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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

01 October 2008

Pastoral Oath of Office

Q: Do Lutheran pastors take an oath before they start their ministry? If so may I please have a copy ASAP?

Shepherd's StaffsA: As is common in much of the Christian Church, Lutheran pastors answer a series of questions and make several promises when we are ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry. We repeat these promises whenever we are installed to serve new congregations. The congregations receiving us as pastors also make vows concerning their reception and treatment of us. The rite varies somewhat among the different Lutheran bodies, so I’ll give you the specifics for The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. Quoted material is from the Agenda of our newest hymnal, Lutheran Service Book. Please note that while some minor changes to the wording of the rite have been made through the years, its substance remains fairly constant.

The Rite of Installation normally takes place within one of the regular worship order, preferably the Divine (Communion) Service. It customarily follows the sermon and Creed, preceding the prayers. The rite begins with the pastor-elect standing up before the congregation, facing the altar. The presiding minister announces the purpose of the rite and says a brief prayer. He may then read a series of Scripture passages pertaining to Christ’s institution of this office, the responsibilities it entails, and the strength and promise God gives to those in the office of the holy ministry.

The presiding minister then reminds the pastor-elect of his responsibilities and his accountability to God on the Last Day by means of the following six sets of questions, which the new pastor answers as indicated:

1. Do you acknowledge that the Lord has called you through His Church into the ministry of Word and Sacrament?

I do.

2. Do you believe and confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice?

Yes, I believe and confess the canonical Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

3. Do you believe and confess the three ecumenical Creeds, namely, the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds, as faithful testimonies to the truth of the Holy Scriptures, and do you reject all the errors which they condemn?

Yes, I believe and confess the three Creeds because they are in accord with the Word of God. I also reject all the errors they condemn.

4. Do you confess the Unaltered Augsburg Confession to be a true exposition of Holy Scripture and a correct exhibition of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church? And do you confess that the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Authority and Primacy of the Pope, and the Formula of Concord — as these are contained in the 1580 Book of Concord — are also in agreement with this one scriptural faith?

Yes, I make these Confessions my own because they are in accord with the Word of God.

5. Do you promise that you will perform the duties of your office in accordance with these Confessions and that all your preaching and teaching and your administration of the Sacraments will be in conformity with Holy Scripture and with these Confessions?

Yes, I promise with the help of God.

6. Will you faithfully instruct both young and old in the chief articles of Christian doctrine, will you forgive the sins of those who repent, and will you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you? Will you minister faithfully to the sick and dying? Will you demonstrate to the Church a constant and ready ministry centered in the Gospel? Will you admonish and encourage the people to a lively confidence in Christ and in holy living?

Yes, I will with the help of God.

Pastor6. Finally, will you honor and adorn the office of the holy ministry with a holy life? Will you be diligent in the study of Holy Scripture and the Confessions? And will you be constant in prayer for those under your pastoral care?

I will, the Lord helping me through the power and grace of His Holy Spirit.

Following these questions and the new pastor’s solemn promises, the presiding minister calls upon the congregation(s) he will serve to make their own promises. He first reminds them of what God expects of them:

Beloved in the Lord, Holy Scripture says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning — for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

He then asks the following and the people respond as indicated:

1. You have heard the solemn promise of him called to be your Pastor. Will you receive him, show him that love, honor, and obedience in the Lord that you owe to the shepherd and teacher placed over you by your Lord Jesus Christ, and will you support him by your gifts and pray for him always that in his labors he may retain a cheerful spirit and that his ministry among you may be abundantly blessed?

We will with the help of God.

2. Will you honor and uphold your pastor as he serves Christ in all his God-pleasing responsibilities? Will you aid him as he cares for his family? Will you be diligent to “put the best construction on everything,” recognizing that “love covers a multitude of sins”?

We will with the help of God.

The presiding minister blesses the congregation:

The almighty and most merciful God strengthen and assist you always.

He then asks the pastor-elect:

“Are you willing and ready to assume this public trust and responsibility?”

Upon receiving an affirmative reply, he officially installs the new pastor.

The presiding minister then speaks the following blessing and a final prayer before stepping aside to allow the new pastor to continue the service:

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)

As we closely examine these vows, we realize that only in a perfect world would pastors and parishioners keep them perfectly. However, if we inhabited a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to make such promises, nor would we need pastors to shepherd Christ’s people. Therefore, both pastors and people constantly must remain ready to seek and to offer forgiveness from and to each other as they live under the bond of peace in the fellowship of the Gospel.

Rite of Installation quoted from Lutheran Service Book: Agenda, © 2006 by Concordia Publishing House.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Newspaper column #559


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