The Promises, Vows, Responsibilities, and Gifts of the Pastoral Office

Having recently ordained and installed a couple of men to the Office of the Holy Ministry within our Indiana District – and looking forward to a number of other ordinations and installations over the coming months – I’ve been considering again the significance of those rites, not only directly as pertains to the man being ordained and/or installed, but also more comprehensively as pertains to the fellowship that we share as pastors of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Appropriately, the rites of both Ordination and Installation of a Pastor prominently feature multiple passages of Holy Scripture, conveying the Lord’s institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry, the responsibilities He has entrusted to that Holy Office as a sacred stewardship of His gifts, and the strength and promises that He provides to His servants within that Holy Office. As with any Christian calling and station, and certainly in this case, it is our conviction that the Lord bestows the Holy Spirit along with the Office, in order to equip and sustain the one who is called. The Word and Spirit of God are thus acknowledged and relied upon as the common foundation upon which the Church and Ministry are grounded, and in which our fellowship is firmly rooted.

Following the Invocation, both rites immediately acknowledge the Lord’s mediated Call through “the Church’s usual order” (LSB Agenda, pages 161 and 175). In the case of an Ordination, the rite also indicates that the candidate “has been prepared for this ministry by careful study and prayer,” and that he “has been examined and declared ready and prepared to undertake this sacred responsibility.” These two points, along with the fact that “according to apostolic practice, he is now presented to be ordained and consecrated to this office established by God,” all point to the larger fellowship of “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” to which the Office of the Holy Ministry belongs. Whereas a pastor is called and sent to serve a particular congregation in a particular place, he does so in connection with those who have gone before him in the Office of the Holy Ministry, and so also in connection with all those who serve the Office in the present.

Recognizing that the Office of the Holy Ministry suffers the same divisions as the Church in this fallen and perishing world, the rites of both Ordination and Installation of a Pastor, in every case, also ask the candidate (or pastor-elect) to confess the faith, to articulate his commitment to the doctrinal standards of the Lutheran Church, namely, the Bible and the Book of Concord, and to make a solemn pledge and promise that all his preaching, teaching, and pastoral practice will be in conformity with those doctrinal standards. This public confession, commitment, and promise are no mere formality, but are fundamental to our fellowship in both doctrine and practice. These are the very things that delineate and define our pastoral fellowship – and our common exercise of pastoral care – as the ministerium of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. And, as I have often said in the past, this pastoral fellowship is foundational to our church fellowship, not only in theory but as it actually exists and functions (or so it should).

For all the obvious differences among our pastors – in appearance and personality, in age and abilities, in background and experience, and what have you – what we deliberately expect and require our pastors to share in common are standards of preparation, examination, certification, calling, confession, and commitment, all within “the Church’s usual order.” The Church binds us to these things, and they bind us to each other, so that LCMS pastors from coast to coast and all across “the heartland” exercise an ostensibly unified and harmonious pastoral care of the Lord’s people throughout the fellowship of our LCMS congregations. And it is because we share in this fellowship of pastoral care that we commune those who come to us from sister congregations in the confidence that they are receiving the same ongoing catechesis and confession of the Word of Christ that we are providing to the communicants of our own respective parishes. It is by way of that pastoral care and catechesis that confessing and communing really do go together in fact.