Apostolate and Ministry

Over 37 years of ministry, I only personally know of two removed from the clergy roster of the LCMS. One for cause and one just because. The one for cause is Matthew Becker who unlike the Neil Diamond song was not done too soon. That he spewed his falsehood for decades undisciplined is typical of church bureaucracies. The other was Doug Fusselman who was removed for having too high of a view of the office of the ministry.

Apostolate and Ministry is the title of a 1969 Concordia Publishing House book written by Karl Rengstorf in 1934. It is translated from the 1952 edition. It makes the point that the apostolate established by Jesus continues today in the office of the ministry. He clearly rejects the indelible mark and the purely functional view of the office. What he does not, in my mind, make clear is how apart from the Call of a local congregation can the Call be certain. He says the decisive moment is when the man says “yes” to the Master’s Call. Actually, he doesn’t use this term, Marty Robbins does in “The Master’s Call.” In any event, having said ‘yes’ to the Master’s Call, from then on what he does or doesn’t do Jesus does or doesn’t do, what happens to him or or not happens to Jesus.

This really is only emphasizing what we blow by when we say “as a called and ordained servant…in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the truth of “he who hears you hears Me” and “he who rejects you rejects Me.” What makes Rengstorf’s words so potent is that he first wrote in Germany in the shade of the rising Hitler. He even uses the idiom “throwing shade”. He said now more than ever pastors had to have the confidence that they are preaching, teaching, and doing on Christ’s behalf, in His stead.

When I read this, I thought this is exactly what pastor’s today need to be told. But you will have to tell it to yourself. Tell yourself when your person or word is rejected, “It’s Christ not me they are rejecting. Jesus Christ Himself would not get different treatment than I’m getting.” Church officials won’t do it and they won’t let you do it either. If you’re rejected, it’s on you. You were not winsome enough. You didn’t visit enough. You didn’t establish a relationship. Under no circumstances can it be as Jesus says, “He who rejects you rejects Me.” By no means can you say what Paul does – again and again Rengstorf says you can – “Leave me alone! For I bear on my body the brandmarks of Jesus.”  No, when you’re rejected, when you’re youth is despised, it’s only and always about you. You did something wrong. You didn’t do enough right.

Rengstorf points out that pastors who lose sight of themselves being in the New Testament apostolate, I would say of being in the stead and acting by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, will not be able to stand in the trying times ahead. Is not this Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16? His question at the end of verse 16, “And who is sufficient for these things?” is rhetorical. No one is, and that’s why verse 14 says: “Now thanks be to God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ”. But verses 15 and 16 add this cautionary note: “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;  to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.”

In an age where basic truths such as “male and female He created them”, life in the womb is knit together by God, and salvation is only in Jesus’ name are not only suppressed but rejected, pastors are going to stink. Confidence comes from knowing that’s Jesus they’re smelling.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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