Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Office of the Holy Ministry, cont.

[NB: This discussion started over at 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
Chemnitz' Enchiridion
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.



  1. FTR: John Brug is NOT the President of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. He is a Professor at WLS.

  2. He was once, though, right? I corresponded with him some years ago and I thought he was president then. I guess he has moved on. . .

    Thanks, Fr. Juhl, for the correction.


  3. No, Brug has never been president of the seminary, just the most prolific author and probably the most highly respected theologian on campus.

    However, I would side with ELS pastor D. Jay Webber against what some from our seminary have proposed, namely, that a woman could (even theoretically) administer the Sacrament to a group of women. That's just wrong.

  4. You left out Chemnitz' godly magistrate being involved...

  5. "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."

    Sasse does not say that this is nonsense. He says instead that this is the genuine Lutheran, paradoxical, balanced way to think about this:

    To the Twelve Jesus gave the office of preaching the Gospel to every creature and making disciples of all nations by baptizing them. To them He gave the mandate at the Last Supper: "Do this in remembrance of Me." Who were the Twelve? They were the first ministers (Amtstraeger). From them proceeds "the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments" [AC 5]. But they are at the same time the church, the ekklesia, the representatives of God's new people of the end time. It is therefore in fact impossible in the New Testament to separate ministry and congregation. What is said to the congregation is also said to the office of the ministry, and vice versa. The office does not stand above the congregation, but always in it. ("Ministry and Congregation," We Confess the Church, p. 78)

  6. Sasse's words sound pleasant, and even innocent until you ask this question: So does every single Christian have the authority to conduct the Lord's Supper? What does it mean to say that the Supper is given to the Church?

    It all depends on those answers. I am very happy even to use Walther's language that the Church possess all power and authority. Great! That is surely true since clergy and laity are Church together.

    But if that means that every single Christian has been given the authority to preach the Word in Christ's stead and administer the Sacraments, then that's nonsense.

    Christ gives the authority to preach his Word in his stead and administer his Sacrament in his stead to his ministers by placing them in the Ministry through the Church (which is clergy and laity together).


  7. Fr. Weedon,

    Lutheranism inherited a terribly tangled connection to State power. We should thank God that we are well clear of it here.

    On the other hand, we could look at it this way. Luther called on the princes to take leadership in the church because they were the most prominent laymen in the church. Like it or lump it, it's an uphill battle to try to call a man to a place where the highly powerful and rich members of the church won't have him. Maybe I'm cynical, but I think that's what the involvement of the magistrate actually boils down to: the reality of power.


  8. And picking up on something else over at Steadfast Lutherans, it is a mistake to think that the entirety of Walther's doctrine of the Ministry can be derived exclusively from his Kirche und Amt book. In the Preface he says explicitly that the book deals only with certain aspects of the Doctrine, which were then under controversy. He refers people to Chemnitz and Gerhard for fuller and more comprehensive treatments.

    And Walther himself disabuses us of the notion that the "Waltherian" view is that only a Senior Pastor is in the office that God instituted, while an Associate Pastor or Assistant Pastor is not. He writes:

    The so-called Deacons and Lay Elders of the apostles' time no way preachers and overseers of souls. They were rather only their helpers for functions of the preaching office which do not make up the essence of the office. Indeed, their functions too were commanded by God. But that these should be carried out only by particular people in an office is not based on God's express command. Their office as a special and separate office from the preaching office was also not a divine order and institution but rather an office ordered by the church (kirchlicher Ordnung). These helping offices were not established in all congregations and yet no divine command was being transgressed. Therefore also the Deacons and Lay Elders are sometimes installed for a certain period of time or for a certain term, or when one does not need them any longer he releases them from their office.

    (continued in next post)

  9. (continued from last past)

    It was an entirely different circumstance however when in a congregation more than one were installed who in every way (allerseits) had the office of the Word. In this instance they all had the same divine office established by Christ, the same spiritual and ecclesiastical authority. It was only a matter of human order (Ordnung), when they either divided certain functions of the office or the care for certain parts of the people among themselves. Likewise when they chose one from among themselves to whom the others submit themselves freely and according to human right or also when a whole group of ministers of the church (Kirchendiener) labor in the word in one congregation and continuously submit themselves one to another. The so-called system of bishops originally rested on this view of things in the times when the pure teaching still reigned in the church. It was recognized that a Bishop set over the other ministers of the church was really nothing other than a presbyter (Elder), a pastor, who only for the sake of church order was set over the other ministers of the church and who had the additional authority given to him merely by human right. Therefore it says in the Smalcald Articles: "...Jerome teaches that such a distinction of bishops and pastors (Pfarrherrn) is only from a human ordering" (Treatise 63). This also applies then to the distinction between a pastor and a Senior of Ministers, a president, a Superintendent, a Dean, a head pastor (Oberpfarrer), or whatever they may be called who are set over one or more preachers. ... But since there is no distinction between such offices according to divine right, so likewise between them and a Lutheran Deacon, to whom the office of the Word is commended. For the call to preach God's Word publicly is truly the essence of the preaching office. To preach is the highest office (function) in the church, alone on account of which all other functions are necessary. It is also the judge of all other offices. Therefore the office of Lutheran Deacon is no helping office as is, for example, the office of caring for alms, the office of Church Father or Lay Elder. Rather it is the one true office which is specially instituted and established by Christ Himself. ... A Deacon in the biblical sense is a man who only has a helping office to the ministry of the Word according to human arrangement. But a Deacon who is called to the preaching of the Word of God, as happens in the Lutheran Church, does not attend a helping office, but rather the highest office in Christendom. He is nothing else and nothing less than what the Scripture calls a pastor, Presbyter (elder), or Bishop. He has the same authority and rank of office and the same jurisdiction, and the deacons in the biblical sense are also their servants. (C. F. W. Walther, "Comments on the Expulsion of a Lutheran 'Deacon,'" Der Lutheraner, Vol. 23, No. 9 [Jan. 1, 1867], pp. 65 ff. [translated by Mark D. Nispel])

  10. From our Confession...

    A Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope Treatise Compiled by the Theologians Assembled at Smalcald - 1537

    68] Here belong the statements of Christ which testify that the keys have been given to the Church, and not merely to certain persons, Matt. 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together in My name, etc.
    69] Lastly, the statement of Peter also confirms this, 1 Pet. 2:9: Ye are a royal priesthood. These words pertain to the true Church, which certainly has the right to elect and ordain ministers since it alone has the priesthood.

    The confession states that the keys are given to the CHURCH not to PERSONS. In light of the discussion, can someone explain this to me?
    What say you?

