A Timely Reminder of Our Need for Pastors
“If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”
—I Timothy 3:1
The need in our beloved Conference for future pastors, though it was temporarily relieved in June of 2014 when we graduated two candidates from our seminary and they were immediately called to fill vacancies in our congregations, is as great today — perhaps even greater — than ever before. Again we find ourselves with no students even beginning our five-year curriculum; 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. Two of our own local congregation have pastors who currently are over 75 years of age; and we dare not forget that adequate theological training requires about five years of study and preparation. Moreover, our sister congregations in Nigeria have in recent years suffered sudden and unexpected losses of faithful pastors and are experiencing great trials in covering their immediate need for shepherds by sharing pastors between several flocks. And, while our stateside seminary has not been training pastors for Nigeria — particularly because of our inability to train students who would need to be fluent in the Kalabari language — by the grace of God, our Nigerian brethren currently have students in their own seminary program. At present, however, we have none. We are therefore looking and praying for sanctified Christian brethren who “desire the office of a bishop,” eager and willing to become prepared for the calling that the Apostle Paul calls “a good work.” In an emergency situation, there may well be pressure to certify as “ fit and well-prepared” a man whose training has not been thorough or who has not completed his preparation (cf. II Timothy 2:15). But that would not be profitable for our flocks.
What is it about “the office of a bishop,” the office of a Christian pastor, preacher and overseer, that is “a good work”? In the holy Lenten season now upon us, 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). The “office of a bishop” is not “a good work” because of any personally meritorious value that redounds to its incumbents because of their service, neither is it because of any goodness, merit or worthiness which resides in the incumbents themselves. Rather it is because of the great privilege accorded to called preachers, pastors and overseers to be “ambassadors for Christ” (II Corinthians 5:20), to be His mouthpieces (Luke 10:16), and to be “ministers [servants] of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (I Corinthians 4:1) in the care of all His churches.
The office is also a “good work” because of the good that it accomplishes through the hearing of the Word: “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). As we stand on the threshold of Lent, for example, we see the importance, the great privilege, the “good work” of proclaiming to Christ’s sheep and also to those who as yet are “strangers from the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12) the good news, yea, the indispensable news of the Gospel concerning Christ’s redemptive work as the efficient cause of God’s gracious justification or forgiveness of the entire world of sinners —then and now — how that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them,” as we read in II Corinthians 5:19. 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).
As we well know, 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 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.” “The Gospel of Christ [is] the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), the very means by which the Holy Spirit of God creates, nourishes and preserves saving faith in the hearts of men.
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 in 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 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” (C. F. W. 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, elder) 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).
Unfaithful pastors confound Law and Gospel in their preaching, teaching, and practice; they preach the truth of God’s Word as theory but do not apply it in practice; they refuse to indoctrinate their members by means of thorough instruction and are satisfied with giving prospective members an “orientation course” prior to their reception; they regard inconsistent practice (either on their own part, or on the part of their people, or on the part of their synod or church body) merely as “imperfect sanctification” which must be tolerated; they may “mark” error and persistent errorists, but they refuse to “avoid them” (Romans 16:17). Such also are 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; Romans 16:18)!! 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 Savior 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 “desire the office of a bishop” and to volunteer themselves for labor in His vineyard (Isaiah 6:8). And 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 (II 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 therefore we beseech “the Lord of the harvest” to move the hearts of men throughout our Conference with the earnest desire for “the office of a bishop” and, to that end, to become trained in our fine seminary program for labor in His vineyard and for service in the pastoral ministry, so that the blessing of “hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11) 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 and the souls of many others also. Therefore we 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.
(Adapted and amplified from the author’s previous article and re-submitted as a matter of on-going concern.)