Vocation and Ministry

So, why does Group A insist that their doctrine is right? It all goes back to Lutherís doctrine of vocation which I think they have misunderstood and misapplied. Luther lived in a day and age where the Roman Catholic Church considered Bishops, Priests, Monks, and Nuns of the spiritual estate and called the common civilian of the temporal estate. They considered the celibate and the clergy holier then the average lay person. They did not have an understanding of how the common Christian civilian could serve Christ in their vocation.

Is not the idea that Christians must serve primarily in the Church, that such activity is more holy, doing exactly the thing that Luther opposed?

Luther wrote:

ďIt has been devised, that the Pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the Spiritual Estate; princes, lords, artificers and peasants, are the Temporal Estate; which is a very fine, hypocritical device. But let no one be made afraid by it; and that for this reason: That all Christians are truly of the Spiritual Estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone.Ē

Luther was elevating the priesthood of all believers in the midst of spiritual tyranny committed by the Roman Catholic Church. Group A who thinks they are being faithful to Lutherís doctrine of vocation are de-elevating the priesthood of all believers, and are not sustaining disciples of Christ after they have been baptized and confirmed.

I highly recommend Dr. Norman Nagel’s article on just this topic (it can be found online here). I don’t know about Group A, but those who emphasize the different vocations of members of Christ’s Church are not putting down “Luther’s doctrine” of vocation. What Luther was fighting against was not primarily that the laity could not read Scripture or that they didn’t go out and share their faith. He was concerned that making the priests mediators of God’s grace obscured the ever-primary Priest, Jesus. Dr. Nagel:

The primary threat is to the primary priest. Luther recognized this threat in the notion that there were still priests in the primary sense still offering sacrifices atoning for sin in emulation, cooperation, representation, completion or addition to the sacrifice of the one and only such priest in the New Testament. What Dr. Luther says against the Roman priests is not to get rid of them in order to put “the priesthood of all believers” in their place. That would be to replace one piece of popery with another. What was wrong with popery was not that it was popery, but that it infringed the one and only atoning sacrifice for sin done by Christ alone, and so done once, for all, sure, complete. To suggest something other or more is to rob Christ of his having done it all.

More from Nagel, because he puts it so clearly:

Emser criticized Luther’s exposition of 1 Peter 2:9, claiming that it obliterated the distinction between the clergy and the laity. Luther flatly denied this, and maintained that 1 Peter says nothing of the consecrated priesthood: “I did not say that all Christians are churchly priests.” Emser found two kinds of priests in 1 Peter 2:9 – inward and consecrated. Luther replied that it speaks of neither of these, but only of all Christians as priests. Later on ministers came to be called priests. “The priestly estate” had other better names and Luther runs through them in Latin, German and some Greek. What is important is what they are put there for: “the Gospel and the Sacraments.” God gives his gifts through ministers – it is for their being given out that the clergy are there. Gifts and Gospel involve two points: there are those who give out the gifts, and those to whom the gifts are given. If those who have been put there to give out the gifts do not give out the gifts, they have forsaken the Office which is the Lord’s located instrument for his giving out his gifts. If instead of their giving out of the gifts they move to exercising imperium, they are guilty of sacerdotalistic tyranny, which Luther denounces and from which he proclaims the freedom of Christians.

Let us get on then, rejoicing in this freedom, the freedom of the laity from sacerdotal tyranny, the freedom of the baptized that is theirs to rejoice in as priests, as a priestly kingdom, whose king is none other than he into whose name they were baptized. You may read 1 Peter as instruction for the baptized. Luther did not invent the identification of the New Testament priests, in the secondary or transferred sense, as the baptized. It is already there in 1 Peter. That is where the Christian life goes on, baptismal level, body level, incarnational level, Means of Grace level, Calvary level. There is no higher, more spiritual, more inward level, as both the sacerdotalists and Pietists assert (Emser’s inner and Spener’s Geistliches Priestertum, which replaces Luther’s “the baptized” with “the believers”). There is no “two-level” Church, with clergy above and laity below, or laity above (who hires and fires) and clergy below, or two churches, one visible and the other invisible. There are no levels–only where our Lord has put himself there for us (dir da) to give out his saving, enlivening gifts as he has ordained the Means of Grace to do, and put the Predigtamt there for the giving out of his gifts surely and locatedly in the Means of Grace (instrumenta prima, instrumentum secundum).

Sorry, a little more; then read the rest yourself!

The clergy are there for the giving out of “the Word of God and the Sacraments, which is their work and office.” The laity are there for receiving the gifts and living them out in their callings. Whatever their calling as laity, that calling neither makes them a lower level of Christian, nor inferior in their service to God below the clergy. Their calling is their priestly service to God as they serve their neighbors in their calling. “Just as all members of the body serve one another.”


