Foundations: Magisterial or Ministerial?
By John C. Drosendahl
There are some who think that the Christian Church is some sort of democracy, with people at the regular congregational meetings deciding all things. But there is no almighty voters assembly for us, as our church constitutions actually limit what the voters meeting can decide. Others think that the Christian Church is some sort of fiefdom, in which the pastor as executive leader takes the initiative to get everyone on board with his personal vision for the congregation. But the pastor is no dictator who rules his church as if it were a totalitarian state.
In fact, the Christian Church is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship. It is a "kingdom" as Christ often described it, specifically the Kingdom of Heaven manifested down here on earth in each congregation. Since His Church is a kingdom, God Himself rules as its King, often through the gracious gifts that Jesus, our Prince of Peace, brings down to bless us. Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Gospel all bring the blessings of forgiveness of our sins, salvation of our souls, and life everlasting in the kingdom to come--paradise.
So just how is it that God, our King, rules His kingdom on earth--the Church? Oddly, He does it without "rules" as it were. Not that the Church is antinomian, or disorderly, but instead of ruling His Church through the Law and all of its rules, regulations, and expectations, God has chosen to rule the Christian Church with His Gospel love instead. For it is this Gospel love that forgives sins, saves souls, and bestows eternal life to us in the means of grace. It is God's Holy Gospel that makes us holy, as God Himself is holy, with Christ's own righteousness credited to our accounts by faith.
So Where Does the Law Fit In?
So if the Law is not what rules the Church, yet we are not lawless as Christians, just where does God's Law fit in? It fits in as a servant, and never as a ruler. It has a ministerial work in the Christian Church, but never a magisterial one. Since the Gospel rules in God's Church, the Law must serve the Gospel in the purposes for which God has set things in good order. If not, a Church ruled by the Law would become pietistic and pharisaical, and there would be no longer any need for the Gospel.
In justification the Law serves us well by ministering to us like a mirror. You awaken first thing in the morning and do well to look in the mirror to fix your bedhead and get that broccoli brushed out of your teeth before you start the day. The Law ministers to you in a similar way, showing you clearly all your flaws, each and every sin where you have missed God's mark and fallen short of God's glory. As some of us learned in confirmation class, this is the Law's SOS (shows our sin) work, which is absolutely necessary so that we have God's diagnosis of our sin-sick state before we can be ready for His Gospel cure.
In sanctification as well, the Law serves us by ministering to us like a ruler. It measures which thoughts, feelings, words, and actions measure up to God's standard to be truly "good works," and which do not. This way, when the Old Adam of our sinful flesh tries to bypass truly good works and substitute fake ones instead, God's Law cuts the Christian down quickly. Such daily contrition and repentance cause the Old Adam to drown and die with all sin and evil desires. Once the Law has killed the Old Adam in this fashion, God's Gospel raises up the New Man in the Christian to begin walking in newness of life, the very life given to us in Christ Jesus!
So we rejoice as Christians to have a life that is not a purpose-driven one, in which the Law rules us to the point that we wallow in daily guilt, shame, blame, and despair. After all, the Law says "do" and it remains undone as far as we are concerned. We rejoice further that we have a Gospel-given life instead, where the Gospel says "believe this" and it is already accomplished. For Jesus says, "It is finished!" He has justified us by the Gospel. He has sanctified us by that same Gospel. So the Gospel of life in Christ rules us now and forevermore.
Rev. John C. Drosendahl grew up in a small onion farming town near Buffalo, New York. He went to Concordia College in Bronxville where he met the lovely Lauri. He went to seminary at Concordia in St. Louis. Graduating in 1992, he has served as a pastor in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and North Carolina. He is currently pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Mandeville, Louisiana. He has also served Higher Things as conference catechist, and several times as conference chaplain.
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