Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Public Ministry and the Divine Call

No one should publicly teach or preach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called (AC:XIV)

Some public comments and private emails in response to my previous post, C.F.W. Walther on the Layman's Role in the Congregation's Ministry, made plain that there may be a need to simply state what the Lutheran Confessions and basic catechesis have to say on the matter of the Ministry and of the Office of the Keys. And this is important for all Lutherans to know, or at least be reminded of, as many of the situations which rightly concern us are instances where so-called Confessional Lutherans borrow liberally and directly from sectarian sources (a) having direct historic connections to Pietism, (b) which continue to officially confess and openly advocate the distinctives of Pietism, (c) whose practice and advice debase the Office of the Public Ministry, and (d) confuse it with the Universal Priesthood of all Believers. The open and unapologetic practice of plagiarism, often (though not necessarily) coincident with the practice of laymen regularly performing the teaching or preaching functions of the pastor, both in situations resembling "conventicles" as well as in the context of the Divine Service, is foreign to Confessional Lutheran practice and a hallmark of heterodox influence and Pietism. It is good for us to remember sound doctrine in order to spot practice which is inconsistent with it.

Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession was stated above. It is rather direct and easy to understand. However, some may appreciate a bit more detail. In 1946, Rev. Edward W.A. Koehler published an annotated version of Martin Luther's Small Catechism, which has served Confessional Lutherans for decades since. In fact, one edition is still in print and available from Northwestern Publishing House (see bibliographical reference, below). Here is how he briefly explains these doctrines for students of the Catechism:
    How does the local congregation publicly administer the Office of the Keys?
    According to God’s will the Christian congregation chooses and calls men as ministers, who in the name of Christ and in the name of the congregation publicly perform the functions of the Office of the Keys1.

    The word “publicly” here does not mean openly, before the eyes of the public, but it means in the name of the public, which, in this case, is the local congregation. While each true believer in Christ is a royal priest in his own right, and should, therefore, by word and deed “show forth the praises of God” [1 Pt. 2:9], he will not remain aloof from other believers, but rather seek the fellowship of those that hold the same faith as he [Acts 2:42], and join a Christian congregation in order that together with others he may do what the Lord commanded them to do. – Since all members of a congregation have the same right and duty, no one may take it upon himself to act in the name of all others, but he must by them be called or commissioned to preach, etc. (Ro. 10:15). In our day, God does not call these men directly [the immediate call2], as he called the Apostles and the Prophets of old [and enabled them to verify this call through signs and wonders3], but the Christians, the local congregation, to whom the Office of the Keys was given, choose and call the man who in their name, publicly, is to perform the duties of the office in their midst [the mediate call4]. And when such a person has accepted this call, he is to be regarded as “the minister of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God” [1 Co. 4:1], whom God Himself has made “overseer” or bishop over that flock [Acts 20:28], and who, under God “in the person of Christ” [2 Co. 2:10] and in the name of the congregation that called him, performs the functions of the Office of the Keys. It is the call and the acceptance of this call that makes a man the minister of a congregation, not ordination and installation, which are not divinely commanded. – A congregation may not call into this office any one whom it pleases, no false teacher, no manifest sinner, but only such as are able and fit for this office. Neither are women to be called into this office [1 Ti. 2:11-12].

    Koehler, E. (1946). A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. River Forest, IL: Koehler Publishing. pp. 275-278
We will have more to say in coming days and weeks regarding the sources we see repeatedly surfacing among congregations implementing practices of the Church Growth Movement.


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Endnotes
  1. That the reader may understand:

      The Office of the Keys is the power, or authority, to preach the Word of God, to administer the Sacraments, and especially the power to forgive and to retain sins (Koehler, E. 1946. pg. 275).

      This power is called the "Office of the Keys" because it opens heaven by forgiving sins, or closes heaven by retaining sins (Koehler, E. pg. 276).

      See 1 Pt. 2:9; Mk. 16:15; Mt. 28:18-20; Mt. 16:19; Mt. 18:17-18,20; Jn. 20:22-23.

  2. Lange, L. (2005). For God So Loved the World: A Study of Christian Doctrine. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. pg. 584.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.

