One Ministry in Two Senses:
The Lutheran Doctrine of the Public Ministry of the Gospel


In the Formula of Concord, the Lutherans of the sixteenth century acknowledged and confessed that

in his immeasurable goodness and mercy God provides for the public proclamation of his divine, eternal law and of the wondrous counsel of our redemption, the holy gospel of his eternal Son, our only Savior Jesus Christ, which alone can save. By means of this proclamation he gathers an everlasting church from humankind, and he effects in human hearts true repentance and knowledge of sin and true faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. God wants to call human beings to eternal salvation, to draw them to himself, to convert them, to give them new birth, and to sanctify them through these means, and in no other way than through his holy Word (which people hear proclaimed or read) and through the sacraments (which they use according to his Word). 1 Corinthians 1[:21]: “Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.” Acts 11[:14]: “[Peter] will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” Romans 10[:17]: “So faith arises from the proclamation, and proclamation comes through God’s word.” John 17[:17,20]: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. I ask on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.” Therefore, the eternal Father calls from heaven regarding his dear Son and all who proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name, “Listen to him!” (Matt. 17[:5]). (FC SD II:50-51, in The Book of Concord, edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000], pp. 553-54)

In the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, the Reformers also declared, as a general principle, that

the ministry of the New Testament is not bound to places and persons like the Levitical ministry, but is scattered throughout the whole world and exists wherever God gives God’s gifts: apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers [cf. Eph. 4:11]. That ministry is not valid because of the authority of any person but because of the Word handed down by Christ. (Tr 26, Kolb/Wengert p. 334)

In their more detailed elaborations on the doctrine of the church’s public ministry, however, the Lutherans of the sixteenth century did not always use the same terms, and they did not always define and apply their terms in the same way. As one modern scholar has observed,

A point of confusion throughout the period under discussion (1525-1580) was how broadly one should interpret the office of the ministerium verbi. Was it one office, namely that of pastor, so that presbyter and bishop were not different orders? Did it include deacons or the minor orders? Was there a place for elders, such as in the Hesse churches, and were they considered laity or clergy? One cannot answer these questions definitively because of the fluid way in which the various offices come and go as one moves from territory to territory. (Ralph F. Smith, Luther, Ministry, and Ordination Rites in the Early Reformation Church [New York: Peter Lang, 1996], p. 3)

This lack of standardization in the theological vocabulary of the Reformers has resulted, predictably, in many unfortunate misunderstandings among Confessional Lutherans.


In the Lutheran Confessions, the public ministry of the Gospel, as a concept, was often coordinated specifically with those offices that embodied the necessary and indispensable ministry of spiritual or pastoral oversight in the church. The men who served in such offices (bishops, parish pastors, preachers, chaplains, theological professors, etc.) had been called to carry out, definitively and culminantly, the public administration of one or more of the means of grace.1

In a discussion of the spiritual authority of the church and its ministers (in comparison to the temporal authority of the civil government and its officials), the Augsburg Confession affirmed that,

according to the gospel, the power of the keys or the power of the bishops is the power of God’s mandate to preach the gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer the sacraments. For Christ sent out the apostles with this command [John 20:21-23]: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. ... Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And Mark 16[:15]: “Go...and proclaim the good news to the whole creation....” This power is exercised only by teaching or preaching the gospel and by administering the sacraments either to many or to individuals, depending on one’s calling. For not bodily things but eternal things, eternal righteousness, the Holy Spirit, eternal life, are being given. These things cannot come about except through the ministry of Word and sacraments, as Paul says [Rom. 1:16]: “The the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” And Psalm 119[:50]: “Your promise gives me life.” ...this power of the church bestows eternal things and is exercised only through the ministry of the Word. (AC XXVIII:5-10 [Latin], Kolb/Wengert p. 93)2

In discussing the practice of clerical ordination, and the theological verities that lay behind this practice, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession explained that

priests are not called to offer sacrifices for the people as in Old Testament law so that through them they might merit the forgiveness of sins for the people; instead they are called to preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments to the people. We do not have another priesthood like the Levitical priesthood – as the Epistle to the Hebrews [chaps. 7-9] more than sufficiently teaches. But if ordination is understood with reference to the ministry of the Word, we have no objection to calling ordination a sacrament. For the ministry of the Word has the command of God and has magnificent promises like Romans 1[:16]: the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” Likewise, Isaiah 55[:11], “ shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose. ...” If ordination is understood in this way, we will not object to calling the laying on of hands a sacrament. For the church has the mandate to appoint ministers, which ought to please us greatly because we know that God approves this ministry and is present in it. Indeed, it is worthwhile to extol the ministry of the Word with every possible kind of praise against fanatics who imagine that the Holy Spirit is not given through the Word but is given on account of certain preparations of their own. (Ap XIII:9-13, Kolb/Wengert p. 220)

Again, the Apology noted that

the one minister who consecrates gives the body and blood of the Lord to the rest of the people, just as a minister who preaches sets forth the gospel to the people, as Paul says [1 Cor. 4:1], “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries,” that is, of the gospel and the sacraments. And 2 Corinthians 5:20, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (Ap XXIV:80, Kolb/Wengert p. 272)

In its description of the Biblical qualifications for “Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers,” the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism stated that

“A bishop is to be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, virtuous, moderate, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not vicious, not involved in dishonorable work, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not stingy, one who manages his own household well, who has obedient and honest children, not a recent convert, who holds to the Word that is certain and can teach, so that he may be strong enough to admonish with saving teaching and to refute those who contradict it.” From 1 Timothy 3[:2-4,6a; Titus 1:9]. (SC TD:2, Kolb/Wengert p. 365)

And in reference to the Augsburg Confession, the authors of the Formula of Concord made this solemn declaration: “As far as our ministry is concerned, we will not look on passively or remain silent if anything contrary to this confession is introduced into our churches and schools, in which the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has placed us as teachers and shepherds” (FC SD XII:6, Kolb/Wengert p. 656). The men who said this were serving the church as pastors, superintendents, and professors of theology.3

In their private writings, the leading theologians of the Lutheran Church during this period often spoke in a similarly restrictive way regarding the divinely-instituted public ministry. In his treatise “Against the Roman Papacy, an Institution of the Devil,” Martin Luther commented on the essential unity of the apostolate and the ordinary preaching office:

Hear St. Peter himself, who is an apostle, ...who writes in his epistles to his bishops in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia, I Peter 5[:1-2], “I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is your charge,” etc. Look at that – Peter calls himself a fellow elder, that is, equal with pastor or preacher; he does not want to rule over them, but to be equal with them, although he knows that he is an apostle. The office of preacher [Predigtamt] or bishop [Bischofsamt] is the highest office, which was held by God’s Son himself, as well as by all the apostles, prophets, and patriarchs. God’s word and faith is above everything, above all gifts and personal worth. The word “elder,” in Greek “presbyter,” is in one case a word for old age, as one says, “an old man”; but here it is a name for an office because one took old and experienced people for the office. Now we call it pastor and preacher or minister [Seelsorger]. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 41 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966], pp. 358-59)

In his treatise on “The Misuse of the Mass,” Luther made the following exegetical observations regarding Titus 1:5-7:

Paul says to his disciple Titus: “This is why I left you in Candia, that you might complete what I left unfinished, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you, men who are blameless, the husband of one wife, whose children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate. For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless,” etc. [Titus 1:5-7] Whoever believes that here in Paul the Spirit of Christ is speaking and commanding will be sure to recognize this as a divine institution and ordinance, that in each city there should be several bishops, or at least one. It is also evident that Paul considers elders and bishops to be one and the same thing, for he says: Elders are to be appointed and installed in all cities, and that a bishop shall be blameless. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 36 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959], p. 155)

Luther repeated some of these thoughts in his treatise “On the Councils and the Church.” There he described the public ministry of Word and sacrament as an office (or category of offices) that, by divine design, does not properly include the participation of women:

The keys are the pope’s as little as Baptism, the Sacrament [of the Altar], and the Word of God are, for they belong to the people of Christ and are called “the church’s keys” not “the pope’s keys.” Fifth, the church is recognized externally by the fact that it consecrates or calls ministers, or has offices that it is to administer. There must be bishops, pastors, or preachers, who publicly and privately give, administer, and use the aforementioned four things or holy possessions in behalf of and in the name of the church, or rather by reason of their institution by Christ, as St. Paul states in Ephesians 4[:8], “He received gifts among men...” – his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some teachers and governors, etc. The people as a whole cannot do these things, but must entrust or have them entrusted to one person. Otherwise, what would happen if everyone wanted to speak or administer, and no one wanted to give way to the other? It must be entrusted to one person, and he alone should be allowed to preach, to baptize, to absolve, and to administer the sacraments. The others should be content with this arrangement and agree to it. Wherever you see this done, be assured that God’s people, the holy Christian people, are present. It is, however, true that the Holy Spirit has excepted women, children, and incompetent people from this function, but chooses (except in emergencies) only competent males to fill this office, as one reads here and there in the epistles of St. Paul [I Tim. 3:2, Tit. 1:6] that a bishop must be pious, able to teach, and the husband of one wife – and in I Corinthians 14[:34] he says, “The women should keep silence in the churches.” In summary, it must be a competent and chosen man. Children, women, and other persons are not qualified for this office, even though they are able to hear God’s Word, to receive Baptism, the Sacrament, absolution, and are also true, holy Christians, as St. Peter says [I Pet. 3:7]. Even nature and God’s creation makes this distinction, implying that women (much less children or fools) cannot and shall not occupy positions of sovereignty, as experience also suggests and as Moses says in Genesis 3[:16], “You shall be subject to man.” The Gospel, however, does not abrogate this natural law, but confirms it as the ordinance and creation of God. ... Now, if the apostles, evangelists, and prophets are no longer living, others must have replaced them and will replace them until the end of the world, for the church shall last until the end of the world [Matt. 28:20]. Apostles, evangelists, and prophets must therefore remain, no matter what their name, to promote God’s word and work. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 41, pp. 154-55)4

In one of his better-known writings, David Chytraeus described the public ministry of the Gospel in this way:

How is the Church gathered and governed in this world? Through the ministry of the Gospel or through hearing, reading, meditating on, etc., the Word of God; through which Christ Himself is effective, converts the hearts and minds of its hearers to God by His Holy Spirit, and with true knowledge of God and faith illumines, comforts, governs and sanctifies them to eternal life. “Everyone who believes in Christ will be saved. But how will they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher? So then faith comes from the hearing of the Word of God,” Romans 10. “Thy word gives me life,” Psalm 119. “In Thy word I have hoped,” Psalm 130. “He will speak to you the words through which you and your household will be saved,” Acts 11. What is the ministry of the Gospel? The ministry of the Gospel is the office which God has instituted, the office of preaching and confessing the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel concerning Christ, in the public assembly of the Church; of rightly administering the sacraments; of announcing the forgiveness of sins or of absolving those who repent; of excommunicating the obstinate; and of ordaining ministers of the Church, through which ministry God is truly effective for the salvation of all who believe, Luke 24; Matt. 10, 18 and 28; Rom. 10; Eph. 4; 1 Tim. 5; 2 Tim. 2. What is ordination? In general, the ordination of ministers is the ritual by which the public testimony is given in the presence of the entire Church of a certain person that he has been legitimately called and is fit to teach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. (A Summary of the Christian Faith [Decatur, Illinois: Repristination Press, 1997], pp. 143-44)

And Martin Chemnitz (who with Chytraeus was a co-author of the Formula of Concord) followed the same approach in some of the things he said in one of his better-known writings (Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1978], pp. 678-79; Part III [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986], pp. 124-25).5


There are some places in the Lutheran Confessions, however, where the public ministry, as a concept, was coordinated not only with offices of spiritual or pastoral oversight in the church, but also with offices that embodied only a more limited aspect of the public ministry of the Gospel. Those who served in such offices (catechists, parochial school teachers, deacons, etc.) had not been called to carry out, definitively and culminantly, the public administration of one or more of the means of grace, but they had been called to carry out a constituent part of the public ministry of the Gospel. Catechists or parochial school teachers were not authorized to preach in the congregation (according to the ordinary understanding of the word “preach”), as were the church’s theologically-trained shepherds, but they were authorized to assist pastors and Christian parents in instructing the church’s children in the basic elements of Christian doctrine. Likewise, (male) deacons, especially in ancient times, were not authorized to officiate at the administration of the sacrament and to carry out the quintessential pastoral duty of admitting (or declining to admit) communicants to the altar, but they were authorized to assist in the distribution of the Lord’s Supper. (See SC Pref.: 10-11, Kolb/Wengert p. 348; LC V:2, Kolb/Wengert p. 467.)

