Some Thoughts on the Divine Call to the Ecclesiastical Ministry of Word and Sacrament
DAVID JAY WEBBER
Prepared for the General Pastoral Conference of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, 30 August 1999
As indicated by the title of this paper, I am here offering “some thoughts” about the Lutheran doctrine of the Ministry, and about the Lutheran doctrine of the Call to the Ministry. This paper is not, and is not intended to be, a comprehensive presentation on these subjects. All of the pastors of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church now have access to Christian Dogmatics by John Theodore Mueller. This book includes a section entitled “The Doctrine of the Public Ministry,” in which Mueller provides us with an exegetical and dogmatic summary of the basic teachings of Confessional Lutheranism on these subjects. All of you also have access to Pastoral Theology by Norbert H. Mueller and George Kraus, which discusses the same subjects from a practical viewpoint. Since I am in essential agreement with what both of these books say on these matters, I will not take the limited time we have at this conference to restate what has already been written. In this paper I will, however, expand on some of the points that these authors make. It will probably become evident through what I say that on certain points I would also prefer to express things somewhat differently than they do. It nevertheless needs to be understood that the present paper does not stand on its own. It builds on the foundation that is laid by the Muellers and by Kraus, and it presupposes a familiarity with the classic Lutheran understanding of the Ministry and of the Call to the Ministry which is reflected in their writings.
Also, the thoughts that are offered in this paper are intentionally unoriginal. In regard to the matters that we are discussing today I am not as much of a teacher as I am a student of the theologians who have gone before us. I have therefore included many quotations from the Book of Concord and from the writings of recognized Lutheran scholars. I have, however, selected those quotations that I think best address some of the important issues that the Ukrainian Lutheran Church is facing at the present time, in the early years of its reorganization. In my judgment the Lutheran theologians who are herein quoted expounded on the applicable Biblical teachings in such a way that their insights will be helpful to us.
The title of this paper also serves as the basic organizing principle for the paper, which will be divided into three sections: I. The Divine Call; II. The Ecclesiastical Ministry; and III. Word and Sacrament. Let us therefore begin with a consideration of the concept of
THE DIVINE CALL.
During the Middle Ages in western Europe a certain elitist attitude developed within the institutional church. Christians were divided up between those who lived in the world – the common laity – and those who were a part of the “spiritual estate” – priests, monks, and nuns. The members of the spiritual estate were believed to have received a special call or “vocation” from God to enter into a spiritually superior form of life. They lived not only according to the ordinary requirements of God’s law, to which all Christians are bound, but also according to the “evangelical counsels.” These evangelical counsels, especially “poverty, chastity, and obedience,” had been derived from the Gospels with the use of a faulty hermeneutical method that did not operate according to the proper distinction of law and Gospel.
Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformers totally rejected these unbiblical notions, and emphasized in opposition to this teaching the truly evangelical teaching that all proper occupations and stations of life are connected to, and based on, a divine call. This Biblical doctrine of vocation is reflected in the preaching of John the Baptist, as recorded in Luke 3:12-14. John the Baptist, more so than any other New Testament figure, lived the equivalent of a monastic, or anchoritic life. In his preaching, however, he did not invite others to join him in this life. Instead he encouraged his listeners – tax collectors and soldiers, no less – to remain in the callings that they already had, and to carry out the duties of those callings with honesty, fairness, and integrity. The conventional wisdom of the time would not have seen very much “spiritual” content in these vocations, but according to John the Baptist a tax collector or soldier who repents and believes does not have to forsake his office. Rather, he is to conduct himself within his office in the fear of God and as a servant of God and man.
The Lutheran doctrine of vocation provides a basis for understanding certain aspects of the doctrine of the Ministry. Ministers have a divine call to their office. This must be emphasized again and again in response to those who think that a pastor is “hired” by the members of a congregation, and can therefore be “fired” by them at will if he does not please them. Pastors are called by God. To oppose a pastor who is faithfully carrying out his duties is therefore to oppose God himself. But we say this with a realization that the concept of divine vocation extends to other occupations and stations of life as well.
Luther and the Lutheran Confessions usually categorize the activities and tasks and offices that exist among men into two “kingdoms” or “realms,” the spiritual and the civil. The civil realm, in turn, is frequently divided into the “domestic” estate and the “political” estate. Luther observes, however, that “Out of the authority of parents all other authority is derived and developed” (LC I:141), at least in regard to the civil realm. This means that even the authority of the civil government is, ultimately, “to be classed with the estate of fatherhood, the most comprehensive of all relations,” from which it is derived. Luther elaborates:
In this case a man is father not of a single family, but of as many people as he has inhabitants, citizens, or subjects. Through civil rulers, as through our own parents, God gives us food, house and home, protection and security. Therefore, since they bear this name and title with all honor as their chief glory, it is our duty to honor and magnify them as the most precious treasure and jewel on earth. (LC I:150)
The point of all this is that all godly occupations and stations of life, whether in the spiritual or civil realms, are governed by God. In one way or another he calls us into these occupations and stations, and he takes an active interest in the fulfillment of the duties of these various offices. Lutherans accordingly recognize that
The Gospel does not overthrow civil authority, the state, and marriage but requires that all these be kept as true orders of God and that everyone, each according to his own calling, manifest Christian love and genuine good works in his station of life. (AC XVI:5 [G])
The sixteenth-century Lutherans were sometimes accused of having abolished proper ecclesiastical and secular order. For example, Luther recounts that “There was a doctor here in Wittenberg, sent from France, who reported in our presence that his king had been persuaded beyond a doubt that among us there is no church, no government, and no state of matrimony, but that all live promiscuously like cattle and everybody does what he pleases.” (SA Pref.:8) But the truth of the matter was that, by God’s grace, the Lutheran churches had been “enlightened and supplied with the pure Word and the right use of the sacraments, with an understanding of the various callings of life, and with true works.” (SA Pref.: 10) As a result of the Reformation, the Lutheran faithful were now aware of “the works which everybody is obliged to do according to his calling – for example, that a husband should labor to support his wife and children and bring them up in the fear of God, that a wife should bear children and care for them, that a prince and magistrates should govern land and people, etc.” (AC XXVI:10 [G])
The concept of vocation does not apply only to those “comprehensive” occupations that are explicitly mentioned in Scripture. The concept is properly linked also to the carrying out of the individual tasks, or specific “offices,” of the various stations of life. Luther, for example, when speaking of the office of hangman, says that “God of his own accord instituted that office.” (LC I:274) He refers in this context to comments he had previously made in a discussion of the Fifth Commandment, but here he had simply observed that “God has delegated his authority of punishing evil-doers to civil magistrates in place of parents,” and that the commandment’s prohibition of killing therefore “applies to private individuals, not to governments.” (LC I:181) And so, for Luther, God’s institution of civil government, with its coercive powers (cf. Rom. 13:1-5), is best understood as an institution of all the individual duties and functions of civil government, which can legitimately be apportioned out to different people in different ways, at different times and in different places. It is not only the king or the president who holds a divinely-instituted office, with a divine call to that office, but everyone who carries out a legitimate governmental function can make the same claim, and be held accountable to the same high standards. This can and must be said also of “all other states of life instituted by God – whether the office of pastor and preacher, of ruler, prince, lord, or the like, all of whom serve in their appointed calling according to God’s Word and command without invented spirituality.” (AC XXVII:13 [G])
The specific duties to which God has called a Christian pastor are unique and special, but their uniqueness and specialness do not lie in the fact that the pastor’s office and call have their origin in God. The pastor’s call and office do in fact have such a divine origin, but the divine call to the office of the Ministry is no more divine than the divine call or calls that anyone else may have, according to his or her station of life. Understanding this may help pastors and laymen alike in their appreciation of the proper and God-pleasing roles that all Christians have both in church and in society. When with God’s help the members of a congregation grow in their recognition of the divine vocation or vocations that God has given to each of them, and when they accordingly think of and treat each other with the respect that this recognition engenders, we can expect to see fewer and fewer occurrences of the sins of pride, jealousy, and love of power. Christians are not, like the Gentiles, to “exercise lordship” over each other (cf. Luke 22:24-26). Instead, we must see that God has called each of us – pastors and laymen, men and women – to fulfill our own vocations in accordance with the law of love and in a way that harmonizes with the vocations that he has given to others.