12 comments:

Daniel Baker said...

Hello,

After reading your post, I question now what constitutes a "call?" Does a call have to be strictly attributed to a Pastor, or can a congregation choose to call certain men to administer certain aspects of the Keys? Can a congregation call a "layman" to help administer the Sacrament, as many congregations are in the habit of doing? If they can do this, how can it then be inappropriate for them to call so-called "laymen" to preach or teach in certain settings?

I suppose I'm asking if there is any clear portion of Scripture and/or the Confessions with regard to this. As I've mentioned earlier, this is particularly pertinent to me and my congregation right now, and I'm trying to understand the issue as best as I can.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Daniel,

I'll offer a few thoughts on your questions, but it will only be a beginning. There are many aspects to the answer.

First, assisting with Communion distribution is not synonymous with the "administration of the Sacrament" that is part of the pastor's call. The pastor or "overseer" is still responsible, by virtue of his call, for who may receive or not receive Communion. That doesn't mean just anyone can get up and start assisting him, of course. That would be both disorderly and presumptuous. But the pastor is still the one "presiding" at the Sacrament.

Then there are the emergency cases when there is no called pastor able to be present. Could the congregation, in such a case, unanimously "call" a qualified man from their midst to administer the Sacrament on a temporary basis? I would say so. Cases of "emergency" or "necessity" have always been recognized as exceptions, not the rule.

In these cases of necessity, it might happen that a qualified layman is asked to read a pastor's sermon if the pastor falls ill or is traveling.

But for an uncalled man to preach or teach in the Church is wrong, and the persons who may or may not be called is regulated both by Scripture (1 Timothy 3) and by our common agreement, as members of a synod, to follow certain guidelines for determining who is qualified or not (i.e., our seminary as the institution that approves congregational preachers and teachers, and our teacher training school that approves the teachers of children).

Even if one could conceive of a way for a layman not to require approval from these institutions to preach or teach in our churches (and I'm not sure there exists such a way), such a man, I would think, would have to be unanimously called by the entire voters' assembly, just as pastors and teachers are. I don't think it rests with the pastor or even the Church Council to "call" a person or persons to carry out regular preaching and teaching functions within the congregation without the full approval of the rest of the congregation, since it is the Church that holds the Keys immediately (cf. The Treatise:24).

As I said, this is a big discussion, and I haven't covered every aspect of it here.

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

"Neither are women to be called into this office"
Thank you, sincerely! I never want to see this in any congregation of the WELS!
It is against God!

Lund Family said...

There was recently a question on the open lines of Issues, Etc. about the idea of an emergency situation and laity serving. We have to ask ourselves about what is an emergency. If retired pastors or district presidents or circuit pastors are available, should not the elders try to call these people to lead the congregation if possible. In some areas of the country in WELS congregation, this might prove problematic. However, I also know we often have young men waiting for calls to parishes that might be able to fill a short term vacancy for an emergency as well.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Mr. Lund,

Yes, I heard that exchange on IE on Friday, too.

First, I think "necessity" has a little different connotation than "emergency." One could say that holding a Divine Service is never an emergency. But I think we'd say it's a necessity.

I fully agree that if any pastor is available to preside and preach, this should be attempted rather than calling a layman to fill in.

What to do in those cases where it's simply impossible for a pastor to be there? I've written sermons for my laymen to read in such cases. And what about the Sacrament? We offer it every Sunday. So rather than not offer the Sacrament if I (or another pastor) can't be present, our voters' assembly has "called" a couple of our most respected laymen to do it. This year we will not even make use of this option, since I was able to find a brother pastor to fill in for me while I was on vacation. Other years, we may have to. Here in the Southwest, we're few and far between. It's not ideal, but neither is it unscriptural.

David Jay Webber said...

Pr. Rydecki,

You wrote:

"And what about the Sacrament? We offer it every Sunday. So rather than not offer the Sacrament if I (or another pastor) can't be present, our voters' assembly has 'called' a couple of our most respected laymen to do it."

