Thursday, August 27, 2009

CORE VALUES: Properly Prepared Pastors

This article, prepared for the monthly newsletter of his parish, is a continuation in a series of articles on “core values” of the Christian faith. The articles of the Augsburg Confession were those “core values” of which the Lutheran reformers wrote when given the chance to prove that, far from an upstart sect, the “Lutheran” reformers were actually directly in step with the early Christian Church. It behooves Christians in our day and age to learn and to reaffirm these same “core values.” Immediately below is Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession. At the very end of this post is the introduction to Article XIV of AC which is written in Concordia The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord.

The Augsburg Confession
“Chief Articles of Faith”
Article XIV — Order in the Church

Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call. +

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ our Lord:

Another of the “core values” of the reformers is/was that there should be properly prepared pastors to watch over and serve the flock of God. Where a pastor is improperly prepared for his task, he will act more like a CEO or a kind of pope in all matters. It is a safeguard for the individual soul and for the Christian congregation to have a properly trained and properly called pastor! Yes, it is good for him, too, but it is primarily for the good of the individual Christian, the Christian congregation, and the whole Christian Church! Read on, please . . .

ARTICLE XIV: Order in the Church

“But why can’t we just put an add in one of our Lutheran papers? Then pastors could give us their resume’s, we could interview them, and decide who we are going to hire to be our pastor! It makes sense to me!”

While it is unfortunately true that some of our Lutheran congregations are doing just that, and while at some level it does make perfect sense to secure a new pastor in that way, it also has pitfalls! What if a pastor deceives the calling congregation? What if a pastor tells a congregation that, because he is so good, they are going to have to give him more money than they might give to a ‘lesser quality” pastor? Can you see how some congregations might get “the cream of the crop” while others would imagine that they were getting the “dreg” which collect at the bottom of your coffee cup? Can you imagine, then, how congregations might not value their pastors properly? Can you imagine how pastors might start to compete with one another for “good” positions?

While it is certainly true that some of those attitudes will exist because we are sinners in a fallen world, nevertheless the Christian congregation should do everything in its power to negate such attitudes! Congregations and pastors should seek, in every way, to see to it that the Gospel is properly preached, and that souls receive proper pastoral care.

Immortal Souls and “Church”

The “Church” is the local congregation which God the Holy Spirit has brought together (see Dr. Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed — If you do not have your Small Catechism handy, you can view this on p. 8 at ). The “church” is made up of those souls for whom Christ died who believe in Him and are fed by His Word and Sacraments.

All souls are immortal in that all people will go on forever in either heaven or hell. These souls are not to be taken for granted. These souls are not to be trampled upon. These souls are to be nutured so that they will remain in the true Christian faith and be in heaven forever! (John 20:19-23, John 21:15-17) (For a largely excellent discussion of “church,” go to: .)

Properly Trained Ministers and Immortal Souls

So who SHOULD do the public teaching of these immortal souls? The Pastor, obviously! He cannot do all of the private teaching because he does not put your children to bed at night or sit with your family at the breakfast and supper table where your family might have a short devotion. But he is not to abdicate the public teaching of God’s Word for the same reason that not just any Tom, Dick, or Harry is supposed to teach in the school, namely, you want someone there who is going to get the teaching right. If whole generations of children are mistaught in the public schools, then our whole understanding of the role of government and the like gets changed, and our entire nation would suffer. Similarly, if people are mistaught in the Church, they might actually think that salvation depends upon them, their works, their decision(s), etc.; then, if people consistently believe the wrong teaching, souls could go to hell for eternity! Tragic!

The same holds true for the administration of the Sacraments. Many Christians think that just anyone should be permitted to distribute the Sacraments. All they see is the minister handing out Baptism or doling out bread and wine. But this is not something for just anyone to do. It is given to the Office of him who has been called to perform these functions.

