The Sun, Moon, and Stars of the Gospel

I don’t know what I expected meetings of the Council of Presidents to be like; I never really thought about it previously. Turns out they’re basically a Circuit Pastors’ Winkel on steroids. There’s a genuine camaraderie and fraternity on the Council, even where we may disagree on various points: not an “old boys’ network,” but a churchly fellowship of brothers in Christ and in office, bound together by a common set of responsibilities and concerns for the congregations, pastors, schools, teachers, and other rostered members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Significantly, each of our four-day meetings is substantially spent in the study and discussion of theology and practice, the very things for which we are responsible. In addition to daily prayer and catechesis in the Word of God, our meetings often begin with President Harrison presenting on a theological topic stemming from his own reading or study of the Scriptures. This week, as we have been meeting at Concordia University, Irvine, we’ve had a particularly rich opportunity to learn together and to sharpen one another through rigorous theological conversation.

President Richard Snow (Nebraska District) led us in a study of 1 Timothy 3, a continuation of our ongoing study of the Pastoral Epistles, in this case focusing on the qualifications given by the Lord for those who aspire to the offices of bishop and deacon in the life of the Church. President Brian Saunders (Iowa East District) led us in a thorough investigation of Augsburg Confession V on the Office of the Holy Ministry – the Preaching Office – focusing on the relationship between the Office itself, the exercise of the Office in practice, and the men who are called and ordained to hold and carry out the Office. (I’ll have more to say on that momentarily.) Pr. Ben Ball, the 2nd Vice President of Synod, presented on “The Divine Character of the Concrete Office,” the fourth chapter of Office and Ordination in Luther and Melanchthon, by Helmut Lieberg, translated by Matthew Carver (CPH, 2020), a book we’re working through together as a Council.

We were also fortunate to have Rev. Dr. Scott Stiegemeyer (Professor of Theology and Bioethics at the University) speak to us on Transgenderism, and especially on the challenge of addressing this topic with pastoral care and compassion and uncompromising commitment to God’s Word and the Church’s clear confession of His good creation. Prof. Stiegemeyer’s clear and thoughtful paper prompted excellent discussion and debate and many good questions concerning the way that we, as pastors and bishops, are given to care for God’s people with His Law and Gospel.

I have no doubt that such regular and rigorous theological discussions are the source and strength of the Council’s fraternal camaraderie, for which I am most grateful. In any case, I know that, for myself, this mutual conversation and consolation of brethren is a crucial means of pastoral care.

And stemming from this week’s discussions of the Pastoral Office, in particular, I was struck by Pres. Saunders’ comparison and contrast between the Office “in abstracto” and “in concreto.” Although these terms can be somewhat misleading at times, they can be helpful in emphasizing that the Office does not depend upon the person of the pastor, yet the definitive functions of the Office do not occur apart from the pastors who are called, ordained, and sent to perform them. In fact, the Office and its functions necessarily belong together, as do the Church and Ministry, the congregations and their pastors – all centered in and dependent upon the one Lord Jesus Christ.

In listening to Pres. Saunders discuss AC V, it occurred to me that the relationship of the Office to the Officeholders is analogous to the relationship between the Light which God created on the first day of Creation and the Sun, Moon, and Stars which He created on the third day. The Gospel exists in the incarnate Word, Christ Jesus, the Light of the world, by whom all things are made; and when He Himself appears in glory, He Himself shall be the Light of the City of God. But for the time being, even to the close of the age, the Light of the Gospel – the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ – is contained and carried in the “Sun, Moon, and Stars” of the Church and Ministry and the pastors who are called to this Holy Office. And to be sure, the Gospel does not depend on us, but we do depend upon the Gospel; and we are rightly confident that the Word of Christ that we are given to preach is His own Holy Word.

So it is that, in Christ Jesus, “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).