Thursday, August 19, 2010

C.F.W. Walther on the Layman's Role in the Congregation's Ministry

C.F.W. WaltherYesterday's blog post, Lay Ministry: A Continuing Legacy of Pietism, began with the sentence, "Pietism was a raging problem among Lutherans in mid-19th Century America," and closed by pointing out that in Norway, "[p]olitically and culturally, religious liberty [had become] synonymous with lay participation in the functions of the Office of the Ministry within the congregation, such that, by the time of the first wave of Norwegian emigration to the United States in the middle of the 19th Century, not only was the practice of laymen carrying out the functions of the Pastoral Office culturally accepted, it was considered a political right." This was the result of Haugean Pietism which had coursed through Norwegian religious and political culture not more than a generation prior, and which was still at work reforming Norway's cultural institutions, as dramatic political and economic changes continued to occur there.1

Hans Nielsen Hauge died in 1824 a folk hero. In 1825, the first of several major migrations from Norway to America occurred, landing mostly in northern Illinois along the Fox River. By the third large migration, around 1840, Norwegians were settling in southeastern Wisconsin, and it is about this time that Norwegian Lutheran congregations began forming.2 The Norwegian settlers during the 1840's and 1850's were very closely "connected with the Church in the homeland, and they brought with them greater respect and love for the rites and usages of the Church of their fathers."3 Yet, prior to 1843, there were no pastors to serve them -- only Haugean lay preachers. Two Norwegian pastors, Dietrichson and Clausen, finally arrived, and did much work during these days in the Koshkonong and Muskego settlements, correcting the confusion wrought by Pietism, diligently securing deliberate and specific confessions of faith and intent from new members of a growing number of congregations, and working for greater unity among them. Rev. Stub joined them in 1848, and in 1850, with a great deal of groundwork completed under the leadership of Rev. Dietrichson, three pastors -- Clausen, Stub, and Preus -- along with eighteen congregations between Muskego and Koshkonong, Wisconsin, formed the Norwegian Synod.4

The situation was slightly different among the Germans. Pietism was nearly a century-and-a-half in the past for them, and time had carried them through Enlightenment Rationalism and ecumenical mergers. Elements of Pietism and Rationalism abounded among them, and, intermingled, were a great danger -- often being more subtle and insidious. German Lutherans had been in America since the early Colonial days, and this was largely the case among those in the East.Charles_Porterfield_Krauth When the Stephanites landed in Perry County, MO, having emigrated from Saxony to escape various forms of religious persecution which resulted from the Prussian Union, they found that the seed of Lutheran orthodoxy existed in America and was already at work in the eastern States to purify doctrine and practice -- the Henkel clan in the Tenessee Synod and Charles Porterfield Krauth having begun the work of addressing error, and grown experienced in spotting its subtleties. C.F.W. Walther, after ascending to leadership of the Saxon Lutherans in Missouri, sought them out, resonating with their doctrine and their task (having himself been a Pietist at one time). On the other hand, in the Norwegian Church, Rationalism hadn't yet made any real inroads, nor had indifferentism generally grown into open ecumenism with the Reformed or with the Methodists (although it had among the Haugean lay preachers, at least in this latter case). The only real inroad made by Rationalism was a mild form borrowed from an early 19th Century Danish theologian named Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig -- "Grundtvigianism," or the error of elevating the Creed to authority equal with Scripture, and Baptism of the deceased to procure their Salvation. In fact, this issue was brought against Reverends Clausen and Stub in the mid-1850's, and they were found to have been teaching this error with Dietrichson all along. Stub confessed and retracted his errors, Clausen retired.5 As one can imagine, other issues abounded and were resolved, the constitution was reworded and improved, and as the Norwegian Synod grew, they grew more aware of their similarities with the Missourians and formed a positive opinion of them and their theology.6

From the influence of pietism, from both pastors within the Norwegian Synod and its laity, the question of "laymen's activity" arose in the late 1850's, stirred for a few years, and finally broke into open controversy in 1860. The party in favor of "laymen's activity" asserted the following:
    Laymen should have the right to teach and pray publicly, (1) because they belonged to the universal priesthood of believers; (2) because Christian brotherly love demanded it; and (3), because it was the practice of the early Christian Church.7
The opposing party within the Norwegian Synod "conceded everything except the point on which the whole thing hinged: How and when can a laymen teach and preach?"8

At loggerheads over this question for two years, finally at the 1862 Convention of the Norwegian Synod, C.F.W. Walther was invited to address the question, in hopes of helping them to find a resolution. He did so by dividing the question into three parts:
    (1) the spiritual priesthood of all believers [Universal Priesthood]; (2) the special office of the ministry in the congregation established by God [Office of the Ministry]; and (3) how necessity knows no laws, hence supersedes the regular order in this matter [emergency situations].

