Keeping Pastors accountable to their Ordination Vows – a way for Laity to show love to their pastor

“Do you promise that you will perform the duties of your office in accordance with these Confessions, and that all your preaching and teaching and your administration of the Sacraments will be in conformity with Holy Scripture and with these Confessions?” – Lutheran Service Book Agenda, Ordination and Installation Rites

A great question – asked of every LCMS pastor at their ordination and every subsequent installation. Also a great question (or in some variation) that members (especially elders) should regularly ask their pastors.

Lutherans confess that the Book of Concord teaches what the Scriptures teach, without reservation (QUIA).  That belief then fuels how Lutheran pastors conduct their ministry (preaching, teaching, and administering).  Lutheran laity owe it out of love for their pastors to hold them accountable to this truth – because the truth of Scripture (and thus the truth of the Confessions) is God’s good truth for the good of souls for whom Christ died.

If your pastor isn’t doing what he vowed in his answer of this question, you as a sheep are not being led into greener pastures but into a slaughterhouse.

This post is fresh in my mind as I heard Pastor Todd Wilken teach this past weekend on the topic of laity and the Lutheran Confessions.  The videos for that conference will be available soon.


About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


Keeping Pastors accountable to their Ordination Vows – a way for Laity to show love to their pastor — 11 Comments

  1. Good post, Pastor Scheer, and a good reminder to the laity, especially Elders, that their pastor’s vows are important for the health of the church. Every Elder should have a copy in their back pocket as a reminder of their responsibility to the pastor to be his judge when he strays away from the Lutheran Confessions. The good Dr. Walter had a sermon on sheep judging their shepherd, if someone needs some stiffening of their backbone on this topic.

    I have had such a conversation with a former pastor here in the NOW only to be told that his failure to adhere to the BOC was not needed as that book was only the words of men. So much for vows.

  2. Dear Pastor Scheer,

    Thanks for this great post on a perennial subject! We ALL need reminders about this.

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    While reading through Tim Mech’s “Pastors and Elders” (CPH, 2011) in preparation for using it with my elders here at Grace, San Mateo, I was really struck by Pastor Mech’s quote of Dr. John Kleinig’s distinction between “power” and “authority.”

    Basically, “power” is a limited commodity. I exercise my power at the expense of yours. “Authority” is an unlimited commodity. You cannot exercise “authority” unless you are under a defined authority.

    This means when an officer of my congregation or a layman disagrees with something I am teaching or preaching, I can back up what I am saying with the Book of Concord. If I can’t back it up, then I need to apologize and retract. If I can back it up with the Confessions, then “wild horses can’t move me from it.”

    I have had only a few situations like this in 34 years of ministry. The layman forcibly told me, “You better retract, or else…”, and I said to him, “If I preach/teach what you want me to say, then as I have shown you in the Book of Concord, I would be in contradiction to my ordination and installation vows. Nobody in the congregation or outside can make me do that. I am teaching what I vowed I would teach, etc.”

    I have only survived those situations, not because I have charisma, am brilliant, or am a tough guy, but because of: 1) the ordination vow, 2) because the confessions are so clear, non-ambiguous, and easily navigated, and 3) because I am careful to keep our doctrines and my own opinions distinct at all times.

    Our pastors need to know that the ordination vows and the Confessions are their friends, their ultimate defense when things get tough. Our laymen can remind them of this too!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  3. Pastor Scheer,

    My wife and I attended a 500th Anniversary speaking engagement last summer in which a CPH published pastor and author gave a presentation. I approached him before he got underway just for small talk and noticed he had a pocket edition of Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions lying on the podium. I mentioned that I had recently read the entire book, edited by Paul McCain, at which point he smiled and nodded his approval and then I took my seat.

    After lunch I raised my hand and asked him the following question:

    “In commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, do you recommend pastors teach the Lutheran Confessions to their congregations?”

    His answer:

    “No” and he shook his head for emphasis.

    I was so sure that he would say, “yes,” that I was at a loss for words and didn’t follow up with the obvious question, “Why?”

    Was it a case of “You can’t handle the truth” as Jack Nicholson bellowed out in the film, “A Few Good Men”?

    I would be curious to know the rationale behind his blunt answer. There was no attempt by him to explain his answer as any good teacher would – just… No. The untrained layman was to take his word for it and that was that. I was stunned.

  4. Sigh.

    Much is written of the yoke (Matt. 11:29). Many articles are written about out duties and devotion, as rightly should be written. I have naught against those, nor should I.

    But there is a paucity of articles that address the other side of the coin/vows – those of the flock! I won’t go into particulars, save to say that – were congregations held to the same standards, well . . .