The pastor, by virtue of his training, has been instructed in God’s Word and has learned when to deliver the sacraments and when, sometimes, to withhold them. He has been put in the position of feeding Christ’s sheep much as the shepherd had been put in charge of feeding the sheep. The sheep should not learn to take feed from strangers lest a false shepherd come along and, deliberately or accidentally, poison them by feeding them wrongly.

Perhaps the case can be compared to going to your doctor, dentist, or surgeon, or pharmacist. You do not lest just anyone examine you because they do not know what, precisely, to look for. You will not permit just anyone who says that he has “read up” on appendectomies to perform your appendectomy. You will not permit just anyone to fill or pull a bad tooth. You do not want just anyone to mix up the prescriptions which are supposed to help and heal your body. It just makes good sense and it is ultimately for your good!

So the reformers made the point that not just anyone should publicly teach in the church or administer the Sacraments without a proper call.

Upstart Churches and Upstart Preachers, and Immortal Souls . . .

One can understand the hanky-panky which could take place where ministers are improperly trained. As an example, it was not a new phenomenon when, in the days of the American tent revivals, “ministers” would realize that there was good money to be made in hosting tent revivals where there would be relatively little accountability for offerings brought to such revivals. We do not hereby call into question the sincerity of all traveling revivalists, but history has shown us that some were insincere. This same tendency arose also in the New Testament church (Acts 8:14ff.).

This pastor has been acquainted with “ministers” who have spoken of dreams which they claim to have had so that they have awakened in the morning to quit their present vocations and have presumed to serve the flock of God. In many cases, they had the barest acquaintance with the Word of God. In many cases, they do not meet the Biblical criteria for being a pastor. In most cases, they knew nothing of the original languages of the Bible. In many cases, they attracted a small group, preached for a while, and then their “church” was dissolved, sending immortal souls adrift in many cases no longer (if they ever were!) being catechized in the holy faith. Most claimed to be “non-denominational” and mistaught those who were under their care, substituting their ideas for the Word of God.

Keeping a Pastor Properly, and Immortal Souls

In the liturgy of the Divine Service most well known in Lutheran circles (TLH p. 15, LSB DS 3), the absolution begins thus: “Upon this your confession, I by virtue of my office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, . . . .” The word “ordained” does not refer so much to the act of ordination as it does to the fact that the pastor has been called in an “ordered/proper way,” that is, he has not participated in attempts to manipulate the process of his call to either the pastoral office or that particular congregation. Therefore, the congregation may be assured that they do not have a “fly by night” pastor but one who has been properly trained and who, they may be reasonably assured, will serve them faithfully because of that proper training.

And the point is . . .

. . . that our Lord Jesus Christ lived His perfect life and suffered His innocent death so that YOU can have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven. He wants faithful pastors to serve as shepherds over His flock.

Because there were those in the Church at the time of the Reformation who had forgotten the importance of a properly prepared and properly called clergy, the reformers wrote this article as they did. The need remains for Christendom today because God has redeemed you, dear reader, . . .
. . . In Christ,
Pastor Wollenburg

In Concordia The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, there is this “forward” which is intended to help first time readers of the Augsburg Confession understand the context in which it was written:
“When this article speaks of a rightly ordered call, it refers to the Church’s historic practice of placing personally and theologically qualifeied men into the office of preaching and teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. This is done by means of a formal, public, and official call from the Church to do so. When this article was presented, it was understaood that a call into the preaching office would be confiormed and formally recognized by means of the apostolic rite of ordination (with prayer and the laying on of hands). (See also Ap XIV; SA III X.) (Source: CONCORDIA The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. p. 64. © 2005, CPH, St. Louis, MO.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Ministry’s Promises: Vows Making and Vows Keeping and the Office of the Ministry

I have been a pastor for 30+ years now; I have not always been a good one. I give thanks daily that I live under the grace of Christ’s forgiveness.

I have been a husband for 31+ years now; I have not always been a good one. I give thanks daily that I live under the grace of Christ’s forgiveness.

And here is the intended tertium comparationes (the point of comparison) for this essay.

