Pressure Points (January)

With Dr. Bruce Hartung

This installation of “Pressure Points” continues the dialogue from last month concerning whether I “missed the mark” with my reply in the October column to the pastor struggling with his parishioners’ disinterest in doctrine.

Following the next paragraph are comments from a pastor emeritus that, in my opinion, provide an answer to another writer who thought I missed the mark. That other writer offered the following:

“There must be a more sound and helpful way of counseling our pastors to stand strong on their ordination vows, which pledge to uphold LCMS doctrine, which is biblical doctrine.  There is nothing wrong with the word ‘doctrine’ — but many have an aversion to it, as if we made it up or something.”

The pastor emeritus wrote this:

“My heart ached in sympathy for the pastor who sought help in dealing with ‘congregational leaders (who) want absolutely nothing to do with doctrine.’  Usually (you) offer sound advice, but in this instance, in my judgment, (you) could have done better. … The pastor needs reminding of the authority surrounding the office to which God has called him.  He is Christ’s ambassador, ‘a servant of Christ entrusted with the secret things of God’ (1 Cor. 4:1). … His congregational leaders must hear these words of Christ: ‘He who belongs to God hears what God says.  The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’  It would comfort this pastor to know that Christ requires one thing of His Servants: ‘It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful’ (1 Cor. 4:2). … It would comfort this pastor to be reminded of the rewards for faithful service to Christ … to hear from Christ Himself: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ (Matt. 25:23).”

I think J.H.C. Fritz (author of Pastoral Theology and dean for 20 years at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis) has some helpful thoughts in this regard as well, written while he was still a parish pastor, in 1919. 

“What does God require of the office-holder?,”  Fritz wrote. “One word tells all that the Lord requires of the preacher of the Gospel: faithfulness.  That is a source of comfort to us ministers.  We ministers are human, as other Christians are, and we are also tempted and discouraged, as other Christians are.  The devil tries very hard to discourage the minister of the Gospel in his work.  When we find another minister who is more learned, more gifted, and more successful in his work than we are, we are liable to think that we lack some of the necessary qualifications for successful work in the ministry.  But the Lord does not say that He requires great learning, that we must be very eloquent, that we must have great success, and the like.  He says that we must be faithful.

“On the other hand, however,” Fritz continues, “the one requirement of faithfulness ought to   keep us truly humble. .. . It is not little but much that is required.  Preaching is the chief work of the pastor.  He should make sure that he preaches the Word of God, and that he applies it as the needs of his hearers demand.  He should be faithful in the preparation of his sermons.  Faithfulness requires also that the pastor visit the sick, look up the erring, comfort the distressed, admonish the careless, teach the children, reach out for the unchurched. … Who is sufficient for these things?  It is a great comfort to us to know that God Himself has promised to make us sufficient.  God knows how frail we are and knows how much we are in need of His help.  Oh, that we may at all times bear this in mind, be truly humble, and diligently pray to God that He may give us faith, love, patience, courage, and all that is necessary for faithful service in the office of the ministry” (John H.C. Fritz, The Practical Missionary, Concordia Publishing House, 1919, Pages 18-19).

Fritz does remind us that  people are more likely to receive teaching when there is a relationship established with them based on service and care. 

Thanks to all who have written to me concerning this topic over the past several months.

Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation for Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.  He can be reached at hartungb@csl.edu.

Posted Dec. 28, 2007

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