29 May 2012

Luther on the Dangers, and Promises of the Ministry

Here is a quote from Johann Gerhard's Theological Commonplaces on the Ecclesiastical Ministry by Luther regarding the dangers of the Ministry: "To preach the Word of God is nothing else than to draw to oneself the fury of all of hell and of Satan, and then [the fury] of all the saints in the world and all the power of the world. It is the most dangerous kind of life to be subjected to so many teeth of Satan." In another place Luther writes: "Likewise, it means that ministers of the Word are engaged in such great dangers from the devil, the world, and the flesh that they lack even divine help, and they could not be defended except by the help of God alone, after the heathen rage against them, kings rise up against them, and whatever is of the world vexes God's ambassadors. Therefore He promises that He Himself will be the defender against all those. And if He did not do this, and if we did not know He would do this, who would want to undergo the labor and perils of teaching? For whatever happens to Christ will also happen to all ministers." (p. 7 of Gerhard's Theological Commonplaces.)

No one can adequately prepare you for what you are about to enter. If in baptism you became a target and enemy of the devil, now you are twice his enemy, for you are God's spokesman in the midst of His people. But you will not be without help. God defends this ecclesiastical order in particular, says Gerhard. You will be amazed at how clever the Evil Foe is in his attacks. One day it will be through lethargy and lack of focus. Another day it will be through lust and temptation. Do not underestimate him, or your own sinful flesh! Notice that Luther also says that the fury "of all the saints in the world" will be drawn to you. This will happen no matter how well you teach, no matter how much you "love your people." You will be sent to minister to many people who expect you to be a "yes-man," someone who will provide "soft-pillows" for the impious (Chemnitz, Enchirdion: Ministry, Word, and Sacraments), someone who will make life easy for the flock. There will be many faithful among the flocks to which you are sent, but there will also be many who are stubborn.

When you are in doubt as to how to handle a situation, whether you are preparing people for a wedding, or a funeral, or answering requests for this or that kind of thing in worship, ask yourself how you would respond as a father to your children. The children do not always understand every decision you make. Sometimes, when there is no clear direction, no clear path, you err on the side of caution. You tell your children "no" not simply "because I said so," (as I wrote in another post on this blog), but because you have greater and larger things in mind than they do. You are called to protect and defend them from false teachers, and from false belief. Decisions you make will not always be popular, but if they are made in accord with Scripture, and are consistent with our doctrine, even when Scripture seems to be silent on it, then you can do so in good conscience.

One of the biggest temptations in the Ministry is to be that "yes-man," to be a pleaser of men, to be liked. A man can drive himself crazy thinking about every possible consequence and result of his actions and decisions. And you will do so, despite anyone's advice to the contrary. Whether people like you or not is not what you need to spend your time worrying about. Act according to your conscience, and at times, go with your gut. Don't get mad at people when they dislike you for your decision, but again, look at them as a father would his children. Have pity on them. If you sin against them, humble yourself and admit your faults and failures. When they sin against you, forgive them from your heart, even as our Lord enjoins in Matthew 6. It may be that they have had very poor teaching, or a very poor example set for them by previous ministers. Or it may be that they are just plain stubborn. In such cases, do not be afraid to rebuke them. Christ rebuked the disciples for their slowness of heart and their unbelief.

Christ is with your Ministry. He will defend it against the assaults and attacks of the world and all that rages against it. You could do worse than open up Gerhard before you are ordained, and read a little about the Ecclesiastical Ministry. Or, Martin Chemnitz' Enchiridion: Ministry, Word, and Sacraments. In the latter book, I especially recommend the second on the duties of ministers. Go to it! Preach the Word!

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