A Rightly Ordered Call

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard

Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call (Augsburg Confession XIV). One short sentence is all we get for the 14th article of the Augsburg Confession. The only thing it says about order in the Church is that it should be ordered. That's a bit redundant. So what does it mean by "a rightly ordered call?" The 14th article of the Augsburg Confession doesn't elaborate much, but you can think of it as including three things: preparation and examination, call, and ordination.

First, pastors should be prepared for their task. The disciples were taught by Jesus for three years, and when they sought a replacement for Judas, they required the candidates to have been with them from the beginning and to have been witnesses to the resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). Pastors should be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 24). You wouldn't want a doctor who has no knowledge of the human body and the medicines and treatments available for sick people. Likewise, you wouldn't want a pastor who doesn't know where to find Obadiah in the Bible or how to plan a midweek Lenten service.

At the end of his preparation a pastor is examined. In The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, pastors are required to have a theological interview (kind of like a more intense confirmation examination) either with his seminary professors or in some cases a committee from the synod. This examination prepares a man for ministry as much as it tests his preparedness. Remember that Jesus spent a good long while examining His disciples on the night He was betrayed. You can read about it in John 13-16.

Next, the call is the heart of a rightly ordered call. It's the divine part. A congregation who is in need of a pastor extends a call—a document that outlines the duties of preaching the Gospel, administering the Sacraments, forgiving sins—to a man who has been prepared and examined.

Why is this call necessary? Jesus sent out the disciples with no call other than the command to make disciples through Holy Baptism (Matthew 28:16-20), to proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:14-20), to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:46-49), and to forgive the sins of all who are penitent and to withhold forgiveness from the impenitent (John 20:21-23). But Jesus has now ascended into heaven where He rules over the church. He no longer sends out preachers immediately; He sends through the church's call. He confirmed the message of the Apostles by accompanying signs and wonders (Mark 16:20), but He confirms the message of your pastor by his divine call. He speaks on God's own authority.

Finally, there is ordination. It's the ordering part of the call. You can even see the word "order" in it. Ordination is the public confirmation of the church's call, and it's performed by neighboring pastors. Just as Paul told Pastor Timothy to appoint pastors (1 Timothy 1:5-9—the word elder here refers to pastors), and himself laid hands on Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6), so now pastors take part in the appointing of other pastors, and lay their hands on them with the blessing of God's Word and prayer.

So is this really just a bunch of churchy nonsense so that pastors can protect their phony-baloney jobs? Quite to the contrary. It's for the sake of the Gospel. No one should publicly teach or administer the sacraments in our churches apart from this order because this order shows you, without a doubt, the place where the forgiveness of sins can be found. It shows you that what your pastor speaks is not some vaguely religious notion that he's come up with, but is a Word from God Himself. He is bound to his public vows to preach the whole counsel of God, to hear confessions and pronounce forgiveness on your worst sins—and never to mention them again. It shows you that Christ is faithful to His promise: He does not leave you without comfort, but continues to send the Holy Spirit to you, using an ordinary man who is prepared and examined, called by your congregation, and ordained to bring you the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, Missouri. He can be contacted at pastor.ehrhard@gmail.com.

Created: May 26th, 2016