Friday, June 19, 2015

Meeting people where they are; leading people to where they are not yet.

Meeting people where they are; leading people to where they are not yet. . .

It is ordination time.  Seminarians who have spent years preparing for this day will in one moment be conferred with the authority of the keys, the authority to preach the Word, the authority to administer the Sacraments, and be given responsibility for the various tasks that belong to the ordained.  It is a grand and wonderful time of year.  To think that throughout our church body perhaps a hundred of these take place in June and July!  It is an occasion for joy and hope for all pastors and people, not just those wherein the church has placed a candidate!

There is much advice given to those newly ordained men.  Not a little of it will come in the form of ordination sermons that seek to speak freshly the sage advice of old.  Never having been called to preach at an ordination, I cannot speak from experience here but if I had been so requested to preach, I would hope to avoid the typical fare so often heard.

No pastor is given the authority or the responsibility for redefining the ministry or growing the church.  Yet that is our grave temptation which, if we fail into it, we do both God and His people a great disservice.  The ministry is not ours to define but that which defines us.  We take our place in the long train of those upon whose shoulders the stole (yoke) of ministry has been placed.  They can teach us if we will let them -- both by their shining successes and their terrible failures.  And if we are faithful, we will have something to pass on to those who come after us.

Pastors do not grow churches.  Only God grows them.  He gives us partnership in this task but never ownership of it.  If we are faithful in preaching the Word of the Lord and administering the Sacraments as Christ instituted them, whatever fruit is born will be born by God and for His own purpose and glory.  Perhaps the gravest of sins by preachers at ordinations is to give the ordinand either the false hope or the deceptive burden of thinking that they are the ones who grow the church.  We are not entrepreneurs who have received a franchise to sell the Gospel product and increase market share for God.  We are shepherds who are called to love and feed the sheep (not necessarily to like them) and to lead and guide them to the good, green pastures of God's Word, the still, quiet waters of His water, and to feed them in the table set in the presence of enemies.

We meet people where they are, this is true.  But we lead then to where they are not yet.  This is also true.  And we do so not with our wit or wisdom, not with our poise or personality, and not with our strength or skills.  Nope, we do it by faithfully speaking the Word of God and administering the Sacraments of Christ.  The temptation is to meet people where they are and leave them there -- feeling better to be sure but still the prisoners of sin, marked for death, and disappointed that life is not more.  We meet them where they are but we dare not leave them there.  Yet we do not lead them where we want them to go.  We leave them to the future Christ has appointed.  We bring them to anticipate the marriage feast of the Lamb in the blessed meal of the Eucharist.  We bring them to the well done of the Father by calling them to do the good works of Him who has called them from darkness into His marvelous light.  We bring to eternal joy that does not disappoint them nor does it abandon them in the struggles and sorrows of this mortal life.  We bring them to know and live out their vocation as the baptized people of God, living under Christ in His kingdom now and His who will live with Him in His kingdom forever.  We bring them through the means of grace.

If I were to preach at an ordination, I would hope to remind the ordinand that this is an impossible task unless God is doing it and that at best we offer Him but a voice with which to speak and the hands with which to bestow His grace.  And if we do that, then we will be faithful and we will be found faithful. . . and that is enough.

8 comments:

Carl Vehse said...

"It is ordination time. Seminarians who have spent years preparing for this day will in one moment be conferred with the authority of the keys, the authority to preach the Word, the authority to administer the Sacraments, and be given responsibility for the various tasks that belong to the ordained."

This claim about ordination may be compared to the following theses from C.F.W. Walther’s Die Stimme unserer Kirche in der Frage von Kirche und Amt as "the definitive statement under the Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions of the Synod’s understanding on the subject of Church and Ministry," "the official position of the LCMS," and “that which all pastors, professors, teachers of the Church and congregations honor and uphold... and teach in accordance."

