Dr. Martin Luther of blessed and holy memory writes in his Galatians lectures saying, “The call, therefore, is not to be despised. For it is not sufficient if a man has the Word and the pure doctrine. Hs must also have the assurance of his call, and whoever enters without this assurance enters only in order to kill and destroy (John 10:10). For God never prospers the work of those who are not called. Even if they teach something good and useful, it does not edify” (Luther’s Works 26.19-20). One of the issues I would like to talk about in this little article is the reality that a pastor is called, not to a secular community, but to a specific holy community of sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd, Jesus the Christ. A man is not called into the Office of the Holy Ministry in order to serve a city like Houston, Tomball, Texas, or St. Louis Missouri. Rather he is called to serve Zion Lutheran Church in Tomball, Texas, or any other LCMS congregation in which the Gospel is purely preached and the sacraments are administered in accordance with the Gospel. The pastor is called by The Holy Spirit through the congregation to feed the sheep gathered there. He is not called by a town, city, or region, to be a spiritual figure in a secular environment.
The above Luther quote asserts the words of Jesus in John 10 that say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (JOhn 10:10 ESV). Jesus then continued preaching to His disciples saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:11-16 ESV). Jesus preaches and teaches that He is the Good Shepherd, or the Right and Correct Shepherd, the only Shepherd that sinners need for their salvation. Jesus is the only One that lays down His life in order that those who are dying may live forever. Jesus lays down His life, not under any compulsion, but rather Jesus is driven solely by His love and compassion toward lost sinners, sheep who need to be fed and nourished unto eternal life. The work that Jesus does is His specific vocation. Jesus came to redeem or rescues lost and condemned sinners from sin, death, and the power of the devil. How? BY laying down His life on the cross in the stead of all fallen mankind. Jesus didn’t walk outside of His vocation, as the devil tempted Him to do as recorded in Matthew 4 that says, “Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’” (Matthew 4:5-6 ESV). The devil left out the little words from Psalm 91 that say, “to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11 ESV). The devil tempted Jesus to kill Himself outside of His death on the cross. He tempted Jesus to abandon the Vocation that His Father placed Him in from all eternity. Jesus was not called to die falling from the top of the temple, but called to be lifted up on the cross in order that sinful man may have life and have it to the fullest. If Jesus ran to where He was not called to go, then He would have walked according to the devil’s will, rather than The Path His Father gave to Him. Jesus was called to die on the cursed tree of the cross and redeem all sinful man from the curse of the law and that is exactly what Jesus did. If Jesus had left that vocation for the sake of another calling, then salvation would not have been won and man would still be left under the wrath of the Father and the terror of the devil. Let us thank our Lord Jesus that He remained faithful to His Vocation and in this we have forgiveness, life, and salvation according to His death and resurrection.
Jesus purchased and won salvation for all on the cross, and now He sends out His called and ordained pastors in order to distribute the gifts of the cross. As Jesus called St. Peter in John 21 saying, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17 ESV). Jesus called Peter to feed His sheep by preaching the Gospel and distributing the sacraments. Jesus continues to call men like Peter, James, John, and Paul still today through His Bride the Church. He calls men into the Office of the Holy Ministry to do one thing, to feed sheep. The Pastor feeds the sheep by rightly dividing the Word of Truth in the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, by baptizing, by absolving repentant sinners, and by distributing the Body and Blood of Jesus in the sacrament of the altar. The Pastor is called by God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through the means of the local congregation, in order to distribute the gifts of the cross in the means of grace. He is called to feed Jesus’ sheep in a specific location. When the pastor walks in this God-given vocation, then the ministry is blessed because it is not the sinful man at work, but Jesus Himself working through the man. This is the confidence of the work of the ministry, not a specific personality, but rather the call of Jesus. Luther writes further about the call in his Galatians lectures saying, “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 our 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” (Luther’s Works 26.18-19). Like Jesus, if a pastor walks outside of His Called Vocation as the overseer of the specific souls of a specific congregation, then the pastor is not doing the work of God, but of the devil. When the pastor walks according to the devil’s temptation, then he abandons the sheep and leaves them vulnerable to the attacks of the devilish wolves. The pastor who walks outside of his vocation does nothing more than the work of the devil’s kingdom. Similar to the quote from Mr. Branson at the beginning of this article, the pastor is not called to care for his entire community, but rather is called to care for the sheep of a specific congregation. If the pastor tries to save his entire community, then he will never care for the sheep entrusted to him. He will partially care for all and allow the devil to slip in and do his damage.
When the pastor tries to serve too many people, his ability to care for his flock suffers. The devil is always active in tormenting Jesus’ sheep; therefore, the pastor must always be active in proclaiming the only thing that destroys the devil; the Gospel. The pastor is not called to convert a whole town, or even a congregation. No. The pastor is called to preach the Gospel purely and distribute the sacraments in accordance with the Gospel. The pastor is called to forgive the sins of those who repent and to withhold forgiveness from those that do not repent in order that he may hopefully bring them into a state of repentance in order that they may hear rightly the words of Holy Absolution. The pastor is called to preach the Word in order to forgive sins, overcome the devil, and keep the saints of Christ in the mercy of Jesus as they approach death. This is a task that is exhausting and an immense burden. This is the heavy task of the ministry. If any man says he is called to do more than this, or called to do something in the place of the Work of the Ministry, then he is not called by Christ to do so, but rather is tempted by the devil to walk an unholy path. The man that says he has a different way of doing the ministry, or has a call that is different than the one publicly given by Jesus through HIs Bride the Church, then this man is not following Christ, but the wicked foe of old. This is a man that cannot be trusted, but rather should be avoided at all costs. The rightly called pastor know that He is not called to a town or city, but rather is called to feed the sheep of a specific flock. He is called to tend to the burdens of Jesus’ Sheep. He is called to be a faithful sheepdog where Jesus commands him to go. The pastor is called to take care of the people that call him. If he decides to take up a task without a call, then it is not the voice of Jesus he follows, but the voice of the deceiver.
Let us take care then to cling faithfully to the call from our Lord Jesus the Christ. Let us not run where He has not sent us to go. Listen to the man who is rightly called and trust that he is sent there to you by Jesus Himself to care for you specifically. Trust that Jesus sends you a man to be your spiritual father and care for all your needs of body and soul. Let us pray that Jesus continues to send faithful laborers into the harvest to tend to the burdens and cares of all the sheep that Jesus calls to Himself.