Did Jesus Institute the Pastoral Office?
I would like to thank Pastor Cascione for inviting me to speak to you today. This is a “free” conference. This means that the speakers speak for themselves, not as representatives of any particular Lutheran synod. I am not here as a representative of the ELS. The president of the ELS has asked me to tell you that the ELS cherishes her fellowship with the Wisconsin Synod. I am happy to pass on to you that official message from the president of the ELS. I also hope that my remarks this afternoon will serve to build bridges of understanding between brothers on a topic that has vexed confessional Lutherans in America for many decades.
While I do not presume to
represent the ELS I do claim to represent confessional Lutheran
theology. I belong to that
school that is well represented among the so called “confessionals”
in Missouri today that insists that loyalty to the Lutheran Confessions
supercedes loyalty to any synod. Some
folks have a hard time with this devotion to the Lutheran Confessions.
I understand their reluctance to stand so firmly on documents
produced by fallible men in the heat of doctrinal disputes in another
place at another time. After
all, isn’t it the Scriptures alone that must serve as the standard by
which all teaching in the church should be judged?
Why, then, this constant appeal to man-made documents?
Because these documents speak from the Holy Scriptures and
receive their authority from the written word of God.
I was persuaded long ago that the Lutheran Confessions are fully
in agreement with the Holy Scriptures.
I have been especially confirmed in this belief during the past
two years as I have seen how the Lutheran Confessions so clearly set
forth the biblical teaching on the pastoral office.
As you may know, the Evangelical
Lutheran Synod has recently been discussing and debating the doctrine of
the ministry. The Doctrine
Committee of the ELS (somewhat comparable to the Commission on Theology
and Church Relations of the Missouri Synod and the Committee on
Inter-Church Relations of the Wisconsin Synod) prepared several theses
on the “Office of the Public Ministry” commonly known among us as
the DC Theses. The Doctrine
Committee memorialized the 2001 convention of the ELS to adopt these
theses as the official position of the ELS.
One of my objections to the DC Theses was that they defined the
office in such as way as to include within it the office of parochial
school teacher. While the
DC Theses did distinguish between the pastoral office and the parochial
school teacher’s office, they did not say that the pastoral office is
divinely instituted and the parochial school teacher’s office is not.
Rather, the DC Theses promoted the view that the pastoral office
is the most comprehensive form of the public ministry and that the
Christian Day School teacher holds a more limited form of this office.
When I spoke at the convention against adopting the DC Theses, I
appealed to Articles V, XIV, and XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession.
I urged the delegates to read these articles.
I argued that it was not possible that the original signatories
of the Augsburg Confession could have conceived of putting women who
teach children in a parochial school into the office defined in these
articles. My argument, of
course, was not that anyone in my synod favored women pastors.
Nobody in the ELS does. Rather,
it was that the DC Theses were proposing a definition of the office that
disagreed with the definition of the office in the Lutheran Confessions.
Some people came up to me
afterwards and chided me for basing my argument on the Lutheran
Confessions instead of on the Bible.
I believe that when we are among Lutherans we ought to be able to
appeal to the Lutheran Confessions to settle an argument.
Still, I did take to heart their criticism and decided that I
would try to continue the debate within our synod by making my argument
solely from the Scriptures as much as I could.
While that debate has yet to take place in public forums within
the ELS, it did take place electronically for several months after the
2001 convention and before the 2002 convention of the ELS on an email
list called elsministry. Thousands
of pages of emails were posted. The
debate was not limited to pastors of the ELS.
Professor Brug of the Wisconsin Synod seminary in Mequon was
invited to join the debate and he did so.
John Brug is a very capable scholar and one of the leading
theologians in the Wisconsin Synod today. His
contributions were very helpful to me as I have tried better to
understand the underlying theological concerns of the Wisconsin Synod
view of the ministry and I am grateful to him for his efforts in helping
me to understand that view.
During this debate I began to
discern a paradigm
or model of the ministry with which I first became familiar years ago in
the Missouri Synod. The
popular paradigm of the ministry that developed in the tradition of the
Synodical Conference in the 20th century sees the ministry as
coming from Jesus to us in this way:
This way of approaching the
topic of the ministry emphasizes that the ministry belongs to every
single Christian. This
affirmation is made in conscious opposition to any kind of clerical
attempts to highjack this office and steal it away from God’s people
to whom it belongs. That,
of course, is a noble goal. The
ministry of Christ is indeed the personal possession of every individual
Christian even as Christ is the personal Savior of every individual
Christian. It may be in
vogue in certain circles to denigrate the personal and individual use of
God’s word in favor of emphasizing the corporate nature of the church
and the public nature of the office, but that is wrong.
It is wrong-headed and self-defeating to defend the public office
God has instituted by denying that the office is immediately the
possession of every single Christian. Simple logic proves that it is.
If God is going to justify us by means of what He gives to us in
the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments,
the office to which these duties are entrusted must belong to all those
who are justified. We can
hardly be justified by faith alone if God hasn’t given to us those
means by which justifying faith is obtained.
It is right and proper to emphasize that the ministry belongs to
every individual Christian. Luther
certainly did so.
He did so in defense of the doctrine of justification.
There is much to commend this
paradigm made popular throughout the synods of the old Synodical
Conference. It begins with
Jesus who is the Savior of sinners.
