Kruiz edited
Judge Me, Please!
Joseph, Patriarch
31 March 2017
Many are unhappy about distinguishing between "hearers" and "preachers" in the church. There seems to be something un-egalitarian about this kind of distinction. To them it implies the greater authority to the preachers and a lesser authority to the hearers. In our modern culture, if you aren't one of the talkers you are a nobody. This is not so in the biblical pattern of relationship in the church. Martin Luther made this clear when he helped the little congregation in the town of Leisnig, Germany sort out the election of their own priest and preacher at the beginning of the Reformation. Such a choice would have been unnecessary if just anyone could preach. In the radical Reformation, this is exactly the conclusion Anabaptists reached about this question. The distinction between pastors and people was rejected; everybody could be the preacher. But where the distinction was maintained, as it was among the Lutherans, the very act of electing a pastor indicated the power of the people as conferred by God. The church is divided into hearers and preachers by God. They simply have different offices.

The power to judge the shepherds is placed into the hands of the sheep. They are the judges of the preachers. If that is so, then the sheep have a more exalted position than the preachers. The church is not like the world, where those who talk command those to whom they talk. No, in the church the preachers do not command, but serve the sheep, speaking for God and leading them to the still clear waters of God's Word.

The sheep are required to beware of false prophets (Mt 7:15). This requires discernment and gives the right of judgment to precisely those sheep. The discernment of the sheep is to be grounded and centered in study of the Word of God. Every preacher has had the experience of being taken to task in a voters meeting by a sheep who never attends Bible class and quite literally doesn't know what he is talking about. However, it is still his privilege to speak and we preachers, for the good of all, must withstand that criticism. God has given His Word to the church, and therefore He expects the sheep to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. This is the standard upon which the preachers are to be judged. Under the authority of the Word of God the people of God have not only the privilege but the duty to judge the preachers.

There is also a deep mutuality as we live out our vocations as preachers and hearers in the church. No one lives to himself alone (Rm 14:7). First, we all belong to the Lord. Second, and because we all belong to the Lord, we all belong to one another. This means that we are all subject to one another in service and obedience and yet at the same time subject to none, freed by the gospel and under only one Lord, who is Christ. Because we are free in Christ, we are then free to show that honor and respect mutually; shepherd to sheep and sheep to shepherd. There is no contradiction here, but a community made of proclaimers and hearers; each deferring to proper authority.

Sometimes clergy lament the fact that they are on the menu during Sunday lunch. However, I think of it as a blessing. First, the sheep are actually talking about what they heard me say. Second, it is their right to judge me by the Word of God.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"Christ says, 'Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.' (Mt 7:15). You see, here Christ does not give the judgment to prophets and teachers but to pupils or sheep. For how could one beware of false prophets if one did not consider and judge their teaching? Thus, there cannot be a false prophet among the listeners, only among the teachers. That is why all teachers and their teaching should and must be subject to the judgment of the listeners.

"Again, from St. Paul this passage, 'Test everything; hold fast to that which is good' (1Thess 5:21). You see, here Paul does not want to have any teaching or decree obeyed unless it is examined and recognized as good by the congregation hearing it. Indeed, this examination is not the concern of the teachers; rather, the teachers must first state what is to be examined. Thus, here too the judgment is taken from the teachers and given to the Christian pupils. There is a radical difference between Christians and the world: in the world the rulers command whatever they please and their subjects accept it. 'It shall not be so among you' (Mt 20:26), says Christ. Instead, among Christians each person is the judge of the other person; on the other hand, he is also subject to the other person. However, the spiritual tyrants have made a worldly power out of Christendom." 

Martin Luther, That a Christian Assembly Has the Right to Judge
Matthew 7:15-23

 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"
Lord Jesus, Shepherd and overseer of all souls, You have commanded that the sheep should judge their shepherds and that they should beware of false teachers. Keep your people firmly settled in Your Word, that they might have a proper basis for discernment. Lead Your undershepherds to proclaim only your divine truth and give them the proper humility to subject their speech to the discernment of the sheep. Amen.

For the family of Patty Randone, whom our Lord Jesus Christ removed from this valley of sorrows, that they may be comforted with the teaching of the bodily resurrection and the life of the world to come

For Pastor Bryan Sullivan, that the Lord Jesus Christ would be all his strength and comfort

For Theodore Gerhard Clark, who will be baptized into Christ through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, that the Lord Jesus would take him up in His arms and bless him
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Isenheim Altarpiece (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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