A Critique of the Circuit 8 revision
Open Letter to ELS, and
“Does the Bible Teach a Limited Public Use of the Keys?” by Rolf Preus

Erling T. Teigen

The 2005 ELS convention resolved “That the Circuit 8 Revision of ‘The Public Ministry of the Word’ be referred to the presidium, in consultation with the PCM, for a written response as to where, how, and why the revision is not in order.”

This document offers a critique of various issues raised by the Circuit 8 Revision, and also to a paper in which Pastor Rolf Preus explains the Revision and its necessity.

We believe that the underlying issue concerns the relationship between the terms historically used in discussions of the public ministry, Predigtamt and Pfarramt. Before addressing that major issue, we refer to a few other issues that make the Circuit 8 Revision unacceptable as a substitute for the statement on the Public Ministry of the Word as presented to the synod by the Presidium.

1.     Concerning the charge that the PCM statement teaches that God has instituted offices that are by human right. Rejection of the “limited use of the keys.”

A major criticism offered by proponents of the Circuit 8 revision has been that the PCM document teaches that God has instituted also a limited use of the keys. “An Open Letter” states: “The PCM Theses assert that the divinely instituted public ministry of the word includes both the pastoral office and offices of churchly origin.” That accusation is incorrect. That is neither what the PCM statement says, nor intends to say. It may be that “includes a wide sense...and a narrower sense...” has been misunderstood. However, it certainly does not intend to say, nor can it legitimately be read to say, that there are two offices, one wide and one narrow, both of which are instituted by God. It should be clear that to speak about the senses of words, has to do with the fact that words often are used in different ways, even within one paragraph, and we grow accustomed to deciphering those senses in context. Also in Scripture, words are used in very different ways, even when they retain a core meaning – so for example “sanctification,” broadly, and most properly speaking, referring to everything that our Lord does for our salvation, and more narrowly speaking, referring only to the fruits of faith, the Christian life. Therefore the charge is unfounded. One could live with the suggestion that the wording used unintentionally communicated such and such an idea, with the suggestion of an alteration in wording. But the charge that the PCM fails thereby to distinguish between divine and human right, which necessitated the Circuit 8 revision, is itself a misunderstanding, and not a correction of error.


2.     Rejection of the universal priesthood’s power to retain sins.

The Circuit 8 revision altered the PCM statement from:

The keys are used privately or unofficially when individual Christians, on behalf of Christ, speak the Gospel of forgiveness to others; when they forgive the sins of those who sin against them; when they retain the sins of those who do not repent, e.g., when they confront in a brotherly way those who need to repent of their sins; and when in “the mutual consolation and conversation of the brethren” they comfort one another with the words of the Gospel. (PCM)

to say:

Individual Christians also speak the Gospel of forgiveness to others, forgive the sins of those who sin against them, confront in a brotherly way those who need to repent of their sins, and in “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren” comfort one another with the words of the Gospel. This may be called the private or unofficial use of the keys. (Circuit 8)

What is said by the Revision is certainly not fallacious. But since it deliberately avoids saying that the universal priesthood has the authority and power to retain sins as had been stated by the PCM Statement, one has to ask why the binding key has been omitted. It strikes one as a little odd that first the critics of the statement have objected against the idea of a limited use of the keys, but then proceed to limit the use of the keys in clear contradiction to Luther’s teaching:

The Keys belong to the whole church and to each of its members, both as regards their authority and their various uses.…To bind and to loose clearly is nothing else than to proclaim and to apply the gospel. For what is it to loose, if not to announce the forgiveness of sins before God? What is it to bind, except to withdraw the gospel and to declare the retention of sins? Whether they want to or not [they must concede] that the keys are an exercise of the ministry of the Word and belong to all Christians (LW 40 27,28).

To deny that the individual Christian has the power not only to forgive, but also to retain sins is serious. Part of the problem is a failure to see that in the Confessions and Luther, the keys are referred to in several different senses.

