The Meaning of Words, a Man’s Word, the Word of God — Part II

One of the things which saddens me most about the present state of the Lutheran Church is the basic lack of integrity among those called to proclaim and teach God’s Word and rightly administer the sacraments. By this I do not mean the human weakness and sinfulness in which we all find ourselves. We all are tempted. Only Christ was and is without sin. My concern is more focused and is basic to the health of the Church and the proclamation of the Word. Rather than beat around the bush, I’ll get to the point. If a pastor is going to be a faithful servant of the Word, he has to be a man of his word. Pastor’s make solemn vows when they are ordained. Those vows are not coerced, but freely spoken. They are not based on some fine print which the pastor has overlooked, but on years of hopefully careful study and acquaintance with the teachings of the Church, especially Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Studying the ancient languages, learning to listen to God’s Word through careful and faithful exegesis, being immersed in the witness of the consensus of the church catholic in general, and the Lutheran Church specifically — these are not mere hurdles to be jumped, but preparation for ministry and a part of the informed consent involved in the ordination vows and subscription to the Confessions. The Church, including the average person sitting in the pews, should be able to trust that the pastor before them did not cross his fingers when saying his vows. The hearers of the Word should be able to trust that the man in the pulpit did not engage in some Lutheran form of the Jesuits’ reservatio mentis when he promised fidelity to God’s Word as witnessed in the Lutheran Confessions.
While I would be saddened should a pastor come to a point in his life where he could no longer with a good conscience preach and teach in accordance with his ordination vows and subscription, I would have respect for him as a man, if he would resign his sacred office rather than break the promises so solemnly and publicly made at ordination and installation. If a pastor can no longer do what he promised to do when he signed a letter of call, the manly and honorable thing to do is to resign, respecting the rightful expectation of a congregation that a pastor who professes and promises to be a Lutheran pastor will be and remain such. Lutheran pastors have been willing to suffer humiliation, poverty, persecution, imprisonment or death rather than break their vows. How can we sing Paul Gerhardt’s hymns if we do not honor and emulate his faithfulness. How can we extol Loehe or Walther if we despise what they upheld?
As sad and disappointing as a resignation might be, there is still a certain amount of integrity and honesty involved in respecting the congregation. What I find unconscienable is when pastors seek to change the confession of a congregation by undermining confessional loyalty. There is no integrity to that. That man’s word is worthless. He is unworthy of the Word and Sacraments entrusted to him. He is unworthy of the congregation placed in his care. He has not only deceived himself, but the Bride of Christ. But God will not be deceived and will hold him accountable. Pastors are also called to hold one another accountable through mutual conversation and the consolation of the brethren. This is more than shooting the bull, guzzling coffee, devouring donuts, bragging about successes and complaining about alligators. It is about studying together, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ together, helping one another keep the vows they all made. When the Means of Grace given to the Church are neglected and the main focus is on strategy and tactics for tallying up numbers, the first steps have been taken to forsake the ordination vows. Pastors are bound as brothers to help each other focus on Christ. Pastors are trained and called to be insightful enough to cut through mere usage of words and phrases and to always help one another to leave empty words behind and return to the Word which never returns empty to God. (see Part I)
As in Part I, this rubber does hit the road. The present situation in the ELCA could only have come about if pastors did not mean what they said at their ordination vows or if they were not manly enough to at least keep their word by resigning before they broke it. The question has to be raised: Are ordination vows taken in all piety and seriousness or are they first de-constructed only to be reconstructed? Are pastors men of their word or weasels and deceivers? Have pastors who promote the ordination of practicing homosexuals deceived themselves to such a degree that they no longer recognize the fraud they are perpetrating on the flocks entrusted to them? The people deserve some honest answers. God demands some answers.
Pastors in the LC-MS need to ask whether they are men of their word also. Can worship forms which are expressions of non-Scriptural, non-Lutheran theologies be employed without working against what one has promised to nurture and uphold? While some pastors who tend to be more liturgical are accused at times of Grabauism and/or tyranny, is it not deviously tyrannical to lead people away from the Confession one has promised to uphold? Is it not a misuse of one’s office. Where is the pastoral integrity in the Ablaze! mission service discussed below? Have vows been broken? If so repentance is in order. If a pastor does not want to repent, he should at least be man enough and a man of his word so that he tenders his resignation, respecting the Church, the people and his vows.
This requires some self-examination. Pastors some times slip and err out of weakness or lack of knowledge or insight. In such cases they should deal gently with one another. At other times they knowingly and willfully break their vows. In such cases admonitions of a stronger and perhaps even more public nature are in order.
Perhaps our comments here can serve to build one another up through mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.


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