This pastor has, over the course of the years, witnessed the destruction of some marriages when the husband, by his sinful actions, has destroyed the bond between husband and wife. At other times, the wife, by her sinful actions, has destroyed the bond between husband and wife. Biblically, there are only two reasons why the Lord permits a marriage to end: [1] adultery, and [2] malicious desertion. God is never glad for a marriage to end since He Himself has established the estate of marriage and the vocations of husband and wife. This pastor has also witnessed some of those destroyed marriages restored to wholeness: forgiveness and restoration, though wholly undeserved, are powerful, life-imparting, one-sided gifts!

Similarly, this pastor has witnessed the destruction of the relationship between pastors and congregations over the years. Sometimes that relationship has been destroyed by the pastor’s own sinful actions, actions which in some sad cases disqualified him for the Office of the Ministry to which God had called him. At other times, that relationship has been destroyed by the sinful actions of the congregation, with the result that the pastor, though not disqualified for the Office of the Ministry, has been forced to leave the Office in that place, sometimes never to receive a Call to a congregation again. Historically, the church has only recognized two, or three, “grounds” for removing a pastor from God’s call to serve as the pastor of a given congregation. Those “grounds” are: [1] persistent teaching of false doctrine, [2] leading a scandalous and offensive life, and [3] the inability or refusal to perform the duties of the office. (“The Divine Call.” A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. February 2003. p. 42-43. This same document notes, also on p. 43, “. . . the removal of a man from the office of the public ministry is a very serious matter and should not be carried out capriciously or arbitrarily.”)

In more recent years, this pastor has heard of “ecclesiastical supervisors” who have stated that there are, or should be, new ways and reasons for removing pastors from their calls to their respective congregations. This turn of events is of grave concern to this pastor because the act of removing a pastor from his office undermines the Office of the Ministry, denigrates the Word of God, and, besides the obvious devastating effects upon the pastor and his family, also results in the serious wounding of souls for whom the Savior Himself died. Whole congregations are thus weakened and the witness of the Gospel in a given community is compromised. The Lord is not honored thus.


If any do not know, then they must be taught that an essential element of marriage is the covenant relationship which is established by means of the mutual vows of husband and wife. Both husband and wife, mutually but independently, pledge their troth to one another, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy will; and I pledge to you my faithfulness.” (The Rite of Marriage, Lutheran Service Book. In this same rite, husband and wife are charged, “[Name of bridegroom], will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you nourish and cherish her as Christ loved His body, the Church, giving Himself up for her? Will you love, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health and, forsaking all others, remain united to her alone, so long as you both shall live? Then say: I will.” And “[Name of bride], will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you submit to him as the Church submits to Christ? Will you love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health and, forsaking all others, remain united to him alone, so long as you both shall live? Then say: I will.”)

In their vows, properly made, wife and husband do not establish their vows conditional on the promises of the other; rather, the husband says to his wife that, whether or not she is faithful to him, he for his part will be utterly faithful; reciprocally, the wife pledges the same. This is the model of the perfectly unilateral covenant which God has made with His people in Baptism. Essential to marriage, then, is the promise given (and received) even as an essential element of God’s covenant with us is His promise unilaterally given (and received). With these faithful promises God fulfills the respective vocations of husband and wife, vocations which He Himself has established. With His faithful promise, He draws us into His holy family in Baptism. With faithful promises learned from God, husband and wife draw one another into marriage.


The mutual promises of pastor and congregation is also an essential element in how God fulfills the Office of the Ministry. Pastor and congregation are also vocations which God Himself has established. The pastor is to care for the congregation, and the congregation is to care for her pastor. But what happens when one or the other, or both become unfaithful to their vows?

