Monday, February 17, 2003

Article V: Of the Ministry

That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the
Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For
through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the
Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it
pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God,
not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those
who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's

They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the
Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through
their own preparations and works.

Yesterday I was installed at St. John's Lutheran Church in Oregon, WI. The weekend before I was ordained a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Article V is therefore apropos. I have been reflecting in a systematic and liturgical way on the office of ministry, have heard two sermons on it, and have made promises regarding it, saying, "I will, and I ask God to help me." I am now officially a pastor in a church that teaches that the Holy Spirit works faith through instruments- specifically the preaching of the Word and the administering of the Sacraments. To teach and preach in such a church is to be reminded, first, that the Holy Spirit's work is hidden, often hiding behind clumsy words, hastily baked bread and stale wafers, and lukewarm water. It is secondarily, and this more difficult to take on faith, a seemingly arbitrary and capricious work. "Where and when it pleases God", this is how the Holy Spirit works faith.

And what kind of faith is worked? The Reformers take this opportunity to once again define (in miniature) the Gospel. To wit (!), "That God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake." If you didn't hear the doctrine of justification spelled out clearly enough in Article IV, just listen here, and you will hear it clearly, and this in their confession "of the ministry".

So the ministry is instituted to teach and preach this faith, and for the faith of the church. It has no other function. Any pageantry or liturgical activity we do in honoring the ministry is also for the sake of this faith, not to honor the person but rather to emphasize highly the office because the office is the means of preaching something so exalted.

In the new member class yesterday, I taught two things that I'd like to reflect on more deeply here. First, that the Lutheran church actually has four, not two, sacraments. In addition to baptism and the Lord's Supper, we also have penance and preaching. This pertains in a deep sense to a reclamation of the ministry in our church in this century. Second, that one should always come to worship, and specifically to the sermon, anticipating that one will hear God's Word, the Gospel. One should expect this, for faith's sake. But one should also come as one who has previously been addressed by God in the preaching of law & gospel, and who will in the future also be addressed. Here are where the critical tools of discernment come, so we can listen critically to what is preached without thereby losing faith, a lack of faith being the belief that the Word preached is simply a human word, an opinion.

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