My good friend and brother in Christ, Pastor Heinz, has "tagged" me to identify the five people who most inspire my spiritual life. I am humbled to be named among those who "inspire" him, but Christ be praised if He has manifested His mercy in me for the benefit of others.
It was almost exactly a year ago that I blogged about the forty most influential pastors in my life. I had set out to name thirty pastors, and ended up with forty because I had such a hard time limiting the list! So, coming up with only five sounds pretty difficult at first. I could easily name five early church fathers, five of the Reformers, five Lutheran theologians, five of my fathers in Christ, and five of my colleagues in the Holy Ministry, and that would already be five times too many for this assignment. All forty of those pastors I named a year ago have been an inspiration to me in my spiritual life, as in my pastoral office. They have encouraged me by their example, as well as serving me by their preaching and teaching.
In fact, though, taking this term "inspiration" with full seriousness, I have to admit that coming up with only five is rather easier than I would have thought. I have many fathers in Christ, both ancient and modern, and I am deeply grateful for each and all of them. But there are those "giants" who stand out, whose example has honestly moved me to change my thinking and my practice, to do better than I would otherwise have done. When I allow myself simply to scan my heart and mind for those who have truly "inspired" my spiritual life in that way, the top five answers are immediate and relatively obvious.
A couple of caveats, such as Pastor Heinz has also offered. Our Lord Jesus Christ is in a most superlative category all by Himself, and I do not include Him in this list. I have not counted Martin Luther as an exception, but neither do I name him among my top five; notwithstanding the outstanding example and encouragement that his life and confession provide me. My own father, the Reverend Don Stuckwisch, Sr., has surely been an inspiration to me in countless ways, and so much of my own formation was etablished and developed by him, that I can hardly separate his role and contribution from my own life and personal identity. For that reason, I haven't counted him among the five below, but name him here with thanksgiving.
As it finally turns out, I have one early church father, two Lutheran theologians, one professor and one brother pastor on my list, and anyone who knows me will, I think, recognize the truth that these five men have "inspired" my spiritual life. I doubt that anyone else may realize the full extent to which I have been, and continue to be, shaped by their example. These are men whose witness in word and deed is compelling and profound, and I thank God for each of them:
St. Polycarp of Smyrna, Bishop and Martyr (first and second century). His mentor, St. Ignatius, may have been the more profound theologian, but Polycarp is a beautiful model of the pastoral office and of the Christian life. The account of his martyrdom is one of the most powerful pieces of literature ever written; it never fails to move me.
The Reverend Paul Gerhardt (seventeenth century). His endurance under the trials and tribulations of life under the cross, his faithfulness throughout those ordeals, and his soaring confession of the Gospel in some of the most significant hymns ever written, have more than once lifted me up from despair unto faith and joy in Christ.
The Reverend Wilhelm Löhe (nineteenth century). He, too, suffered great personal loss and disappointments, yet accomplished more from his parish in Neuendettelsau than almost any other ten people I can think of. Among other things, his example has taught me and reminded me that confessional faithfulness, a rich liturgical practice, a sacramental life, works of mercy and the evangelical mission of the Gospel are never at odds with each other, but belong together.
The Reverend Dr. David Scaer (Concordia Theological Seminary). His keen insights, his love of the Scriptures, his single-minded focus on Christ, his practical understanding of the Church's life on earth, and his always thought-provoking classroom lectures and numerous books were instrumental to my theological formation and continue to inform my thinking and practice.
The Reverend Peter Bender (Peace Lutheran Church, Sussex, WI). Hands down, there is no other living person who has shaped my understanding and my undertaking of the pastoral office to the extent that Pastor Bender has. In catechesis and pastoral care, certainly, but also in the sense that these very things are indeed central and definitive to the entire office. As often as I count my blessings and give thanks, Pastor Bender's example, his teaching and preaching of the Law and the Gospel, and his friendship are always high on my list.