What is a Christian to do whose pastor abuses the office of the holy ministry for self-benefit? When a man exploits the pastoral office in service to self-interest how are Christians to distinguish between the person and the office? The answer is simple: a pastor may have the Holy Spirit in two ways. As an individual, the Holy Spirit is not with our pastor at all times. Whenever anyone, even a pastor, allows the evil spirit to ride him, he flees from God, as David did: "Then Satan stood against Israel and urged David to count Israel. So David said to Joab and to the commanders of the nation, 'Go, count Israel from Beersheba to Dan and bring a report to me that I might know their number.'" (1 Chronicles 21:1-2)

But, when the Holy Spirit is at work in the office of the holy ministry, the man is ridden by the Spirit and so his only concern is for preaching the Gospel, baptizing, absolving, and feeding sinners in the Name of Christ Jesus. All this doing is the work of God's Spirit. Everything that is "holy" about the office is so because the Spirit is at work, not because the man is doing holy works in a church. It is because of the Holy Spirit, Who makes everything about Christ and the delivery of His gifts for sinners. Then the Spirit is always with us because "no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:21). A pastor is merely the instrument. The Holy Spirit does it all.

When the distinction is correctly made between the man and the office, between works of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit, Christians are free to judge the man while simultaneously respecting the office. Christians are free to respect the office, love and obey their pastor and yet hold him accountable when he flees the Spirit in his person in order to glorify himself.

When a Christian opposes and rebels against a faithful pastor—one who preaches Christ alone for salvation and delivers His gifts—he is not fighting against flesh and blood, but against God who has given him a pastor, who is an instrument of the Holy Spirit (Acts 5; 1 Thessalonians 4). However, when a pastor turns Christians' attention and focus away from the One who came to seek and save the lost, Who does not quench a tender wick, Who sits and eats with prostitutes and sinners, a pastor is not acting according to the responsibilities and obligations of the office, but according to his own fleshly desires. Then a Christian must oppose his pastor because the Holy Spirit is not at work.

To use another example, a citizen must distinguish between the office of the president and the man elected to serve in the office. Even if an evil man is elected to the office that does not mean the office is thereby evil. No, the man may be evil, and he may use the office for evil purposes, but the office remains a means through which God works for the good of all creatures, regardless of how a man uses or abuses it.

So also, when a pastor uses the office of the holy ministry for self-gain, to satisfy his own desires for power, influence, fame, financial gain, and so on, he stands outside the office and must be called to repent. The Spirit is not with him. He is dealing with Christians without the Word and command of God; he is being ridden by an evil spirit. Then, as Dr. Luther preached, a Christian may say to the pastor: "Dear pastor, I would allow it to happen that you would excommunicate me, but I do not ask about your excommunication, because you excommunicate me not according to your office nor according to the arrangement of the Holy Spirit, but according to your own person and according to your own stubborn caprice" (Sermon on John 20).

A Christian that can make this distinction can also distinguish between true and false teachers, and false and sectarian spirits. But, when a person's pastor teaches the Ten Commandments, the Creed, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and conducts himself as pastor according to the Word of Christ, then he is in the office and serves as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, regardless of whether one appreciates him as a personality or not.

The office of the holy ministry does not belong to any man, but to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit alone. Therefore, a man in himself may be without the Spirit, but so far as he acts and speaks according to the office, Christ gives His Spirit to His Church.

In this way, a Christian may distinguish between the man and the office. Likewise, if he closes his eyes and opens his ears, a Christian will quickly learn whether or not his pastor is ridden by Christ or an evil spirit. Where Christ Jesus alone is preached as the only way for sinners to be saved, where baptism and absolution are front and center, then Christ is at work and the Holy Spirit is present. Where Christ Jesus alone is not preached, but additions and conditions are added to salvation, where another gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit is not there. There Christians are free to say to the pastor, "I hear [you], but do not follow you here, because you step out of the office... this does not count [i.e., has no effect]" (Luther, Sermon on John 20).

The office of the holy ministry is the office of the Holy Spirit. Thus, when we say "office" we are saying "instrument" and when we say instrument we are saying, "the Holy Spirit is doing it." The Holy Spirit preaches the Gospel. The Holy Spirit baptizes. The Holy Spirit absolves sins. This office of the ministry then is instituted by God to serve people for the betterment, not destruction, of Christian faith and comfort. As a consequence, a Christian's pastor is the instrument through which Christ's Spirit forgives sin, declares sinners righteous, and blesses before God. From these works a Christian is poured out into the world and will do good works straightaway for his neighbor (even his pastor whom he regards and adores as an instrument used by Christ for his salvation) in freedom and joy.