Even So, the Church STILL Has the Spirit!
Our previous post sought to encourage confidence in the Church’s process of calling pastors and commissioned ministers by asserting, on the basis of Scripture, that the Church has the Holy Spirit, poured out on her by Jesus Christ Himself at Pentecost. Though the call process has human finger prints all over it, the call is divine because the Church has the Holy Spirit. But that raises a difficult series of questions.
What about those situations where it seems to our human eyes that the Spirit “got it wrong”? What if I’m a pastor or commissioned minister in a position where I don’t seem to fit, or where there is significant opposition among the people and my life is miserable? What if we called a pastor and he doesn’t seem to be working out, or is not performing as advertised in the information we received in the call process?
To put it bluntly, how can the call process be divine when it is worked by sinners? Or when sinners seem to be manipulating the process for their own ends? When pastors and church workers are failing to do their duty, but “hide behind the call”? Or when congregations ignore their responsibilities to hear and to care for their pastors and teachers? We’re not going to be able to explore all these questions in this short space, but I believe all of them need to be answered in light of the fact that the Church STILL has the Spirit!
But if the Church has the Spirit, why do we still have these problems? My answer may sound too glib, but it’s not intended to be. The Church is full of sinners, beginning with me, and, by the way, you too, if you’re honest. One of the most amazing aspects of God’s grace is that the Lord Jesus has tied Himself to sinners who have deep flaws and live in a fallen world. He has decided to use sinners (forgiven to be sure, but who often still get caught in sin) to announce His forgiveness to fellow sinners. Each of us lives only by the grace of God for sinners.
The problems come in when we humans actively demonstrate that we still are sinners who live in a fallen world. That means even in the Church it happens that people are sometimes less than truthful, or that district presidents do not always know everything about the pastors in their districts, or that people may seek to manipulate the call process for some personal end, or that people refuse to hear the Word of God. The list goes on. These things should NOT happen, but they do. As one who served as a district president (1994-2010), I have seen examples a plenty. Nor were my hands always clean, despite my best effort. My only comfort (and yours, too) is that we live by repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
Yet I am still confident that the Church has the Spirit! Why? Because Jesus promised! And Jesus’ will, will be done, and that will, will ultimately be good. God works all things for good, the Bible says. It doesn’t say all things are good, but that in all things, whether good or bad, God still works for good! (Romans 8:28). That’s what He demonstrated by the cross and resurrection of Jesus. What could be worse than the Son of God dead in a grave, yet God brought good from that by raising Jesus from the dead. There’s our eternal sign that God works all things for good.
With confidence in that promise, what are we called to do now? As Lutherans we believe in the doctrine of vocation. In every situation and role in life God is calling us to be faithful to Him and serve our neighbor in love wherever God has placed us. This calling really begins when we are confronted by sin: we are called to confess it that it might be forgiven in Christ, for the Church lives solely by the forgiveness of sins. So when we consider these difficult situations in our life together, first, last and always, each of us must ask, what do I have to confess? For what do I need forgiveness? Where do I need to ask forgiveness of a brother or sister?
Then we ask: what is the Spirit now calling our congregation to do? (remember, the Church still has the Spirit!). What is the Spirit given to the Church now calling your district president to do to help both congregation and pastor in this difficulty we are having? What is the Spirit now calling your pastor or commissioned minister to do? How is the Spirit of God calling our congregation to love and to care for our pastors and teachers? How is the Spirit calling the congregation to look beyond itself to see that Jesus is still Lord of His Church? Is the Spirit calling the district president to come and help the congregation and pastor to recognize the true nature of the situation and to find a God pleasing solution? That, by the way, is what God’s Spirit calls district presidents to help you do!
On the other hand, has the congregation failed to hear the Word of God? Refused godly admonition? We are called to repent. Or, has the pastor or church worker become an obstacle to the Gospel? We are called to repent. How is the Spirit of God calling everyone involved to ask, not – what will be best for me? But, instead – how will the Gospel of Christ best be served? How will the Kingdom be extended and the people of God be fed? How will divisions in the body of Christ be avoided? How will pastor and church worker alike be lovingly restored by Christ in greater faithfulness to Christ’s Word? How do we live out who we are as the body of Christ?
As Christians we are called to bear the cross, but we don’t get to choose which crosses we will need to bear. Because of the fallen nature of our world, oft times the cross comes precisely in our vocation, in the things God is calling us to do, in the fact that the right thing may also be the hard thing. God’s purpose may be to purge you and me from all pride that we look to Christ alone for help. Cross bearing is never easy, but our comfort comes precisely because Christ carried the cross for us, carried all our sins to the cross where He died for every last one of them. In His cross, He also carries us, forgives us, renews us and gives us all we need to carry one another. How are you called to bear the cross in your present situation?
These are some of the most difficult questions we face in the Church, and my purpose here is simply to offer some guidance in how to ask them and what to pray about them. How will you, in your congregation’s unique situation, live in the forgiveness of sins won by Christ? What is the course of action that will best serve the Gospel? How is God working good, even now, even as you carry your cross?
From this distance it is impossible to be specific about your specific situation. But then again, your congregation is the Church in that place. You DO have the promise of Christ, for pastor, teacher, and people. For the Church STILL DOES have the Spirit, as Jesus said to His disciples, “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21-23).
There it is. The Church has the Spirit, and the Church lives by repentance and the forgiveness of sins. May this same Spirit fill the life of your parish in Christ and provide the guidance and wisdom you need for these difficult times!
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President
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