Three Dangers and One Hope for Pastors

parsonCalvin was nothing if not a theologian in service of the church. As much as he had to say about justification, faith, salvation in Christ, all of that was for the sake of the church and the right worship of God. To that end, he devoted a significant section to the proper calling and role of elders within the Christ’s Church, not only in the Institutes, but within the commentaries. As a careful student of the apostles though, he was not only concerned with right order but faithful pastoral care as we can see by his expansive comments on 1 Peter 5:1-4.

First he lays out the 3-fold structure of Peter’s instructions for pastors:

In exhorting pastors to their duty, he points out especially three vices which are found to prevail much, even sloth, desire of gain, and lust for power. In opposition to the first vice he sets alacrity or a willing attention; to the second, liberality; to the third, moderation and meekness, by which they are to keep themselves in their own rank or station.

-Commentary on Catholic Epistles, 1 Peter 5:1-4

He then goes on to comment on the three at length, notably devoting special attention to the issue of pride or power:

  1. Sloth – He then says that pastors ought not to exercise care over the flock of the Lord, as far only as they are constrained; for they who seek to do no more than what constraint compels them, do their work formally and negligently. Hence he would have them to do willingly what they do, as those who are really devoted to their work.
  2. Avarice – To correct avarice, he bids them to perform their office with a ready mind; for whosoever has not this end in view, to spend himself and his labor disinterestedly and gladly in behalf of the Church, is not a minister of Christ, but a slave to his own stomach and his purse.
  3. Lust for Power – The third vice which he condemns is a lust for exercising power or dominion. But it may be asked, what kind of power does he mean? This, as it seems to me, may be gathered from the opposite clause, in which he bids them to be examples to the flock. It is the same as though he had said that they are to preside for this end, to be eminent in holiness, which cannot be, except they humbly subject themselves and their life to the same common rule. What stands opposed to this virtue is tyrannical pride, when the pastor exempts himself from all subjection, and tyrannizes over the Church. It was for this that Ezekiel condemned the false prophets, that is, that . (Ezekiel 34:4.) Christ also condemned the Pharisees, because they laid intolerable burdens on the shoulders of the people which they would not touch, no, not with a finger. (Matthew 23:4.) This imperious rigour, then, which ungodly pastors exercise over the Church, cannot be corrected, except their authority be restrained, so that they may rule in such a way as to afford an example of a godly life.

-ibid., v. 1-3

Far from encouraging an overweening authoritarianism, Calvin exhorts pastors not to keep themselves above the flock. Spiritual leadership does not equal license, or an invitation to “tyrannical pride.” “Imperious rigor” is not what is needed, but the “example of a godly life” in which pastors are chief in pursuit of holiness before anything else. Then, he moves to impress them with the importance of following the Peter’s commands by acknowledging the real obstacles pastors face:

Except pastors retain this end in view, it can by no means be that they will in good earnest proceed in the course of their calling, but will, on the contrary, become often faint; for there are innumerable hindrances which are sufficient to discourage the most prudent. They have often to do with ungrateful men, from whom they receive an unworthy reward; long and great labors are often in vain; Satan sometimes prevails in his wicked devices.

-ibid. v. 4

In fact, there is only “one remedy” for the discouragement they face amidst their many labors:

…to turn his eyes to the coming of Christ. Thus it will be, that he, who seems to derive no encouragement from men, will assiduously go on in his labors, knowing that a great reward is prepared for him by the Lord. And further, lest a protracted expectation should produce languor, he at the same time sets forth the greatness of the reward, which is sufficient to compensate for all delay: An unfading crown of glory, he says, awaits you.

-ibid. v 4

Finally, he calls attention to the fact that in the end Peter “calls Christ the chief Pastor”:

for we are to rule the Church under him and in his name, in no other way but that he should be still really the Pastor. So the word chief here does not only mean the principal, but him whose power all others ought to submit to, as they do not represent him except according to his command and authority.

-ibid, v. 4

This is a warning and a comfort. All pastoral authority is exercised only under the authority of Christ–remembering this will keep us from that tyrannical pride and vice. The comfort comes in knowing that as we pastor and fail, we have an unfailing Pastor who is keeping care over our souls as well.

Soli Deo Gloria

Guest Post: Learning to Pray With Martin Luther

One of my college students worked up a piece for the rest of my college group analyzing and summarizing Martin Luther’s instructions on prayer to his barber, Master Peter. I figured I’d post it here for easy access and to bless the blog-readers as well. Also, I’m really proud of him.

