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Luther's Principles For A Confident Ministry

Thomas F. Fischer

Number 262

1) The Ministry is only as powerful as God is.
 
Luther recognized that Christian ministry is a ministry which reflects one’s convictions of the power of God. Ministry based on a weak, fickle, judgmental God is one doomed to destruction. Ministry based on a God who is above all and over all is a ministry based on power.
 
2) In ministry, the greatest vehicle of God’s power is God’s Word.
 
Though the Word might appear to be foolishness to the world, Luther shared St. Paul’s conviction that it was the "power of God unto salvation." If you take the Word of God out of Christian ministry, the ministry itself is lost.
 
3) Sola Scriptura (i.e. "Only Scripture").

Since the Word of God is the greatest power of God’s working in ministry, it follows that the Church of Christ must solely rely on the infallible Word of God as its only source of authority.

4) Faithful Christian ministry entails necessary risk.
 
One cannot escape it. The experience of Christian ministry is one of rejection, slander, defamation, and abuse. Said Luther, "A preacher must be both a soldier and a shepherd. He must nourish, defend, and teach; he must have teeth in his mouth and be able to bite and to fight."
 
5) The power of the Word is the proclamation of grace alone.

Luther understood that there was a very important place for the application of the Law in Christian sanctification. He also understood that unless the Gospel dominated, the preaching of sanctification would become mere legalism.

Luther’s emphasis on "sola gratia" is an emphatic indicator of his belief that the main task of the Church is to "preach Christ crucified."

Without being rooted in the undeserved, unmerited gift of grace, a Christian ceases to be Christian. Thus pastors must repeatedly assert—and re-assert—that we are "saved by grace, not of yourselves, it is a gift of God" (Ephesian 2:8).

6) The Just Shall Live By Faith.
 
Luther’s famous reference to this passage from Romans 3 has several possible applications.

First, it means that those who are justified are justified by faith ("sola fide"). This faith, given by the Holy Spirit through His working in the powerful Word of God, is nothing less than saving faith.

Second, this verse also applies to sanctification. Those who are just live each day by faith in God’s promises. At times, Christian ministers may doubt either aspect of faith.

7) We are not called into ministry because of our worthiness.
 
Luther understood that "worthiness" was never a qualification for ministry. Luther’s "Sacristy Prayer" echoed his feelings of unworthiness regarding His Divine calling.
 
No Christian minister is fully "worthy" of his or her ministry. The only thing which gives worth to our ministries is, when all is said and done, God’s grace alone.
 
It is not our accomplishments, our charisma, our leadership, our eloquence…or relative lack of any of these things. To base one’s ministry on anything else but God’s calling is to plant the seeds of doubt, despair and questioning of the validity and worth of one’s ministry.
 
8) Risks must be taken.
 
Because risk-taking is such a necessary part of the calling to ministry, pastors must have an ever-deepening conviction of faith. The words of Psalm 46, "God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in trouble," are typical of Luther’s recognition that when risks are taken, God is there. Luther's hymn "A Mighty Fortress" and other writings also draw ministers to the omnipotence and imminence of God, especially in times of risk.
 
9) Ministers will face great fear.
 
Luther stood before emperors, popes, and the highest earthly powers of his day. His fear must have been great as he said, "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise." The consequences for not recanting his confession of faith at Worms could have cost his life. In spite of the possible costs--and fear--Luther remained faithful to his calling. His ministry was not driven by fear, but by faith.
 
10) Fear is overcome by a simple, yet profound, conviction of God’s power.
 
Luther’s conviction in the words of Psalm 46, "The Lord of Host is with us. The God of Jacob is our Refuge," was a conviction that God was in control. The Reformation movement was not Luther’s work. It was God’s. The effectiveness of Luther’s preaching was not his work. It was God’s.
 
Whether contemplating success or failure, Luther knew that everything was really God’s working. God was in control. There was, therefore, no reason to fear.
 
11) God often calls us to ministries and callings that we would never choose for ourselves.
 
Luther may have been content to just remain an Augustinian monk. He may have been content simply to be a professor at Wittenburg. But Luther’s preferences were not God’s plans. In order to remind us that our calling is really God’s, God often places us in situations which we do not like, do not want, and feel "unworthy" being there.
 
Luther didn’t set out to be a reformer. It was part of God’s greater plan. In ministry we often set out for something other than what God has intended for us. Like Luther, sometimes we are quite surprised! This, too, is God’s plan.
 
12) Our greatest joy in ministry is to recognize and accept our calling.
 
Though the ministry calling may be difficult, we can only find joy as we submit to God’s calling for us in that place for as long as the Lord desires us to be in that ministry. Can it be frustrating? Certainly! But as long a ministers fight God’s calling and obsessively and covetously desire their own ministry preferences, they will not find joy in the work which God has given.
 
The work may be big. The work may be small. But the work is the calling of God…to you.
 
There Are Other Principles, Too!
 
Certainly Luther demonstrated and espoused numerous other principles for ministry as well. The constant need for prayer in ministry an uncompromising zeal for the proclamation of the Word throughout the world are just two such examples.
 
Whatever principles of ministry he enunciated or demonstrated, in the most simple way Luther understood that a faithful, joyful Christian ministry was always based on the "Three Principles Of The Reformation." These three principles are the most important basis for our Christian ministry, too.
* Sola gratia: All we are, do and celebrate is always and exclusively the result of God’s grace in us.
 
* Sola Scriptura: God’s inerrant Word is the only final authority for ministry. Scripture is, after all, the greatest tool we have. It is the Word we proclaim. That Word is that which forgives, redeems, saves and sanctifies our people, our church, and ourselves.
 
* Sola fide: Christian ministry is, above all, a "faith" proposition. It is based on faith, received by faith, and sustained by faith. Without faith, there is no Christian ministry.
Principles For Your Ministry
 
What are the principles for your ministry? Are they, as Luther’s, based on Scripture? Or have the principles of your Christian ministry been somewhat "watered down"? If so, could that be a reason you may be losing joy in your ministry?
 
God has called you, as Luther and other reformers, to take the Word even to kings and princes if necessary. What God told Jeremiah at his calling is in many ways what God has given in our calling, too.

"The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.' 'Ah, Sovereign LORD,' I said, 'I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.'

But the LORD said to me, 'Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,' declares the LORD.

Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, 'Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.'" Jeremiah 1:4-10 (NIV).

What hinders your ministry confidence? Which principles of ministry help sustain your ministry attitude? Which hinder your ministry confidence?
 
Consider Luther. Consider the other Reformers. Consider the Disciples. But, most of all, consider Christ. In them you will find principles of ministry to give you the strength to stand before kings and princes and the power of God to "uproot and tear down…to build and to plant." It’s there for the taking.
 
What has God appointed you to do? May you do it boldly, confidently, and with joy for the sake and by the power and grace of Jesus Christ.
 
Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:11 PM