This less restrictive way of applying the concept of the public ministry of the Gospel can be seen in the Preface to the Book of Concord, where the Lutheran princes declared:

..some of us have had this book read aloud to each and every theologian and minister of church or school in our lands and territories and have had them reminded and exhorted to consider diligently and earnestly the doctrine contained therein. When they had found that the explanation of the dissensions which had arisen conformed to and agreed with first of all the Word of God and then with the Augsburg Confession as well, the above-mentioned persons to whom it had been presented, freely and with due consideration, accepted, approved, and subscribed to this Book of Concord (with great joy and heartfelt thanks to God Almighty) as the correct, Christian understanding of the Augsburg Confession, and they publicly attested to the same with hearts and hands and voices. For this reason this Christian accord is called and also is the unanimous and concordant confession not only of a few of our theologians but generally of each and every one of our ministers of church and school. (Preface 14-16, Kolb/Wengert p. 9)

In the context, the phrase “ministers of...[the] school” would not be referring to professors on the theological faculties of the universities, since such men were already covered by the term “theologians” (Theologen). According to the usage of the time, “ministers of church and school” (Kirchen- und Schuldiener) was actually referring to the parish pastors and preachers and to the parish schoolmasters and school teachers. Evidence for this can be seen in a letter that Luther wrote on one occasion to a (senior) pastor who was experiencing some difficulties with his city council:

No peace or unity can remain where a chaplain, schoolmaster, or other minister of the church knows that he may be in the office of the church without the knowledge and will of the pastor and thereby can boast and comfort himself that he was chosen by the city council. Since such action is seen all the time against the pastors, you should not admit or strengthen this example such that they accept or suffer a chaplain, schoolmaster, or other minister of the church without your previous knowledge and will. (“1536. X, 296” [reference uncertain]; quoted in C. A. T. Selle, “Das Amt des Pastors als Schulaufseher” [The Office of a Pastor as School Overseer], Evang.-Luth. Schulblatt, Vol. 4, No. 5 [January 1869])

And another sixteenth-century Lutheran author even went so far as to say:

Under the name father and mother are included all those who rule others below them such as ... 6. The spiritual fathers, faithful teachers and preachers, school masters and mistresses. 7. After these lords and mistresses, the father and mother of the house. ... Who are the people who are responsible to help teach the catechism? First the preachers in the churches are those who should diligently teach the catechism. The schoolmasters and schoolmistresses in the boys and girls schools are also preachers. ... In the third place parents and house-fathers and house-mothers should help. For what the preachers are in the church, that is what father and mother are at home in the house, as Augustine says. (Friedrich Rhote, Der kleine Catechismus des Mannes Gottes Dr. M. Lutheri [Leipzig, 1599], 6, Cap. 2; quoted in C. A. T. Selle, “Das Amt des Pastors als Schulaufseher” [The Office of a Pastor as School Overseer])

The Large Catechism did acknowledge that the office of a schoolmaster is “derived and developed,” at least in part, from the office of a father, since a father has the God-given duty to see to it that his children are instructed in God’s Word as well as in secular subjects (LC I:141, Kolb/Wengert p. 405; LC Sh.Pref.: 4, Kolb/Wengert p. 383). However, the schoolmaster of a sixteenth-century parish, as the Reformers understood and structured this office, was someone who had also received authorization from the congregation to teach God’s Word to its younger members, under the supervision of the pastor. Therefore a parish schoolmaster (or parochial school teacher) was legitimately seen to be serving also in an ecclesiastical office and not only in a domestic office (“Fraternal Agreement on the Common Chest of the Entire Assembly of Leisnig,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 45 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962], pp. 186-89).6 According to the specifications and limitations of his or her call, a parochial school teacher would be helping to carry out that aspect of the public ministry of the Gospel that the Apology was describing when it declared, in regard to the “catechesis of children,” that “pastors and ministers of the church are required to instruct and examine the youth publicly, a custom that produces very good results” (Ap XV:41, Kolb/Wengert p. 229).

As students of the history of the church, the Reformers knew that “At one time there were schools of Holy Scripture and other disciplines useful for the Christian church in the monasteries, so that pastors and bishops were taken from the monasteries” (AC XXVII:15 [German], Kolb/Wengert pp. 82,84). But they also made the sad contemporary observation that, “While monasteries were once schools for Christian instruction, they have now degenerated – as though from a golden to an iron age” (Ap XXVII:5, Kolb/Wengert p. 278). The Reformers were nevertheless willing to acknowledge, in spite of this general decay in the educational work of the monasteries, that “It is likely that here and there in the monasteries there are still some virtuous people serving the ministry of the Word” (Ap XXVII:22, Kolb/Wengert p. 281). This history, and this Reformational understanding of the role of Christian education in the life of the church, help us to understand the comments that Luther offered on the subject in the Smalcald Articles: “The foundations and monasteries, established in former times with good intentions for the education of learned people and decent women, should be returned to such use so that we may have pastors, preachers, and other servants of the church, as well as other people necessary for earthly government in cities and states, and also well-trained young women to head households and manage them” (SA II, III:1, Kolb/Wengert p. 306).

In its explanation of the proper and orderly administration of the Sacrament of the Altar, according to Christ’s institution, the Augsburg Confession referred approvingly to the practice of the ancient church:

The ancient canons also indicate that one priest officiated and gave the sacrament to the other priests and deacons. For the words of the Nicene canon read: “After the priests, the deacons shall receive the sacrament from the bishop or priest in order.” (AC XXIV:37-38 [German], Kolb/Wengert p. 70)

The Reformers knew that the deacons of the early church were permitted to serve in various ways as sacramental and liturgical assistants in public worship, but they also knew that these deacons were not permitted to consecrate the elements and officiate at the administration of the Lord’s Supper. This distinctively pastoral duty was the responsibility of the bishops and priests (or presbyters), to whom the ministry of spiritual oversight had been entrusted. But elsewhere in the Augsburg Confession, where the subject of the marriage of the clergy was under discussion, we see that the Reformers did include the deacons of the early church within the broader category of “priests and other clergy” (die Priester und andere Geistliche):

Therefore, because God’s Word and command cannot be changed by any human vow or law, priests and other clergy have taken wives for themselves for these and other reasons and causes. It can also be demonstrated from the historical accounts and from the writings of the Fathers that it was customary in the Christian church of ancient times for priests and deacons to have wives. This is why Paul says in 1 Timothy 3[:2]: “Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife.” ... How can the marriage of priests and clergy, especially of the pastors and others who are to serve the church, be disadvantageous to the Christian church as a whole? (AC XXIII:8-11,16 [German], Kolb/Wengert pp. 62,64,66)7

In some of his private writings Luther did indeed apply the concept of the public ministry of the Gospel to a wide range of ecclesiastical offices – not only offices to which the essential components of the public ministry of Word and sacrament had been entrusted, but also offices to which a more limited or restricted component of the public ministry had been entrusted. We have already taken note of the letter in which he spoke in these broader categories. He did the same thing, in a more expanded way, in “A Sermon on Keeping Children in School.” In this intriguing work Luther treated as synonymous concepts the collective idea of “the spiritual estate” that “has been established and instituted by God,” and the unitary idea of “this office of preaching, baptizing, loosing, binding, giving the Sacrament, comforting, warning, and exhorting with God’s Word, and whatever else belongs to the pastoral office.” Here are two key excerpts:

I hope, indeed, that believers, those who want to be called Christians, know very well that the spiritual estate has been established and instituted by God, not with gold or silver but with the precious blood and bitter death of his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ [I Pet. 1:18-19]. From his wounds indeed flow the sacraments [John 19:34] (they used to depict this on broadsides). He paid dearly that men might everywhere have this office of preaching, baptizing, loosing, binding, giving the Sacrament, comforting, warning, and exhorting with God’s Word, and whatever else belongs to the pastoral office [Amt der Seelsorger]. For this office not only helps to further and sustain this temporal life and all the worldly estates, but it also gives eternal life and delivers from sin and death, which is its proper and chief work. Indeed, it is only because of the spiritual estate that the world stands and abides at all; if it were not for this estate, the world would long since have gone down to destruction. I am not thinking, however, of the spiritual estate as we know it today in the monastic houses and the foundations... They give no heed to God’s Word and the office of preaching – and where the Word is not in use the clergy must be bad. The estate I am thinking of is rather one which has the office of preaching [Predigtamt] and the service of the Word and sacraments and which imparts the Spirit and salvation, blessings that cannot be attained by any amount of pomp and pageantry. It includes the work of pastors [Pfarramt], teachers, preachers, lectors, priests (whom men call chaplains), sacristans [Küster], schoolmasters, and whatever other work belongs to these offices and persons. This estate the Scriptures highly exalt and praise. St. Paul calls them God’s stewards and servants [I Cor. 4:1]; bishops [Acts 20:28]; doctors, prophets [I Cor. 12:28]; also God’s ambassadors to reconcile the world to God, II Corinthians 5[:20]. Joel calls them saviors. In Psalm 68 David calls them kings and princes. Haggai [1:13] calls them angels, and Malachi [2:7] says, “The lips of the priest keep the law, for he is an angel of the Lord of hosts.” Christ himself gives them the same name, not only in Matthew 11[:10] where he calls John the Baptist an angel, but also throughout the entire book of the Revelation to John. may rejoice and be glad from the heart if you find that you have been chosen by God to devote your means and labor to raising a son who will be a good Christian pastor, preacher, or schoolmaster, and thereby to raise for God a special servant, yes (as was said above), an angel of God, a true bishop before God, a savior of many people, a king and prince in the kingdom of Christ, a teacher of God’s people, a light of the world – indeed, who can recount all the distinction and honor that a good and faithful pastor has in the eyes of God? There is no dearer treasure, no nobler thing on earth or in this life than a good and faithful pastor and preacher. Just think, whatever good is accomplished by the preaching office and the care of souls is assuredly accomplished by your own son as he faithfully performs this office. For example, each day through him many souls are taught, converted, baptized, and brought to Christ and saved, and redeemed from sin, death, hell, and the devil. Through him they come to everlasting righteousness, to everlasting life and heaven, so that Daniel [12:3] says well that “those who teach others shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness shall be like the stars for ever and ever.” Because God’s word and office, when it proceeds aright, must without ceasing do great things and work actual miracles, so your son must without ceasing do great miracles before God, such as raising the dead, driving out devils, making the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lepers clean, and the dumb to speak [Matt. 11:5]. Though these things may not happen bodily, they do happen spiritually in the soul, where the miracles are even greater, as Christ says in John 14[:12], “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.” If the single believer can accomplish these things working independently with individuals, how much more will the preacher accomplish working publicly with the whole company of people? It is not the man, though, that does it. It is his office, ordained by God for this purpose. That is what does it – that and the word of God which he teaches. He is only the instrument through which it is accomplished. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 46 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967], pp. 219-21, 223-24)8

... I do not mean to insist that every man must train his child for this office, for it is not necessary that all boys become pastors, preachers, and schoolmasters. It is well to know that the children of lords and other important people are not to be used for this work, for the world also needs heirs, people without whom the temporal authority would go to pieces. I am speaking of the common people... Even though they need no heirs they keep their children out of school, regardless of whether the children have the ability and talent for these offices and could serve God in them without privation or hindrance. Boys of such ability ought to be kept at their studies... In addition, though, other boys as well ought to study, even those of lesser ability. They ought at least to read, write, and understand Latin, for we need not only highly learned doctors and masters of Holy Scripture but also ordinary pastors who will teach the gospel and the catechism to the young and ignorant, and baptize and administer the sacrament. That they may be incapable of doing battle with heretics is unimportant. For a good building we need not only hewn facings but also backing stone. In like manner we must also have sacristans and other persons who serve and help in relation to the office of preaching and the word of God. (p. 231)9

In at least one of his writings, Chytraeus also described the public ministry of the Gospel in these broader categories (On Sacrifice [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962], pp. 97-102).10 And Chemnitz likewise spoke in this way when he described the character and origin of the church’s minor offices, to which a “part of the ministry” had been entrusted:

Because many duties belong to the ministry of the church which cannot all conveniently be performed by one person or by a few, when the believers are very numerous – in order, therefore, that all things may be done in an orderly way, decently, and for edification, these duties of the ministry began, as the assembly of the church grew great, to be distributed among certain ranks of ministers which they afterward called taxeis (ranks) or tagmata (orders), so that each might have, as it were, a certain designated station in which he might serve the church in certain duties of the ministry. Thus in the beginning the apostles took care of the ministry of the Word and the sacraments and at the same time also of the distribution and dispensation of alms. Afterward, however, as the number of disciples increased, they entrusted that part of the ministry which has to do with alms to others, whom they called deacons. They also state the reason why they do this – that they might be able to devote themselves more diligently to the ministry of the Word and to prayer, without diversions. (Acts 6:1-4) This first origin of ranks or orders of ministry in the apostolic church shows what ought to be the cause, what the reason, purpose, and use of such ranks or orders – that for the welfare of the assembly of the church the individual duties which belong to the ministry might be attended to more conveniently, rightly, diligently, and orderly, with a measure of dignity and for edification. And because the apostles afterward accepted into the ministry of teaching those from among the deacons who were approved, as Stephen and Philip, we gather that this also is a use of these ranks or orders, that men are first prepared or tested in minor duties so that afterward heavier duties may more safely and profitably be entrusted to them. That is what Paul says in 1 Tim. 3:10: “Let them also be tested first, and so let them minister.” Likewise: “Those who serve well as deacons will gain a good rank for themselves.” [1 Tim. 3:13, Vulgate] Thus there were in the worship service of the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1) prophets and teachers, of whom the former either prophesied of future events or interpreted the more difficult passages of Scripture (1 Cor. 14:29-32), while the latter set forth the elements of Christian doctrine to the people (Heb. 5:12-14). Paul and Barnabas receive Mark into the ministry (Acts 13:5) not merely in order that he might render bodily services to them but so that they might be able to entrust some parts of the ministry of the Word to him, as Paul expressly says (Acts 15:38). There were in the church at Corinth apostles, prophets, and teachers; some spoke in tongues, some interpreted, some had psalms, some prayers, benedictions, and giving of thanks, not in private exercises but in public assemblies of the church. (1 Cor. 12:28-30; 14:26-27) In Eph. 4:11 the following ranks of ministers are listed: (1) apostles, who were not called to some certain church, and who had not been called through men, but immediately by Christ, and had the command to teach everywhere, and were furnished with the testimony of the Spirit and of miracles, that they might not err in doctrine but that their doctrine might be divine and heavenly, to which all the other teachers should be bound; (2) prophets, who either had revelations of future events or interpreted tongues and the Scriptures for the more advanced, for these things are ascribed to the prophets of the New Testament in 1 Cor. 14; (3) evangelists, who were not apostles and yet were not bound to some one certain church but were sent to different churches to teach the Gospel there, but chiefly to lay the first foundations; such an evangelist was Philip (Acts 21:8), and Timothy (2 Tim. 4:5), Tychicus, Sylvanus, etc.; that there were such evangelists also after the times of the apostles Eusebius testifies, Bk. 3, ch. 37, etc.; (4) pastors, who were placed over a certain flock, as Peter shows (1 Peter 5:2-3), and who not only taught but administered the sacraments and had the oversight over their hearers, as Ezekiel (34:2 ff.) describes the pastoral office; (5) teachers, to whom the chief governance or oversight of the church was not entrusted but who only set the doctrine before the people in a simple manner, such as the catechists were later; thus Paul (Rom. 2:20) speaks of “a teacher of children,” and the word teach is expressly used in this sense in Heb. 5:12. All these ranks the apostles include under the terms “presbytery” and “episcopacy.” Sometimes they also call those to whom the ministry of Word and sacrament has been committed by the term “minister” (“servant”). (Col. 1:7,23; 1 Thess. 3:2; 2 Cor. 3:6; 11:23; Eph. 3:7) Also Paul himself sometimes performed the ministry of the Word in such a way that he entrusted the administration of the sacraments to others. 1 Cor. 1:17: “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel.” And in 1 Tim. 1:17 he mentions two kinds of presbyters, of whom some labored in preaching and teaching, while others had been placed in charge of ecclesiastical discipline. Tertullian also mentions this kind of presbytery, Apologeticus, ch. 39. This about completes the list of ranks into which we read that the ecclesiastical ministry was divided at the time of the apostles. ... However, because of the present dispute, the following reminder must be added: (1) that there is no command in the Word of God, which or how many such ranks or orders there should be; (2) that there were not at the time of the apostles in all churches and at all times the same and the same number of ranks or orders, as can be clearly ascertained from the epistles of Paul, written to various churches; (3) that there was not [originally], at the time of the apostles, such a division of these ranks, but repeatedly one and the same person [an apostle] held and performed all the duties which belong to the ministry, as is clear from the apostolic history. Therefore such orders were free at the time of the apostles and were observed for the sake of good order, decorum, and edification, except that at that time certain special gifts, such as tongues, prophecies, apostolate, and miracles, were bestowed on certain persons by God. These ranks, about which we have spoken until now, were not something beside and beyond the ministry of the Word and sacraments, but the real and true duties of the ministry were distributed among certain ranks for the reasons already set forth. This example of the apostles the primitive church imitated for the same reason and in similar liberty. For the grades of the duties of the ministry were distributed, not however in identically the same way as in the church at Corinth or in that at Ephesus, but according to the circumstances obtaining in each church. From this one can gather what freedom there was in the distribution of the ranks. ... Therefore the ranks or orders were distinguished, not by empty titles but according to certain duties that belonged to the ministry of the church. The bishop taught the Word of God and had charge of the church’s discipline. The presbyters taught and administered the sacraments. The deacons were in charge of the treasuries of the church, in order from them to provide sustenance for the poor and in particular for the ministers of the church. Afterward the deacons also began to be employed for assisting with a certain part of the ministry of the bishop and the presbyters, as also Jerome testifies, Ad Rusticum, such as for reading something publicly from the Scriptures, for teaching, exhorting, etc., admonishing the people to be attentive, to turn their hearts to the Lord, to proclaim peace, to prepare the things which belong to the administration of the sacraments, distribute the sacraments to the people, take those who are to be ordained to the bishop, to remind bishops about matters which pertain to discipline, etc. ...subdeacons were placed under them; they collected the offerings of the faithful which were contributed for the sustenance of the poor and the ministers. Besides these there were lectors, who read publicly to the people from the Scriptures, especially from the Old Testament, for the reading of the New Testament was thereafter given to the deacons. There were psalmists or cantors, who sang first what the whole assembly was accustomed to sing. There were doorkeepers, who at the time of the Sacrament, after the announcement by the deacon, put out of the church the Gentiles, catechumens, penitents, the possessed, heretics, and persons who had been excommunicated, for thus Dionysius describes this office. Bishops, presbyters, and deacons had their famuli, servants, companions, or followers, whose services they used when necessity demanded it, as Paul had used the services of Onesimus. They called these men acolytes. ... Besides these there were exorcists, who had the gift of casting out or restraining demons. This distribution of ranks in the more populous churches was useful for the sake of order, for decorum, and for edification by reason of the duties which belong to the ministry. In the smaller or less populous churches such a distribution of ranks was not judged necessary, and also in the more populous churches a like or identical distribution of these ranks was not everywhere observed. For this reason, for this use, and with this freedom many of these ranks of the ancient church are preserved also among us. (Examination of the Council of Trent, Part II, pp. 682-88 [emphases added])11

After reviewing all of this material, we might be prompted to ask: Exactly what kind of offices are properly to be included, from a Confessional Lutheran perspective, in a definition and description of the divinely-instituted public ministry of the Gospel? Should we include only the pastoral office and its immediate cognates, which carry out the full public ministry of Word and sacrament that Christ entrusted to his apostles? Or should we also include those secondary offices which carry out only a limited aspect of the public ministry of Word and sacrament that Christ entrusted to his apostles? Would we say that the divinely-instituted public ministry is recognizably present in a particular office only when that ministry as a whole is present in the office? Or would we say that the divinely-instituted public ministry is recognizably present in a particular office whenever that ministry in any of its parts is present in the office? Depending on which Reformation-era writing one may have in mind – or in some cases depending on which sections of the same writing one may have in mind – the answers to these questions will vary. Sometimes the Lutheran theologians of the sixteenth century envisioned and described the public ministry of the Gospel more narrowly, and sometimes they envisioned and described the public ministry of the Gospel more broadly. There simply was no completely standardized way of explaining these things at the time of the Reformation.


Providentially, in the history of the Lutheran Church, there was a great resurgence and renewal of Confessional theology in the nineteenth century. This time of resurgence and renewal also brought with it many unfortunate controversies among Lutherans – especially in America – and these controversies often centered in the doctrine of the public ministry. The well-known conflict over church and office that took place between C. F. W. Walther (and his allies) and J. A. A. Grabau (and his allies) in the middle of the century left an especially deep impression on the theological consciousness of American Lutheranism. Confessional Lutherans still believe that it is important to study this controversy and the writings that were produced as the result of it, and to come to grips with the theological and ecclesiastical issues that were so passionately debated at that time. Does God raise up the divinely-instituted public ministry of the Gospel in and through Christ’s body, the church, as Walther and others maintained? Or does God perpetuate the divinely-instituted public ministry of the Gospel through the public ministry itself, by means of the rite of ordination, as Grabau and others maintained? That debate, in various forms, continues in our time.

In the early to mid-1870s, after the dust from the Walther-Grabau conflict had begun to settle, there was a renewed discussion in Confessional Lutheran circles of the doctrine of the public ministry. This time the discussion was characterized, at least in part, by a more focused consideration of those specific terminological and conceptual questions that the present essay has been addressing. In an attempt to take into account, and to explain more fully, all of the various aspects and nuances of the Confessional Lutheran doctrine of the public ministry of the Gospel, a distinction between the public ministry in the “narrow sense” and the public ministry in a “broader sense” was formulated among the Lutherans of America during this time period. The terminology was admittedly new, but the doctrine that it was intended to express and clarify was the old doctrine of the sixteenth-century Reformers.

This discussion, mostly through the medium of published articles, was conducted calmly and without flaring passions and acrimony. From the beginning there seems to have been a basic consensus on how best to understand and describe the interrelated and interconnected concepts of “divine institution,” “office,” “ministry,” and so forth. The peacefulness of these renewed theological reflections may help to explain why the memory of them was not more deeply embedded in the collective ecclesiastical psyche of American Lutheranism. We would also note that, beginning in 1879, many segments of the Lutheran Church in America were impacted by a highly disruptive controversy over election and conversion, which certainly would have had the effect of distracting them from a continuing discussion of the ministry – or of almost anything else.

In 1874 E. W. Kaehler was serving as the pastor of an Ohio Synod congregation in Lancaster, Ohio. He had recently completed his studies in Germany, at the Universities of Leipzig and Berlin (“An Interesting Marriage,” Lancaster Gazette, April 30, 1874, p. 3). In March of that year Kaehler delivered an essay at the Columbus Pastoral Conference of his synod, which bore the title (in English translation): “Does a Congregation Ordinarily Have the Right Temporarily to Commit an Essential Part of the Holy Preaching Office to a Layman?” In his descriptions of the various offices of the church, and of the proper duties of these offices, Kaehler employed a distinction between the public ministry in the “narrow sense” and the public ministry in a “wider sense”:

The public preaching office is an office of the word. ... The rights given with the office of the word (in the narrower sense) are: the authority to preach the gospel, to administer the sacraments, and the authority of spiritual jurisdiction. ... When we use the phrase “in the narrow sense”...we want to indicate that there are essential and derived rights of the preaching office. The derived rights belong to the ministry of the word in the wider sense... All essential parts of the office of the word can be subsumed into the above mentioned powers (Mt 29:19-20; Jn 20:21-23; Jn 21:15-16; 1 Cor 4:1 ...). ... Ordinarily the congregation, which has the right of calling, is not only bound to the preaching office until the Last Day, but also may not mutilate it; that is, she must establish all its essential parts together. ... The congregation can establish grades (taxis tagmata) of the one office of the word; that is, they can arrange matters so that this person cares for one part of the office of the word and that person cares for another part. This is done, however, only de iure humano. ... And when the congregation commits the care of different parts of the preaching office to different people, they really confer in reality to each one the office of the keys because each one opens up heaven through the part of the ministry of the word that he administers. ... If the congregation commits an essential part of the preaching office [to someone] they commit it in its entirety virtualiter [virtually], with the provision to care only for the designated part. (The one called to a part of the ministry, however, does not have the right to take over the part of another without a further call.) ... In other words, preaching is the audible word; the holy sacraments are the visible word, that is, a visible preaching of the gospel; all church discipline, if we might say it this way, is the tangible word, that is, a manifest use of the law or gospel. All these parts that the preaching office administers differ neither in origin nor in use. They all flow from the word and have in mind the salvation of men. Therefore nothing else is possible than that the entire word belongs to each function of the office. What does the congregation commit to him who, for example, is only to baptize? Without doubt it is the keys to which baptism belongs. With these keys, which he administers according to divine order in the name of the congregation, he opens heaven and the treasures of God’s grace to a particular part of the congregation. But he who only preaches does this same thing. ... There are ministries which are indeed necessary to the governance of the church and therefore belong to the preaching office in the wider sense, which however do not necessarily involve the conducting of the office in the narrower sense. ...the offices of the church of the higher order, as Scripture itself enumerates them, flow out of the apostles’ ministry, the preaching office of today, and have their root in it. ... Evangelists, pastors, elders and deacons do not occupy offices which from time to time were newly instituted by God. Rather they were instituted at the same time in and with the apostles’ office. Also the offices of the church of the lower order are the products of two factors, the office of apostle and the congregation. While these offices were offshoots of the apostolate so they were also necessary to the governance of the congregation. In the beginning the apostles oversaw all the offices of the congregation. The administration of the material goods of the congregation was entirely in their hands. Also the care of those in need, especially the widows, with bodily goods and other requirements of bodily support was their duty. ... Because of the continual growth of the congregation the twelve were not able to care for all the parts of the holy office in like fashion. They asked the congregation therefore to designate men who had good reputations and were full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom so that a part of the present load of the apostles’ office could be committed to them. In accordance with this, the congregation chose seven deacons whose duty primarily was the care of the poor and administration of physical goods in the congregation. These ministers, whose moral qualifications are listed by St. Paul in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, whether they occupy the office of elder in the narrow sense (presbuteroi) or the ministry of ruling (proistamenoi, hgoumenoi) or the office of deacon (diakonoi) (Rom 12:8; Heb 13:7,17,24 and similar verses), bear a part of the office of the church and stand at the side of the office of the church katexochn, the preaching office. Therefore the offices of the rulers, elders, assistants to the poor, the school teachers, sacristans, and cantors in our congregations are likewise to be considered as holy ecclesiastical [kirchlich] offices. Still these offices in no way involve the conducting of the preaching office in the narrow sense. Already at the institution of the diaconate the apostles explicitly kept the office of the word for themselves (Acts 6:4). The deacons could “acquire a good rank for themselves” (1 Tim 3:13), and also become qualified for the preaching office in the narrow sense. Still herein it is stated that in and of themselves they in no way were already authorized for the conducting of the preaching office. The most important verse in question here, however, is 1 Timothy 5:17: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially (malista) those who labor in word and doctrine.” Here two classes of elders are put forth. There are those who labor in word and doctrine and occupy the ministry of the word in the narrow sense. There are also those with whom this is not the case whose ministry was different, namely, which was for the ruling of the congregation introduced for the censure of morals and the preservation of discipline in the church, Romans 12:8. When it is clear that the ministry of the word katexochn includes everything that is necessary for the ruling of the congregation, but on the other hand the so-called office of elder in no way involves the conducting of the preaching office sensu strictiori, then the office of elder must be comprised of helping ministries [Hilfsdienste] which can be administered by those who thereby do not become preachers and who do not have the authorization to administer the office of the word and sacraments. ... The school diaconate takes a middle position between the teaching ministry of the teaching elder and the above diaconate insofar as laboring in doctrine is one of its chief duties. But its ministry is confined only to a part of the congregation even if it is the most precious part. On the other hand the teaching presbyter is a bishop, that is, an overseer of the adults as well as the young. (“Does a Congregation Ordinarily Have the Right Temporarily to Commit an Essential Part of the Holy Preaching Office to a Layman?,” Logia, Vol. VI, No. 3 [Holy Trinity 1997], pp. 37-43)

