Beckett: The Office of the Public Ministry

Recently, we’ve looked at what the Office of the Keys is and what it means for one’s sins to be loosed or bound. Yet this begs the question: How does the Church publicly exercise the Office of the Keys? “Christ has instituted the pastoral office through which the Office of the Keys is exercised publicly, that is, on behalf of the Church. The Christian congregation, acting in accordance with the will of Christ, calls qualified men to serve as His ministers, forgiving and retaining sins according to His command” (SC, Question 343).

God gives pastors to His Church (Ephesians 4:11) to oversee her activities and spiritual care (Acts 20:28) “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1), the mysteries being the Word and Sacraments (the word “sacrament” comes from the Greek word for “mystery”). In a class I had at seminary with Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann, he always described the pastor as the Absolution Man—he is the man whom the congregation selects among themselves, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to be the man to whom they go to receive Absolution. His primary task is to administer the Word and Sacraments, just as our Confessions say, “no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call” (AC XIV).

People often ask me what my goal as a pastor is, or what my career goal is. My answer is always the same, “To preach Christ, die, and be forgotten,” and they look at me like I’m insane. The pastoral office is never about me; it is always about Christ. I will die, but the office will remain. As Luther once said,

This office will remain, and there will be no other preaching office. But the persons do not remain; they die. Therefore we must always have new preachers; and this does not happen without means. The office as such, that is, the Word of God, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, come directly from Christ… So there is a different sending, which is by men though not of men. Thus we are sent, and we also elect others and put them into office in order to preach and administer the Sacraments. Yet this sending is also of God; for God has commanded it, and though we help, God Himself sends laborers into His vineyard, though He does it through men.

What Luther Says §2967

A pastor does not concern himself with being famous, or leaving behind a legacy, for then he is only serving himself and not Christ and His flock. Though it is fine for him to publish works here and there for the benefit of the Church, or additional income if necessary, and he may gain some notoriety because of it (sometimes it’s unavoidable), the aim is always to serve Christ and His Church rather than himself. This is what Christ sends pastors into His vineyard to do—to feed His sheep (John 21:17). People are fond of paraphrasing John the Baptiser, “More of Christ, less of me” (“He must increase, but I must decrease,” John 3:30). This is not good enough. As a pastor, all I’m concerned with is, “All of Christ, none of me.”

Moreover, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore, pray earnestly for the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). In modern terms, we would call this a supply and demand issue—the demand is high, but the supply is few. The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Every church council and pastors’ conference find it is incumbent upon themselves to remind us of the decreasing numbers (as if we need the reminder!).

Therefore, we continually pray for God to send more pastors into His vineyard. While God uses men as His means to do this, we mustn’t forsake quality for the sake of quantity. It is better to have faithful pastors that are low in numbers than it is to have unfaithful, untrained pastors that are high in numbers. The latter is what led Luther to write the Large Catechism in the first place, which he wrote first because of the ineptitude of the priests; then he wrote the Small Catechism because neither did the common people know the Word of God thanks to their pastors’ wilful incompetence. Therefore, as we pray God to send labourers into the vineyard, let us pray even more for faithful pastors who love Christ and His sheep.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close