    In regard to the first... Paul, in Ro. 3:2, declared of the Old Testament Church, or believers at that time, that "unto them were committed the oracles of God." They were, therefore, the possessors and the stewards of God's Word, or the ministry. When factionalism arose in Corinth between the followers of Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, and each faction gloried in its leader, the apostle said to them: "Therefore let no man glory in men, For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's and Christ's is God's" (1 Co 3:21-23)... The Office of the Ministry is therefore not to be regarded as a private privilege, which alone belongs to the minister of the Gospel, but is a common privilege belonging to all the members of the Church... [From further lengthy proofs from scripture], it is apparent that every Christian not only has the office of the ministry, but that he also, if he at all wishes to be a Christian, must perform its duties, so that he also confesses the Word, teaches, admonishes, confesses, reproves, and in every way has a care for his neighbor's salvation; that is, for his conversion as well as his preservation in the faith....

    But the Lord sees, secondly, how Christians are beset by the frailties of flesh and blood, and on account of this frailty and weakness of the average Christian, God has instituted a special Office of the Ministry of the Word. According to God's Word, certain persons who are prepared, gifted, equipped and tried for this office should be elected, called and set aside from the Christians in general, to perform these offices publicly among them, and in their name thus preach the Word and administer the Sacraments, lead their meeting for mutual edification through God's Word, and are, in fine, the mouth of the Christians.

    Wherever the holy apostles established Christian congregations, they, at their departure, did not entrust the office of mutual edification to the converted congregations, so that anyone could publicly teach and lead the others, but they placed certain persons, called elders or bishops, as leaders or overseers. Paul says to his companion and co-worker Titus: "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee. If any be blameless... for a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God... holding fast to the faithful words as he has bee taught" (Ti. 1:5-11). These elders or bishops did not only have the call, like other Christians, to use God's Word over against their neighbors as spiritual priests, but they had definite congregations, whose spiritual service was entrusted to them alone. Peter therefore writes: "the elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder... Feed the flock of God which is among you" (1 Pe. 5:1,2). This is not only a good human ordinance, but it is an ordinance instituted by God Himself... [After much explanation from Scripture, concludes], the Public Ministry is therefore a gracious institution of the merciful God, whereby God's Word can henceforth be richly and purely preached and false prophets be warded off, and the Sacraments be properly administered. Thus God's whole dispensation, whether in the Church or the local congregation, is carried out in a good, blessed, and God-pleasing manner.

    Although all believing Christians in virtue of their faith have the office of priests, yet they should not perform those duties in such a way that they disturb or abolish the divinely instituted public ministry of the Word in their local congregation. As urgently as the Bible exhorts Christians to be faithful and zealous in the fulfillment of their duties, it nevertheless says: "My brethren, be not many masters" (Ja. 3:1), and Paul, after saying, "God hath set some in the church, first apostles, etc.," asks: "Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?" (1 Co. 12:28-29). [After further adducing Scripture concludes,] In public assemblies arranged for edification, the lay Christians should not teach, admonish, console, correct, lead in prayer or publicly administer the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord's Supper, as these are functions reserved for the Christians properly called and ordained by God for this purpose.

