Church and Ministry in the Lutheran Confessions

An Anthology

(Confessional quotations are from The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959].)

I. God reveals his saving grace to humanity, and bestows the forgiveness of sins and all spiritual blessings, solely through his Word and Sacraments (the Gospel in all of its forms, Holy Absolution, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper). Through these means of grace God continually creates and sustains the faith and spiritual life of all those who believe in and confess Jesus Christ, and for this reason the Word of God and the Sacraments serve as the marks of the Christian Church. On this basis the Church’s presence can most readily be discerned in “local congregations” or their equivalent (where the means of grace are in regular and full use), but it can also be discerned in synodical assemblies, in theological institutions and religious schools, and in small gatherings that may be comprised of only two or three confessing Christians. his boundless kindness and mercy, God provides for the public proclamation of his divine, eternal law and the wonderful counsel concerning our redemption, namely, the holy and only saving Gospel of his eternal Son, our only Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Thereby he gathers an eternal church for himself out of the human race and works in the hearts of men true repentance and knowledge of their sins and true faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And it is God’s will to call men to eternal salvation, to draw them to himself, convert them, beget them anew, and sanctify them through this means and in no other way – namely, through his holy Word (when one hears it preached or reads it) and the sacraments (when they are used according to his Word). (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II:50, pp. 530-31)

...thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd. (Smalcald Articles III, XII:2, p. 315)

It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places. It is as Paul says in Eph. 4:4,5, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Augsburg Confession VII:1-4 [German], p. 32)

...churches will not condemn each other because of a difference in ceremonies, when in Christian liberty one uses fewer or more of them, as long as they are otherwise agreed in doctrine and in all its articles and are also agreed concerning the right use of the holy sacraments, according to the well-known axiom [from Irenaeus], “Disagreement in fasting should not destroy agreement in faith.” (Solid Declaration X:31, p. 616)

We concede that in this life hypocrites and evil men are mingled with the church and are members of the church according to the outward associations of the church’s marks – that is, Word, confession, and sacraments – especially if they have not been excommunicated. The sacraments do not lose their efficacy when they are administered by evil men; indeed, we may legitimately use sacraments that are administered by evil men. Paul also predicts that Antichrist will “take his seat in the temple of God” (II Thes. 2:4), that is, that he will rule and hold office in the church. The church is not merely an association of outward ties and rites like other civic governments, however, but it is mainly an association of faith and of the Holy Spirit in men’s hearts. To make it recognizable, this association has outward marks, the pure teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments in harmony with the Gospel of Christ. This church alone is called the body of Christ, which Christ renews, consecrates, and governs by his Spirit, as Paul testifies when he says (Eph. 1:22,23), “And he has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness,” that is, the whole congregation “of him who fills all in all.” Thus those in whom Christ is not active are not members of Christ. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession VII/VIII:3-5, p. 169)

Christ is talking about the outward appearance of the church when he says that the kingdom of God is like a net (Matt. 13:47) or like ten virgins (Matt. 25:1). He teaches us that the church is hidden under a crowd of wicked men so that this stumbling block may not offend the faithful and so that we may know that the Word and the sacraments are efficacious even when wicked men administer them. Meanwhile he teaches that though these wicked men participate in the outward marks, still they are not the true kingdom of Christ and members of Christ, for they are members of the kingdom of the devil. We are not dreaming about some Platonic republic, as has been slanderously alleged, but we teach that this church actually exists, made up of true believers and righteous men scattered throughout the world. And we add its marks, the pure teaching of the Gospel and the sacraments. This church is properly called “the pillar of truth” (I Tim. 3:15), for it retains the pure Gospel and what Paul calls the “foundation” (I Cor. 3:12), that is, the true knowledge of Christ and faith. Of course, there are also many weak people in it who build on this foundation perishing structures of stubble, that is, unprofitable opinions. But because they do not overthrow the foundation, these are forgiven them or even corrected. The writings of the holy Fathers show that even they sometimes built stubble on the foundation but that this did not overthrow their faith. (Apology VII/VIII:19-21, pp. 171-72).