Consider the pastor’s vows of ordination:

+ Do you acknowledge that the Lord has called you through His Church into the ministry of Word and Sacrament?
+ Do you believe and confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
+ Do you believe and confess the three Ecumenical Creeds, namely the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds, as faithful testimonies to the truth of the Holy Scriptures, and do you reject all the errors which they condemn?
+ Do you confess the Unaltered Augsburg Confession to be a true exposition of Holy Scripture and a correct exhibition of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church? And do you confess that the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, and the Formula of Concord — as these are contained in the Book of Concord — are also in agreement with this one scriptural faith?
+ Do you promise that you will perform the duties of your office in accordance with these Confessions, and that all your preaching and teaching and your administration of the Sacraments will be in conformity with Holy Scripture and with these Confessions?
+ Will you faithfully instruct both young and old in the chief articles of Christian doctrine, will you forgive the sins of those who repent, and will you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you? Will you minister faithfully to the sick and dying, and will you demonstrate to the Church a constant and ready ministry centered in the Gospel? Will you admonish and encourage the people to a lively confidence in Christ and in holy living?
+ Finally, will you honor and adorn the Office of the Holy Ministry with a holy life? Will you be diligent in the study of Holy Scripture and the Confessions? And will you be constant in prayer for those under your pastoral care?

Then consider the congregation’s vow:

+ Beloved in the Lord, Holy Scripture says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Will you, the faithful, according to the Church’s public confession, and speaking for the whole Church, receive [name] as a servant of Christ and minister of Word and Sacrament? If so, then answer: We will.
+ Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, [name] has been called to be (a) pastor of [name of congregation]. I ask you now, in the presence of God: Will you receive him, show him that love, honor, and obedience in the Lord that you owe to the shepherd and teacher placed over you by your Lord Jesus Christ, and will you support him by your gifts and fervent prayer? If so, then answer: We will, with the help of God.
+ Will you honor and uphold your pastor as he serves Christ in all his God-pleasing responsibilities? Will you aid him as he cares for his family? Will you be diligent to “put the best construction on everything,” recognizing that “love covers a multitude of sins”? If so, then answer: We will, with the help of God.

In the marriage vows, husband and wife pledge their troth “till death us do part.” No provision is made to say, “till I get tired of you,” or “as long as my feelings for you remain this way,” or something similar. Husband and wife, by virtue of their vows, make it clear that they believe that their marriage is to last until God decides to end their marriage, by the death of one or the other of them. Their marriage is not a mutually agreed to contract; rather, God decides when the marriage is over. Husband and wife might have to endure all manner of trials and difficulties, hard times, frustrations, and disappointments with one another. But their vows are to remain; and the vows are written and given precisely in that way for that precise reason.

In the vows of ordination/installation, there is no provision made for “till we get tired of one another,” or “till you get older,” or even “as long as you keep improving your skills.” The pastor is pledged to faithfully serve God’s people in the congregation. The congregation is pledged to faithfully listen to and give respect to, honor and support their pastor as long as the Lord has placed pastor and congregation together. The Lord will decide when their time of service is over by the death of the pastor, moving the pastor to another place, or bringing the congregation to an end. The vows of both are to remain, even when – especially when! – there are difficult times for congregation and pastor. The vows are prepared and are exchanged in precisely that way for precisely that reason.


As no fault divorce has impacted and brought about enormous changes – and not necessarily for the better, as most will agree – in the culture of marriage, so have these enormous changes impacted pastors and congregations – again, not necessarily for the better. Church leaders have long decried the fact that divorce statistics for Christians mirror the divorce statistics of our society. There is a crisis in fidelity.

No fault divorce turns its back on God’s institution of marriage and suggests that there may be any number of legitimate reasons for a divorce: husband and wife may “fall out of love,” they might become “sexually incompatible,” they might come to have “irreconcilable differences,” and any of a number of very creative “reasons” for the deposal of the marriage relationship.

But the Word of the Lord remains. The two Biblical grounds for divorce remain: adultery and malicious desertion. Even then the Lord only permits the divorce if the injured party is unable to restore the other. In an ideal relationship, the Lord wants the injured party, enabled by God’s love in Christ, to forgive and restore the other and thus to renew the marriage.

