A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Taking it Personally
February 7, 2013
The first vow required of church officers is the vow of trust in Jesus our Savior and Lord. This is personal, make no mistake about it.
It is one thing abstractly to affirm Jesus as Savior and Lord and Head of the Church, and quite another to make it personal. When I make it personal, I acknowledge that everything he is for all people, he is for me too.
Martin Luther was fond of underscoring in his own testimony that whatever I confess Jesus to have done for the whole world, I confess he has done it for me too. Not that it’s for me only if I seize it for myself. The point of confessing it personally is not to add an extra condition to salvation, as though Christ’s saving work is effective for me only if I meet God half-way in receiving it. Rather, it is to underscore that it is crucial that I – especially as one who serves as an ordained officer of the church – confess that God’s saving work in Jesus Christ has made a transformative difference for me, personally.
The text of this promise, pointedly, does not say, “Do you trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior?” Such language would suggest that it is possible to imagine Jesus not being our Savior. But the sentence does not ask us to opt for Jesus as our Savior instead of other saviors; rather, it asks us to trust the one who already is the one and only Savior. Another way to put it might well be: Do you trust the one who already has claimed you through baptism?
The issue of whether we trust becomes a fundamental orientation point for us as the church’s office-bearers. We cannot trust the church we are called to serve if we do not trust the Head of the church. Conversely, we cannot trust the Head of the church while mistrusting the body over which he is Head.
Let me put it as plainly as possible: The vow to trust Christ is also a vow to trust the Church, because he alone is its Head. There is no conditional language suggesting that a church might opt for another Head. There is but one Savior, who is also the only Head of the one Church.
It is critical for us to remain steadfast in affirming our trust in the Savior to be Savior regardless of whether our lives fully conform to his lordship. Some days we may glorify him well, while other days we fall short. Yet he is Savior regardless. I trust that he is Savior no matter what I do – and that makes me want all the more to live in a way that honors him well.
Similarly, we trust the church to be the body of Christ, even when it falls short in faithfully demonstrating its identity as his body. We trust Christ the Savior and Head of the church, and in so doing we rightly acknowledge the Triune God. This is what we claim in our first ordination vow.
When I make this vow, I promise that I won’t start looking for another Savior if life doesn’t work out the way I think it should if he were indeed Savior and Lord. I do not hold my confession of the Savior hostage to the evidence that I see before me, as though something that happens to me would change my confidence that he is Savior.
By the same token, when I make this vow I promise that I won’t start looking for another church if the church I have promised to serve doesn’t always look or act like it belongs to Jesus. I acknowledge Jesus to be Head of the church even when others – including myself – may act as though the church is ours to do with as we please.
My commitment to the Lord Jesus and his church is personal – he alone is Savior and Head of the church, and gratefully I own that he is my Savior and Head of my church too! I acknowledge this and am committed to it even when the evidence of my life, or of my church’s life, might not yet fully comport with Jesus’ lordship. But our faithlessness, even if it is egregious, changes nothing in his faithfulness to be exactly who Scripture declares him to be – Savior of all and Head of his church. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful.” (2 Timothy 2:13)
Taking it personally,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
Click here for the directory of archived letters.