Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Pastoral Office and the Lutheran Blogosphere

Originally published on May 1, 2007 at

Ok, let's just admit the problem.

When you were a kid and the garbage man drove by in his garbage truck, you wanted to be a garbage man.

Can you imagine being a fireman? They drive the cool truck around and most of the day they hang out with the boys playing cards and taking turns cooking in the kitchen.

Or see the cool plane in the sky? Man it would be awesome to fly one.

So you are older now. You have three cubicle walls you face everyday, maybe 3.5 if you are lucky. Or you are working on an assembly line somewhere. Or you see this patient or that client about some issue that they have, that probably isn't so serious anyway.

Some time in the last five years you finally woke up from the beer induced stupor of your college years and realized that you are baptized. You started planning your early/late church attendance around the communion schedule. You managed to get your sorry carcass to confession. Then you found another church that offers communion at every divine service. You finally read the Book of Concord and have built a small library of theological books. The 12 years of Lutheran school, no longer seems so Lutheran anymore. And every morning on the way to work you say to yourself, "I wish I was a pastor. I wish I could baptize. I wish I could preach. I wish I could put our Lord's Body and Blood into the mouths of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I wish I could absolve. I wish I could commend the dying."

And in truth, you are the same kid, sitting on the front porch wanting to be a garbage man.... Only looking at the big truck and not noticing the dirty work that goes into filling it.

A former Lutheran pastor once told me: "Most times, I preach the sermon that I need to hear."

I have just done the same.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Meet Eric and Polly Rapp: 'Hey, Preacher Man!'

Hey, preacher man, give me the Gospel,
It brings salvation to those who believe!
Hey, preacher man, give me the Gospel,
Tell me I'm a sinner and Christ died for me!

I don't want to know what you did last week on your summer vacation,
What you saw and where you went or how much it cost!
Instead won't you tell me all the words that give me salvation,
How He lived and how He died for me on the cross!

Hey, preacher man, give me the Gospel,
Give me the good news of God's only Son!
Hey, preacher man, give me the Gospel,
Give me His body and give me His blood!

I don't want to hear about new ideas you learned while in seminary,
Higher critics and Marcus Borg or John Shelby Spong!
Please don't invite those learned men to preach in our sanctuary,
They're wise to men but fools to God, and such fools are wrong!

Hey, preacher man, give me the Gospel,
Not human wisdom, just tell it to me straight!
Hey, preach man, give me the Gospel,
Let me know I'm foolish and lead me to the gate!

I don't want to hear an opinion piece on the news of political parties
Democrat or Republican, to Him it's all the same!
Please don't tell me how I have to vote to earn the Father's favor,
There's nothing I can do for that, 'cause Christ did everything!

Hey, preacher man, give me the Gospel,
Tell me of the God-Man who bore all the blame!
Hey, preacher man, give me the Gospel,
When you preach the Gospel, you shouldn't be ashamed!

~Eric Rapp

Meet Eric and Polly Rapp!

I never thought, in my wildest dreams, that I would be hearing beautiful music like this--a song--you know, you ask the average Christian artist, "Oh, can you write a song about the scripture's doctrine of vocation?" and they'd laugh in your face. You've managed to do it ... and beautifully so!... I will say without qualification ... you express [the Gospel] as clearly and ... more eloquently and succinctly than I manage to do on the air most times.... I cannot say "thank you" in grand enough terms for you guys' taking what you guys have heard on this program and putting it so beautifully to music. Thank you to both of you!" ~Pastor Todd Wilken, Issues, Etc., May 25, 2007

"You guys are GREAT! Keep up the music!!!!" ~Pastor William Weedon, May 22, 2007

The Daunting Task Pastors Face

Erich warned us in his last post that "today's laity typically thinks of the pastor as an employee under the congregation's authority, hired to entertain them with what their tickling ears want to hear."

Several years ago, I heard a pastor read a quotation about the difficulties and temptations of the Office of Holy Ministry. Apparently, this pastor had been installed by his old professor and mentor, John T. Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions and Director of Field Education at Concordia Theological Seminary.

Pastor Pless read some very wise, biblical words of warning to him:
We are going to ordain you to this ministry, and we want your vow that you will stick to it. This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community.

We know you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we are. We know your emotions are as fickle as ours, and your mind is as tricky as ours. That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you. We know there will be days and months, maybe even years, when we won’t feel like believing anything and won’t want to hear it from you. And we know there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won’t feel like saying it. It doesn’t matter. Do it!

You are ordained to this ministry, vowed to it. There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now. Promise right now that you won’t give in to what we demand of you.

