A Message from Pastor Hale
The last gasps of a dying church are ostensibly for Christ, but actually against His servants. The pattern is repeated over and over. From the Israelite treatment of the true prophets until today when pastors are thrown out of their divine office of shepherd for superficial reasons. In a real person who claims to speak for the living Lord is where the rubber meets the road. Doctrine is fine and religious talk can be tolerated in theory, but the messenger is all too often shot when the divine message becomes wearisome to hardened sinners.
The Gospel and the message of repentance are not academic issues. We are called to choose between our family, friends, earthly loyalties and Christ. Christ demands our honor, worship, and praise as the living God. But Jesus exercises His authority through the Word proclaimed by pastors by confronting sinners with condemnation and offering the repentant His forgiveness. His servants, pastors called by Him, are to preach what the people need, not what they want to hear or they think is right. Sinners must be threatened with divine wrath and told they cannot continue in wickedness and be saved. While some congregations sin by ignoring God’s call and running off His servants, some pastors sin by being weak and cowardly and not preaching the full, undiluted counsel of the Lord. Both errors are egregious and feed disdain for Christ and His saving Word.
Very few ignorant or stubborn Christians are honest enough to attack God directly and call Him untruthful or a liar. They usually attack very human things, like the personality, quirks, or undefinable “niceness” of their pastors. But those things are irrelevant compared to the purity of God’s Word. The real question is: whether one speaking in Christ’s name is actually speaking for the Lord, or is merely serving his own belly? Ministers are not to be honored for their personality or God-given abilities, but for their faithfulness to Christ’s call. Do they stay and preach Christ crucified for sinners in hardship and through distress, or do they run away like cheap, disposable hirelings?
And doctrine cannot be merely a matter of interpretation or opinion. God’s Word is not unclear. The Lord Jesus does not stutter or have trouble communicating His will. To make Scripture obtuse or inconsistent is quite popular. It is easier to quote supposed experts, leaders, the synodical traditions of men, and seminary luminaries, rather than actually wrestle with the revealed Word itself. But without God’s pure Word, no one can remain stable on Christ and speak with any authority concerning salvation. This is no academic matter. Do not blindly trust honored sinners. You are to only worship the Lord and hear what is from His lips and Spirit.
Regrettably, the LCMS recently has made it a practice to chase away Christ’s called servants. There is a playbook at the leadership level in most districts to help congregations force a pastor out. Some even hold an outright congregational vote on whether Christ made a mistake in choosing His servant to preach at their particular location. It must be viewed as easier to bring in new people-pleasing pastors rather than new congregations by district and synod leaders. The failure to discipline, both congregations and unrepentant sinners, is endemic among people who do not know and love God’s Scripture.
This despising of the pastoral office is not Christian on many levels, but it should not surprise us. Look at how the prophets were treated, and then how the Lord Himself was despised and rejected by men for His teaching. Pastors who actually say something and apply God’s Word clearly and without partiality will be persecuted. This is not said to discourage the pastor, but embolden Him! He gets to be treated a bit like our Lord. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt. 5:11-12).
The pastor called by the resurrected Christ to preach to sinners must be willing to die for the truth. He must endure hardship, not longing to leave for the sake of easier times and more pleasant pastures at the first hint of resistance. God does end every call by death or making him unable to fulfill his office, but it is to be the Lord’s will. Neither congregation, nor people, have the authority to gainsay Christ’s express will in the call. It is not an optional calling – it is Christ’s will.
Retirement, in the crass, worldly sense – purely based on a personal decision and supposed financial security – is not applicable to a divine calling. Why would a man want to forfeit and resign the glorious calling of Christ, whom He preaches, if he doesn’t have to? So even if a pastor faces death by a thousand cuts from disgruntled, nagging members, he is called to stand bold and proclaim the truth of Scripture. Even if it means death, this is a holy calling and pleases Christ our Lord. His call is never something to be treated as merely human or optional – especially by pastors.
Having a pastor is not simply a practical need or pious wish for a congregation. It is Christ’s will. Pastors are called by the Lord, not hired and fired as dictated by the will of men. Paul in his letters continually directs people to his call: called by the will of God (1 Cor. 1:1). No one should dare take on this responsibility of speaking the Word which kills and makes alive. The burden for another person’s soul cannot be taken – it must be given. It is an easy thing to speak about God and dialogue concerning Scripture. But it is a very different thing to bear the yoke of the office and to have to speak the divine Word of necessity. And the Lord determines who is to speak and to whom His Word is to be spoken. The call is God’s will.
Congregations are to support a pastor as they would support Christ Himself, for the sake of the Word. To honor the office of preaching is to honor the God who gives the Gospel. Just because Jesus is not here to debate with in person, does not mean that pastors should be a visible punching bag. Hearers of the Word owe obedience and honor to the Word, and also to the preacher of that Word. To be a member of a church is to obligate yourself to your pastor’s care, because it is God’s will, not because we think it is convenient.
This does not just mean merely a steady paycheck is to be paid to pastors. Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches (Gal. 6:6). Correct, help, and look out for your pastor. Be his advocate and intercessor. Pray for Him. The office itself, not the man, is divine. It belongs to Christ and Christ is honored through it. No sinner is up to the task of portraying Christ. Our Lord, however, works through means. The Word must come through a man: A nd how are they to hear without someone preaching? A nd how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom. 10:14-15).
When a pastor takes a stand on God’s Word, however minor it may seem to the laity, he must be willing to stand resolute on that revealed will of God – or else he should shut his mouth and find another, more suitable, calling. The prophets and apostles were willing to be imprisoned, beat, lose every earthly possession, and ultimately die for the truth of God – because “Thus saith the Lord.” To speak for God one must not desire attention and sycophants, he must be willing to suffer all and deny himself, for the sake of Christ, the true Lord of heaven and earth. There is nothing more glorious than to proclaim the revelation of God’s glory in Christ. Yet, it is a grave responsibility and burden to be tasked with delivering the Word which sinners, according to their flesh, can only hate and resist. We can trust that the Spirit who comes in the Word, despite the lack of a preacher’s eloquence, renews and works faith according to His will.
Jeremiah, prefiguring the rejection of our Lord in the flesh, had to preach without visible results. Even worse, God told him his preaching would be fruitless in man’s eyes: I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land (Jer. 1:18). God’s own chosen people fought against Jeremiah, as they did against the promised Christ. Pastors are to be firm like bronze and not compromise one jot and tittle of the divine Word.
It is easy to sin like Jonah and refuse to preach God’s grace and compassion to rank sinners who do not deserve it – but forgiveness belongs to God and is not a matter of fairness or justice. Real sinners cannot love God of their own nature, but Christ died for His enemies and real sinners. Pastors are not to preach themselves or their opinions, but the damning Law and saving Gospel of God. The Word alone deserves our highest loyalty. For how we treat the Word is how we view the Maker of all things, since it is His Word.
To attack the office of pastor in Christ’s church, whether it be from a pastor or congregation, is to assail the Word of the Lord Jesus He commanded to be preached to all nations. May the gracious Lord grant repentance to those who have resisted the Lord’s institution and courage to suffer and die to those who uphold this institution. The Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation (Lk 11:49-50). Amen.