The Pastoral Call

We confess that no one may preach or teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless they are rightly called. A right call is one that is done according to the institution and command of Jesus as we confess in the XIV article of the Augsburg Confession.

At the time of the Apostles, the call was immediate, that is, Jesus directly called the Apostles into the ministry. After our Lord ascended, the call is mediate, that is, the Church calls pastors in the name and on behalf of Christ. Even though these calls are mediate, they are no less divine than the call of the Apostles.

The call of the Church is properly carried out by a local congregation, that is, an assembly of Christians that regularly gather in a specific locality around the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. The pastoral office itself does not have the right to call pastors by its own decree, apart from the congregation or without its consent. The call to the office is that of the whole church, not the clergy alone. Therefore, every congregation has the right and the duty to call their own pastors.

Although the pastoral ministry is a divine office, the pastor does not have authority over all matters, such as is claimed by the bishops in the Roman Catholic Church. The power of the pastoral office is the power of the Word, and he exercises this power by preaching, administering the Sacraments, forgiving the sins of the penitent, and retaining the sins of the impenitent. Beyond the administration of the Word and Sacraments, and the necessary matters related to preaching and admonition, God has given him no other power (Mark 16:15,16). Every Christian is also a priest and thus has the right to judge doctrine, and to admonish their pastor if he teaches falsely, abuses his power, or seeks power that God has not given him (Col. 3:11). The congregation also has the right and duty to remove a pastor if there is need, such as stubborn adherence to false doctrine, an ungodly life, or gross neglect of his duties.

The calls of all pastors are equal. No form of church government, whether synods, districts, ministeriums or episcopates can give one pastor divine authority over other pastors. Such organizations are useful and beneficial, but they are not divinely ordained. Therefore they cannot claim any divine authority as such nor a permanent right to exist. Those who enter them do so voluntarily for the mutual support and admonition of the brethren. All officials in any such organizations exist by human right alone, whether they are called presidents, supervisors, or bishops. They do not have the right, as an organization, to call or depose pastors, such as the Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church have (Romans 10:12). Christ did not institute a hierarchy among the ministers of the Church, but expressly forbids it (Luke 22:25–27).

The external model by which a congregation is administered is an adiaphoron, whether by voting assembly, pastoral rule, church board, or mutual consent. However, whatever form the administration may take, it must still be done according to the Word of God. God has ordained that in the Church, men alone have authority. Therefore, for example, if a congregation has a voter’s assembly, the voters must be men, and they are responsible for calling a pastor. The call may be officially issued by an administrative body, such as a church board, but because their offices are human in origin, they cannot use their offices to impose a pastor contrary to the will and consent of the congregation as a whole. Neither can women exercise authority over men whatever form the administration of the congregation may take, even if it be by free-form consent, but they must remain under the authority of the men and allow them to rule the affairs of the congregation (1 Tim. 2:11,12). Even a congregation as small as two or three people, such as a home church, has the right to call a pastor, because the form of a congregation does not invalidate its existence before God (Col. 4:15).

When calling a pastor, a congregation must be faithful to the Word of God (Rev. 2:10), hold orderly meetings (Heb. 10:25), and issue the call through the men (Acts 6:1–6). They should also know that God is at work filling the office through them (Luke 22:19,20) and understand that God Himself, in His Word, has ordained the office and authority of the pastor and has required that it be instituted in their midst (1 Tim. 3:1). Therefore it is a divine and not a human office (Rom. 1:16).