You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our secularized hopes for something better. With these vows of ordination we are lashing you to the mast of Word and sacrament so you will be unable to respond to the siren voices. There are many other things to be done in this wrecked world, and we are going to be doing at least some of them, but if we don’t know the foundational realities with which we are dealing - God, kingdom, gospel - we are going to end up living futile, fantasy lives.

Your task is to keep telling the basic story, representing the presence of the Spirit, insisting on the priority of God, speaking the biblical words of command, promise, and invitation. (Eugene Peterson,
The Contemplative Pastor, p. 145)
As we consider how we might 'support, encourage, and defend' our pastors, it might be good for us to remember the daunting task that they face in their ministry of preaching Law and Gospel.

The Old Adam is in each of us, and we all might be tempted to sing the siren song once in a while. Sometimes we would hear what we want, rather than what we need. Praise God for men who ignore the sirens, and may God's grace continue to sustain them!


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Honoring Spiritual Fathers Under the 4th Commandment

In the Large Catechism, which we are all bound to as Lutherans to accept as a right exposition of the Word of God, Luther provides this explanation of how to apply the Fourth Commandment to our treatment of pastors [emphases mine]:
158] Thus we have two kinds of fathers presented in this commandment, fathers in blood and fathers in office, or those to whom belongs the care of the family, and those to whom belongs the care of the country. Besides these there are yet spiritual fathers; not like those in the Papacy, who have indeed had themselves called thus, but have performed no function of the paternal office. For those only are called spiritual fathers who govern and guide us by the Word of God; 159] as St. Paul boasts his fatherhood 1 Cor. 4, 15, where he says: In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel. Now, 160] since they are fathers they are entitled to their honor, even above all others. But here it is bestowed least; for the way which the world knows for honoring them is to drive them out of the country and to grudge them a piece of bread, and, in short, they must be (as says St. Paul, 1 Cor. 4, 13) as the filth of the world and everybody's refuse and footrag.

161] Yet there is need that this also be urged upon the populace, that those who would be Christians are under obligation in the sight Of God to esteem them worthy of double honor who minister to their souls, that they deal well with them and provide for them. For that, God is willing to add to you sufficient blessing and will not let you come to want. 162] But in this matter every one refuses and resists, and all are afraid that they will perish from bodily want, and cannot now support one respectable preacher, where formerly they filled ten fat paunches. 163] In this we also deserve that God deprive us of His Word and blessing, and again allow preachers of lies to arise to lead us to the devil, and, in addition, to drain our sweat and blood.

164] But those who keep in sight God's will and commandment have the promise that everything which they bestow upon temporal and spiritual fathers, and whatever they do to honor them, shall be richly recompensed to them, so that they shall have, not bread, clothing, and money for a year or two, but long life, support, and peace, and shall be eternally rich and blessed. 165] Therefore only do what is your duty, and let God take care how He is to support you and provide for you sufficiently. Since He has promised it, and has never yet lied, He will not be found lying to you.

166] This ought indeed to encourage us, and give us hearts that would melt in pleasure and love toward those to whom we owe honor, so that we would raise our hands and joyfully thank God who has given us such promises, for which we ought to run to the ends of the world [to the remotest parts of India]. For although the whole world should combine, it could not add an hour to our life or give us a single grain from the earth. But God wishes to give you all exceeding abundantly according to your heart's desire. He who despises and casts this to the winds is not worthy ever to hear a word of God. This has now been stated more than enough for all who belong under this commandment.
Let me reiterate: "Those who would be Christians are under obligation in the sight Of God to esteem them worthy of double honor who minister to their souls, that they deal well with them and provide for them. And he who despises and casts this to the winds is not worthy ever to hear a word of God."

That's a pretty uncommon sentiment in today's egalitarian culture. Today's laity typically thinks of the pastor as an employee under the congregation's authority, hired to entertain them with what their tickling ears want to hear. While the congregation has the collective authority to call a pastor, once called he is to be considered "worthy of double honor." There are very few biblical reasons to remove a pastor from office, which is reflected in most congregational constitutions. Unless a pastor is guilty of one of these offenses, it is not Christian to oppose him. And not only are we not to oppose him, we are to honor him!

And what does it mean to "honor?" Again, here is the Large Catechism:
105] To this estate of fatherhood and motherhood God has given the special distinction above all estates that are beneath it that He not simply commands us to love our parents, but to honor them. For with respect to brothers, sisters, and our neighbors in general He commands nothing higher than that we love them, so that He separates and distinguishes father and mother above all other persons upon earth, and places them at His side. 106] For it is a far higher thing to honor than to love one, inasmuch as it comprehends not only love, but also modesty, humility, and deference as to a majesty there hidden, 107] and requires not only that they be addressed kindly and with reverence, but, most of all, that both in heart and with the body we so act as to show that we esteem them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them as the very highest. For one whom we are to honor from the heart we must truly regard as high and great.