It then goes from Jesus to His Christians.
Those who are justified by faith alone and who by virtue of their
status as children of God are the true members of the Holy Christian
Church. From this confession of the so called “invisible church”
it proceeds to the gathering together of Christians for the purpose of
doing churchly things, chief among which is the establishment among them
of the public ministry. As
Christ’s church these Christians establish the office of the public
ministry that carries out the ministry on their behalf.
They do this at God’s command and according to His word. While adherents of this paradigm teach that God has
instituted this public ministry, they also emphasize the representative
nature of the ministry as the minister acts “on behalf of” the
church. The word
“public” in “public ministry” is to be understood primarily as
the minister acting “on behalf of” the “public” or the church.
The minister acts publicly by delegation from those who have the
ministry by virtue of their status as the priesthood of believers.
Consider once more the order: Christ, private ministry, church,
The Missouri Synod and the
Wisconsin Synod both followed this paradigm in their church and ministry
debates during the first half of the 20th Century.
They both agreed that the office is given to every believer and
that believers gather together to form churches and as churches to
establish the public ministry. Where
they differed with each other was on the question of what kind of
gathering of Christians constituted a church in the scriptural sense of
the term. Only that
gathering which could rightly be called church would have the right to
exercise the churchly authority to call someone to carry out the duties
of the public office.
For the moment we can set aside
the differences between the Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Synod on
the question of what form the church and the ministry may or must take
and take note instead of the common approach.
Read the writings of the theologians of both synods during most
of the twentieth century and you will see that they follow essentially
the same paradigm. The
strength of this paradigm is that it seeks to uphold Walther’s
scriptural insistence (as given, for example, in his seventh thesis on
that the ministry belongs immediately to the church and every individual
Christian and then mediately by God’s call through the church to her
public ministers. It is
important to safeguard this public office from being tyrannized by the
public office holders to the detriment of those for whose benefit Christ
instituted the office in the first place.
Having said that, there is much
that argues against this paradigm.
The first objection I would like to raise is that it does not
follow the pattern of thought set down plainly in the Holy Scriptures.
It is not based on the Bible. It
is rather based on a theological system.
The biblical paradigm goes like this:
Adherents of the first paradigm
may initially oppose a model that appears to put the public ministry
between Christ and the church. Surely,
they will argue, nothing can come between Christ and His church.
Is this not a kind of sacerdotalism from which the Reformation
delivered us? Far from this
being the case, the model I propose does the very opposite.
It brings Christ to the church as Christ Himself has promised to
come. Furthermore, it keeps
Christ in possession of the office of which His ministers are only
stewards. I believe and I
hope to show to you this afternoon that this paradigm, rather than the
other, is biblical and confessional.
I also believe that if we take it seriously it may help us to
overcome certain divisions on the doctrine of the ministry that have
arisen within and between those synods that once made up the Synodical
Conference. It would be
nice if folks from the Missouri Synod, the Wisconsin Synod, the ELS, and
other synods that hail from the old Synodical Conference would learn to
speak to one another in mutually understandable language.
Right now the theological debates on the ministry are so
cluttered by contradictory definitions as well as a multitude of
undefined terms that carry huge emotional baggage (what is a “divine
call”?) that productive conversation is nearly impossible.
I believe that part of this is due to the paradigm we have
inherited. The paradigm I
am proposing adheres more closely to the literal sense of the
Scriptures. This is the
literal sense of the Augsburg Confession as well.
So let us turn to the
institution of the office by the One who purchased the treasures it
Jesus instituted the office
after he died on the cross to take away our sins and rose from the dead.
He appeared personally to the men whom he had taught for the
previous three years. Everything
that he had taught them was to direct their attention to the events that
had just taken place. What
had just taken place was the redemption of the world, though the world
did not know it. The world
cannot understand it. It
sees Christ’s death as a shameful failure.
To the extent that it understands the preaching of the cross it
is scandalized by it. The world knows nothing of true righteousness.
It can be found only in the suffering and death of the Son of
Man. And it was necessary
that He suffer for us. It
was the Son of Man who laid claim to authority on this earth to forgive
sins. Surely he was not
claiming authority to abrogate the divine law by his bare word.
Christ’s word is never bare.
It is always joined to His vicarious obedience and His blood shed
for us. The reason the
gospel is God’s power to save everyone who believes it is because the
righteousness of God is revealed in it.
Talk is cheap. Christ’s
talk is not. It is as dear
as His enduring the curse of the law and fully drinking down to the
bitter dregs the wrath of God against every sinner who ever lived.
When He cried out as the forsaken sinner He remained the beloved
Son of the Father full of grace and truth.
In that apparently shameful death God glorified His Son by
reconciling the world to Himself through Him and for His sake not
imputing men’s sins against them.
After Jesus rose from the dead and before He ascended into heaven
to fill all things and be with his church everywhere and all the time He
gave to His church a precious gift. What we call this gift is not so important as that we
acknowledge it for what it is and that we confess that it is from Jesus
He gave this gift to the eleven
apostles whom he had chosen. What
is this gift? A number of
answers could be given. We
could say Jesus gave the gospel or the gospel and the sacraments.
We could say he gave the authority to forgive and retain sins or
the office of the keys or the ministry of reconciliation.
