“Concord” is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers’ knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them “with one heart” to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.
Your pastor is probably not the best preacher in your church. He probably isn’t the best administrator. He may not even be the most friendly or open person in the congregation. But there is one thing he has that makes him your pastor. A call.
The call is very important. The fourteenth article of the Augsburg Confession states, “Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called” (Augsburg Confession, Article XIV). This is in response to a group of men at the time of the Reformation that took it upon themselves to sneak around and preach whatever spiritual opinions that came to their minds as God’s truth.
What is a call? It’s the word we used to describe the official and public summons of a pastor to preach to a congregation. If a congregation is without a pastor, they deliberate for a time, often studying a pastor’s biographical information and how he conducts the Office of the Ministry. Then they issue a call, which is an actual document that asks the pastor to come to their congregation to be their pastor. It lists the duties and expectations of preaching, and if a pastor accepts the call, he signs the document and returns it. Otherwise, he returns the call without his signature and remains where he is, and the congregation renews their search.
Why is a call needed? Certainly every Christian is called to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). But that doesn’t imply that it is every Christian’s prerogative to get up and preach whenever he or she feels moved to do so. There is an extra weight of authority to the public preaching in the congregation that is highlighted in the words of the absolution: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.” Not only does a called pastor represent the congregation, but he represents Jesus Christ.
Now, it is possible that God will send prophets who will speak without any official call (although the Scriptures say that prophecies will cease – 1 Corinthians 13:8). After all, the apostles like Peter and Paul preached without a public call. To that Luther once answered that the apostles also performed signs and wonders to confirm their preaching was from God. So if you can’t produce a call document, let’s see the signs and wonders!
Finally, what about ordination? Ordination, along with education and examination, is part of the “regular call,” (in the Latin it’s more like, “ritually called”). Ordination is when the neighboring congregations through their own pastors offer a public confirmation of the call. They lay their hands on to say definitely, “Yes! This is the man God has called to preach and give the sacraments.” And that’s what ordination and the call is all about. It’s not about granting any special powers to the pastor, but so that a congregation can be sure that, indeed, this man speaks for God.
You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard serves as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.