[This post is essentially inside baseball for The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, although it certainly has implications for the Church as a whole, since the Book of Concord is a confession for the sake of the Church.]
It is only one sentence in the English translation of the Latin: “Concerning church order they teach that no one should teach publicly in the church or administer the sacraments unless properly called.”1 In the English translation of the German, it reads: “Concerning church government it is taught that no one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call.”2
The controverted terms today are “no one” (German: niemand; Latin: nemo); “publicly” (German: öffentlich; Latin: publice); and “proper call” [translated “regularly called” by the Triglotta] (German: ordentlichen Beruf; Latin: rite vocatus) (Concordia Triglotta 38-39).
Current controversies in the LCMS seem to revolve primarily around semantics: what does rite vocatus mean? It is often used as shorthand for AC XIV, but no word means anything apart from its context. That fact led to this question: Why did Melanchthon (affirmed by the Confessors) find it necessary to confess just this statement on the public preaching and teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments? None of the notes on the translations of these words clarifies anything for our modern problems and controversies over who should exercise the Office of the Ministry (or, perhaps better: who should be exercised in the Office). For example, with reference to the Kolb/Wengert edition, what does it mean to be called in a “regular manner by a proper public authority”? (See the note on rite vocatus.) Certainly, the Lutheran Church has historically left it an open question what constitutes a “proper public authority,”3 whether secular officials, consistories, bishops, or synods. “Regular” (and rite seems to bear this out) appears to be “simply the way things are done.” If “the way things are done” has changed from the time of the Augsburg Confession, the words rite vocatus, in and of themselves, cannot bear the weight that we try to put upon them.
Since neither the Augsburg Confession nor the other Confessions confess every possible teaching of the Scriptures, the first significant question is: “To whom or at what practice is this statement directed?” In other words: what is being confessed here and for what reason? It is clear that in the case of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, the statements are presented to the Holy Roman Emperor and they are confessions of practice in the face of Roman accusations that the Evangelicals had departed from historic doctrine and practice, i.e., that the Evangelicals had separated themselves from the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Evangelicals’ defense is always that they had not departed from the true teaching of the Church (meaning that wherever the Church—including the Roman Church—had correctly explicated the Scriptures and had not contravened or made ecclesiastical law beyond what the Scriptures commanded or forbade, the Evangelicals confessed nothing more or less).
This means that Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession does not appear in a theological and practical vacuum. It is not an abstraction, but it bears a specific relationship to other articles in the Confession and to the context in which it was confessed. Article XIV assumes Article V, which flows directly—even grammatically—from Article IV on Justification. Article V states the purpose for which God ordained the preaching Office (“so that we may obtain such saving faith,” a faith explicated in Article IV). Then, Article XIV states the confession of the Evangelicals regarding those to whom the Office is given for the sake of delivering the Gospel Word and Sacraments to sinners. The Office exists by the command of God, but an office cannot deliver Christ’s Word and Sacraments. So men are put into the Office4 for carrying out what God wants to give through the Office.
Of what, then, did Rome accuse the Evangelicals, so that Melanchthon believed it necessary to confess Article V and XIV? Naomichi Masaki writes that the accusation came particularly in Johannes Eck’s Four Hundred Four Articles, in which Eck conflates various statements of non-Roman theologians in order to discredit the Evangelicals and the entire Reformation. These articles forced Melanchthon to expand the scope of the Augsburg Confession in order to address Eck’s assertions.5 Eck had attributed two statements to the Reformers: “The church of Christ does not know the Sacrament of Ordination. Luther.” and “All Christians, as many as are baptized, are equally priests. And any layperson can consecrate churches, confirm children, and so forth. Luther.”6
Masaki writes, “C[onfessio]A[ugustana] V was thought as sufficient for the Wittenbergers to confess the doctrine of the ministry. … Eck had twisted Luther’s biblical teaching of the royal priesthood (basivleion iJeravteuma, 1 Pet 2:9). He accused Lutherans of setting aside the office of the ministry by including every Christian. He charged that laymen were acting as if they were ordained. Melanchthon added CA XIV to refute these charges and to exclude the suspicion that CA V talks about the priesthood of all believers.”7
Regarding the distinction between the office of the ministry and the priesthood of all baptized believers, Thomas Winger writes with particular clarity:
The office of the ministry is about service: standing in the place of Christ, the pastor brings the gifts of God to His people. If anyone is to offer a sacrifice, it is not the pastor but the priesthood of all believers (prayer, praise, and thanks…). The pastor preaches the Gospel, forgives sinners, washes away guilt, and feeds with Christ’s Body and Blood—he does not offer sacrifices. The ordained ministry cannot be viewed as flowing out of the priesthood of all believers because the two are of an entirely different nature. This clear, biblical distinction is damaged when both pastor and people are called “priests,” and likewise when both pastor and people are called “ministers” … It is therefore inappropriate and impertinent for ordained ministers and baptized priests to battle for primacy in Christ’s church. Each has a unique gift and calling.8
These two Articles (V and XIV) together, therefore, are meant to confess the catholic truth about the Office of preaching. They do this, on the one hand, by confessing that the Office is for the sake of the Gospel, to deliver it to sinners; and, on the other hand, by confessing that the certainty of the Word delivered is confirmed by the certainty that a given man is put into the Office to do God’s will by the Holy Spirit: produce saving faith in sinners by delivering to them the preached Word and Sacraments of Christ’s death and resurrection.