To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. (Augsburg Confession V:1-2 [German], p. 31)

Hypocrites and evil men are indeed associated with the true church as far as outward ceremonies are concerned. But when we come to define the church, we must define that which is the living body of Christ and is the church in fact as well as in name. We must understand what it is that chiefly makes us members, and living members, of the church. If we were to define the church as only an outward organization embracing both the good and the wicked, then men would not understand that the kingdom of Christ is the righteousness of the heart and the gift of the Holy Spirit but would think of it as only the outward observance of certain devotions and rituals. (Apology VII/VIII:12-13, p. 170)

There is an infinite number of ungodly within the church who oppress it. The church will abide nevertheless; it exists despite the great multitude of the wicked, and Christ supplies it with the gifts he has promised – the forgiveness of sins, answer to prayer, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Creed offers us these consolations that we may not despair but may know all this. It says “the church catholic” lest we take it to mean an outward government of certain nations. It is, rather, made up of men scattered throughout the world who agree on the Gospel and have the same Christ, the same Holy Spirit, and the same sacraments, whether they have the same human traditions or not. (Apology VII/VIII:9-10, pp. 169-70)

Consequently the church cannot be better governed and maintained than by having all of us live under one head, Christ, and by having all the bishops equal in office (however they may differ in gifts) and diligently joined together in unity of doctrine, faith, sacraments, prayer, works of love, etc. (Smalcald Articles II, IV:9, p. 300)

Since decisions of synods are decisions of the church and not of the pontiffs, it is especially incumbent on the kings to restrain the license of the pontiffs and see to it that the church is not deprived of the power of making judgments and decisions according to the Word of God. And as other Christians ought to censure the rest of the pope’s errors, so they ought also to rebuke the pope when he evades and obstructs true understanding and true judgment on the part of the church. (Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 56, pp. 329-30)

With reference to the condemnations, censures, and rejections of false and adulterated doctrine, is not our purpose and intention to mean thereby those persons who err ingenuously and who do not blaspheme the truth of the divine Word, and far less do we mean entire churches inside or outside the Holy Empire of the German Nation. On the contrary, we mean specifically to condemn only false and seductive doctrines and their stiff-necked proponents and blasphemers. These we do not by any means intend to tolerate in our lands, churches, and schools inasmuch as such teachings are contrary to the expressed Word of God and cannot coexist with it. Besides, pious people should be warned against them. But we have no doubt at all that one can find many pious, innocent people even in those churches which have up to now admittedly not come to agreement with us. These people go their way in the simplicity of their hearts, do not understand the issues, and take no pleasure in blasphemies against the Holy Supper as it is celebrated in our churches according to Christ’s institution and as we concordantly teach about it on the basis of the words of his testament. It is furthermore to be hoped that when they are rightly instructed in this doctrine, they will, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, turn to the infallible truth of the divine Word and unite with us and our churches and schools. (Preface to the Book of Concord, pp. 11-12)

...the Gospel...offers counsel and help against sin in more than one way, for God is surpassingly rich in his grace: First, through the spoken word, by which the forgiveness of sin (the peculiar function of the Gospel) is preached to the whole world; second, through Baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of keys; and finally, through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren. Matt. 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered,” etc. (Smalcald Articles III, IV, p. 310)

Even if their knowledge of the Catechism were perfect (though that is impossible in this life), yet it is highly profitable and fruitful daily to read it and 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 fervor, so that day by day we relish and appropriate the Catechism more greatly. This is according to Christ’s promise in Matt. 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Large Catechism, Longer Preface: 9, p. 359)

II. Jesus Christ has given the keys of his kingdom to the Christian Church. He has thereby designated his Church, which is his royal priesthood, as the instrument through which he will bring the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins to the world. Paradoxically, the Church is both the “bride” of Christ and the “body” of Christ. It is the assembly of the faithful that receives the Gospel from Jesus Christ, and it is also the divinely-appointed custodian of the keys that dispenses the Gospel as the agent of Jesus Christ. The Church is, as it were, the corporate “voice” of Christ through which Christ, by his Spirit, impels the proclamation of his Word and the administration of his Sacraments.

The keys are a function and power given to the church by Christ to bind and loose sins, not only the gross and manifest sins but also those which are subtle and secret and which God alone perceives. (Smalcald Articles III, VII:1, p. 311)

...Christ did not question Peter alone but asked, “Who do you [plural] say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). And what is here spoken in the singular number (“I will give you [singular] the keys” and “whatever you [singular] bind” [Matt. 16:19]) is elsewhere given in the plural (“Whatever you [plural] bind” [Matt. 18:18]), etc. In John, too, it is written, “If you [plural] forgive the sins,” etc. (John 20:23). These words show that the keys were given equally to all the apostles and that all the apostles were sent out as equals. In addition, it is necessary to acknowledge that the keys do not belong to the person of one particular individual but to the whole church, as is shown by many clear and powerful arguments, for after speaking of the keys in Matt. 18:19, Christ said, “If two or three of you agree on earth,” etc. Therefore, he bestows the keys especially and immediately on the church, and for the same reason the church especially possesses the right of vocation. So it is necessary in these passages to regard Peter as the representative of the entire company of apostles... (Treatise, 23-24, p. 324)

