24 March 2009

My Ministry

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:5-7. KJV

I went and heard the Concordia Seminary Chorus sing this past Saturday. Afterward I was talking with some of the men, none of whom I had known before. In saying goodbye, one of them, a first year man, said, "God bless you in your ministry." I responded with something along the lines of, "the ministry is not mine, it is Christ's. If it's mine it's over" and walked away. I walked away only because I was in a hurry not because I was mad at him or offended by his statement. Because I wish I had more time to speak to this man, I'm writing now and if by some strange chance he reads this blog, explain why I said what I said.

I understand the intention of the seminarian, you have to say something nice to a chatty pastor as he leaves, but I have heard such a blessing given many times in the past from brother pastors and such and it has always given me pause. The reason why is that the Holy Ministry does not belong to me. I don't own the office. It is not a possession of mine. It does not come forth from anything in my being. The Divine Call I received 10 years ago did not generate from my heart or by my own will. The ordination I received was by prayer and the laying on of hands and I wasn't doing the praying nor did I put hands on myself. The Holy Church and Her Ministerium declared me fit and Christ Himself made me His servant, and that is that. The Divine Call I received 5 years ago also was not generated from within me, as a matter of fact, I wrote out an extensive personal pro-con list whether to stay where I had already been put or to come here to Brookfield, and guess what, there were no personal pros to coming here, not one. The ecclesiastical list was different, and so I here I am far away from Fenway Park without my annual season pass.

But believing that the Ministry is not mine is something I have had to learn, and learn the hard way. Really, if the ministry is mine, these dear ones I have been enslaved to are really in trouble. Seminarians don't know much about this, but I wonder why brother pastors say such things as "my ministry". There is nothing nefarious in the words of course, perhaps I have become much more cognizant of the fact that I am but an earthen vessel, good for carrying around Christ that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus might be given out with this earthen voice preaching Christ, with these earthen hands as His baptism is administered and as His Body and Blood are distributed. None of this is mine, it is all His. Yes, He has shined in my heart, but for His purpose that He might be preached as Lord.

My response to the Seminarian was so because I need to be told this over and over again. Once I start thinking that these gifts are mine, that this congregation is mine the whole thing is in danger. Then I am thinking that I am Lord. It always comes back to idolatry. The Church is Christ's; He has purchased Her with His own blood and cleansed her to present her to Himself. To be sure, I do play a part of course, as a bondservant/slave and vessel, in order that the excellency of power may be of God. Christ's bondservants are but earthen tools for His good work, and such work is excellent and glorious but such excellency and glory are seen in suffering and in the weakness of the preaching of the cross, which is the power unto salvation for those who believe. The Holy Ministry is not ours, we ministers are not even our own according to our own person; Holy Baptism has seen to that. We are the Lord's for His use. And we are replaceable. One minister comes after another until Christ the chief Shepherd appears and there will be no more need of ministers at all. The more we understand and believe this the better.


WM Cwirla said...

I agree that we always need to remind each other that we are stewards of the mysteries of Christ, not owners.

Charitably, I wonder whether the seminarian was using "your ministry" as a convenient shorthand for "the ministry entrusted to your care." Such a way of speaking is not without biblical precedent:

"Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry..." (Romans 11:13)

Rev. Wright II said...

This is very well said, and we should be reminded and reminded often as to who we serve and how we serve. This is seen in the way we speak about the office and its work/duties/functions. I would like to piggyback on your statement with two others that seem to go with this. The first is "my congregation". No, it is the congregation in which I serve. The other "how many do you worship". Like the statement "your ministry" these statements point to the wrong thing. It would do us all good to speak what we are and who we are in the most succinct and correct ways. Simply we should say what we mean and mean what we say. Words have power and should be used in the best way possible to teach the correct things and not mislead. Wonderful post and thoughts!

The Rev. BT Ball said...

Brother Cwirla-
you are right as usual and I certainly want to be as charitble as possible to this particular man. He might have been speaking in the way you mention, he probably was, I regret that I didn't have more time to speak with him.

The Scriptures do speak this way, "But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." 2 Timothy 4:5

Brother Wright's comments are helpful in that the words we use are to be used the same way the Scriptures use them. My concern is that we do that. We are those who have been entrusted with the office have been given gifts to fulfill it - from Christ Himself. Such an office is mine as a gift to be fulfilled where and as long as He sees fit.

I won't go on any more as if I were our dear teacher from St. Louis!

WM Cwirla said...

"Do you believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?" - Small Catechism

There is nothing wrong with taking hold of that which is given you to do and say, provided you are ever the servant and not the master. I see nothing wrong with saying "my congregation" (as I often do), holding dear what the Lord has entrusted to my care.

Paul McCain said...

So, ok, I'm confused.

How is it wrong to speak as Scriptures do? And how was it helpful to rebuke the seminarian for doing that?

I don't get it. But then again, this is the La Cage aux Folles or something like that.

The Rev. BT Ball said...

Rev. McCain-
It's not.

It wasn't.