We might not ordinarily say that Jesus gave us the gift of the
pastoral office. But I
would suggest to you that we should.
If we cannot find the institution of the pastoral office in the
words that Jesus spoke to the apostles after he rose from the dead and
before he ascended into heaven we will not be able to find a divine
institution for this office anywhere else in the Scriptures.
Let us then consider the words
that Jesus spoke.
In each of these accounts except
for Luke’s, Jesus was speaking only to the men whom He had instructed
in the mysteries of the kingdom for three years.
There had been twelve of them.
Now there were eleven, and one of them was missing in St.
John’s account. Jesus was
telling the men whom He had taught to preach the gospel, to forgive and
retain sins, to baptize, and to teach the church to hold on to
everything that He commanded. To
put it into the church’s familiar language, He was telling them to
preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ audience included men who were
not apostles. Since there were men present whom He was not putting into the
office of preaching, this account does not record Christ’s command to
preach. Instead, Jesus
spoke in the passive voice telling them that preaching would be done.
Strictly speaking, St. Luke’s Gospel does not therefore record
the divine institution of the office since no divine command is given.
However, it assumes the divine institution of the office and more
than that, it teaches that the office will be transmitted beyond the
apostles themselves. “Repentance
and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations.”
St. Luke records the actual divine institution of the office in
In these post-resurrection
accounts where Jesus commands men to preach the gospel and administer
the sacraments He is talking specifically and exclusively to men whom He
prepared to do just that. Jesus
joins the preaching of the gospel to the administration of the
sacraments. St. Mark’s
account makes it clear that there is no preaching without baptism and
there is no baptism without preaching.
The teaching that Jesus commanded in St. Matthew’s Gospel is
the instruction of the baptized. The command to teach or make disciples that is given in the
main verb is to take place by means of the two participles or “ing”
words that follow, that is, by baptizing and teaching.
This teaching is that the baptized keep in their hearts the
treasures Jesus bestows. The
New International Version translates the Greek word teereoo as
obey, as in “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
That’s unfortunate. This
implies a list of rules to obey. That
is clearly not the intent. This
word is better translated “to hold on to” or “to guard” or to
“keep.” It’s the same
word used by Jesus in John 8:51 where He says, “If anyone keeps my
word he shall never see death.” The
“all things” of Matthew 28:20 are better understood to be the
“mysteries of God” that we are to embrace in simple faith, not
religious principles for doing this or that. Included among these holy mysteries is the Lord’s Supper.
St. John’s Gospel tells us of the essence of the preaching and
teaching. It is the
forgiving of the sins of the penitent and the retaining of the sins of
the impenitent. In addition
to this, Christ’s words here recorded clearly establish the dogmatic
foundation for Holy Absolution. While
St. John nowhere records Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper,
this sacrament is implicit in his words to St. Peter recorded in John
21, “feed my lambs . . . feed my sheep.”
It is inconceivable that this pastoral activity could occur apart
from the feeding of God’s children with the same body and blood of
Jesus by which they were purchased to become the children of God.
Nothing recorded in the Acts of
the Apostles or in the Epistles adds anything of substance about the
nature and the duties of this holy office.
Jesus institutes, establishes, forms, and authorizes His holy
ministry in the words He spoke to His apostles after He rose from the
dead and before He ascended into heaven.
These clear words of institution set the foundation upon which
the rest of the New Testament builds.
What is the plain sense of these
familiar words? Jesus is
instituting an office whose incumbents are to preach the gospel and to
administer the sacraments by His divine authority. He is promising that through the words they speak and the
sacraments they administer sinners will be forgiven of their sins and
saved eternally. He is
joining His almighty power to save sinners to the word that He commands
His ministers to say and to the sacraments He commands His ministers to
administer. He is promising
to be with them until the end of the age.
Of course, His promise is that He will be with both His ministers
and with His church to which His ministers will be preaching the gospel
and administering the sacraments until the end of time.
The church and her ministry belong together.
The church and her Lord belong together.
The ministry that Jesus gives to His church remains His ministry.
It is what He says it is. It
does what He says it does. The
church may no more dismember this office than she may disjoin the water
from the word in Holy Baptism or the consecration from the elements in
the Lord’s Supper.
These texts from Matthew and
Mark contain the divine institution of Holy Baptism. The text from St. John’s Gospel contains the divine
institution of the keys. Why
then should we question that these texts also contain the divine
institution of the office to which the administration of baptism and the
preaching of the law and gospel are entrusted?
Let us consider five objections
that are raised against the assertion that these clear texts constitute
the institution of the pastoral office by Jesus Christ.
The first objection is that if
by these words Jesus instituted the pastoral office then these words
cannot refer to Christ giving the means of grace to all Christians.
If these words aren’t addressed in the first instance to all
Christians, the means of grace will become the sole possession of the
pastors. The pastoral
office will also belong solely to the pastors.
Therefore Romanizing Lutherans like Loehe and Grabau who taught
that the pastoral office is transmitted only by the pastors will be
right and Walther who taught that the office belongs immediately to the
whole church and only mediately to the pastors will be wrong.
This argument is not based on
the biblical text, but on the Synodical Conference paradigm.
In service to this paradigm the biblical text is subjected to
some very questionable exegesis. For example, it is commonly asserted that St. Luke’s
account and St. John’s account refer to the same event.