...magistrates, parents, even brothers and sisters and other good friends are under mutual obligation to reprove evil where it is necessary and beneficial. But the right way to deal with this matter would be to observe the order laid down by the Gospel, Matthew 18[:15-17], where Christ says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” ... Christ teaches further: “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” So the individual is to be dealt with personally and not gossiped about behind his back. If this does not help, then bring the matter before the public, either before the civil or the ecclesiastical court. Then you do not stand alone. You have witnesses with you through whom you can convict the guilty one and on whose testimony the judge can base his decision and sentence. This is the right procedure for restraining and reforming a wicked person. (Large Catechism I:275-76,279-80, pp. 402-03) addition to the [private] confession which we are discussing here there are two other kinds, which have an even greater right to be called the Christians’ common confession. I refer to the practice of confessing to God alone or to our neighbor alone, begging for forgiveness. These two kinds are expressed in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” etc. ... Thus we have in the Lord’s Prayer a twofold absolution: our debts both to God and to our neighbor are forgiven when we forgive our neighbor and become reconciled with him. Besides this public, daily, and necessary confession, there is also the secret confession which takes place privately before a single brother. When some problem or quarrel sets us at one another’s throats and we cannot settle it, and yet we do not find ourselves sufficiently strong in faith, we may at any time and as often as we wish lay our complaint before a brother, seeking his advice, comfort, and strength. This type of confession is not included in the commandment [the Lord’s Prayer] like the other two but is left to everyone to use whenever he needs it. Thus by divine ordinance Christ himself has entrusted absolution to his Christian church and commanded us to absolve one another from sins [Matt. 18:15-19]. So if there is a heart that feels its sin and desires consolation, it has here a sure refuge when it hears in God’s Word that through a man God looses and absolves him from his sins. (Large Catechism, Brief Exhortation: 8,12-14, p. 458)

...the Holy Spirit...has a unique community in the world. It is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God. The Holy Spirit reveals and preaches that Word, and by it he illumines and kindles hearts so that they grasp and accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it. (Large Catechism II:40,42, p. 416)

I believe that there is on earth a little holy flock or community of pure saints under one head, Christ. It is called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith, mind, and understanding. It possesses a variety of gifts, yet is united in love without sect or schism. Of this community I also am a part and member, a participant and co-partner in all the blessings it possesses. I was brought to it by the Holy Spirit and incorporated into it through the fact that I have heard and still hear God’s Word, which is the first step in entering it. Before we had advanced this far, we were entirely of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ. Until the last day the Holy Spirit remains with the holy community or Christian people. Through it he gathers us, using it to teach and preach the Word. By it he creates and increases sanctification, causing it daily to grow and become strong in the faith and in the fruits of the Spirit. Further we believe that in this Christian church we have the forgiveness of sins, which is granted through the holy sacraments and absolution as well as through all the comforting words of the entire Gospel. (Large Catechism II:51-54, p. 417)

...the Holy Spirit carries on his work unceasingly until the last day. For this purpose he has appointed a community on earth, through which he speaks and does all his work. For he has not yet gathered together all his Christian people, nor has he completed the granting of forgiveness. Therefore we believe in him who daily brings us into this community through the Word, and imparts, increases, and strengthens faith through the same Word and the forgiveness of sins. (Large Catechism II:61-62, p. 419)

We reject and condemn these errors of the Schwenkfelders: ... That the ministry of the church, the Word proclaimed and heard, is not a means whereby God the Holy Spirit teaches men the saving knowledge of Christ, conversion, repentance, and faith or works new obedience in them. ... That a minister of the church who is himself not truly renewed, righteous, and pious cannot teach profitably nor administer genuine and true sacraments. (Solid Declaration XII:28,30,35, p. 635)

There are two, and only two, basic types of sacrifice. One is the propitiatory sacrifice... There has really been only one propitiatory sacrifice in the world, the death of Christ... The rest are eucharistic sacrifices, called “sacrifices of praise”: the proclamation of the Gospel, faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, the afflictions of the saints, yes, all the good works of the saints. These sacrifices are not satisfactions on behalf of those who bring them, nor can they be transferred to merit the forgiveness of sins or reconciliation for others ex opere operato. Those who bring them are already reconciled. The sacrifices of the New Testament are of this type, as Peter teaches in I Pet. 2:5, “A holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices.” (Apology XXIV:19,22,25-26, pp. 252-54)

