Saturday, July 31, 2010

Once a pastor always a pastor?

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.

So what do you think? Am I Romanist for saying that the guys who have been pastors of congregations and are now on CRM status should still be referred to as Ministers of the Gospel? Is that unLutheran? That retired pastors are still pastors and when they fill in for vacationing pastors that this is not lay ministry?

If I'm right - then what is the best way to speak of this reality?



  1. Interesting argument. And yes, I'd agree that the LCMS does function this way. But I'd call it a happy inconsistency, as the Confessions speak of not preaching or teaching without the benefit of the rite vocatus.

    The notion of "once a pastor, always a pastor" does sound rather Roman. But it's better than the more purely functional WELS notion of "do the things that a pastor does and you're a pastor".

    Instead of a discussion on "who is properly called 'pastor', perhaps what's needed is a discussion on what constitutes the rite vocatus. For instance, does the retired, pulpit-supply pastor preach and administer the sacraments by virtue of his ordination, or by virtue of a call?

  2. Right Rev.,

    Here's how I look at call and ordination. Ordination is the final step in The Church calling a man to the ministry (an office, not merely a set of functions). Therefore, ordination is part of the call process, the end of the call process, in fact.

    What we name a "call to a parish" that may come later after ordination, or a "call to the seminary," doesn't undo the ordination, that big call process.

    So I think of ordination as the final step in the Call the the Ministry, and the call of a congregation the call to a particular location of ministry.

    So a retired pastor doesn't have to be called to a particular ministry and accept the call and be installed to fill in for a Sunday. He already is a pastor. His field of service is that he is retired and is available for service to the whole Church, which called him into the Ministry via the Call which was completed in ordination.

    Does that make sense?

    I think it does. And I think the old Missouri explanation, that WELS (if I understand them correctly) still holds to is kind of silly. Nobody believes it anyway: we all called retired pastors "Pastor." And we're right to do so.


  3. "He gave some to be . . . shepherds," Ephesians 4:11.

    "Shepherd the flock of God among you," 1 Peter 5:2.

    "If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task," 1 Timothy 3:1.

    Jesus is the "Shepherd and Overseer of your souls," 1 Peter 2:25.

    (That is, the Office of shepherd and overseer--both of which require a flock--is the Office of Christ.)

    Jesus mandates Peter to "feed My lambs," "tend My sheep," and "feed My sheep," John 21:15-17.

    Paul admonishes Timothy to "devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching," 1 Timothy 4:13.

    All of these point to a shepherd serving an actual flock. So my question is:

    Can you be a shepherd without a flock? If so, what is your scriptural backing for that?

    The best evidence for "once a pastor always a pastor" seems to be in 1 Corinthians 12:28.

  4. Right - in ordination one is called by the Church to shepherd sheep - how and which sheep a given pastor serves changes over time, but he's always a pastor, always a bishop, always an incumbent of the office. If he ever stops serving the flock of Christ, he doesn't stop being a pastor, he's just an unfaithful pastor.

    The man on CRM, the "retired" pastor, the professor, the DP, the parish pastor all serve the flock of Christ. A myopic insistence that the only flock there is to serve is a "local congregation" is what I think leads to the misunderstanding.


  5. But is that not Missouri's weakness? Congregation is pretty much the sole definition of Church in our book. I am not saying that this is correct but it is certainly our history. Of course, the felicitous inconsistency is that in some cases our practice is more catholic than our words... and sometimes the opposite; although the opposite is not a happy coincidence at all...

  6. It seems to me that the reason we have terms like "candidatus reverendi ministerii" is for those situations when, for various reasons, a shepherd is without a flock. That is, without a flock they may be a candidate to receive a call, but they do not currently have a flock to serve, no one to "pastor."

    On the other hand, there are men once called and ordained as pastors, but who now work in a secular field. If "once a pastor, always a pastor," how do you view those situations?

    As an example, I have a member of my congregation who resigned from his congregation, is now CRM, but not actively pursuing a call. While he is trained as a pastor, and is eligible to serve as a pastor, he is not the pastor of this church, or any church currently. But I still generally refer to him as "Pastor ___" to my members, same as I would a retired pastor.

    As for retired pastors, we typically refer to them officially as "pastor emeritus." They are generally welcome to preach in our congregations, we don't need to install them into the office any more than we would install a guest preacher from another church. But it would be inappropriate for a pastor emeritus to preach in a church apart from some invitation (or call) from a congregation. Same with guest preaching. Can you preach in a brother's pulpit merely because you are ordained, or don't you also need some kind of call to do so? But even preaching in a congregation doesn't make you their pastor.

    What's interesting is that the view that "the only flock there is to serve is a 'local congregation'" has been a stereotypical Missouri position, as opposed to a WELS tendency to talk about DPs and SPs and professors as called by the larger church to serve the flock of Christ, even if they may not regularly be serving in full "Word and Sacrament" ministry. That is, they are pastors serving their students as a professor or a president serving the congregations and pastors of the synod/district. We do consider our DPs, SPs, and Sem Profs to be pastors.