    They are not.

  5. @jb #4

    One Pastor had the page of his installation service which listed his duties and those of the congregation framed to put near his office door.

  6. “Lutherans confess that the Book of Concord teaches what the Scriptures teach….”

    I’m a Lutheran (LCMS), but I have made no such confession. Nor in good conscience could I. I was accepted into communicant membership was granted on account of my public agreement with only the Small Catechism.

    “Lutheran laity owe it out of love for their pastors to hold them accountable….”

    Who is to teach a congregation’s laity the entire BOC and measure the sufficiency of their understanding — the same pastor that they are to hold accountable?

    “If your pastor isn’t doing what he vowed in his answer of this question, you as a sheep are not being led into greener pastures but into a slaughterhouse.”

    Don’t the consequences for the congregation depend, rather, on the nature of the particular deviation(s)? I’ve been delighted to hear the saving Gospel preached with zeal by ministers who do not even subscribe to the Lutheran confessions. Furthermore, “the Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1) no matter how my pastor behaves, and “I know whom I have believed.” (1 Tim. 1:12)

  7. Carl and LG –

    Obviously, only your own words can speak to how you were taught to know and understand the nature of the relationship between Scripture and what we confess and believe Scripture to say. I taught my flocks the proper relationship, since the Confessions are what we say we believe Scripture to say to us. Do you confess the Creeds? They are a part of the BoC.

    Carl – the Confessions (BoC) are nothing but an expansion of the Small Catechism, which is itself a part of the BoC. Of course, reading the BoC requires further learning on one’s part, but is that not the task of everyone who is committed to Christ? Yes, without question.

    LG – it is impossible for a Pastor to do what you say we do – since the BoC has more Scriptural citations than you can shake a stick at! Do you own a copy? I would encourage you get one and read it cover to cover. Then you can speak to the matter in proper fashion.

    In September of 1977 a wise old WCW handed me a copy of the BoC and told me if I wished to come over from Rome, I needed to read and know that book. That was 40 years and 5 months ago. I have gone from that humbling point through a complete college education, a full Seminary education – all while raising a family and working full-time, and almost 32 years of serving the Lord’ Church as a WCW. It was not the BoC that accomplished such dramatic results, so to speak, but that the clarity of the doctrines taught by Scripture were so clearly taught within the BoC.

    Which both of you admit you lack. Even if you wish to disagree with me, which is fine, since we WCW’s hear that all the time, at least speak on a level plane. Buy yourselves a copy – they are not expensive. Read the BoC.

    Know of what you speak. Norm has my e-mail addy if you wish to take this discussion further – of course, after you have done some serious reading!

    Pax Domini!

  8. @jb #8

    I own a Book of Concord. I have read most of it. I study the Scriptures from the Bible, not from the BOC. The Word of God teaches us everything in the BOC and more. However, you are right, the BOC doesn’t “accomplish such dramatic results,” the Holy Spirit does.

    I am not discounting the BOC, only wonder why it is more often mentioned than the Word of God.

  9. LG –

    Appreciate your response. Good on you for owning a BoC!

    I can’t speak to a quantifiable “more often.” I often reference the BoC by way of explaining a text, which is in itself a “confession” of what I believe a text is saying – that is, after all, my task in preaching and teaching. As you well know, the words of Scripture can be turned and twisted into things unrecognizable.

    Our “Confessions” are just that – “What we believe, teach and Confess FROM Scripture.” When Jesus said “Go and learn what this means” in Matthew 9:13, for instance, He is commanding them and us to come to grips with the actual meaning of Scripture, which is a far more detailed undertaking than merely saying “I believe what the Bible says.”

    Since we are charged with speaking to matters of eternal significance, it is critical to get matters right! If we are called to give witness to our faith – we need to know what we are witnessing about or speaking to without doubt.

    Sad to say, from my perspective, I see far too little emphasis on a Confessional approach. And it is not seen merely from the pulpit or Bible Study, but in the real results – diminished Liturgy and Hymnology, a sorting and blending of us Lutherans into the calvinistic mix of “evangelicalism” that will kill the Gospel if given half a chance.

    To say you believe in the Bible is all well and good, until someone asks you – “Well, what does the Bible teach?” Then, you best have your loins girded, because you will have to make a “confession.”

    Will it be the Eternal Truth . . . or just your opinion?

  10. If a pastor refuses to teach according to the confessions, why isn’t he disciplined? Until that happens, the decay will continue. If a pastor isn’t confessional by the time he is ordained, there is little hope he will become confessional.

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