Two Groups, Episode III

Andrew says in his comments on this post that he thinks Group A and Group B, as he has described them, should work together.

Group A working with Group B. That is exactly what we need. In other words, we need Christians to be effective witnesses and servants of Christ in their vocation as well as their role in the ministry of the church.

And yet he says this:

I believe that if the position of Group A prevails in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod it will continue to decline in membership. Congregations will shut down and sell their properties.

Surely, the best thing for the Church would be to get rid of Group A!

What is the heart of the problem in the LCMS? According to Andrew:

The devil is crafty, and only expecting Sunday attendance is not enough! There are seven days in the week, and 1 hour of Church on Sundays is showing itself to not effectively sustain or mature disciples of Jesus Christ. We need to engage people during the week by fostering fellowship in small groups, and equip leaders to lead these groups. We ought to equip parents to lead home devotionals so that the bapztized will grow up in Christian homes. We need to foster a culture of Scripture reading and prayer, where people are in the Word and seeking Godís will. Simply expecting church attendance on Sundays is not effectively sustaining or maturing disciples of Jesus Christ!

I agree that “Sunday Christianity” is not enough for disciples of Jesus to mature. Again, it requires teaching them everything that Jesus has given to us. Maybe some form of small group is the best way to do that. My question is this: when the novelty wears off, what will be the difference between a home Bible study and a Bible study that the pastor leads, wherever and whenever that might happen?

Further, I wholeheartedly agree that parents are not fulfilling their vocations. But the vocation remains. I think pastors can do more to encourage and help parents carry out their vocations, but part of the problem is that the parents have not been properly taught. Not only that, but they themselves have the attitude that church is “just something we do” and they pass on that attitude to their children. Unless and until we can revive the fatherly vocation of teaching children, instead of waiting until they’re confirmation age and attempting to cram every theological fact into their tiny heads in two years, we’re going to continue to have the problems that Andrew outlines. Parents are expecting the pastors to do in one or two years what they themselves are not willing to do in twelve or thirteen years.

[Next: defining vocation and its role in the Christian life.]


Two Groups: Group B

[Continuing the discussion on Andrew’s two groups here.]

Group B says that every Christian is a minister in the sense that they are a servant. This group recognizes that not all are called to formal Word and Sacrament ministry (i.e. Pastoral Ministry), but all are called to exercise their spiritual gifts for the edification of the body of Christ.

Again, who has ever, in the history of Christianity, denied that all Christians are servants? But to use the terminology of “everyone a minister” obscures the real issue. When Oscar Feucht wrote the eponymous book, he wasn’t saying only that “everyone’s a servant.” He was specifically espousing the idea that pastors are only there to “equip the saints” for their ministry, which was the only real ministry. Pastoral ministry, for Feucht, was a purely functional thing that existed not as an objective office established by Christ to give out His gifts, but to equip all Christians to do the real work of ministry. Needless to say, this ain’t a Lutheran idea. One need only refer to AC V to see this.

I don’t see how the second part of this section is any different from what you say Group A believes. To each his own vocation.

This group loves the idea of small group bible studies, because they foster fellowship, discipleship, edification of the body of Christ, and can serve as informal outlets for evangelism. This group realizes that some lay people do have the spiritual gifts of teaching, leading, and knowledge. Equipping such people with Biblical commentaries with discussion questions and answers could be quite effective.

I think you should note that they can foster those things. They can also foster heresy and false teaching with little or no pastoral oversight–which, I think, is the rule, not the exception. A side-question: what qualifies “teaching, leading, and knowledge” as “spiritual” gifts that are different from what any particular teacher has? I’m just not clear on what is meant by “spiritual gifts” here.

Having a ministry to the married, or a ministry to college students are also need oriented examples of ministries that aim at a particular group of people. Ministering to college age people will probably be different then ministering to senior citizens. Why? Because they are facing different challenges, and wrestling with different issues. In conclusion, Group B believes in empowering leadership, and equipping the saints for service in the church, while Group A thinks that their service is primarily outside in society.

There may be valid and good reasons for having groups aimed at different ages; why not different groups aimed at different races? I think this has a more likely effect of enforcing group stereotypes rather than breaking them down. The Church is one body, and as such shouldn’t we aim at gathering the various ages, backgrounds, etc. into one community? Segregation based on any criterion would seem to exacerbate the problems in our churches, rather than alleviate them. I’m having trouble with definitions again. What does “empowering leadership” mean, exactly? And why set up “in the Church” against “outside in society”? Surely Christians live primarily “in the world”; why ghettoize them?