  7. I have a discussion of this issue here on my blog:

    The point I would make is that ministry rests on a divine promise. Christ himself is the agent of call and ordination. The local congregation is merely the agent through which Christ act via the Church-catholic to call a person to ministry.

    No where in the NT does it say that ministry some how evaporates if you don't use the office. This agree with Walther and the LC as I read them as well.

    This being said, I would distinguish between the valid possession of the office and the right to exercise it.

    In the first, ordination is valid if a person has been called and ordained via the aforementioned agents. In the second, they must be called by the Church-catholic via an individual congregation (or an aggregate there of via the synod- as in missions) to exercise ministry in a particular setting. A pastor can't just show up and decided to start exercising ministry at a particular parish.

    Secondly, if a pastor engages in false teaching and therefore is removed from his office, the ordination is still valid, but he does not have the right to exercise ministry.

    Nevertheless, if he repents and comes back to his ministry, there is no need for re-ordination. God's Word of promise and call doesn't change, even if we act faithlessly. Hence his call and ordination are not invalid, even if he is sinning against them.

  8. Are there some callings that are irrevocable? Seems like it: parent, spouse, preacher, hearer.

    Maybe that leads us too far afield of the original question. Or maybe it's related. A man may no more quit being a pastor than he can quit being a husband or father.

  9. I think part of the problem is our terminology.

    We're using the functional term "pastor" to describe an ontological condition (what a man is).

    An ordained man (i.e. a presbyter) is always an ordained man - even if he is retired or even defrocked. Men who are ordained as presbyters are never again ordained - not even if they change calls, leave the pastoral ministry and return, or even if they apostate and return (which happens sometimes).

    In that sense, ordination is like baptism. It is not repeated. This is not to concede that a man receives some sort of metaphysical mark - but no matter how you slice it, once a presbyter always a presbyter. Ordination (like baptism) is a historical act that can;t be "undone."

    Now, a presbyter may well be a pastor, or he may be a seminary professor, chaplain, district president, or what have you instead of serving a congregation. He may be retired, or may have decided to write books for a living instead of working in a congregation. Just because he is not functioning as a parish pastor doesn't mean that he has somehow surrendered his status as an ordained presbyter.

    If we were to restrict the term "pastor" to the functional sense as one possible vocation for an ordained presbyter (or priest), and use the ontological terminology (i.e. presbyter or priest) to describe what a man is (rather than what he does) - these questions would go away.

    It is a tempest in a teapot to ask questions like "Is Rev. Matthew Harrison a pastor?" If we're asking if he is an ordained bishop/presbyter of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, "yes." If we're asking if he is a parish pastor, "no."

    Our functionalism in the LCMS and our shying away from historical and confessional terminology has gotten us into this mess. We solve so many problems by simply submitting to tradition. If we were to do that, we could actually be occupied fighting the devil instead of debating each other - at least not quite so much anyway.

  10. I think you are spot on - when you have been ordained you have been approved by the Church at large to be a bishop. Until one is defrocked our renounces this (not just retires, but renounces it) - you remain deemed tried, tested, and proved by the Church to properly preach and administer. You have been called to the office according to the rites of the Church.

    One who has been ordained has been set aside as one who is fit to preach and teach - and until that setting aside is undone. . . it holds. Now, whether one who is properly ordained can and should teach or preach, well, there needs to be a mediate call or specific invitation... but still eligible.

  11. I think Pastor Beane's post is correct, although I still find the term "ontological condition" jarring. Really, ordination is more a forensic condition, having to do with God's declaration of a call and the promise associated with it, not a change in a person's being. Roman Catholics can talk about an ontological condition because it mirrors their doctrine of justification. You are saved because of your ontological status as achieved through infused grace and priests are always priests because of their indelible mark (ontological status). Lutherans say we are declared justified on account of the imputation of Christ's merits. We can subjectively throw away our justified status in Christ that we received in faith at baptism, but objectively we remain justified due to the universal nature of the atonement. Likewise, Lutheran priests objectively retain the status of God's declarative call regardless of whether they are currently pastoring of congregation or have fallen away, whatever. But it doesn't have to do with the pastor's ontological status; rather, it has to do with God's faithful external Word. Maybe wrong, but just my two-cents.
    Bethany Kilcrease

  12. Dear Bethany:

    I don't think we need to fear the word "ontology." It just means that we "are" something rather than we "act as" something. "Ontological" is in contrast to "functional."

    A pastor *is* a pastor - he doesn't just "function" as one (though he may well function as one). But the bigger question would be "is the ministry ontological or functional." Lutherans have traditionally said that ontology and function go together - which is why we don't ordain a man without an intention of calling him, nor do we call men without ordination.