This, ultimately, is the purpose of Article XIV: the assurance of faith. To place someone into the Office rite vocatus is to bind him to the purpose of the Office: delivering the Word and Sacraments. If there is uncertainty about whether someone is in the Office, there is uncertainty about whether he has been put there to do those things. The Office and the functions of the Office cannot be separated. The Office is never an abstraction; it is always carried out in the concrete preaching and teaching and administration of the Sacraments. So there is assurance for the preacher, as well as for the hearers. Both the preacher and the hearers have no doubt that he is there to carry out the Office, because by his public, open call into the Office, confirmed publicly by the ordination and/or installation, there is no doubt that this is the man whom God has chosen.9
Besides providing the assurance that God has put a particular man into the Office for the sake of people in a particular place, putting that man under orders serves to restrain his own sinful nature. As a baptized Christian, the pastor certainly needs no compulsion to carry out his Office for the sake of love. But because his sinful nature still clings to him, as much as to any person, he also may need the spur of the Law to continually put that sinful nature to death and to force him to do his duty for the sake of those whom he is given to serve. Both Law and Gospel apply to the pastor in his vocation, as much as they do to any Christian in any vocation.
It is for these reasons that AC XIV says “no one” will publicly preach or deliver the Sacraments unless he has been rightly–even “ritely”–called. It is not for the sake of a time-bound regulation, but so that both preacher and hearer can have the assurance of the Gospel delivered by an Office ordained for that very purpose, and so the preacher will carry out his Office faithfully. In this sense, the vocatus or calling into the vocation of preacher (the Pfarramt) is little different from vocations such as law enforcement, medicine, government, or even husband and wife. Only doubt and confusion—even danger—would result from someone exercising the functions of law enforcement without the office of law enforcement; it very well could be life-threatening to have someone exercise the functions of medicine without the office of medical doctor; anarchy is the name for people exercising the functions of government without the office of governor; and adulterer is the name God gives to those who exercise the office of husband or wife without having been ordained to those offices.
Some will attempt to marshal C.F.W. Walther for support of laymen carrying out the functions of the Office of the Holy Ministry. They will appeal to the idea of “auxiliary offices” (better, “helping offices”), such as teacher. But this is an anachronism akin to speaking of elders in the Scriptures as if they are equivalent to modern Lutheran Boards of Elders. (Or a more germane example: taking for granted, without argument, that the seven “deacons” chosen to help the Apostles in Acts 6 are equivalent to modern lay deacons who preach and administer the sacraments.)