Having said that, however, we should remind ourselves that the office of the Ministry is indeed a very special and profoundly important office. It is not the only office that God has instituted, but he very definitely did institute it. Jesus personally instituted the Christian Ministry when he appointed the apostles as the first ministers of the Church and sent them forth into the world with the “Great Commission.” Charles Porterfield Krauth notes that “In their extraordinary powers and functions the Apostles had no successors,” but that “In their ordinary ones all true ministers of Christ are their successors.” (Krauth TS, p. 1) Krauth elaborates on this point as he describes the establishment of the earliest Christian congregations, and the office of the Ministry (in its various New Testament forms) within those congregations, under the supervision of the apostles:
The Apostles were missionaries, not merely under the necessity of the case, but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit gave security to the work and wrought and made a basis for its extension by organizing congregations in which the life of the disciple found its home and sphere of labor. With the establishment of these congregations, and as an essential part of their organization[,] was connected the institution of the congregational pastorate, the vocation which was to superintend and spiritually rule the congregations, to conduct the public services, to administer the sacraments, to labor in the word and in doctrine and to watch for souls to the conversion of sinners and the building up of saints. The pastorate was the determination to a distinct office of so much of the Apostolate as pertained to the single congregation. The institution of the Apostolate was the general institution of the entire ministry, whose specific forms, especially the Presbyterate-episcopate, and the diaconate, were but concrete classifications of particular functions involved in the total idea of the ministry. The specific ministries are but distributions of the Apostolate in its ordinary and permanent functions. (Krauth CP, p. 317)
The office of the Ministry, according to Christ’s institution, is inextricably bound up with the Means of Grace that it administers. The office of the Ministry cannot be understood without a proper understanding of the Means of Grace and of their divine purpose. As we confess in the Formula of Concord,
in his boundless kindness and mercy, God provides for the public proclamation of his divine, eternal law and the wonderful counsel concerning our redemption, namely, the holy and only saving Gospel of his eternal Son, our only Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Thereby he gathers an eternal church for himself out of the human race and works in the hearts of men true repentance and knowledge of their sins and true faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And it is God’s will to call men to eternal salvation, to draw them to himself, convert them, beget them anew, and sanctify them through this means and in no other way – namely, through his holy Word (when one hears it preached or reads it) and the sacraments (when they are used according to his Word). (FC SD II:50)
While the Means of Grace can be conceived of in the abstract, they do not actually exist in the abstract. God did not institute the Gospel as an abstract idea, but he instituted the proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always the proclaimed Gospel. This is true also of the Scriptures, which are the apostles’ and prophets’ preaching in written form. Other theological or devotional books are likewise the written “sermons” of their authors. When Christians meditate on the Gospel, this is simply the devout remembrance of “preachments” that had previously been heard or read. The Sacraments are constituted by, and must always include, an audible Word of God. In accordance with the very nature of this proclaimed Gospel, therefore, it is necessary for flesh-and-blood “priests” or pastors to be called
to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments to the people. … If ordination is interpreted in relation to the ministry of the Word, we have no objection to calling ordination a sacrament. The ministry of the Word has God’s command and glorious promises: “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rom. 1:16), again, “My word that goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). If ordination is interpreted this way, we shall not object either to calling the laying on of hands a sacrament. The church has the command to appoint ministers; to this we must subscribe wholeheartedly, for we know that God approves this ministry and is present in it. It is good to extol the ministry of the Word with every possible kind of praise in opposition to the fanatics who dream that the Holy Spirit does not come through the Word but because of their own preparations. (Apology XIII:9,11-13)
Ministers of the Gospel (pastors, bishops, etc.) are called by God publicly to exercise the “office of the keys,” through which the entrance to heaven is closed against the impenitent and unbelievers, and through which the entrance to heaven is opened wide to those who repent and trust in Christ’s promises. The importance of this authoritative proclamation of law and Gospel must not be underestimated. The Lutheran Church confesses that according to the New Testament,
the power of keys or the power of bishops is a power and command of God to preach the Gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer and distribute the sacraments. For Christ sent out the apostles with this command, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). This power of keys or of bishops is used and exercised only by teaching and preaching the Word of God and by administering the sacraments (to many persons or to individuals, depending on one’s calling). In this way are imparted not bodily but eternal things and gifts, namely, eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. These gifts cannot be obtained except through the office of preaching and of administering the holy sacraments, for St. Paul says [Rom. 1:16], “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” (AC XXVIII:5-9 [G])
Of course, the binding and loosing authority of the keys is attached to the keys themselves – that is, to the message of law and Gospel that the minister proclaims – and not to the person or office of the minister as such. But by virtue of their holy office the pastors of the Church are still deserving of a higher measure of respect than they often receive. The ministers of the Gospel who have been placed over us in the Lord are to be honored as our “spiritual fathers,”
For the name spiritual father belongs…to those who govern and guide us by the Word of God. St. Paul boasts that he is a father in I Cor. 4:15, where he says, “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Since such persons are fathers, they are entitled to honor, even above all others. But they very seldom receive it, for the world’s way of honoring them is to harry them out of the country and grudge them as much as a piece of bread. In short, as St. Paul says, they must be “the refuse of the world, and every man’s offscouring.” [1 Cor. 4:13] Yet there is need to impress upon the common people that they who would bear the name of Christians owe it to God to show “double honor” to those who watch over their souls and to treat them well and make provision for them. [1 Tim. 5:17] (LC I:158-61)
The pastor, as he carries out his God-given duties among God’s people, is clothed with God’s own authority. The pastor’s work is God’s work, not man’s work. His message is God’s message, not his own. And the respect that Christians pay to him they pay to God, who has called him to this office and who works effectually through it for the salvation and preservation of souls.