    Interestingly, the Roman and Lutheran views of the ministry and ordination are virtually identical. The Roman Confutation only criticizes the Lutheran position that the minister of ordination can be a presbyter (the Roman Catholic church argues that he must be a bishop). Lutherans argue that the difference between presbyter and bishop are only by human right, not divine right.

    And in fact, no Lutheran pastor was "re-ordained" after the Reformation. It is a one-time rite precisely because it is ontological - otherwise it would be repeated based on function. This is not to say that we can dogmatize anything about what metaphysically happens to a man at ordination, though Scripture is clear that a man receives the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, the the confessions concede that so long as we emphasize God's promise, we have no problem saying ordination is a sacrament.

    Another way to think about it might be to compare the ministry to the medical profession.

    Is a person who graduates from medical school a "doctor"? Yes. He ontologically has the degree of M.D. when it is conferred on him. He *is* a doctor. Does he function as one? Well, if he takes a job as a physician, he does. So, a doctor is both ontological (by vitue of his degree, his "ordering" if you will) and functional (by virtue of his vocation, "call" if you will).

    A man could be granted an M.D. and then not function as a doctor. So, is such a person a doctor? Yes, and no. It depends on whether we mean "ontologically" a doctor or "functionally" a doctor.

  13. Pastor Beane,

    Sure, I'll agree that if ontologically is merely taken to mean the opposite of functional, it works fine. Normally I think of it as referring to what a thing is in and of itself though, in its essence, substance, whatever. Granting a person an MD is a very good example. But it doesn't effect what I would call an ontological change in a person. I'm not sure what the word I'm looking for is, because it is indeed a question of what a person "is", not a question of function, but I think not a question of internal essence, but rather external declaration as the MD example shows. It's not the change of being that makes someone a priest, but the reality imputed by God's call mediated through the church. Not sure what the right term for that is though. In any case, I entirely agree with your use of the term ontological in opposition to a functionalist view, it's just not the term I would use. Or maybe I would since I apparently can't think of a better one. Many thanks for your helpful comments. Oh, my husband and I enjoy your blog as well.

  14. Granting a person an MD is a very good example. But it doesn't effect what I would call an ontological change in a person. -- Bethany

    Precisely. Therein lies the weakness of the otherwise good "analogy," which was not confused with being an "identity." But it further establishes the point which, I think, Fr. Beane advances.

    Arguably, a change has occurred in the ordained, to which St. Paul refers to in 1 Tim 4:14. "Do not neglect the gift which was given to you by prophesy when the prebuteros laid their hands on you." The Breath of Christ, described in John 20, is transmitted and passed on through the hands of the vine-yard workers, in the early Church and the Church of today. Didn't that Breath fundamentally change the Thessalonian "body, mind, and spirit," of the rascals who turned tail and ran in Gethsemane, and thence barred the doors?

    Their gift was not merely a shingle to hang up with the initials "M.D.," or a billing address; theirs ... and young Timothy's ... gift was something immaterial and quite holy. There is no reason for Lutherans to be frightened of "ontology," even if it does come about by a Person identifed by the Son as the Holy Ghost.

    One may choose to use a gift; one may neglect it, like dear auntie's red-and purple striped sweater overlaid with a sequined-green puppy, bestowed at Christmas. You're still stuck with it.

  15. Good discussion, thank you.
    Being currently CRM myself, I've had some time to think on this very topic. It seems we can go one of two ways on this; those who are CRM, Em, DP etc. should be Called by a local congregation as Assitant/Associate to "serve the Church as needed", or we reteach the entire Synod out of the strict congregationalist thinking about those who hold the Office.

    My biggest concern is that those who do not have a specific Call are not accountable to an Altar.
    Karl W. Gregory

  16. (I’m looking at you Vehse) I’m going to want a prooftext, from, like, you know: the Bible.

    Walther was right. Loehe and his sacerdotalist sect are wrong. Try Matthew 23:8-12. And for an exposition on that and other provided Scriptural references, you can check out on p. 198 in what the members of the Missouri Synod have declared to be the pure doctrine (reine Lehre) of church and ministry, the definitive statement under Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions of the Synod’s understanding on the subject of church and ministry, and the official position of the Missouri Synod since 1852. From Thesis IV, on the Ministry it is clear that a man who does not have a call to the ministry is only a priest and layman. The following are excerpts from Church and Ministry (Kirche und Amt) (C.F.W. Walther, trans J.T. Mueller, CPH, St. Louis, 1987, pp. 199ff):

    Luther: “It is a fabrication to call the pope, bishops, priests, and those in cloisters a spiritual state while princes, masters, laborers, and farmers are classified as a secular state. This is indeed a very subtle contrivance and hypocrisy, but let it not fill us with fear. For all Christians constitute a spiritual state, among whom there is no difference except only that of the office….