This same attitude of “no fault” divorce has found its way into the church’s understanding of the relationship between congregation and pastor. Are there other “grounds” for dismissing a pastor besides the three mentioned earlier in this essay? To be sure, some have shown great creativity in trying to define new “grounds” for the dismissal of a pastor from a congregation, but the question which must surely be asked again and again is, simply: are these “grounds” defined by God? Or, are they merely sinful man’s invention? Even as we in the church decry the divorce statistics of both the culture and the church, and as we vehemently decry the attitudes which result in our “divorce culture,” so we must surely learn to decry the statistics of congregations increasingly dismissing their pastors, and the attitudes which are producing a “divorce culture” or a “hire and fire culture” within the holy Christian church.


We have to get rid of our pastor. We just cannot afford him anymore.” One hears that argument and, because every congregation struggles with budget issues, one is inclined to agree with it . . . until you start to rethink it! Can a family decide that it is time to “get rid” of one of their children because rampant inflation is making it harder and harder to raise children? May God forgive those parents who do such a thing. Can a husband or wife decide to “get rid” of their God-given partner because s/he has gotten “too expensive?” The expenses may have come because of one who is unable to work, or is unwilling to work, or is ill, or even who is plain lazy. But the marriage vow said: “for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health ‘til death do us part.” In the same way that the family is held together by promises given and kept, so the relationship between pastor and congregation exists by promises given and kept. Economies change. Let congregation and pastor do as husband and wife are to do, namely, explore ways to keep things together in a God-pleasing manner!

“He doesn’t really love us.” A variation on that one is, “We don’t love him anymore.” This writer has actually seen people walk up to their pastor and say, as though not to hurt his feelings, “Pastor, we just don’t love you anymore.” It sometimes happens. It is very sad. People use this as their reason for an unscriptural divorce. Too many pastors and other church leaders accept that excuse as a reason to be rid of a pastor. God has not promised that every love will grow and flourish. Surely, it is the Lord’s will that love between husband and wife grow and flourish, but because of sin, it does not always happen that way. Sometimes the pastor grows weary. Sometimes the congregation or individual members of the congregation grow weary. But the promises are supposed to remain. May the Lord help love to be renewed. May the Lord lead all to a proper understanding of Biblical love!

“But we’re getting smaller.” This argument is advanced in two ways: [1] to suggest that the congregation simply cannot any longer afford to keep their pastor; and [2] to suggest that the pastor is “ineffective” at the work of “growing the church.” Sometimes the argument is used to suggest 1 or 2 above, sometimes to suggest both. Yet simple logic answers. Are the demographics of your community changing? Are businesses leaving? Are the young people leaving town in search of better jobs and greater work opportunities? Are people having smaller families? Are people generally waiting until they are older before they marry and have families? Are these things the pastor’s “fault?” Marriages and families go through changes, too, and not all of them are pleasant changes. Nevertheless, the “glue” of God’s love in Christ is what is supposed to hold the marriage and family together. Communities go through times of growth and decline; sometimes, they go through times of renewed growth. The changes in family sizes are certainly not the fault of the pastor (who himself might be trying to do his part by having a larger family than most – haha)! The answer, again, is for pastor and congregation to acknowledge those changes and to resolve, together, to continue to serve in the place where the Lord has placed them!

“His skills don’t match our community.” This argument is usually followed with “but he’d make a good seminary professor.” The truth is that the Lord of the church has called His pastors to be shepherds and teachers in the flock of God. He might be a “city boy” who sometimes ends up in a small town or rural parish setting. He might be a “country boy” who ends up in an urban or suburban area. Consider: how many husbands and wives have been joined in marriage to partners who did not grow up in the same circumstances as did they? The key is a loving teaching-learning relationship. There are things which congregations can gently teach their pastor – about farming, livestock, etc. If he is stubborn, he will need to be more gently taught. Similarly, there are things which congregations can be taught by their pastors: teachings from the Word of God. When people are stubborn with respect to Bible classes, etc. and expect their pastor to be patient with them, surely they can similarly be patient with teaching him! This is how the decision to love one another is supposed to work.