But how exactly does God call people into this office? What mechanism or mechanisms does he use to confer the office of the Ministry on those whom he has chosen for this work? He does this through the Church, and this is one of the reasons why we describe the Ministry of the Gospel as
THE ECCLESIASTICAL MINISTRY.
We have already discussed the “office of the keys.” The spiritual authority of a pastor is based on the fact that he is, according to his divine call, publicly exercising the power of the keys as he proclaims God’s Word and administers the Holy Sacraments. However – and this is a very important point – Christ did not entrust the keys originally and immediately to the Ministry as such. Rather, he entrusted the keys, and their authority, principally and primarily to the Church. In his explanation of the relevant passages from the Gospels, Philip Melanchthon observes that in Matthew 16
Christ did not question Peter alone but asked, “Who do you [plural] say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). And what is here spoken in the singular number (“I will give you [singular] the keys” and “whatever you [singular] bind” [Matt.16:19]) is elsewhere given in the plural (“Whatever you [plural] bind” [Matt. 18:18]), etc. In John, too, it is written, “If you [plural] forgive the sins,” etc. (John 20:23). These words show that the keys were given equally to all the apostles and that all the apostles were sent out as equals. In addition, it is necessary to acknowledge that the keys do not belong to the person of one particular individual but to the whole church, as is shown by many clear and powerful arguments, for after speaking of the keys in Matt. 18:19, Christ said, “If two or three of you agree on earth,” etc. Therefore, he bestows the keys especially and immediately on the church, and for the same reason the church especially possesses the right of vocation. (Tr 23-24)
The following excerpt from the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope is one of the most important Confessional summaries of the interrelationships between the doctrine of the Ministry, the doctrine of the Call, and the doctrine of the Church. Melanchthon writes that
wherever the church exists, the right to administer the Gospel also exists. Wherefore it is necessary for the church to retain the right of calling, electing, and ordaining ministers. This right is a gift given exclusively to the church, and no human authority can take it away from the church. It is as Paul testifies to the Ephesians when he says, “When he ascended on high he gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8,11,12). He enumerates pastors and teachers among the gifts belonging exclusively to the church, and he adds that they are given for the work of ministry and for building up the body of Christ. Where the true church is, therefore, the right of electing and ordaining ministers must of necessity also be. So in an emergency even a layman absolves and becomes the minister and pastor of another. It is like the example which Augustine relates of two Christians in a ship, one of whom baptized the other (a catechumen), and the latter, after his Baptism, absolved the former. Here the words of Christ apply which testify that the keys were given to the church and not merely to certain individuals: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). Finally, this is confirmed by the declaration of Peter, “You are a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9). These words apply to the true church which, since it alone possesses the priesthood, certainly has the right of electing and ordaining ministers. The most common custom of the church also bears witness to this, for there was a time when the people elected pastors and bishops. Afterwards a bishop, either of that church or of a neighboring church, was brought in to confirm the election with the laying on of hands; nor was ordination anything more than such confirmation. (Tr 67-70)
Jesus Christ has given the keys of his kingdom to the Church. He has thereby designated his Church, which is his body and his royal priesthood, as the instrument through which he will bring the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins to the world. Paradoxically, the Church is both the assembly of the faithful which receives the Gospel from Jesus Christ, and the divinely-appointed custodian of the keys which dispenses the Gospel as the agent of Jesus Christ. The Church is, as it were, the corporate “voice” of Christ through which Christ, by his Spirit, impels the proclamation of his Word and the administration of his Sacraments. By virtue of the authority of Christ which has been entrusted to the Church, the Church always and under all circumstances retains the right to proclaim the Word and administer the Sacraments. It therefore always and under all circumstances retains the right to issue calls to the public ministry of the Gospel. In ordinary circumstances the Church exercises this right through an established, orderly calling process which reflects its submission to the applicable directives of Holy Scripture, and which reflects the fraternal accountability that Christian church bodies, congregations, and individuals owe to one another. However, in extraordinary circumstances the Church may exercise this right in extraordinary ways through extraordinary means. Two or three confessing Christians gathered in the name of Christ are the Church, and as such they have the authority to call one of their number to some form of the public ministry of the Gospel if there is an emergency situation that truly requires it. A call that in regular circumstances would be “irregular” is therefore “regular” when it is issued according to the legitimate needs of irregular circumstances.
