[NB: This discussion started over at steadfastlutherans.com on an unrelated thread. It turned into a very good exchange concerning Walther, the MO Synod, Chemnitz, and the Confessions on the Ministry. I invited the folks there to continue the discussion here if they liked. Just previous to this post, Pr. Bohler asked me for a summary of my disagreements with Walther.]
There are many points in Walther's theology of the Ministry that I take issue with.
One is what exactly he means by "transference." He begins the theses by saying that the Office of the Ministry and the Priesthood of all Believers are separate things: "The holy ministry, or the pastoral office, is an office distinct from the priestly office, which belongs to all believers." That's good. They are distinct.
But then he seems to take away with the hand what he gave with the right, for the ministry is merely the administration of "the common rights of the spiritual priesthood in behalf of all." How can they be distinct if the Pastoral Office is nothing other than administering the "common rights" of the Priestly Office of all believers?
So Walther says, and Pieper continues to say in Christian Dogmatics, that every single Christian has the duty to preach, teach, baptize, administer the Lord's Supper, and pronounce absolution. I just don't find this is the Bible. I see Jesus giving these duties to his 12, and I see them appointing others in their stead. But I challenge anyone to find the Bible passage where Jesus gives these duties to all Christians.
This is the great hermeneutical divide: when you see Jesus giving these duties to his apostles do you read that as Jesus giving these duties, this Office, to the Church or to the Ministry or to Both? Do the apostles represent the Church, the Ministry, or Both? Walther clearly says the Church or Both. Wisconsin is bang on following Walther here. I say that is nonsense: the apostles are called apart from the Church from within the Church and made the Ministers.
It is really quite rich of the Missouri Synod's Waltherians to argue for a male only ministry by saying that Jesus only called male apostles and then use the same Bible passages (Matt 28, John 20) to say that these duties are given "immediately to all Christians" (Walther's and Pieper's words). Wisconsin is consistent on this and says that women may in fact perform all pastoral functions (preach the Word and administer the Sacraments) - just not in a way that hold authority over men. You may see John Brug's (president of WELS seminary) new book, The Ministry of the Word for verification of this point.
In Thesis VI, Walther makes his famous claim that only the "congregation" is the Church. To the end of his days, he said that no organization besides a local congregation could issue a call. This was once a very big bone of contention between WI and MO and there is a lot of literature on it. Since at least 1962, the MO Synod has reneged on this point.
Furthermore, Walther seems to think that the congregation can thus call a man into the office *apart from other clergy.* This is a tragic contradiction of the Treatise where the Church is laity and clergy together. No cabal of clergymen can call other clergymen to the office, but neither can a cabal of laymen do the same. Again, Chemnitz makes it clear that no one can come into the Office without the whole Church, clergy and laity, together doing their part.
Walther seems to have no concept of the entire church placing a man into the one Office of the Ministry through the work of the Church gathering in one place. Rather, each congregation just calls a man to do the duties they have all been given to do in their stead for the sake of good order according to the Lord's commands.
Some Lutherans are afraid that there is a pope hiding in every cupboard and thus think that the denial of the indelible character of ordination means that we must think along Walther's lines: as soon as a man isn't serving as a pastor he is a layman. Otherwise, you are just like the pope! Otherwise, you believe in the indelible character!
Nonsense. When the Confessions deny the indelible character they are denying 1) that a man can never be removed from Office, that the NT presbyterhood adheres in him as an Aristotelean qualitas and 2) that the power of the Ministry comes from this qualitas. But the Confessions are not saying that if an ordained man is not serving right at this moment as a parish pastor he has reverted to lay status. Um, wouldn't that be like, oh, I don't know: MARTIN LUTHER HIMSELF?
Once Christ places a man in the Office through His Church (which is clergy and laity together) he is in that Office until he is removed from it. Call this the Call with a capital C. His assignment throughout his life will change - parish pastor, college professor, district official, Lutheran Hour speaker, etc. Call this the call with a little c. One of Walther's problems is that he is so afraid of the indelible character that he confuses being placed into the Office with serving at a particular location in the Church.
For those interested in getting ad fontes in this argument, here is a suggested reading list:
AC (especially articles IV-VII, XIV, XXVIII)
Treatise on Power and Primacy of the Pope
Walther's Church and Ministry.
I think you will find that, in the words of Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the others.
And I leave aside the odd history of the adoption of Walther's Church and Ministry back in 1870-71 (hint: it wasn't written yet when it was adopted by the Convention! Kind of like voting on Obamacare. . . )
This has really turned into its own discussion much apart from this thread. I am therefore going to post this comment at Gottesdienst Online with a link back to the rest of the discussion here at Steadfast Lutherans. I invite Pr. Bohler and any others who wish to continue discussion Walther, the LCMS, Chemnitz, the Confessions, and the Ministry to continue the discussion over there.