From Law to Gospel

As a young man, I never seriously considered studying for the pastoral ministry. Even well into my forties, as a middle-aged man who loved the Scriptures and who enjoyed teaching Sunday School and reading some Lutheran theology on my own time, I had no such intentions.

Thankfully God sees what we do not, prepares us in spite of ourselves, and provides opportunities for service that would never have occurred to us! It was less than five years ago, as we began to hear more about the number of pastoral vacancies in our churches, that I began to consider and to discuss with my family whether I might be able to serve our Lord as a pastor.

For twenty years, I was blessed to serve my community—Scotland County, in rural northeast Missouri—as a judge. I worked alongside outstanding people who care deeply about their work and those they serve. I had an unusual window into the nearly infinite variety of ways that the devil and our sinful flesh lead people astray, and into the nearly infinite variety of misfortunes and disasters that befall people for reasons we simply do not understand. I also learned much about self-discipline, confidentiality, and attention to detail when working on matters of immense importance to others. Legal work inevitably forces one to pay close attention to subtle nuances and shades of meaning, in the spoken and written word.

The time I spent in public service taught me much about its importance, but also about its limits. Laws and regulations do not build, do not create, do not save. The temporal law, even at its best, can do no more than to help maintain reasonably safe and peaceful places for people to live and work. Because the laws of this world are written, enforced, and applied by sinners, they will never be a perfect representation of God’s will for our lives — and sometimes they work in ways directly opposite to God’s will.

Only the gospel of Jesus Christ saves. My prayer is that God, who has graciously brought me to saving faith and preserved me in the faith, would allow me to use my remaining productive life and health as a thank offering, sharing his saving gospel with others.

And God, in his grace, provided everything that made this path possible! Faithful and loving Christian parents, Jim and Virginia DeMarce. Baptism at my grandmother’s church, St. Matthew, Spring Valley, Wis. Lutheran elementary school at Grace, Falls Church, Va. My wife Brenda, and our five children, now ages 28 to 18, who all have supported me enthusiastically, in every way, despite the real sacrifices and disruptions involved in giving up a career and going back to school.

Brenda and I give thanks for our home church, Grace in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Pastor Roger Neumann patiently mentored me through the three years of Pastoral Studies Institute course work in preparation for the seminary, while providing a wonderful example of what faithful and humble service as a pastor looks like. Our brothers and sisters in Christ continually encouraged me in my studies while supporting us with their prayers and gifts.

It is no small thing to leave a career and uproot a settled family. Studying and completing assignments come harder—and wear me out faster—than they did thirty years ago. But it is an incomparable joy to spend days and nights in the Word of God. I am encouraged by the example of my classmates who much earlier in life were blessed with the desire to pursue this work. And I have no doubt that God will continue to bless his church, in ways we cannot even begin to imagine. 

Karl DeMarce started classes at the seminary in the fall of 2019. This article first appeared the 2020 issue of Preach the Gospel.

Karl DeMarce, Scotland County Circuit Courtroom, Memphis, Missouri