“While it is widely held that the holders of auxiliary offices can perform one or more of the functions of the office of the holy ministry, Walther in Thesis VIII did not envision this. The Hilfsamt [“helping office”], according to Walther, supports the Predigtamt [“preaching office”] so that the holder of the Predigtamt may devote himself fully to the ministry of word and sacrament. Walther’s examples of Hilfsamt are ‘[lay] elders who do not work in the word and in the teaching [doctrine] (1 Tim 5:17),’ ‘the rulers (Rom 12:8),’ ‘deacons in the narrow sense/the school teachers/the almoners,’ ‘the sexton/sacristan,’ and ‘the leader of a choir in the public Divine Service.’ Quite to the contrary, for Walther the Predigtamt is the only office that Jesus instituted, and the bearers of the Predigtamt are to care for the congregation of God and watch over their souls as those who give account for them (1 Tim 3:1, 5, 7; 5:17; 1 Cor 4:1; Titus 1:7; Heb 13:17). Walther does not hold the bearers of the Hilfsamt accountable to God, neither partially nor fully. As in Thesis II, so in Thesis VIII, Walther does not divide the Predigtamt into office and functions.”10
And Walther, in a letter to Pastor J.A. Ottesen, writes,
“The question is whether such an arrangement is permissible according to which, on certain occasions [which are not emergency situations], the preacher may grant the laymen, as a right, to teach and lead the people in [public], when this is customarily occurring. That is absolutely and directly contrary to the doctrine of the Scriptures regarding the Office [Amt] (1 Corinthians 12:29; Acts 6:4; Titus 1:5). And it is contrary to the Fourteenth Article of the Augsburg Confession. It is against all the testimony of pure teachers and against the constant practice of our Church. Given all this, it is inconceivable how a person otherwise well versed in God’s Word and the orthodox Church can for an instant be unclear on this. To base [this practice] upon the spiritual priesthood of Christians is ridiculous [Unsinn]. For then it would happen that no one would have any reason to depend upon the pastor’s vocation. Still less so can the thing be based upon a special vocation. For the Church cannot create a vocation at will. It can only give what God has instituted and which He alone acknowledges. (This [institution] alone is that through which a minister of God comes into being, not through a human contract that lasts a few hours and days.) The matter cannot be built upon the emergency case [Notfall], as is evident.”11
Further, many would cite Luther in various places in support of preaching and administering the Sacraments by those who are not put “under the orders” of the Office of the Holy Ministry. Often, though, the quotations are, at best, indirectly related. When Luther directly addresses such service, he writes things like the following:
“Here is an example. If a layman should perform all the outward functions of a priest, celebrating Mass, confirming, absolving, administering the sacraments, dedicating altars, churches, vestments, vessels, etc., it is certain that these actions in all respects would be similar to those of a true priest, in fact, they might be performed more reverently and properly than the real ones. But because he has not been consecrated and ordained and sanctified, he performs nothing at all, but is only playing church and deceiving himself and his followers. It is the same way with the righteous, good, and holy works which are performed either without or before justification. For just as this layman does not become a priest by performing all these functions, although it can happen that he could be made a priest without doing them, namely, by ordination, so also the man who is righteous by the Law is actually not made righteous by the works of the Law at all, but without them, by something else, namely, through faith in Christ, by which he is justified and, as it were, ordained, so that he is made righteous for the performance of the works of righteousness, just as this layman is ordained a priest for the performance of the functions of a priest. And it can happen that the man who is righteous by the Law does works which are more according to the letter and more spectacular than the man who is righteous by grace. But yet he is not for this reason righteous but rather may actually be more impeded by these works from coming to righteousness and to the works of grace.”12
When both Luther and Walther discuss the specific practice at issue, they (along with nearly the entire Church throughout history) certainly do not speak in favor of non-ordained people carrying out the “functions” of the Office. Apart from quickly advancing technology in various fields, is our current culture really so unique that we must do something that has never been done in the history of the Church, except in situations of far greater need than we now face?
If it is true (and I take it to be so) that either one’s practice will be changed to match the doctrine, or one’s doctrine will change to match practice, then the LCMS currently has an uncomfortable level of tension between doctrine and practice. The language that is used of pastors in the ordination rite, and the language used by pastors in the Absolution, for example, seem to highlight the fact that the LCMS has never really come to terms with what we are actually confessing when we talk about ordination or what it means to be a pastor.
