Divine calls of pastors and other church workers

The statement on the public ministry of the gospel by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) differentiates the pastoral office from other forms of the ministry. In support of the ELS statement’s teaching that the pastoral office was instituted directly by Christ, the apostles obviously held it, being authorized with “the full use of the keys,” and it is equally obvious that their office was no invention of the church.

In addition, the ELS statement more broadly defines the public ministry in terms of proclaiming the gospel on behalf of the church as opposed to private ministry on one’s own initiative. Under this definition, to say pastors are the only ones in the public ministry is to deny believers the right to appoint others to teach the word of God on their behalf.

Since Christ gave the Holy Spirit and the keys of his kingdom to all believers (John 20:21-23), they may authorize lay schoolteachers to proclaim the Gospel to their students. Anyone imposing restrictions on their use has the burden to prove the restrictions from Scripture. Those who restrict believers without scriptural warrant teach their own opinions as if they were divine commands.

Some, while recognizing that right of believers to appoint lay teachers of the gospel, do not want to say they have been called by God because they do not find those offices explicitly mentioned in Scripture. The tacit assumption is that any class of Christian workers not explicitly mentioned in Scripture is not a gift of Christ to people, as are the evangelists and pastors of Ephesians 4:8-11. This resembles what the old Presbyterians called “the regulative principle”: any form of worship not explicitly commanded in the Scriptures is strictly prohibited, practically limiting them to Psalms a capella for music in worship. The burden of proof is misplaced. Since those restrictions cannot be found in the Scriptures, they cannot bind consciences, and “the word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9).

Pastor David Jay Webber noted that Lutherans have always recognized that pastors are not the only ones with divine callings, citing the German version of Augsburg Confession XXVII:13, which in English reads,

Thus they made men believe that the profession of monasticism was far better than Baptism, and that the monastic life was more meritorious than that of magistrates, than the life of pastors, and such like, who serve their calling in accordance with God’s commands, without any man-made services.

There, pastors are listed alongside magistrates as having divine calls, God-given vocations. We could add lay teachers authorized to proclaim the word of God on behalf of believers. Faithful teachers obey the biblical commands to diligently and conscientiously carry out their work for the good of their neighbors.

Why not reason that since that sacraments have explicit divine commands, the pastoral ministry must have explicit divine commands that imply that only pastors are called by God to teach the gospel? The commands to “do this in remembrance of me” and to baptize do not impose new regulations but rather institute the sacraments as means of grace. By contrast, the pastoral office is not a means of grace but rather a form in which believers keep the Second Commandment, using their Savior’s name in word and sacrament to proclaim his deeds before the nations (1 Peter 2:9; Psa. 104:1-2; Is. 12:3-5).

To deny the divine calling of all non-pastors confuses Scriptural establishment of an office with a divine call to an office. Whether believers authorize someone to the pastoral office established by Scripture or to another office of teaching the word of God on their behalf, they do so with the same authority. Since a faithful schoolteacher authorized to proclaim the gospel is without question a gift of Christ to his people, his calling to his Spirit-created office is just as divine as a pastor’s call to his Scripturally established office.

Indeed, since a faithful schoolteacher appropriately authorized to proclaim the gospel to Christian students is without question a gift of Christ to his people, the arrangement did not come from the flesh or from Satan but rather from the Holy Spirit moving his people to proclaim the gospel. (It is in exactly this sense that a synod would be seen to be a divinely instituted form of the church even if there were no Acts 15. In his paper arguing that a synodical congregation is a church, August Pieper explained that a synod can be seen to be a divinely instituted form of the church from the obvious fact that the arrangement did not come from the flesh or from Satan but rather from the Holy Spirit moving his people to proclaim the gospel (1929, “Concerning the Doctrine of the Church and of its Ministry, with Special Reference to the Synod and its Discipline”).) In fact, any good works believers do have been prompted by the Holy Spirit.

When believers proclaim the deeds of the one who called them out of darkness (1 Peter 2:9), they do so as moved by the Spirit (John 20:21-23, Romans 8:16, etc.). The Spirit moves them to authorize pastors and others to proclaim the gospel on their behalf. Christ still gives gifts to people, and he is not limited by our principles. Christ gave people school teachers to teach the gospel.

Seeing that not only pastors but also the laity engaged in beneficial work are called by God, why have Lutherans generally reserved the term “divine call” for pastors as opposed to farmers, government officials, physicians, etc.? Is it that everyone is called, but some are more called than others? No, the difference is not that pastors are more called than others engaged in legitimate occupations. All vocations, secular and ecclesiastical, have divine calls. Rather, the difference lies in what they are called to do. Those in purely secular occupations are called to perform their duties in order to help their neighbors in this life. By contrast, pastors are called to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments for the life to come. Other occupations, such as teachers in Christian schools, are neither purely secular nor purely ecclesiastical. While believers are free to authorize a school teacher to teach the gospel on their behalf, that authorization is to a much lesser extent than that of a pastor. The authorization of a schoolteacher does not extend beyond the classroom to teaching the congregation, so it is obviously not to the same degree as the authorization of a pastor. That explains why “divine call” usually refers to the call of a pastor. More generally, the call to announce the gospel on behalf of the church is a matter of degree, as the ELS statement recognizes.

Every legitimate occupation is a vocation through which God brings us his blessings. May we give thanks for pastors and schoolteachers who faithfully proclaim the gospel since they really are Christ’s gifts to people.

26 July 2014. Revised 7 November 2014.

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