From this perspective, those who publicly preach the Gospel are doing so on behalf of the Church, as its representatives. The work of the pastor is from this viewpoint an intensification, and a vocational channeling, of the work that God has actually given to the Church, as a whole and in all its parts. The work of the Ministry is in a very real sense the work of the Church, to which the keys have been entrusted. Indeed, “The keys are a function and power given to the church by Christ to bind and loose sins, not only the gross and manifest sins but also those which are subtle and secret and which God alone perceives.” (SA III, VII:1)
We maintain, therefore, that the Church truly is “the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.” (LC II:42) We also maintain that
Until the last day the Holy Spirit remains with the holy community or Christian people. Through it he gathers us, using it to teach and preach the Word. By it he creates and increases sanctification, causing it daily to grow and become strong in the faith and in the fruits of the Spirit. Further we believe that in this Christian church we have the forgiveness of sins, which is granted through the holy sacraments and absolution as well as through all the comforting words of the entire Gospel. (LC II:53-54)
We believe furthermore that “In I Cor. 3:4-8 Paul places ministers on an equality and teaches that the church is above the ministers.” (Tr 11)
Is there a contradiction here? Do pastors serve under God’s call, or under the congregation’s call? Do they represent Christ, or do they represent the church? Actually there is no contradiction. The pastor serves under God’s call, but he also serves under the congregation’s call insofar as the congregation is the corporate “voice” of God. He represents Christ, but he also represents the church insofar as the church itself represents Christ. The key to understanding all of this is to note carefully what the calling Church of Jesus Christ really is. We are not discussing the Church as a social or political entity, but the Church as a Christic entity. We are not discussing the Church according to its outward forms and administrative structures, but according to its inner spiritual character as the body of Christ. The church that is able to issue divine calls to the office of the Ministry is the Church to which the keys of Christ’s kingdom have been entrusted – that is, the Church in which Christ himself graciously resides and savingly acts. Ministers of the Gospel publicly exercise the power of the keys which Christ gave to the Church, and therefore they act on behalf of the Church. But in giving the keys to the Church, Christ did not separate himself from these keys. They are still his keys, just as he is and always will be the head of his body. Christ himself lives and acts in and through his Church, because he lives and acts in and through the keys. Christ’s giving of the keys to his Church was in reality his giving of himself as the divine forgiver of sins. And when the Church, through its call, conveys the public use of these keys to its ministers, Christ is thereby conveying himself and his forgiving activity to these ministers. Pastors always remain under God’s authority and call, and are accountable to him as his servants. They are also under the Church, because God has, in effect, “lodged” himself, and his supervisory authority, in the Church. We therefore believe and confess that those who hold office in the Church
do not represent their own persons but the person of Christ, because of the church’s call, as Christ testifies (Luke 10:16), “He who hears you hears me.” When they offer the Word of Christ or the sacraments, they do so in Christ’s place and stead. (Ap VII/VIII:28)
Because God has not relinquished his authority in the calling process, the calling process is to be carried out by the Church in strict conformity to his revealed will – that is, in accordance with the applicable directives of Holy Scripture. And so, for example, a congregational call to a woman to be its regular pastor is null and void, since we know from Scripture that women do not receive calls from God which would place them into a Church office that involves the exercise of authority over men (cf. 1 Tim. 2:11-12). The doctrine of the “divinity” of the Church’s call expresses the condescending love of God, who has graciously deigned to use the humble “little flock” of believers on earth as the chosen instrument of his own calling activity. But the doctrine of the “divinity” of the call also serves as a firm warning to this little flock, that it must not presume to speak where God does not speak or to issue calls that are contrary to his Word. We shall not tempt the Lord our God!
As Lutherans we believe and teach “that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call.” (AC XIV [G]) A regular call is a call that comes from the Church, through the established ecclesiastical order, according to Christ’s institution. The presence of the Church, with its God-given vocational authority, can be outwardly discerned on the basis of the presence of the Means of Grace. The Means of Grace, by virtue of their intrinsic salvific power, create and preserve the Church. They therefore serve as the outward marks of the Church, since wherever God is creating and preserving faith, there the Church must be. In its essence, the Church is “holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” (SA III, XII:2) And as stated in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession,
The church is not merely an association of outward ties and rites like other civic governments, …but it is mainly an association of faith and of the Holy Spirit in men’s hearts. To make it recognizable, this association has outward marks, the pure teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments in harmony with the Gospel of Christ. This church alone is called the body of Christ, which Christ renews, consecrates, and governs by his Spirit, as Paul testifies when he says (Eph. 1:22, 23), “And he has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness,” that is, the whole congregation “of him who fills all in all.” Thus those in whom Christ is not active are not members of Christ. (Ap VII/VIII:5)
There might seem to be a certain amount of circular reasoning here. Without its outward marks, the presence of the Church as a calling entity cannot be discerned, and therefore a call to the public Ministry cannot be issued. But according to God’s institution, the presence of the marks of the Church, which are also the Means of Grace, presupposes an active Ministry that has already been called into existence. The apparent riddle is solved when we realize that Jesus himself got the whole process started when he appointed the apostles, who in turn organized the first congregations. According to this ongoing, expansive process, congregations that already exist, and that therefore already bear the marks of the Church, call missionary preachers to bring the Gospel to new locations and thereby to bring into existence new congregations. Therefore, while it is true that the public Ministry is in a certain sense derived from the Church, it is also true that the Church, in its continual expansion from community to community and from nation to nation, is derived from the public Ministry.
In describing the practice of sixteenth-century Lutheranism, Robert D. Preus notes that, according to the Lutheran Confessions,
The congregations’ right to call and ordain pastors is not a mere option that the church may or may not exercise. The office of pastor is not a matter of Christian liberty. The church must ordain pastors, public ministers of the Word (Tr, 72). It is a “command” of God (Ap, XIII, 12). Just how the churches call, elect, and ordain is not set forth in our Confessions. The how of it all is a matter of Christian liberty. In some cases a pastor would apply for a call, in other cases a bishop (who occupied a higher rank in the church only by human right) or a prince would arrange for the call and ordination of a pastor. Usually the congregation itself would attend to such matters. But it was always done. (Preus, p. 60)
In 1577 Jacob Andreae and his colleagues on the faculty of Tübingen University described the practice of the Lutheran Church in Württemberg at that time:
…those among us who shall minister in the church are, from an early age first, not only reared toward piety, but are also educated in the important languages (namely Latin, Greek and Hebrew). They also study the liberal arts and sciences. But above all, they are taught holy theology, and it is presented to them accurately, according to the Holy Scriptures by the teachers of theology. And when the time comes, following their schooling, to enter into the ministry of the church, they are called by the theologians and counselors, who have been appointed for this purpose by our most illustrious and most pious prince. They bring from their teachers written testimonies of their conduct of life. Then they are carefully examined whether they understand the pure content of the Christian faith and whether they possess the necessary gifts to teach the multitudes. When they are judged worthy, if they will be engaged [as ministers], they pledge under oath to teach the church piously and correctly, and to lead a blameless life so that to no one is given occasion for scandal [cf. Rom 14:13]. Following this they are sent to the church which they are to be assigned, where in one or two sermons they give a sample of those gifts which they have received from God. When they are approved by the church, then in a full assembly of the people (after a sermon has been preached and a number of prayers said relating to this matter), they are ordained by the superintendent of the locality in the presence of one or more ministers. And from then on, he takes care of the church which has been entrusted to him. (Mastrantonis, pp. 130-31)
In discussing the general situation in which the Lutheran Church found itself in the sixteenth century, Krauth observes that
Many embarrassing circumstances prevented the Lutheran Church from developing her life as perfectly in her church constitution as in her doctrines and worship. The idea of the universal priesthood of all believers at once overthrew the doctrine of a distinction of essence between clergy and laity. The ministry is not an order, but it is a divinely appointed office, to which men must be rightly called. No imparity exists by divine right; an hierarchical organization is unchristian, but a gradation (bishops, superintendents, provosts) may be observed, as a thing of human right only. The government by consistories has been very general. In Denmark, Evangelical bishops took the place of the Roman Catholic prelates who were deposed. In Sweden the bishops embraced the Reformation, and thus secured in that country an “apostolic succession” in the high-church sense; though, on the principles of the Lutheran Church, alike where she has as where she has not such a succession, it is not regarded as essential even to the order of the Church. The ultimate source of power is in the congregations, that is, in the pastor and other officers and the people of the single communions. The right to choose a pastor belongs to the people, who may exercise it by direct vote, or delegate it to their representatives. (Krauth CR, pp. 152-53)
Because of government interference in the affairs of the Lutheran Church, both on the part of “friendly” Lutheran governments which wanted to control the church, and on the part of hostile Roman Catholic and Reformed governments which wanted to suppress the church, the theological principles summarized by Krauth were not always fully fleshed out in the ecclesiastical structures of European Lutheranism. However, when the Lutheran Church was transplanted to America, where its institutional life could assume a natural shape that was more in harmony with the theological impulses of its internal life, Lutheranism did begin to take on a slightly different outward appearance.