    Pr. J. Vosper

  11. Matthew 18:20 doesn't specifically refer to the Keys at all...the keys are given to the apostles two verses earlier.

  12. Fr. Vosper,

    What does the Treatise say that the Church's position of the keys mean? That they may elect and ordain ministers!

    And what is the Church? Laity and clergy together.

    And is there a difference between possessing the keys and exercising the authority of the keys? Yes! Just as in a democracy all authority and power reside in the people - but not every *individual* has the right to exercise that authority - so also in the Church, precisely because Christ has granted the Church the Keys, etc., no *individual* in the Church may exercise the Keys unless "elected and ordained" by the Church.


  13. Caleb,

    Actually, the keys are not delivered until Matthew 28 (more clearly in John 20 - but in any case, after Easter). In Matthew 18:22, Jesus is still talking about Peter forgiving people who sin against Peter. Jesus did not give the authority to forgive any sins whatsoever until after the Resurrection.

    This is a key argument, actually, in the anti-papal interpretation of Mt 16: "I *will* give you the keys." And when did Jesus give the keys to Peter? Precisely when Peter received them along with the rest of the apostles.

    But the apostles (the clergy) are not kings who lord it over the Church. They are part of the Church and accountable to her. They are elected and ordained from and by the Church (clergy and laity together). This is the proper meaning of "the Church possesses all power."

    It is a weird leap of logic to go from "the Church possesses all power" to "every individual Christian can preach the Word in Christ's stead and administer the Sacraments." But that is exactly what Walther and especially Francis Pieper (and his brother in WI) do. The Church is a corporate entity - and as Paul stresses again and again, that means that each part has a specific duty. Not all are apostles, prophets, pastors and teacher.

    At bottom, the radically individualistic doctrine of Walther and Pieper erases all these distinctions.


  14. Several comments:

    The Church is sheep who hear their shepherd's voice (sheep and shepherd)

    As I understand the Keys being given to the Church (pastor and people), each is to use them in their given proprium--The pastor in the public arena, to absolve the sins of the penitent; and the laity in their vocations (or can you imagine the conclusion of an argument at work ending with, "let me call my pastor so he can forgive us," or the same thing goes for parents and disobedient children, "son, I'm going to call the pastor so you can be forgiven.")

    Just some thoughts.

  15. "As I understand the Keys being given to the Church (pastor and people), each is to use them in their given proprium--The pastor in the public arena, to absolve the sins of the penitent; and the laity in their vocations."

    Kurt Marquart speaks in a similarly balanced way, when he recognizes a distiction between formal/official/public/ministerial uses of the keys, and informal/unofficial/private/ priestly uses of the keys. I believe that he has captured the genuinely Confessional teaching on this:

    The ministry's public proclamation is supported by and in turn supports that ceaseless "publishing" of God's "virtues," which is the priestly duty and delight of all who live in and by "His wondrous light" (I Pet. 2:9). The ways in which this happens are as manifold as life's providential opportunities and responsibilities (Mt. 5:6; Acts 8:4; 18:26; Eph. 5:19; 6:4; II Tim. 1:5; 3:15; I Pet. 2:12-15; 3:1.15). Every house-father and house-mother is to be bishop and bishopess "that you help us exercise the preaching office [Predigtamt] in [your] houses, as we do in the church" [Luther, Sermon on the First Commandment (1528)]. Indeed, the Gospel as the power of salvation makes of believers not only priests but also kings and victors over Satan. In this sense - the context illustrates the unselfconscious interplay of formal and informal, priestly and ministerial teaching - Luther even calls the teaching Christian [Christianus docens] "the true God on the face of the earth" [Commentary on 1 John (1527)]. This easy interplay between official and unofficial, public and private proclamation of the Gospel is not due to looseness of thought or language. It is rooted in the twofold communication of the Keys of the Kingdom to the whole church (Mt. 18:18; cf. II Cor. 2:10, Tr. 24) and to the public ministry (Jn. 20:23, cf. Mt. 16:19, Tr. 60,61). But this twofoldness is not symmetrical. The priesthood and the ministry possess the Keys, that is, the liberating, life-giving Gospel, in different modes and respects. The priesthood is the church, the bride of Christ, who as "house-mother of Christendom" possesses all the salvific treasures lavished upon her by her Bridegroom - especially the ministry of the Gospel (Eph. 4:7-13; I Cor. 3:21.22; Tr 69). The ministry, in turn, administers and distributes the common treasures of God and of the church (Mt. 18:20; Rom. 8:17.32; 10:6-15; I Cor. 4:1; II Cor. 2:14-5:21), and this clearly not in the sense of a pragmatic human arrangement, but by divine mandate, institution, and appointment (AC XXVIII:5-6). ... The holy church of Christ is not at the mercy of the arbitrary fantasies of her ministers, nor are the latter subject to the tyranny of those they must serve. Both ministers and people are strictly accountable to Christ, and in Him to each other, in mutual submission to His alone-saving Word (Rom. 14:4.7-14; I Pet. 5:2-4). ... So then the church, having the priesthood, has the Keys, directly or immediately, and through her Christ commits their public exercise to His and her public ministry, to which in that sense she is subject. (The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance, pp. 108-10)

  16. Martin Chemnitz also recognizes a use of the "keys" that takes place among the Christian laity, not only when they might function on occasion as "emergency pastors," but also when they are functioning as laity, in their ordinary life together in the fellowship of the church. In his Examination, Chemnitz quotes with approval the eleventh- and twelfth-century Eastern bishop Theophylact of Ohrid, as follows:

    "If when you have been sinned against you hold him who sinned against you, after a threefold admonition, as a publican, he will be such also in heaven; if, however, you loose him, that is, forgive him when he confesses and asks for it, he will be acquitted also in heaven. For it is not only the sins the priest looses which are loosed, but also those will be bound or loosed whom we, when we have been wronged, either bind or loose. Under this confession there is included also this, when a brother is moved and led by fraternal reproof to acknowledge and confess some sin, even if it was not committed against us. For so, says Christ, you have gained your brother. And James says that this confession is useful on account of the prayer for one another: Pray for one another, that you may be saved!" (quoted in Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II, p. 595)

    Later in the Examination, with reference to this statement by Theophylact, Chemnitz describes the various ways in which the "keys" are used in the church - publicly by the regularly-called ministers of Word and Sacrament; publicly also by "emergency pastors" in cases of necessity; and privately by individual Christians in their ordinary fraternal interactions with each other:

    "For although the keys were given to the church itself, as the ancients correctly teach, we nevertheless by no means hold that any and every Christian without distinction should or can take to himself or exercise the ministry of the Word and sacraments without a legitimate call. As however the ancients say that in case of necessity any Christian lay person can administer the sacrament of Baptism, so Luther says the same thing about absolution in case of necessity, where no priest is present. He says nothing different from what Lombard...and Gratian...say on the basis of the opinion of the ancients. Earlier we have also noted the opinion of Theophylact, that whatever is either loosed or bound in fraternal reproof and reconciliation is loosed and bound in heaven itself. Moreover, there is no doubt that when the Word of the Gospel is proclaimed, God works efficaciously, no matter by whom it is proclaimed." (p. 621)

    The form and manner of their use differ in each circumstance, but it is indeed the keys that Christ gave to the church, with their authority to bind and loose, that are being used in each circumstance.