Kaehler’s essay came into the hands of Walther, a professor of theology at the Missouri Synod’s Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis and the most dominant figure among the Confessional Lutherans of the American Midwest. Apparently it made a very positive impression on him. Walther published it (in three parts) in Lehre und Wehre, of which he was editor, in the issues for September, November, and December 1874 (Vol. 20, Nos. 9, 11, and 12). In this way Kaehler’s work was disseminated, with Walther’s editorial endorsement, among all the readers of this highly respected journal.12

Charles Porterfield Krauth was a professor of theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and the acknowledged theological leader of the more Confessional element in the Evangelical Lutheran General Council (to which all three of the predecessor bodies of the present-day Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod – the Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan Synods – at one time belonged). In 1874 Krauth was also thinking and writing about the doctrine of the public ministry, and he too, in the material that he began to publish on this topic at the very end of that year, employed a distinction between the public ministry in the “stricter sense” and the public ministry in a “broader sense.”13 Krauth wrote:

To the end that God may be glorified in the salvation of men, our Lord Jesus Christ, in his Divine Unity with the Father and the Holy Ghost, has instituted the ministry; to teach the pure Gospel, and to administer the Sacraments rightly in the Church. (Acts xiii. 26, xvi. 17; Rom. i. 16; 2 Cor. v. 18; Eph. i. 13.) ... This divinely instituted ministry is a sacred public office, conferred by legitimate vocation, on suitable men. (Rom. xii. 7; 2 Cor. iv. 1; Eph. iv. 12; Col. iv. 17; 1 Tim. i. 12; 2 Tim. iv. 5.) ... The ministry is necessary as the ordinary instrumental medium ordained of God, whereby the Word and Sacraments which are the only means of grace in the strict and proper sense, are to be brought to men. (Phil. i. 24; Heb. v. 12; 2 Cor. v. 19; Eph. i. 13; 1 Thess. ii. 13.) ... Though God is the perpetuator of the ministry, as he is its author, He continues it on Earth, by means of his Church; through which He exercises his power of appointing teachers of the word. (Acts i. 23, 24; Titus i. 5; Acts xiv. 23, xx. 28; 1 Tim. iv. 14, v. 22; 2 Tim. i. 6; 1 Cor. xii. 28.) ... A minister, New Testament Bishop, Presbyter, Elder, or Evangelical Pastor, is a man legitimately called by God, through the Church, to teach the word publicly in the Church; to administer the sacraments, and to maintain sound discipline and good government. (1 Cor. iii. 5; 2 Cor. iii. 6, vi. 4; Rom. xv. 16; 1 Cor. iv. 1; Acts xx. 28; Phil. i. 1; 1 Tim. iii. 2; Titus i. 7; 1 Tim. iv. 14; 1 Tim. v. 17; Eph. iv. 11.) ... Our Lord before His ascension instituted the office of the Apostolate, having within it all the powers of the future ministry. The Apostolate had extraordinary and incommunicable powers and functions. It also had ordinary and communicable powers and functions, which were to be transmitted and perpetuated in and through the ordinary ministry to the end of the world. (Mark iii. 13, 14; Matt. x. 2; Luke vi. 13; Acts i. 2-25; Rom. i. 5; 1 Cor. xii. 28, 29; Eph. ii. 20; 2 Pet. iii. 2; Rev. xxi. 14; 1 Tim. ii. 7; 2 Tim. i. 11; 2 Pet. i. 1; 1 Tim. i. 18; 2 Tim. i. 13; 2 Tim. ii. 2; Matt. xxviii. 20; 2 Cor. v. 19.) ... To the extraordinary and incommunicable powers and functions, which were to be confined to the Apostles themselves, were these in conjunction which follow: Their vocation was immediate, in no sense derived from men nor through men. Their commission was unlimited as to locality. To an Apostle the field was the world. They were endowed with an extraordinary measure of miraculous gifts and of Divine Inspiration. They could bear official testimony as eye-witnesses to what was necessary to authenticate the Divine mission of our Lord. They were under Christ the supreme authorities in the rule of the Church, and represented it in its totality, both in the powers received, and in the power exercised for it. These were their exclusive powers and functions, in which none shared with them while they lived, and to which none were their successors when they died. (Matt. x. 2; Luke vi. 13; Gal. i. 1; Matt. xxviii. 19; Mark xvi. 15; Luke xxiv. 47, 48; Acts i. 8; Matt. x. 1; Luke ix. 1; Mark vi. 7; Matt. x. 20; Luke xii. 12; Mark iii. 15; Acts ii. 4; Matt. xix. 28; Rev. xxi. 14; Acts i. 8, 22, x. 41, xxii. 15; 1 Pet. v. 1; 1 Cor. ix. 1.) ... In addition to the special powers and functions, the Apostles had the ordinary ones common to the whole ministry, to wit: the preaching of the Gospel, conferring the sacraments, administering discipline and ordaining others to the ministry. In each and all of these they were but fellow-presbyters, ministers, pastors, and bishops with other ministers. (Acts i. 20, v. 42, xx. 24; Rom. i. 15; Eph. iii. 8, vi. 19; 1 Cor. iv. 1; Matt. xxviii. 19; 1 Pet. v. 1; 1 Cor. iii. 5; 2 Cor. xi. 23; Col. i. 7, 23-25; John xxi. 16.) ... In their extraordinary powers and functions the Apostles had no successors. In their ordinary ones all true ministers of Christ are their successors. ... The deacons, were in order of time, antecedent to the Elders as a distinct class, and in consequence of the great increase in the number of disciples, were first appointed to relieve the Apostles from the burden and distractions connected with distribution to the widows from the common fund, which had been placed at the control of the Apostles. (Acts vi. 1.) ... The word “deacon,” in the history of its rise involves, by antithesis, a two-fold diaconate, the diaconate of the word which is incommunicably the diaconate of the Apostles and of the pastors, and the diaconate of aid, which is meant to relieve the diaconate of the word, from the collateral burdens and distractions, which interfere with its great distinctive duties. (Acts vi. 1-4.) The deacons received power and entered on duties originally held and exercised by the Apostles as pastors of the Church at Jerusalem. The office was created by a separation of certain powers and duties of the ministry, and devolving them on a new class of officials. The deacons are not a part of the people to do the work pertaining to the people in common, but are a part of the officials of the Church, taking a share in the ministry and being in that broader sense ministers; aiding the pastoral ministry in its work by taking upon them, in conformity with the instructions of the Church, such collateral portions of the work as do not require the most important and special powers of the pastor and teacher. (Acts vi. 1-6; Phil. i. 1; 1 Tim. iii. 8-12.) The true original conception of the deacon is that of the pastor’s executive aid. The particular work assigned to the seven deacons, first chosen, was simply a determination of this general conception, produced by the specific nature of the case. The distribution of a common fund in alms, or the service of poor widows is not the whole generic idea of the diaconate, though it was its whole actual function at first. Had that been its whole idea, it would have terminated with the state of things at Jerusalem, out of which it rose. The service of the poor is therefore only a specific, though most important, and, in some circumstances, a primary part of the diaconate, under the generic idea of aiding the pastorate in every desirable way, and leaving it unembarrassed in its greatest work. (Acts vi. 1-6; Phil. i. 1; 1 Tim. iii. 8-12.) Deacons were not originally appointed to preach the Gospel, or to administer the Sacraments, or to bear official part in the government of the Church. They are in their proper intent executive aids of the ministry, in its collateral labors, or in the incidental, not essential, parts of its proper work. Philip’s preaching was not done under his commission as a deacon. (Acts vi. 1-6; Phil. i. 1; 1 Tim. iii. 8-12.) Deacons are not ministers in the specific or stricter sense, nor are they essential to the organization of every congregation. A congregation, now, like the congregation at Jerusalem in its first stage, can exist as an organization without deacons – the powers ordinarily entrusted to deacons remaining still vested in their original depository, the ministry of the Word. Congregations may be so small as not to require a diaconate, and in any case if they cannot obtain deacons conformed to the Scriptural requisitions, it might be better for them to have none. (Acts vi. 1.) So far as is not inconsistent in any manner or degree with the sole direct Divine authority of the ministry of the Word to teach publicly in the Church and to administer the Sacraments, nor with the rights and duties inseparably connected therewith, the Church has liberty to enlarge the functions of the diaconate in keeping with its original generic idea, so as to make it, in accordance with her increasing needs, a more efficient executive aid to her ministers. In the Ancient Church, enlarging in her liberty the functions of the deacons, as executive aids to the ministry of the Word in the service of the Church, the deacons took care of the sacred utensils employed in the sacraments; they received the contributions of the people, and conveyed them to the pastor; they took part in reading the Scriptures in public worship; at the request of the pastor they might take part in the distribution (not in the consecration) of the elements; they helped to preserve order and decorum in the service of the sanctuary; they furnished to the pastor information that would be useful to him in his labors – they were his almoners – in short, they were the executive aids of the minister of the Word, in the closest relations of official reverence, and of faithful service to him, and are called by the fathers the minister’s angels, his eyes, his hands, his lips, his heart and his soul. The deacons who were faithful in their office were looked to in the Ancient Church as the best source of supply for the future pastors. In some Churches, especially among the Gentile converts, there were Deaconesses, Christian women, largely selected from the widows known as faithful and holy. They were occupied with the care of the sick and of the poor, and with the externals of the Church’s work. They were in the one diaconate with its official character, as an executive aid of the ministry unchanged, and with its specific characteristics determined by the special gifts and facilities pertaining to Christian women. In the Ancient Church they gave instruction to the female catechumens, rendered the necessary aid at their Baptism, were guardians of the private life of Christian women, gave useful information to the pastors and such assistance as the pastors desired. They tenderly cared for the martyrs, confessors, travelers, sick and needy persons, especially though not exclusively of their own sex, and preserved order among the women in public worship. (“Thetical Statement of the Doctrine Concerning the Ministry of the Gospel” [First Article], Lutheran and Missionary, Vol. XIV, No. 12 [Dec. 31, 1874], p. 1 [emphases in original])14

It should also be of some interest to see what kind of synonymous expressions were used by these nineteenth-century figures as they, on other occasions, described the types of offices that would be included under the category of the public ministry in a “broader sense.” Since at least the early 1850s Walther had been describing these offices as ecclesiastical “helping offices” (or “auxiliary offices”), to which a “part” of the divinely-instituted public ministry had been entrusted. After 1874 he (and his church body) continued to speak in this way, without thinking that there was any incompatibility between this kind of expression and the “broader sense” concept. In the explanation of his Thesis VIII on the Ministry – one of the “Theses on Church and Ministry” that were officially adopted by the Missouri Synod in 1851 – Walther said:

The ministry [Predigtamt] is the highest office in the Church, from which, as its stem, all other offices of the Church [Kirchenämter] issue. ... Since the incumbents of the public ministry [des öffentlichen Predigtamtes] have in their public office, for the sake of the common interests of their congregations, John 20:21-23, the administration of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which the Church possesses originally and immediately, Matt. 16:19; 18:18, their office must necessarily be the highest office in the Church, and from it, as from the stem, all other offices must issue, inasmuch as the keys embrace the entire authority of the Church. In accordance with this the incumbents of this office are in the Holy Scriptures called elders, bishops, rulers, stewards, etc.; and the incumbents of an inferior office are called deacons, that is, servants, not only of God, but also of the congregation and of the bishop; and it is stated regarding the latter in particular that they must care for the congregation and must watch over all souls, as those that must render an account for them, 1 Tim. 3:1,5,7; 5:17; 1 Cor. 4:1; Titus 1:7; Heb. 13:17. We see from this that the holy apostles in the beginning discharged, together with their ministry of preaching, also the office of deacons in Jerusalem, until the growth of the congregation required that for their relief this latter office be assigned to special persons, Acts 6:1-6. For with the apostolate the Lord has established in the Church only one office, which embraces all offices of the Church, and by which the congregation of God is to be provided for in every respect. The highest office is the ministry of preaching, with which all other offices are simultaneously conferred. Therefore every other public office in the Church is merely a part of the office of the ministry [Predigtamt], or an auxiliary office, which is attached to the ministry of preaching [Predigtamt] whether it be the eldership of such as do not labor in the Word and doctrine, 1 Tim. 1:15, or that of rulers [Vorsteher], Rom. 12:8, or the diaconate (ministry of service in the narrower sense) or the administration of whatever office in the Church may be assigned to particular persons. Accordingly, the office of schoolteachers who have to teach the Word of God in their schools, of almoners, of sextons, of precentors in public worship, etc., are all to be regarded as sacred offices of the Church, which exercise a part of the one office of the church and are aids to the ministry of preaching. (“The Voice of Our Church Concerning the Question of the Church and the Ministry,” Walther and the Church [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1938], pp. 78-79)15

For his part, Krauth described the “broader sense” offices as limited diaconal “forms” of the public ministry. Krauth likewise did not think that there was any incompatibility between this kind of expression and the “broader sense” concept. In his lectures on “Church Polity,” published posthumously, Krauth said:

Through the history of the Jewish race there rise before us constantly prophecies of a kingdom of God to be established by the Messiah on earth, destined to embrace all mankind. The series of promises was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He established a kingdom not of worldly glory, but a kingdom of the life of God in the soul of man – a kingdom which comes not with observation, not with outward show or glory, but is within men, Luke 17:20. The means of grace which our Lord gave to the world and the commission under which He sent forth his Apostles, clearly demonstrate, however, that the internal fellowship of His kingdom was to have a corresponding outward expression. His Apostles were to teach; to make disciples of all nations: to baptize them into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and Christ was to abide with the Apostles in their work always, even to the end of the world, all the days, to the consummation of the era. Matt. 28:19,20. ... After the ascension of our Lord, the Apostles waited for the promise of the Father, and when the day of Pentecost was fully come, the disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost and Peter uttered his witness for the crucified and arisen Saviour. “They that gladly received his word were baptized, and they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and in the fellowship and in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers” [Acts 2:41-42]. This power of the Word, which from the first drew men into the fellowship, gathered believers into the congregations. The Apostles were missionaries, not merely under the necessity of the case, but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit gave security to the work and wrought and made a basis for its extension by organizing congregations in which the life of the disciple found its home and sphere of labor. With the establishment of these congregations, and as an essential part of their organization was connected the institution of the congregational pastorate, the vocation which was to superintend and spiritually rule the congregations, to conduct the public services, to administer the sacraments, to labor in the word and in doctrine and to watch for souls to the conversion of sinners and the building up of saints. The pastorate was the determination to a distinct office of so much of the Apostolate as pertained to the single congregation. The institution of the Apostolate was the general institution of the entire ministry, whose specific forms, especially the Presbyterate-episcopate, and the diaconate, were but concrete classifications of particular functions involved in the total idea of the ministry. The specific ministries are but distributions of the Apostolate in its ordinary and permanent functions. (“Church Polity,” I, Lutheran Church Review, Vol. II, Whole No. 8 [Oct. 1883], pp. 316-17)

Walther’s synonym called to mind the fact that “broader sense” ministers are carrying out a part of the office of the public ministry, and not the whole office of the public ministry. That is sometimes a needed emphasis. By comparison, Krauth’s synonym called to mind the fact that “broader sense” ministers are carrying out a part of the office of the public ministry, and not a part of some other office. That, too, is sometimes a needed emphasis.

In the generation that followed this renewed dialogue on the ministry, the beneficial insights and felicitous expressions that emerged from it were indeed remembered and embraced by some Lutherans. Unfortunately, however, these insights and expressions do not seem to have been fully understood by other Lutherans in the following generation, who passed them on in an altered and less helpful form. And of course there were still other Lutherans in the next generation who do not appear to have been affected by these insights and expressions at all. They were either unaware of the deliberations of the early to mid-1870s, and of the literary material that these deliberations produced, or they were aware of them but lacked an appreciation of their enduring value.

We can attempt to distill all of this material from the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries down to a few pithy theses:

A) God has instituted the public ministry of the Gospel, and it is his clearly-revealed will and mandate that the means of grace be publicly administered in and for the church, fully and completely, by individuals who have been properly trained and properly called to do this.

B) Those men who are “apt teachers,” and who have been called to carry out, definitively and culminantly, the public administration of one or more of the means of grace, are public ministers of the Gospel in the narrow sense. This would include parish pastors and bishops, who are called to preach and teach “the whole counsel of God,” and who are called to officiate at the administration of the sacraments and admit people thereto. This would also include chaplains and theological professors, who are called to preach and teach “the whole counsel of God,” even if they are not called to officiate at the administration of the sacraments and admit people thereto on a regular basis. Those who serve in such offices are carrying out the indispensable ministry of spiritual oversight in the church, through Word and sacrament, that was originally entrusted by Christ to his apostles.

C) Those men and women who have been called to carry out a constituent part of the divinely-instituted public ministry (in conformity with the Biblical directives on the proper roles of men and women in the church), but who have not been called to carry out, definitively and culminantly, the public administration of one or more of the means of grace, are public ministers of the Gospel in a broader sense. This would include catechists and parochial school teachers, who are called to assist pastors and Christian parents in instructing the church’s children in the rudiments of Christian doctrine, but who are not called to preach and teach “the whole counsel of God.” This would also include (male) deacons, who are called to serve as liturgical assistants in public worship, but who are not called to preach and teach “the whole counsel of God,” and who are not called to officiate at the administration of the sacraments and admit people thereto. Those who serve in such offices are carrying out important spiritual duties in the church that were originally entrusted by Christ to his apostles, or that have been directly derived from such apostolic duties.

D) It is permissible and proper to say that such public ministers of the Gospel, in a broader sense, have been called to an ecclesiastical helping office to which a part of the divinely-instituted public ministry has been entrusted, in comparison to those men who have been called to an ecclesiastical office to which the whole divinely-instituted public ministry (according to its essential features) has been entrusted. It is also permissible and proper to say that such public ministers of the Gospel, in a broader sense, have been called to a form of the divinely-instituted public ministry that is limited or restricted in scope, in comparison to those men who have been called to a form of the divinely-instituted public ministry that is comprehensive or general in scope.


One of Krauth’s most gifted protégés – and his successor at the Philadelphia seminary – was Henry Eyster Jacobs. The “narrow sense / broader sense” distinction regarding the public ministry that had been used by Krauth was perpetuated by Jacobs in his own teaching (A Summary of the Christian Faith [Philadelphia: United Lutheran Publication House, 1905], pp. 419-21, 430-31, 444-45).16

One of Walther’s most gifted protégés – and his successor at the Saint Louis seminary – was Francis A. O. Pieper. However, in his own teaching Pieper did not perpetuate the “narrow sense / broader sense” distinction regarding the public ministry that had been endorsed by Walther. Pieper did use the “narrow sense / broader sense” terminology in his own discussion of the church’s ministry, but in a different way and for a different purpose:

The term “ministry” [Predigtamt] is used both in Scripture and by the Church in a general, or wider, and in a special, or narrower, sense. In the wider sense it embraces every form of preaching the Gospel or administering the means of grace, whether by Christians in general, as originally entrusted with the means of grace and commissioned to apply them, or by chosen public servants (ministri ecclesiae) in the name and at the command of Christians. In this article we are speaking of the public ministry in the narrower sense, that is, of the office by which the means of grace, given originally to the Christians as their inalienable possession, are administered by order and on behalf of Christians. The ministry in this sense presupposes Christian congregations. Only a congregation can establish the public ministry. (Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953], p. 439)

This way of applying the “narrow sense / broader sense” distinction was later followed also by John Theodore Mueller (also a professor at Saint Louis):

The term ministry (Predigtamt, ministerium) is used both by Scripture and the Church in a wider and a narrower sense. In its general sense the word denotes every manner of proclaiming the Gospel or of administering the means of grace, no matter whether this is done by Christians in general, to whom the means of grace have been divinely entrusted, or by called and ordained ministers of the Word (ministri ecclesiae) in the name of the Christian congregation (Pfarramt). Accordingly we speak of the Christian ministry in the abstract (in abstracto), that is, distinct from the persons who administer it, and in the concrete (in concreto), or as it is vested in called and ordained pastors, who perform its duties in the name of the local congregations. In this special, or narrow, sense we employ the term ministry in this discussion (Pfarramt; Predigtamt im engeren Sinn). The Christian ministry in its narrow sense (in concreto) presupposes the existence of local churches, for it certainly can be established only where such congregations exist. (Christian Dogmatics [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934], p. 563)

Pieper and Mueller did not employ the “narrow sense / broader sense” distinction in a comparison between those who hold two different kinds of public office in the church, but they employed it in a comparison between those who hold public office – specifically the pastoral office or Pfarramt – and those who do not. For Kaehler and Krauth, the distinction had been between two categories of public ministry, but for Pieper and Mueller the distinction was between two categories of ministry.17 The shift in meaning that we see in the writings of Pieper and Mueller probably explains why the helpful distinction between the public ministry in the narrow sense and the public ministry in a broader sense, as it was developed and used among the Lutherans of the second half of the nineteenth century, has been largely forgotten in our day. It may also help to explain why the twentieth-century debate between the so-called “Missouri” view of the ministry and the so-called “Wisconsin” view of the ministry was framed and carried on in the way that it was.

Without going into too much detail, and at the risk of oversimplifying, we can say that the proponents of the “Missouri” view, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, accentuated certain aspects of what had previously been said about the public ministry in the “narrow sense,” but in so doing they tended to minimize or overlook certain aspects of what had previously been said about the public ministry in a “broader sense.” In reaction, the proponents of the “Wisconsin” view, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, accentuated certain aspects of what had previously been said about the public ministry in a “broader sense,” but in so doing they tended to minimize or overlook certain aspects of what had previously been said about the public ministry in the “narrow sense.” As we try to put the best construction on this often frustrating and bewildering debate, we are able to see that the participants on each side were sincerely attempting to make some valid and theologically sound points, even if they did not always employ the clearest and most helpful expressions. Each side was basically defending, and elaborating on, half of the total doctrine.18

In the context of this Missouri-Wisconsin debate, it is interesting to consider the perspective of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which in the twentieth century occupied a position somewhere in the middle between the “Missouri” view and the “Wisconsin” view. In general, the pastors of the ELS seem to have known intuitively that these two views were each, in its own way, emphasizing a valid component of the whole doctrine of the ministry. If these competing views could only be explained and applied in a careful and balanced fashion, it was felt, they would rightly be seen as fundamentally complementary and not as doctrinally contradictory. In other words, the differences, such as they were, were not seen to be divisive dogmatic differences, even though a satisfying resolution of them continued to elude the ELS.

In an essay on “Church and Ministry” that was delivered at the ELS General Pastoral Conference in 1972, Adolph M. Harstad wrote:

When we speak of the Holy Ministry we all teach that this office exists within the Church according to the will and order of God. We all reject the thought that this sacred office might be a human arrangement, a matter of mere human expediency. The Lord has given instructions concerning the qualifications for this office. The office is carried on in behalf of those who issue the call. ...we can truthfully say that we are agreed in the doctrine of the church and the ministry. A difference, however, does appear, when we come to the application of these teachings. ... In the matter of the ministry, some restrict the idea of a divinely instituted ministry to the pastorate of local congregations. All other offices, such as of Christian teachers, professors, synodical executive officers, etc., they consider as being branched off from this basic office, without a specific command of God. Others refrain from restricting this concept of the ministry in this manner. They see in “ministry” a comprehensive term which covers the various special offices with which the ascended Lord has endowed His Church. Eph. 4:11-12. There are these differences in the application of the doctrine. However, let it be said immediately that there is no difference between the two groups as regards the practice. ... Those of us who hold to the wider application of the term Church and the term ministry hold that this alone expresses the full richness of these New Testament terms. ... The writer of these lines was once just as insistent as any are today in the narrower application of the term church and ministry. Much to his regret now, he even became belligerent over toward certain revered and learned theologians of our synod who held to the other, wider application of these terms. ... One of the fathers of our ELS has been singled out and quoted for the narrower view of the church and ministry. It is understandable how this father came to assert this. However, this should not be elevated to the position of general acceptance by all the fathers of the ELS. Others of the fathers did not teach this.19

As far as can be determined, the pastors of the ELS in the twentieth century were not aware of the work that had been done on these matters in the 1870s. The present writer would venture to guess, however, that if Harstad and his colleagues in the 1970s had had an opportunity to read what Kaehler and Krauth had written a century earlier, they would have readily gravitated toward that way of clarifying and settling the issues with which they were wrestling. We are fairly confident that the writings of Kaehler and Krauth would have guided their fraternal discussion toward a concordistic “both/and” resolution, helping them to overcome the “either/or” impasse in which they then found themselves.

Were the incumbents of the church’s “helping offices” serving in the public ministry of the Gospel? The answer would be “yes,” according to the categories of the public ministry in a “broader sense.” But was there also something uniquely necessary and distinctive, by divine design, about those offices to which the ministry of spiritual oversight had been entrusted, either in a comprehensive way (congregational pastors) or in a focused or specialized way (missionaries, chaplains, theological professors, etc.)? Again, the answer would be “yes,” according to the categories of the public ministry in the “narrow sense.”20

In the interest of a more complete and balanced articulation of the doctrine of the public ministry of the Gospel, the Lutheran Church of the twenty-first century would be well served by the re-appropriation and re-implementation of the “narrow sense / broader sense” distinction in its original nineteenth-century form. That approach in treating the doctrine of the public ministry was and is, in the words of one modern theologian, “Very illuminating and significant” (Kurt E. Marquart, The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance [Fort Wayne, Indiana: The International Foundation for Lutheran Confessional Research, corrected edition 1995], p. 144).