In a 1522 sermon on John 20:

Do I hear then, that I can institute confession, baptize, preach and administer the Lord’s Supper? No. St. Paul says in I Cor 14.40: “Let all things be done decently and in order.… Therefore the following order is to be observed: the congregation shall elect one, who is qualified, and he shall administer the Lord’s Supper, preach, hear confession and baptize. True we all have this power; but no one shall presume to exercise it, publicly, except the one who has been elected by the congregation to do so. But in private I may freely exercise it. For instance, if my neighbor comes and says: Friend, I am burdened in my conscience; speak the absolution to me; then I am free to do so, but I say it must be done privately. If I were to take my seat in the church, and another and all would hear confession, what order and harmony would there be?” (Lenker 11, 376, emph. added).

One simply cannot read Luther’s significant writings in which the doctrine of the keys come into play without understanding that this is at the heart of how the Christian is to deal with his neighbor.

If one is unhappy with the “early” Luther (a much misused and abused distinction) he might also read Luther’s commentary on Psalm 110:4, from the late 1530s, where he writes:

But after we have become Christians through this Priest and His priestly office, incorporated in Him by Baptism through faith, then each one, according to his calling and position, obtains the right and the power of teaching and confessing before others this Word which we have obtained from Him. Even though not everybody has the public office and calling, every Christian has the right and the duty to teach, instruct, admonish, comfort, and rebuke his neighbor with the Word of God at every opportunity and whenever necessary. For example, father and mother should do this for their children and household; a brother, neighbor, citizen, or peasant for the other. Certainly one Christian may instruct and admonish another ignorant or weak Christian concerning the Ten Commandments, the Creed, or the Lord's Prayer. And he who receives such instruction is also under obligation to accept it as God's Word and publicly to confess it.” (Commentary on Psalm 110, 1535/39 LW,13: 333).

To deny that the individual Christians have the right, authority, and power not only to loose, but to retain sins is a serious matter. Luther’s teaching on the Office of the Keys is not incidental or casual; it was part and parcel of his critique of Rome and is in the dogmatic background of both the Augustana and the Smalcald Articles. To push it aside renders Luther’s position either pious opinion or contrary to Scripture. And that is a very serious matter – unless one is prepared to say explicitly that Luther’s exegesis, which he lays out clearly for everyone to see, was wrong, that the confessions intend to correct him, and that his exegesis is indisputably refuted by superior arguments from Scripture.

That Walther understands there to be a private use of the keys is clear from his copious quotations in Kirche und Amt (Church and Ministry), in support of Thesis IV on the Church and Theses I & VII on the ministry, from Luther and Chemnitz, B.W. Teigen “I Believe” on Smalcald Articles, p. 17, and an article he wrote for CTQ at the invitation of President Robert Preus and Dr. David Scaer (1978, p. 390), H. A. Preus, Vivacious Daughter, 126-130, summarizing the Old Norwegian Synod teaching. It is not a private interpretation or a pious opinion. It is a long-held understanding of Matthew 18, etc., among orthodox Lutherans.

One can understand that there might be a motivation to preserve the distinctive, Lutheran understanding of excommunication as a churchly power, that is, an authority which is exercised by the church – not merely by individuals or by pastors, bishops, or popes. It is not very much practiced today. It is also understandable that one might worry that if the laity exercise the keys, private confession and absolution would fall by the wayside. But it would be unfortunate if one or another application of the binding key becomes the central focus and excludes all other applications of the office of the keys.

There are at least these senses in which the keys are referred to: 1) The right, authority, and power that every Christian has to speak the Law and the Gospel to any person. This power they have by virtue of their universal priesthood. 2) The general authority by which the Apostles were commissioned. 3) The general authority which is found in the office which has been called presbyter (elder), episcopos (overseer), shepherd/pastor, etc. – the office which “presides over the churches,” – which offices are instituted through the call of the apostles. 4) The power by which the church collectively calls men to the office which God himself has established, and ejects them from the office when they act contrary to God’s own command and institution. 5) The narrowest, most specific application in the Office or Sacrament of Confession and Absolution. 6) As an expression standing primarily for the use of the Binding Key, or excommunication. 7) And surely there are other uses of the term.

In any case, to deny that the believers have not only the right, but also the actual power of both the loosing key and the binding key is as wrong as it is to deny God’s institution of a pastoral/presbyteral/episcopal office.

