The Evangelical Character of the Office

 “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.”[1] These few words confess clearly what we believe about the preaching office. It was established so that we may obtain this faith: that men are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that their sins are forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross. It is only through the cross of Christ that God counts this faith for righteousness. In order that we may believe this the ministry was instituted so that through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel and the administration of Sacraments faith may be bestowed upon us and strengthened through the Means of Grace. We read in the Treatise “The Gospel assigns those who preside over Churches the command to teach the Gospel [Matthew 28:19], to forgive sins [John 20:23], to administer the Sacraments, and also to exercise jurisdiction.”[2] By looking at Martin Luther’s various sermons on John 20:19-31 we can glimpse at the evangelical understanding of the preaching office.

One of the questions that Luther answers in his sermons is why the office of preaching even exists. To be simple, what is the purpose of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ? According to Luther it exists to set free and release from sin, from the devil, and from all the powers of hell. In his April 27, 1522 sermon Luther writes, “Of all services, this is the greatest: that I set free and release from sin, from the devil, from hell. How does that happen? Through the Gospel, when I preach Christ to him, and tell him how he should receive the work of Christ for himself and believe with certainty that Christ’s righteousness is his own and his sins are Christ’s.”[3] In speaking this way Luther also shows that the preaching office is one of service and not one of ruling. The office does not consist in having many empty good works but preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “For what does ‘those whose sins you forgive’ mean? It is removing all evil things and granting in their place all things good, and you have it in your power to distribute this to human beings.”[4]

Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue in Nazareth, “He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[5] This is also what pastors are called to do. They are called to preach the evangelical Word of Jesus. “The preaching of Christ is the preaching through which the wretched are comforted.”[6] In John 20 Jesus breathed on the Disciples and sent them to preach His Word of comfort. They were and pastors are to preach in no other way. As Luther says, “You are not to preach in any other way, because just as I was sent, [I now send you], that is, in accordance with this Word, Gospel, doctrine that I have preached, as this clearest of passages in Isaiah has it: to comfort the prisoners.”[7]

The pastoral office is evangelical in that it exists to preach the comfort of Christ. The pastor preaches the Gospel of Christ and administers the Sacraments that faith may be created and sins forgiven. Christ gives the Office of the Keys to the Church so that the sins of those who repent be loosed while those who are unrepentant have their sins bound to them. Luther writes, “The proper definition of the office of preaching is this: that one should preach the Gospel of Christ and forgive the sins of the crushed, fearful consciences, but retain those of the impenitent and secure, and bind them.”[8] Though the sins of the impenitent are retained, the office was instituted by Christ so that all sins in the world should be forgiven and driven out.

What does this mean for the parishioner; if the role of the pastor is to preach the forgiveness of sins, how do we get that? Luther writes, “It depends on this alone, that you can lay hold of it by faith and hang on to it, and even though it is indeed a man who speaks, nonetheless, because it is God who has committed [it to him] and you believe it, you are saved.”[9] Pastors have been given the power to deliver people from sin, death, and the devil and bring them to eternal life through Christ Himself and the preaching of the resurrection. All that need be done by the hearer is believe. Believe that Jesus died as payment for your sins and now comes to you through the mouth of the pastor and in the Sacraments. That is all.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Now the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.” These words or ones quite like them bookend most pastors’ sermons. It reminds us of a second evangelical characteristic of the preaching office – it exists to bring the peace of the resurrected Christ to souls shaken by fear and doubt. All of the Luther sermons looked at for this paper are based upon John 20. The Disciples had locked themselves in an upper room for fear of the Jews. They had just witnessed the death of their Teacher and gripped by unbelief, they hide fearing their own deaths. Jesus appears in their midst and says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”[10] He sends the Disciples out to preach His saving Gospel to souls in despair. They are to stand in their midst as Jesus stood among them to proclaim the peace won for us by His resurrection.

Martin Luther writes, “Here He mandates the office, which is preaching and the Gospel. That is where Christ’s Passion and resurrection are applied.”[11] Jesus mandates the preaching office when He sends out the Disciples to apply the peace of the resurrection in a world where death is encroaching on every side. In some ways it is the same today. In this country we do not yet face beheading for being Christian, but there are many parts of the world where that is a present possibility. If that were not enough, we have diseases that kill loved ones a little bit at a time, natural disasters, and abusive relationships. In all of this men ask, “Where is this promised peace?”

This application of peace takes place through preaching. “Amid this fear, Christ comes and greets the heart and fills it with joy, and the heart is strengthened so that it needs not fear what it feared before…Christian peace embraces external discord.”[12] Through preaching and through the Sacraments, the visible Word, Christ comes in the midst of all discord to bring peace and still all fears. This is so unique to Christianity, that the peace we have embraces external strife. It does not embrace it as in affirming it, rather it is peace that persists the assaults of the world and the devil. Pastors preach the peace of the resurrection. The eternal salvation that exists in Christ extends far beyond the grave until there will no longer be time. But that does not leave us alone here on earth.

“Out of fear comes peace, out of mourning, joy; and this takes place in an extraordinary way…When we hear the Gospel, we hear Christ Himself, and it is His own voice and His Word that is spoken…He stands in the ‘midst’…so that we believe and receive His help when He is preached thus.”[13] When we here the Gospel preached, Christ is there among us. The suffering servant, the Lamb who was slain, the One able to be with us in all our infirmities, is truly with us. He comes to us in His Word and in His Sacrament. That is where we receive the balm for our wounds. The peace we seek, the haven from the destruction of the world, and the only answer to it all is our Savior Jesus. He comes to us through His Word. The evangelical character of the office is found in that it was founded so that we may have faith in Jesus. He Himself speaks through the mouth of the man we see in front of us to bring us into communion with Himself.

It is the responsibility of the pastor to take his office seriously. It is his job to proclaim God’s Word and to administer the Sacraments. Through these things, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit works to create and sustain faith. This faith is the only lasting source of peace. Amidst the strife of the world, Christ is present for the salvation of souls. Thus the evangelical character of the preaching office is found in that it exists to set free and release souls from the powers of sin, the devil, and hell. It does this by bringing the peace of the resurrected Christ in the preached Word and in the Sacraments. Apart from these things there is no pastoral office as Christ instituted. All praise and thanks be to our glorious Savior who died for our transgressions and rose to proclaim to us His salvation and peace!

 

Works Cited

Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. 2005.

Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.2001.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works Vol. 69: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John. Edited by Christopher Boyd Brown. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House. 2009.


[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. 33. AC V, I.

[2] Treatise, 60.

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works Vol. 69: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, ed. Christopher Boyd Brown, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009. 309.

[4] Ibid., 347.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 4:18–19.

[6] Luther, pg. 381.

[7] Ibid., 380.

[8] Ibid., 383.

[9] Ibid., 413.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 20:21.

[11] Luther, 378.

[12] Ibid., 335.

[13] Ibid., 341, 343.

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