As we invite our Confessional Lutheran friends to reflect on this proposal, we would encourage them to do so in light of four final thoughts. The first is from the Formula of Concord, which admonishes us, in the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:14, that

we must steadfastly maintain the distinction between unnecessary, useless quarrels and disputes that are necessary. The former should not be permitted to confuse the church since they tear down rather than edify. The latter, when they occur, concern the articles of faith or the chief parts of Christian teaching; to preserve the truth, false teaching, which is contrary to these articles, must be repudiated. (FC SD R&N: 15, Kolb/Wengert p. 530)

The second was originally formulated by Charles A. Hay in the context of his evaluation of the Walther-Grabau controversy, but it applies even more to the matters we have been discussing in this essay:

In endeavoring to fix with precision the meaning they attached to the terms Priesthood, Office, Call, Keys, etc., we are unfortunately met at the threshold, with the fact that the Reformers (and, among them all, especially Luther), employed these expressions often in a vague and variable sense, rendering their utterances, at different times, more or less inconsistent, thus affording an opportunity for those, who differ from one another in their views upon this subject, from both sides to appeal to them for sanction and authority. Hence it has resulted that the present controversy is to a great extent a mere logomachy. If these and kindred terms were precisely defined and the respective parties would agree to use them in the same sense, more carefully noting the varying phases of thought expressed by them at different times, by the same early writers, those who now so bitterly denounce each other would probably be found, after all, not to be so very wide apart. (“Article V: The Office of the Ministry,” Lectures on the Augsburg Confession [Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1888], p. 154 [emphasis in original])

The third is from the pen of John P. Meyer, a leading theologian of the Wisconsin Synod in the twentieth century:

Those are in fundamental agreement who, without any reservation, submit to the Word of God. When the Word of God has spoken in any matter, that matter is settled. There may be things that some men have not yet found in their study of the Bible; there may be matters with reference to which they have accustomed themselves to an inadequate mode of expression; yet, no matter what their deficiency may be, they are determined to accept the Bible doctrine. Where such is the case, there is fundamental agreement. ... A fundamental agreement is all the church can ever hope to attain here on earth. We are not all equally gifted; one has a much clearer and a much more comprehensive insight into God’s doctrines than another. We all strive to grow daily in understanding. Besides, when once we have accustomed ourselves to a faulty or an inadequate expression, it is not only difficult to unlearn the particular phrase and to acquire a proper one, but the inadequate term may tend also to warp our views on other points. Yet, in spite of all such differences, where there is an unconditional willingness to hear what God has to say in his Word, there is fundamental agreement. (“Unionism,” Essays on Church Fellowship [Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1996], pp. 63-64)

And the fourth is a bit of sage advice from Hermann Sasse, which would be applicable to any situation in which Confessional Lutherans from different backgrounds are discussing, and seeking to come to an agreement on, important doctrinal questions:

For success depends after all on this, that we on all sides think these problems through anew and not just repeat the old formulae and slogans. ... We must all try to read the statements of the Scripture, on which we must make our decisions, afresh, and not always only in the pattern of our theological traditions. It is naturally easiest and the most comfortable thing to do: to stay with what we have always said and wait until the other party says the same thing. But that can be the correct method only if we actually are championing only God’s Word and not, in addition, our own theological tradition’s opinion. Our generation has a great responsibility... (Letter to Frederick Noack [1 Nov. 1951], in Scripture and the Church: Selected Essays of Hermann Sasse [Saint Louis: Concordia Seminary, 1995], pp. 172-73)

David Jay Webber
November 3, 2004
(slightly revised March 27, 2006)


1. Hermann Sasse reminds us that “For the sake of order the ministerium may be divided, but it always essentially remains one and the same office” (“The Lutheran Doctrine of the Office of the Ministry,” The Lonely Way, Vol. II [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2002], p. 128). In reference to Martin Luther’s technical use of the phrase “pastors and preachers” in the Longer Preface of his Large Catechism, and according to the practice and nomenclature of the Lutheran Church of the sixteenth century, Theodore G. Tappert explains that “Preachers (Prediger) were limited to preaching; pastors (Pfarrherren) exercised the full ministerial office” (The Book of Concord, edited by Theodore G. Tappert [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959], p. 358 [footnote 2]).

2. In the same vein, we read in the Treatise that “The Gospel bestows upon those who preside over the churches the commission to proclaim the gospel, forgive sins, and administer the sacraments. In addition, it bestows legal authority, that is, the charge to excommunicate those whose crimes are public knowledge and to absolve those who repent. It is universally acknowledged...that this power is shared by divine right by all who preside in the churches, whether they are called pastors, presbyters, or bishops. For that reason Jerome plainly teaches that in the apostolic letters all who preside over churches are both bishops and presbyters. He quotes Titus [1:5-6]: ‘I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should...appoint presbyters in every town,’ which then continues, ‘It is necessary for the bishop to be the husband of one wife’ [v. 6]. Again, Peter and John call themselves presbyters [1 Peter 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1]” (Tr 60-62, Kolb/Wengert p. 340).

3. It may be of some interest to note that one of them, David Chytraeus, was not and never had been the pastor of a congregation, although he was a duly called professor of theology at the University of Rostock (J. A. O. Preus, The Second Martin [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1994], pp. 364-65). In his letter concerning “Infiltrating and Clandestine Preachers,” Luther had also identified his “doctor’s degree” as his divine “call and commission” to undertake the reformatory work in which he was engaged. He added that “God and the whole world bears me testimony that I entered into this work publicly and by virtue of my office as teacher and preacher, and have carried it on hitherto by the grace and help of God” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 40 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958], pp. 387-88).

4. At the end of the section of the treatise from which this quotation is taken, Luther concluded: “Now wherever you find these offices or officers, you may be assured that the holy Christian people are there; for the church cannot be without these bishops, pastors, preachers, priests; and conversely, they cannot be without the church. Both must be together” (p. 164).
Regarding the ministry of women, Luther also wrote in his letter concerning “Infiltrating and Clandestine Preachers” that “in the New Testament the Holy Spirit, speaking through St. Paul, ordained that women should be silent in the churches and assemblies [I Cor. 14:34], and said that this is the Lord’s commandment. Yet he knew that previously Joel [2:28 f.] had proclaimed that God would pour out his Spirit also on handmaidens. Furthermore, the four daughters of Philip prophesied (Acts 21[:9]). But in the congregations or churches where there is a ministry women are to be silent and not preach [I Tim. 2:12]. Otherwise they may pray, sing, praise, and say ‘Amen,’ and read at home, teach one another, exhort, comfort, and interpret the Scriptures as best they can” (pp. 390-91). (See also Luther’s “Sermons on the First Epistle of St. Peter,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 30 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1967], p. 55; and Luther on Women [edited by Susan C. Karant-Nunn and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks] [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003], p. 61.)
In a document entitled “Women in the Public Ministry,” prepared in 2001 by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod Doctrine Committee, it was noted that “Women participated in the work of the New Testament church (Romans 16). Some form of the deaconess office seems to be present already in the lifetime of St. Paul. Phoebe is called a diakonos in Romans 16:1. Concerning the ‘older women’ who were probably teaching deaconesses, St. Paul writes, ‘The older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to wine, teachers of good things’ (Titus 2:3). I Timothy 3:11 may also speak of the qualifications of such teaching deaconesses.” It was also noted, however, that women “are not to be in the pastoral office, because here they would be in a teaching position in which they would have authority over men. Also, when St. Paul refers to the one who officiates at the Word and Sacrament liturgy, he speaks in male terms. He is to be the husband of one wife (I Timothy 3:2). Women will not read the lessons in the liturgy, preach the sermon in worship services, or distribute Communion, either publicly or privately, for these things are intimately related to the pastoral office (I Corinthians 14:34-35; I Timothy 2:11-15; I Timothy 3:1-2; LW 30:55; LW 40:390-391).” (emphasis in original)

5. “All Christians are indeed priests (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6), because they offer spiritual sacrifices to God. Everyone also can and should teach the Word of God in his own house (Deut. 6:7; 1 Cor. 14:35). Nevertheless, not everyone ought to take and arrogate to himself the public ministry of Word and sacrament. For not all are apostles; not all are teachers (1 Cor. 12:29), but those who have been set apart for this ministry by God through a particular and legitimate call (Acts 13:2; Jer. 23:21; Rom. 10:15). This is done either immediately or mediately. Paul prescribes a legitimate manner of calling which is made through the voice of the church (1 Tim. 3:2-7; and Titus 1:5-9). Christ Himself indeed called certain men to this ministry immediately, in order to show that He approves the ministry of those who are chosen and called by the voice of the church according to the rule prescribed by the apostles... There is added also the promise that God will truly work effectively through the ministry of those who teach the Gospel, which the Son of God wills to preserve in the church through perpetual calling, as Paul says in Eph. 4:8 ff.: He ascended; He gave gifts to men; and He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, others evangelists, others however pastors and teachers for perfecting of the saints in the work of ministry, in edification of the body of Christ. To this use of the ministry, which God both instituted and preserves in the church, men must therefore be guided, and taught that through this ministry there are offered to us eternal blessings, and indeed that God in this way receives us, rescues us from sin and the power of the devil and from eternal death, and restores to us righteousness and eternal life. This ministry does indeed have power, divinely bestowed (2 Cor. 10:4-6; 13:2-4), but circumscribed with certain duties and limitations, namely, to preach the Word of God, teach the erring, reprove those who sin, admonish the dilatory, comfort the troubled, strengthen the weak, resist those who speak against the truth, reproach and condemn false teaching, censure evil customs, dispense the divinely instituted sacraments, remit and retain sins, be an example to the flock, pray for the church privately and lead the church in public prayers, be in charge of care for the poor, publicly excommunicate the stubborn and again receive those who repent and reconcile them with the church, appoint pastors to the church according to the instruction of Paul, with consent of the church institute rites that serve the ministry and do not militate against the Word of God nor burden consciences but serve good order, dignity, decorum, tranquillity, edification, etc.” (Part II, pp. 678-79).
“Now the Holy Spirit, through Paul, His chosen instrument, in many words and accurately describes the qualities which God requires in a bishop in order that the dignity, importance, and sanctity of the ministry may be retained, equipped, and aided. First, so far as his teaching is concerned, that a bishop be didaktikos [‘an apt teacher,’ 1 Tim. 3:2], that is, as He Himself explains, that he ‘hold the mystery of the faith’ (1 Tim. 3:9) and embrace sound doctrine (Titus 1:9), be studied in and ‘nourished on the words of the faith and of...good doctrine’ (1 Tim. 4:6), that he be capable also of teaching others, avoid wordy battles of words and empty strife, rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15 [KJV]), ‘be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it’ (Titus 1:9), ‘be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching’ (2 Tim. 4:2), continue in what he has learned (2 Tim. 3:14), ‘follow the pattern of...sound words’ (2 Tim. 1:13), ‘guard what has been entrusted’ to him, and ‘keep the commandments unstained and free from reproach’ (1 Tim. 6:20,14), attend to reading, not neglect his gift, but stir it up by meditation and exercise, in order that his progress may be apparent to all (1 Tim. 4:13-15), pray for himself and for the church (1 Tim. 2:1-2). This is how Paul explains what didaktikos means. In the second place He seeks in a bishop the gift of governing the church, and describes how he ‘ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church,’ that is, how he ought to care for or govern the church (1 Tim. 3:1 ff., 15), how he is to set up the ministries and have supervision over them (1 Tim. 3:8 ff.; Titus 1:5 ff.), how he ought to deal with adversaries of the doctrine (1 Tim. 1:13 ff.; 2 Tim. 2:14 ff.; Titus 3:9-11), how ecclesiastical judgments are to be set up and exercised in the case of those who sin, the fallen, or the accused (1 Tim. 5:19 ff.; 2 Tim. 2:23-26), how supplications or public prayers are to be instituted (1 Tim. 2:1 ff.), how godly duties are to be prescribed to all orders of classes in the church and how things which are amiss in them are to be corrected (1 Tim. 2:8-15; 5:1-18; 6:1-2,17-19; Titus 2:2-10; 3:1-2), how the care for the poor is to be exercised. These things, according to Paul, belong to the bishop’s governing. Third. Because the presence, guidance, and strengthening of the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary for the right performance of the ministry, Paul demands in a bishop such holiness, lest he drive out the Holy Spirit through sins against conscience. Therefore, he says, he should ‘hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience’ (1 Tim. 3:9), ‘in accordance with the prophetic utterances...wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience,’ which some have rejected and ‘made shipwreck of their faith’ (1 Tim. 1:18-19). He should train himself ‘in love, in faith, in purity’ (1 Tim. 4:7,12), shun greed, which has drowned many in perdition, ‘aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness, fight the good fight...take hold of eternal life’ (1 Tim. 6:11-12). He is to work ‘as a good soldier of Christ,’ for ‘no soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him’; he is to do his best to present himself ‘to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed.’ Anyone who purifies himself from what is ignoble ‘will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.’ He should ‘shun youthful passions and aim at...peace, along with those who call upon the Lord’ (2 Tim. 2:3-4,15,21-22). He is to avoid the vices which make one unfit for faith (2 Tim. 3:1-5), imitate ‘my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings’ (2 Tim. 3:10-11), ‘be steady, endure suffering...fulfill your ministry’ (2 Tim. 4:5), ‘keep yourself pure’ (1 Tim. 5:22). In the fourth place, Paul requires in a bishop such holiness of life, such uprightness of morals and dignity of behavior, in order that he may also be an example for the flock, or the believers (1 Peter 5:3), ‘in speech and conduct, in love,’ in spirit, ‘in faith, in purity’ (1 Tim. 4:12), showing himself ‘in all respects a model of good deeds,’ in ‘teaching,’ in ‘integrity,’ in ‘gravity,’ that the adversaries ‘may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say’ of him (Titus 2:7-8), with no one able to accuse him (1 Tim. 3:2). Thus he enumerates and describes these virtues (1 Tim. 3:2 ff.; Titus 1:6 ff.). These are the good qualities which the Holy Spirit demands in a minister of the Word, and He shows that by them the dignity, gravity, reverence for, and holiness of the ministry of the Word and sacraments in the New Testament is established, equipped, and aided” (Part III, pp. 124-25).