“He failed us!” Yes, he probably did. All sinners fail. It’s just a matter of when. Perhaps he failed to remember an anniversary. Perhaps he failed to make a hospital call, or a shut-in call. Have members of the congregation sometimes failed one another? Have they sometimes failed their pastor? Have we all sometimes failed God? Repentance and forgiveness are a part of that “glue” of love which God uses to hold His church together! If he is impenitent, then it becomes another matter. There are some failures which are egregious to the point that the pastor disqualifies himself for the Office of Pastor (the three reasons mentioned earlier). There are other failures which just plain happen. It is like when the husband forgets the wedding anniversary or the birthday of his beloved. It is truly painful. Hurt comes to the relationship. But it can be – and eventually should be – forgiven. Christ died so that our sins could be forgiven. Christ died so that we could forgive one another. Just like in marriage.

“He doesn’t make us feel good!" Increasingly, one hears variations of this complaint in our culture. It sounds similar to the adolescent who somehow becomes “ashamed” of his family. It is real. But it is immature. The Lord has not put His pastor into the local congregation to be in charge of eveyrone’s feelings! The Lord has put His pastor into the local congregation to preach and teach God’s Word of Law and Gospel and to administer the Lord’s Sacraments in that place. This pastor will attempt to be a genuine Seelsorger, that is, a pastor who is a “caretaker of souls.” Sometimes people will feel wonderfully good as the balm of God’s blessed Gospel comforts their hearts and consciences. At other times people will find themselves hurt by the application of God’s Law. The pastor is NOT in charge of people’s feelings even as a husband and/or wife is not in charge of his/her partner’s feelings or a parent is in charge of his/her child(ren)’s feelings. We care about one another’s feelings. We try to be considerate of one another’s feelings. And we forgive one another when our feelings do not cooperate.

“Pastors take calls willy nilly! Why should we be loyal to one who won’t be loyal to us?!” This is painful. It is sometimes true that pastors abuse their God-given calls. They view them as “stepping stones” to some other agenda. They are willing, when the going gets tough, to abandon their calls. This is to their discredit, for they are not fulfilling their God-given call. It also happens, of course, that the Lord may call a pastor to a given congregation for a relatively short period of time; this can be maddening to a congregation which has spent a great deal of money moving their pastor in, and which has invested all of the emotional interest in getting to know their new pastor and his family. This can also be quite maddening to a pastor and his family who tire of being called by God to pick up all of their earthly belongings and travel to a new place and try to get their whole family acclimated to a new place and congregation. Pastors who do abuse their calls are wrong! But it is not grounds for dismissing a pastor. If a spouse is, in some way large or small, disloyal to his/her spouse, it nevertheless behooves the other to act in a faithful way since that is the promise of the marriage vow.


There is so much more which could be written on this subject. Much more probably will be written. This short essay has not answered all concerns. But this short essay has, the writer prays, accomplished what he has purposed to do, namely, to suggest that pastors and congregations and ecclesiastical supervisors all look at the divine call entirely differently from the merely pragmatic ways in which we have come to view it in today’s culture. Pastors make promises to God and to the congregation. Congregations make promises to God and to the pastor. In the same way husbands and wives make promises to God, to one another, and to their communities (yes, make no mistake about this latter facet of the marriage vow, one which we have not really discussed here, but which is vital to every community!). Where vows are broken, there must be repentance and renewal; this is the simple yet profound cure! Where inadequacies show up (not everyone gets to live in a perpetual honeymoon!), understanding is supposed to rule the day.

Grave harm has been done to many souls as congregations, pastors and families, whole communities, and the church’s public witness have been deeply harmed by improper understandings and practices surrounding the divine call.

May God have mercy on all sinners, lead us to repentance, and grant us a right understanding and a right practice. Amen.