Thesis VI on the Ministry: The office of the ministry is transferred [├╝bertragen] by God through a congregation, as the possessor of all church power or the keys, and through its call, which is prescribed by God. Ordination with the imposition of hands on those who have been called is not of divine appointment but is an apostolic church ordinance and merely a public and solemn confirmation of the call.

Thesis VII on the Ministry: The holy office of the ministry is the authority to exercise the rights of the spiritual priesthood in a public office in behalf of all, which authority is transferred by God through a congregation as the possessor of the priesthood and of all church power.

Theses translations excerpted from C. F. W. Walther, “Theses on the Church and the Ministry,” in Lutheran Confessional Theology in America, 1840-1880, ed. Theodore G. Tappert, New York:Oxford University Press, 1972, pp. 229-234.

Anonymous said...

Only a nitpicker would read the words of this blog post and come out with a complaint like this. Whoever you are, you are a pain and I wish you would stop commenting. Really, Pastor Peters must have the patience of Job to put up with you but I don't!

Carl Vehse said...

Anonymous is obviously not a Lutheran (much less an ordained LCMS member) because he labels a person as "nitpicker" for posting a comparison of a statement about the ordination conferring the office of public ministry with "the definitive statement under the Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions of the Synod’s understanding on the subject of Church and Ministry."

Since Anonymous is not Lutheran, the rest of his whining is predictable, but irrelevant.

Pastor Peters said...

Rick, you must be an acquired taste. If you are this caustic in person, I am glad we have never met.

former elder said...

He may be caustic, but he is also correct.

Carl Vehse said...

Who? Me? I'm just a lovable little Lutheran fuzzball.

I used the non-pejorative word, "compared," and gently provided the reference for the translated theses that are part of a 164-year-old position of the Missouri Synod.

And for that I'm called a "nitpicker" and a "pain" by a non-Lutheran?!?

Lutheran Lurker said...

But the 164 year old position of the LCMS is not in isolation from Lutheran orthdoxy (Chemnitz, Gerhard) or Augustana XIV to which the Romans had not that much to say, thus indicating both in intent and in interpretation that ordination is not adiaphora but the rite conferring the authority of the office. BTW show me where Luther ever got a call from a congregation, deliberated over it. accepted the call, and then was ordained as a way of externally showing what the call had already conferred?

Carl Vehse said...

Excerpted from Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Martin Luther and Its Blessed Results, in the Year of the Four-Hundredth Anniversary of the Reformation, by W. H. T. Dau (St. Louis, Mo.:Concordia Publishing House, 1916, pp.168-9):

"By urgent request of the town council of Wittenberg, Luther became an assistant in the [St. Mary's] parish church in 1514. Nicolaus Eabri de Grueneberg was parish priest from 1508 to 1515. He was followed by Simon Heinsius, who remained until 1523, and then came John Bugenhagen, whose services became most valuable in the sphere of church organization."

Luther remained as pastor at St. Mary's until his death in 1546.

As the Reformation progressed, Martin Luther wrote in his "Notes [Verlegung] on the Twelve Articles of the Peasants" (1525, St. Louis edition, 16:65):

"A whole congregation should have the power to choose and depose a pastor. This article is correct only if it is done in a Christian way (though the marginal notes do not add anything to suggest this). If then the goods of the pastor come from the government and not from the congregation, then the congregation may not give these same goods to the pastor whom it elects. For that would mean to rob and steal. But if it desires a pastor, then first of all it should humbly request him of the government. If the government refuses, let the congregation choose its own and let it support him from its own goods, leaving to the government its goods or acquiring them rightly from it. But if the government will not tolerate such a called and supported pastor, then let him flee into a different city, and let anyone who desires it flee with him, as Jesus teaches. That means to choose and have one's own pastor in a Christian and evangelical way. Whoever acts differently, acts in an unchristian way as a robber and blasphemer." [Excerpted from Church and Ministry, C.F.W. Walther, trans. J.T. Mueller, 1987, CPH, pp. 222-3)]