The apostolic nation called to herald the gospel of the kingdom

Starting with a remnant of the assembly of Israel, Jesus built a new assembly on the confession that he is the long-awaited Messiah (Matthew 16:18). Not only Peter but all the apostles represented that “little flock” (Luke 12:31-34). The Twelve represented the new Israel (Matthew 19:28 = Luke 22:30), the nation rendering the fruits of the kingdom that the old Israel did not (Matthew 21:43). That is how the judgement of the nations according to how they treated Jesus’ brothers (Matthew 25:31-46) will fulfill the prophecy that the Gentiles would be judged according to how they treated Israel (Joel 3:1-12).

The call of the Twelve, including Judas, is the call of the new holy nation to proclaim the glad tidings of the kingdom (Matthew 4:19). The end will not come until that good news, the same gospel committed to Judas, is preached to all nations (Matthew 24:14; see Mark 14:9). In these last days, the church continues the same apostolic ministry of the new covenant in the Messiah’s blood (Luke 22:20). That continuity means every believer does both the works he did—healing the lame, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead—and greater works (John 14:12).

The call of the Twelve to the public, representative ministry anticipated their taking the place of the priests and prophets, the public ministers of the old covenant. The breaking dawn of the new kingdom in the proclamation of peace by the Messiah and his ambassadors was nightfall for the temple-centered ministry of the word. That ministry of types and shadows gave way to the apostolic ministry as the light of the world filfilled one Messianic prophecy after another. John the Baptist, the greatest minister of the law and the prophets, gladly decreased as Jesus increased. Even he, the greatest of the old covenant, ranked under everyone in the new kingdom (Matthew 11:11).

In conclusion, there is no ministry of the word other than the ministry committed to the Twelve to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, the good news of righteousness from God. That continuity of the public ministry of the New Covenant is acknowledged in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. Jesus did not commit the ministry to them by giving it originally to Peter but rather in his calling of all twelve apostles (Treatise 10, German translation). As the ministry was thus originally given to the new Israel, that holy nation retains the authority to appoint public ministers of the gospel (see John F. Brug’s “The ministry of the apostles and our ministry”).

Spiritual gifts and the ministry of the word of God

Having the command to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments, believers may appoint some from their midst to proclaim the gospel in specific ways, which may or may not include administration of the sacraments. Such proclamation as Christ’s ambassadors is public in the sense that those appointed, like the apostles, represent other believers.

Those appointed to proclaim the gospel as representatives of the church are to do so according to their gifts from the Spirit (1 Peter 4:1; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-6, 27-30). As manifestations of the coming kingdom of God, such gifts transcend the callings all have to their vocations.

Thus, all of those called to proclaim the gospel as representatives of the church are gifts of the ascended Christ to his church (see Ephesians 4:11). Just as the Good Shepherd represents the church as the head of the body, apostles and other public ministers of the word represent the church as its tongue. All public ministers are servants of the church (1 Corinthians 3:21) following the Servant of all (Mark 10:45; cf. Mark 9:35).

Christ’s spoken and visible words give life

In 1531, the first Protestants clarified some fundamental similarities between the preached word of God and the sacraments, the rites instituted by Christ:

Through the Word and the rite God simultaneously moves the heart to believe and take hold of faith, as Paul says (Rom. 10:17), “Faith comes from what is heard.” As the Word enters through the ears to strike the heart, so the rite itself enters through the eyes to move the heart. The Word and the rite have the same effect, as Augustine said so well when he called the sacrament “the visible Word,” for the rite is received by the eyes and is a sort of picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore both have the same effect. (Tappert, 2000a)

The Lord’s Supper was called the visible word, used in contrast to audible word by Augustine in an age of general illiteracy, when words were only written to be read out loud. However, in today’s culture of silent reading, visible word may convey no more than written word, whereas the concept of nonverbal communication, conveying thought by means other than words heard or read, is quite familiar.

More: Ways the Son of Man calls forth life: Seeking the kingdom of God in word and sacrament

How to “seek first the kingdom of God”

What will I eat? How will I pay the bills? How will I have a happy marriage? How will I have a successful career? Everyone seems to be preoccupied with these kinds of concerns, but Jesus calmed his disciples by giving them a higher purpose. He told them not to worry about their needs in this world, but to instead seek God’s kingdom, having the promise that their heavenly Father would then also meet all those needs: “…do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matt 6:31-33, RSV). The parallel account omits “and his righteousness” and adds an assurance: “…seek his kingdom, and all these things shall be yours as well. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:31-32). The first step in understanding what it means to seek the kingdom of God is to determine what Jesus meant by “his kingdom.” This is because Jesus used the word translated as kingdom in a way that is very different from the typical usage of kingdom in English as the land or people ruled by a king.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the “kingdom of God” is usually God’s active rule over his creation, especially in saving his people from their sins and the consequences of those sins.

