Recently (June 17) I “celebrated” my 34th year of ordination into the office of the holy ministry. I write this with quotation marks as the day came and went with little fanfare from anyone, save my beloved wife. She read a short article that was posted on Facebook on some of the statistics related to pastors. The statistics were, shall we say, discouraging.
Now don’t misunderstand, my beloved was not trying to discourage me, but rather to remind the congregation that being a pastor is far from easy, and that many who begin the vocation do not end in it.
I can say that in reflecting on my 34 years I can relate to that article. Now don’t get me wrong, the years have been filled with great joy and amazing things. But they have also been filled with heartaches, questionings, struggles, and learning the hard, real world knowledge, that original sin is alive and well in all of us.
I began my pilgrimage in the ministry with the desire to serve back in high school. I had a good pastor who took time with me and who saw the importance of mission work by inviting those who served to the congregation to share of the work of the Lord in far off corners of the world. Somewhere in all that the Holy Spirit, working through the Word, led me to wave my hand in the air and like Isaiah cry out “Here am I! Send me!”
I began my formal studies after graduation in 1976 at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. At the time it was a college of the American Lutheran Church of which we were members. It was a very challenging first quarter to say the least. My very first religion class was taught by a man who only seemed interested in shredding anything I may have learned about Jesus (and anything else in the Bible). The ridicule of believing in the miraculous, the denial of blood atonement for sin, and physical resurrection, and anything that categorically denied the infallible and inerrant Scriptures left me shaken to the core. Here I was, a Freshman in college with no more formal instruction than junior high confirmation, having to defend in class that which I held true against what was an attack by the very Satan who kept screaming at me: “Did God really say?” and answering his own question with a resounding “No!”
Fortunately the Lord saw my plight and heard my plea. There were a number of like-minded students who took me under their arms and gave me reassurance in my faith. One in particular, a Senior, led me to look at the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, who had very recently gone through her own “Battle for the Bible” and did what no other major denomination going down the road of liberalism had done. They said “No!” to the direction they were going and were turned around again to the truth by the very Word that was being denied by her enemies within.
It was there that I found a home. I joined a Missouri Synod congregation in January, 1977 and transferred to Concordia College in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the start of the next academic year. But, alas, even there I found controversy in the form of the Charismatic movement.
While at Wartburg, the aforementioned group that took me under their wing were also Charismatic (the aforementioned Senior was not). So my arrival at Concordia saw me gravitating to them. After all, they believed the Bible to be true! But as I took more and more classes and met more and more people that first year, I began to realize that even these had missed the point. Thus my Junior and Senior year were spent defending the Scriptures from attack from the other direction, It was then that I realized that these two attacks were actually the same, with different clothes. One was a denial that the Word was truly God’s, the other that the Word, although God’s, was not truly enough.
Some have said my theological development was reactionary. I would say that it was forged in fire.
Following graduation in 1980 from Concordia College – Ann Arbor, I attended Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri for two quarters. Why only two quarters? Truth be told, I was directed to St. Louis by the faculty at Ann Arbor and others. As mentioned above, the LCMS had very recently gone through its “Battle for the Bible” that culminated in the famous 1974 “Walk-Out” from the seminary by a good portion of the faculty and student body. The rebuilding years at the seminary say many good professors arrive. But I was wanting a much stronger study in the area of systematic theology, and the strongest faculty in that area was located at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Thus, seeing the glow in the northeastern skies, I applied, was accepted, and began studies there in Spring quarter, 1981.
And yet again controversy raised up. It was during these years that men of solid theology and reputation were under attack by those who did not understand. Men like President Dr. Robert Preus, Rev. Dr. David Scaer, and others were under attack for stating things that I had always believed, was challenged in, and had overcome stronger than before. It is from men like David Scaer. Kurt Marquardt, Robert Preus and the faithful professors that I learned what it meant to be a real theologian of the cross as defined by Luther.
So, in Spring of 1984, after 8 years of formal preparation, I graduated from CTSFW. Yet my journey was only beginning. The Lord had laid His foundation in my heart and was now about to show me the meaning of tentatio (struggle in faith).
This is getting long. I will write more later in a separate blogs on the actual 34 years.
Pastor Michael Barnes