I would have to say that I do not believe this to be in keeping with sound Lutheran practice. I suppose it does take into account the right of the church to call its pastors, but it does not seem to take into account the kind of qualifications for pastoral ministry that Scripture lays down, or the fraternal obligations we have to sister congregations to call our pastors only from among those men who are commonly recognized as qualified for this kind of ministry. And presiding at the Lord's Supper, with all that this involves, is indeed an exercise of pastoral care over the souls of the communicants.

You may recall these words from an essay that I had the privilege to deliver a few months ago, at a conference where you were in attendance:

Preaching and teaching "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) and the Word of God in all of its articles, and exercising general spiritual oversight in the church, require a level of pastoral competence that is lacking in most Christians. "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1). Officiating at the administration of the sacraments, in the way that God wants this to be done, also involves more than simply performing the mechanics of the rite - which almost any Christian could conceivably master.

An examination of the faith of adult baptizands, or of the faith of the parents and sponsors of those who are baptized in infancy, is, in ordinary circumstances, an important and necessary preparation for the proper administration of Baptism - in view of the fact that Jesus links the administration of this sacrament with the duty to teach all that he has commanded. This is an aspect of the spiritual care of souls, to which not everyone is called, and for which not everyone is qualified.

And this kind of soul-care and spiritual oversight is particularly necessary also for the proper administration of the Lord's Supper, with which is associated an explicit apostolic warning of potential harmful consequences - spiritual and temporal - for communicants who partake of this sacrament in an unworthy manner (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32). Admitting communicants to the altar, or declining to admit them, is a serious matter. It is an exercising of pastoral authority over those communicants.

And when a communicant senses a need for confidential spiritual counsel and private confession and absolution before his participation in the sacrament, he has the right to expect that the minister with whom he meets will know what he is doing: in exercising spiritual discernment; in showing pastoral sensitivity to the burdens that weight heavily on his conscience; and in providing pertinent and focused law-gospel instruction and comfort. Regular pastors are trained to do this, and they are tested and examined by reliable authorities on behalf of the church at large before they are authorized to do this.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pr. Webber,

First, thank you for your comments and suggestions. If there exists the possibility that our practice is less than confessional, then it’s something we should analyze and correct, if necessary.

My question in response is: what do you think the proper thing would be to do if, say, I’m gone for a week or two on vacation, and no pastor can be found to officiate? (Where I live, the churches are all far away from each other, and one-pastor congregations at that, which means a brother would have to abandon his own pulpit in order to fill mine). Do you think it would be more proper to simply not offer the Sacrament on those Sundays? I hate to do that to my people, just because their pastor and his family are 2000 miles away visiting family once a year. Of course, if it’s wrong for a layman to be called to fill in in my absence, then it shouldn’t be done for any reason. But I’m not convinced yet that it’s wrong.

I suppose this gets into the heart of the issue: is the only valid call a congregation can extend the call into the full pastoral ministry? Of course, you know that the WELS position is that the Predigtamt encompasses more than the pastoral office alone. It encompasses also other limited functions of ministry. Even then, I would never advocate having a layman normally preside at the Sacrament. But in the temporary absence of a pastor, I could see it, as long as the call to do it comes from the congregation as a whole.

(continued in next post)

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

(continued from previous post)

You wrote: “And presiding at the Lord's Supper, with all that this involves, is indeed an exercise of pastoral care over the souls of the communicants.”

It’s the “with all that this involves” that I’m seeing as limited in the case I’ve described. No, I do not expect or allow the layman to exercise any spiritual judgment in allowing or disallowing anyone to commune, beyond the regular order of things in our congregation, which is that communicant members are normally permitted to commune, and visiting WELS/ELS members are normally permitted to commune. No one else is permitted. If I know of someone who ought not commune among our members, I exercise my authority to disallow that person by telling the layman not to commune so-and-so. And if a questionable case should arise in my absence, I would expect the layman to contact me.

From your excellent essay: “Preaching and teaching "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) and the Word of God in all of its articles, and exercising general spiritual oversight in the church, require a level of pastoral competence that is lacking in most Christians. "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (James 3:1). Officiating at the administration of the sacraments, in the way that God wants this to be done, also involves more than simply performing the mechanics of the rite - which almost any Christian could conceivably master.”