  17. The whole business of a "private" and a "public" exercise of the Keys, preaching, and the Sacraments is simply foreign to the Scriptures. It is certainly in Luther as I have written about on this site before - most egregiously in his Quasimodo Geniti sermons.

    It kind of breaks down, though, when we begin to discuss the Lord's Supper. Is the housefather to conduct a private Lord's Supper since his the "bishop" of his house? Wouldn't we all benefit from receiving the Supper more frequently like this? And likewise the "bishopess" especially if the house-father has died - surely she should conduct the Lord's Supper for her children at home as well. After all, this is a priestly duty and so it has both a private and a public administration. . .

    Again: nonsense. When I forgive someone who sins against *me* I am not exercising the Keys. That happens when I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, forgive someone in God's name who sinned against *you*. Every man can forgive someone else on his own behalf - even a pagan. Only Christ's called and ordained ministers can forgive someone on His behalf because only they have been sent to do this. Also please note, that Matthew 18 is precisely about this sort of "when someone sins against *you*" whereas John 20 is about something else altogether: "whatever sins."

    So, Christians forgiving one another as Christ forgave them for their sins against one another is another ball of wax, a separate thing altogether than "the authority Christ has given his Church to forgive and retain sins. . . when the *called minister of Christ* forgives repentant sinners."

    Likewise, telling each other about the great deeds of God, reminding our neighbors of Christ's love, and catechizing our children is not "exercising the Office of the Ministry of the Word." The Word is the Word - yes. But my actions as a father are not the same thing as my actions as a "called and ordained minister of Christ." In one, I use the Word under the Office of Father in the other I use the Word in the Office of the Ministry.

    Luther's penchant for reducing everything to the lowest common denominator led, and continues to lead, to all kinds of theological havoc. For example, Luther (in)famously said that if the pastor accidentally consecrated water instead of wine - no problem, still the Lord's Supper because the Word is still there. Here we see Luther's flaw: he mistakes words for the Word. The Word includes the whole *institution* of Christ, which includes wine in the Lord's Supper, and the call to, setting apart for, and placing into the Office of the Ministry for the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments.


  18. Note well in the first Chemnitz quotation: "when we have been wronged, either bind or loose."

    This accords with what I wrote above. When Chemnitz goes on to speak of forgiving all sins, he has to talk about becoming "an emergency pastor."

    If we wish to speak of a "private use of the Keys" in forgiving those who sin against *us* - fine. But I believe that this is imprecise language. As Chemnitz notes, when we move to forgiving all sins in *God's stead* we must speak of "emergency pastors."

    Or as the Wittenberg faculty said in 1674:

    "Are laymen able to absolve in a case of necessity as they are able to baptize?

    "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 subsequent administration of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, for our theologians, as is known, demonstrate time and again that this is in no way able to come about through laymen (of course, baptism is able to be administered by them in a case of necessity, nor should the minister perform it again)."


  19. What does the Treatise say that the Church's position of the keys mean? That they may elect and ordain ministers!

    And what is the Church? Laity and clergy together.

    And is there a difference between possessing the keys and exercising the authority of the keys? Yes! Just as in a democracy all authority and power reside in the people - but not every *individual* has the right to exercise that authority - so also in the Church, precisely because Christ has granted the Church the Keys, etc., no *individual* in the Church may exercise the Keys unless "elected and ordained" by the Church.

    Thank you Fr. +HRC. This is how I teach this article, however, what do we do with the passages? And secondly, what clear Scripture texts do we have that tell us that the keys are given to the Church?

    Who is present in Matt. 28:16-20 and John 20:19-25? Who is present in Acts 1:12-2:13 esp. 1:15? Not to mention the confusion caused by the Holy Spirit Who comes the the disciples John 20, the 120 Acts 1-2, and the house of Cornelius Acts 10.

    Pr. J. Vosper

  20. Fr. Vosper,

    The Catechism's discussion of this in the Keys is really very good: the Church has this power which the "called ministers of Christ" are alone authorized to exercise.

    And that perfectly sums up the Biblical witness and makes sense of the Treatise.

    It should be noted, of course, that this is precisely the part of the Catechism that is not Luther's work.

    Reading the Confessions with the works of Luther as your interpretive lens will give you the doctrine of Walther, et al. Reading the Confessions, as Chemnitz does, with one eye on the history of the Church from all ages, gives you something else as I think Fr. Webber's quotations have shown.

    Indeed, the Walther/Pieper doctrine of all *Christians* having the authority to exercise Word and Sacrament ministry gets us into a real bind when we ask: What makes someone a Christian? Faith, of course. But how can I know that someone has faith? I can't. No with absolute certainty.

    In our Confessions we say that the Ministry of the pastor is not based on his person, virtues, faith, etc. Rather, the Confessions say that the Sacraments of a wicked priest are valid by virtue of his having been placed in the Ministry: an objective, certain act.

    But if you base someone's authority on his personal faith ("because he is a Christian") you have removed all certainty. This is yet another fatal flaw in Luther's thought on the Ministry, carried through most forcefully in Francis Pieper via Walther.


  21. "Note well in the first Chemnitz quotation: 'when we have been wronged, either bind or loose.' This accords with what I wrote above. When Chemnitz goes on to speak of forgiving all sins, he has to talk about becoming 'an emergency pastor.'"

    But this is not what Bl. Theophylact had said (with the agreement of Chemnitz). Theophylact did say, of course, that "it is not only the sins the priest looses which are loosed, but also those will be bound or loosed whom we, when we have been wronged, either bind or loose." So yes, personal sins committed against me by my neighbor are forgiven when I forgive him. But Theophylact goes on to say more than this: "Under this confession there is included also this, when a brother is moved and led by fraternal reproof to acknowledge and confess some sin, even if it was not committed against us." Our neighbor's sin against other people, and against God himself, is forgiven also through our fraternal interactions with him, as we speak law and Gospel to him, even if it was not committed against us. And Chemnitz then explains why, in this axiom: "there is no doubt that when the Word of the Gospel is proclaimed, God works efficaciously, no matter by whom it is proclaimed."