More: What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God? Matthew 6:33 and Luke 12:31 in the contexts of the Sermon on the Mount and the Lucan parables

How to face stressful events without anxiety

The care which God demands: V. 33. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. To seek, earnestly to covet, to put the whole heart to the gaining of, the kingdom of God, is a most necessary care for the disciples of Christ, for the children of God. For this kingdom is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, Rom. 14, 17. To possess this righteousness, which is well-pleasing to God, to be filled with the fruits of this righteousness, to become rich in truly good works, that is a goal worthy of the Christian’s ambition. Such a constant seeking after purity of heart and holiness of life will incidentally stifle all care and worry of this life. And the little things of this earthly body and life will then come as a matter of course, the main object of the quest having been secured. They will be cast into our laps as an overplus, as an addition to the great bargain which our seeking has gained.

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Prosperity promised in this age—with persecutions

He tells him and all the apostles with solemn emphasis that there is no one that has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who would not receive in return, as a reward of grace, much more, a hundred times more, even in this present world. Even here on earth, in Christ and in the Kingdom of Grace, a Christian finds full compensation for everything that he has given up and sacrificed in this world’s goods; for the standards of the kingdom of God are entirely different from those of the world, Mark 10, 30. And finally, when the time set by God has come, He will give to the believers the inheritance of eternal life, not on account of any works or sacrifice, but as a reward of grace. Then all that he may have been obliged to suffer, to sacrifice, to deny, will sink into insignificance and be forgotten in the enjoyment of the heavenly bliss.

Paul E. Kretzmann, on Luke 18:28-30

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Thy kingdom come

What foolishness, therefore, to be concerned about eating and drinking; to be full of hesitation and doubt, to look anxiously for help, like the mariner in a tempest-tossed vessel! These all are things which the people of the world, the heathen, make their prime concern; but as for you, the Father knows that ye need these things. Only one thing there is which should be the object of anxious search, that is the kingdom of God. To be a member of this kingdom, to have and keep true faith in the heart, through which such membership is [ensured], that is the one fact which should give every Christian his chief concern, on account of which he daily prays the Second Petition. All the other things that are necessary for the sustaining of life are added without worry or care, by the providence of God.

Paul E. Kretzmann, on Luke 12:27–31, hyperlink and “ensured” added

Christ did not legislate on church and ministry

As Christ did not come bringing law but rather grace and truth (John 1:17), expositions of New Testament teaching should never sound like legal arguments (see August Pieper’s “Are There Legal Regulations in the New Testament?”). Unfortunately, New Testament injunctions are routinely interpreted practically as if they were new laws.

This is seen in attempts of some Lutherans to demonstrate the presence of words of institution for the pastoral office in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20 and parallel passages). This paper by Pastor Preus will serve as an example. The paper does have some interesting history, and its negative assessment of the traditional argument for restricting public ministry to that office is quite revealing. While that argument is presented by some members of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, its agreement with Walther is questionable. In fact, on examination, the Scriptural foundation of that argument is surprisingly weak.

Since the similarly restrictive position expressed in the paper and in the one reviewed earlier is not supported by any clear Scripture, it is at best a human opinion. For that reason alone, Christians must firmly resist all restrictions it imposes on divine calls to the public ministry, the service of proclaiming the gospel on behalf of the church. For example, believers remain free to appoint non-pastors to teach the word of God on their behalf. The church is free to regard them as called by God, for they are Christ’s gifts to people as surely as pastors are.

In the same way, there is no need to find Scripture with examples of worshiping on Wednesday instead of Saturday or Sunday to know that Sabbatarian is a human opinion at best. It is convenient that we have Colossians 2:16, but the recipients of the letter should have refused to have had their conscience bound as a matter of the principle that doctrine is determined by the light of God’s word without mixtures of human opinion.

If specific counterexamples can be found against a human opinion, so much the better, but they are really not necessary for seeing that none carries any legitimate authority to interpret God’s word. In the case of restrictive opinions on the ministry, there are several counterexamples, as will be seen in the 2005 ministry statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), a church in full doctrinal agreement with Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).

The position of the Preus paper is particularly susceptible to a counterexample that the more traditional restrictive position is not. What makes Preus’s position unique if not novel is its basis on the assumption that Jesus instituted the pastoral office after his resurrection—the office that Scripture says was held by both Judas and his replacement. The office held by the apostles was theirs to use in their previous commissions to give peace by proclaiming the nearness of “the kingdom of God” (e.g., Luke 10:1-12). According to the Synoptic Gospels, “the gospel of the kingdom” of God was announced even before the apostles understood that Jesus must die and rise again.

The institution of the sacraments did not create the pastoral office. Rather, since the sacraments are visual proclamations of the gospel of the kingdom, those already commissioned to proclaim that gospel were commanded to administer the sacraments as they were instituted. While they did receive the words instituting Trinitarian baptism in the Great Commission, they had baptized earlier (John 4:2) and had heard the words instituting the Lord’s Supper.

A decisive refutation of the idea that Jesus instituted the pastoral office in the Great Commission is that the office was already held by the apostles before the words were spoken. The office conferred on Judas prior to the Great Commission was filled by Matthias after the Great Commission—the very same office (Acts 1:20, 25). Since Matthias held the pastoral office, Judas did, too. It could not possibly have been instituted by words spoken after his death.