    “Therefore, the state of a priest should be nothing else in the Christian church [Christenheit] than that of an official. Because he has an office, he is advanced; if he is deposed , he is a farmer or a citizen like all the rest… (“To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,” 1520, St. Louis edition, 10:270ff)

    Luther: “There is also in itself no distinction among bishops, elders, priests, laymen. No one is distinguished from other Christians except that one has another office with which he has been entrusted to preach the God’s Word and administer the sacraments, just as a mayor or judge is not different from other citizens except that he is commanded to rule the city. Those who have invented and introduced such distinctions among Christians and have divided them into clerics and laymen have divided the unity of Christian people...” (“Monograph on the Abuse of the Mass,” 1521, St. Louis edition, 19:1097-98)

  17. Luther: “Whoever is in charge of this (office) is not a priest on account of the office (as are all the others), but he is a servant of all the others. And if he no longer can or will preach and serve, he again takes his place in the common assembly, entrusts his office to another, and is nothing more than any other ordinary Christian. Behold, in this way you must distinguish the ministry or the office of service [Dienstamt] from the common priesthood of all baptized Christians. For this office is no more than a public service that is entrusted to one by the whole congregation, who all are equally priests” (“Exposition of Ps. 100”, 1539, St. Louis edition, 5:1037).

    Henry Barner: “The fact that they (the Christians) do not publicly administer the office of teaching in publico ministerio (public office) is caused by vocationis defectus (lack of a call), for they were neither asked nor called [into it]. Here we must distinguish inter stadium et officium, between status and office. To the office belongs specialis vocation, a special call; that must be entrusted and commanded. But to the status [a call is] not [necessary]. All Christians indeed are priests, but they are not all pastors. For besides the fact that someone is a Christian and priest, [to be a pastor] he must also have an entrusted office and parish (Luther, vol. 5, fol.157). It is the call that makes pastors and ministers (the same, vol. 1, fol. 290)...” (Summary of the New Man, approved by the theological faculty at Wittenberg, 1659, 2:379)

  18. Dear Carl:

    "Popes and councils" have erred and even contradicted one another. If you can't cite anything other than "popes and councils," you're not really advancing the discussion.

    Your sole "proof-text" from Scripture is a Dominical warning against arrogance. It has nothing to do with the topic of ordination and the office of the ministry.

    Citations from the Book of Concord would be really helpful. But then again, the Latin of the BOC actually uses the word "sacerdos" over and over and over again as a term to describe the Lutheran pastor.

    Though the ministry is not a recapitulation of the Levitical priesthood, there is an element of that priesthood in the ministry: "But the sacrifices of the sons of Levi, i.e. of those teaching in the New Testament, are the preaching of the Gospel and the good fruits of preaching" (Ap 24:34). The apology then cites Rom 15:16 which reads (in the ESV): "to be a minister of Christ Jesus in the priestly service (ἱερουργοῦντα) of the Gospel of God, so that the offering (προσφορὰ) of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit."

    It is undeniable that even as the baptized laity hold a priesthood, so do the ordained clergy. I believe that both lay people and pastors need to reconnect to that understanding of the priestly nature of their vocations.

    The Lutheran theology of the office of the ministry is much closer to Roman Catholicism than to the functional/congregational understanding of the Baptists, or the "teaching elder/ruling elder" Reformed structure adopted by the early LCMS.

    "This is about the Sum of our doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers." (AC Summary 1)

    "Our churches dissent in no article of faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new..." (AC Abuses 1)

    There is no Roman Catholic objection in the Confutation to Article 5 of the AC ("Of the Ministry") and their only objection to Article 14 ("Of Ecclesiastical Order") involved the issue of who is the required minister of ordination. There was no dispute about ordination itself. (continued...

  19. Nowhere in the Book of Concord is ordination rejected, called an adiaphoron, nor is the "gift of God" given through the "laying on of hands" (2 Tom 1:6) ever gainsaid.

    This is why our ministers "are accordingly called priests (Latin: "sacerdotes"), not in order to make any sacrifices for the people as in the Law , so that by these they may merit remission of sins for the people; but they are called to teach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments to the people." (Ap 13:9)

    "But if ordination be understood as applying to the ministry of the Word, we are not unwilling to call ordination a sacrament.... If ordination be understood in this way, neither will we refuse to call the imposition of hands a sacrament." (Ap 13:11-12).

    And, of course, there is no passage of Scripture nor example within the Church of "re-ordination" just as there is no text or example of "re-baptism" - except among the very sects that our confessions denounce.

    The LCMS "Mark of Cain" has backed us into a corner by requiring us to either side with the Confessions or side with a small band within the early LCMS that broke the confessional seal, imposed democracy on the church, committed theft and kidnapping, and may have even destroyed a pastor's reputation by lying.

    Once again, Carl, you can cite all the LCMS resolutions that you want. We have, in our past, called life insurance a sin, prevented our boys from joining the Boy Scouts, and endorsed the Ablaze program. Luther also called upon us to burn down synagogues.