The presence of the Church is discerned on the basis of the presence of the marks of the Church, and the local congregation is quite obviously the Christian gathering in which the marks of the Church can most readily be discerned. The Means of Grace are in regular and full use in the local congregation, more so than in any other periodic or temporary Christian gathering. For this reason Confessional Lutheran ecclesiology recognizes the “foundational” character of local congregations, and acknowledges that the eternal Church of Jesus Christ is most firmly “anchored” to the earth through them. This also entails a recognition of the priority of the local congregation in the determination of how a regular ecclesiastical call to the Ministry should ordinarily be issued. But while the marks of the Church are most vividly evident in the local congregation, they are also evident, to one extent or another and to one degree or another, in periodic and temporary Christian gatherings. For this reason Lutherans also acknowledge the churchly character of synodical assemblies, and believe, with proper qualifications, that “decisions of synods are decisions of the church.” (Tr 56)
Synods should certainly acknowledge the priority of local congregations in the process of issuing orderly calls, but congregations should also recognize the legitimate yet limited role of synods, when they do exist, in this process. Francis Pieper writes that
the Church is free to take care of some things through representatives chosen by it for this purpose. The elders or the church council can represent a congregation, and conferences, synods, councils, etc., can represent other Christians and small or large groups of congregations. But if we ask what authority or power these representatives, these ecclesiae representativae, have, the answer is: With respect to the congregation and the individual Christians they always have only advisory power. (Pieper III, p. 428)
Synods, at the organizational and structural level, are established by congregations for the joint deliberation of matters of mutual interest, for the carrying out of joint church work, and for the preservation of good order among themselves. The normal direction of authority and control is therefore from the congregations to the synod, and not from the synod to the congregations. In the calling process the congregation does have priority, but congregations collectively may also issue calls through and to the synodical structures that they themselves have established. And so, a divine call from the Church to the office of the Ministry “may be the call of the congregation to the pastorate, or the call of the representative Church to the mission field or to professorships in a theological seminary, or executive offices in the Church, or to any other work in which the Church may be engaged, or which it may find it necessary to perform.” (Little, p. 58)
In the Church’s calling process, the specific avenues of cooperation that are set up among congregations, and the specific roles that are assigned to congregations and synods, are not mandated by God in Scripture. These functions are matters of external church government, and as Hermann Sasse reminds us,
For the Lutheran Church, matters of church government belong to the adiaphora, to the “rites and ceremonies, instituted by men” (Augsburg Confession VII), concerning which there may and must be freedom in the church. Christ is not the legislator of a human religious fellowship, and the Gospel has in it no law which prescribes the only right way of organization and polity for the church. One must be clear as to what this means. Other churches have “an order by which the Lord wills the church to be governed,” as Calvin put it. This is true of all Catholic churches, both of the East and of the West, and of all Reformed churches. Their differences have to do only with what that order must be – the universal monarchy of the pope, the episcopal-synodical government of the church as in the Eastern churches and Anglicanism, a ruling senate of presbyters among whom there must be no differences of rank, or the autonomy of the individual congregation as in Congregationalism and among the Baptists. These are just a few notable options, all of which claim to represent what the New Testament requires for the polity of the church. Luther’s entire greatness and the boldness of his basic theological principle of the strict separation of Law and Gospel become evident when one sees how[,] beyond all these possibilities[,] he goes his lonesome way: Christ gave his church no such law prescribing one right organization, government, and polity (de constituenda ecclesia). Any way of organizing things may do, so long as the means of grace are going on and are not frustrated. (Sasse, pp. 70-71)
Paul Althaus adds that
The outward church organization exists for the purpose of making possible and guaranteeing the right proclamation and hearing of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments. What form that organization will take may be determined by the use of intelligence and common sense in the light of a given historical situation. No form of church organization exists by divine right. (quoted in Sauer, p. 338)
In the context of the “American experience,” many Lutherans did reconsider certain practices that had been connected to the ecclesiastical calling process in earlier times. Armin W. Schuetze and Irwin J. Habeck express their disagreement with some of these practices, especially in the disfigured and distorted form in which they sometimes appear today:
Since in a call it is the Lord who through his church seeks out a man for a particular office, the office should seek the man and not the man the office. A pastor will not take steps to secure a call to a particular position in the church. It must be considered an objectionable practice for a pastor to let a congregation know that he is available, to offer himself as a candidate to a congregation, or to use acquaintances, friends, or relatives in a congregation to suggest his name and influence the voting in his favor. … Any form of actively seeking the office or the preaching of trial sermons is contrary to the nature of a call and degrading to the sacred office by making it a matter of competition. This readily degenerates into an effort on the part of the pastor to “sell himself” to the congregation. (Schuetze & Habeck, p. 30)
Schuetze and Habeck describe the process that is used within their church body when a vacant congregation issues a call:
A congregation will experience the advantages of its membership in the Synod when it needs to choose a new pastor. The elected officials of the Synod can keep themselves informed of the doctrinal and practical qualifications of men far better than any one congregation. Hence the Synod constitution provides that the district presidents are to assist congregations in calling. They are to suggest candidates to the congregation as well as to approve such as the congregation may propose. … The autonomy of a congregation in the choice of the person called must be maintained. On the other hand, a congregation will appreciate the orderly procedures that have been set up to assist it in this weighty responsibility. (Schuetze & Habeck, pp. 27-28)
Regarding the first call that a new seminary graduate receives, Schuetze and Habeck again describe the practice of their synod:
The qualifications of students of theology are attested to by the faculty entrusted with their education. Since the candidates have been trained by the church-at-large, the Synod has agreed that calls should be extended to them through an assignment committee. For a congregation to circumvent this procedure by calling a student directly would be a breach of love and good order. (Schuetze & Habeck, p. 27)
The American ministers who have assisted in the reorganization of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, myself included, come from church bodies whose established calling procedures reflect the views of Schuetze and Habeck as stated above. It is to be expected, therefore, that these ministers will probably recommend to you the kind of procedures with which they are familiar. The Ukrainian Lutheran Church may ultimately decide to embrace these practices in their totality, or it may decide that certain modifications would be advantageous in the Ukrainian setting. Americans and Ukrainians alike must always distinguish between doctrine and custom. The doctrine of the Ministry, and the doctrine of the Call, must always remain unchanged. The customs and traditions surrounding the doctrine are always open for review and possible modification, according to the Church’s collective judgment, expressed through its constitutional decision-making processes.