I agree with this. But as I described above, in those rare cases when I have to be gone, I don’t expect the layman to examine the members. Those whom I authorize him to commune in my absence are the ones he is authorized to commune. I don’t think that a visiting pastor would be in any better position than my layman to make these decisions, because a visiting pastor would not normally have any significant (as in Confession/Absolution) contact with my members if he were only there on that morning. In that case, both the visiting pastor and the temporarily called layman would be in the same position.

”And this kind of soul-care and spiritual oversight is particularly necessary also for the proper administration of the Lord's Supper, with which is associated an explicit apostolic warning of potential harmful consequences - spiritual and temporal - for communicants who partake of this sacrament in an unworthy manner (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32). Admitting communicants to the altar, or declining to admit them, is a serious matter. It is an exercising of pastoral authority over those communicants.”

Again, I completely agree. But to be honest, the number of those who are admitted or declined does not normally change on a week to week basis in my congregation. I’ve always left the door open for private confession/absolution prior to the Sacrament, but thus far, no one has ever taken me up on it. I don’t normally examine my members on a week-to-week basis in order to determine their preparation for Communion.

My pastoral authority is exercised in my regular contact with my members. And, yes, I have had to inform some ahead of time that they may not commune on a given Sunday. If I were absent, I would communicate this to the layman, who would decline said member not on his authority, but on mine.

(continued in next post)

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

(continued from previous post)

”And when a communicant senses a need for confidential spiritual counsel and private confession and absolution before his participation in the sacrament, he has the right to expect that the minister with whom he meets will know what he is doing: in exercising spiritual discernment; in showing pastoral sensitivity to the burdens that weight heavily on his conscience; and in providing pertinent and focused law-gospel instruction and comfort. Regular pastors are trained to do this, and they are tested and examined by reliable authorities on behalf of the church at large before they are authorized to do this.”

You are absolutely right. But take this rare situation when I am absent. My members know that I am not available for confession/absolution. They are not directed to the layman for such counsel, nor are they taught to expect that the layman will be able to give it. In my entire ministry, I have not yet had a member approach me before the service on Sunday for such confidential spiritual counsel. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it never has.

So the layman who would fill in for me is not expected or called to “minister” to the members apart from the ministry prescribed for the Divine Service itself. He is not expected or called to decide whom to admit or not, since I have already established that before departing. He is not called to exercise any function of the pastoral office, except that which takes place within the boundaries of the Divine Service, and even then, the sermon is a sermon I have written and left for him to read word for word.

I welcome your further comments.

David Jay Webber said...

When the pastor is gone, and there is no other pastor available to fill in, there should be no Communion. This is the historic order and practice of the church, and it also recognizes the distinctly pastoral character of the duty of presiding at the Lord's Supper and of admitting communicants thereto. Whenever a man recites the Words of Christ to the gathered congregation and then gives the body of Christ to each communicant, he is in those very acts inviting and admitting these communicants to the sacrament.

Our fathers in the faith always understood this and practiced this. Allowing non-trained laymen to do this is an innovation, only in recent times. But it is, I sincerely believe, an ill-advised departure from our classic Lutheran norms, and in my considered opinion should be corrected. In 1968 Irwin Habeck wrote in an essay in WLQ that even a seminary student could be asked to preside at the Lord's Supper only "in an emergency." Things have slipped a lot, in a very short time, in this respect.

Whether the church does or may issue calls to office-holders other than pastors is beside the point. We are talking about a call to distinctly pastoral work. Presiding at the altar is not a "limited function of ministry." It is a quintessential pastoral act, in which the officiant takes upon himself a profound responsibility for the souls of those whom he admits to the sacrament.

You have commented that the things I have described that require pastoral training in conjunction with the administration of the Lord's Supper don't (usually) happen in your church on those occasions when you are absent. But that is also beside the point, I think. Whenever a man is publicly recognized as the officiant, he is thereby also publicly recognized as ready and able to do these things if and when the need arises.

