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The Gift of the Public Ministry

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ”
(Ephesians 4:11-16).

As we gather on a Sunday morning to worship our risen and ascended Lord, we may take for granted some of the blessings which He has given to His Church on earth. We take for granted that the pastor will be standing there before the altar ready and prepared to deliver a message from Holy Scripture. We may take for granted that the Sunday school teachers will have lessons prepared for our children. We may take for granted that the elders of the congregation are doing their part in assisting the pastor in the care of the souls of the church. Some of these things go on right before our eyes every Sunday as we gather around the Word. Others take place in the church’s classrooms or during the week while our minds are occupied with other things.

All these different activities have something in common: they are administrations of the Ministry of the Keys, that special authority which Christ gave to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of penitent sinners. These are, however, special administrations of the Keys because they are being carried out by individuals on behalf of the group of believers with which they are associated. These individuals are also gifts which Christ, as our ascended Lord, gave to His Church on earth. Pastors and teachers are given special mention in the passage before us, but deacons or elders are also among these gifts which the Lord gave to His Church on earth (compare I Timothy 3:8-13) in the institution of the public ministry of the gospel. It was the Lord Jesus Who gave these individuals to His Church on earth to serve the Lord and His Church, “each one . . . according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7).

Individuals do not take this authority upon themselves. Even as the Lord is the One Who according to His grace measures out gifts, so the Lord in His wisdom and grace has entrusted this authority of the ministry to His Church, and it is administered by groups of believers. Those who are serving the Lord do so as representatives of one or another of these groups of believers. Then the public administration of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament proceeds in an orderly manner for the edification of the body of Christ. In other words, people are better built up in their faith and life when things are done according to the Lord’s order, and with His blessing. The public ministry is a sacred trust presented to the Church, just as it is a sacred trust for those who are called to serve as pastor, teacher, elder, or any other office which assists the church in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the care of souls dearly bought with the precious blood of Christ.

We live in a dangerous world—dangerous to the faith of tender souls. It is the goal of the ministry, and has been since the days of the Apostles, to build up and strengthen the members of Christ’s Church against the attacks of the false teachers. Their doctrines do not come labeled as dangerous, but rather seem as inviting as any candy. The craftiness and trickery of false teachers has deceived many, and confused many in their understanding of the truth that saves. So let us appreciate hearing the truth that is spoken to us in love by the ministers of the Gospel, that we might “. . . grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”
(2 Peter 3:18).

Theodore Barthels is pastor of St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church in Austin, Minnesota.