3.     Interpretation of Matthew 18:18: congregation?

In his critique of the PCM statement delivered to Circuit 8 on April 24, 2005, commenting on Matthew 18:18, Pastor Preus writes: “Here it is clear that Jesus gave the power of the keys to His whole church and specifically to every individual congregation, even if that congregation were made up of only two or three people.” That is not what Jesus says. There is nothing in that sentence about “the church.” The interpretation used here has unwittingly adopted the idea that anytime two or three people get together, that is “the church,” but has also been combined with an exaggerated “congregationalism.” It is certainly well known that at least in Reformation theology, Luther wanted to used Gemeyne to translate ecclesia in the Apostle’s Creed, preferring it to Kirche. Pastor Preus is at least unclear in what his intentions are in asserting that Christ is speaking about the congregation here. If it is simply to say “the believers,” that is one thing. But if it intends to point to what is called the ortsgemeinde or local congregation as we know it, that is something else. In any case, to say that Christ there gives the keys to the congregation “even if it consists of only two or three persons” puts words in Jesus’ mouth. Lutheran exegesis does not doubt that “two or three gathered in my name” refers to the Christ’s church. But that it refers to an individual congregation is not widely accepted.

4.     The Office of the synodical president.

The Circuit 8 theses excises the reference to the office of synod president from the examples in II B. Certainly, a statement on the ministry would not have to assert that a synodical president is to be included in the Public Ministry of the Church. But since the proposition was included in the PCM document, one needs to know why it is excised in the Revision. Pastor Preus explains it in his paper. For one thing, it is asserted that in the office of synodical president the office holder isn’t teaching. He isn’t? The paper doesn’t offer any proof from Scripture or the confessions that this picture of a synodical president is correct. The assertion that in the past it was unheard of to consider a synodical president to have a divine call is mistaken. To give just one example, P. E. Kretzmann asserted that in a set of theses delivered in 1934:

VI. The call of a Christian day-school teacher (male or female) is a divine call, since it embraces a function of the public ministry, is issued by the congregation and concerns the teaching of God’s Word. VII. Of other auxiliary offices, or, more exactly functions of the ministerial office delegated to others, the following may be mentioned: Sunday-school teachers, assistant pastors, elders or deacons, deaconesses (in the congregation), then also professors in church institutions, presidents of synods or districts with a synod, missionaries.… (From John C. Wohlrabe, Jr. An Historical Analysis Of The Doctrine Of The Ministry In The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod Until 1962, electronic copy in the possession of Erling T. Teigen, Appendix Q).

There may be quite a bit to criticize in Kretzman’s theses, but nevertheless, the assertion that the view that synodical presidents hold a function of the public ministry was unheard of simply isn’t true. Also, Herman Sasse wrote:

Examples of this in the history of the church are the office of an episcopate, or superintendency, or any other offices, whatever they may be called. But all these offices have their right of existence only insofar as they serve the one great office of the preaching of the Gospel and the administering of the sacraments. A bishop may be entrusted with the task of seeing to the running of a great diocese. But the meaning of such an assignment can only consist in this, that he thereby gives room and support to the church’s ministry. His actual office is the office of pastor, also when he is a pastor for pastors. By human arrangement he may have the work of superintendency. By divine mandate he has solely the office of preaching the forgiveness and justification of sinners for Christ’s sake. (Herman Sasse, We Confess the Church, “Ministry and Congregation,” Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No. 8, July 1949, p. 70 f.).

Another objection to considering a synodical president to be an incumbent of the public ministry is that his call seems to be temporary, since 50% of the voters can turn him out of his office. One would have to see some clear biblical and dogmatical evidence to agree that that is a sufficient objection. Rather, the paper simply asserts “When we define the office of synod president as the pastoral office we undermine our Lutheran insistence on the permanence of the call into the pastoral office.” But no arguments, cogent or otherwise, are given.

We certainly lament that the term “president,” a perfectly good word signifying “one who presides over a body,” when used for the leader or governor of church bodies, confessions, synods, etc., has taken on too much excess baggage, emphasizing externals belonging to corporate business, bringing to mind the modern day CEO. The Reformation churches, when they moved away from the term Bischof, simply took the Latin translation of episcopos, and called the bishops “Superintendents.” Given the responsibilities that the office of a synodical president is given in the constitution and bylaws of the ELS, the office clearly is included in those offices that carry out a function, or a portion of the public ministry.