6. See Appendix I below.

7. It is important to note that the Augsburg Confession was speaking here explicitly about the office of deacon as that office existed in the ancient church. According to a later Lutheran custom, beginning in the sixteenth century, assistant pastors who publicly preached and administered the sacraments were also sometimes called “deacons.” The Reformers knew, however, that such an office, even though it bore the same name, was not the same as the historic diaconate of earlier times. (See Luther, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 36, p. 116.)

8. Here and elsewhere in this essay we have included longer-than-usual quotations from the writings of Lutheran theologians whose teaching on the subject of the public ministry, in its totality, we consider to be worthy of serious consideration. We beg indulgence to do this, because some of the important statements that these theologians made, to which we would want to draw the reader’s attention, can be misunderstood if they are not read in their larger context.

9. In order to get a fuller picture of the office of sacristan or sexton [Küster], which Luther mentioned, we can take note of how this office was described in the “General Articles for the Visitation in Electoral Saxony” of 1557: “In the villages, the sextons shall be obligated on all Sunday afternoons and on a certain day during the week to diligently and clearly teach the children the catechism and Christian hymns in German. Afterwards they shall ask questions and examine the children about the articles of the catechism that have been recited or read aloud. And where one or more branches belong to the parish, the sacristan shall teach in all places, alternating between them according to the advice of the pastor, so that the youth in all of the villages are instructed as is necessary and will not be neglected. The sacristans should especially take pains to read the prayers aloud to the children and their elders, very slowly and clearly, distinctly reciting word for word as it is printed in the Small Catechism. And they shall not be so wanton, bold, or careless as to change, increase, decrease, or mix up the words in any way other than as they are designated in the printed copy. For in so doing, the young people will be poorly instructed and will afterwards learn to pray incorrectly from one another. ... No sexton who has not been examined and ordained shall be allowed to preach” (Die evangelischen Kirchenordnungen des sechszehnten Jahrhunderts [edited by Aemilius Richter] [Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967], Vol. 2, pp. 186-87; quoted in Eric Lund, Documents from the History of Lutheranism 1517-1750 [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002], p. 149). A similar description can be found in the “Saxon General Articles” of 1580, which stated that, “If in the outlying villages or otherwise there are too many people in a parish for the pastor to administer the examination in the catechism, they should commend it to the sacristan or church officer (but this should not happen before they are previously examined in earnest by the consistory and known to be capable of this work)” (Juris ecclesiastici Saxonici [Dresden, 1773], p. 22; quoted in C. A. T. Selle, “Das Amt des Pastors als Schulaufseher” [The Office of a Pastor as School Overseer]).
In his “Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper,” Luther also wrote that “the holy orders and true religious institutions established by God are these three: the office of priest, the estate of marriage, the civil government. All who are engaged in the clerical office [Pfarramt] or ministry of the Word are in a holy, proper, good, and God-pleasing order and estate, such as those who preach, administer sacraments, supervise the common chest, sextons and messengers or servants who serve such persons. These are engaged in works which are altogether holy in God’s sight” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 37 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], p. 364).

10. “We have definitely established...that the priesthood of the New Testament and all the sacerdotal functions connected with it are equally common to all Christians and that the New Testament sets forth no particular priestly order distinct from the laity – that, to the contrary, all alike who have been reborn by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word and believe in Christ are priests and truly spiritual persons. Thus Paul calls the ministers of the church – those in charge of preaching the Word and administering the sacraments – not ‘priests’ or ‘spiritual persons’ (for these designations apply equally to all Christians ruled by the Holy Spirit) but ‘ministers,’ ‘pastors,’ ‘bishops,’ ‘deacons,’ ‘elders,’ ‘stewards,’ ‘servants,’ etc. Now although the New Testament priesthood is universal, no one in the public assembly of the church should appropriate or discharge on his own authority this right which is the common property of all. Rather, some men who are particularly fitted for the task are to be chosen and called by general vote to carry out publicly – in the name of all who have the same right – the functions of teaching, binding and loosing, and administering the sacraments. For necessary to the public execution of the priestly office of instructing, consoling, exhorting, denouncing sins, judging controversies over doctrine, etc., is a thorough knowledge of Christian theology, a faculty for teaching, skill in languages, speaking ability, and other gifts, and these are not equally manifest in all whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated; therefore those who lack these talents rightly yield their privileges to others better endowed than themselves. For God is not the author of disorder and akatastasia [confusion] but of order and peace. Therefore, so that all things might be done euschmonws [decently] and in order and to prevent barbaric confusion and a Cyclopean agora en h akouei oudeis ouden oudenos [assembly where nobody heeds anybody in anything] from existing in the church, Paul himself established a particular order of vocation and commands that this ministry be committed to suitable and faithful men who should teach others. In Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Tim. 3:1-7, he sets forth at length the qualifications of the bishop or minister of the Gospel who has the duty of performing and administering sacerdotal functions in the public assemblies of the church. Paul does not differentiate bishops, presbyters, and pastors; he assigns precisely equal dignity of rank and the same office to presbyters and to bishops – and it is in fact clear that there were many such in individual towns. In Acts 20[:28], Paul says to the presbyters of the church at Ephesus whom he has called to him: ‘Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops, to feed the church of God.’ Note also Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5-7; 1 Peter 5:1,2; etc. Later, by human authority, ranks were established among the ministers and bishops, and within the presbyterate there appeared the ostiary, the psalmist, the lector, the exorcist, the acolyte, the subdeacon, the deacon, and the priest. One bishop – or overseer, or superintendent – was placed in charge of many presbyters or pastors of individual churches. An archbishop, or metropolitan, came to exercise authority over the bishops. ... This episcopal order and the ranks connected with it are not evil in themselves. They should not be disparaged when they serve to uphold the unity and harmony of the church in true evangelical doctrine and the preservation of Christian discipline and peace; when they maintain and spread right doctrine and reverent worship of God; when they do not claim that they possess the illicit power to interpret Scripture arbitrarily, to establish new articles of faith, to legislate in matters of doctrine and worship; and when they do not assume tyrannical authority over the other members of the church; etc.” (emphasis added)

11. To the objection that the deacons of Acts 6 were serving in an office that was essentially secular in character and not ecclesiastical or spiritual, Charles Porterfield Krauth responded: “A careful study of this passage shows: 1. That the functions to which deacons were elected, were functions which had been exercised by the apostles; hence the deacons’ duties are not lay duties, but are official. 2. They were chosen as aids to the apostles, in order that the whole time and strength of the apostles might be devoted to the more difficult and important part of this work. The apostles were to give themselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 3. The fundamental idea of the diaconate, therefore, was not the serving of tables, or the performing of secular duties within the church. That was but the specific determination of the general idea at that particular time. The generic idea of the diaconate is that it is an office designed to relieve the ministry of some of its relative, incidental and yet more distracting duties, in order to leave it free for others. Hence the broader and truer conception of the deacon is that he is the minister’s aid. This fact accounts for it, that the apostles looked to the deacons for something more than a mechanical performance of the ministration of the provision made by the church for the widows. The seven men were to be full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom. Stephen, who was chosen, and is first in the list, was a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost. And we see that he devoted himself to other duties than merely those of the daily ministrations of the widows. Out of this truer conception of the nature of the diaconate, arises the fact that in the epistles we see that the deacons had larger functions than those which would be naturally assigned them, on the current misconstruction of the nature of their office. 1 Tim. iii. 8-13, gives a description of the necessary characteristics of deacons, which shows that they were in a larger sense aids in the general work of the ministry. This view of the nature of the diaconate alone explains the fact that from the earliest, post-apostolic antiquity, and indeed in the time of the apostolic fathers, the deacons were permanent officials in the church, with a range of functions of increasing importance, making them more and more efficient aids in part of the work of the ministry” (“Church Polity,” II, Lutheran Church Review, Vol. III, Whole No. 10 [April 1884], pp. 139-40).

12. Walther’s high opinion of Kaehler and of Kaehler’s theological competence is also reflected in the fact that Kaehler later served as Walther’s secretary and editorial assistant (Carl S. Meyer, From Log Cabin to Luther Tower [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1965], p. 66).

13. In their almost simultaneous embracing of the “narrow sense / broader sense” distinction regarding the public ministry of the Gospel, we have not yet been able to determine if Kaehler was influenced by Krauth, if Krauth was influenced by Kaehler, if both of them were influenced by a still-unknown third party, or if each of these astute thinkers independently came up with the same basic scheme. They might have been influenced to some extent by C. A. T. Selle’s essay, “Das Amt des Pastors als Schulaufseher” (The Office of a Pastor as School Overseer) (Evang.-Luth. Schulblatt, Vol. 4, No. 5 [January 1869]). In a passing comment Selle had there identified “the preaching office in the narrow sense” with “the pastor’s office,” but he did not develop the idea beyond that one brief remark.
Selle wrote: “When someone is given the instruction of the children in God’s Word, he has a teaching office and therefore teaches publicly and administers herein a part of the public preaching office. ... The public teaching of the word of God is a matter of the preaching office in the narrow sense (the pastor’s office); the teaching of the word of God on the part of a school teacher is public since it is part of his office. It also belongs to the preaching office. It is a part of it. ... The spiritual priesthood has the duty to use the word mainly in the home and otherwise privately where someone asks concerning the reason for the hope that is in us or where perhaps the circumstances in addition require it. Emergencies excepted, the general call of Christians extends no further. Everything which goes beyond this and immediately when one discusses a teaching of the word for the congregation, the matter belongs to the public preaching office which is called public because it is an office, a conferred public service. ... According to the general priesthood no Christian has duty, call, or right to teach the word of God to the children of other people let alone the children of many people all together, regularly and at appointed times. That Christian who does this must have a call, right (Recht), and duty in addition. If he is to have the right and duty in addition he must expressly be given a call, and the office, the public service of the word – whether it is the office in totality or only as a special branch of the public preaching office – must be conferred on him. The teacher of Christian schools as such has such a call, the office. In this usage he administers a part of the public preaching office... In the Lutheran Church of the 16th century and following the Schoolmaster was therefore, insofar as he taught the children God’s word and performed ecclesiastical functions and also administered a separated part of the public preaching office, considered as belonging to the so-called clergy. ...he is placed under the oversight of the preacher. This has always occurred in our church because it has rightly been recognized that the school teacher administers a branch office of the holy preaching office. ... The separation of the Christian school office from the preaching office does not release the pastor from his accountability in regard to the Christian instruction and training of the young. Therefore the office of overseeing the school remains with him and the faithful administration of this function is his holy duty. ...the pastor as such should perform oversight over the school insofar as the teacher has an ecclesiastical office and has as the goal of his work the building of the church of Christ and Christendom.”
It is also worth noting that C. F. W. Walther had praised Selle’s essay very highly: “We consider this lecture to be a work of truly reformatory character. No preacher, no schoolteacher, no elder of a congregation and above all no congregational member who has an interest for the right form of our church in America should leave this lecture unread and untested. We are convinced that only when the principles presented here concerning the mutual relationship of school and church, of the school teacher and the preacher, come into play, will school and church remain here in indissoluble association and bring the first of the other gifts which this association should bring according to God’s will and order” (Der Lutheraner, Vol. 25, No. 11 [February 1, 1869]).
And even before the publication of the Selle essay, the participants in the Evangelical Lutheran Free Conference that was held in Fort Wayne, Indiana, July 14-20, 1859, had determined “that the 5th article [of the Augsburg Confession] deals with the administration of the means of grace in general (certainly the Predigtamt in the narrower sense is at the same time included along with the appointment of the gospel as spoken word); that however the 14th article [of the Augsburg Confession] speaks about the Predigtamt in the narrow sense, or the Pfarramt” (Der Lutheraner, Vol. 16, No. 7 [1859], p. 11).

14. When Krauth said that deacons and deaconesses were not serving in “the ministry of the Word,” he did not mean to imply that they were not carrying out any of the duties that would ordinarily be associated with that “ministry.” He noted, for example, that deacons were authorized to read publicly from the Scriptures and to assist in the distribution of the Lord’s Supper, and that deaconesses were authorized to give instruction to female catechumens and to assist at their baptisms.

15. It has been observed that “A certain tension arises from Walther’s treatment of the Predigtamt (1) as the one office from which all others flow, and (2) as the highest office, distinct from the others, but assisted by them” (Kurt E. Marquart, The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance [Fort Wayne, Indiana: The International Foundation for Lutheran Confessional Research, corrected edition 1995], p. 143 [emphases in original]).

16.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. ... 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” (pp. 419-21).
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).
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).
Jacobs’s gifts and abilities were noticed and admired also in the larger world of Confessional Lutheranism, even when he was still a relatively young man. In 1871 he had declined a call from the Wisconsin Synod to a professorship at Northwestern College, and in 1876 he had declined a call from the Norwegian Synod to an English-language professorship on the theological faculty that the synod was at that time organizing (Memoirs of Henry Eyster Jacobs, Volume II [1938], pp. 147, 179).
We can see Krauth’s influence also in James A. W. Haas’s article on “Ministry” in The Lutheran Cyclopedia, edited by Jacobs and Haas (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899): “The ministry, in its broadest sense, includes all service for Christ and the Church, whether it be preaching, service at the tables (Acts 6), or deaconess work (Rom. 16:1); in its particular application, however, it is the ministry of the Word” (p. 316).

17. In this respect their approach was similar to a distinction that had been made by John Gerhard between two senses of the term “preaching.” According to Gerhard, “When the pure preaching of the Word is called the mark of the true church, then the term ‘preaching’ is generally taken for the confession of the doctrine that all members of a church, both pastors and hearers, have in common and for the reading of the Biblical texts, which also is a preaching in a certain sense according to Acts 15:21. Preaching in a narrow sense is more properly a function of the pastor rather than of the whole congregation” (Conf. cathol., fol. 728-29; quoted in C. F. W. Walther, Church and Ministry [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1987], p. 107). It is also likely that the conclusion of the 1859 Free Conference regarding the meaning of Articles V and XIV of the Augsburg Confession had some influence on the formulations of Pieper and Mueller (see Endnote 13 above).

