and because of the importance of their work for the sake of the Church and the world, no one is to“receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.” Why? The rules of evidence require at least that many witnesses to establish guilt for any sin or iniquity (Deuteronomy 19:15), and in the case of pastors this is doubly important because they are Christ’s instruments given to the Church as gifts “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:11ff).
Scripture is clear, the agenda of the devil – the father of lies – is to destroy and obscure the glory of Christ and the salvation of the Christian. Because this is true, there is no office which is more under attack from the father of lies than the office of pastor – for the one who is placed into this office is given the public authority of the Keys, which opens and closes “the narrow gate” and administers the means for believers to remain in “the narrow way.”
For this reason, the LCMS has always (at least on paper) held to the “accepted practice” in the Church, which lists three reasons – and no other – for the Church, working as God’s instrument, to publicly remove a pastor from his office. These reasons are: 1) teaching false doctrine (Titus 1:9); 2) offensive conduct (I Timothy 3:7); and 3) willful neglect of official duties (I Timothy 2:2 & I Corinthians 4:1f). Deposal of a pastor for any other reason is to remove what God has put in place through rightly ordered means, and is thus an offense to Christ and intolerable to His Bride, the Church. Much more from Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions regarding this topic of unbiblical removal of pastors may be found on the ACELC website, but suffice it to say that the Synod’s historical record in upholding this divine office, especially over the past couple generations, is sad, shameful, and in serious need of review by the Church.
The writer to the Hebrews gives us sound advice in this matter regarding the treating of pastors according to God’ intention: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Pastor Bruce G. Ley
Documents Chairman, ACELC