Friday, October 15, 2010

The Ministry of (not or) the Word

Over the past couple of days I have been participating in a private discussion with a handful of sharp reverend fathers concerning the ministry, AC V, and the efficacy of the Word. A perennial question, it seems, when these discussions take place among us is: what about the Word apart from the ministry? The Word is the Word is the Word, right? So reading the Bible at home is the same or better than hearing a sermon. Or is it? Or something.

Doctor Nagel's chief insight, in my opinion, is that we should receive the gifts of God as he gives them. When we start cutting them into pieces - always with the excuse of figuring out a hard case, or of gaining greater theological acuity - we mess it up. This brilliantly simple and clear insight works with so many topics: family morality (sex, marriage, babies: one gift), the apostolic succession (Office of the Ministry is one gift - you can't cut the presbyter bit out of the apostle and only give that to some guys while giving the whole episkopos shebang to another), and here with the Ministry and the Bible.

Luke actually takes the time to really drive this home to us in the Acts of the Apostles. In chapter 8, with Philip and Ethiopian, we see that while the Church only knows doctrine from the Scriptures (sola Scriptura), she never knows a Scripture that is alone apart from the Ministry. "How can I understand what I read unless someone guide me?" Indeed! Ministry and Word - a gift given together. But just so that you don't get the wrong idea , a few chapters later we have the Bereans. Even an apostle is not to be believed just because he says so - the Bereans are noble for keeping the ministry connected to the Word by holding the minister to the Word.

So can a person become a Christian apart from the ministry? Can a person become a Christian apart from the Scriptures? Refer the person asking the first to the Ethiopian and the person asking the second to the Bereans.



  1. God does not intend the Word to remain in isolation. The idea of grabbing a book and sitting in a corner by ones own self isn't really a biblical idea. From the beginning, God has said that it is not food for man to be alone. This applies to spiritual matters as well - it is not good for us to be alone and isolated, for then temptations and blind spots and lack of understanding can do more harm.

    But then, there is the speaking and sharing of the Word, amongst brothers. Great, fantastic, and good. But to go beyond even this, the Public Ministry is established for the specific purpose of knowing the Word and proclaiming the Word. The duty and role of the Public Ministry is to ensure that those who need the Gospel are never left alone to face trials without the Word proclaimed directly to them.

  2. Fr. Brown,

    Where is the term Public Ministry in the Bible?

    I really don't like that term because it seems to have been contaminated with the Pieperian idea that everyone is a "private minister."

    I say we dump that one.


  3. St. Paul addresses this in Romans 10. How can they believe if they have no one preaching to them? There has to be preaching/ministry. This is why handing out bibles at the airport doesn't count as evangelism. I think this is the reason for the glut of 'devotional' material, everyone needs an interpreter/preacher. Just my 2 cents.

  4. This distinction is about Greek terms, but English usage. Whereas given the idea that everyone is a "minister" I think having a distinction between private and public serves a highly useful distinction. When the term "ministry" is returned to a usage where it refers first and foremost to those who are clergy, I will agree that the time to dump public ministry is at hand. But not yet.

    Other than your disliking my Pieperian overtones, what think you about the rest - oh man exercising the Public Ministry in Worden?

  5. Fr. Brown,

    Your statements are fine and good - but I think the time to dump "Public Ministry" is now. It does not serve a useful purpose. The distinction between clergymen and laity is not that one is a public minister and one is a private minister, but that one is called and placed in the Office of the Ministry and the other is not.

    This is a case where the invention of a non-Biblical term is not helpful.


  6. Ponder this Scaer quote (one of my favorites):

    I have a Bible at home; I spray dust on it.

  7. From a layman's view there is a dependence on the office of faith or minister. Maybe its terminology but we all have a duty to share the Gospel. The ministry of faith is deeper still. Based on I Cor 12:18, "God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose" it seems to me that pastors will have a gift at handling the Scriptures the way layman will not. It is more than a nimbleness due to languages and seminary work, there is an ability to handle, understand, communicate, properly stress law or gospel that laymen do not have. Would you agree with me that this is supported by AC V, "He works faith when and where it pleases God." The faith of ministers and laymen may not be argued from the perspective of depth or activity but perhaps it could be argued from a perspective of focus and insight.

    God bless our pastors, I like to call you fathers because I think that better defines your role from definition and concept. There is a reason the Holy Church has historically used this stamp on these men.

    Steve Foxx

  8. Fr. Curtis,

    I don't want to dominate the comments, but I would like a further explanation of your thoughts on "Public Ministry". You say, "This is a case where the invention of a non-Biblical term is not helpful."

