The Church and the Ministry


(Excerpts from A Summary of the Christian Faith [Philadelphia: The United Lutheran Publication House, 1905].)

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What is the special office and calling of the Church?

To administer the Word and Sacraments. The Church saves only by bringing the saving Word.

Whence has it this authority and commission?

From the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, who has entrusted it with the Power of the Keys.

Matt. 16:19--“I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 18:18--“What things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.” John 20:23--“Whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.”

“This is a power or commandment from God of preaching the Gospel, of remitting and retaining sins, and of administering the Sacraments” (Augsburg Confession, Art. XXVIII).

Does not this power belong, however, to a class or order within the Church?

As will be seen later, there are no classes or orders within the Church. The Christian Ministry is not an order but an office. It is an instrumentality whereby the Church acts. In other words, it is the executive of the Church in performing this work. This is proved as follows:

In Matt. 18:18-20, the Power of the Keys is said to exist wherever “two or three are gathered together in my name.” Wherever, then, there is a Christian congregation, there is authority to communicate to penitent and believing individuals the Gospel promise of the gratuitous forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake.

“Just as the promise of the Gospel belongs certainly and immediately to the entire Church, so the Keys belong immediately to the entire Church, because the Keys are nothing else than the office whereby this promise is communicated to every one who desires it” (Schmalkald Articles, 343).

Can the Church, at its will, dispense with the ministerial office?

By no means. But it is for the Church to call, appoint and ordain those who are to exercise the functions of this office.

Explain the call or appointment by the Church.

The authority delegated by Christ rests ultimately in any congregation of two or three believers. Such assembly, as the Spirit of Christ influences it, will act with reference to the interests of the entire Church, and according to a fixed order. But it is never to be forgotten, that all the power of the Church exists in its smallest congregation, and is not derived by the local assemblies, through large Particular Churches, and by Particular Churches from the Church Universal, and by the Church Universal from Christ. The New Testament conception of Christ, dwelling in the heart of the believer, and making him a king and priest unto God, does not provide for a long and complicated series of agencies whereby we may reach Christ and Christ may reach us.

What inevitably results?

The Gathering of believers into local congregations and their further organization into congregational unions or Particular Churches, according to the necessities or the peculiar circumstances of the time or place. As the Church assumes a more settled form in the lands in which it is planted, and extends its missionary, benevolent and educational operations, a form of external organization, know as “the Representative Church,” inevitably follows. United activity always means attention to details of organization, which, however, according to the New Testament conception, must be in accord with the principle of Christian Liberty.

How is the organization effected?

Generally in accordance with what has been gradually developed in the experience of the Church. The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles show the first beginnings of this process in response to needs that were then felt. But not even the practice of the Apostolic Church is a rule which is absolutely obligatory on the Church of succeeding periods. “The Apostles commanded to abstain from blood (Acts 15:29). Who observeth that now-a-days? And yet they do not sin who observe it not” (Augsburg Confession, Article XXVIII).

Nevertheless the highest respect is paid to what has been found serviceable in the past, and no break with historical antecedents is justifiable, unless a rule or practice is clearly recognized as having survived its usefulness. “We cheerfully maintain the old traditions made in the Church for the sake of usefulness and tranquility; and we interpret them in a more moderate way to the exclusion of the opinion which holds that they justify” (Apology, 224).

What matters may be particularly classed under the head of Church Traditions?

All regulations for its government, the constitutions of congregations and Church Bodies, the mode of calling and inducting its ministry, the times and forms of public service, the lessons, the hymns, the prayers, the ceremonies connected with the administration of the Sacraments and other ministerial acts, etc.

(pp. 403-05)

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Through what instrumentality does the Church chiefly administer the Means of Grace?

Through the Christian Ministry.

What is the Ministry?

An office entrusted to certain persons, specially prepared and set apart for its duties. In the wide sense, every office in the Church, is a ministry, and the distinction between ministers and laymen is one between the office-bearers and the non-official members of the Church. In a narrower sense, the term belongs only to those commissioned by the Church to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments.

Is the designation of a special class of men to fill this office simply a matter of convenience?

It is not within the liberty of the Church to dispense with the office. For it rests upon a divine institution.

1 Cor. 12:28--“God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then divers kinds of healings, helps, governments,” etc. Eph. 4:11--“And he gave some to be apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering.”

The form and mode of office may vary. Some of these forms are but temporary and belong only to the period of the founding of Christianity; but the permanency of organization under bearers of an office pervades all that has been written concerning the Apostolic Church. A ministry is indispensable to the establishment, growth and proper administration of the Church.

Is this classification of offices absolute for the Church of later times?

No; for the Acts and the Epistles show that the organization of the Church gradually progressed, according to its needs, and had no divinely formulated Constitution, transmitted by inspiration, to be inflexibly adhered to for all time. Modifications and combinations of offices, on the one hand, and, on the other, a separation of duties and offices arose, as the Church passed from its missionary to its settled form, and as provisional plans were succeeded by more permanent adjustments. As Dr. H. M. Muhlenberg constantly realized in laying the foundations of the Lutheran Church in America, the Ecclesia Plantanda is one thing; the Ecclesia Plantata, another.

What was the ultimate result?

The Apostles as such had no successors; for they were for all lands and ages. When the period of extraordinary was succeeded by that of only ordinary gifts of the Spirit, there was a merging of a number of these offices into one, that of the local pastor, teacher, preacher and chief presbyter or president of the congregation. The Church, in its freedom, from time to time instituted other offices, to administer the duties connected with its common and united interests.

Is there no distinction in the New Testament between Presbyters and Bishops?