Consider the Rite of Ordination:
Beloved in the Lord, _____________ has been called by the Lord of the Church into the Office of the Holy Ministry of the Word and Sacraments. He has been prepared for this ministry by careful study and prayer. He has been examined and declare ready and prepared to undertake this sacred responsibility, and, by the guidance of God the Holy Spirit, he has in the Church’s usual order [rite vocatus!] been called to be ________ of/at _________. According to apostolic practice, he is now presented to be ordained and consecrated to this office established by God. (Lutheran Service Book: Agenda, 161, emphasis added)
Later, echoing and following the order of AC IV and V, it says,
God gathers His Church by and around His Holy Gospel and thereby also grants it growth and increase according to His good pleasure. That this may be done, He has established the Office of the Holy Ministry into which you have been called by the Church and are now to be ordained and consecrated by prayer and the laying on of hands (ibid., 165).
And, at the Holy Absolution: “Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Lutheran Service Book, 185, et passim). The Absolution, as we have it in our official books, is actually tied to the Office of the Holy Ministry, ordination, and calling, following on the command of Jesus Himself.13
Further, Melanchthon’s documented reason for inserting Article XIV creates an irony in this discussion: those who advocate people other than ordained and called pastors carrying out the “functions” of the Ministry are explicitly doing what Eck accused the first Evangelical confessors of doing. What are the implications of such an acknowledgment?
The question needs to be answered: Are Article V and XIV the confession of the Office for the sake of the Gospel, or are they legalistic or Romanizing attempts to hold on to some perceived “clerical power”? The contrary answers given to that question highlight the different assumptions behind the various practices within the Missouri Synod. Beyond that, the general cultural climate in the United States makes having a serious and nuanced discussion about assumptions nearly impossible, since our national political and public square (primarily social media) arguments are carried out in blindly binary terms: if you are not one hundred percent with me, than you must be with “them.” Can the Church do better?
I do not claim to have any comprehensive solutions to the apparent thirty-year impasse on lay ministry (indeed, far too much has been written for me even to claim any new contribution to the discussion), and this short paper is not meant to address every circumstance that may be anecdotally raised in support of laymen serving as pastors without actually being put into the Office.14 Even so, the Church of Jesus Christ never starts with the varying experiences of sinners, even forgiven ones within the Church, as a basis for its teaching and practice. It is precisely such emotivistic anecdotes and appeals to experience that have seriously undermined the authority of the Word of God in the churches, and brought about the Biblical, confessional, and theological chaos that now reigns in the United States. Instead, the Church asks, “What has Jesus said and given us?” and we then rejoice to hear and live by that Word.
The wider point is that many of the “sides” in the Missouri Synod are starting with radically different assumptions and definitions. (I suspect that we will see these differences on full—though, I pray, not sinful—display at the 2016 Synod Convention.) In order to work together for a common purpose (which is, I think, agreed upon: the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments to sinners, who are in need of Jesus’ life), we must return to our unanimous confession. If we cannot, are we still a single Synod? If we cannot act as a Church organized around the Gospel given out according to Jesus’ own chosen means, are we still united around those means? We cannot dismiss these foundational questions as irrelevant or assumed. Once we take for granted such questions, we will lose the unity inherent in the answers our ancestors in the Faith once confessed. And if we cannot confess anew the foundations of our unity, for all intents and purposes, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod at that point would simply cease to exist.15
May God the Father, who has given Jesus as Head over His Church, preserve His pure Gospel and Sacraments among us, according to His own promise.
Rev. Timothy Winterstein
The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and The Presentation of Jesus, A+D 2016
1 Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000). The Book of Concord: the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (p. 47). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
2 Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000). The Book of Concord: the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (p. 46). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
3 Indeed, Apology XIV points to exactly this issue when it states: “Concerning this subject we have frequently testified in the assembly that it is our greatest desire to retain the order of the church and the various ranks in the church—even though they were established by human authority.”
4 The Church has, since the time of the Apostles, put men into the divinely ordained Office by the laying on of hands, which, in itself, is a ceremony that has no command of God. But I understand “ordination” to mean that putting under the “orders” of the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. That is the evangelical Office, and while the means of putting into Office (laying on of hands) is an adiaphoron, the fact that men should be publicly put into the Office is not optional, precisely for the public certainty about whom God has placed into the Office (see Johann Gerhard, On the Ministry, Theological Commonplaces XXVI/1 (St. Louis: CPH, 2011), 209f.). It is not enough to simply state that “ordination is an adiaphoron” without also recognizing the reason (namely, the Roman assertion on the necessity of canonical ordination) that the confessors held to such a position.