    Is it not useful simply because it isn't "biblical"? That would be uncatholic standard, as we use many terms to describe Biblical realities not found in the bible (such as Catholic and Trinity), yet we find these to be good and useful in describing Biblical Truths.

    Is it not useful because there is only one office of the Ministry? But what then do we do with popular usage of the term in English? There is a wide, general usage of the term in English (even secular usages such as "Prime Minister"). How then is there to be a distinction between the specific, biblical office and the general term in English? (I'd actually contend that capitalizing "Ministry" is an attempt to do that, but capitalizations don't vocalize well) Does not there need to be some differentiation of the biblical idea from the common ideas of ministry - especially when that broad version is taught by many within our own Synod?

    (I'll go be quiet now)

  9. Fr. Brown,

    Non-biblical terms can be useful. Trinity is useful, for example.

    But not "Public Ministry." It invites an understanding, especially in our midst, that every Christian has the exact same ministry just "privately." That's Pieper's doctrine. That's why he likes the term. I think that doctrine is wrong - so I don't like the term.

    Better would be the term of our Confessions: The Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments; or Pastoral Ministry; or The Office of the Holy Ministry; or The Preaching Office, or anything but "The Public Ministry."


  10. Anecdotal but illustrative:
    My father was intrigued by the Bible. In High School read it twice and then started searching for a church. Many pastors/priests later he attended a Lutheran Adult Information Class. He explained that until "justification" (short hand for much longer story) was taught, the Bible made little sense to him.

    To reduce St. Paul's reflection of the spread of faith in Romans 10 to get a good systematic answer does no favor to article V which depends on Article IV and is expanded upon in Article VI.

    The Nagel question is: "When is the Bible not the Word of God?"

  11. The Office of the Holy Ministry has to do with assurance and comfort. Our Lord has instituted the OHM so that through it He would distribute His gifts. He has established no other way. For me, as one who grew up outside Lutheranism, the objective assurance of the forgiveness of sins given in the Word and Sacraments distributed by God's called and ordained minister was life changing. The OHM is a Gospel thing. It allows poor sinners a sure and certain place to find God's word of pardon for them. Why would we choose to go outside of our Lord's Word and promise? It is not simply for "good order" that one does publicly what everyone else can do privately. It is an institution of the Lord.

  12. I agree with Fr. Heath.

    "Public ministry" is a terrible term. It is not only non-biblical, it isn't used by the ancient fathers, nor our confessions, nor is it used at all today outside of a very sectarian use by a handful of Lutherans - and even then, really only by theologians who read other theologians who use the term.

    It reminds me of how Presbyterians use terms like "teaching elder" and "ruling elder" - completely sectarian. We Lutherans also love to be sectarian. We English-speaking Lutherans (and not even all of us) insist on using a sectarian translation of "katholos" in the very line of the Creed in which we confess our universalness. Yes, I know the history of how it got that way - but the fact that the German language of the 1400s lacked the right word is no excuse for us 21st century Americans who do not have such a lack.

    My personal policy is to avoid quirky sectarian terminology wherever possible (e.g. "public ministry") and speak like the rest of the una sancta - especially for something as controverted and misunderstood as the Holy Ministry. The term "public ministry" in our age of democracy and egalitarianism has proven to be a theological trainwreck.

    Thankfully, the term "public ministry" has been largely relegated to esoterica and was dropped by the LSB. It's pretty much gone out of common usage along with words like "farthing," "negro," and "kilocycle."

  13. I've been looking at older documents of the Synodical Conference type lately. Nowhere, but nowhere, is the term "public ministry" used in the German. Nowhere. It's "Predigtamt". "Preaching Office".

    Shall we begin the thousand year ban on "ministry" now and start using "preaching office"?

  14. Works for me, Fr. Juhl.

    A thousand year ban in every pot!


  15. Dear Dave:

    In spite of the at-times frivolous overuse of the word, the problem is not with the term "ministry" (diakonia - a fine biblical term that has now come to be associated almost exclusively with women "professional church workers" in the LCMS), but with the term "*public* ministry."

    "Preaching office" is a fine term from the German of the confessions. But I tend to favor the more universal terminology of the Latin of our confessions. German is an outstanding local language, but that's all that it is. It simply doesn't have the catholic gravitas of Latin - which was spoken, preached, and taught worldwide by fathers of the church and theologians for some 1500 years.

    The Greek term "diaconia" has been rendered in Latin as "ministerium," derived of course from the verb "ministro" (I serve). May the day never come when pastors shy away from their roles as servants. The Holy Ministry is indeed the Predigamt - but it is much more than that - unless the only thing the pastor does is preach.

    Preaching is part of his overall ministry - not vice versa.


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