When we speak of the priority of the congregation in the issuing of calls, it is necessary to note briefly that not every baptized member of the congregation participates directly in this process, just as not every member participates directly in the general governance of the local church. Here, too, the applicable directives of Holy Scripture must be recognized. In his examination of St. Paul’s prohibition of women exercising authority over men in 1 Tim. 2:11-12, C. H. Little concludes that
This passage not only excludes women from the pastorate, but also from every other office in the church in which she would be “exercising dominion over the man.” This certainly excludes her from the church councils of the congregations, where such authority is exercised. … It leaves a wide sphere of activity open to women for faithful and laudable service; but not the ministry or the subordinate office of those who are the minister’s assistants and who with him bear rule in the congregation, or in the conferences or synods. (Little, p. 71)
On the basis of God’s Word Luther also concludes, as a general principle, that “The Holy Ghost has excluded women from the government of the Church.” (quoted in Pieper I, p. 524) Still, when the men of the congregation or the members of the congregational council make decisions on the issuing of calls, they must always remember that they are functioning on behalf of all the members of the church, and should use reasonable means to discern the thoughts and wishes of the general membership. Likewise, when the delegates at a synodical assembly or the members of a synodical board make decisions on the issuing of calls, they must always remember that they are functioning on behalf of all the congregations of the synod, as the servants and representatives of those congregations.
The Church, as the divinely-appointed custodian of the keys, is God’s instrument for the issuing of calls. It is also God’s instrument for the monitoring of calls and, when necessary, for the revoking of calls. But just as with the issuing of calls, the Church may not act arbitrarily, or on the basis of non-Biblical criteria, in the carrying out of such a sad duty. The Church may revoke a call only when it would in good conscience be acting in the name of God in such an action. Therefore a pastor may not be dismissed simply because his personality clashes with the personalities of congregational leaders, or because he occasionally makes mistakes in judgment, or because of any other relatively minor difficulty. If a pastor is faithful in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, in the administration of the Sacraments, in the offering of pastoral care to those who are in special need, and in leading a moral life, then there are no Biblical grounds for dismissal. And a pastor, too, should not discourage or provoke the members of his church, or test the limits of their patience, through neglect of duty, the making of unreasonable demands, or the failure to cultivate a proper and harmonious relationship with them. Melanchthon, on the basis of Colossians 3:14, warns us about the problems that result when either the clergy or the laity fail in the duty of love and forgiveness that they owe to each other. He writes that here St. Paul
is talking not about personal perfection but about fellowship in the church. He says that love is a bond and unbroken chain linking the members of the church with one another. Similarly, in all families and communities harmony should be nurtured by mutual aid, for it is not possible to preserve tranquility unless men cover and forgive certain mistakes in their midst. In the same way Paul commands that there be love in the church to preserve harmony, to bear, if need be, with the crude behavior of the brethren, to cover up minor mistakes, lest the church disintegrate into various schisms and the hatreds, factions, and heresies that arise from such schisms. For harmony will inevitably disintegrate if bishops impose heavy burdens on the people or have no regard for their weakness. Dissensions also arise when the people judge their clergy’s behavior too strictly or despise them because of some minor fault and then seek after some other kinds of doctrine and other clergy. On the other hand, perfection (that is, the integrity of the church) is preserved when the strong bear with the weak, when the people put the best construction on the faults of their clergy, when the bishops take into account the weakness of the people. (Ap IV:232-34)
We may not dismiss or forsake a weak but faithful pastor without Biblical grounds. However, in the case of a pastor who persistently teaches false doctrine it is a different story. In the words of Melanchthon,
We should forsake wicked teachers because they no longer function in the place of Christ, but are antichrists. Christ says (Matt. 7:15), “Beware of false prophets”; Paul says (Gal. 1:9), “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” (Ap VII/VIII:48)
In summary, even if a pastor exhibits certain personal weaknesses, he is nevertheless to be honored as God’s gift to the Church, and as God’s own representative, as long as he continues to discharge the God-given duties of his calling in the faithful administration of
WORD AND SACRAMENT.
All those who have been called by the Church to carry out a comprehensive ministry of Word and Sacrament have been entrusted with the same office. The Church may, and according to common circumstances usually will, appoint certain pastors to exercise a supervisory role in the Church. In accordance with the doctrine of vocation, the carefully-defined authority that has been delegated in this way to bishops, superintendents, or synodical presidents should be respected. David Chytraeus states that
This episcopal order and the ranks connected with it are not evil in themselves. They should not be disparaged when they serve to uphold the unity and harmony of the church in true evangelical doctrine and the preservation of Christian discipline and peace; when they maintain and spread right doctrine and reverent worship of God; when they do not claim that they possess the illicit power to interpret Scripture arbitrarily, to establish new articles of faith, to legislate in matters of doctrine and worship; and when they do not assume tyrannical authority over the other members of the church; etc. (Montgomery, pp. 101-02)
It must also be remembered, however, that the office of bishop ascends from the office of presbyter or pastor. The office of presbyter or pastor does not descend from the office of bishop. According to the essential functions of a bishop, his office exists within the general office of Word and Sacrament, not above it. This is, to be sure, a very different understanding than what would be found in the hierarchical churches of Christendom, but it is a Biblical understanding, and a genuinely patristic understanding. Melanchthon writes:
The Gospel requires of those who preside over the churches that they preach the Gospel, remit sins, administer the sacraments, and, in addition, exercise jurisdiction, that is, excommunicate those who are guilty of notorious crimes and absolve those who repent. By the confession of all, even of our adversaries, it is evident that this power belongs by divine right to all who preside over the churches, whether they are called pastors, presbyters, or bishops. Accordingly Jerome teaches clearly that in the apostolic letters all who preside over the churches are both bishops and presbyters. He quotes from Titus, “This is why I left you in Crete, that you might appoint presbyters in every town,” and points out that these words are followed by, “A bishop must be married only once” (Titus 1:5-7). Again, Peter and John call themselves presbyters. And Jerome observes: “One man was chosen over the rest to prevent schism, lest several persons, by gathering separate followings around themselves, rend the church of Christ. For in Alexandria, from the time of Mark the Evangelist to the time of Bishops Heracles and Dionysius, the presbyters always chose one of their number, set him in a higher place, and called him bishop. Moreover, in the same way in which an army might select a commander for itself, the deacons may choose from their number one who is known to be active and name him archdeacon. For, apart from ordination, what does a bishop do that a presbyter does not do?” Jerome therefore teaches that the distinction between the grades of bishop and presbyter (or pastor) is by human authority. The fact itself bears witness to this, for the power is the same, as I have already stated. Afterwards one thing made a distinction between bishops and pastors, and this was ordination, for it was decided that one bishop should ordain the ministers in a number of churches. But since the distinction between bishop and pastor is not by divine right, it is manifest that ordination administered by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine right. (Tr 60-65)