5.     Predigtamt/Pfarramt

At the root of the Circuit 8 critique and revision is the assumption that the Office of the Public Ministry and the Pastoral office are identical. This belongs to an older view adopted in Missouri Synod circles after Walther’s time, that Predigtamt and Pfarramt mean or refer to the same office. Predigtamt is the German word literally translated “Preaching Office,” but which is most often translated “Public Ministry.” (One doesn’t want to say “Office of the Public Ministry, because Ministry seems also to mean “office.”) Pfarramt, on the other, is most correctly translated “Pastoral Office,” correlated to Pfarrherr, a commonly used word for “pastor.” Predigtamt is the word used in Augsburg Confession, Article V with which PCM begins: “The office of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments.” The German text has, literally: “In order to acquire such faith God has instituted the predigtamt, given the gospel and the sacraments, in order that through them as through means….”

In the ELS, this matter was discussed extensively in the 1940s and early 50s. At the end of that discussion, there was a general, but not unanimous, consensus, that Predigtamt and Pfarramt were not identical. Many in our synod who had been trained in the Missouri Synod rejected what they had learned on that point — that the only one really holding the Predigtamt is the pastor of a local congregation, which was the way Pfarramt had come to be understood in Missouri after 1900. At some times, our theologians and fathers, including Luther, have used the terms interchangeably, but at other times not.

In a set of theses published in Schrift und Bekenntnis (Saxon Free Church) in 1921, authored by Missouri Synod pastor Karl Manthe-Zorn, Zorn deals with the question of whether Predigtamt and Pfarramt are exact synonyms. His answer is “yes and no.” His summary:

In Sum: The public Predigtamt in the Church with all its functions as precisely defined in the Scriptures is instituted by God Himself and shall continue in the Church until the end of days. Thus it is God’s salutary ordinance and gracious command. The Pfarramt is such a one — a church office carrying out such functions. A church office precisely in the form or kind as our Pfarramt is not commanded by God, and also has not been in the Church from the beginning. But since our Pfarrer perform what God will have performed by the ‘Hirten und Lehrern’ [pastors and teachers] or elders or bishops etc., our Pfarrer are set in their congregations by God himself (1 Cor 12,28), are given by Christ, (Eph 4:11), are set by the Holy Ghost (Acts 20:28). The form or kind of our Pfarramt is human, churchly; the office or service of our Pfarramt is divine; heavenly, fixed from the beginning. It is appointed by God that a public Kirchendienst is to be, as well as what this public Kirchendienst is to be, and that this offentliche Kirchendienst [public minister of the church] shall be carried out until the end of days, by servants called for that purpose; after the apostles and prophets, by Hirten und Lehrer, or elders, or bishops, etc. And so our Pfarramt is in full harmony with these specifications. And he who would invent for our time a better form of the public ministry within the church must be very wise and a special master. —Let us be concerned that our Pfarramt be filled with qualified men and that it be administered by them rightly according to God’s will. May the Good Shepherd give us such men according to his promise! (Eph 4:11-14).

This is the teaching of the Scriptures with regard to the offentliche Predigtamt in the Church. If anyone thinks otherwise, let him bring his Scripture. (Schrift und Bekenntnis, July – September 1921, p.82)

One can certainly argue with his conclusion, but what Zorn actually demonstrates in his theses is that neither Luther nor the confessions use Predigtamt and Pfarramt as exact equivalents. George Lillegard demonstrated in some theses he presented to the ELS Pastoral Conference that Walther didn’t either. According to Luther and many older Missouri Synod writers, including Walther, the nature of the office is such that it is impossible for one man to fulfill all of its functions.

The discussion of the problem in Kurt Marquart’s monograph on The Church in the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series, also offers some important observations:

In defining the one divinely established office the Augsburg Confession does not begin by fastening upon New Testament “bishops” or “presbyters” or other particular offices, in order to derive from them a divinely prescribed set of offices and structures in the manner of Calvinism. Instead it sees “in, with, and under” the variety of offices like those listed in Eph. 4:11 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers) the one great office of the Gospel and sacraments, distributing forgiveness, life and salvation. Because there is one gospel, there is fundamentally one ministry to serve it, and this one ministry is just as much a divine institution as are the means of salvation themselves.

Later Lutherans would have done well to retain, with Lutheran Orthodoxy, the traditional term “ministry of the church” ministerium ecclesiasticum, Predigtamt, from the Latin and German headings of AC V) for the one divinely established office of the Gospel….