...They are not to be deprived of their honor because of their conduct or their failings. Therefore we are not to regard their persons, how they may be, but the will of God who has thus created and ordained. In other respects we are, indeed, all alike in the eyes of God; but among us there must necessarily be such inequality and ordered difference, and therefore God commands it to be observed, that you obey me as your father, and that I have the supremacy.

110] Furthermore, that also in our words we observe modesty toward them, do not accost them roughly, haughtily, and defiantly, but yield to them and be silent, even though they go too far.
There we have the purpose of this blog, to search out how we should honor the Office of Holy Ministry, and the individuals who hold it.

But what about those who don't?

137] Whence come so many knaves that must daily be hanged, beheaded, broken upon the wheel, but from disobedience [to parents], because they will not submit to discipline in kindness, so that, by the punishment of God, they bring it about that we behold their misfortune and grief? For it seldom happens that such perverse people die a natural or timely death.

But the godly and obedient have this blessing, that they live long in pleasant quietness, and see their children's children (as said above) to the third and fourth generation.

138] Thus experience also teaches, that where there are honorable, old families who fare well and have many children, they owe their origin to the fact, to be sure, that some of them were brought up well and were regardful of their parents. On the other hand, it is written of the wicked, Ps. 109, 13: Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. 139] Therefore heed well how great a thing in God's sight obedience is, since He so highly esteems it, is so highly pleased with it, and rewards it so richly, and besides enforces punishment so rigorously on those who act contrariwise.

...149] Whoever will not be influenced by this and inclined to godliness we hand over to the hangman and to the skeleton-man, i.e., death [death the all-subduer, the teacher of wicked children]. Therefore let every one who allows himself to be advised remember that God is not making sport, and know that it is God who speaks with you and demands obedience. If you obey Him, you are His dear child; but if you despise to do it, then take shame, misery, and grief for your reward.
Notice, however, that it is not our job to carry out this sentence of God on those who disobey this commandment. They bring upon themselves misery and grief. So long as we are able, we should admonish and rebuke our fellow Christian brothers and sisters such that they learn to obey this commandment, and so they do not bring the judgment of God upon themselves and upon their congregations. We need to speak the truth in Love.

"In case you haven't noticed, it is now uncool to sound like you know what you're talking about or believe strongly in what you're, like, saying..."

Here is a very funny mp3 that relates to Pastor McCain's post below. I recieved it this winter from my student teacher. Listen to the whole thing.

Heh, heh.


Beggars All on the OHM: The Wisdom from Èowyn

I will copy and paste/post this from the dank and dusty Beggars All archives due to its Lord of the Rings spin and the related topic:

"Women of this country learned long ago
that those without swords may still die upon them.
I fear neither death nor pain."
- Èowyn

If you haven't done so already, go on over to Cyberbrethren and read Pastor Paul T. McCain's post on "pastors" who spout lines like these: "I'm not really into theology" or "I'm no theologian, but..."

I don't know if it's disrespectful to call a member of the Holy Ministry a theological stud muffin or a confessional Jedi Master, but either way, Rev. McCain regularly says things that really need to be said, and in this post he is right on target. Go on over there and read the whole thing, but if you don't want to make the trip, I've quoted his entire post below.

Why do I have the picture of Èowyn above? Because I want to paraphrase her words in order to add something to Rev. McCain's thoughts:

"The laity of this country learned long ago
that those without swords may still die upon them."

I sadly have to agree with Pastor McCain's post. There are many pastors who brush aside the meat, potatoes, and veggies of sound doctrinal teaching as well as Law & Gospel preaching because they would rather give their people the jelly donut snacks of theraputic, moralistic pep rally talks. And if this is true among clergy, how much more is this true among the laity.

I think that this pretentious, patronizing, and populist aw shucks, I just wanna love the Lord approach to the Word has deep historic roots in America, and folks like Mark Noll and Os Guinness have eloquently described this serious problem.

But life in American Evangelicalism and, alas, in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has taught me that if I, as shepherd of my family, am unwilling to learn to use the sword of the Spirit to discern truth and protect my family -- if I am unwilling to take up and learn to use the sword myself -- then we, like the women of Rohan, could very well die upon the sword of the Spirit as it is twisted by the Enemy. I am responsible.