Therefore, since in St. Luke’s account others than the apostles
were present, we must not interpret St. John’s account in such a way
that Christ’s words were spoken only to the apostles.
If that were not enough, we are told that Christ’s appearance
to over 500 brothers at once as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:6 is the
same event as that described in Matthew 28.
Thus we have St. Luke’s account changing the clear sense of St.
John’s account and St. Paul’s account changing the plain sense of
St. Matthew’s account all in service to a Synodical Conference
paradigm constructed in opposition to Romanizing Lutherans of the 19th
century! It makes much more
sense to accept the accounts as they stand, namely, as Christ calling
the first pastors into the office.
The fact that He gave this concrete office to the whole church is
sufficient proof that in this giving He also gave to all Christians
individually the same gospel, baptism, absolution, and Supper that He
entrusted to the public office.
After all, the pastor cannot give to the Christian anything to
which his baptism does not entitle him.
(Galatians 3:26-29) But
how does the Christian receive these treasures if not through the public
preaching and administration of the sacraments by the called and
The second objection is that a
pastor is not an apostle. There
are two significant differences between the original apostolic office
and the present pastoral office. First,
the apostles were called immediately by Christ while God calls pastors
mediately through the church. Second,
it was to the apostles specifically that Jesus said:
Whether God calls immediately or
mediates the call through the church doesn’t change the nature of the
office into which God calls men. Since
the apostles were called immediately by Christ their ministry was not
bound to any particular church as is the case with pastors who have
received the called mediately. Again,
this is no way effects the nature of the office.
The fact that it was only to the
original apostles that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would guide them
into all truth does not imply that today’s pastors hold an office
essentially different than the office held by the apostles. It means rather that today’s pastors are bound to teach and
preach in full accordance with the written apostolic Scriptures.
The pastoral office is not a different office than the apostolic
office. It is the same
office. Within Christ’s
High Priestly prayer are these words, “I do not pray for these alone,
but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” (John
17:20) Surely, Jesus is not
here praying only for those who would believe in Him through the
personal preaching of the eleven apostles.
Rather, he is praying for everyone who will come to faith by
means of the preached word.
The third objection is that the
texts under discussion nowhere use the word “pastor” and indeed the
word is seldom used in the New Testament to talk about the incumbents of
the public ministry Jesus instituted.
Those who raise this objection point out that the title pastor
didn’t assume common use until it was popularized by the Pietists.
In response to this objection, we concede the argument and
respectfully reply: “So what?”
We are not arguing for the title “pastor” to the exclusion of
other titles given in the New Testament.
It would be perfectly acceptable to call incumbents of the office
Jesus instituted by any number of biblical titles, including elders
(presbyters), bishops, teachers, ambassadors, preachers, ministers, or
even angels. There is no
point in quibbling over titles. The reason I prefer the title pastor is that it is most
descriptive of what constitutes the essence of the office.
Incumbents of this office are to feed Christ’s sheep.
Jesus is the Good Pastor (John 10), and calling preachers pastors
reminds both the preachers and hearers of the christological foundation
of the office. We need to
know who provides the food that the sheep are receiving and by whose
authority the sheep are being fed.
When Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:15-17) and when
St. Paul told the presbyters of Ephesus to do the same thing (Acts
20:28) they were identifying the office as Christ’s.
If the office is Christ’s, then that which is given out by the
office holders must be that which Jesus entrusted to the office.
When we contend that Jesus instituted the pastoral office when He
called the apostles, we are arguing that Jesus instituted an office
whose incumbents are to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.
What they do is far more important than what they are called.
The fourth objection to the
assertion that Jesus instituted the pastoral office when he called the
apostles as recorded in Matthew 28, Mark 16, and John 20 is that we
cannot find in the New Testament a transmission of the apostolic office
to others. Therefore we
must conclude that the apostolic office ended with the death of the
apostles. We have already
said that the original apostles were unique in that they alone were
called personally here on earth by Jesus Christ Himself and to them
alone Jesus gave the promise of infallibility in their official, that
is, apostolic preachments. Since these features of the apostolic office were to be
discontinued, the office as apostolic office could hardly have been
passed on. However, the
office as pastoral office most certainly was passed on.
The apostles were bishops (Acts 1:20) and elders (1 Peter 5:1: 2
John 1; 3 John 1), titles used interchangeably in the New Testament
(compare 1 Timothy 3:1-7 with Titus 1:5-9.) and synonymous with what we
today call the pastoral office. The
only office Jesus instituted here on earth was the apostolic office.
If that office does not exist today as the pastorate, it
doesn’t exist. Yet it is
quite clear in the New Testament that this office was passed on.
St. Paul says as much in 2 Timothy 2:2 where he writes, “And
the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit
these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Adolf Hoenecke said it well in his Dogmatics, “The ordinary
preaching office is the continuation of the extraordinary apostolic
office, a continuation God himself wants.
It is of divine institution in and with the apostolic office.
The divine institution of the concrete apostolic office is proved
in Thesis 1.”
Lest we assume that Hoenecke is here distinguishing between the
preaching office and the pastoral office, we note that his Thesis 1
reads, “The teaching office (Lehramt), by which we here mean
the pastors, the estate compose of the servants of the Word, is divinely
The fifth argument against our
proposition that Jesus instituted the pastoral office is the argument
that when Jesus called the apostles He was not instituting any
particular form of an office. Instead,
he was giving the gospel and the sacraments to the church.