What exactly is it then about the ministry that is divinely instituted? The whole argument is not about a so-called “ministry in the abstract,” but about the concrete office of Word and sacrament, with which flesh-and-blood men here on earth are entrusted (121-123f., emphasis added).

Marquart offers an important correction to Mueller’s translation of Walther, pointing out a misimpression that illustrates the point here. Marquart says that Walther

held that in the apostolate Christ had “instituted only one office in the church, which embraces all others and by which the church of God should be provided for in every respect.” His 8th Theses states therefore: “The preaching office [Predigtamt] is the highest office in the church, out of which office all other ecclesiastical offices [Kirchenämter] flow.” (143).

However, Marquart adds the following in a footnote; “ J.T.Mueller renders this: “The pastoral ministry [Predigtamt] is the highest office in the church, and from it stem all other offices in the church (Church and Ministry, 289). The original has “Das Predigtamt is das höchste Amt in der Kirche, aus welchem alle anderen Kirchenämter fliessen.” (Mueller’s text does not have the bracketed Predigtamt.) Whether one believes that Predigtamt and Pfarramt are essentially synonymous, it is most accurate to translate Predigtamt as Ecclesiastical Ministry, as the Confessions do, Preaching Office, or Public Ministry, and to reserve Pastoral Office for Pfarramt. This problem has plagued translators of Luther and the Book of Concord.

Walther attempted to deal with the problem of the relationship by saying of Predigtamt as used in AC V: “This statement, of course, does not speak of the ministry of the Word in concreto or of the pastoral office but only of the ministry of the Word in abstracto”(178). The terminology is not completely helpful. At least it doesn’t seem to have avoided the problems in understanding the terminology. Adolph Hoenecke also used that terminology, but understood it differently: “We can speak of the ministry of the Word Predigtamt (preaching office), abstractly, understanding the expression to refer to the means of grace” (Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics IV, 187). That also leads to significant problems, missing the range of meaning given Predigtamt in Luther and the Confessions. In Ap VII,VIII, 20, Predigtamt refers to the Gospel and the Sacraments, the Means of Grace (Predigtamt oder Evangelium und die Sakramente). In AC XXVIII, 9,10, The Power of the keys or Bishops is exercised and carried out with the teaching and preaching of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacraments (Diese Güter kann man anders nicht erlangen denn durch das Amt der Predigt und durch die Handreichung der Heiligen Sakramente.) Here and in one other place, Romans 1:16 is cited as the institution for Predigtamt. In paragraph 21 of the same article, it is clear that Predigtamt is such that it is committed to certain individuals. In Ap. XIII,11, Romans 1:16 is again cited as the eingesetz of Predigtamt. In the well known passage in Ap. XV, 42, Predigtamt is the highest act of worship (cultus Dei, Gottesdienst). In Ap. XXIV, 48, “the priests [priester, sacerdos] among us attend to the ministry of the Word [ihres amts, lehren und predigen]. In XXVII, 22, Melanchthon writes in Latin “Et credibile est alicubi nunc quoque esse bonos viros in monasteries, qui serviunt ministerio Verbi…” and Jonas writes in German “welche lessen und studieren.” (“who serve the ministry of the Word” = who read and study…).

It is certainly not sufficient to equate Predigtamt with the Means of Grace, or to write it off as an abstraction. Neither Walther nor Hoenecke hit the mark on this point. Marquart points out that Predigtamt IS concrete in that its core meaning [my words] is the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. Nevertheless, it is quite correct to say that Predigtamt can be spoken of in the abstract. The fact is that to talk about a position is to speak abstractly. A position is not in itself a tangible reality. It becomes a tangible in reference to the specific work it is given to do and such a one as is to do the work.

One can also understand that Predigtamt is to Pfarramt as government (Romans 13) is to the U.S. three branches of government, or to the Crown and Parliament. Government is divinely instituted, and its function is specified by God; however, the specific instances are not divinely established in the same way.

Insofar as the Predigtamt, the office that Christ has instituted in establishing the apostolate, has work that is done by the the Pfarramt, one must say that the Pfarramt is and has the Predigtamt. The offices of Ephesians 4 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) as well as the deacons of 1 Timothy 3 (at least), the presbyteri, episcopoi, and certainly the angeloi of Rev. 2 and 3, the priester of the middle ages, and the pfarrherren of the Reformation do not all have the Pfarramt, but they do all have the Predigtamt. The latter is the one, unchanging constant. All can be described as kirchendiener, or as those who preside over the churches. Their authority is the divinely instituted office, predigtamt, ministerium verbi, ecclesiastical ministry, etc.

