“The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few.”
Not only did this word of the Lord Jesus pertain specifically to the situation at hand when He uttered it; but it certainly applies to our circumstances today, having been written, as are all the Holy Scriptures, “for our learning” (Romans 15:4). This past June, by the grace of God, we graduated two candidates of the Holy Ministry (c.r.m.’s); and almost immediately they were called by the Holy Ghost (Acts 20:28) into the pastoral office of Conference congregations. At present, we again find ourselves with no students; and again we have no available candidates should one (or more) of our current pastors be called home to heaven — or become disabled and no longer able to function as undershepherds of Christ in His churches. Needless to say, therefore, our need for future pastors, though it was temporarily relieved last June, is as critical now as it has ever been, considering the fact that we have a five-year curriculum in our seminary program, and we certainly do not want, even because of an emergency, to feel pressured to certify as “fit and well-prepared” a man whose training is in any way deficient (cf. II Timothy 2:15).
Since we have now left the holy Epiphany season (the theme of which is Christ’s manifestation of Himself as the Son of God and the Savior of the world) and have entered upon the holy Lenten season (focusing our attention upon Christ’s vicarious atonement for the sins of the world), God’s plan of salvation stands before us in the Word of His Gospel, “the Word of Reconciliation,” which He has intended to be preached in all the world to every creature (Mark 16:15). “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them,” we read in II Corinthians 5:19 concerning God’s gracious justification or forgiveness of the entire world of sinners —then and now. To this gracious disposition He was moved for Christ’s sake, that is, because of Christ’s perfect satisfaction of divine justice as the Substitute and Scapegoat for the ungodly (Romans 4:5; 5:8-9). Accordingly, “[God] will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth,” writes the Apostle Paul to Timothy (I Timothy 2:4), expressing the Lord’s primary will that He earnestly desires the salvation of every sinner and wants “the world,” for whom He gave His only-begotten Son to be its Redeemer (John 3:16), to be brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). These and other clear and certain texts of Holy Scripture stand in direct opposition to Calvin’s false teachings of a limited atonement, of particular grace, and of a double predestination; “for the Lord is…not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).
However, “the knowledge of the truth” of God’s objective justification of the world for Christ’s sake does not belong to man’s natural knowledge of God, neither is it committed to men “out-of-the-air” by the immediate revelation of the Spirit; nor yet is the saving faith whereby a poor sinner lays hold on God’s gracious forgiveness for Christ’s sake bestowed upon him without means. For St. Paul, writing to the Romans, asks the following rhetorical questions to which the answers are obvious in the text itself: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Romans 10:14-15) …and the Apostle’s divinely-inspired conclusion in verse 17: “So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”
Therefore “the Word of Reconciliation,” the “good news” of God’s reconciliation of the world unto Himself, the precious Gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ Jesus, has been “committed unto us,” Paul says, II Corinthians 5:20, so that we can proclaim it “in all the world, …unto all nations” (Matthew 24:14). “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:21). And the “marching orders” given by Paul to the young pastor, Timothy, as he sallied forth “as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Timothy 2:3) to “do the work of an evangelist” and to “make full proof of [his] ministry” (4:5), expressed the pleasure of the Lord that the chief duty of a Christian pastor is to “preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove; rebuke; exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Timothy 4:2ff.). Moreover, the public preaching or proclamation of the Word is not limited to the pulpit on Sunday mornings and on special occasions and festivals of the church year, but it occupies the attention of a faithful pastor or spiritual shepherd on a full-time basis as he feeds the church of God, the local flock of the Savior (John 21:15ff.; Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2), as he teaches (I Timothy 3:2), as he admonishes (I Thessalonians 5:12), as he oversees the flock and watches for their souls (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17), as he functions as the steward of God’s mysteries in the public administration of the Office of the Keys (I Corinthians 4:1ff.). Thus the office of the “public ministry,” the Pastoral Office (das Pfarramt), is not merely a human arrangement, devised without God’s particular ordinance and institution but simply for the sake of good order in the Church (I Corinthians 14:40), as the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Church of the Lutheran Confession, and others teach contrary to Scripture (cf. Titus 1:5; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17; I Thessalonians 5:12-13; etc.). On the contrary, “[It] is no human institution, but an office which has been instituted by God Himself” (Walther, Church and Ministry, Part II, Thesis II).
“Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (I Corinthians 4:2). The Scriptures lay down very specific qualifications for the Pastoral Office in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 —among which we search in vain for “professional” training in conflict resolution, substance abuse rehabilitation, social work, marriage and family counseling, corporate management, and other purely secular courses which have little if anything to do —even collaterally— with the office instituted by God. The faithfulness required of a pastor (bishop—I Timothy 3:1, elder—I Peter 5:1-2) is faithfulness to the Word of God (Jeremiah 23:28; Titus 1:9; etc.); faithfulness to “the doctrine which is according to Godliness” (I Timothy 6:3; 4:13; etc.), both in its teaching and in its application; faithfulness in the performance of all the duties incumbent upon him for the sake of the sheep and lambs committed to his charge (I Thessalonians 5:12-13; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17; etc.); faithfulness to the call of God’s Holy Spirit, which makes him answerable not only to the local congregation that called him but to God Himself (Hebrews 13:17; Ezekiel 33:7-9; etc.), in whose holy office he serves as an incumbent at the Lord’s pleasure (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 5:4).
Pastors who confound Law and Gospel in their preaching, teaching, and practice; pastors who preach the truth of God’s Word as theory but do not apply it in practice; pastors who refuse to indoctrinate their members by means of thorough instruction but are satisfied with giving prospective members an “orientation course” prior to their reception; pastors who regard inconsistent practice (either on their own part or on the part of their people) merely as “imperfect sanctification” which must be tolerated; pastors who “mark” error and persistent errorists but refuse to “avoid them” (Romans 16:17); and pastors whose standard of spiritual truth is not “the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:19) but their own “professional judgment,” private interpretation, subjective rationale, and personal experience; —these are not faithful stewards of God’s mysteries, but, as He Himself characterizes them, worthless watchmen or “watchdogs” that are blind, ignorant, dumb, asleep on the job, lazy, greedy, lacking in understanding, and looking out only for themselves (Isaiah 56:10-11)!! Sadly, we see far too many such “dogs” or “curs” in the ministry today; and their sheep either ignorantly enjoy the silence and lack of concerned “barking,” or they have become so accustomed to lack of instruction and spiritual oversight that they sit secure in their ignorance and think that their “dumb dogs” are really on the job! In either case, they are being neglected.
The Lord Jesus bids us: “Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38). And the Lord, as we well know from His Word, answers every proper Christian prayer, though in His own way and in His own good time. Nevertheless, He does not promise to provide us with pastors “out-of-the-blue.” He expects qualified, gifted, faithful and Gospel-motivated men to volunteer themselves for labor in His vineyard (Isaiah 6:8). He expects us who are pastors to train such faithful men, committing to them what we have learned, so that they will be able to teach others also (II Timothy 2:2). He expects those men to study to show themselves “approved unto God, workmen that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (II Timothy 2:15). And He expects our people to show to prospective pastors, by the love and respect they render to their own pastors, that they value the workmen “which labor among [them], and are over [them] in the Lord, and admonish [them]” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13), and that they gladly hear and learn God’s Word from their mouths as from the lips of Jesus Himself (Luke 10:16). Such an example of eagerness to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Savior (II Peter 3:18), of high esteem for the ministry (I Thessalonians 5:13), and of love for Christ’s ambassadors (II Corinthians 5:20) should greatly encourage young men among us with the prospect of having one day, at the call of the Holy Ghost, a flock of like-minded sheep who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6).
We all have plenty of work to do in the Lord’s harvest, also with respect to recruiting and training competent and faithful laborers for His vineyard —laborers whom the Lord of the harvest may then one day, at His choosing, send forth into His harvest and, at the call of His Holy Spirit, make them “overseers” over a local “church of God” to “feed” it (Acts 20:28), to “watch for [the] souls” of its sheep and lambs (Hebrews 13:17), to tend it (I Peter 5:2-3), and to love it (cf. John 10:11-12) for the sake of their loving and incomparably Good Shepherd, Christ Jesus (John 10:14), the Savior and Head of His Church (Ephesians 4:11-16). To that end we beseech the Lord of the harvest to move the hearts of men throughout our Conference with the earnest desire to become trained in our fine seminary program for labor in His vineyard and for service in the Pastoral Office, that a future ministry may thus be provided for us, for our children, and for their children after them, through which His name may continue to be hallowed among us in the faithful preaching, teaching, and practice of His pure Word to the salvation of our souls. Therefore we also pray with the hymnwriter:
O bless Thy Word alway,
our souls forever feeding;
and may we never lack
a faithful shepherd’s leading.
Send workers forth, O Lord,
the sheaves to gather in,
that not a soul be lost
which Thou art come to win!
(TLH 485, 4 & 6 adapted)
—D. T. M.