These means of grace were to be administered publicly, but there
were no legal regulations given to the New Testament church. The Holy Spirit would guide the church into establishing
wholesome forms of the office as needed.
This was the argument of the Wisconsin Synod seminary faculty in
Wauwatosa against the Missouri Synod seminary faculty in St. Louis that
began about ninety years ago and continues to this day. It was one of the biggest controversies of the old Synodical
Conference and it constitutes one of the biggest obstacles to a
God-pleasing realignment of confessional Lutheranism in America. Obviously we don’t have the time today to do more than give
the briefest of overviews of this debate, but it is necessary to know
just a little bit about what drove each side.
The Wauwatosa faculty,
specifically three theologians – August Pieper, John Schaller, and J.
P. Koehler – argued for gospel freedom.
While traditional forms of church and ministry were not to be
despised, they couldn’t be imposed as doctrine on the church without
clear scriptural proof. The
St. Louis faculty argued that the scriptural form of the visible church
is the local congregation. Wauwatosa
argued that any gathering of Christians around the means of grace was as
divine as any other gathering of Christians around the means of grace.
St. Louis argued for the divine institution of the pastoral
office, and by pastoral office they meant specifically and exclusively
the parish pastorate. Wauwatosa replied by saying that to affirm the divine
institution of this particular form of the office in contradistinction
to any other form of office that used the means of grace on behalf of
the church was to impose an extra-scriptural and legalistic requirement
on a gospel institution. Where
did the New Testament actually teach that only the local congregation
was church and that only the parish pastor was in the divinely
It is obvious that church and
ministry go together and cannot be understood apart from the other.
Our topic today, however, is the pastoral office so let’s focus
specifically on the ministry. Where does the New Testament teach that only the parish
pastorate is divinely instituted? The
St. Louis faculty did not argue for the divine institution of the
pastoral office by citing the texts that record Christ’s calling of
the apostles into the office. Both
the Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Synod followed the same paradigm
that went from Christ to the private ministry of every individual
Christian to the church to the public ministry of the church.
Both sides conceived of the pastoral office as coming from the
church. The Wauwatosa
theologians argued that the pastoral office was the most comprehensive
form of an office that can assume many forms.
The St. Louis theologians argued that it was the only divinely
instituted form of the public office and that any other offices in the
church were auxiliary to the parish pastorate.
Neither side in the dispute appealed to the words of Jesus in
calling the apostles as the divine institution of the pastoral office.
The St. Louis theologians, beginning with Francis Pieper and
continuing with Theodore Engelder, John Theodore Mueller, and others
appealed to these instituting words of Jesus not in support of the
divine institution of the pastoral office, but as Christ giving the
means of grace to all Christians. Then,
in a separate locus or topic of theology, they dealt with the public
ministry, which they identified as the parish pastorate.
Sometimes they would refer to the means of grace given to all
Christians as the ministry in the abstract or broader sense and then the
pastoral office as the ministry in the concrete or narrow sense.
I am not sure that such
distinctions between broad and narrow and abstract and concrete are
always that helpful. They
may often serve to obfuscate what God has stated with crystal clarity. At any rate, in the debate between Wauwatosa and St. Louis
the St. Louis theologians couldn’t prove the divine institution of the
pastoral office by appealing to those texts that prove it. They were required by their paradigm to prove the divine
institution of the pastoral office in another way. They appealed to passages that commanded the appointment of
elders or bishops (Acts 14:23; 20:17-18; Titus 1:5). They cited texts that listed the work of such elders or
bishops (Acts 20:28, 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-11; etc.) While I agree with the St. Louis theologians that they did
prove that what we call the pastoral office was commanded by the
apostles, I question whether an apostolic command necessarily implies a
specific divine institution. Furthermore,
how can these apostolic instructions, given in certain times and places,
be binding on all times and places unless these commands are dominical
in nature? The dominical
nature of these commands comes from the fact that the apostles are
giving instructions concerning the office Jesus instituted in the
calling of the apostles. The apostles institute nothing!
The apostolic commands concerning the pastoral office derive
their authority from Christ’s institution of that very office.
As long as Missouri argued from
the divine institution of the local congregation to the divine
institution of the pastoral office, the debate about the ministry was of
necessity a subtopic of the debate about the church.
This debate forced Missouri into a rigidity of definition
unwarranted by the biblical text or the history of the church. Were she to have argued the divine institution of the
pastoral office from Christ’s instituting words, she could have
maintained that this office is held not only by parish pastors, but also
by missionaries, chaplains, theological professors and other preachers
who are not the servants of only the local congregation.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose the terms of the debate
and the debate on the ministry between Missouri and Wisconsin never did
come out from under the shadow of the debate about what is and is not
church in the visible sense.
If we conceive of the public
office exclusively as it comes to us from the activity of the church,
why must the church be restricted in what she does by being permitted to
establish only the parish pastorate as a divine institution?
If the public office is nothing other than the private office
with the divine command that what every Christian has privately must
also be administered publicly why should one specific way of doing so
– the pastoral office – be any more divine that any other way? Why must we regard all other positions in the church as
auxiliary to that office? Didn’t
Jesus give the means of grace to all His Christians?