Learning Prayer through a Letter from Martin Luther to His Barber

By Matt Poblenz

            Many people think that liturgy stifles spiritual growth, but Martin Luther believed differently. In Luther’s letter to his barber (Peter), we see how he views liturgy and bible reading in conjunction to, what he deems one of the most important disciplines, prayer. Luther starts off his letter with a quick prayer for his recipient, that “our dear Lord grant to you and everybody to do it (prayer) better than I!” This petition not only shows the importance of prayer to Luther, but this transitions him into his opening statements about prayer.

Before, Luther walks Peter (and us) through prayer step by step, he has some remarks about prayer. The main subject, in these opening remarks is the importance of prayer. Luther believes “it is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night.” He also instructs to guard yourself from business or ideas that can cause us to be distracted from prayer. Furthermore, he offers up two places to prayer: a quiet solitary place (for Luther his room), and a gathering of believers meeting to worship (for Luther Church during service). The places Luther suggests help limit the pacing ideas or business that can distract us from prayer.

luther            Luther does admit that there will be causes of emergency when the Lord’s work may have to come before a chance to pray. But, Luther instructs that in these cases we be mindful of God’s word and turn our action into prayer through the act of blessing. Likewise, Luther encourages us to meditate on our prayer and corresponding scripture through out the day and because “one must unceasingly guard against sin and wrong-doing, something one cannot do unless one fears God and keeps his commandment in mind.” Luther asks that we keep a habit of prayer, because if not, “we become lax and lazy, cool and listless toward prayer.” Furthermore, “the Devil that oppresses us is not lazy or careless, and our flesh is to ready and eager to sin and is disinclined to the spirit of power.”

After his opening statements regarding the importance of prayer Luther begins his break down of prayer. He has a simple four step process for prayer. First, one must humble themselves and acknowledge their place before God; “O Heavenly Father, dear God, I am a poor unworthy sinner.” Your opening may very, but it is important to acknowledge your place and humble yourself because it prepares your heart for the rest of the prayer. You become prepared in multiple ways, because you are reminded of God’s power, beauty, and love. Luther concludes his opening, “I do not deserve to raise my eyes or hands toward you or to pray. But because you have commanded us all to pray and have promised to hear us and through your Son Jesus Christ have taught us both how and what to pray, I come to you in obedience to your word, trusting in your gracious promise.”

Second, Luther recites the passage from the bible. This part can also be a section from a catechism or a hymn, but Luther suggests use of the holy scriptures. He recites the whole passage word for word from the bible ( like the Lord’s Prayer, ten commandments, or a whole psalm). This allows structure and focus as this is what we will be praying from.

Third, Luther states a section of the passage and prays through it by expounding upon it. Luther explains his method of expounding by using the ten commandments; “I divide each commandment into four parts, as I form a garland of four strands.” He continues, “that is I think of each commandment as, first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God commands of me so earnestly. Second I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth a prayer (petition).”

He gives a more specific example of his expounding methods by using the first commandment:

  1. He firsts states his instruction; “here I consider that God expects and teaches me to trust him sincerely in all things and that it is his most earnest purpose to be my God.”
  2. He then turns the commandment into a thanksgiving; “I give thanks for his infinite compassion by which he has come to me in such a fatherly way and unasked, unbidden, and unmerited, has offered to be my God, to care for me, and to be my comfort, guardian, help and strength in every time of need.”
  3. Luther, then confesses his sins regarding this area; “ I confess and acknowledge my great sin and ingratitude for having so shamefully despised such sublime teachings and such a precious gift throughout my whole life, and for having fearfully provoked his wrath by countless acts of idolatry.”
  4. Finally he petitions to God; “preserve my heart so that I shall never become forgetful and ungrateful, that I may never seek after other gods or other consolation on earth or in any creature, but cling truly and solely to you, my only God.”

After you conclude expounding upon sections of the scripture (as many as time permits or you’d like), you end the prayer with an Amen. However, make sure you speak the Amen firmly. Be confident that God has heard you: “do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, ‘very well, God has heard my prayer; this is certainty and truth.’” Luther reminds us that Amen means “this is truth” and, therefore, our Amens should be said with a conviction that what you have prayed is true.