Friday, August 7, 2009

"Core Values of the Christian: Using the Sacraments Properly”

NOTE: This "blog" is the length that it is because I have limited myself to preparing these posts first for publication in our parish newsletter. It is my sincerest desire that the members of our congregation will learn to rejoice in the Lutheran Confessions, for these confessions truly present a clear confession of the historic Christian faith to our world today. May you also be blessed, dear reader!

The Augsburg Confession
“Chief Articles of Faith”
Article XIII — The Use of the Sacraments

Our churches teach that the Sacraments were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but even more, to be signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us. They were instituted to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them. Therefore, we must use the Sacraments in such a way that faith, which believes the promises offered and set forth through the Sacraments, is increased (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

Therefore, they condemn those who teach that the Sacraments justify simply by the act of doing them. They condemn those who do not teach that faith, which believes that sins are forgiven, is required in the use of the Sacraments. +

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ our Lord . . .

Truly, one of the “core values” of the Christian life is that we learn to realize that God's Sacraments are gifts which He has given to us and which He Himself uses to forgive our sins and thus grow our faith. By these gifts, which are His "visible Gospel," He grows His holy church. Thus, it behooves us use them as God intended them to be used, for their salutary (the good of our souls) purpose.

When the reformers wrote about their “core values” they wrote separate, but short, articles on Confession (to deal with the practice of required Private Confession — more on that in a bit), and on repentance. Since the two really go hand in hand, I will treat of both of them here.

+ + + ARTICLE XIII: The Use of the Sacraments

“Pastor has been bugging me to go to Communion, so I guess I’ll go to get him off of my back.” - W R O N G!

“Well, now that we have a kid, i guess we ought to go and get him baptized. Then maybe everyone will quit pestering us about it.” - W R O N G!

If you do not know why those two statements are wrong, please go read Article XIII of the Augsburg Confession at the very beginning of this blog. Please try to read it closely.

+ + + Ever heard of: “Ex opere operato?”

It’s a Latin phrase. Sorry, sometimes I can’t resist using the Latin because that is how it was taught to me. It roughly translates to mean, “Just because you did something it was good for you.” It’s pronounced: “ex oh-per-eh oh-per-ah-toe.” The reformers decried those who attended the Lord’s Supper, for example, in an “ex opere operato” way. Reflect with me on the problems with it, please.

+ + + BAPTISM “ex opere operato”

BAPTISM “ex opere operato” is like when parents bring their child to the church and have the pastor baptize him. They make a big deal about finding some people to be “sponsors.” Then they take a couple of pictures. Then they leave, never to bring that baby back to the Lord’s house ever again; or, they will only return the child to the Lord’s house in such a haphazard way that the child will learn that worshiping God is not something to be valued. They may rationalize their action in a variety of ways; in fact, they usually rationalize their sinful action in a number of different ways.

They say: “He’ll cry and be distracting to others during church so we’ll just leave him at home until he’s ‘older.’” But then, too often, because the child is never taught about how to act in worship, he is a full grown child (or even young adult) before he is brought back to the Lord’s worship. By then, he knows that if he acts up he probably will not have to stay and learn to worship, so . . . you know the rest of that story.

Sometimes parents say that “While he’s a baby I can’t get anything out of church anyhow, so we’ll all just stay home until he’s older.” It’s a tad more self-centered reason, and the result is the same, of course.

Or, what of the person who, at a certain point in his life, decides to get baptized “just to be sure that I’m ‘covered.’” But, after the baptism, there is given no thought for growing up in Christ our Savior, and the person is never to be seen again.

In all of those cases, if nothing changes, are those persons “saved?” We do NOT presume to answer that question since it is God Who alone searches every heart. Nevertheless, we do know that God does NOT want a person to be baptized ex opere operato. Rather, He wants us to teach our children that their baptism means that they are His children and that they are to grow up in Him. He wants us bring children to His house to learn of Him. He wants parents to have family devotion time in their homes. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) links “baptism” and “teaching;” one should not be done without the other.

