Monday, December 21, 2009

Spiritual Self-Sedating

It is a big mistake to think that being involved in ministry equips you with a more fortified position before God in heaven. The thinking may go that you’ve been lavished with some extraordinary pneumatos that puts you in some elevated spiritual caste. It ought to be known that the warnings and threats against false teachers and the ungodly are directed first and foremost at pastors. As our Lord says, “So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 33:7-8). Our Lord’s admonitions and warnings are toward ‘watchman’ and ‘overseers,’ that is pastors; those responsible for the souls of those entrusted to him. If anything, it puts you in a more perilous spiritual position. Bonhoeffer writes:

“The greatest difficulty for the pastor stems from his theology. He knows all there is to be known about sin and forgiveness. He knows what the faith is and he talks about it so much that he winds up no longer living in faith but in thinking about faith. He even knows that his nonfaith is the right form of faith: ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’ (Mk. 9:24). Knowledge reveals his daimonism. It drives him further and further into factual unbelief. We can then have no experience of faith. Our only experience is reflection on the faith.”

The greatest mistake is to think that because you are pastor, church worker, or vicar that you have been showered with some unique spiritual grace. The activism of his ‘knowing,’ ‘doing,’ and ‘thinking’ may become the cause of his damnation rooted in that first sin; pride. What is most important is that the watchman, himself receive pastoral care. Confession and absolution for those called into Christ’s office is not optional. Pastors hear confessions, preach, care for and bear in their ears and bodies the burden and weight of sin and its trapping influence and its breeding expounding effects across the congregation. The great error occurs when the overseer considers himself sovereign and self-equipped to meet that spiritual calling in his work, because he knows something about faith and fashions himself a theologian.

The attitude and posture for those called ought to mirror that of our Paul, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). That ‘chief sinner,’ the pastor, must submit to pastoral care knowing and believing in his heart that he needs it more than anyone else. That God has desired to declare forgiveness on his wayfaring creation, sound the trumpet, and raise the dead through the voice of a ‘chief sinner’ should no doubt be both soberly terrifying and comforting, and should above all else drive him toward his own pastor and father confessor in order that he may hear that same Word which grants life to the congregation.

It ought to be clear that a pastor (or any Christian for that matter) cannot provide any glint of spiritual care if he is not receiving it – and receiving it in a very consistent and abundant way. That living out of baptism is rooted in that rhythm of confession and absolution, and more specifically private confession (I have written briefly about Private Confession HERE), where specific sins are brought into the light and a Father confessor absolves those specific sins and preaches Christ’s crucified and Him covering and removing those very specific sins. It is Wilhelm Loehe’s observation that private confession is that precious treasure and most direct expression and embodiment of baptism (today, I believe, we erroneously give that primacy to the Lord’s Supper at the neglect of confession). This way we can keep our sins to ourselves, all self-medicate, and vainly take that gift if we just believe enough that ‘Jesus love me…’ Of course this is never to say that grace is dependent upon the sincerity and act of confession. It rests only in that blood of Christ ‘shed for you’ that’s acts and does what it says.

Nevertheless, being brought into that blessed death and resurrection of Christ does not bring us into some static blissful experience of Easter morning. That crucifixion of that Christian involves a certain death, which is neither a theological principle, nor is it a mere sermon illustration. That putting to death of that old stubborn man – that sinner – involves a public crucifixion where he is stripped naked and exposed with all his secret sins and brought into that terrifying judgment. In that blessed gift of confession and absolution those sins are exorcised at that invitation of Christ acting in that pastor, and judged. That the living God Christ, who speaks complete forgiveness through that pastor, is Himself that sin-bearer that has borne your public shame, embarrassment, death, and hell cannot be believed and grasped by your experience, joy, or any else but only by faith. And in that faith that captivates you, Christ calls you only to look at Himself and His wounds for that assurance you may need.

If that spiritual guardian doesn’t receive it he will cease to hear that Word in a personal and direct way from his own pastor, and will no longer believe in it. He will be dried up like that potsherd and pastoral care degenerates into methodist tendencies that no longer hinges on the effective and preached bodily Word, but rather on those idols of human sentiments, emotions, or ease of superficiality and debonair swagger that protestants so highly prize rather than the historic rites, words, sounds, and blessed modus operandi that Christ so lovingly lavished upon His church.

The self-medicating pastor puts his head into the jaws of that serpent, to be crushed, strangled, and bled dry from that confession and those gifts that he has been sent to give. Private confession should not be that safety net that we flee to only when we commit some ‘serious sin’ – a real biggie. Confessing, hearing, and absolving are the normative activities of the church in Christ and not the for special emergencies. And it cannot be done to the tune of “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” No, we do not believe in a Bible, but in that Christ to whom Moses, the prophets, and the apostles preached and recorded in Holy Scripture. The heavenly Father who speaks does so in more plentiful ways than private reading. He loves to create and speak more directly than what we give Him credit for, if only we had the faith to listen to that Word. He loves speaking through the person of flesh and blood closest to us, and in a particularly brilliant way in that sent pastor who He has made His mouthpiece. In this coming incarnation that joining of God to his creation is so close that Luther remarked that He is “with us in the muck and work of our lives so much that his skin smokes.” God played in that mud and created us and breathed His spirit into man – a bestowal and sharing of self – desiring above all else to rest with us and for us on that final day.


  1. Well said Mr. Larson. Preaching against oneself also guards against this, although admittedly perhaps not as directly as confession and absolution. Forcing oneself to examine the depravity of his own soul brings a welcome reception of forgiveness from the speaking of our God in the sermon.

  2. Hi Vicar Hobson - good call. It seems easy to often think that preaching is directed to those 'evils outside' - the world, society, corruption, temptation - some abstract force in the universe - certainly anything besides the human heart!


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