    Luther and LCMS resolutions can he helpful secondary witnesses, but one can find contradictions and changes-of-mind within both. These discussions really need to take place based on the Bible and the Book of Concord.

  20. Pr Beane,

    I'm you think the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, Smalcald Articles, Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope contradict what Luther stated about the office of the ministry in 1520-1539? Somehow I don't think that's the case. You remind me of those who disregard the Founders' explanations of the Constitution because they had slavery.

    As to the original post: "ontological" is not the proper word. Don't use it. It's too close to Rome. God calls pastors to an officium, that is, a duty or office. Look at Luther's Lectures on Galatians 1:1 (originally taught in 1531) AE 26:13-22. Dr Luther rightly emphasizes the call as the assurance to a minister/pastor that his ministry is from God. Do you think Dr Luther had Augustuna 14 in mind? Of course. Dr Luther teaches you, "Therefore, we who are in the ministry of the Word have this comfort, that we have a heavenly and holy office; being LEGITIMATELY CALLED to this, we prevail over the all the gates of hell." AE 26:20. It is telling that Dr Luther does not mention ordination in this section, perhaps, he understood it as part of the call?

  21. A pastor has the responsibility and the authority to publicly preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. That responsibility and authority come from a pastor’s call through the congregation, not from ordination or installation. If the man has no call, he is not a pastor, but only a layman.

    In his Zion on the Mississippi (CPH:St. Louis, 1953, pp. 431-2), Walter O. Forster wrote about the Saxon confusion over the call after Stephan had been deposed on May 30, 1839:

    “In reviewing the new order of things, it seems suddenly to have occurred to the clergy for the first time in their careers as impresarios of the immigration that they were occupying a most peculiar position in relation to the various groups of people over whom Stephan had placed them and whom they had been wont glibly to call their ‘congregation,’ but with whom they really had no official standing. As Vehse was to point out to them later, they were at this time no pastors at all. They had resigned their positions in Germany and had not been called to office since that time, but had merely been appointed by Stephan. Now that the Bishop had been removed, they were deprived of any basis for such nebulous authority as they claimed and exercised. A restatement of that authority seemed necessary.

    “The clergymen were successful in securing confirmation of their positions from the people, apparently without serious protest, although in great haste. On the request of the ministers themselves, 'calls' were issued to them orally on June 1, 1839, by the Gesellschaft as a body….

    “It is not known that a single voice in the Gesellschaft was raised against this irregular procedure at the time. Vehse seems to have stood irresolutely by, only to become, at a later date, the spearhead of an attack upon the system whose salvaging he now was too bewildered to oppose… Even the pastors had their compunctions, but were careful to express them only in private. Notably, their scruples were based upon nothing more than continued adherence to the hierarchical principles of Stephan with which they were still imbued. According to their theories of the episcopal succession, they believed in the continuance of the ministry only through ordination by a bishop or similar dignitary. Thus despite their insistence upon a 'call' from the people, the clergymen were not convinced in their own minds that this was sufficient. For this reason they considered an appeal for ordination to the Swedish Lutheran Church, to whose Episcopal form of polity they had referred admiringly a number of times in their official documents.”

  22. Dear Matt:

    Luther often changed his mind on things, as well as used hyperbole to argue against one faction or another. Luther was so prolific, that one can find a Luther quote (especially when context is ignored) to put just about any words into his mouth that one wants to.

    This is why it is unfortunate (to a certain extent) that we are referred to by our enemy-picked label "Lutherans." Some people think we hold to everything the brilliant but fallible Luther wrote. Some Lutherans quote Luther as a kind of magisterial papal figure. Some argue that he was prophesied about in Rev 14. In fact, Luther was a brilliant church father - nothing more, nothing else.

    I just think we should stick with the norma: the Bible (normans) and the confessions (normata). Citations from the fathers (including the venerable Father Luther) can be of help - but only secondarily. And things like CTCR statements, the LCMS bylaws, and synodical resolutions are, in my opinion, the least helpful for theological study.

    The word "called" when referring to the ministerial call is not necessarily what we mean when we use the word "call" in the 21st century LCMS (which is the same word that we use for school teachers, DCEs, deaconesses, etc. in addition to pastors). The word "called" (vocatus) often means "rite vocatus" (as from AC14) - which is a canon law term for ordination.

    One is not called into the ministry without ordination. There is a process of study, of being pronounced acceptable, of being placed, and of having hands laid on by presbyters. For all of the wild-eyed (and completely sectarian) assertions floating around the LCMS that ordination is a mere adiaphoron, that "laying on of hands" does not mean ritual ordination but rather a democratic election, that ordination confers nothing - I have yet to ever read about anyone actually graduating seminary and taking a call to a congregation and choosing to forgo the rite of ordination. Nor have I heard of anyone having it done twice.