    But, thirdly, necessity knows no law. In case of need, as,for instance, if the Christians have no publicly appointed pastor, or if he be a false prophet, or if he serves them so seldom that they are in danger of spiritual starvation in case nothing more were done among them, then it is not wrong if also laymen in such cases of need preach the Word and pray in public assemblies or publicly administer Baptism... But they do not function according to the ordinance of God, but as emergency pastors lest needy souls be lost. The Lutheran Symbols, therefore say: Just as in a case of necessity even a layman absolves, and becomes a minister and pastor of another; as Augustine narrates the story of two Christians in a ship, one of whom baptized the catechumen, who after baptism then absolved the baptizer." (TR:67)
Walther here is quite clear. In fact, his theses to the Norwegian Synod were the basis for their resolution to settle the matter of "layman's activity," using it henceforward as their official doctrine, as follows:
  1. God has instituted the office of the public ministry for the public edification of Christians to salvation through God's Word. Unanimously accepted.
  2. For the public edification of Christians, God has not instituted any other order which should be placed by the side of this. Unanimously accepted.
  3. When one undertakes to lead the public edification of Christians by the Word, he undertakes and exercises the office of the public ministry. Unanimously accepted.
  4. It is sin when anyone without call or in the absence of need undertakes this. Unanimously accepted.
  5. It is both a right and a duty in case of real need for anyone who can to exercise in proper Christian order the office of the public ministry. Unanimously accepted.
  6. The only correct conception of need is that actual need exists, either where there is no pastor or one cannot be gotten; or if there is a pastor who does not rightly serve them, but teaches falsely; or who cannot serve them sufficiently, but so insufficiently that they cannot be brought to faith or be preserved in faith and guarded against error, and that Christians would succumb from lack of oversight. Two voted against.
  7. When such need is at hand, it ought to be relieved by a definite and proper order, according to the circumstances. Unanimously accepted.10

WELS has publicly made plain in their discussions with Missouri on the subject, that we hold to Walther's teaching on Public Ministry. The above is the teaching of Walther, as plainly and simply stated as this author has ever read it. Notice that "the public ministry" described above is one ministry that includes "teaching, admonishing, consoling, correcting, leading in prayer, and public administration of the Sacraments" in public assemblies within the congregation, and is understood as synonymous with the Office of the pastor. Is this the teaching we observe practiced in our WELS congregations? Do laymen publicly teach, preach, and offer prayers in our churches, or Publicly execute other functions of this Office? If it is claimed that such laymen possess a Divine Call, then what constitutes a valid Call and how is possession of a valid Call communicated to the assembly? For that matter, what constitutes valid Approval criteria -- are such criteria arbitrary? And of course, we must ask this with respect to the Office of the Ministry itself, asking what it is? Do we agree with Walther, or not?


  1. Petterson, W. (1926). The Light in the Prison Window: Life and Work of H. N. Hauge. (2nd ed.).Minneapolis: The Christian Literature Company. pp. 73, 173-179.
  2. Ylvisaker, S (Ed.). (1943). Grace for Grace: A Brief History of the Norwegian Synod. Mankato, MN: Lutheran Synod Book Company. pp. 9-15.
  3. Ibid. pg. 15.
  4. Ibid. pp. 16-34.
  5. Rohne, J. M. (1926). Norwegian American Lutheranism up to 1872. New York: Macmillan. pg. 144-145.
  6. Ibid. pp. 162-163.
  7. Ibid. pg. 168.
  8. Ibid. pg. 168.
  9. Ibid. pp. 174-178.
  10. Ibid. pg. 178.


Daniel Baker said...


Would it be possible to address how 1 Corinthians 14, specifically the portion dedicated to orderly worship, fits into this model? Those in favor of lay-led ministries often cite this portion of Scripture in defense of the pastor-less model.

Also, thank you for these continually enlightening posts. They are a blessing to me, as I am sure they are to many others.

In Christ,
Daniel Baker

Joe Krohn said...

Interesting subject matter. Thank you for the history lesson. I'll be interested where this all goes. I'll be curious if you touch any of these: Laymen reading passages in church; laymen reading Bible lessons and adding their own sermonette during the service; laymen as worship leaders in contemporary formats; called female staff ministers; and this one has always boggled my are called as teachers and it is considered a divine call and they receive all of the tax benefits that pastor has and yet the women who have the same education get a different call and a different tax status.

I'll be honest, I'm a bit of a mixed bag on these points and would like to see some scripture addressing the points one way or another.

Joe Krohn

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...


Just want to pop in here, quick -- I intend to respond to both of you, but have been consumed with business responsiblities the past couple of days. I'm not ignoring you! I'll try to respond later this evening or tomorrow.



Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Mr. Baker,

I examined 1 Co. 14. Verses 23-40 seem to comprise the section you are referring to. I see very plainly the error that those who use this section to support “pastor-less” models of church & ministry are making with respect to their handling of Scripture. This section of Scripture has very little to do with the Doctrine of the Ministry, or of the Call, in terms of its doctrinal content, outside of an appeal to the Law in directly assigning gender restrictions upon those who may address the congregation and serve as its Ministers (vv. 34-35).

That isn’t to say that there isn’t other doctrinal content in this section. There is, in fact, quite a bit of such content. It commands decency and good order in “in all things” (v40), especially regarding the execution of what we would call the Divine Service – that is, “when the whole church comes together in one place” (v.23). It requires that all things be done with the purpose of edifying believers in the congregation (vv.22,26). It establishes that authority comes from the Word – from outside the congregation – as given by the Prophets and the Apostles (vv. 36-37). It warns and rebukes those who choose to remain in ignorance (v.38, see also Kretzmann from his Popular Commentary).

The major teaching in 1 Co. 14 seems to be the distinction between meetings of the more learned – i.e. those gifted, skilled or trained in languages, doctrine, knowledge, etc., which may not be known by others, (vv. 3,5-22) – and meetings of the “whole congregation” (v.23ff), which includes those who may or may not be learned. In the latter case, emphasis is placed on catechesis (v.19), prophecy or preaching (v.22), and teaching of doctrine (v.26). Martin Chemnitz has much to say on this in his Loci Theologici (pp. 392-393, in my 1989 edition). It does not, however, teach regarding who may address the congregation as its Ministers and under what circumstances, only teaches regarding what mode of address those called as Ministers ought to engage.

Continued in next post...

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

...Continued from previous post

So how is it that advocates of “pastor-less” church gatherings can use this section to overrule the manifold and clear statements of other sections of Scripture requiring a Called and Approved Minister of the Word? By the fact that this section uses the situation of Public Ministry in the Corinthian congregation to teach something other than the Doctrine of the Public Ministry. Because this situation is used, those who are untrained or who are unclear in their thinking or who simply lack orthodox reading materials, are evidently confused and mistakenly regard this section as authoritative qualification of other sections of Scripture which do directly treat the Doctrines of the Ministry and the Call. In other words, they are using anecdotal evidence in this text to derive doctrine which overrules the direct positive teaching of other texts. This is flawed hermeneutics which results in doctrinal error.

My advice in determining Scripture Doctrine is that of Martin Chemnitz: It is necessary that the meaning of these passages whence dogmas or articles are derived be sure, proper, and natural, consisting of the proper and genuine force and true sense of the words, so that the sense of these words can in no way be twisted with respect to other passages so as to make them appear to be in conflict. (The Lord’s Supper, pg. 77). David Kuske puts it this way: Scripture must interpret Scripture, Luther insisted. The meaning of a given passage is determined only (1) by comparing what is says with all other passages of Scripture which address the same subject in the same or similar words; and then (2) by letting what God said in all those other passages explain what God means by the words in the passage under study. This is the only proper way to interpret a passage of Scripture because it is only in this way that God himself becomes the arbiter of what he means by those words. (Biblical Interpretation: The Only Right Way, pg. 115). This passage from 1 Co. 14 does not treat of the Doctrine of the Public Ministry other than to assign gender restrictions, and it does not treat of the Doctrine of the Call at all. It cannot overrule clear teaching of Scripture on these doctrines from other passages. Therefore, those who use this chapter to defend “pastor-less” church gatherings are in error with respect to their hermeneutics and understanding of Scripture teaching.

Daniel Baker said...

Mr. Lindee,

Thank you for the prompt and thorough response. Suffice it to say, I am no learned scholar. This issue is particularly pertinent to me though; the leadership of my congregation has seen fit to replace the regular Divine Service with a lay-led "Alternative Worship Experience" on a monthly basis. In the past I would have been all for it, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit I have seen the error in that line of thinking. As I said though, I am an infant in my learning, so thank you for taking the time to expound on this portion of Scripture and suggest further readings.

In Christ,
Daniel G. Baker

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


Good questions! I'll let Douglas respond with his own thoughts. Here are a few of my reactions.