We are perfectly willing for the Mass to be understood as a daily sacrifice, provided this means the whole Mass, the ceremony and also the proclamation of the Gospel, faith, prayer, and thanksgiving. Taken together, these are the daily sacrifice of the New Testament; the ceremony was instituted because of them and ought not be separated from them. Therefore Paul says (I Cor. 11:26), “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.” (Apology XXIV:35, p. 256)

Indeed, we Christians should make every day a holy day and give ourselves only to holy activities – that is, occupy ourselves daily with God’s Word and carry it in our hearts and on our lips. (Large Catechism I:89, p. 377)

III. For the proper public administration of his Word and Sacraments, within and on behalf of the Church, God has instituted the public ministry of the Gospel. In accordance with Christ’s own command and institution, the means of grace are publicly administered, and the keys of Christ’s kingdom are publicly exercised, by the ministers of the Gospel whom the Church calls to speak on its behalf. We also say that this public ministry is carried out by the ministers of the Gospel whom Christ calls (through his Church) to speak on his behalf. Since Jesus Christ has given his keys to the Christian Church, its call is nothing less than the call of Christ himself. Ministers of the Gospel, as they proclaim the Word and administer the Sacraments, represent Christ. They may also be understood to “represent” the Church, but only because, and only insofar as, the Church itself represents Christ.

...the authority of the ministry depends on the Word of God... In I Cor. 3:4-8 Paul places ministers on an equality and teaches that the church is above the ministers. Therefore he does not attribute to Peter superiority or authority over the church or the other ministers. For he says, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas” (I Cor. 3:21,22). This is to say that neither Peter nor the other ministers should assume lordship or authority over the church, nor burden the church with traditions, nor let anybody’s authority count for more than the Word, nor set the authority of Cephas over against the authority of the other apostles. (Treatise, 10-11, p. 321)

Our opponents...quote...from Malachi (3:3), “And he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord.” This passage clearly requires the offerings of the righteous; therefore it does not support the notion of ceremonies ex opere operato. The offerings of the sons of Levi (that is, of those who teach in the New Testament) are the proclamation of the Gospel and its good fruit. Thus Paul speaks in Rom. 15:16 of “the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit,” that is, so that the Gentiles may become offerings acceptable to God through faith. (Apology XXIV:31,34, pp. 255-56)

In his Large Catechism Dr. Luther writes: “I am also a part and member of this Christian church, a shareholder and partaker in it of all the goods which it possesses. The Holy Spirit has brought me thereto and has incorporated me therein through this, that I have heard the Word of God and still hear it, which is the beginning of my entrance into it. For before we became members of the Christian church we belonged entirely to the devil and were completely ignorant of God and Christ. Until the Last Day, the Holy Spirit remains with the holy community of Christendom, through which he heals us and which he uses to proclaim and propagate his Word, whereby he initiates and increases sanctification so that we grow daily and become strong in faith and in its fruits, which he creates.” In these words the Catechism makes no mention whatever of our free will or of our contribution, but ascribes everything to the Holy Spirit, namely, that through the ministry he brings us into the church, sanctifies us therein, and effects in us a daily increase in faith and good works. (Solid Declaration II:36-38 [quoting Large Catechism II:52-53], p. 528)

Since the priesthood of the New Testament is a ministry of the Spirit, as Paul teaches in II Cor. 3:6, the only sacrifice of satisfaction it has for the sins of others is the sacrifice of Christ. It has no sacrifices like the Levitical which could be transferred to others ex opere operato; but it offers to others the Gospel and the sacraments so that thereby they may receive faith and the Holy Spirit and be put to death and made alive. ... Through the ministry of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit works in the heart. Therefore this ministry benefits people when he does work to give them new birth and life. (Apology XXIV:59, p. 260)

...dear pastor and preacher! Our office has become something different from what it was under the pope. It is now a ministry of grace and salvation. (Small Catechism, Preface: 25-26, p. 341)

Thus priests are not called to make sacrifices that merit forgiveness of sins for the people, as in the Old Testament, but they are called to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments to the people. As the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches clearly enough, we do not have a priesthood like the Levitical. If ordination is interpreted in relation to the ministry of the Word, we have no objection to calling ordination a sacrament. The ministry of the Word has God’s command and glorious promises: “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rom. 1:16), again, “My word that goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). If ordination is interpreted this way, we shall not object either to calling the laying on of hands a sacrament. The church has the command to appoint ministers; to this we must subscribe wholeheartedly, for we know that God approves this ministry and is present in it. It is good to extol the ministry of the Word with every possible kind of praise in opposition to the fanatics who dream that the Holy Spirit does not come through the Word but because of their own preparations. (Apology XIII:9-13, p. 212)