Here are Pastor McCain's thoughts:

"I'm not really into theology."

"I'm no theologian, but..."

These are two phrases that drive me bonkers. Let me explain.

I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have heard a pastor preface his remarks this way. It is a sort of defensive weapon in an argument --
"Well, I'm no theologian, but..." -- and then the pastor proceeds to regale the listener with his theological opinion, or is that a non-theological theological opinion?

Am I supposed to be impressed by an aw shucks I'm basically a simple bumpkin approach to speaking truths about our Lord and His Word? Count me out!

Now don't get me wrong. I am just as turned off as you are by pastors who have this compulsion to use jargon, to throw around Greek, Hebrew, Latin or German terms to wow and amaze their listeners. They love to toss out technical terminology. No, those aren't theologians either; in many cases, they are insecure little boys who have not gained confidence in what they think they believe, so they have to resort to rhetorical game-playing to try to "wow" their audiences.

The best theologian/pastors are men who can preach clearly and simply so that the most unlearned layman in the church can understand what they are talking about.

Am I suggesting pastors are to be ethereal eggheads whose heads are so far buried in weighty tomes they have no concept what life in the real world is like? Of course not!

So let me now say this: If a pastor says to you, "I'm no theologian, but..." -- you should look him politely in the eye, interrupt him gently, and ask, "Oh, pastor, if you are not a theologian, should you be a pastor?"

Or if a pastor ever says to you, "I'm not really into theology..." -- again, politely but immediately interrupt and say, "You aren't? That's really a distressing thing to hear a pastor say. If my doctor ever told me that he is not really into medicine, I would find a new doctor."

I am dead serious. We have got to work at stopping this horrible nonsense! Think for a moment about it:
  • You go to a doctor, ask his opinion, and he says, "Well, I'm no medical expert, but..."
  • Or you go to your bank to ask a financial question, and the person you talk to says, "Well, I'm no financial expert, but..."
  • Or the pharmacist: "Well, I'm not really into chemistry, but..."
  • Or the mechanic: "I'm no mechanical expert, but..."
What would you do? Would you hang around to hear his opinion? Would you pay it any attention, if he offered it? Of course not! You might smile politely and nod, but you would walk away thinking, "I'm not going back to him, that's for sure!”

If a pastor is not a theologian, he should not be a pastor. Similarly, a pastor who is an incompetent teacher should not be a pastor. How many times have we experienced a pastor who cannot teach a Bible class well to save his life? If he cannot, then he should never have been certified to be a pastor. The Scriptures say that a man must be "apt to teach" in order to be a pastor.

Now, mind you, I am not suggesting that all pastors necessarily are experts in all facets of academic scholarship concerning theology. But a theologian is not a professor at a seminary or a researcher at some institute. Ivory tower academics speculating about theology are not necessarily theologians. A Ph.D. is not the qualification to be a theologian.

Perhaps part of our problem is that we have mistakenly equated theologian with academic. But pick up most any academic theological journal and ask yourself, "What in here is really going to serve the teaching of the Gospel?" Sadly, much academic theology today is just playing to the guild of scholars. That is not necessarily theology and the academics doing this are not necessarily theologians.

Pastors must be theologians. Theologians are men who rightly divide God's Word, properly, carefully and faithfully distinguishing Law and Gospel, faithfully preaching and teaching that Word and fulfilling the duties of their office as pastor: caring for the souls entrusted to them with the Word of God.

Accept no substitutes! Oh, yes, know, well, mind you, I'm no theologian!


Herzlich Willkommen!

Welcome to Sean, Erich, and Eric!

Hey, maybe one fruit of our discussion/study here will be a song composed by Eric about the Office of Holy Ministry as vocation. ;-)
More Than Enough -- the song on vocation in general -- is certainly my favorite!


Sean the Hot Lutheran: The Office of Holy Ministry

The Hot Michigander Organist writes:
My father and I have been talking a few times recently about our frustrations with the Office of Holy Ministry, or at least with some of its "officers". On his side, a pastor is promoting questionable programs that are un-Lutheran and encourage some false teachings. Certainly, he is promoting a contemporary worship program that is contrary to the liturgical service of God. He would like to see my former congregation become a mega-church, much like another LCMS congregation down the road. He is setting himself up as the "CEO" pastor, and has not had a large amount of success thusfar. My father thinks the problem is that Pastors are taught that they are God's voice to the world, and that without them, God's work and will would not be done. As a result, this builds an ego and leads to a lot of abuse. In the case of my former congregation, I think that's probably right on the money.

