November 2015

November 2015

Church Attendance and the Christian Life
Part III: The Necessity of Pastoral Care

For the last two months, we've been learning about how very necessary church attendance is for the Christian life. We've learned that God commands church attendance in the Third Commandment, and that not coming to church is a sin for which repentance is required. We've learned that Jesus instituted His Church as a household of brothers and sisters in Christ, who gather together to hear and learn His Word, and to encourage and be encouraged by one another. This month, we'll learn about another necessary component of church attendance: pastoral care.

Do you have a pastor? Of course, if you're a member of Holy Cross, I am your pastor. But have you seen me lately? Have you been spiritually fed by the Word of God that He has entrusted me to preach for your benefit? Have you received from me the blessed Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood in Holy Communion? If not, you might well wonder if you really have a pastor at all.

Having a pastor is not optional for Christians. St. Paul writes that our ascended Lord gave "pastors and teachers" as gifts to men (Ephesians 4:8, 11), that is, to His Church. What does it say about our devotion to our Lord if we despise the gift that He has given us and never come to see and hear our pastor? St. Paul also said to the pastors of the congregation in Ephesus, "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God, which He obtained with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). If we are not under the regular care of a man whom God has made an overseer over us, can we really say that we are a part of "the Church of God"? Furthermore, the same Apostle wrote to the Thessalonians, commanding them "to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Staying home rather than taking the time and trouble to hear your pastor's sermon and participate in the service he is leading is the opposite of respecting and highly esteeming him whom God has placed over you in the Lord.

There's something else at play, too, when it comes to the necessity of the pastoral office for Christians, something that I as a pastor find very sobering and humbling. The Scriptures resoundingly proclaim that pastors are responsible for their people, so much so that they will have to give an account for the souls under their charge. St. James write, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1). God warns the Prophet Ezekiel, "If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:18). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls as they that must give an account" (Hebrews 13:17). If you are a Christian, that means that of necessity there is a man whom God has made responsible for your soul. Can you identify such a man in your own life? If not, you are most assuredly not a Christian. If you are a member of Holy Cross and are reading this newsletter right now, your soul has been entrusted to my care, and I will have to give an account before the judgment seat of Christ if you should perish in your sins. If I fail to warn you against your sins, and if I fail to admonish you to repent and believe the Gospel, then God will hold me responsible for your damnation. I believe, though, that I have thus far faithfully discharged my office, and can say with St. Paul, "I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27). I nevertheless pray that all those among us who have drifted away may come finally to repentance and inherit eternal life.

As you can see, having a pastor responsible for your spiritual care is a necessary part of being a Christian. Who would you say is responsible for your soul? Can you identify the man who will have to answer for your soul at the final judgment? If not, you are outside the Church of God, without the hope of salvation. But praise God, you have been given a pastor, and you need only come to him to receive the free forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake. For those who stubbornly stay away from church, there is only stern judgment and no forgiveness, but for those who return, there is nothing but grace, mercy, forgiveness, and rejoicing in heaven and in the Church of God.

Next month, we'll conclude our series on church attendance and the Christian life by considering something you can get at church and nowhere else: the Holy Sacraments.
Yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Pastor Neuendorf