In accordance with the Scriptures, therefore, we maintain that the church in the proper sense is the assembly of saints who truly believe the Gospel of Christ and who have the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, we grant that the many hypocrites and evil men who are mingled with them in this life share an association in the outward marks, are members of the church according to this association in the outward marks, and therefore hold office in the church. When the sacraments are administered by unworthy men, this does not rob them of their efficacy. For they do not represent their own persons but the person of Christ, because of the church’s call, as Christ testifies (Luke 10:16), “He who hears you hears me.” When they offer the Word of Christ or the sacraments, they do so in Christ’s place and stead. (Apology VII/VIII:28, p. 173)

...we confess that hypocrites and evil men have been mingled with the church and that the sacraments are efficacious even when evil men administer them, for ministers act in Christ’s stead and do not represent their own persons, according to the word (Luke 10:16), “He who hears you hears me.” We should forsake wicked teachers because they no longer function in the place of Christ, but are antichrists. Christ says (Matt. 7:15), “Beware of false prophets”; Paul says (Gal. 1:9), “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Christ has also warned us in his parables on the church [Matt. 13:24-50] that when we are offended by the personal conduct of priests or people, we should not incite schisms, as the Donatists wickedly did. (Apology VII/VIII:47-49, pp. 177-78) jurisdiction belongs to the bishops as bishops (that is, to those to whom has been committed the ministry of Word and sacraments) except to forgive sins, to reject doctrine which is contrary to the Gospel, and to exclude from the fellowship of the church ungodly persons whose wickedness is known, doing all this without human power, simply by the Word. Churches are therefore bound by divine law to be obedient to the bishops according to the text [Luke 10:16], “He who hears you hears me.” However, when bishops teach or ordain anything contrary to the Gospel, churches have a command of God that forbids obedience: “Beware of false prophets” (Matt. 7:15), “If an angel from heaven should preach any other Gospel, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8), “We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (II Cor. 13:8), and also, “Given to me is the authority for building up and not for tearing down” [II Cor. 10:8]. The canons require the same thing... Augustine also says in reply to the letters of Petilian that not even catholic bishops are to be obeyed if they should happen to err or hold anything contrary to the canonical Scriptures of God. (Augsburg Confession XXVIII:21-28 [Latin], pp. 84-85)

...the keys have the power to bind and loose, according to the statement (Matt. 16:19), “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” As we have said above, the keys do not have the power to impose penalties or to institute forms of worship; they only have the command to forgive the sins of those who are converted and to denounce and excommunicate those who refuse to be converted. Just as “to loose” means to forgive sins, so “to bind” means not to forgive sins. It is of a spiritual kingdom that Christ is speaking. God’s command is that the ministers of the Gospel absolve those who are converted, according to the statement (II Cor. 10:8), “Our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up.” (Apology XII:176-77, p. 210)

For Chrysostom reports how the priest stood every day, inviting some to Communion and forbidding others to approach. The ancient canons also indicate that one man officiated and communicated the other priests and deacons, for the words of the Nicene canon read, “After the priests the deacons shall receive the sacrament in order from the bishop or priest.” (Augsburg Confession XXIV:36-38 [German], p. 60)

Thus we have three kinds of fathers presented in this [fourth] commandment: fathers by blood, fathers of a household, and fathers of the nation. Besides these, there are also spiritual fathers – not like those in the papacy who applied this title to themselves but performed no fatherly office. For the name spiritual father belongs only to those who govern and guide us by the Word of God. St. Paul boasts that he is a father in I Cor. 4:15, where he says, “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Since such persons are fathers, they are entitled to honor, even above all others. (Large Catechism I:158-60, p. 387)

But let us talk about the term “liturgy.” It does not really mean a sacrifice but a public service. Thus it squares with our position that a minister who consecrates shows forth the body and blood of the Lord to the people, just as a minister who preaches shows forth the gospel to the people, as Paul says (I Cor. 4:1), “This is how one should regard us, as ministers of Christ and dispensers of the sacraments of God,” that is, of the Word and sacraments; and II Cor. 5:20, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Thus the term “liturgy” squares well with the ministry. (Apology XXIV:80-81, p. 264)