In his 1856 sermon for the installation of Biewend and Schick, Walther said:

God has actually instituted only one office, namely the office of gathering, building, governing, serving, and keeping the church on earth in His name. This office the Lord has ordained and given to his church when He gave Peter the keys to heaven and finally said to all his disciples: … [Matt. 28:18-20].

This office does not only have such a large sphere of duties and such a great variety of obligations, but also requires so many various and outstanding gifts, that no man is able to carry out all its phases alone, even in a limited sphere of activity. (Quoted here from Wohlrabe, 62. It was translated by John Klotz, and appeared in the Lutheran Sentinel[!] March 18, 1949, 82-89).

In 1963, as the Synodical Conference was breaking up, a conclave of theologians met at Mankato. The ELS doctrine committee presented a set of theses on the ministry, which, while not adopted and voted on by the synod, had been the subject of protracted discussion in the synod and the doctrine committee. The references are not printed out here in full, as they were in the original:


1.     God has promised to extend, build and preserve His Church by His Word.
Matt. 16:13-19 Is. 55, 10. 11

2.   God has given His Word and Sacraments to the Christians with the command that they shall be proclaimed and administered to the end of time. This is the Predigtamt or Gospel Ministry.

1 Pet. 2,9: Mark 16,16; Matt. 28, 18-20; Matt. 26, 26-28; 1 Cor. 11, 23-26; John 20, 21-23

Augsburg Confession V: Power and Primacy Trig 511, 24 (Lenker 11, 352.ff)

3.   God has further directed that the Christians shall entrust the public administration of this Predigtamt within the Church to certain qualified persons whose work is on their behalf. (Public Ministry)

Titus 1,5; 2 Tim. 2,2; Eph. 4, 8-11; Titus 1, 6-9; 1 Tim. 3. Apology,Trig. 311.

4.   Christians commit this Public Ministry to qualified persons by way of election and call.
Rom 10, 15; Acts 13, 1-3; 14,23; Tit. 1,5; 1 Cor. 12, 22-29; AC XIV. Luther LW 51, 343

5.   When qualified persons function in the Public Ministry of the Word they and those who called them are to regard them as called by God to this Ministry.

Eph. 4, 8-12, Acts 20, 28

6.   The outward form of the Public Ministry is not Scripturally specified or limited, e.g., to the so-called Pfarramt, or Pastorate.

1 Cor 12, 4-6; 18; 1 Pet. 4,10, 11; Eph. 4, 8-11; Phil. 1,1.

Smalcald Articles: III: “Pastors, preachers, and other ministers” Trig. 471 Apol. XII,Trig. 311. Luther: LW 46,220. Note Power & Jurisdiction of Bishops, Trig. 527 ff: the frequent use of wide term “Kirchendienern” for ministers. Luther to Casp. Loner, Prediger, und Nic. Medler, Schulrector: “Darum fahret beide fort in eurem Amte, euch von eurer Kirche befohlen.” St. L., X, 1618. Luther: L.W. 37, 364. Even the Pfarramt at Reformation time was different from what we know it today: Power & Jurisdiction: “If a pastor (Pfarrherr) in his own church ordains certain suitable person to the ministry (Kirchenamtern), such ordination is, according to divine law, undoubtedly effective and right.” Trig. 523. Luther: LW 40, 313.

Finally, we call attention to the following quotation from Luther, which was referred to in the above theses.

I hope, indeed, that believers, those who want to be called Christians, know very well that the spiritual estate [geistliche stand] has been established and instituted [eingesetzt und gestiftet] by God…. He paid dearly that men might everywhere have this office of preaching [solch Amt hat, zu predigen, taufen….], baptizing, loosing, binding, giving the sacrament, comforting, warning, and exhorting with God’s word, and whatever else belongs to the pastoral office [und was mehr zum Amt der Seelsorger gehöret]. For this office [Amt] not only helps to further and sustain this temporal life and all the world estates, but it also gives eternal life and delivers from sin and death, which is its proper and chief work. Indeed, it is only because of the spiritual estate that the world stands and abides at all; if it were not for this estate, the world would long since have gone down to destruction.