    As far as "too close to Rome" goes, this is the very reason why some Lutherans will not cross themselves. This is why Walther had to defend chanting and other liturgical practices. I think we need to get over this Methodist aversion to anything Roman and start living out the reality that "This is about the Sum of our doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers." In the popular youth slogan, I think we need to "dare to be Lutheran" and quit trying to be Baptists.

    Our beef with Rome regarding the ministry and ordination is minimal (See AC 5, the Confutation, and the Apology).

  23. I think it's interesting that our (LCMS's) earliest Agendas do change the rite around a bit to distinguish between an ordination and an instillation. Lochner seems to have thought something more was necessary. He provides two very distinct rites for ordination and instillation in his Formulae.

  24. Regarding the adiaphoron of ordination and its history with the Missouri Saxons -
    In his Zion on the Mississippi (CPH, 1953, pp. 512-3), Walter O. Forster describes a "curious course of action" regarding ordination by Ottomar Fürbringer, Walther's brother-in-law and several years later to become one of the founders of the Missouri Synod:

    "Fürbringer adopted a curious course of action in accepting a call to Elkhorn Prairie (Venedy), Illinois, without ordination, although he considered ordination so highly important that he wished to have [Andreas G.] Rudelbach write to O.H. Walther in St. Louis to authorize the latter to do it. (This was because Rudelbach was a 'Superintendent' in the Saxon State Church and therefore qualified to perform or authorize such a rite, in the Fürbringer version of apostolic succession.) Without ordination Fürbringer felt he should not accept. However, the final result was that he went nevertheless, took office August 23, 1840 (after having preached there in May), but was not ordained until 1843. This interesting bit of casuistry apparently can be rationalized only by concluding that Fürbringer considered it bad to serve a congregation without proper ordination, but that if he decided to serve a congregation – for whatever reason – he would rather serve it unordained than ordained by the wrong people. Stephanism was not dead!"

  25. Dear Pastor Beane,

    Please don't take my words or our disagreement as disrespect...I have deep respect for your faithfulness to your call and ordination vows and rejoice that the flock in Gretna has such an undershepherd.

    I'd submit Luther did NOT change his mind on the issue of ordination or the call after 1520...but he did emphasize different doctrines to combat various heresies (as you pointed out.) He emphasized the baptized priesthood of believers against Rome's false idea of a special spiritual of estate of men who had been "ontologically" changed and given the power to perform the sacrifice of the Papal mass to merit the forgiveness of sins. Luther realized in 1520 that it's about the office (Officium , Amt, ministerium Verbi et sacramentorum) to which God called a man through the church. And that's the language of the Confessions.

    I'd also suggest that Luther was well aware of what was in the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, the Smalcald Articles, and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. His writings can illuminate further what those confessional documents meant. It's why the authors of Formula cite Luther so often, but not on his anti-Jewish rants or interpretations of Revelation.

    Yes...Ordination is part of the call...rite vocatus. I've understood it to be the last "step" in the process of pastoral formation (Chemnitz?) In fact, that's what Luther meant in his lectures on Galatians that I referenced above. The Confessions and Melanchthon's Loci Communes put ordination in with the call. (Apology 13; Loci Communes Locus 13-1543 ed.) Both sources suggest that it could even be called a sacrament. However, nowhere and in no way do Luther, the Confessions, or Melanchthon suggest anything like an "ontological" change. At least I cannot find it. I think it's dangerous language for us to use. Officium non hominem. Servant of the Word...minister Verbi.

    Be sure, I grew up in MS (so I'm very familiar w/Baptists), I love the liturgy and have a Ph.D. in medieval ecclesiastical history. The "making the sign of the cross" comparison is weak.

  26. Dear Matt:

    No insult perceived!

    Luther changed his mind on many things.

    Certainly the first Lutherans - while confessing that one need not have bishops to ordain, actually wanted to retain the episcopacy for the sake of good order, and for that reason, waited many years to ordain anyone apart from a bishop. In Germany, there simply wasn't any choice.

    Of course, in Sweden, some of the RC bishops became Evangelical, and the Swedish Lutherans retained episcopal polity and what the Confutation referred to as "canonical ordination" - while acknowledging that the grade of bishop is by human, rather than divine, right.

    The problem with the "character indelibilis" is that it goes beyond Scripture - sort of like transubstantiation. We know a change happens to the elements during the consecration, but God's Word is not specific enough for us to go into much detail. We don't want to speculate apart from God's Word.

