Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service
Dear people served by Christ through His called ministers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The true Christian church, or God’s holy people, is recognized by the fact that she consecrates or calls ministers. Why is this a mark of the church? Because Christ instituted the office of pastor. There must be one who publicly and privately administers, gives, and exercises the Office of the Keys, Holy Baptism, and the preaching of the Word, those marks of the church that we have heard about in previous sermons, as well as the Sacrament of the Altar which we will hear about in Maundy Thursday’s sermon.
The church did not sit down in a council one day and decide that they needed to create an office or position of pastor. Rather, Christ Himself instituted the office of pastor. Ephesians 4 tells us that Christ gave not only the apostles, the prophets, and the evangelists of the past as gifts to His church, but also pastors (Eph. 4:8-11).
Why is a pastor a gift to the church? Because he equips the saints, he does the work of ministry, and he builds up the body of Christ are the reasons given in Ephesians 4 (v. 12). In other words, a pastor is a gift to the church because Christ gives His gifts through the pastor to His church.
Since the office of pastor was instituted by Christ, He is also the one who decides who can fill the position. First Corinthians 14 (vv.33-40) and First Timothy 2 (vv.11-15) exclude women from the office. First Timothy 3 excludes unsuitable men: those who are not above reproach, who are divorced, or who are not sober-minded and self-controlled; those who are not respectable, hospitable, or able to teach; those who are drunkards, violent, quarrelsome, or lovers of money; those who do not manage their household well or keep their children submissive with dignity; and finally, those who are recent converts or those not well thought of by outsiders (vv. 1-7).
While holiness of life is indeed expected of all Christians, there are special requirements for the office of the holy ministry. Christ does not want His sheep hurt or misled by the shepherds that are supposed to take care of them. Pastors who cannot teach God’s Word properly or do not set an example of good works and holy living can lead others into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Pastors are instructed to be an example to their flock in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity (I Peter 5:3; I Tim. 4:12). The church neither shall, nor can, tolerate public vices in her ministers.
Further, a pastor does not decide what to preach or what to teach. He may decide which text to preach on. He may decide which book of the Bible to study for Bible class. But God’s Word is God’s Word and that is what the pastor is to preach and teach. The pastor doesn’t decide what is right and wrong. He doesn’t decide if infants should be baptized or not. He doesn’t decide whose sins should be absolved and whose should be retained. He does not even decide who should commune and who should not commune. All these things have already been decided by God’s Word. The only question is if the pastor is going to be faithful to what God has called him to do as a steward of the mysteries of God (I Cor. 4:1), or if he is going to be faithless and serve his own belly (Rom. 16:17-18).
As it comes to preaching and teaching, Saint Paul instructs the young pastor Timothy, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (II Tim. 1:13) Scripture gives us a sound pattern of words. Don’t try to be creative. Preach the Word. Don’t try to be edgy. Preach the Word. Don’t try to entertain. Preach the Word.
Christ also instructs His ministers saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)
Christ did not say teach them to observe those things that they want to observe. He didn’t say teach them those things that are socially acceptable and tolerable; those things that people don’t find offensive. Christ did not say teach them to observe what you think they should observe. Christ’s instruction and command is for His ministers to teach people to observe all that He has commanded. There is no picking and choosing.
How can Christ command such a thing? As He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” He is the one with the authority. The church is His. The people are His. The pastors are His. Thus, what is taught by His pastors to His people in His church is up to Him, not to anyone else.
Christ gives such clear instructions for pastors to follow because He knows better than pastors. A pastor may have the temptation to let something slide or to avoid dealing with some matter because it is difficult and will cause conflict. “Maybe if I’m just friendly to them and ignore the obvious sin then I can win them over and they’ll repent.” Trust me, every faithful pastor in the history of the church has had the temptation to let things lie. Christ knows better. Christ knows better how to save than we do. Christ has given us His Word which leads to repentance and saves. A pastor’s friendliness will never save anyone, but the Gospel saves. Baptism saves. Christ saves through His means of grace.
Note Christ’s promise which He gives to His ministers and to His church, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Until the end of the age, that is, until the end of time, until the end of the world, Christ will be with His church. Christ will be in His church giving His gifts that He earned on the cross through His called and ordained servants.
Christ speaks His absolution through the mouth of the pastor. Christ baptizes in His name with the hands of the pastor. Christ gives His body and blood to eat and drink from the hands of the pastor.
Thus, it is a mark of the true Christian church that she calls pastors to faithfully preach God’s Word, exercise the Office of the Keys, and administer the sacraments. Where the church consecrates or calls pastors to faithfully give these gifts of Christ, there is the true Christian church. This must be so because Christ Himself gives His gifts through the office that He instituted to care for His people in His church.
Because Christ uses pastors to give His gifts of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, the office of pastor is necessarily found in the Christian church. A Christian church is recognized as such because Christ calls ministers to faithfully serve His people there by giving His gifts. God’s holy people cannot be without faithful pastors and faithful pastors cannot be without God’s people because together they are the church, the holy people of God. That is how you can recognize the true Christian church. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
*Our midweek Lenten series is based on Martin Luther’s On the Councils and the Church, as found in the primer A Christian Holy People, which is available from Lutheran Press both affordably in print and free electronically (lutheranpress.com).