The one thing is, pastors ARE God's voice to His people. They are the called and ordained servants of the Word. They act "in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ". I want nothing less from a pastor. I think the unfortunate problem comes when pastors cease to perform their duties as Christ's minister and instead do their own "ministry" for God. The Church acknowledges that pastors are leaders of their congregations only as Christ is a leader of the whole Church. Christ was a shepherd, a very slave to His flock. Pastors too are slaves to us, the laypersons. Their shackles are the Divine Service. It is in the context of the liturgy that Christ gives himself in Word and Sacrament, through His called and ordained servant. It is in the liturgy where God's work is done. (Gottesdienst: Divine SERVICE or WORK... these things make so much sense! :)

No wonder the first thing a CEO-style pastor will do is to change the Divine Service: The liturgy is their handcuff. They are bound by it to serve the laity and not themselves. The one place where a step-by-step set of instructions does not exist for the Christ's ministry in the Divine Service is in the sermon. There most certainly is a framework in place however that indicates a Christian sermon: It preaches Christ, and Him crucified for sinners. It has Law, which shows man his sin, and it has Gospel which brings Christ to remedy that sin. The Lectionary is no accident or option as well. It is no surprise to me that the Lectionary and solid Christo-centric and Law/Gospel preaching are all thrown out quickly by the CEO pastor also. Free from the "shackles" of the liturgy and Christian preaching, they may take the "Divine Service" in any direction they choose, such as the theology of glory-even their own glory.

This brings us to my side of the issue: pastors who are being forced from their congregation. Perhaps it's not a lack of respect for the Office of Holy Ministry after all. Maybe congregations don't want their pastor to be their slave. Maybe congregations don't want Christ to serve them? It seems clear to me that any pastor who insists on the historic liturgy, especially when they insist on the many ceremonies that accompany it, is willfully and intentionally asking to be shackled. To be bound and chained to Christ and His cross, and stripped of their own glory. They donn vestments that hide themselves, showing only the Office they hold. They do not choose their own words, but instead speak only Christ's Words. Their Benediction, Pax, and Verba are not their own, but are Christ's. They may not speak their own comforting words, no matter how deeply they as individuals care for their parishioners. They speak only the comforting Words of Christ.

If this sort of pastor would insist that I do or consider something, I would listen because I know it is of God. If I have any doubt, this is the sort of pastor who would direct me to our Confessions and ultimately to Holy Scripture. He is worthy of our respect and trust, because we are not really respecting or trusting him at all. We trust and respect Christ, and therefore we respect His Office, wherever it is truly carried out.

I have experience with the former sort of pastor that my father is dealing with. These pastors make their demands on God's people as well. When one questions or has doubt, they are not directed to Holy Scripture or to the Lutheran Confessions, but are called names, put down, dismissed, or directed to human reason or emotional appeal. These pastors are not Christ's ministers. They are their own. What to do with one who has a call and yet builds his own glory instead of being a slave? I have no idea. I find comfort in Christ's Words that He gives to Timothy through His true minister: "Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity."

The enemies of Christ seek to depose His ministers, while the enemies of Christ seek to lift up and support the pastors who will not be slaves to God's people. I would not be like them. It is a terrible and tragic thing to unseat one who has a proper call. I pray that Christ's ministers be received joyfully as slaves among God's people, who so desperately need the gifts of Christ. I pray that Christians not despise the shackles which bind our pastors to be Christ for us. I pray that I may continue to receive Christ freely and often from one of His true ministers, a slave to me, for I am the CEO: the CEO of sinners.
Indeed. Regarding CEO or Bill Hybels wannabes, I do acknowledge that there are times to question pastors. The thing is, however, the confessional types who simply unpack God's Law and Gospel and faithfully administer the Sacraments seem to welcome questions regarding the Scriptures, for they stand under God's Word.



This Blog

Remember in the film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, when Gimli attempts to destroy the one Ring of Power with an 'Argh' and a swift whack of his battle axe? He landed flat on his back with his battle axe in pieces.

Frodo, the Ringbearer, needed to deal with that Ring, and his nine companions could merely offer their support, help, and protection. Tolkien scholars, like Bradley Birzer, have pointed out the prophet, priest, and king imagery in Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, and this morning I see that many faithful Lutheran clergy, much like Frodo Baggins in his role of the Ringbearer, are called to carry a weight that the Apostle Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 4:13: "We have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things."

How might laymen honor and help those called to 'bear the Ring' of the ministry of Word and Sacrament? This blog will attempt to foster a fruitful public discussion on the role of laity in the support, encouragement, and defense of faithful ordained ministers of Word and Sacrament who refuse to bow the knee to the idols of our day.