    Something remarkable clearly happens at ordination (2 Tim 1:6) involving the "gift of God" through the "laying on of hands." There is a blessing that happens, and speaking as an unworthy servant of Christ, there is great comfort in that. It isn't just a ritual. It is a grant of divine authority. It is humbling. It isn't power in the man in and of himself, but authority, granted by the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23). And yet there is very real ontological authority granted to a very real and specific man. It isn't just a function performed by whoever is up to bat (which is the Quaker view of ministry, and not far off of the WELS view), but it is given to specific men called - and not merely "called" (vocatus) but specifically "called according to the rite" (rite vocatus) - the rite being ordination. Rite vocatus is a term from canon law. It is fitting that the term was specifically adopted by the Lutherans in AC 14. There was no fear of it being "dangerous language for us to use."

    We retained ordination over and against the Anabaptists and fanatics. And the fact that it is biblical explains the very texts we use in ordinations (e.g. Matt 28:18-20, John 20:21-23, 1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6, etc.). Continued...

  27. And while Scripture doesn't give us details about how we're different, nevertheless, you come out of the other end different than when you went in. Not better, not more powerful, not any less a sinner - but endowed with divine authority. "It is not of ourselves, but by grace because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus" (Rom 15:15-16).

    Because it has God's promise, that is why we're okay calling it sacramental.

    This shouldn't freak out anyone. There is very real ontological blessing at work when we give the benediction, speak a divine blessing over food, graves, crosses, or wedding rings, when we anoint the sick or speak absolution with the traditional imposition of hands. All of these things have a divine promise, all given by grace, all very real (ontological).

    The same is true when a man has hands solemnly laid on him by other men in the ministry and is blessed by them.

    People can try to tear down ordination all they want to (and I'm not saying you are, Matt), but that's okay. I take great comfort in it, and I actually believe the words that were spoken over me at my ordination. I have a picture of my ordination in my office, as it is a reminder not just what I do for a "job" (function), but who I "am" by God's grace and calling (ontology).

    It's a little like "being" a dad rather than simply "doing the job" of dad. I was definitely changed at the birth of my son. I am not just a guy who "fathers" (function) - I "am" a father (ontology). We fathers are ontologically so, and ought not shy from the term.

    And this ontological component is why a woman can't "be" a father or a presbyter. If the ministry were only functional, there would be no issue about women being qualified for ordination.

  28. Just so we're objection was to the use of term "ontological" not rite vocatus. The Confessions clearly use the term rite vocatus.

    While your explanation certainly clarifies the use of the term, it doesn't mean it's a good idea. I guess it's a similar issue to the tabernacle.

  29. My objection is to the arbitrary use of the term "adiaphoron," in the matter of priestly "ordination." In the "Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope," for example, it is stated that (K-W, p. 340) "The gospel bestows upon those who preside over the churches the commission to proclaim the gospel, forgiveness of sins, and administer the sacraments." In the Apology (XIII.11; K-W p. 220), our Lutheran forefathers assert with cheeky temerity that "if ordination is understood with reference to the ministry of the Word, we have no objections to calling ordination a sacrament."

    Note that those who "preside over the churches" are given the marching orders to proclaim and administer. This commission is said to be bestowed by the Word of God, the gospel. Moreover, in sec. 62 of the Treatise, those who "preside over the churches" are explicitly identified as "pastors, prebyters or bishops." It isn't Aunt Gertrude.

    A sacrament is not an adiaphoron ... even though many self-labeled Lutherans have, over time, become sloppy in their frequency of celebrating the dear Lord's Supper, in stark contrast to what the Confessions claim to the Lutheran adversaries.

    If the "ordination" rite were merely an adiaphoron, back in the 16th century, why bother to contend so vigorously about a matter of taste? The Confessions speak of "rights," those inalienable things so dear to the hearts of the American Sons of Liberty, hyper-democrats like Vehse Sr., and etc.; indeed, it is proclaimed (sec. 72; K-W p. 341) that "All this evidence makes clear that the church retains the right to choose and ordain ministers." If the bishops withhold and are stinkers, our Lutheran fathers note that "the churches are compelled by divine right to ordain pastors and ministers for themselves ..."

    The kicker is that the sentence does not stop there. The churches, say the fathers, are compelled to ordain for themselves, yes, ... but in the presence of their pastors."

    The Church is not a democracy. Ordination is very important and dear to the hearts of 16th century Lutherans; not a matter of choice of vestment colors, during Advent. So important, to the point of sacramental, that it is a good thing to have some pastors around when it is conducted. The presence of Aunt Gertrude is not, however, mandatory.

  30. Sorry I'm getting in on the comments a little late. . .

    1. It's actually stronger than "in the presence of their pastors," I think. It's an ablative of instrument: using their own pastors.

    2. It is not only believable but certain that Lutheranism ignored Luther on many topics - especially the ministry. The Wittenberg faculty, by 1672, were writing things like this in answer to whether laymen could absolve, "I presuppose that the question is put only concerning absolution, whether it ought and is able to be performed by laymen in a case of necessity: this question is certainly not to be understood concerning the performance of the following sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, for our theologians, as is known, demonstrate time and again that this is in no way able to be performed by laymen (of course, baptism is able to be administered by them in a case of necessity, nor should the minister perform it again)."