Note, too, what Luther said about the administration of the Lord's Supper, as quoted approvingly in the Formula of Concord:

This command and institution of his have the power to accomplish this, that we do not distribute and receive simply bread and wine but his body and blood, as his words indicate: "This is my body, this is my blood." So it is not our work or speaking but the command and ordinance of Christ that make the bread the body and the wine the blood, beginning with the first Lord's Supper and continuing to the end of the world, and it is administered daily through our ministry or office (SD VII:77).

The Lord's Supper does not come from the pastor's office, but according to the Lord's will for the proper spiritual care of his children, it does come through his office. When a layman in a case of extraordinary need might be called and authorized to officiate, he thereby becomes an emergency pastor (cf. Treatise 67). And that is because a call to preside at the Lord's Supper is a call to be a pastor. The question, then, is if the church should in fact call an untrained layman without pastoral credentials in the wider church to do such a thing. The regular pastor being away on vacation for a couple weeks is not really an "emergency" that would allow for an exception to the church's ordinary standards.

Many of us see as "liberal" only the liberalism of others, in areas where we ourselves have not slipped. The embracing of sectarian worship comes readily to mind as an example of a form of liberalism that this blog rightly opposes. But we are often not able to see in ourselves a similar slippage into "liberal" practice in other areas, until friends draw the attention of our conscience to those slippages.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

History has proven that these "slippages" can happen, and can become so normal to us that they are no longer recognized for the aberrations they are. One of the purposes of this blog is for all of us in the WELS to become aware of areas in which we have inadvertantly slipped, in order that we may return to sound Lutheran practice. So, for my part, I welcome your admonitions and will consider them further.

It's obvious that the WELS needs to focus some attention on the doctrine of the ministry. I may be mistaken, but I believe that our local practices are consistent with (current) WELS teaching on this issue. I have not yet finished reading Dr. Brug's "The Ministry of the Word." I'd be interested in hearing your evaluation of that book.

I'd also be interested in hearing how the ELS deals with these issues, from both a doctrinal and a practical stance.

David Jay Webber said...

The position that John Brug takes on this question in his new book is essentially the position I have defended. See pp. 118-19:

Speaking of his stewardship of the gospel, Paul says, "Men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things [the mysteries] of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful" (1 Co 4:1,2). The mysteries of God are commonly understood to include the sacraments. The power of the sacraments is not dependent on ordination or on the person of the administrator, but the pastor is responsible for how the sacraments are administered.

The administration of the Lord's Supper involves spiritual judgment. Decisions commonly need to be made by the administrator about who is properly prepared to receive the Sacrament, both in public worship services and in the visitation of shut-ins. At times, there is a responsibility to exclude some from receiving the Sacrament. This requires a shepherd's knowledge of the sheep, and it is definitely the work of spiritual oversight. This means that administration of the Lord's Supper will normally remain with the pastor, even if others are trained to assist him with the distribution. The kind of disorder that arose in the Lord's Supper at Corinth is most easily prevented if the administration is in the hands of properly prepared pastors.

Lutheran teachers have debated whether or not a layperson should ever consecrate and administer the Lord's Supper. Many orthodox dogmaticians said that even in the case of emergency, this should not be done. They felt that the need for the Lord's Supper was never a true emergency like the need for Baptism. As an example, Baier is cited: "When there is a lack of ordinary ministers, and a faithful man anxiously desires this sacrament, it is better for him to be persuaded that spiritual eating is sufficient and to show the danger of other temptations which could arise if the sacrament were administered by another without a legitimate call and therefore with a a dubious mind and result." This may be considered to be
a reasonable opinion, but we cannot demonstrate that it is an absolute, scriptural rule. How about a third choice: an orderly call to a member of the group to serve as the temporary pastor of the group. Cases of war and extreme isolation might provide exceptional cases. But even in the cases of isolated members, we make a concerted effort to reach them with pastoral care for the sacraments.


When a pastor goes away on vacation for two weeks, this is not in the same category as "cases of war and extreme isolation."

If Dr. Brug's book is to be taken as representative of "(current) WELS teaching on this issue," then it seems to me that your practice falls short of it. But I know that there is also a more liberal view being promoted in WELS. I consider that to be a problem, which should be corrected on the basis of Dr. Brug's better-thought-through position.

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