As Wisconsin carried on the
argument in this vein, Missouri’s “auxiliary offices” became
Wisconsin’s “limited” or “focused” forms of the office.
Why insist that the office of parochial schoolteacher derives
from the parish pastorate? Doesn’t
the teacher teach God’s word on behalf of the church and not only on
behalf of the pastor?
Isn’t the insistence that
only the parish pastor holds the divinely instituted office a legalistic
confining of the office to only one form?
Doesn’t the church have the freedom to assign suitable persons
to use of the means of grace on her behalf and to establish whatever
forms of the office to which the Holy Spirit may lead her?
What Wisconsin did, essentially,
was to take the agreed upon paradigm to its logical conclusion.
Since the public office derives from the private office, by what
logic does one form supercede all other forms?
As Missouri searched the Scriptures to prove that the parish
pastorate was the one divinely fixed form, Wisconsin countered
Missouri’s arguments by claiming that it was legalistic to impose one
fixed form on the church. This
is a gospel office, not a law office.
The very nature of the gospel is that it creates its own forms.
It is interesting to hear
arguments from Missouri Synod theologians that our opposition to
women’s ordination should be in the way of the gospel rather than by
appealing to the law. Missourians
these days are concerned about not depending on law commands to protect
a gospel institution. This
is precisely the spirit of Wauwatosa.
Missourians will not understand the Wisconsin Synod refusal to
regard the pastoral office as the only divinely instituted form of the
ministry until they understand the spirit behind Wisconsin’s argument.
It is the spirit of evangelical freedom.
Does the gospel obtain its efficacy from the fact that an
ordained pastor is preaching it? Is
not the gospel taught in the classroom by the Christian Day School
teacher as efficacious as is the gospel preached by the pastor from the
pulpit? If so, isn’t the
CDS teacher also using the means of grace on behalf of the church even
as the pastor is? Why then
do you insist that only the pastor is a minister in the real sense of
the word while the CDS teacher derives his office from the pastoral
office and so isn’t really in the office except by extension? Why not rather apply simple logic and teach that the CDS
teacher’s office is a more limited form of the same office of which
the pastoral office is only a more comprehensive form? Why do you put so much emphasis on the form the ministry
takes rather than on the substance of what is preached and taught?
This is a persuasive argument.
There is much to commend it, especially if the public ministry of
the church derives from the private ministry of every individual
Christian. CDS teachers are
servants of the church. They teach God’s word on behalf of the church.
There can be no doctrinal objection to saying that these servants
are in the public ministry of the church if by public we mean “on
behalf of the church” and if by ministry we mean “service that uses
God’s word.” Parochial
schoolteachers in both the Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Synod have
long been taught that they were entering into the “teaching
But what Jesus gave to the
church was not merely the means of grace given to all believers along
with instructions to establish an office.
That’s not what happened.
Jesus gave to the church an office all of whose incumbents are
called to do what Jesus gave to the office.
This is the plain sense of the biblical text.
Jesus didn’t just toss out the duties of this office to the
priesthood of believers and tell them to assemble them into wholesome
forms by the guiding of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus spoke to specific men and told them and their successors to
preach the gospel and administer the sacraments until the end of time.
The notion that Jesus was telling every Christian to preach the
gospel and administer the sacraments cannot be shown from the
Scriptures. It is taken as
scriptural by adherents to the Synodical Conference paradigm, but only
after the plain sense of the Scriptures is forced through the paradigm.
The simple fact is that Jesus didn’t tell all Christians to
preach. If he did, you
should be preaching and if you’re not, you’re disobeying Jesus.
Can we not agree with the plain meaning of the Bible when it says
that what Jesus told the original apostles to do He also tells his
pastors to do until the end of the age?
The Wauwatosa theologians argued
against legalism of every description and every evangelical Lutheran
should commend them for that. It
is therefore in full agreement with this most fundamental concern of the
Wauwatosa theology that I offer the following evangelical arguments for
finding the divine institution of the pastoral office in Christ’s
calling of the apostles.
First, this puts Jesus in charge
of the office He instituted. The
Savior, who by his blood has purchased the office, is the One who
defines and forms the office by which He will save sinners to the end of
time. The church does not
make this decision for herself. When
Christians get together to do holy things they generally make a royal
mess of things even when they have the best intentions.
They mean well. They’re
awfully clever. That’s
their problem. They think
of all sort of things that work well in the abstract, that is, in their
own minds, but not necessarily in practice.
Anybody who knows anything about teaching children knows that the
office of the CDS teacher is not defined by the gospel, but by the law.
So are the offices of administrators and church executives of
every description who must, by virtue of their offices, be evaluated by
criteria other than the faithful stewardship of the mysteries of God.
Are such servants of the church also incumbents of the office
Jesus gave us? Not on the
say so of the church, even if she claims inspiration from the Holy
This leads us to a second
argument for finding the divine institution of the pastoral office in
Christ’s calling of the apostles.
It understands the office and therefore the call into the office
according to the clear biblical text that cannot change rather that
according to a nebulous and indefinable leading of the Holy Spirit to
where no one knows. How can
we know that the call into the office is divine?