The papists had neither authority nor right to prohibit marriage and burden the divine estate of priests with perpetual celibacy. (Smalcald Articles III, XI:1, p. 314)

Among our opponents there is no catechization of the children at all, though even the canons give prescriptions about it. In our circles the pastors and ministers of the churches are required to instruct and examine the youth publicly, a custom that produces very good results. Among our opponents, there are many regions where no sermons are preached during the whole year, except in Lent. But the chief worship of God is the preaching of the Gospel. (Apology XV:41-42, pp. 220-21)

IV. By virtue of the authority of Christ that has been entrusted to the Church, the Church always and under all circumstances retains the right to proclaim the Word and administer the Sacraments. It therefore always and under all circumstances retains the right to issue calls to the public ministry of the Gospel. In ordinary circumstances the Church exercises this right through an established, orderly calling process that reflects its submission to the applicable directives of Holy Scripture, and that reflects the fraternal accountability that Christian church bodies, congregations, and individuals owe to one another. However, in extraordinary circumstances the Church may exercise this right in extraordinary ways through extraordinary means. Two or three Christians gathered in the name of Christ are the Church, and as such they have the authority to call one of their number to some form of the public ministry of the Gospel if there is an emergency situation that truly requires it. A call that in regular circumstances would be “irregular” is therefore “regular” when it is issued according to the legitimate needs of irregular circumstances.

...we have directed our churches and schools first of all to the Holy Scriptures and the Creeds, and then to the aforementioned Augsburg Confession. We desire particularly that the young men who are being trained for service in the church and for the holy ministry be faithfully and diligently instructed therein, so that the pure teaching and confession of the faith may be preserved and perpetuated among our posterity through the help and assistance of the Holy Spirit until the glorious advent of our only Redeemer and Saviour Jesus Christ. (Preface to the Book of Concord, p. 12)

“A bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way. He must not be a recent convert,” etc. (I Tim. 3:2-6) (Small Catechism IX:2, p. 354)

...we say that no one should be allowed to administer the Word and the sacraments in the church unless he is duly called. On this matter we have given frequent testimony in the assembly to our deep desire to maintain the church polity and various ranks of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, although they were created by human authority. We know that the Fathers had good and useful reasons for instituting ecclesiastical discipline in the manner described by the ancient canons. But the bishops either force our priests to forsake the sort of doctrine we have confessed, or else, in their unheard of cruelty, they kill the unfortunate and innocent men. This keeps our priests from acknowledging such bishops. Thus the cruelty of the bishops is the reason for the abolition of canonical government in some places, despite our earnest desire to keep it. Let them see to it how they will answer to God for disrupting the church. In this issue our consciences are clear and we dare not approve the cruelty of those who persecute this teaching, for we know that our confession is true, godly, and catholic. We know that the church is present among those who rightly teach the Word of God and rightly administer the sacraments. (Apology XIV:1-4, pp. 214-15)

If the bishops were true bishops and were concerned about the church and the Gospel, they might be permitted (for the sake of love and unity, but not of necessity) to ordain and confirm us and our preachers, provided this could be done without pretense, humbug, and unchristian ostentation. However, they neither are nor wish to be true bishops. They are temporal lords and princes who are unwilling to teach or preach or baptize or administer Communion or discharge any office or work in the church. More than that, they expel, persecute, and condemn those who have been called to do these things. Yet the church must not be deprived of ministers on their account. Accordingly, as we are taught by the examples of the ancient churches and Fathers, we shall and ought ourselves ordain suitable persons to this office. The papists have no right to forbid or prevent us, not even according to their own laws, for their laws state that those who are ordained by heretics shall also be regarded as ordained and remain so. St. Jerome, too, wrote concerning the church in Alexandria that it was originally governed without bishops by priests and preachers in common. (Smalcald Articles III, X:1-3, p. 314)

