Vol. 1 No. 3
On the Firing of a Pastor
The firing of Jeff Schwarz and Rev. Todd Wilken as producer and host of the popular Issues Etc. radio program has provoked a series of accusations and counter accusations throughout the synod. Mollie Hemingway, with no little support from the facts themselves, has asserted in a Wall Street Journal article that the move was theologically or politically motivated. President Kieschnick and other synodical officials have maintained that the show was canceled and the firings took place for programmatic and financial reasons, an assertion argued heatedly in the various blogs and websites in cyberspace. Lost in all the hullabaloo is a deeply troubling theological issue. The reasons and motives of those involved notwithstanding, it is quite apparent that a pastor with a divine call has been deposed without cause or due process.
Let's review our doctrine and practice. The Lutheran church has always asserted the scriptural truth that God appoints pastors. In the case of the apostles God did this directly either by Christ speaking to them or, as in the case of Paul, through a vision. God still calls pastors today, but ever since apostolic times He has done so through the church. So Paul can arrange for the appointment of pastors by the church in Acts 14 (v.23) and later he can tell the pastors in Ephesus to "guard the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers" (Acts 20:28). The church calls and God calls. God calls pastors through the church.
Typically, the congregations of the Missouri Synod have carefully guarded their right to call and appoint their own pastors. At the same time we all know that the pastor, though called by the church, is truly called by God no less than St. Peter or St. Paul. Additionally the collection of churches we call synod has at times seen fit to call men as pastors who teach the word and administer the sacraments on behalf of more than a single congregation. So, collectively the church through various boards or commissions calls men to be seminary teachers, military chaplains, campus pastors, missionaries and other teachers of the church.
Rev. Todd Wilken enjoyed such a call. He was extended a divine call by the Board for Communication Services of the Missouri Synod back in 2000. Since then his pulpit has been his microphone and his growing congregation has been the thousands of people who have come to know Christ or have grown in their faith and understanding through the ministry of Issues Etc. as through the airwaves and internet Rev. Wilken spoke in the stead and by the command of Christ. He is the most noble of missionaries.
An important practice of our churches is drawn from our understanding of the divinity of the call. Just as God is the one to call a pastor through the church, so only God, through the church, can depose a pastor. God ends a ministry often by extending another call to the pastor, or by taking a pastor home to heaven. In some cases an unfaithful pastor is deposed by God but only for very specific reasons; either the pastor is demonstrably guilty of false doctrine or of scandalous life. The congregation then becomes God's instrument in deposal just as the congregation was God's instrument in the initial call. But you cannot simply fire the pastor. His call is from God. You must demonstrate to the church that he is guilty of false doctrine or immoral life and only then can the church function as God's agent and depose a pastor.
Our theologians have something to say about this. C. F. W. Walther quotes Martin Luther extensively in his, Church and Ministry. Luther wrote in reaction to the deposal of a called servant of the word and described those who did so as "moved by the evil spirit . . . and robbers of the church," since they "deposed" a pastor "though he was never accused before any judge or convicted of any wrong, and since they undertook this by their own authority and malice." (Walther, Church and Ministry [St. Louis: CPH 1987) 225] Martin Chemnitz, primary author of the Formula of Concord concurs: "Just as there is a lawful method for calling someone into the ministry of the church, so also there is a lawful method for removing someone . . . In our churches many also do not understand this matter correctly. For just as when one hires a servant he has the power to dismiss when he wishes, so some think that they have authority also to dismiss a preacher though they have no just cause . . . There are two reasons for which God removes an unfaithful minister from their office: (1) because of doctrine when thy teach error . . . (2) because of life, when they act in such a way that the name of the Lord is blasphemed . . . When someone must be removed from the ministry, it is necessary that the church can show with certainty that this is the judgment and this is the will of God." [Martin Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, translated by J.A.O. Preus (St. Louis, CPH 1989) vol. II 703]
The reason for which our fathers in the faith were so adamant in their protection of the pastoral office should be obvious. Pastors often find themselves having to speak against the prevailing doctrines or sins of the culture which may be the beliefs and sins of many people in the church itself. These pastors must, like the prophets and apostles of scripture, be given the security to speak even when such speech may be unpopular. A pastor who is constantly worried about his job security or who is concerned about pleasing people may balk at pleasing God.
Thankfully, no one ever accused Rev Wilken of being afraid to broach controversial topics. Thankfully, Christians were able to listen to his guests as they courageously affirmed the faith in the face of a culture which often disdains the name of Jesus. And anyone who listened knew that Rev. Wilken often spoke almost as much as the guests. But it was always God's Word which he spoke. And hungry souls were fed.
Yet, despite his call from God to teach the church through the ministry of Issues etc., and despite his faithfulness in his ministry, Rev. Wilken was fired the Tuesday before Easter. He was not accused of any false doctrine. He was not accused of any scandalous behavior. He was not given any warning ahead of time that would indicate that God wanted him gone. He was given no opportunity to defend the gospel he had proclaimed for eight years. He was simply removed without cause and without due process.
Many were dismayed so see their main source of Christian nourishment cut off like when your favorite restaurant burns down. Equally disturbing is that the leadership of the LCMS seems to be working with a different understanding of the office of the ministry than is taught by the Bible and our Lutheran fathers.
Rev. Klemet Preus
Glory of Christ Lutheran Church
In the first edition of our new newsletter, we stated our editorial policy and the reasons behind our decision to publish our articles unsigned. We received some negative feedback about this, and requests for change. While we stand by our reasons and decision, we also do not want our message ignored by those who will not read an unsigned article. The message is too important! Therefore we have decided that we will allow our writers to sign their articles, while at the same time trying to defend those who face very real and punitive retribution for speaking out.
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