We can know, first of all, because it is a call into the office
that God has instituted! We
don’t learn that a call is divine because the folks who issued it
prayed before they issued it and the person who received it prayed
before he accepted it. By
this kind of logic, the Holy Spirit is to blame for every whim of every
“calling body” or every desire of every candidate for office.
The office is not defined by the call.
The office defines the call.
It is true enough that no man has the office except by a
legitimate call from the church. But
the church doesn’t create the office. God does. The
church certainly may call men and women into offices of her own making.
She most certainly may not assert as a divine institution what is
not clearly taught in the Bible as a divine institution.
While the parochial
schoolteacher does teach God’s word on behalf of the church this does
not mean that she or he holds an office instituted by God. Jesus called only men to preach.
That is the immediate call.
Nowhere in the New Testament where a mediate call is taught (for
example, Acts 20:28; Romans 10:15; 2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 1:15) is a woman
the recipient of such a call. I
have searched the Scriptures in vain to find a single instance of the
church telling a woman to teach God’s word to anybody.
The argument that a woman who teaches children in a parochial
school has a call into the same office (albeit a more limited form of
it) as the pastor is not an argument from the Bible.
It is an argument from a theological system that has evolved
beyond anything known in the Bible.
May the church ask women to teach God’s word and the useful
arts to children in a Christian Day School?
Certainly! May such
a servant of Christ regard herself as called by God to such an office?
Certainly! Is the
word of God this teacher teaches wholly as efficacious as the word of
God the pastor preaches? Certainly!
Did God institute the office this woman holds?
Certainly not! Why
not? The Bible does not
teach this. I don’t care
what the Holy Ghost told anybody to do. I don’t care how anybody feels.
I care what the Bible says and the Bible knows nothing at all
about the church telling women to teach the word of God to other
people’s children. Therefore
the church has no right to set down binding doctrine concerning such an
office except to say that it isn’t of divine origin and is therefore
an adiaphoron. An
adiaphoron cannot be a divine institution.
Third, this office is formed and
given here on earth, which is where redemption was won and where sinners
live. The office doesn’t
descend to us from on high as we ask guidance from the Holy Spirit on
what form we should fashion. The
Holy Spirit doesn’t institute this office in the present.
Jesus instituted it in the past and thereby determined until the
end of time what this office was to be.
Even as the righteousness that avails before God was established
here on earth by Christ’s vicarious obedience and suffering, the
gospel that revealed this righteousness was entrusted to an office
instituted here on earth. Here
on earth the incarnate Word, revealed in the written word, is proclaimed
by the oral word of His preachers.
Fourth, this joins together the
gospel and the sacraments into one office.
The very same men were told “do this in remembrance of me”
and were also told to preach, teach, baptize, and absolve.
The sermon is not a religious lecture.
It is God’s word to his own children, baptized into His holy
name. It cannot be rightly
understood apart from the body and blood, given and shed for the
forgiveness of sins. Ripping
the gospel away from the sacraments or the sacraments away from the
office of preaching is to distort the essence of both word and
sacrament. Preaching and
the sacraments belong to the same office and this is by divine right.
What right does the church have to dismember what Jesus has
permanently joined together?
Fifth, this is the plain
teaching of the Augsburg Confession and the Lutheran fathers.
I have saved this until last because it is true that the
Confessions are normative only because they agree with the clear
they are normative because they agree with the clear Scriptures.
The Augsburg Confession develops the doctrine of the ministry by
teaching of the need for a Savior in Article II, the saving work of
Christ in Article III, justification by faith in Article IV, and the
means by which we obtain justifying faith in Article V.
This article refers to ministry of preaching the gospel and
administering the sacraments. The
focus is on the means of grace and not on the ministers or preachers.
Nevertheless, the gospel and the sacraments mentioned here are
not the means of grace as used by individual Christians in their daily
lives, but the gospel that preachers preach and the sacraments that
these same preachers administer. Of course this doesn’t deny the inherent efficacy of the
gospel when spoken privately by every individual Christian. But AC V
isn’t talking about the private activity of the individual Christian.
The Augsburg Confession clearly
teaches that Jesus instituted the pastoral office when he called the
apostles. We read in AC
It is my prayer that the
confessional Lutheran who belong to those synods formerly comprising the
Synodical Conference will be able to overcome their differences by means
of a common and faithful appeal to the clear meaning of the Sacred
Scriptures on those issues under dispute.
We share a common tradition that is in most respects very sound
and scriptural. Every once
in a while, however, we need to challenge paradigms that become
normative among us and keep us from grounding our teaching in the
Scriptures alone. It is
proper to put all church traditions to the biblical test and to do so
regularly. As the great
Wauwatosa theologian, J.P. Koehler put it:
If all of us follow Koehler’s advice and apply it to our teaching concerning the office given us by the Lord Jesus, the Pastor and Bishop of our souls, we can surely expect the blessing of the Holy Spirit on our labors.
Lutheran dogmatic theology has always treated the doctrine of the
church before the doctrine of the ministry.
The order in which the various topics of theology are
presented is not our concern here, but rather how the various topics
relate to each other.
 See, for example Sermons of Martin Luther, Edited by John Nicholas Lenker, Volume 2, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988, pages 359, 375-376.
C.F.W. Walther, translated by J.T. Mueller, Concordia Publishing
House, St. Louis, 1987, pages 268-29.
