Enthusiasm in the Holy Ministry

“In short: enthusiasm clings to Adam and his children from the beginning to the end of the world – fed and spread among them as poison by the old dragon. It is the source, power, and might of all the heresies, even that of the papacy and Mohammed. Therefore, we should and must insist that God does not want to deal with us human beings, except by means of his external Word and sacrament. Everything that boast of being from the Spirit apart from such a Word and sacrament is of the devil.” (Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles, III, 8)

Enthusiasm is the looking for a free-range Spirit. A Spirit that comes unattached from the Word of God. Governed by our own emotions and wish dreams, such a “spirit” becomes our tool to chase our personal desires. The resistance of enthusiasm is part and parcel of the historic Christian faith. It is not the burning desire within or even the visions of the faithful that guide the church but the external Word alone.

Now the church cheers this on (or at least it ought to). We thank God for sending ministers to proclaim that external Word, to direct us to the life-giving Sacraments that come outside of ourselves. There is assurance in such a Word, confidence regarding who we are and what hope we have.

But something strange happens when a church goes about calling such a minister. Quite often, the process of locating a pastor and calling him to come and serve a congregation by preaching, teaching, and administering the Sacraments makes a decided shift away from the external into the internal. A congregation along with the pastor and his family suddenly go searching for the movements of the Spirit apart from the Word. They try to decipher the tea leaves and detect the hidden will of God in anything and everything that might give them some guidance on which the best choice is to make.

The very ones who cling so tightly to an external Word begin to act like enthusiasts.

I’ve often struggled with this. The church walks this line between confessing that a pastor is called by God through a local congregation to carry on our Lord’s ministry one the one hand. But then on the other, the congregation goes through regular hiring processes like any company would do, dealing with feelings and hunches along the way. There are interviews and evaluations, questions of fit and personality, likes and dislikes, etc. Now, we all assume that the Holy Spirit is at work in there somewhere with church governance offering guidance where Scripture is silent. In the end, it all seems to get muddy and confused.

But then you go to an installation of a pastor at a congregation and all such enthusiasm seems to have disappeared, like it’s been chained up where it belongs. And perhaps that is the way it is supposed to go. Out of the confusion, there is a clear and concise confession to be made, and it is here that we focus. For it is a confession concerning an external Word and administration of Sacraments.

Last Sunday I went to an installation of a pastor. While the whole call process may seem bizarre and mysterious, the installation of a pastor at a congregation is clear and decisive. I love going to installations because I am reminded of my own installation, the vows I made to this congregation and to my Lord. I suppose in the end it is the vows that are important, and those vows are not rooted in movements of the spirit in some emotional or self-aggrandizing method but the Word and Confessions.

The question is asked,

“Do you promise that you will perform the duties of your office in the accordance wit these Confessions, and that all your preaching and teaching and your administration of the Sacraments will be in conformity with the Holy Scripture and with these Confessions?”

And the answer is given, “Yes, I promise, with the help of God.”

That promise roots the proclamation in the external Word and not in the unattached free-range spirit that lurks within the heart. No matter what signs and wonders we go seeking after, no matter how we may discern the will of God for our lives, it is to the Word alone what we must turn in the end. For it is in that external Word alone that there is true absolution, hope, and life everlasting.