I am not thinking, however, of the spiritual estate [geistlichen Stand] as we know it today in the monastic houses and the foundations with their celibate way of life.…They give no heed to God’s word and the office of preaching [denn sie achten des Worts und Predigtamts nicht]—and where the word is not in use the clergy must be bad.

The estate I am thinking of is rather one which has the office of preaching [Predigtamt] and the service of the word and sacraments [Dienst des Worts und der Sacramente] and which imparts the Spirit and salvation, blessings that cannot be attained by any amount of pomp and pageantry. It includes the work of pastors, teachers, preachers, lectors, priests (whom men call chaplains), sacristans, schoolmasters, and whatever other work belongs to these offices and persons. This estate the Scriptures highly exalt and praise. St. Paul calls them God’s stewards and servants [I Cor. 4:1]; bishops [Acts 20:28]; doctors, prophets [I Cor. 12:28]; also God’s ambassadors to reconcile the world to God II Corinthians 6 [5:20].

[Sondern den Stand meyne ich, der das Predigtamt und Dienst des Worts und der Sacramente hat, welches gibt den Geist und alle Seligkeit, die man mit keinem Gesänge noch Gepränge erlangen kann, als da ist, das Pfarramt, Lehrer, Prediger, Leser, Priester, (wie man Kaplan nennet, Küster, Schulmeister, und was zu solchen Ämtern und Personen mehr gehöret, welchen Stand die Schrift, wahrlich, hoch rühmet und lobet. St. Paulus nennet sie Gottes Haushalter und Knechte, Bischöffe, Doctores, Propheten, dazu auch Gottes Boten, zu versöhnen die Welt mit Gott, 2 Cor 5:20]….. (Luther: “Sermon on Keeping Children in School” [1530] Walch X, 488, AE 46, 220). [bold emphasis added]

6.     The office of the School teacher: Divine or not? family or church?

In many ways, this debate has had to do with the relationship between the Predigtamt and/or the Pfarramt, the office of pastor. It is not an issue that has been without struggle. As John Wohlrabe has pointed out very effectively and at considerable length in his excellent doctoral dissertation.

There seems to have been some argument among us as to the relationship of the office of school teacher to the Public Ministry (and whether that relationship is to the Predigtamt or the Pfarramt). The Circuit 8 revision does not seem to question the understanding that the authority of the teacher has to do with both the office of the parents and the office of the church, though it wants to place more emphasis on the office of the parents.

Two critical issues emerge from a comparison of the theses. For one thing, the PCM statement holds that calls to Christian Day school teachers are in accord with Romans 10:14-17 and AC XIV because the teachers “carry out a specific part of the Public Ministry” (thinking, of course, of Predigtamt, and that they do so “on behalf of the Christians through whom the call has come”). The Circuit 8 Revision, however, aims God’s command at the pastors, who are commanded to feed not only the sheep, but also the lambs, and thus holds that the teachers of children “assist both parents and pastors in their divinely ordained duties.”

Secondly, where the PCM theses, following Walther, refers to the Predigtamt or Public Ministry, Pastor Preus refers always to the pastoral office, the Pfarramt or the pastor, Pfarrherrn, and he sees the real problem as lying in the fact that “The organic connection between the pastoral office and the office of Christian schoolteacher was broken.” That, in itself, misplaces the issue, and is at least a departure from Walther, based on a misconstrual in J. T. Mueller’s translation. This mis-step is laid out by Kurt Marquart in The Church: Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance. Marquart analyzes Walther’s approach:

How then did Walther relate the school-office to the one Gospel office? Walther held that in the apostolate Christ had “instituted only one office in the church, which embraces all others and by which the church of God should be provided for in every respect.” His 8th Theses states therefore: “The preaching office [Predigtamt] is the highest office in the church, out of which office all other ecclesiastical offices [Kirchenämter] flow.”note1 Accordingly, “every other public office in the church is a part of [the preaching office, Predigtamt] or an auxiliary office that supports the Predigtamt, whether it be the office of elders who do not labor in the Word and doctrine (I Tim. 5:17) or the ruling office (Rom. 12:8) or the diaconate (office of service in the narrow sense), or whatever offices….” In this context also belongs the office of schoolmaster:

Therefore the offices of Christian day school teachers [translation omits: who must teach God’s Word in their schools], almoners, sextons, precentors at public worship, and others are all to be regarded as [ecclesiastical holy offices, which bear a part of the one ecclesiastical office and assist the ministry of the word (Predigtamt)] note2(p. 143).