The Augsburg Confession likewise teaches that
no jurisdiction belongs to the bishops as bishops (that is, to those to whom has been committed the ministry of Word and sacraments) except to forgive sins, to reject doctrine which is contrary to the Gospel, and to exclude from the fellowship of the church ungodly persons whose wickedness is known, doing all this without human power, simply by the Word. Churches are therefore bound by divine law to be obedient to the bishops according to the text [Luke 10:16], “He who hears you hears me.” However, when bishops teach or ordain anything contrary to the Gospel, churches have a command of God that forbids obedience: “Beware of false prophets” (Matt. 7:15), “If an angel from heaven should preach any other Gospel, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8), “We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (II Cor. 13:8), and also, “Given to me is the authority for building up and not for tearing down” [II Cor. 10:8]. The canons require the same thing… Augustine also says in reply to the letters of Petilian that not even catholic bishops are to be obeyed if they should happen to err or hold anything contrary to the canonical Scriptures of God. (AC XXVIII:21-28 [L])
Pieper defines more clearly the proper parameters of a bishop’s or pastor’s authority in the context of confronting what he describes as a “Roman leaven” that has penetrated into some segments of the Lutheran Church. He notes that certain Romanizing Lutherans
teach a divinely appointed church government that has, besides the office of the Word, the authority to give orders iure divino, which the congregation must obey. True, they, too, add the restriction that the church government may not prescribe what is contrary to God’s Word. But this limitation is a contradiction in itself, inasmuch as the type of church government they set up is contrary to God’s Word. In defense of their wrong position they invoke the Fourth Commandment, to wit, that parents have authority to order their children to do things that are not commanded in God’s Word as long as these things are not in conflict with God’s Word. Pastors and other ecclesiastical superiors, it is urged, belong to the spiritual fathers; therefore one owes them obedience by God’s order in all things not commanded in God’s Word if only they command nothing prohibited in the Word of God. This argument has confused some people, but it is false. Parents may indeed bid their children do things not commanded in God’s Word because they have been endowed by God with legislative authority over their children. Col. 3:20: “Children, obey your parents in all things.” But God has not invested the Church, or individuals in the Church, with legislative authority; on the contrary, here the rule is: “One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren” (Matt. 23:8). He who in the Church seeks to command over and above what Christ has commanded is usurping Christ’s authority and infringing on Christ’s sovereignty. Christ purchased the Church with His blood for His own, that He might be its only Lord and Master. Whoever now seeks to rule independently of Christ in the Church, no matter to what extent, is thereby encroaching on Christ’s position as Savior and Lord. (Pieper III, p. 432)
According to Pieper, “Christ has commissioned neither some one person (Pope, princes, governors, presidents, etc.), nor a college of persons (bishops, pastors, board of directors, consistories, parliaments, conferences, synods, councils, etc.) to decide and ordain ecclesiastical matters for the Church in any way binding on the conscience.” (Pieper III, pp. 427-28) Again, in matters neither commanded nor forbidden by God Christians should not
take orders from other men, be they few or many, as binding their consciences. To do so would be contrary to Matt. 23:8; and 1 Cor. 7:23; etc. Adiaphora are not settled among Christians by compulsion, but through mutual consent according to love. … In adiaphora a vote is taken to ascertain what the majority regards as best. The natural order is that in adiaphora the minority yields to the majority and acquiesces, not because the majority has the right to rule, but for love’s sake. Since, however, love is queen here, it may happen that the majority will yield to the minority. … Christians, as Christians, never quarrel about adiaphora, since, insofar as they are Christians and walk in the Spirit, “none of them desires to be the ruler of the other, but everyone wants to be the other’s servant,” as Luther expresses it. (Pieper III, p. 430)
The call that is issued to a minister of the Gospel is not a call to rule in the Church with the use of human power or intimidation. Christ continues to be the loving divine Lord of his Church, and he continues to govern it with his Word alone. The only power that the pastor has, therefore, is the power of God’s Word, and he shares this power with the church as a whole. We may say, therefore, that
The form of government in the Church is, on the one hand, a monarchy, and on the other hand, a democracy. – The Church is a monarchy, because Christ is the sole Head and absolute Ruler of the Church (Eph. 1:22.23; Col. 1:18). In spiritual matters, doctrines of faith and rules of life, Christians are subject to no other authority than that of Christ. … His Word must be accepted without question and reservation. He has bought us; we are His own; therefore we must not again become the servants of men (1 Cor. 7:23). – The Church is a democracy, because in the Church “all ye are brethren.” Whatever may otherwise be the social, economic, political, or ecclesiastical status of the individual member of a congregation, in the Church there is no distinction and difference of rank, or authority, and of superiority. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female; for they are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28); none is greater than his neighbor (Luke 22:24-26). (Koehler, p. 251)
Pastors obviously should not be disappointed that Christ retains for himself the government of his Church. There is certainly enough for them to do already, without trying to assume those divine prerogatives that Christ has not relinquished, according to the call that they have received to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. Joseph Stump reminds us that
The minister’s sphere of work is found in the particular field to which he has been called. That is the place where he is to administer the Word and sacraments. This does not mean that he may not, in response to special calls, administer the Means of Grace anywhere else, but that his own field and not the world is his parish. His work is among the people to whom God has called him to minister, and includes first of all the members who belong to his congregation or congregations. But it also includes an obligation to the community which his parish may reasonably be supposed to cover. To confine his work to the routine administration of Word and sacraments among the members of his flock is to fail to realize the breadth of his mission and the greatness of his opportunity and responsibility. Christ wills that the world shall be evangelized; and the world includes the indifferent, impenitent, unbelieving and hostile at home as well as the heathen in darkest Africa. Christ’s command is to go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in. The adult catechetical class should be a standing institution in every parish, and constant efforts should be made to persuade those outside of the Church to attend. (Stump, pp. 382-83)