Laymen reading passages in church;

I've heard this spoken of as a "beautiful expression of the universal priesthood." I disagree. I think it confuses the universal priesthood with the public ministry. When I served in Mexico, two formerly LCMS congregations (now in fellowship with WELS) insisted that their laymen read the Scripture Lessons every week - because they felt they had been "liberated" from the LCMS high view of the pastorate and were now "free" in the WELS to "participate in the ministry" of the congregation. That's messed up. The situation is even worse when the lay readers fail to practice the readings, or don't have the gift of public reading.

That said, I've had Council members read some of the longer readings during the Easter Vigil service, after giving them the readings in advance and having them practice reading them.

laymen reading Bible lessons and adding their own sermonette during the service;

They have no call to do this, and probably no training for it. Yet I have seen this encouraged in some WELS locations, again, as a "beautiful expression of the universal priesthood." I think we have problems.

laymen as worship leaders in contemporary formats;

Same problem. Not questioning the sincerity of those who do this, just the Scriptural justification for it.

called female staff ministers;

I suppose the ancient term for this would have been "deaconess." I don't know the scope of the calls that are out there, but if it includes gospel ministry to the men of the congregation, or any sort of "pastoral" responsibility, then we're in trouble.

and this one has always boggled my are called as teachers and it is considered a divine call and they receive all of the tax benefits that pastor has and yet the women who have the same education get a different call and a different tax status.

This one really bothers me. As I understand it, male teachers were never ordained until the IRS tax code changed and only gave certain tax benefits to "ministers of the gospel." This required "ordination." However, we couldn't ever bring ourselves to officially "ordain" women (for valid Scriptural reasons), thus the unequal treatment.

I'm no tax expert, but my understanding is that we are not even following the tax code on this. I believe that the IRS considers "ministers" to be those who regularly preach and do such ministerial functions as baptizing, administering the sacraments, etc.

Even if we are following the law, this seems to me like a very irresponsible practice (at best). If someone has a better explanation that would justify our practice, I would like to hear it.

Anonymous said...

I could be mistaken, but I believe we no longer ordain male teachers. I think it was a practice that only lasted a few years, and I think it was because of the reasons you mentioned - it was questionable whether they really met the IRS standard for 'minister,' and it sent a very confusing message to ordain men but not women who were serving the same call.

A lot of "I think"s in there, but it's what I have heard.

Pastor Rik Krahn

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pr. Krahn,

Thanks for the explanation. I guess we have to ask some questions. This is rather dated (early 2001), and doesn't help us with the practice in 2010, but it gives a little history. It's by Prof. Tom Nass, printed in Logia and available in the WLS essays:

It should be mentioned that discussion is continuing in the WELS about who should be ordained. Since 1991 the WELS has been ordaining its male teachers when they begin their public ministries. There has been ongoing debate within the WELS about this decision, however. It was restudied and reaffirmed at the 1995 synod convention. Some would like it to be reconsidered again at the 2001 convention.

When the WELS ordains male teachers, however, this does not equate the office of teacher with the office of pastor. Teachers are ordained into the “teaching ministry” and pastors into the “pastoral ministry.” This action is also not a novelty in the history of the church. The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally ordained its deacons, and yet the ministry of the deacons is kept separate from that of priests and bishops. The “Seven” in Acts 6:1-6 went through a ceremony of the laying on of hands that seems like an ordination (Ac 6:6). Luther himself ordained George Roerer into the office of deacon in 1525.

Anonymous said...

Just to make sure that everyone is on the same page, there are at least a couple of definitions of the term "public": (i) exposed to general view (the pianist performed in "public") and (ii) relating to the service of a community of people or representative (he was a "public "official).

Both definitions are used in the article. (In at least one case it appears to me that both definitions are used the same sentence, e.g., " WELS has publicly made plain in their discussions with Missouri on the subject, that we hold to Walther's teaching on Public Ministry."

When the term "public ministry" is used (as in the context of XIV) the term "public" does not mean "in public" but rather "representative" as in "public" servant or "public official".

"Public ministry" can be private as in the case of private confession and absolution by the Pastor and acts by individual Christians may be done in "public" (using the other meaning of "public", i.e., the opposite of private). (See., e.g., Brug, The Priesthood Of All Believers And The Ministry: "Only those who are qualified and who are called by the church may exercise this gospel ministry publicly, that is, in the name of the church." )

With best regards,
Harvey Dunn

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