5 “This publication imposed upon Melanchthon and the other representatives of Lutheran reform the necessity of going beyond what they had originally planned to present to the emperor. It compelled them to confess their adherence to the core of catholic teaching, to the heart of the biblical message, in the presentation of their call for reform to Charles” (Robert Rosin, “Introduction to John Eck’s Four Hundred Four Articles,” Sources and Contexts of the Book of Concord. Eds. Robert Kolb, James A. Nestingen. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001), 31.
6 Johannes Eck. Four Hundred Four Articles for the Imperial Diet of Augsburg. No. 267-268. Transl. Robert Rosin. Sources and Contexts, 65.
7 Naomichi Masaki, “Augsburg Confession XIV: Does it answer current questions on the ministry?” Concordia Theological Quarterly, 70(2), 149.
8 Thomas Winger, “The Priesthood of the Baptised: the Testimony of Luther, Peter, Humpty Dumpty, and a Goat.” You, My People, Shall Be Holy. Eds. Stephenson; Winger. (St. Catherine’s, Ontario: Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, 2013), 324, 336. Winger’s other, longer papers on this subject are exhaustive and well worth considering: Winger, “The Priesthood of All the Baptized: An Exegetical and and Theological Investigation” (STM Thesis, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis: 1992); and Winger, “The Office of the Ministry and Ephesians 4:12 – The Question of a Comma” (M.Div. Thesis, Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Catherine’s: 1990).
9 So Chemnitz writes, “These very great and comforting promises concerning the ministry ought to be displayed , as it were, in a prominent place in the church, in order that the dignity of the ministry might be extolled against the fanatics, and that those to whom the ministry has been committed may go about their labors and bear their difficulties with greater eagerness, and that men may learn to use the ministry reverently” (Examination of the Council of Trent. Transl. Fred Kramer (St. Louis: CPH, 1978), II:693.
10 Masaki, ibid., 144-145 (emphasis in bold added).
11 Walther, “On Luther and Lay Preachers,” At Home in the House of My Fathers. Ed. Matthew C. Harrison (Lutheran Legacy, 2009), 140.
12 Luther’s Works, 25:234-235.
13 I leave it to the reader to catch the sonic dissonance between having the unordained serve at Word and Sacrament and these statements from the ordination rite and the Absolution.
14 Although I suggest that if we want to remain a single Synod, we ought to consider the broader implications of our local practices prior to implementing them. If those practices cause or highlight disunity, we cannot say to one another, “I have no need of you,” but we are obligated to have a discussion free from generalized accusation, ad hominem attacks, and impugning of opponents’ motives. Beyond that, it seems beneficial: (a) to assume that various parts of the Confessions are not in conflict with each other or with the Scriptures; (b) to study how difficulties in providing pastors were addressed in the past; and (c) to make sure we have definitional clarity when discussing the constellation of issues surrounding the Office of the Holy Ministry and the way that it is carried out among us. We cannot assume that since we are using the same words, we mean the same things. It is incumbent upon each of us to define each controverted term for the sake of others: e.g., to what, specifically, are we referring when we talk about “ministry,” “pastors,” “ordination,” or “adiaphora” (as Charles Arand has said, not all adiaphora are created equal); we must cite specific sources when referencing the Scriptures, Confessions, and our Lutheran ancestors, so that anyone can check our work; we should be willing to modify or reject, in part or in whole, aspects of our thinking that do not match the Scriptures or the Lutheran confessional writings. If we cannot define our terms and be specific when making the arguments for one position or another, we only increase the rancor and misunderstanding. For that reason, I believe having calm, rational discussions in local gatherings of pastors is necessary, before trying to summarize positions and objections for convention talking-points. If we cannot talk locally, with those we know, without assigning bad motives to arguments and those who make them, then there is no real chance of talking cordially across the Synod.
15 I admit my own skepticism about whether it exists currently. In his “Duties of an Evangelical Synod,” Walther said, “Therefore a synod’s primary purposes are 1) unity of confession and 2) integrity of practices. … If the study of doctrine is not the number one priority at synodical conventions, then one of two things will happen: Either the convention will be manufacturing laws, or even worse, it will degenerate into an affair of mutual praise, love, and assurance, and life insurance” (At Home in the House of My Fathers, 300, 301).