18. August O. W. Pieper, a professor at the Wisconsin Synod’s seminary in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, exemplified his differences with his older brother Francis (and other Missouri Synod theologians) when he wrote that “the ministry of the church and the congregational pastorate [Pfarramt] are not simply interchangeable concepts. The concept the ministry of the church embraces absolutely all forms of the administration of Word and sacrament, while the congregational pastorate designates only a specific form of the public administration of the means of grace” (“Are There Legal Regulations in the New Testament?”, Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 86, No. 1 [Winter 1989], p. 42). August was nevertheless willing to acknowledge that “The parish ministry in the form familiar to us is the chief species, the most complete, most important, and most necessary species of the ecclesiastical ministry” (“Zur Verständigung in der gegenwärtigen Diskussion über Kirche und Amt,” Theologische Quartalschrift, Vol. 9, No. 3 [July 1912], pp. 204-05).
Because of the more limited focus of the present essay, we will not here explore the problems and misunderstandings that arose from the tendency of some Missourians to link the concept of the divinely-instituted public ministry exclusively to the office of a parish pastor. We will simply note that the report on “The Ministry: Offices, Procedures and Nomenclature” that was issued by the Missouri Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations in 1981 did affirm that “District presidents who are charged with the oversight of the overseers of the flock, or professors who are charged with the oversight of the men who are preparing to be the shepherds of the church, or men who are charged with the oversight of the faith and life of the church’s youth on a college campus or in the military can be properly said to be serving in the office of the public ministry of the church. ... Confusion arises when we assume that the church can function only as one congregation at a time, or that the ministry of Word and sacrament must be defined only in terms of the activities of a parish pastor” (pp. 20-21).
In an essay that was delivered to the 1951 General Pastoral Conference of the Norwegian Synod (now the Evangelical Lutheran Synod), John Buenger (of the Missouri Synod) declared: “You can often hear it said that Missouri teaches that the pastoral office is the only divinely instituted office in contrast to all other offices. This is false, even if it is stated by Missourians who are not well enough informed. Never did Dr. Walther make such a statement” (“An Attempt at Reaching Full Understanding in the Controversy on the Doctrine of the Church and the Ministry,” Clergy Bulletin, Vol. X, No. 12 [August 1951]). Walther’s “Sermon at the Installation of Two College Professors” (“Rede bei Einfuhrung zweier Gymnasiallehrer”) demonstrates that he did not, in fact, believe that only parish pastors are serving in the divinely-instituted public ministry (Lutheran Sentinel, Vol. 32, No. 6 [March 28, 1949], pp. 82-89; excerpts in Carl Lawrenz, “An Evaluation of Walther’s Theses on the Church and Ministry,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 2 [Spring 1982], pp. 128-30). See Appendix II below.
Also because of the more limited focus of the present essay, we will not here explore the problems and misunderstandings that arose from the tendency of some Wisconsinites to blur the distinction between the divinely-instituted public ministry and the priesthood of all believers. We will simply note that a member of the Wisconsin Synod’s Commission on Inter-Church Relations, Thomas P. Nass, recently wrote that “the WELS does teach the divine institution of the public ministry. ... In short, the WELS teaches that the public ministry is not optional. Wherever Christians are, God wants there to be servants who shepherd them with the means of grace as representatives of Christ” (“The Revised This We Believe of the WELS on the Ministry,” Logia, Vol. X, No. 3 [Holy Trinity 2001], pp. 32-33). And even more recently, David J. Valleskey, the president of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, wrote that “the pastoral office involves oversight of the congregation’s entire ministry. A congregation needs a spiritual shepherd or shepherds. Whether the title ‘pastor’ is given to the one called to exercise spiritual oversight over the congregation or some other title is given, is not the critical issue. The critical issue is that the congregation has a shepherd, who with the gospel in Word and Sacrament feeds and leads and guards and protects the flock” (“Public Ministry,” Forward in Christ, Vol. 90, No. 5 [May 2003], p. 15).
According to Gottfried Herrmann (of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Germany), there were some remarks made by the “Wauwatosa theologians” on the topic of church and ministry “that we might consider over-stated and even polemic. We will want to read these remarks with caution” (“The Path of the Evangelisch-Lutherischen Freikirche [ELFK] into the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference [CELC] and the Doctrine of Church and Ministry,” unpublished essay, 2000). Elsewhere Herrmann has observed that “the sometimes provocatively presented original position of the Wauwatosa theology is not identical in all points with the present-day positions of the WELS. There are throughout contemporary presentations more precise expressions and warnings against imprecisions in concepts conditioned by the English language, e.g., when the term ‘public ministry’ is involved” (“The Theological Development of the WELS With Particular Reference to Its Doctrine of the Ministry,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 96, No. 2 [Spring 1999], p. 113).

19. In 1978 Bjarne W. Teigen, the president emeritus of Bethany Lutheran College and Seminary in Mankato, Minnesota, wrote that he “accepts without equivocation the statement of the Apology, ‘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’ (Ap. XIII, 12). The Office of the Keys belongs to all Christians, and they are all to use this office as Christ’s priests. But the Lord did set up an orderly way in which preaching and teaching was to take place. In other words, he set up the Office of the Public Ministry.” Teigen went on to say, however, that “there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that only the office of the local pastor is to be identified with the Office of the Public Ministry, and that other offices are merely ‘branchings off’ from the local pastorate. It is, indeed, God’s will that Christians jointly use the Means of Grace, spread the Gospel, and exhort and help one another by admonition from the Law and exhortation from the Gospel (Col. 3:16; Luke 11:28; Heb. 10:25; Matt. 28:18-20), but there is no divine command for any visible or external form of the ekklesia tou theou. Generally the most common way of carrying out most of the functions of the public ministry is through what we call the local congregation and its pastors. But it is clear that the Office of the Public Ministry can be carried out in various forms (Eph. 4:11f; I Cor. 12:28-30). There is the freedom here granted the church in I Corinthians 3:21-23. But this is not to say that freedom can be turned to license, or that other divine mandates of the Lord can be disregarded” (“The Church in the New Testament, Luther, and the Lutheran Confessions,” Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 4 [October 1978], pp. 392-94).

20. Common sense also suggests that it is fairly easy to settle a misunderstanding when it can honestly be demonstrated that both sides were essentially right all along, but that they had simply not yet found a common language in which to express their genuine agreement.


We, the members of this parish and our posterity, therefore solemnly purpose and promise henceforth to provide food, sustenance, and support through our ten elected directors out of our common chest, to the limit of our resources as God grants us grace, and as occasion demands to make the following disbursements, namely:
Disbursements for the pastoral office To the pastor or priest called and elected by our congregation, and to a preacher similarly called by us and appointed to assist the pastor (though the pastor himself should be able and qualified to preach God’s word and perform the other duties of his pastoral office), and also to a chaplain if the need for one arises, the ten directors, on the unified resolution of the entire assembly, are to furnish annually each year a specified sum of money, together with certain consumable stores and lands and properties subject to usufruct, to support them and adequately meet their needs, one-fourth to be paid each quarter at the Ember fast out of the common chest, in return for a proper receipt. ... In this respect and in the administration of the pastoral office of the congregation, their conduct shall be in accordance with the ordinance and instructions of the men learned in the divine Scriptures, which ordinance shall be kept in our common chest, and be considered and implemented by the ten directors every Sunday, so that no harm may come to the pastoral office.
Disbursements for the office of sacristan The sacristan or custodian, to whom the assembly entrusts the locking up of the church and the suitable care of it, shall be given by the ten directors out of the common chest in quarterly instalments a specified annual salary and certain usable stores and usufructs, as may be determined by the assembly in accordance with the aforementioned scriptural ordinance for the pastoral office of the congregation, which embraces also the duties of the sacristan.
Disbursements for the schools The ten designated directors, in the name of our general parish assembly, shall have the authority and duty, with the advice and approval of our elected pastor and preacher and others learned in the divine Scriptures, to call, appoint and dismiss a schoolmaster for young boys, whereby a pious, irreproachable, and learned man may be made responsible for the honorable and upright Christian training and instruction of the youth, a most essential function. This schoolmaster shall be required to train, teach, govern, and live at all times in conformity with and hold unswervingly to the mandate of the aforementioned ordinance for the pastoral office of our congregation which is deposited in the coffers of our common chest. In accordance with a determination of the general assembly, the ten directors shall give the schoolmaster as compensation for his services a specified annual salary plus certain stores in quarterly instalments out of the common chest. ... Our pastor, preacher, and the ten directors shall maintain a constant and faithful supervision over this office of teaching school and governing the youth; every Sunday as need may arise they shall consider this matter, take action, and implement it with the utmost seriousness. Likewise the ten directors shall grant to an upright, fully seasoned, irreproachable woman an annual stipend and certain stores out of our common chest for instructing young girls under twelve in true Christian discipline, honor, and virtue and, in accordance with the ordinance for our pastoral office, teaching them to read and write German, this teaching to be done during certain specified hours by the clear light of day and in a respectable place that is above suspicion. ... The ten directors shall also diligently supervise the training and governing of such German schools and young girls, so that Christian discipline, honor, and virtue may be maintained inviolate. (“Fraternal Agreement on the Common Chest of the Entire Assembly of Leisnig” [1523], Luther’s Works, Vol. 45 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962], pp. 186-89)
(In his Preface to the printed edition of this “Fraternal Agreement,” which he addressed to “all Christians in the congregation of Leisnig,” Martin Luther wrote: “Since the Father of all mercies has called you as well as others to the fellowship of the gospel, and has caused his Son Jesus Christ to shine into your hearts; and since this richness of the knowledge of Christ is so active and powerful among you that you have set up a new order of service, and a common fund after the example of the apostles [Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35], I have seen fit to have this ordinance of yours printed, in the hope that God will so add his gracious blessing that it may become a public example to be followed by many other congregations, so that we, too, may boast of you, as St. Paul boasted of the Corinthians that their effort stirred up many others [II Cor. 9:2]. ... We cherish the hope that this example of yours will come to be generally followed...” [Luther’s Works, Vol. 45, p. 169])


What can comfort us, when men, who have prepared themselves for the office of rescuing souls, yes, who have already administered this office with blessing, assume the office of teaching at our institutions of learning? ... This shall comfort us: 1) that also their office is the office of our God; 2) that also their work is the work of our Lord. ... God has actually instituted only one office, namely the office, in his name to gather his church on earth, to rule over it, provide for it, and preserve it. This office the Lord has ordained and given to his church when he gave Peter the keys to heaven and finally said to all his disciples: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” [Matt 28:18-20]. Now this office accordingly has such a sphere of duties and tasks of such a diverse variety, also calls for so many different outstanding gifts, that no man is in the position, even in a small sphere, to fulfill all its tasks. As the Messiah’s office as mediator falls into three different offices, that of prophet, high priest, and king, so also the office of the church falls into the most diverse offices, demanding manifold gifts of the Spirit. Fully carrying out the office of the church requires among other things not only that those filling this office feed the flock of Christ in every way and do battle for it, but above all also this, that they take care that after them there will always be new faithful shepherds and well-equipped warriors, who will take up the lead with the shepherd staff when it has fallen from them and who will wield the sword which death has wrenched from their hand. ... It is therefore not a human arrangement, that there are men in the church, who train and instruct young boys so that they may some day carry out the office which preaches reconciliation. Their office is a holy, godly office, a branch of the office which Christ instituted and established in presenting the keys of heaven. Even not merely the gifts which are necessary to ground a young boy in a deeper understanding of the divine truths, but also the gifts that are necessary to educate the mind of a young boy in general and to teach him the different dead and living languages of the nations: also these gifts are gifts of the Holy Spirit, which the Savior who ascended to heaven has poured out upon his church for the establishment and preservation of holy offices. “This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ ... It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...” (Eph 4:8,11). “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. ... Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. ... To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, ... to another the ability to speak in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretations of tongues” (1 Cor 12:4,5,7,8a,10b). ... Not only is it a divine institution, but all its tasks have also no other goal, no other final objective, than the glorification of God’s name and the salvation of lost souls. Not only are particularly you, esteemed Director, from now on in the real sense the guardian, the spiritual father and house-pastor of the boys and young men in our college; not only are they in a real sense a house church and house congregation of precious, immortal souls, purchased at a high price, who have been laid as a trust upon your soul from this day on, who are here not only to be educated, but also to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and to be trained for heaven; but whatsoever we may pursue here, apart from the word of God itself, be it the original languages of the Holy Scriptures or those of profane authors, be it the history of the church or of the world, be it geography, or the mathematical or natural sciences, or the fine arts, music and painting... everything is to be pursued here for the purpose and with the objective that men are to be trained here who will have the general education and the required abilities, the proper spirit, the necessary love, self-effacement, and self sacrifice to call people from all classes, all vocations of life, all cultural levels into Christ’s kingdom, to feed the flock of Christ, and to wage the Lord’s battles. (C. F. W. Walther, “Rede bei Einfuhrung zweier Gymnasiallehrer,” Lutherische Brosamen [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1897], pp. 346 ff.; quoted in Carl Lawrenz, “An Evaluation of Walther’s Theses on the Church and Ministry,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 2 [Spring 1982], pp. 128-30)

The Public Ministry of the Word in the “Narrower Sense” and in the “Wider Sense”

“Forms” of the Public Ministry

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