A Jagged Contention: The Pastor as Law/Gospel Artist

“Pastors are at the forefront of discerning the word that frees from the word that binds (Matthew 16:19; 18:18); this is their great charge and privilege. No other vocation is specifically set aside to exercise this power. It is not that others cannot make this distinction. Indeed, some laypeople make this distinction better than many pastors do. But the pastoral office is charged with this privilege of properly distinguishing law and Gospel in preaching and pastoral care. Along with administering the sacraments, this is the core identity of the pastoral vocation. It is the foundation for all evangelistic endeavors. For Luther, the proper distinction between Law and Gospel in preaching and pastoral care is an art, and so it is a practice in which all pastors can grow. Since other Christian traditions ignore, distort, or downplay this distinction, the proper distinction between Law and Gospel is the most important ecumenical challenge and gift which Lutherans offer other Christians. For that reason, it should never be ignored, distorted, or downplayed in dealing with Christians of other confessional traditions. Indeed, it is a nonnegotiable item at the forefront in an ecumenical discussion.”

– Mark C. Mattes, “Properly Distinguishing Law and Gospel as the Pastor’s Calling” in The Necessary Distinction: A Continuing Conversation on Law & Gospel. Pg. 112


Dr. Mattes argues that properly distinguishing Law and Gospel in preaching and pastoral care is the defining factor of the pastoral office. Do you agree with this? What are some other ways the church in our day has defined the work of the pastor? What is the danger that arises when the pastor ceases to see himself as an artist of Law and Gospel?