“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.”

Righteous causes may be both good and right, but they are not salutary. The Word of God must have free course and be preached and not be corralled and co-opted by the urgency of things temporal. This is not to advocate for “quietism” on the part of the Church with respect to the temporal kingdom, but for the Church to assume her proper role and function among the temporal orders, which is to proclaim the reign of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and ascended, who lords His death and resurrection over the entire created order as the One who has all authority in heaven and on earth. The Church in this world is a foreign embassy of the eternal King of kings and Lord of lords at whose name every knee will bow on the Last Day. While the protection of the unborn, the plight of the poor, the proper stewardship of the environment, the cause of the widowed and orphaned, justice for the worker, and the upholding of marriage as the celebration and protection of the one-flesh union of man and woman are all laudable and even godly causes, they dare not deflect from the Church knowing and hearing nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. While the activists may charge that the Church is fiddling as Rome burns, they need to be reminded that while ancient Rome was falling apart at the seams, the Church was vigorously debating the doctrine of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. The pastor must ever be on guard, lest the Church lose sight of thing eternal for the sake of things temporal.

Seventh, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord’s Prayer indicates) by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. And the only reason they must suffer is that they steadfastly adverse to Christ and God’s word, enduring this for the sake of Christ, Matthew 5[:11], “Blessed are you when men persecute you on my account.”…This [cross] is a holy possession where by the Holy Spirit not only sanctifies his people, but also blesses them.

“I did not learn my theology all at once, but had to search constantly deeper and deeper for it. My temptations did that for me, for no one can understand Holy Scripture without practice and temptations. This is what the enthusiasts and sects lack. They don’t have the right critic, the devil, who is the best teacher of theology. If we don’t have that kind of devil, then we become nothing but speculative theologians, who do nothing but walk around in our own thoughts and speculate with our reason alone as to whether things should be like this, or like that.”