  22. Thank you Pr. H.C. for continuing this discussion. There is much confusion regarding the Office of the Holy Ministry.

    You made the comment "Chemnitz makes it clear that no one can come into the Office without the whole Church, clergy and laity, together doing their part." Is this because he who is placed into the Office is a shepherd of the whole church, as all pastors are, and the local congregation is his "part" given to him by God in His governing His Church? Thus, also it is a life-time call, but various assignments? And (if I'm thinking of this correctly) in a similar way (when brought down to a smaller scale) so is the parish that has multiple servants of Christ?

  23. It is better, I think, to say that all Christians in their baptism are entrusted with the Word of God, both to believe for their own salvation, and to speak to others for the salvation of others. But the form and manner of the speaking of the Word of God is governed by vocation.

    Private, interpersonal speaking of the Word of God is done properly by all Christians according to the general vocation of baptism. Public, official speaking of the Word of God is properly done by virtue of a special public vocation. The speaking of the Words of Institution that takes place by dominical mandate in the sacraments is always a public speaking. See for example the statements in 1 Corinthians 10:17 and 12:13, which link each sacrament to the "one body" of Christ. This is also a part of the reason why we are told in the Smalcald Articles that the Lord's Supper is "the common sacrament of the church," which is not to be played with "apart from God's Word and outside the church community" [SA II, II:9].

    All baptized Christian, in a sense, do have the capacity and power to do this kind of public speaking - so that in an emergency it can in fact be done, such as with the administration of an emergency baptism. But not all Christians have a call to do this kind of public speaking. That's the distinction we make, both to avoid the idea that everyone is a pastor to everyone else - which is contrary to God's order - and to avoid the idea that the power of God's Word is locked up inside the pastoral office. Pastors are called and ordained servants of the Word of God. They are not masters and managers of the Word of God.

  24. Fr. Webber,

    Yes, I think we are getting closer when we speak about the Word of the Gospel. That's what Theophylact is talking about in the expanded quotation and how Chemnitz summarizes it: The Gospel is effective even if a pagan, a Jew, or the devil himself were to read or speak the Word out loud!

    No disagreement there at all. But that fact, that all can agree on, has little bearing, if you ask me, about the Ministry, whom the disciples represent in John 20, who can conduct the Lord's Supper, and the key issue of certainty in following the Lord's commands.

    If Luther, Walther, and Pieper only meant that the Word is the Word is the Word - Amen and amen. But I think it is clear that they meant much else: that the Word is abstract and that the Institution of our Lord in giving the gifts of Preaching, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord's Supper is merely a matter of *words* and includes no command concerning the agent of the sacred action and his office.

    Perhaps this is a question that will clarify things. If a layman takes it upon himself, while the pastor is on vacation, to conduct the Lord's Supper - is that really the Lord's Supper?

    Nispel translated a piece from Der Lutheraner from, I think, 1878 that showed that Walther would say yes it is, but it is schismatic. Valid but not licit as the traditional terminology would have it. And again, this is based on the theory that each individual Christian has the authority to conduct Word and Sacrament ministry - which the pastor merely does "in the name of the congregation."

    I would say that at the very least I have no certain promise from Christ that such a "celebration" is the real thing. For I believe that Ministers act "in the stead of Christ" not the congregation when they preach, teach, and administer the Sacrament. And this layman has not been called by Christ to do these things.


  25. I wrote and presented a paper at a Pastor's conference a few years ago that argued just this point: a Layman cannot celebrate the Lord's Supper. In fact, it is not the Lord's Supper because it is not done according to the institution of Christ. The Layman has not been authorized by Christ to speak in His stead. He does not have the Office to do so. So just as beer and pretzels would not be the Lord's Supper nor is it when a Layman "presides." This is NOT to denigrate the laity - it is simply that Christ has not attached His promises in this way apart from the Office.

    Furthermore, it is completely contrary to Church history and this is not small thing.

  26. A prof. once gave us this example which I've found helpful in teaching this:

    Suppose I accidentally run over my neighbor's cat. I am consequently found guilty to be punished by death (just go with it). As I sit on death row, I anxiously await a response from the governor of the state whom I have petitioned for a full pardon.

    Suddenly the guard appears and comforts me, "Don't worry. The governor pardoned you; it's all over the news." I am greatly relieved, but still a bit on edge because of the gravity of the situation (not to mention still on death row).

    Finally the warden appears who has the authority to act in the governor's stead. He declares, "You are pardoned," and at his word the key to the cell unlocks.

    It's an analogy, so don't push it too far, but I think it is illustrative.

  27. Like the tide, this conversation waxes and wanes.

    I'll as the question I always like to ask at times like this:


    "When is the Gospel never an absolving Word of God?"

    Heck, I'll even answer that question:

    Answer: Never.

    Carry on.

  28. Or is that the moon waxing and waning...whatever.

  29. Fr. McCain,

    What about when it is rejected by unbelief :)

    Just being snarky. . .

    Yes, we've all agreed on that point and I, for one, have never met a Lutheran who would deny it. Although the world is a strange place, so I don't claim to imagine that one can't be found.


  30. "When is the Word of God never an absolving word of God?"

    I am not sure that question gets to it.A man in the Office of the Holy ministry speaks in the stead and by the command of Jesus. Actually, I think it better that through the Office Jesus speaks. The sins forgiven and bound through this Office are those that are forgiven and bound by Jesus. It is Jesus who exercises the Keys through this Office He has instituted.

    So - perhaps the question is what is the distinction of speaking as one who is called and ordained and in the stead and by the command of Christ - and speaking as one who is not?

    Has Christ promised to speak/work through the words spoken by one in the Office in a different way than when others speak? What does John 20 have to say to this?

  31. Fr. Keith,

    You are right to call up John 20 - and again, we encounter the same hermeneutical question. Here are the apostles quite apart from the (more!) faithful women, the crowds, and men like Matthias who followed Him faithfully, but were not called as apostles.

    Today's reading in the TDP, in fact, was from AC XXVIII - and there is no question how it treats this passage. John 20 is about the Power of Bishops. And this power, for the AC, clearly comes from Christ. Pastors act by the command and in the stead and in the office of Christ.


  32. HR, absolution can be rejected, yes, but it does not make it any less true and certain. If the condition for absolution is lack of rejection, then there is not objective certainty of absolution, which is rooted and grounded in the objective reconciliation merited by Christ.

    These conversations go in a dangerous direction when we try to make absolution conditional on it being declared by an ordained minister, etc.

    The Gospel is always a word of absolution from God Himself, whether spoken by pastor, father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, spouse, etc.

    Pastors do act in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, but the forgiving word of Christ is not coterminus with the pastor's absolution.

