Authorized to Preach

By Paul Koch

In 1849 Wilhelm Löhe wrote an examination of the relationship between the pastoral office as it comes to us from the pages of the New Testament and the congregations that hold firm to those very Scriptures. He made note of a trend he had observed in the church, a trend that I fear has never abated, a trend that does great damage among the people of God.
He wrote,

Most pastors have themselves no conception of their office and hence lack all basis and confidence for their public activity. They exercise their office as though they had no right to do so, fainthearted, intimidated by every Tom, Dick, or Harry. What a wretched pity!” (Aphorisms, p.21)

There is a deep and abiding disconnect between the what pastors are called to do and what they believe they have the right to do.

The heart of the pastoral ministry, whether you like it or not, has to do with authority. If we actually believe that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone then there must be a means by which such a gift is bestowed. To put it another way, if salvation rests outside of our own work and desire then we need a source from which we can receive that salvation. And whatever that source is it will bear the authority of Christ himself to provide such a gift.

St. Paul puts it like this, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Eph. 3:7-8) The authority of his proclamation of the unsearchable riches of Christ rest in his call as an apostle and steward of God’s grace. When he preaches, he doesn’t just offer opinion or even historical fact, but the very active blessings of God.

But pastors tend to pull back from such authority.

They know full well of their own sin and defects, and so they begin to hedge their bets, to step back a bit lest their hypocrisy become too visible. We hear it in parts of the liturgy where the subjunctive mood begins to slip in. After communion; “May this body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you…” Or with the benediction; “May the Lord bless you and keep you…” Why are we inserting the “may”? Is it our hope, or our desire, or our wish? Why aren’t we just doing it? Don’t we have the confidence that these things are actually happening?

If pastors exercise their office as though they had no right to do so, there will be a heavy price to pay. On one extreme they will fill the void with an authority of their own imaginations. If their authority isn’t one who kills and makes alive by the sending of God, then they will develop a false authority to help them achieve the goals of their own passions. In the end pastors along this line end up looking like these dillholes trying to convince us that their private jets are necessary for the Kingdom.

Actually we have to admit it is difficult to hear a direct revelation from God while flying commercial.

But on the other end, something much more subtle and much more prevalent tends to happen. Pastors pull back from proclamation and become incredible history professors describing in wonderful detail the sitz im leben of St. Paul or our Lord himself. They fill heads with knowledge and inspiring data that makes the hearers long for more. Or they play the part of philosopher, developing complex and beautiful pictures of how it all works, and we begin to see connections in everyday life that were previously unobserved. Or perhaps our pastor acts as a sort of spiritual life coach or even cheerleader, encouraging us on to better days ahead. All of these options and more fill the pulpits of many churches. If the pastor is dedicated and gifted they can have great success inspiring both their creativity and the creativity of their hearers. They can fill pews and inspire activity, but they have run from the authority of the office.

A pastor is not sent to a congregation to merely give inspiring lessons or chase after his own preferred hobby on a Sunday morning. He isn’t to be a history professor or a philosopher or a coach. He is to be a preacher!

To be a preacher is to drop the “may” and just do it. Don’t tell people how the Law of God will kill them in their trespasses; actually kill them in their trespasses. Don’t inform the brokenhearted about a God who said He loved them, but actually say that they are loved in the stead and by the command of God. This is what pastors are called to do, this is what they have the authority to do.