The brothers over at the Brothers of St. John the Steadfast were discussing a recent article here at Gottesdienst wherein I mentioned that Rev. Matt Harrison was by virtue of his ordination "ontologically a bishop." The brothers wondered at my choice of words. I agree that they were perhaps not the best and I posted this in reply:
"Thanks for the kind words, fellas.
I didn’t mean “ontologically” to imply Rome’s theory of the indelible character. We don’t go for that. But I do think that ordination is the final step in God’s calling a man to be a minister through the Church (according to Chemnitz’ Enchiridion, this begins with education, call, testing, and then ordination). Once God does that, I believe the man is a pastor, a minister, until he dies, or until the Church defrocks him for just reason. I think our practice proves that this is what the Missouri Synod really believes: retired pastors are still pastors; as are men who serve as DP’s and so forth. How do I know? Because every time they are called to fill in for somebody on vacation they are not “installed” or “re-ordained.” If “ontologically a pastor” is not a good way of speaking – then help me out with another. “Once a pastor always a pastor”? I’m open to suggestions to get across the truth that one is a minister by the Call of the whole church, which is no revoked just because he’s serving as a professor, editor, or on CRM status.
Some say that Walther taught something different: that if you are not actually serving a parish, you are a layman. If that’s what Walther meant, I think he was wrong. If any would defend that doctrine (I’m looking at you Vehse) I’m going to want a prooftext, from, like, you know: the Bible.