    That's my concern.

    But I don't want to take this much further, for I'm trying to stay on Heath's good side, for I think I'm going to be getting reloading lessons from him very soon, as I now shoot .45 ACP and the cost per round is killing me, or, my wife is killing me for the cost per round.

    That is all.

  33. Jesus forgives through his Word. Wherever his Word of forgiveness is in use and is being spoken, Christ is forgiving sins. Pastors are servants of this Word. That's the way in which Jesus forgives through the office - because the office administers the forgiving Word of Christ. But the forgiving word of Christ is not administered only through the office.

    The Exhortation to Confession, appended to LC, testifies to this fundamental principle in this maxim: "Thus by divine ordinance Christ himself has placed absolution in the mouths of his Christian community and commanded us to absolve one another from sins [Matthew 18:15-19]." How this properly works itself out in terms of public and private speaking of the Gospel; office, order, and call; etc., etc., does not violate the fundamental principle to which this maxim bears witness.

  34. Greetings,

    I am very glad that we are having this discussion and that I am able to read and even participate. This is such an important issue and one with which I have struggled for a very long time. However, now that the threat of firearms has been raised I am less confident - leave it to you Americans :-)

    However, I still struggle with the lack of distinction between Holy Absolution and that of a layman speaking forgiveness to another. In the Service of corporate confession and in private confession the pastor asks: "Do you believe that the forgiveness that I speak is not my forgiveness but God's?" Now, could a layman say this also? And has it ever been the practice in the historic Christian Church or the Lutheran church for a layman to act in this way?

    And furthermore, what makes the forgiveness that the Pastor speaks God's forgiveness? Is it not the promise of Christ that He has attached to His Office and through which He has promised to speak - again John 20?

  35. Fr. McCain,

    Right on - no disagreement at all.

    I think a very helpful thing to look at is some Luther that the Fathers of Concord saw fit to include in the Symbols. In SA Luther says:

    "We will now return to the Gospel, which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in His grace [and goodness]."

    He then lists five gifts:

    Holy Communion
    The Power of the Keys
    The Mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.

    Thus, there are two things to be maintained: God's grace is operative in all of the above, and each of the above is its own gift. It is absolutely illegitimate to try to reduce these gifts to a common denominator and say, "they are all the same thing."

    The Word is what makes Baptism Baptism and it is the Word that makes Holy Communion Holy Communion. But this does not prove that Holy Communion is Baptism.

    So also, preaching, absolution, and the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren are related but unique gifts.


  36. There is both a sameness and a differentness among the various "ways" of the gospel: the public ways (preaching, sacraments) and the private ways (mutual conversation and consolation). It is in the context of the sameness - that is, the sameness of the forgiveness the comes through all of these ways - that those things are said in our theological tradition that seem to minimize the distinction between what the laity do and what pastors do. It is in the context of the differentness - that is, the differentness in the form and manner of delivering the Gospel that exists between the speaking of the laity and the speaking of pastors - that those things are said in our theological tradition that draw sharp lines between the work and duties of those who are publicly called and the work and duties of those who are not.

    In Lutheran theology both of these things are true. And they are true together, in symbiotic and paradoxical tension, but ultimately also in harmony and balance with each other. This is why Sasse says what he says, as I quoted him above. This is why Luther and Chemnitz say the various things they say. This is why the Confessions say what they say, in places like the Exhortation to Confession, and in places like AC XIV.

  37. Fr. Webber,

    Of course, the Exhortation to Confession is actually not a part of the Book of Concord of 1580 to which we swear at our ordinations and in our synodical constitutions. Such things are important to note. I do not buy into the hermeneutic that insists that all of our Lutheran heroes, most notably Luther himself, are always in full harmony with the Confessions. They are not. I contend that Luther's Quasimodo Geniti sermons, for example, are not in harmony with the Book of Concord when it comes to the Ministry.

    But, at any rate, if we are even going to have a coherent talk about what the Confessions say, we have to make clear what we are talking about. And I think that must be what our ordination vows say: the Book of Concord of 1580 (of course, a strong argument can be made that the Latin portions find their authoritative text in the 1584 edition - but there can be no doubt at all that the Large Catechism's text is set by the 1580 German Concordia.)


  38. Strictly speaking you may correct. But I think you will find few people ready to say that the Exhortation to Confession contains false doctrine. It is, we might say, among the antilegomena of the Confessions. It might not be an actual part of the Book of Concord in the official sense, but it does not teach any doctrine that differs from the doctrine that is taught in the homolegoumena of the Confessions.

    And I will go on record in saying that I don't think Martin Luther - especially the mature Luther - taught any false doctrine regarding the Ministry. Luther himself subscribed to the Confessions that had been written in his lifetime. He wasn't outwardly subscribing to doctrine that was different from the doctrine that he actually believed and taught. Claiming this would be quite an indictment against his character and integrity. I would suggest that a Lutheran pastor should be very reticent to say such a thing. If it appears that the doctrine of Luther differs from the doctrine of the Confessions, the explanation is much more likely to lie in our limited perception or incomplete understanding, than in the actual doctrine that was taught in our church the 16th century.

    We must confess that the doctrine which was declared and submitted at Augsburg is the true and pure Word of God, and that all who believe and keep it are children of God and will be saved, whether they already believe it or will be illuminated later. For this Confession will endure to the end of the world on Judgment Day. It is indeed written that whosoever believeth on Him and shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Rom. 10:11,13). And we must take note not only of those who will be added in the future, but also of the Christian church, which preaches the Word, and of our own people, according to the word: "As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16), which passage excludes none; therefore all who believe and live according to the teaching of the [Augsburg] Confession and its Apology are our brethren, and their peril concerns us as much as does our own. As members of the true church we dare not forsake them, regardless of when they join us, whether they do so secretly or openly, whether they live among us or in the diaspora. This we say and confess. (Martin Luther, "Opinion on the Recess of the Imperial Diet"; quoted in C. F. W. Walther, The True Visible Church [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1961], p. 44)

  39. And the Exhortation to Confession is not the only place in the Confessions where one can find such teaching concerning the inherent saving power of God's Word, as it is spoken among the laity, and not only as it is spoken by the clergy. In fact, the speaking of God's Word among laity and clergy alike is treated in such a way in the Longer Preface to the Large Catechism, which was included in the 1580 Book of Concord:

