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The Office of the Holy Ministry, part 1

Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken some time to review my Call Document to be your pastor. The Call Document is a set of papers which were filled out by the congregation’s Voters Assembly (or perhaps a Board tasked by the Voters to do so) when seeking to call me as your pastor. This Document outlines the tasks of the Pastoral Office (also referred to as the Office of the Holy Ministry), as well as particular pastoral needs of this congregation.

Along with reviewing the Call Document, I also took some time again to read through the Rite of Ordination, which is found in the Lutheran Service Book Agenda. The Rite of Ordination contains 17 separate portions of Scripture in which our Lord institutes, directs, and supports the Pastoral Office. It also contains 7 different promises that the pastor being ordained makes in regard to his carrying out the duties of his Office.

I find it helpful to review the Call Document and Rite of Ordination every year. As I reviewed this year, I thought it would be helpful to go over these promises and their related scripture passages with you, so that we would all grow together in recognizing our Lord’s great care for us in providing pastors to preach the word to us and administer the Sacraments among us on behalf of Christ and His Church.

First, though, it’s important to recognize that the Office of the Holy Ministry is not a man-made Office. Unlike any other position in the Church, the Pastoral Office has been instituted by Christ in Holy Scripture. There are two passages in which He does this:

“Jesus came and spoke to [the eleven disciples], saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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 things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'” (Matthew 28:18-20, NKJV)

“Jesus said to [the disciples] again, ‘Peace be to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send 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 retain the sins of any, they are retained.'” (John 20:21-23, NKJV alt.)

In these two passages, our Lord Jesus Christ sends the Eleven disciples (literally He apostles them, which means “to send” in Greek; hence the name “apostles”). He sends them in His name with specific tasks to accomplish. They are to make disciples by means of two things: baptizing in the name of the Triune God, and also by teaching the whole counsel of God. They are also to make sure that sins are being forgiven, or not forgiven, as each situation necessitates.

There are no other reasons for pastors to exist in Christ’s Church. Pastors only exist to make disciples by baptizing and teaching, to declare the forgiveness of sins, and (as we’ll see next month) to give out the Lord’s Supper in the Divine Service. Certainly pastors may sometimes do other work in the Church as the need arises, but their chief task is always to be at work doing this Word and Sacrament ministry that Christ has established the Pastoral Office to do.

“[T]eaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” requires a source of teaching. We have this source of Jesus’ teaching in the Holy Scriptures. Therefore the very first promise that a pastor makes in his ordination vows is this (every pastor also makes this promise again when he’s installed in a new congregation):

Do you believe and confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
Yes, I believe and confess the canonical Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

This promise aligns itself well with the exhortation Paul gives to Pastor Timothy (and to all pastors) when he writes:

“Continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17, NKJV)

So we see that the Pastoral Office is established by Jesus Christ with very specific tasks to be done: making disciples by baptizing and teaching, and forgiving or retaining sins (this is often referred to as the Office of the Keys). The bedrock of all this is the Holy Scriptures, which are the “all things” which the Lord has given to be taught.

Next month we’ll continue to look at the promises which the pastor makes in regard to the duties of his Office, and we’ll consider the subscriptions to Creeds and Confessions that the pastor is asked to make his own in so promising.

In the meantime, I ask you to please do your duty as the Lord’s people: “I urge…that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone.” (1 Timothy 2:1) In other words, please keep me in your prayers, that I would continue to faithfully serve you as your pastor.

In the love of Christ,
Pastor Schuermann