Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Pastor as Confessor

A pastor wears a lot of hats. Most importantly, he is a preacher, a celebrant, one who is under orders by God to give out the gifts of Christ to His beloved people each and every Sunday. He is a teacher, charged with the task of instructing both young and old in the faith once delivered to the saints. He is an administrator, who (to a greater or lesser extent depending on the congregation) is to make sure that the daily 'nuts and bolts' of a congregation get done. He is a counselor, an aid in crisis, bringing God's Word into the midst of the various situations that God's people find themselves in. To this list we can add one more, one that we probably wouldn't have thought of: confessor.

A confessor is one sent by Christ to hear His people confess their sins publicly and privately, and then, in His stead and by His command, absolve them with the precious voice of the Gospel. A confessor is one who has promised, under solemn oath before God and man, never to divulge the sins that are confessed to him. A confessor knows the hurts, cares, foibles and sins of the flock entrusted to him better than anyone else, and so he is in a better position than anyone else to apply the healing balm of the Gospel. A confessor is a better preacher, because he understands those he preaches to and preaches directly to their hurts. A confessor struggles with his people in an incredibly intimate way, bringing Christ to them in their times of greatest need. A confessor is different than counselor. They have a wonderful and helpful vocation, and a pastor must also be able to provide some measure of counseling, but the Lord has given him a greater task: to proclaim the Gospel, to give to you forgiveness. A counselor brings you helpful advice, a confessor brings you forgiveness.

Lutheran theology has a wonderful German word to describe the pastor who sees himself as a confessor in addition to all of his other tasks: Seelsorge. This word means “soul-healer.” It is the pastor's task to bring healing to hurt and broken souls that have been entrusted to him, and the only balm that heals is the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. A pastor does this when he preaches a sermon, when he gives you communion either on Sunday morning, at home, or at your hospital bed, when he counsels you and speaks comfort from God's Word, and especially when you confess your sins to him and he pronounces Christ's forgiveness. In all of these ways, your soul is comforted and healed. I have many pastors to whom I go for counsel and advice, but only one who hears my sins. I encourage you to see your pastor, or any pastor, as a confessor, as a Seelsorge, and to ask him for the gifts he is commanded to give, that he rejoices to give.

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