    Even if their knowledge of the catechism were perfect (although that is impossible in this life), yet it is highly profitable and fruitful to read it daily and to make it the subject of meditation and conversation. In such reading, conversation, and meditation the Holy Spirit is present and bestows ever new and greater light and devotion, so that it tastes better and better and is digested, as Christ also promises in Matthew 18[:20], "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." Nothing is so powerfully effective against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy one's self with God's Word, to speak about it and meditate upon it, in the way that Psalm 1[:2] calls those blessed who "meditate on God's law day and night." Without doubt, you will offer up no more powerful incense or savor against the devil than to occupy yourself with God's commandments and words and to speak, sing, or think about them. ...God solemnly enjoins us in Deuteronomy 6[:7-8] that we should meditate on his precepts while sitting, walking, standing, lying down, and rising, and should keep them as an ever-present emblem and sign before our eyes and on our hands. God certainly does not require and command this so solemnly without reason. He knows our danger and need; he knows the constant and furious attacks and assaults of the devil. Therefore, he wishes to warn, equip, and protect us against them with good "armor" against their "flaming arrows" [Ephesians 6:11,16], and with a good antidote against their evil infection and poison. ... This much is certain: those who know the Ten Commandments perfectly know the entire Scriptures and in all affairs and circumstances are able to counsel, help, comfort, judge, and make decisions in both spiritual and temporal matters. They are qualified to be a judge over all doctrines, walks of life, spirits, legal matters, and everything else in the world. ... Therefore, I appeal once more to all Christians, especially the pastors [parish rectors] and preachers, that they not try to become doctors too soon and imagine that they know everything. ... Let all Christians drill themselves in the catechism daily, and constantly put it into practice... Let them constantly read and teach, learn and meditate and ponder. Let them never stop until they have proved by experience and are certain that they have taught the devil to death and have become more learned than God himself and all his saints. If they show such diligence, then I promise them - and their experience will bear me out - that they will gain much fruit and God will make excellent people out of them.

  40. Fr. Webber,

    I didn't say that the Exhortation contained false doctrine - I said it wasn't part of the Confessions and that Dr. Luther's non-confessional writings should not be used as a lens to interpret the Confessions (except for Bondage of the Will which the Formula specifically calls on for this duty). I do think that the Exhortation uses infelicitous language when it says that we ought to just go to any “brother” for confession and absolution – and I think that is why the Concordists did not include the Exhortation.

    And as I have repeatedly agreed with you already: the Word is the Word is the Word even if the devil himself should speak or read it. But should the devil speak the word he would not thereby enter the Office of the Ministry. Lay people do not share the same office as the apostles. Can you agree with me on that point?


  41. Fr. Webber,

    It is indeed with reticence that I say that the mature Luther taught at variance with the Confessions regarding the Ministry. My evidence is the Quasimodo Geniti sermons (vol. 69). As I wrote on this site in a review:

    "This is the highest work that a Christian is able to do: that through preaching I should bring [my neighbor] to the same [faith] to which [I have been brought]. He appoints each one to this office. [Hoc ad officium quemlibet instituit.]. . . It is the office of everyone to instruct his neighbor, etc. And this power is given not to the clergy alone (though [here it is] spoken to the apostles) but to all believers." (AE 69.336-37)

    "[For] the Lord has committed a public office to called ministers (and to everyone privately)..." (AE 69.322)

    " 'Those whose sins you remit, their sins are remitted. Those whoses sins you retain, their sins are retained.' This power is here given to all Christians." (AE 69.330)

    A half dozen other quotations from these eleven sermons to the same effect could also be brought forward. And it sounds familiar, right? Haven't I read this somewhere before?

    Pieper, vol. III, 442: “Luther points out, too, that the means of grace have the same nature, power, and effect, whether administered by common Christians or by ministers in their public office. He writes: 'We firmly maintain there is no other Word of God than the one all Christians are told to preach; there is no other Baptism than the one all Christians may administer; there is no other remembrance of the Lord's Supper than the one any Christian may celebrate; also there is no other sin than the one every Christian may bind or loose.'"

    Or again: “Like all spiritual gifts the means of grace, including Baptism, are given by God directly to the believers, all Christians. The believers do not get them from the pastors, but vice versa. Pastors administer Baptism in their public office as the called servants of the believers.” (Pieper, III, p. 279)

    I think Pieper has understood Luther correctly - and I think Luther is wrong.

    Again we are back to Fr. Keith's and my question: if a layman or laywoman should celebrate the Lord's Supper (and this is no mere coffee shop question: it is happening in our time in both MO and WI!), is it really the Lord's Supper? Luther and Pieper would have no problem in saying yes because the Office has been committed to each Christian privately.

    The most sanguine (pun intended) I can get is, "I have no confidence to say that it is."

    That does not diminish the fact that the Word spoken by a layman is still the Word. It is! But the layman is not put in the Office of the Ministry so he has no Godly authority to "preach, teach, or administer the Sacraments." And herein lies the peculiar summation of Pieper: for him the pastor acts in the stead of Christians, not Christ, as our liturgical books have it.

    Well - this is getting long. Let me summarize.

    * The Word is the Word is the Word even if the devil himself speaks it. If a layman speaks the Word, the Holy Spirit will work through it when and where He pleases.

    * Laymen have not received the peculiar Office of the Apostles, the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, which is not derived from a general set of duties given to all Christians, but is a distinct Office with duties given by Christ to men whom the Church has put in that Office. Simply because some of the duties of the Office of the Ministry are similar to, and in some sense even identical with, certain duties of the Priesthood of the Baptized does not mean that they share the same Office. Otherwise, such logic would mean that a garbage man had the same office as a Nascar driver.

    * I have no confidence to say that a lay-celebrated Lord's Supper is in fact the Lord's Supper for I believe that such a celebration is in clear violation of the Lord's Institution.


  42. PS: Pieper, above, quotes Luther specifically saying that any Christian can celebrate the Lord's Supper. As I have quoted before, the Wittenberg faculty in 1674 just as clearly said that this was not the case, that this, in fact, "can not be" (non potest). I'm not the first in the history of Lutheranism to think Luther got something wrong on the Ministry. . .


  43. Luther spoke more carefully in his later years, after his go-around with the anabaptists and enthusiasts. But he didn't change his fundamental theology - which was also the theology of the Lutheran Church. All Christians do have the Word of God. And it is, of course, the Word of God that makes a sacrament to be a sacrament, when it is joined to the earthly element.

    The papists had said that only priests, by virtue of the powers conferred in the rite of ordination, have this (consecrating) Word. Luther and the Lutherans disagreed with this. What Luther did not emphasize as strongly in his earlier years, but which he did emphasize later, is that not all Christians have a call to make use of the Word of God in these public, sacramental ways; and consequently that it is a breach of the divine order when an uncalled Christian presumes to administer the sacraments, or to do any other distinctly pastoral work. That's the Luther I know and love.