    They go on to differentiate between the absolute absolution that God gives, the ministerial absolution (realiter atque vere) that the ordained ministers give, and "significative absolutio" given by laymen. So minsiters "really and truly" give ministerial absolution while the laity can only give signifying absolution, and can in no way conduct the Lord's Supper.

    This is all quite contrary to Luther's Quasimodo Geniti sermons (just published in Engish in LW 69). They knew that. They were following Chemnitz' doctrine of the ministry, not Luther's.

    Even Homer nods; even Luther could drop the ball. We don't interpret the Confessions in light of Luther, but the other way around.


  31. HRC,

    The 1672 Wittenberg faculty was wrong. Lay persons may hear fellow Christians' confessions and absolve depending on the vocational situation. A father's absolution of his child is not "significative" only but real and absolute as the gospel. Luther taught that and so do the Confessions. Neither the Bible, the Confessions, nor Dr Luther make such a distinction as "absolute or ministerial" vs. "significative." Luther also taught properly regarding confession and absolution in the early 1530s in his Hauspostils (don't have the reference now but it's translated in the Lenker). The Large Catechism's explanation of confession and absolution may also be helpful in this discussion since it follows what Dr Luther taught regarding The Babylonian Captivity regarding confession and absolution.

    Homer ain't and the 1672 Wittenberg faculty are.

    The Lord's Supper is a completely different issue.

  32. Grammatical Correction: "...what Dr Luther taught regarding confession and absolution in The Babylonian Captivity."

  33. Flaccius,

    Why is the Lord's Supper a different issue? What in the NT makes you think that what was given to the Apostles in John 20 is the exact same thing as when one Christian absolves another? Does Luke 10:16 apply to all Christians? Then why did Jesus speak it just to the 70? Why does the Book of Concord apply that text to the Office of the Ministry and not to the priesthood of all believers, etc?

    These are the sorts of questions that still hang over Lutheranism. The fact is that Luther, Chemnitz, and Melanchthon did not all speak the same way on the Ministry.

    Today we stand sorely in need of a lot of ad fontes to the Biblical text especially around this exegetical question: when Jesus pulls aside the 12 and sends them out, do they represent the Clergy, the Laity, or both?

    For example, when Missouri wants to argue against women's ordination, it suddenly becomes a very big deal that all the apostles were men - that is, the apostles are the clergy. But then, when Luther's doctrine of the ministry (which is, I am convinced, the WELS doctrine but not the Confessional doctrine) now the apostles represent everybody.

    And again, why the distinction between absolving and conducting the Lord's Supper? WELS is consistent here; and thus they have had women conduct celebrations and have issued a statement saying this will cease, but only for the sake of unity and peace in the church, not for any theological reason.

    There is a lot to be thought about here; it requires a lot of research and careful writing - not blog fare. But I'll send you a paper that I presented at Symposia a while back and maybe that will spur you on to a full length paper as well. That's what we need - some in depth back and forth. . .


  34. "The keys are an office and power given by Christ to the Church for binding and loosing sin, not only the gross and well-known sins, but also the subtle, hidden, which are known only to God, as it is written in Ps. 19:13: Who can understand his errors?" Smacald Articles, Part III, art. vii.

    Please send me your paper.

    A proper understanding of the doctrine of vocation, a linchpin of the Wittenberg Reformers' teaching, would clarify these issues.

    Nobody who properly understands the Confessions, Dr Luther, or Walther would advocate a "everyone is a minister/pastor" notion.

  35. Flacius,

    Amen to your last paragraph!

    The paper is on its way.

    And there is no disagreement at all with that quotation from SA. But what Luther said in his Quasimodo geniti sermons, what he says in Babylonian Captivity, etc. goes way beyond that to his own particular theory that is not, in my opinion, endorsed by the Confessions. There is a reason that very little of the bulk of the Confessions are actually from Luther's pen. . .

    But on this point - yes, the Keys are given to the Church. Everything is given to the Church. But that doesn't mean that every single member of the Church is given the authority and command to administer the Sacraments. The AC makes that point clear in Art. XIV - as the Wittenberg faculty were also trying to make clear. Both of those are in sharp contrast to Luther's Quasimodo Geniti sermons. . .


  36. Just a quick interjection into the discussion between forgiveness as pronounced by a pastor and forgiveness as pronounced by a layman...

    Apology 12:109: "Maybe someone will quote James 5:16, 'Confess your sins to one another.' But this does not speak of the specific confession to be made to priests but of the reconciliation of brethren to each other, for it commands that the confession be mutual."

    Thus, our confessions do make a distinction between people forgiving one another and reconciling in the Lord, and, sacramental absolution in which the pastor, by virtue of his office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, declaring forgiveness as from God Himself.

    Both are necessary. Both are good. Both are efficacious. But they are different according to vocation.


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