See AE 28:284, 294. Note that I have put words in our interviewee’s mouth in the brackets.
Dr. Luther, thank you for the interview: let’s speak briefly about your position on the qualifications for pastoral ministry.
[The Scriptures give us rather clear guidance in this instance. Of course] he must be above reproach. This is the first quality he must have. The man who wants to investigate, correct, and teach others should be above reproach… that is, that he is beyond accusation and can neither rightly nor justly be accused.
I see. Well, it certainly makes sense that if someone is falsely accused this should not disqualify them.
[Right,] if he is falsely accused, no harm; he is still above reproach; no law can accuse him before men. Samuel and Moses are good examples. Samuel said, “If I have defrauded anyone, etc.” (cf. 1 Sam. 12:3). There he showed how innocent he was, as far as men were concerned. Moses spoke this way before Korah (cf. Num. 16:15). To live this way, that you do not harm your neighbor by theft or adultery, means that no man can accuse you of anything or say: “You have stolen from me; you have raped my wife.”
So, if I understand you correctly, you do not believe that the Apostle Paul simply meant to show the pastor his inadequacy as a sinner, but actually meant to have his requirements followed.
[I am not sure I understand your question. Certainly] there is no one who is above reproach before God. Paul writes: “I am conscious of no evil” (cf. 1 Cor. 4:4). Let the Our Father stand: “Forgive us.” Before God no one is above reproach, but before men the bishop is to be so, that he may not be a fornicator, an adulterer, a greedy man, a foul-mouthed person, a drunkard, a gambler, a slanderer.
But should the church really be so concerned about what those outsiders think who “know” they are better than everybody else, and don’t need the Gospel? Should it not rather focus on proclaiming the Gospel to those who are primarily concerned with their own sin and know they really need it?
[That is a perverse way of looking at things, really. No,] he must be well thought of by outsiders. …[Yes, s]ome theologian of the church might answer: “What is it to us what the heathen think or what the papists think? We live in such a way that the church does not judge us, for it is founded on love and gladly endures the criticism: ‘You bear it … if a man puts on airs’ (2 Cor. 11:20). The heathen, however, do not do this.”
[On the contrary,] Paul says: “It is especially fitting for you, O bishop, to care what the heathen think about you. You see, you have been exposed in your ministry to men and women. Therefore you ought to live in such a way that the heathen are forced to close their own mouths. This is the way you can gain and convert them. If you live in such a way that you are faulted, you frighten them away and force them to blaspheme the name of God.” Cf. Rom. 2:24. Therefore “well thought of.”
I am not sure you are getting the Law-Gospel distinction… Again, I have been taught that one doesn’t actually have to do these things that Paul is talking about… but that all pastors simply need to know they are unqualified. These simply show the pastor his inadequacy as a sinner…
[You try my patience, but may the Lord put up with my bearing with you a bit longer… ] Paul also wrote to Titus (2:8): “Having nothing evil to say to us.” Thus the heathen will say: “People wrong them.” Pliny wrote to Trajan: “There is a certain sect, etc.” He commends the Christians because they live good and holy lives. There those Christians closed the mouths of Pliny and of Trajan himself: “Let men say what they want about those Christians; they are humble and have every good intention.” So a person compares his own shameful life with that of the Christians and is converted. Why does Paul talk about what outsiders think? That he may not fall into reproach.
But the church doesn’t really want to attract persons who are concerned about moral goodness, right? Doesn’t it want to attract persons who realize that no one is morally good – starting with themselves? Don’t we all scandalize the church? Isn’t it only faith that makes a person above reproach?
[Away with such nonsense! This will be my last response to you. The apostle Paul says “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap”. Therefore, I repeat:] Why does Paul talk about what outsiders think? That he may not fall into reproach.… a slanderer should not have just reason to accuse. Look—let a man so live here, and let us be careful of reproach, lest we fall into it.
…Earlier I mentioned that a bishop can live blamelessly before the world but not before God… Paul intends a blamelessness before the world. It is true that whoever is not sincere in his faith and the purity of his heart does not escape falling into obvious wickedness. If he is greedy, he cannot cover up his greed to keep it from breaking out. If he is proud, he cannot hide and conceal it. It must show. If, then, he can live blamelessly, it is a sign that his soul is blameless before God, but not completely.”