    But even Luther in his vintage years still taught that the Word of God is entrusted to all Christians, and that even without a public call, Christians may and should speak that Word to one another privately. And when the Word of the Gospel is spoken - that is, when the message of Christ's death for sin is shared and proclaimed among Christians - it is an inherently forgiving word. So, if Jesus has authorized all Christians to speak the Gospel of Christ's forgiveness to each other, informally and interactively, then that must mean that he has authorized all Christians to forgive one another's sins by means of that speaking of the Gospel to each another - since forgiveness always and naturally oozes out of the message of Jesus' death for sinners.

    When a fellow Christian tells me in the midst of my fears and troubles, "Jesus died for your sins, and forgives you," Jesus is impressing his forgiveness of my sins upon my conscience in and through those spoken words. Jacob Andreae, when discussing the fact that even a woman can proclaim the Gospel and thereby absolve in a case of emergency, says this:

    ...for children who stand in danger, who are weak after birth, a woman is allowed to baptize in such an emergency. ... In the same way, in time of need, especially when a man is in his final struggle and lies near death and there is no servant of the church or other man present, then a pious woman is allowed to comfort the dying man with the preaching of God's Word and the divine promises and to absolve him of all his sins (For what is the preaching of the Gospel and the announcing of the promise of divine grace offered in Christ, other than an absolution from sin?) ... So in a similar way, in time of emergency, when a church servant or other man is not present, a woman is allowed to baptize. (Acta colloquii Montis Bellisgartensis; quoted in Mark D. Tranvik, "Jacob Andreae's Defense of the Lutheran Doctrine of Baptism at Montbeliard," Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. VI [new series], No. 4 [Winter 1992], pp. 431-32, 436)

    And getting back to the Exhortation to Confession, Luther is talking here about "we" evangelical pastors - who otherwise "preach and administer the sacraments" - as the designated "brothers" to whom Christians are to go for "secret confession." The context shows this. But the important point that Luther validly seeks to make is that a pastor is not to be seen as a higher and more spiritually potent personage. In his person he is "a brother" plain and simple - although a brother with the training and the divine call and authorizationto hear my confession, to absolve me, and to speak whatever other comforting and instructive words I need to hear in my troubles.

  44. Fr. Webber,

    You continue to stress the points on which we do not disagree: "But even Luther in his vintage years still taught that the Word of God is entrusted to all Christians, and that even without a public call, Christians may and should speak that Word to one another privately." Agreed.

    I don't want to read between your lines, so I will simply ask again plainly: do you believe that a lay-celebrated Lord's Supper is really the Lord's Supper?

    In that vein you mention Augustine's dictum: The Word + Element = Sacrament. This is of course not the whole story. So, for example, the Lutherans deny that a Mass celebrated just to parade the Sacrament in the streets would have no promise of the Real Presence - even though the words have been added to the Element! That's right in the Formula. The action of the sacrament is missing - that is, part of its Institution has been ignored.

    Likewise, you could add the word to the element and "baptize" a cat - but that's no Baptism, for the proper *recipient* is missing (likewise, it could be an already baptized person: wrong recipient).

    Likewise, a Satanist could say a Black Mass according to TLH p. 15 down to the letter - and it's no Mass. Because he has not been sent by Christ to do this. He is the wrong agent, an agent not included in Christ's command to his Apostles to *do this*.

    The Institution, in other words, contains the Word, Element, Action, Agent, and Recipient.

    In addition, you have not replied to my general critique on the point of *certainty*. If a Christian can do all these things *because he is a Christian* - then I lose certainty. Because how do I know he's a Christian? I can't know: it is hidden in the faith of his heart which I cannot see. But our Confessions place the certainty for the ministry of wicked priests in their public, objective, visible placement in the Office.


  45. "You continue to stress the points on which we do not disagree..."

    I didn't think I was doing that, because I was defending Luther's explanations of John 20 - in which he states that we are all authorized to forgive each other by speaking the Gospel to each other - which you reject as untrue and unLutheran.

    "do you believe that a lay-celebrated Lord's Supper is really the Lord's Supper?"

    When the Word is joined to the element according to the institution of Christ - meaning that there are communicants there to hear and heed the invitation, "Take, eat," etc., then the Lord's Supper is there. When a layman presumes to officiate at such a celebration without a call, it is a desecration of the sacrament, in which no pious Christian should participate. But it does not make the sacrament disappear. AC XIV tells us what should not be allowed to happen - namely, uncalled people doing the work of pastors. AC XIV does not tell us what cannot happen. Laymen can indeed commit the sin of administering the sacraments without a call. They are able to do so, but they should not do so. Isn't that what a straightforward reading of AC XIV teaches us?

    "If a Christian can do all these things *because he is a Christian* - then I lose certainty."

    No, that has not been my point. A Christian is able to do these things because he has and uses the Word of God, not because he is a Christian. And even with a pastor, who is legitimately called, he is able to do what he does because he has and uses the Word of God, and not because he is called. The call authorizes him to do what he does, and commends the laity to him for these administrations, but the call does not give him an ability that he did not already have, by having the Word of God.

    The point is not that pious Christians may and should receive communion from the hand of an uncalled layman. They definitely should not. But the point is that when they receive the communion from the hand of their pastor, the pastor's call and office contribute nothing to their certainty that they are receiving the sacrament. That certainty is based on the Word and institution of Christ. After all, isn't it possible that the pastor is not properly called and ordained, even if they think he is? Back in the colonial era, there were lots of problems with "vagabond preachers" who arrived from Germany and claimed to be genuine credentialled Lutheran pastors. The gullible, pastor-less laity of that time were often taken in by these men. But these "vagabonds" were not what they claimed to be. Nevertheless, when my naive ancestors in 18th-century New York received communion from them, they were receiving the real sacrament, as long as the Word was joined to the element in their midst according to the institution of Christ.

    (continued in next post)

  46. (continued from previous post)

    The question of baptism is very similar, and perhaps can better illustrate the point. We have always acknowledged that a layman can and should administer baptism in an emergency situation, when there is no pastor available to do it. And no one is supposed to doubt the validity of such a sacrament, even though the person who administered it was not a called and ordained minister. But is that certainty based on the "emergency-ness" of the circumstance, or on the fact that the Word was joined to the element according to the institution of Christ? The "emergency-ness" of the situation cannot become a contributing factor in creating certainty, because it is highly subjective.

    For example, is the delivery of a "blue baby" an emergency that calls for a lay-administered sacrament? Some would say yes, and some would say no. Who's to say for sure? But the validity of the baptism administered by a layman does not depend on an absolute certainty that it really was an emergency. In the final analysis, whether it was an emergency, or whether it wasn't, the baptism is genuine, because it was perfomed according to the institution of Christ.