In short, the opinion expressed in the Preus paper restricts the church, the royal priesthood of believers, in ways that Scripture does not. Worse, its regulations are based on the reconstructed account that Jesus instituted the pastoral office after his resurrection, a narrative exposed as fictional by Scripture’s saying that the office held by Judas was filled by his successor.

Then what words instituted the pastoral office? The question presupposes that, since it is of divine origin, the office have been clearly instituted by recorded words of Jesus, in analogy with the sacraments, words in some passage regulating the pastoral office beyond the divine call described in Mark 3:13-19. However, what we actually find in Scripture is that “The divine institution of this preaching and teaching office is not located in just one particular passage. Rather, throughout the New Testament, a divine ordering, establishment, and institution of the preaching and teaching office is indicated and presupposed (John 20:21-23, John 21:15ff, Matthew 28:18-20 [NKJV], Matthew 9:36-38, Ephesians 4:11-12, 1 Peter 5:1-4, Acts 20:28, 1 Corinthians 4:1; see also Treatise 10)” (The Public Ministry of the Word, ELS).

Why is there no passage with the Ten Commandments of church and ministry? Simply because Jesus did not come to burden us with new laws but rather to redeem us from the curse of the law. The redeemed do not break the Second Commandment by misusing God’s name but rather proclaim the only name by which we may be saved (Acts 4:12).

While the good news of the Savior’s deeds to rescue us from the darkness is pure gospel, the command to proclaim those deeds (1 Peter 2:9), that is, to openly use God’s name to “pray, praise, and give thanks,” is pure law. To confuse the two can be disastrous for anyone who has not fully complied with the Second Commandment.

Since believers often fail to proclaim the deeds of the Savior who called out of darkness (1 Peter 2:9), passages scattered across the New Testament command them to do so as appropriate in their various circumstances. Those commands are exhortations to keep the Second Commandment in specific settings, not absolute, universal laws added to the Ten Commandments. For the example of the diverse forms of the pastoral office, “The church is commanded to appoint ministers who will preside over the churches (2 Timothy 2:2, Titus 1:5, …)” (The Public Ministry of the Word, ELS).

That is the public ministry in the narrow sense. In the wide sense, “Authorization to exercise a limited part of the Public Ministry of the Word does not imply authorization to exercise all or other parts of it (1 Corinthians 12:5, 28, Romans 12:6-8, Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8, 5:17)” (The Public Ministry of the Word, ELS). The ELS cited those passages as counterexamples to the opinion that believers may not authorize anyone but pastors of local churches to proclaim the gospel on their behalf. Not stated by any clear passages of Scripture, restrictions of this kind must not be allowed to hinder the proclamation of the gospel. The church militant does not have to fight Satan with one arm tied behind its back. No, believers are free to authorize professors and lay teachers to announce the good news on their behalf. “The word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9).

The sporadic distribution of passages on church and ministry confirms that none is intended as the institution of the ministry and that none adds new law to the Ten Commandments. Accordingly, the ministry has been long known in its seed form of telling the Gentile nations what God has done to save his people (1 Peter 2:9):

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! (Psa. 105:1-2, ESV)

And with joy you will draw water out of the springs of salvation. And you will say in that day: Sing hymns to the Lord; call his name out loud; declare his glorious deeds among the nations; remember them, because his name has been exalted. Sing hymns to the name of the Lord, for he has done exalted things; declare these things in all the earth. (Is. 12:3-5, NETS)

Set free from sin, believers must carry out the Second Commandment with wisdom, in accordance with the revealed will of God and unhindered by human regulations taught as doctrines. After all, believers have the keys and priesthood of the kingdom—like the gifts from the Spirit—for the good of their neighbors, not themselves.

26 July 2014. Revised on 7 November 2014. Link to  August Pieper’s “Are There Legal Regulations in the New Testament?” updated on 3 July 2016.

Seek the breath of life

In Colossians 3:1-2, Paul encourages us to seek the good things to be specified later in the chapter. One reason to seek those things is that “you are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).  The other reason is that you have been raised with him (3:1). That is sanctification, in fact, the entire Christian life.

This chapter reads like a conflation of Romans 6 and Romans 12 with some elements of Ephesians 5-6, where Paul tells describes the Spirit-filled life. How is the Christian to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5)? In the first person of Luther’s Small Catechism, I am filled with the Spirit by continuing to “believe in Jesus Christ” since it is the Lord and Giver of life who “sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth.” Indeed, I am not in any way sanctified “by my own reason or strength.”

How to be sanctified

“Let your mind be renewed” (Romans 12:1-2). Is that a command to pray for renewal (law, second commandment), a command to diligently hear and learn the word of God (law, third commandment), or an invitation to believe the promise of forgiveness (gospel)?

As Anders Nygren pointed out in his commentary, Paul had just proclaimed the good news that “he who through faith is righteous shall live” (Romans 1) in freedom from wrath (Romans 5), sin (Romans 6), the law (Romans 7), and death (Romans 8) in agreement with God’s promise to Abraham (Romans 9-11). Thus, Romans 12:1-2 invites the audience to be renewed by believing that good news.  The good works of the remainder of the book result from that renewal of the mind.