Marquart then comments in two footnotes:

Note 1: J.T.Mueller renders this: “The pastoral ministry [Predigtamt] is the highest office in the church, and from it stem all other offices in the church (Church and Ministry, 289). The original has “Das Predigtamt ist das höchste Amt in der Kirche, aus welchem alle anderen Kirchenämter fliessen.”

Note 2: We have followed Mueller’s translation, except for the bracketed words, which render more precisely Walther’s sense: kirchliche heilge Ämter…, welche einen Theil des Einen Kircheamtes tragen und dem Predigtamte zur Seite stehen.” Mueller: “ecclesiastical and sacred, for they take over a part of the one ministry of the Word and support the pastoral office.” This is misleading in that the ordinal (1) does not distinguish between “ministry of the Word” and “pastoral office;” (2) it speaks of “the one office of the church,” not “the one ministry of the Word.”

What can be gleaned from all of this is that, for Walther, the office of the school teacher stems from the Predigtamt, not from the Pfarramt, in the sense of the local pastor. The office of the teacher is not an assistant to the local pastor, but to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. That Predigtamt is an office, not a platonic idea or a mere abstraction. But its concreteness is in the word and sacrament, not in the individuated pastor.

Another issue stemming from this is that the office of the teacher actually bears a part of the Predigtamt. That does not mean that the school teacher is an assistant pastor, or that the teacher is in the Predigtamt in the same way that the pastor or Pfarrherr is. While the teacher exercises the keys in a public way, it is in a limited way, having a part of the office, not the whole of it. Does this mean that God has instituted a “part of the office,” or “a limited use of the keys”? It does not, and to assert that the PCM statement teaches that is to speak falsely. But it does mean that since the school teacher does administer a limited part of the divinely instituted office, no one can presume to take up that calling on his own, but can only do so by the call of God, which he exercises through the church.

According to Wohlrabe, there was considerable discussion as to the place of the school teacher in the scheme of things. J. C. W. Lindemann, who was director of the Addison Teachers Seminary (later River Forest), submitted an article to Der Lutheraner which Walther sent back for correction because Lindemann derived the office of the teacher from the parent. Walther insisted that it belonged to the Predigtamt. Later, in 1867, Lindemann published another article in which he said that “Since the teacher is called by the entire congregation, like the pastor, and since he is called to teach God’s Word, his office is a divine office and part of the public ministry” (Wohlrabe, 69). Wohlrabe goes on to report that Lindemann then spoke of the teacher as having a two-fold calling, spiritual, (in which he is both an assistant to the pastor and the parents), and civic, representing just the parents. (also p. 69). In, Appendix N to his dissertation, Wohlrabe, reproduces some theses by P. E. Kretzmann presented at some conferences in 1934: Kretzmann said “V. Not only men, but also women may be called to fill auxiliary offices in the Christian congregation, provided their office does not conflict with restrictions fixed by the Word of God. VI. The call of a Christian day-school teacher (male or female) is a divine call, since it embraces a function of the public ministry, is issued by the congregation, and concerns the teaching of God’s Word.” Generally, Kretzmann is known for being very conservative on Church and Ministry, not diverging from either Walther or Pieper on those issues. He left the Missouri Synod in 1948 and helped form the Orthodox Lutheran Conference (which later split, and some of its elements ended up in the LCR).

Wohlrabe also cites one example of a prominent theologian who disagreed with the predominant view that the teacher, male or female, had a divine call – P. T. Buszin, father of Walter of Bach fame who taught at Bethany, held that the teacher’s call was not divine. (Wohlrabe, 225 f).

From the sources we have examined, there was never, at least not after Missouri adopted Walther’s theses on Church and Ministry published as Die Stimme…. or Kirche und Amt, any question as to whether or not male school teachers had a divine call. The question only came up when women began to teach in the church’s schools. It seems that the official line was that they did, but there were many who objected to it.


For these reasons, we do not believe that it would have been appropriate to adopt the Circuit 8 Revision in place of the PCM Statement on the Public Ministry.