    "a Satanist could say a Black Mass according to TLH p. 15 down to the letter..."

    Are you serious? Don't you know what a black mass is? It definitely does not follow the words of TLH p. 15. And a half-black (gray?) mass wouldn't follow the wording of p. 5 either. ;-)

  47. Fr. Webber,

    This brings our disagreement into the clear, thank you.

    You wrote, "The call authorizes him to do what he does, and commends the laity to him for these administrations, but the call does not give him an ability that he did not already have, by having the Word of God."

    What gave him the Word of God? What gives him the authority to conduct the Sacrament? When does one receive this authority - or in you parlance, when does one end up "having the Word of God"?

    Pieper and Luther are clear on their understanding of how that happens: it's because they are Christians. I don't think you can around the problem this causes with certainty by a tu quoque argument about pastors who aren't pastors: that's just precisely why vagabond preachers were problematic!

    And if Christians can conduct this Sacrament, why shouldn't Christians conduct the Lord Supper for the their families at home? Where in the Bible does it say they shouldn't? If you say they *should* not do something, you need a Biblical warrant.

    Let me clean up my last example for you. Let's say a student in a history of religions class at the University decides it would be cool to have a Mass (later in the semester, no doubt, he will want to conduct a Seder, and make a sacrifice to Vishnu - he's a hands on learner). So he gathers a few friends, borrows a copy of TLH, and says Mass.

    None of them are Christians. Is that a Mass?

    What if our hands on learner is baptized, but doesn't believe any more? Is that a valid Mass?

    What if he is a believing Christian, but just misguided (as are the folks he has invited)?

    Would any of these really be the Lord's Supper? If so, which ones and why not the others? In each, the Word and the Element are there. I suspect you will say that only the last one is valid. But if you do, then certainly you are looking to something more than Word + Element = Sacrament - for they all have Word + Element. Above you spoke of "having the Word of God" - well, if you say only the last is valid, then you are admitting that it is this celebrant's personal Christian faith which makes him "have the Word of God" if the other scenarios do not have it.

    I say none of them are valid. The Word and Element are there. . . but the Institution is not; the Institution is more than just a list of words and a list of elements. Otherwise we get firmly into the realm of ex opere operato, hocus pocus, and magic. The Word is operative within Christ's Institution, not outside of it.

    The issue of lay baptism is actually much more tricky than we usually acknowledge. We usually quote Augustine but stop short of asking him for his Biblical warrant. There is actually a lively debate on the topic throughout Christian history and Calvinists, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics all have different answers. In this paper, presented at Fort Wayne a couple winters ago, I survey the debate and propose what I hope is a much better justification for lay baptism than is seen in Pieper. For those wanting to learn more about the fine points of just the sort of thing Fr. Webber and I have been debating, it's a good start (the title of the paper is intentionally provocative, so don't be put off by it: I'm arguing for the validity of baptisms performed by lay people, but I'm simply claiming that they are not valid due to the agent's status as a lay person):


  48. Those various scenarios would present a whole host of problems and offenses. What you are asking, however, when you ask me to evaluate the validity or certainty of each such scenario, is not a dogmatic question as much as it is a casuistic question. One would have to wonder, for example, to what extent the "Word" of Christ is still there in those scenarios. A "word" is not simply an articulation of a sound, but is an articulation of a sound in a certain linguistic context whereby that sound has a certain meaning. So, what would the "Words of Institution" mean in the linguistic context of such celebrations? Who knows???!!!

    With casuistry, different people may come to different conclusions. But the underlying dogmatic point would remain, that it is indeed possible for a layman to commit the sin of administering the sacraments without a call, when such a layman acts in a linguistic context that is shaped and defined by the public Lutheran confession that "This is my body" means "This is my body," etc.

    What I have consistently said is that it is baptism which entrusts the Word of God to a Christian. I have worded things this way because Baptism is an objective thing, just as the Word of God is an objective thing. Baptism connects me to the gathering of God's people around the means of grace. Whether or not I actually believe the promise of my baptism, or whether or not I inwardly believe the Word of God that has been given to me in baptism, there is still an outwardly objective bestowal of the Word of God to me in Baptism, since baptism brings me into an ecclesial association where the Word of God is present and active. But if an unbaptized person baptizes a baby in a hospital according to the public confession of the parents, who request the baptism, I suppose I would grant the legitimacy of that baptism too, since the parents' public confession of the meaning of the phrase "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" establishes the context for the sacrament.

    I have always taught that, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as "lay baptism," but that a layman may, in an emergency, temporarily step into the pastoral office, and for the duration of the emergency "become the pastor or minister" of the one who needs to be baptized (to quote the Treatise). But that begs the deeper question of whether or not there really is an emergency that would legitimize a layman's stepping temporarily into the office. If there is no real emergency, but just a perceived emergency, then there is no genuine warrant for a temporary assuming of the office. And if there is no such warrant, the presumption to assume the office is not actually an assuming of the office but is a sinful administration of the sacrament by an uncalled layman! The monster of uncertainty remains, if it is necessary to know without a doubt that it really was an emergency, so that the assuming of the office would be valid, and consequently so that the baptism itself would be valid.

  49. Pastor Webber,

    Again, I am thankful for this discussion.

    After reading what you have said it seems to me that the legitimacy/validity of the sacrament rests upon the intention or meaning of the celebrant in saying the words.

    So it seems to me that where some would argue the Office is key and outside the Office you have no Sacrament you argue that intention or meaning is key and outside the proper intention or meaning you have no Sacrament?

  50. Intention and meaning are not the same thing. It is not the intention of the celebrant that is key, but the meaning of what he says is key. And meaning is not determined simply by the thoughts that are in the celebrant's mind, but by the external linguistic context of his speaking.

    The Lutheran Church's public confession of its faith sets the meaning of the words that are spoken in Lutheran contexts, just as the Mormon Church's public confession of its Tritheistic/polytheistic doctrine of God sets the meaning of its baptimal formula, and just as the Reformed Church's public confession of its spiritualistic sacramentology sets the meaning of its eucharistic words.

    Sacramental "intention" is a very subjective thing. It is a lynchpin of papal sacramental theology, but is not endorsed by Lutheranism.

  51. See the paper I linked to - there I respond to the notion of "intent," words vs Word, etc.


  52. PS: But this is not casuistry; it is dogma. The Confessions have no problem dogmatically asserted the lack of the Real Presence in Zwinglian churches, at any rate.

    And you hit on just the point: is the "Word" really there? Is the Institution being followed? Where we differ is that I say that a layman celebrating the Supper is in fact outside the Institution of Christ.


  53. I propose we settle all this once and for all, with a duel at thirty paces, each man being given one of these:


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