Pastors should prayerfully devote themselves to the work of the Ministry which has been entrusted to them, especially the work of preaching, since “the chief worship of God is the preaching of the Gospel.” (Ap XV:42) Every sermon should be textually-based and Christ-centered, and should properly distinguish and apply the law and the Gospel. Since “the whole Gospel and the article of the Creed, ‘I believe in the holy Christian church, the forgiveness of sins,’ are embodied in” the Lord’s Supper (LC V:32), Gospel preaching is also sacramental preaching. Therefore “We should so preach that, of their own accord and without any law, the people will desire the sacrament and, as it were, compel us pastors to administer it to them.” (SC Pref.:22) It also will not hurt to be reminded of the fact that “Practical and clear sermons hold an audience” (Ap XXIV:50), and that a pastor’s sermons should touch on a wide range of practical subjects. Melanchthon writes that in the Lutheran churches of his time “all sermons deal with topics like these: penitence, the fear of God, faith in Christ, the righteousness of faith, comfort for the conscience through faith, the exercise of faith, prayer and our assurance that it is efficacious and is heard, the cross, respect for rulers and for all civil ordinances, the distinction between the kingdom of Christ (or the spiritual kingdom) and political affairs, marriage, the education and instruction of children, chastity, and all the works of love.” (Ap XV:43)
Closely associated with the pastor’s preaching ministry is his teaching and catechizing ministry. In the Lutheran Church “the pastors and ministers of the churches are required to instruct and examine the youth publicly, a custom that produces very good results.” (Ap XV:41) But we must not think that the Lutheran pastor’s duty to instruct the people from God’s Word, especially in regard to the Lord’s Supper, is limited to a one-time catechetical course. According to the Augsburg Confession,
the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament. (AC XXIV:7 [G])
On the subject of the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded of the fact that the normal practice of Confessional Lutheranism – and of Christianity – is that “Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals, when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved.” (Ap XXIV:1) As pastors of Lutheran congregations we should all be able to say, in the words of the Augsburg Confession, that
On holy days, and at other times when communicants are present, Mass is held and those who desire it are communicated. Thus the Mass is preserved among us in its proper use, the use which was formerly observed in the church and which can be proved by St. Paul’s statement in I Cor. 11:20 ff. and by many statements of the Fathers. (AC XXIV: 34-35 [G])
When the city of Nürnberg sought Luther’s guidance on these matters in 1528, he offered this response:
Should anyone request my counsel in this way, then I would give this advice: … that you should celebrate one or two Masses in the two parish churches on Sundays or holy days, depending on whether there are few or many communicants. Should it be regarded as needful or good, you might do the same in the hospital too. …you might celebrate Mass during the week on whichever days it would be needful, that is, if any communicants would be present and would ask for and request the Sacrament. This way we should compel no one to receive the Sacrament, and yet everyone would be adequately served in an orderly manner. If the Ministers of the Church would fall to griping at this point, maintaining that they were being placed under duress or complaining that they are unfitted to face such demands, then I would demonstrate to them that no merely human compulsion is at work here, but on the contrary they are being compelled by God Himself through His Call. For because they have the Office, they are already, in virtue of their Call and Office, obliged and compelled to administer the Sacrament whenever people request it of them, so that their excuses amount to nothing; just as they are under obligation to preach, comfort, absolve, help the poor, and visit the sick as often as people need or ask for these services. (quoted in Stephenson, pp. 161-62)
As a liturgical leader the Lutheran pastor must remember that “The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray.” (Ap XXIV:3) “Places, times, persons, and the entire outward order of worship are therefore instituted and appointed in order that God’s Word may exert its power publicly.” (LC I:94) And while “it can readily be judged that nothing contributes so much to the maintenance of dignity in public worship and the cultivation of reverence and devotion among the people as the proper observance of ceremonies in the churches,” we also know that “The real adornment of the churches is godly, practical, and clear teaching, the godly use of the sacraments, ardent prayer, and the like.” (AC prol.to XXII,6 [L]; Ap XXIV:51) The term “liturgy” actually means “a public service”:
Thus it squares with our position that a minister who consecrates shows forth the body and blood of the Lord to the people, just as a minister who preaches shows forth the gospel to the people, as Paul says (I Cor. 4:1), “This is how one should regard us, as ministers of Christ and dispensers of the sacraments of God,” that is, of the Word and sacraments; and II Cor. 5:20, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Thus the term “liturgy” squares well with the ministry. (Ap XXIV:79- 81)
In conclusion, we can all be comforted to know that
the ministry of the New Testament is not bound to places and persons, as the Levitical priesthood is, but is spread abroad through the whole world and exists wherever God gives his gifts, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers. Nor is this ministry valid because of any individual’s authority but because of the Word given by Christ. (Tr 26)
Dear brothers in faith and office, God has given you to the people of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, and indeed to the people of the Ukrainian nation. You are his gifts to them. And God has given to you his unconquerable and saving Word, which fully validates your ministry, and which fills it with the faith-creating power of Christ himself. And in the final consummation, when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ welcomes his servants into his eternal kingdom,
Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:3)
Koehler: Koehler, Edward W. A. A Summary of Christian Doctrine. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1952.
Krauth CP: Krauth, Charles Porterfield. “Church Polity,” I, Lutheran Church Review, Vol. II, Whole No. 8 (Oct. 1883).
Krauth CR: Krauth, Charles Porterfield. The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Philadelphia: General Council Publication Board, 1871.
Krauth TS: Krauth, Charles Porterfield. “Thetical Statement of the Doctrine Concerning the Ministry of the Gospel,” Lutheran and Missionary, Vol. XIV, No. 12 (Dec. 31, 1874).
Little: Little, C. H. Disputed Doctrines. Burlington, Iowa: Lutheran Literary Board, 1933.
Mastrantonis: Mastrantonis, George. Augsburg and Constantinople. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982.
Montgomery: Montgomery, John Warwick. Chytraeus On Sacrifice. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962.
Pieper I: Pieper, Francis. Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950.
Pieper III: Pieper, Francis. Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953.
Preus: Preus, Robert D. Getting Into the Theology of Concord. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1977.
Sasse: Sasse, Hermann. We Confess the Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986.
Sauer: Sauer, Alfred von Rohr. “The Doctrine of the Church,” The Abiding Word, Vol. III. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1960.
Schuetze & Habeck: Schuetze, Armin W., and Irwin J. Habeck. The Shepherd Under Christ. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1974.
Stephenson: Stephenson, John Raymond. “The Holy Eucharist: At the Center or Periphery of the Church’s Life in Luther’s Thinking?”, A Lively Legacy: Essays in Honor of Robert Preus, edited by Kurt E. Marquart, Stephenson, and Bjarne W. Teigen. Fort Wayne, Ind.: Concordia Theological Seminary, 1985.
Stump: Stump, Joseph. The Christian Faith. New York: Macmillan Company, 1932.
CONFESSIONAL QUOTATIONS are from The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959).