See, for example, “Children’s Bible History,” Board for Parish
Education of the WELS, 1973, pages 356-357.
Consider Luther’s argument in his letter to the Christians in
Prague: “Here we take our stand: There is no other Word of God
than that which is given all Christians to proclaim. There is no
other baptism than the one which any Christian can bestow. There is
no other remembrance of the Lord’s Supper than that which any
Christian can observe and which Christ has instituted. There is no
other kind of sin than that which any Christian can bind or
Works, American Edition. General
Editors, Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1958, Volume 40, pages 34-35.
 Luther’s assumption is
that the Church is born, not by the individual use of the means of
grace, but by the means of grace as given by God through His called
and ordained ministers. Consider
these words from his letter to the Christians in Prague:
“Ordination indeed was first instituted on the authority of
Scripture, and according to the example and decrees of the Apostle,
in order to provide the people with ministers of the Word.
The public ministry of the Word, I hold, by which the
mysteries of God are made known, ought to be established by holy
ordination as the highest and greatest of the functions of the
church, on which the whole power of the church depends, since the
church is nothing without the Word and everything in it exists by
virtue of the Word alone.” AE, Volume 40, page 11.
Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics, Volume IV, Adolf Hoenecke,
Translated by Joel Friedrich, Paul Prange, and Bill Tachmier,
Northwestern Publishing House, 1999, page 192.
Hoenecke, page 187.
See “Legalism Among Us” by J. P. Koehler, The Wauwatosa
Theology, Curtis Jahn, Editor, Northwestern Publishing House,
1997, Volume II, pages 229-282 and “The Origin and Development of
the New Testament Ministry” by John Schaller, The Wauwatosa
Theology, Volume III, pages 73-94. Koehler’s essay provides
the clearest expression of the spirit of Wauwatosa theology. Schaller’s essay remains the foundational work on the
ministry for the Wisconsin Synod.
These essays, especially the latter, are indispensable
reading for everyone who wishes to understand the Wauwatosa theology
which has strongly influenced the official teaching of the Wisconsin
Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
Consider, for example, the “Brief Statement,” the 1943
Catechism, and the 1987 Catechism, none of which appeal to any of
the texts in which Jesus instituted the pastoral office as
constituting such a divine institution.
 Consider Thesis Seven of “The Ministry of the Word: Evangelical Lutheran Theses for the Twenty First Century”: “Our Lord Jesus Christ has given to His church on earth this one office of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments as His gracious gift. Defining this office as the pastoral office is therefore an evangelical, not a legal, definition. Incumbents of this office need not serve a specific local congregation or carry out all the duties of the office as a matter of divine law. St. Paul, for example, did not regularly carry out all the duties entrusted to the office. The one and indivisible office of Christ therefore is held also by men such as theological professors, missionaries, chaplains, etc. who do not regularly carry out all of the duties of the office. However, all those who hold the office may rightly perform all the duties of the office when it is warranted.” at www.christforus.org.
Sad to say, neither side in the controversy paid sufficient
attention to the obvious fact that the teacher in the school does
nothing more than what God has always commanded parents to do and
for this reason derives his or her office from the office of father
and mother. See
Deuteronomy 6:7; Ephesians 6:4; LC, Ten Commandments, paragraph 141.
See also, “The Teaching of the Synodical Conference on the
Office of the Public Ministry,” by Rolf Preus at www.christforus.org.
 This does not mean that the pastor must always do everything the office gives him to do. He may confine himself largely to preaching. The issue here is not what a man may or may not do within the office, but what the office by its very nature gives him to do. Luther writes, “Therefore, whoever has the office of preaching imposed on him has the highest office in Christendom imposed on him. Afterward he may also baptize, celebrate mass, and exercise all pastoral care; or, if he does not wish to do so, he may confide himself to preaching and leave baptizing and other lower offices to others – as Christ and all the apostles did, Acts 4. “That a Christian Assembly or Congregation has the Right and Power to Judge all Teaching and to Call, Appoint, and Dismiss Teachers, Established and Proven by Scripture” AE, volume 39, page 314 Luther makes the same argument in his letter to the Christians in Prague, “Thus Paul writes in II Tim. 2[:2]: ‘These things entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others.’ Here Paul rejects all the show of tonsure and anointing and ordaining and only requires that they be able to teach, and to them alone he wants to entrust the Word. If the office of teaching be entrusted to anyone, then everything accomplished by the Word in the church is entrusted, that is, the office of baptizing, consecrating, binding, loosing, praying, and judging doctrine.” AE, volume 40, page 36.
See, for example, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion,
by Martin Chemnitz, Translated by Luther Poellot, Concordia
Publishing House, 1981, page 26.
The Office of the Ministry in N. Hunnius’ Epitome Credendorum:
A Voice from the Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy, James D. Heiser, The
Johann Gerhard Institute, 1995, pages 16-20.
Sources and Contexts of the Book of Concord, Edited by Robert
Kolb and James Nestingen, Augsburg Fortress, 2001, page 115.
For a thorough treatment of AC XIV see “The Doctrine of the
Call in the Confessions and Lutheran Orthodoxy” by Robert Preus, Church
and Ministry Today, John A. Maxfield, Editor, Luther Academy,
“Legalism Among Us” page 250.