None whatever. Paul sends for the presbyters of Ephesus (Acts 20:17), and speaks of them as “bishops” (v. 28). According to Phil. 1:1, there were a number of bishops in the church at Philippi. 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1, in enumerating the duties of church officers, know only bishops and deacons. Nowhere is there any co-ordination of bishops, presbyters and deacons. The testimony of Titus 1:5-7 is very clear. After declaring the necessity to “appoint elders in every city,” and enumerating the qualifications of the bearers of the office, Paul continues, “For a bishop must be blameless.” The allusion would be without any meaning if the presbyterate were regarded a different office from the episcopate.

(pp. 419-21)

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Where a regularly called pastor cannot be had, is it never proper for a layman to preach or teach publicly in the Church?

“When a Christian is among heathen ignorant of the Christian faith, then, according to his ability, he can teach others and propagate Christian doctrine at the promptings of love and necessity. But where a church has been established, let no one, without an ordinary call, undertake the holy office” (Hollaz).

Similar occasions may occur temporarily in communities in a Christian land, not adequately provided with a ministry, or churches. Lay activity may very properly supply the deficiency, but not as a permanent matter. Where a congregation results and the provision has its sanction, the ministry springs up in virtue of the call that is given.

How about the preaching of theological students?

“There is a distinction between preaching exercises and the regular office of preaching. The sermons of students are exercises in which they modestly offer to the Church services that are hereafter to be rendered, but do not claim for themselves the regular office of preaching” (Hollaz). This is not, however, a completely satisfactory statement. The preaching of students is justifiable only upon the ground that it is in response to a regular call of the congregation or its representatives for a temporary service. The distinction is between a call for a more permanent and one for a merely temporary discharge of ministerial functions.

Is the Call which constitutes the ministry limited to the pastorate of a local congregation?

Many so maintain. But even in Apostolic times, the ministry of preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments was not confined to a form so restrictedly local. Wherever there are general interests of the Church that are served by preachers and teachers filling such offices as are needed and in accordance with clear calls, there are also true ministers of the Church. What a congregation of Christian people can do in the call of a pastor, a congregation of congregations in the representative Church can also effect. This limitation, however, must be made: Such call must always carry with it the appointment to distinct work. For the ministry is an office, not an order.

(pp. 430-31)

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Are there different grades of ministers of the Word?

It has been shown above that the New Testament does not recognize any distinction between bishops and presbyters. “In 1 Cor. 3:6, Paul makes ministers equal and teaches that the Church is above the ministers. Hence superiority or lordship over the Church is not ascribed to Peter” (Schmalkald Articles, 340). There is no divine law designating a certain number of grades and perpetually imposing them upon the Church.

Nevertheless the importance of order and organization is clearly taught, and this necessitates the subordination of equals to each other for the welfare of the entire spiritual body of believers. Some become primi inter pares.

“1. Although in the ministry, there are diverse orders, nevertheless the power of the ministry in preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments, and the power of jurisdiction consisting in the use of the Keys, belongs equally to all ministers; and, therefore, the Word preached, the Sacraments administered and the absolution announced by one lawfully called to the ministry, even though he be of the lowest grade of the ministry, are just as valid and efficacious, as though preached, administered and announced by the highest bishop, prophet or apostle. For as the diversity of gifts, so also that of grades does not change the force or efficacy of the doctrine and Sacraments (1 Cor. 3:5,7; 2 Cor. 12:9; Gal. 2:8). 2. The diversity of grades depends indeed upon divine law, both ‘by reason of genus,’ so far as a distinction of grades is necessary for good order and tranquility in the Church; and ‘by reason of gifts,’ so far as by the variety and diversity of gifts, God declares that He wishes that there should be distinct grades among the ministers; and ‘by reason of certain grades in particular,’ in so far as He Himself distinguished and preferred the office of prophets and apostles to that of others. Nevertheless it cannot be said absolutely and generally concerning all grades of the ministry, that their institution and distinction depend upon divine institution, inasmuch as these grades, in a fixed and necessary number, have neither been prescribed by God, nor used by the apostles, in like manner as the Sacraments have been restricted to the number two by divine institution and Apostolic practice; but liberty has been left to the Church, with respect to circumstances, viz., of time and place, in any Church organization, to establish either more or fewer grades among ministers” (Gerhard, VI, 137, 138).

For these reasons, the practice of licensing candidates for the ministry for several years prior to their ordination, which was long the custom in the Lutheran Church of America, was entirely legitimate and valid.

(pp. 435-37)

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What other ministers are there beside the ministers of the Word?

Deacons, or the executive aids of pastors, chiefly in the external administration of the Church. While the question as to whether “the seven” of Acts 6:3 are the same as the deacons elsewhere mentioned in the New Testament, is one on which there is not unanimity among Bible students, nevertheless, the general principle of the more thorough organization and division of labor is the same in both classes of passages. Acts 7 and 8 clearly show that “the seven” preached as well as attended to the secular responsibilities of the infant Church. The qualifications of deacons required by 1 Tim. 3:8-13, show that their duties were not purely secular.

What were the Deaconesses of the early Church?

Women officially commissioned for congregational service. They were nothing more than female deacons.

Rom. 16:1--“Phoebe, our sister, who is a deaconess of the church that is at Cenchreae.”

In 1 Tim. 3:8-10, there is a statement concerning the qualifications in general for “deacons.” Then, in v. 11, it is the female deacons, who are meant by the designation “women”; after which v. 12 refers to the male deacons. It would be a strange break to understand v. 11 as meaning women in general, or the wives of deacons.

(pp. 444-45)

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Henry Eyster Jacobs

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