The Gospel requires of those who preside over the churches that they preach the Gospel, remit sins, administer the sacraments, and, in addition, exercise jurisdiction, that is, excommunicate those who are guilty of notorious crimes and absolve those who repent. By the confession of all, even of our adversaries, it is evident that this power belongs by divine right to all who preside over the churches, whether they are called pastors, presbyters, or bishops. Accordingly Jerome teaches clearly that in the apostolic letters all who preside over the churches are both bishops and presbyters. He quotes from Titus, “This is why I left you in Crete, that you might appoint presbyters in every town,” and points out that these words are followed by, “A bishop must be married only once” (Titus 1:5-7). Again, Peter and John call themselves presbyters. And Jerome observes: “One man was chosen over the rest to prevent schism, lest several persons, by gathering separate followings around themselves, rend the church of Christ. For in Alexandria, from the time of Mark the Evangelist to the time of Bishops Heracles and Dionysius, the presbyters always chose one of their number, set him in a higher place, and called him bishop. Moreover, in the same way in which an army might select a commander for itself, the deacons may choose from their number one who is known to be active and name him archdeacon. For, apart from ordination, what does a bishop do that a presbyter does not do?” Jerome therefore teaches that the distinction between the grades of bishop and presbyter (or pastor) is by human authority. The fact itself bears witness to this, for the power is the same, as I have already stated. Afterwards one thing made a distinction between bishops and pastors, and this was ordination, for it was decided that one bishop should ordain the ministers in a number of churches. But since the distinction between bishop and pastor is not by divine right, it is manifest that ordination administered by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine right. Consequently, when the regular bishops become enemies of the Gospel and are unwilling to administer ordination, the churches retain the right to ordain for themselves. For wherever the church exists, the right to administer the Gospel also exists. Wherefore it is necessary for the church to retain the right of calling, electing, and ordaining ministers. This right is a gift given exclusively to the church, and no human authority can take it away from the church. It is as Paul testifies to the Ephesians when he says, “When he ascended on high he gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8,11,12). He enumerates pastors and teachers among the gifts belonging exclusively to the church, and he adds that they are given for the work of ministry and for building up the body of Christ. Where the true church is, therefore, the right of electing and ordaining ministers must of necessity also be. So in an emergency even a layman absolves and becomes the minister and pastor of another. It is like the example which Augustine relates of two Christians in a ship, one of whom baptized the other (a catechumen), and the latter, after his Baptism, absolved the former. Here the words of Christ apply which testify that the keys were given to the church and not merely to certain individuals: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). Finally, this is confirmed by the declaration of Peter, “You are a royal priesthood” (I Pet. 2:9). These words apply to the true church which, since it alone possesses the priesthood, certainly has the right of electing and ordaining ministers. The most common custom of the church also bears witness to this, for there was a time when the people elected pastors and bishops. Afterwards a bishop, either of that church or of a neighboring church, was brought in to confirm the election with the laying on of hands; nor was ordination anything more than such confirmation. (Treatise, 60-70, pp. 330-32)

V. No one should carry out the duties of the public ministry of the Gospel without a regular call from the Church. When Christ trained and sent his apostles to preach the Word of God and to administer the Sacraments, in his name and by his authority, he established the basic pattern and character of the public ministry of the Gospel that has served the Church on earth ever since. Through the Church God continues to call qualified men to carry out the full public ministry of the Gospel in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments (the public ministry “in the narrow sense”). Different terms may be used to describe those men who carry out this ministry of spiritual oversight (bishops, presbyters, pastors, preachers, etc.), and the distinctive duties of this ministry of spiritual oversight may be apportioned to such men according to various ecclesiastical arrangements, but God’s unchanging will and mandate for the Church is that it will always have responsible shepherds who feed and nurture it with his Word and Sacraments. According to its needs and circumstances, the Church may call qualified men to carry out this ministry of spiritual oversight in more specialized or focused ways (theological professors, chaplains, etc.). According to its needs and circumstances, and in conformity with the Biblical directives on the proper roles of men and women in the Church, the Church may also call qualified individuals to carry out certain limited aspects of the public ministry of the Gospel and thereby to participate publicly in the fulfillment of the Church’s mission (the public ministry “in a broader sense”: catechists, deacons, etc.).

It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call. (Augsburg Confession XIV [German], p. 36)

Our teachers assert that according to the Gospel the power of keys or the power of bishops is a power and command of God to preach the Gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer and distribute the sacraments. For Christ sent out the apostles with this command, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). This power of keys or of bishops is used and exercised only by teaching and preaching the Word of God and by administering the sacraments (to many persons or to individuals, depending on one’s calling). In this way are imparted not bodily but eternal things and gifts, namely, eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life. These gifts cannot be obtained except through the office of preaching and of administering the holy sacraments, for St. Paul says [Rom. 1:16], “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” ...the power of the church or of bishops bestows eternal gifts and is used and exercised only through the office of preaching... (Augsburg Confession XXVIII:5-10 [German], pp. 81-82)

Besides, the ministry of the New Testament is not bound to places and persons, as the Levitical priesthood is, but is spread abroad through the whole world and exists wherever God gives his gifts, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers. Nor is this ministry valid because of any individual’s authority but because of the Word given by Christ. (Treatise, 26, p. 324)

