The Apostle Paul instructs the young pastor Timothy to “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience” (I Tim. 1:18-19) and to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” (II Tim. 3:14) while enduring suffering (II Tim. 4:5). Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (II Tim. 3:12).
Any encouragement to not wage the good warfare is harmful both to pastors-in-training and to the congregations they will serve. Yet, it is not uncommon that seminary students and vicars are steered to go against God’s Word, the Lutheran Confessions, and their consciences instead of standing up for what is right and true.
Sometimes, seminary students are told to go along with whatever bad practices are taking place in their field placement congregations. Vicars likewise are often instructed to “submit” to their supervisors and participate in whatever unscriptural practices takes place. Man-centered worship? Open communion? Women lectors? Grape juice for Communion? Just shut up and go along with it or you may find yourself removed from the pastoral ministry program. Cooperate and graduate. Vicars are often additionally pressured to consecrate the Sacrament which is not given by God for them to do (which we confess – see AC XIV).
Such preparation of men for the Office of the Ministry is nothing more than encouraging them to be faithless to the Word of God in the interest of self-preservation. It encourages these men to bend to any resistance to the Word of God, whether it comes from their seminary professors, vicarage supervisors, district presidents, or later on from church councils or ladies’ groups. It forms pastors that serve their own appetites rather than the Church of God, leading to children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine. Upon placement in a congregation, they are then frequently further commended to make no changes for at least two years, until such a time the young pastor has built up some rapport with the congregation.
Most of the time, if not always, I’m sure this type of advice is well-intentioned. Those who give the advice know how divided we are as a church body. They know how little unity exists in the truth and they don’t want pastors-in-training getting burned before they’re even in the parish. Cooperate and graduate, then work on doing what is right.
But the end result of such advice should not be surprising. What kind of formation happens when future pastors are encouraged to be unfaithful? From start to finish, many of our future pastors are told to go against God’s Word, our Confessions, and their consciences to the point that their consciences risk becoming seared. There is danger that they become so accustomed to bending to pressure that they will never stand up for God’s Word in any situation.
A conscience becomes seared from continually doing what it knows to be wrong, to the point that the ability to discern between right and wrong is lost and there is great danger of making shipwreck of their faith (I Tim. 1:19). This is the last thing future pastors should be encouraged to do.
Instead, we should be encouraging future pastors to be faithful to the Word of God regardless of the cost. If the seminary throws you out because you won’t bend the knee to Baal, so what? If your vicarage supervisor fails you because you won’t be a waterless cloud swept along by winds, what then? If you don’t get a call because you won’t abandon yourself for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error, you are better off.
No pastor or pastor-in-training should be encouraged to have any participation in anything that is against God’s clear Word. Patient and gentle teaching does not mean that othopraxy is held hostage to the understanding of people who do not want to understand. Bearing with our brothers’ weaknesses does not mean taking part in the sins of others.
From the start, pastors-in-training should be encouraged to be bold in their witness of the faith. Certainly this does not mean disrespect towards authority and more often than not it means only private discussion with those authorities over the matters at hand, but under no circumstances should we be encouraging them to go against God’s Word and their consciences or to participate in any sinful practices. We want to train pastors who are prepared to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict” (Titus 1:10). We want to train pastors who will be lovers of what is true and good, not bending to pressure to avoid conflict and thus acting as lovers of self and money (II Tim. 3:2).
We need to stop preparing rudderless ships that are blown about by every wind of doctrine and by every desire of their congregations. We need pastors with good consciences who are anchored in the Word of Truth and are willing to die for it rather than give it up.
“A good conscience makes a quiet, clear, confident, courageous, and manly soul. And that is exactly what you need for the Holy Office.” – Wilhelm Loehe