From the Disk of the Pastor
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Lutheran Confessions express a high view of the office of the Holy Ministry. What do we mean by saying that? We are saying that God has established the office and it is not optional.
The sedes doctrinae or Seat of Doctrine for the office of the Ministry is John 20:21-23: "Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.'" With these words Christ gives the office of the ministry to the apostles. They in turn have passed it on to the church as a whole. We do not believe that a pastor must be able to trace the ancestry of his ordination back to the apostles, though probably most Lutheran pastors could. This is because we still teach that the normal way a person is placed into the office is by another pastor.
The Bible uses a number of terms for clergy. The most common would be shepherd, overseer, and steward. Shepherd is often today rendered as pastor. Christ calls Himself the Good Shepherd. Pastors are to be a reflection of Christ, who calls, disciplines and calls back the flock to faithfulness to the word. Episcopus is the Greek word we render as overseer. It is the equivalent of the English word bishop. Every pastor is bishop or overseer in that place. Overseer carries with it the idea of authority. A pastor carries God’s authority to carry out the work of the Gospel in that place. Dr. Walther, in his book “Church and Ministry” states that a pastor is owed full obedience by his flock when he correctly speaks the word of God. The Lutheran Confession state that we are to be obedient to our pastors for the sake of good order, so long they do not demand things that are contrary to the word of God or otherwise tyrannize the flock. As the writer to the Hebrews says: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Another way in which pastoral authority is expressed is through the Church Order. What is a church order? It is our hymnal and its attendant materials. It has always been understood in orthodox Lutheranism that we are bound to follow such orders, and when pastors and congregations significantly deviate from them they are in a form of rebellion and acting in a way that displeases God. The third term that is used is steward. A steward is a servant, under the authority of his master. A Pastor is a servant of the Word - that is Jesus Christ. While he serves God’s people, he is there to give them what God intends for them.
The early Lutherans used the word “priest”. This was the Old Testament term. A priest stands between God and man, speaking man’s word to God and God’s word to man. Certainly a pastor does this. He reads the Scriptures and preaches. This would be God’s word to man. He also leads the congregation in prayer. This would be mans word to God. So Lutheran clergy are priests, in this sense. But starting in about 1600 we started using other terms such as pastor. This does not mean that priest is wrong, but rather there was simply a change is custom. And certainly, it could be argued, pastor is a specifically New Testament term for clergy.
The office of the ministry is not optional. The definition of the Church is pastor and people gathered around word and sacrament. The Church is not just the people. This definition requires that a Christian congregation have a pastor. Otherwise it ceases to be Church. This is why a vacant congregation must have a vacancy pastor so there is a pastor responsible for that flock. You can’t have a congregation without a pastor, even for a for short time. This is the order that Christ has established. It was confirmed by the apostles who appointed pastors in the places where they preaches. Timothy and Titus are two such pastors. Nor are pastors simply hirelings of the congregation. They are servants of Jesus Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (I Corinthians 4:1)
Rev. Jody R. Walter