...Christ gave the apostles only spiritual power, that is, the command to preach the Gospel, proclaim the forgiveness of sins, administer the sacraments, and excommunicate the godless without physical violence. ... For Christ said, “Go therefore and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19,20), and also, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). (Treatise, 31, p. 325)

As far as our ministry is concerned, we do not propose to look on idly or stand by silently while something contrary to the Augsburg Confession is imported into our churches and schools in which the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed us teachers and shepherds. (Solid Declaration XII:6, p. 633)

Among our opponents there is no catechization of the children at all, though even the canons give prescriptions about it. In our circles the pastors and ministers of the churches are required to instruct and examine the youth publicly, a custom that produces very good results. Among our opponents, there are many regions where no sermons are preached during the whole year, except in Lent. But the chief worship of God is the preaching of the Gospel. (Apology XV:41-42, pp. 220-21)

I therefore beg of you for God’s sake, my beloved brethren who are pastors and preachers, that you take the duties of your office seriously, that you have pity on the people who are entrusted to your care, and that you help me to teach the catechism to the people, especially those who are young. ... If any refuse to receive your instructions, tell them that they deny Christ and are no Christians. They should not be admitted to the sacrament, be accepted as sponsors in Baptism, or be allowed to participate in any Christian privileges. (Small Catechism, Preface: 6,11, pp. 338-39)

As we treated Holy Baptism under three headings, so we must deal with the second sacrament [the Lord’s Supper] in the same way, stating what it is, what its benefits are, and who is to receive it. All these are established from the words by which Christ instituted it. So everyone who wishes to be a Christian and go to the sacrament should be familiar with them. For we do not intend to admit to the sacrament and administer it to those who do not know what they seek or why they come. (Large Catechism V:1-2, p. 447)

Our clergy instruct the people about the worth and fruits of the sacraments in such a way as to invite them to use the sacraments often. ... The openly wicked and the despisers of the sacraments are excommunicated. ... Christ says (I Cor. 11:29) that those who receive in an unworthy manner receive judgment upon themselves. Therefore our pastors do not force those who are not ready to use the sacraments. (Apology XI:3-5, pp. 180-81)

Formerly the monasteries had conducted schools of Holy Scripture and other branches of learning which are profitable to the Christian church, so that pastors and bishops were taken from monasteries. (Augsburg Confession XXVII:15 [German], p. 73)

It is likely that here and there in the monasteries there are still some good men serving the ministry of the Word... (Apology XXVII:22, p. 272)

The chapters and monasteries which in former times had been founded with good intentions for the education of learned men and decent women should be restored to such purposes in order that we may have pastors, preachers, and other ministers in the church, others who are necessary for secular government in cities and states, and also well trained girls to become mothers, housekeepers, etc. (Smalcald Articles II, III:1, pp. 297-98)

Since God’s Word and command cannot be altered by any human vows or laws, our priests and other clergy have taken wives to themselves... It can be demonstrated from history and from the writings of the Fathers that it was customary for priests and deacons to marry in the Christian church of former times. Paul therefore said in I Timothy 3:2, “A bishop must be above reproach, married only once.” ... How would the marriage of priests and the clergy, and especially of the pastors and others who are to minister to the church, be of disadvantage to the Christian church as a whole? (Augsburg Confession XXIII:8-11,16 [German], pp. 52,54)

...some of us have had this document [the Formula of Concord] read article by article to each and every theologian, minister, and schoolmaster in our lands and territories and have had them reminded and exhorted to consider diligently and earnestly the doctrine contained in it. When they had found that the explanation of the dissensions which had arisen was agreeable and conformable first of all to the Word of God and then to the Augsburg Confession as well, the persons to whom it had been presented, as indicated above, gladly and with heartfelt thanks to almighty God testified that of their own volition and with due consideration they accepted, approved, and subscribed this Book of Concord as the correct Christian interpretation of the Augsburg Confession and publicly attested this with their hearts, lips, and hands. Therefore this Christian agreement is called and also is the unanimous and concordant confession not only of a few of our theologians but generally of each and every minister and schoolmaster in our lands and territories. (Preface to the Book of Concord, pp. 7-8)

Compiled and Edited by David Jay Webber

An earlier edition of this anthology was published in Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol. XXXVI, No. 3 (September 1996), pp. 10-31. The printed version of the anthology differs in some places from the online version that appears here.

Altar Frontispiece, Torslunde, Denmark (1561)

Nine Theses on the Public Ministry of the Gospel

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