Soli Deo Gloria

Quick-Blog #11: God Listens to Prayer, But Don’t Expect Him to Obey

Time and again I find myself coming back to Luther because, even though he shoots his mouth off from time to time, you almost always come away with theological or practical wisdom you needed to hear. Take this gem of a quote on prayer:

It is impossible that God should not hear the prayers which with faith are made in Christ, though he give not according to the measure, manner, and time we dictate, for he will not be tied. In such sort dealt God with the mother of St Augustine; she prayed to God that her son might be converted, but as yet it would not be; then she ran to the learned, entreating them to persuade and advise him thereunto. She propounded unto him a marriage with a Christian virgin, that thereby he might be drawn and brought to the Christian faith, but all would not do as yet. But when our Lord God came thereto, he came to purpose, and made of him such an Augustine, that he became a great light to the church. St James says: “Pray one for another, for the prayer of the righteous availeth much.” Prayer is a powerful thing, for God has bound and tied himself thereunto. -Martin Luther, Table Talk

Luther clearly lays out a couple of key points we need to remember to keep straight for the sake of our theology and just general spiritual life.

  1. I wonder what my spiritual life would be like if I were trying to be Alfred instead of Batman.

    I wonder what my spiritual life would be like if I were trying to be Alfred instead of Batman.

    God is God. When you pray you’re making a request of your Lord, not commanding a servant. We often-times think about God and prayer as if he were our butler, like a divine Alfred (Batman’s butler/mentor) who manages to be very resourceful in helping us fulfill our missions out in the world. In fact, the situation is quite the opposite. God is equipping and aiding us in being his servants, doing his will. You are not Batman. You are not the hero of your story–God is.  If we don’t get this straight, we end up thinking God failed us when it turns out he’s simply decided in his infinite wisdom that the “measure, manner, and time we dictate” are not the way that he wants to do things. God is not in your employ. He is not someone to be fired or reprimanded. He is not waiting for your year-end performance review. He really does know what he’s doing.

  2. God Listens. At the same time, God really does listen to prayers offered up through Jesus Christ. (John 14:13; 16:23) Whatever else we think about predestination and foreknowledge, we are told that God listens to our prayers for Christ’s sake. He has “bound” himself in that way, through his promises in Jesus. So many of us do not pray because we think God will not hear us. We think we’re too guilty, too small, too silly, too insignificant. Jesus reassures us that whatever might be true of us, in Christ, we are beloved of the Father and he will always hear us. (John 14:21) He is a God who keeps his promises, even if not always in the way that we expect them.

Luther tells us to keep these two truths in mind as we approach prayer. Between them we’re able to approach the God of the universe with the bold humility of faith–and that’s the goal isn’t it?

Soli Deo Gloria

Luther

The Gospel According to Luther

So, another confession I have to make: Martin Luther’s a favorite of mine. So sue me, I’m a Protestant. He’s an atrociously flawed man, but the more I read him, the more I love him despite the flaws. He is easily one of my top 5 “Dead Guys I’d love to have a Beer with.”

Despite the fact that he’s been dead for over 500 years and he’s a favorite whipping boy in many wings of Biblical studies, he’s kind of a must-read for anyone trying to get a handle on the New Testament or the Gospel. This absolutely brilliant passage on the Gospel is one of the many reasons why:

One should thus realize that there is only one Gospel, but that it is described by many apostles. Every single epistle of Paul and of Peter, as well as the Acts of the Apostles by Luke, is a Gospel, even though they do not record all the works and words of Christ, but one is shorter and includes less than another. There is not one of the four major Gospels anyway that includes all the words and works of Christ; nor is this necessary. Gospel is and should be nothing else than a discourse or story about Christ, just as happens among men when one writes a book about a king or a prince, telling what he did, said, and suffered in his day. Such a story can be told in various ways; one spins it out, and the other is brief. Thus the Gospel is and should be nothing else than a chronicle, a story, a narrative about Christ, telling who he is, what he did, said, and suffered-a subject which one describes briefly, another more fully, one this way, another that way.

For at its briefest, the Gospel is a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died and was raised, that he has been established as a Lord over all things. This much St. Paul takes in hand and spins out in his epistles. He bypasses all the miracles and incidents [in Christ's ministry] which are set forth in the four Gospels, yet he includes the whole Gospel adequately and abundantly. This may be seen clearly and well in his greeting to the Romans [1:1-4], where he says what the Gospel is, and declares, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the Gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” etc.

There you have it. The Gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the Gospel in a nutshell. Just as there is no more than one Christ, so there is and may be no more than one Gospel….

- excerpt from Martin Luther, A Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in the Gospels’