+ + + THE LORD’S SUPPER “ex opere operato”

Because we are human, and because we are sinners we always want to “turn the tables” on the Lord it seems. Our motive is not necessarily that we want to maliciously attack our Lord; we just tend to do that until we learn to think quite differently (and one of the reasons for going to Church, attending Bible Classes, having daily devotions, and even reading the church newsletter is that we learn to think differently!). We “turn the tables” on the Lord, as it were, by taking His gifts and turning them into things which we must do rather than receiving them as gifts from His hand of grace.

When we begin to think of Holy Communion as something which we must do for the Lord, we stand in grave danger of turning the Lord’s gift of His body and blood given to us poor sinners for the forgiveness of sins into things which we imagine that we ought to do for Him. Sometimes we get this impression when we misunderstand what our pastor says when he says, “You really ought to go to Communion a lot.” The rest of what the pastor should say is “. . . for you and I are poor, miserable sinners who sin every day, lose sight of God’s mercy and love, and start to believe the devil’s and the world’s lies as our faith in Christ our Savior wanes. Jesus has taught us to receive His body and blood ‘often’ because this is one of the ways in which He forgives our sins again and restores faith to our weary hearts.” Or something like that.

Attending Holy Communion ex opere operato would be, as examples: not examining ourselves prior to coming to the Sacrament but just going to Communon with little thought to either our sinfulness or Christ’s forgiveness; going to Communion “because if I don’t, Pastor might come calling on me;” thinking that we ought to have Communion because we have somehow earned or deserved it; and so on. . . .


Answer: like a grateful beggar receives a wonderful meal. In fact, when Dr. Luther was known to remind people of how they/we stand before God when he would say, “Wir sind alle Bettler.” Translated, “We are all beggars.” Frankly, that is a wonderful picture of how we “do” evangelism: we do not try to manipulate others into believing in God; we do not try to trick them into coming to church; rather, we are like one beggar telling another beggar where the free lunch is!

The right way to receive baptism (for you, if you have not been baptized, or for your child if s/he has not been baptized) is simply in faith to receive what God mysteriously gives. Then, gratefully, spend the rest of your life learning what it means that you have been adopted into the family of God.

The right way to receive Holy Communion (if you are reading this and you are not a Christian or a Lutheran Christian or you are a lapsed Lutheran and you wonder if Baptism and Communion are for you and yours, call me up, it’s what I’m here for!) is to simply receive Christ’s own body and blood given and poured out for you for your forgiveness. Don’t let your questions get in the way. Don’t let your sins get in the way (confess them — see me about that, too :-) ).

As little children gratefully receive wonderful things from their parents (and even come to expect those gifts!), so the Christian receives Christ’s life-giving gifts, and even comes to learn to expect all good things from the Lord’s hand.


May it be that we will so study Scripture that we learn to receive God’s Sacraments in a right way, for our souls’ good. We want to receive His gifts properly since we know that disdaining His gifts or receiving them in some arrogant way can bring harm to our souls (really — but rather than stay way to prevent that, see me!). May the Lord bless you, in Christ, to receive His gifts properly, for your soul’s good!

In Christ, + Pastor Wollenburg

NOTE: In Concordia The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, there is this “forward” which is intended to help first time readers of the Augsburg Confession understand the context in which it was written:

“God gives the Sacraments to His people for their forgivgfeness, life, and salvation, and this happens as they call forth trutst and confidence in Christ, the Savior. by the sixteenth century, the Roman Church had developed a complicated sacramental system that had transfoprmed the Sacraments into meritorious works, performed by priests, This was esxpecially evident in the Mass, where priests”sacrificed” Christ again and again on behalf ot he living and the dead. The Bible, however, reveals the key to the Sacraments: the p[romises of Gopd. God attaches His Word of promise ot the element of the Sacrament — water, wine, or bread — and gives and strenthens the fiaoth of those receiving them. (See also Ap XIII).”

(Source: CONCORDIA The Lutheran Confessions A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord. p. 64. © 2005, CPH, St. Louis, MO.)