Theses concerning the Doctrine of Church and Office
[Thesen zur Lehre von Kirche und Amt]

Adopted in 2001 as “a scriptural and confessional presentation
of the doctrine of our Evangelical Lutheran Free Church”

A. The Doctrine of the Church
[Die Lehre von der Kirche]

(A1) Our Lord Jesus Christ has created one church. To Peter He said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). All who truly believe in Christ belong to this one church. (Eph. 2:19f) This we confess in the Apostles’ Creed when we say: “I holy Christian church, the communion of saints.” Cf. AC 5+8

(A2) This church is found wherever the pure Word of God is proclaimed and the Sacraments are administered according to their institution. The Holy Spirit builds the church through this means. We may be certain that the Word of God will not return empty but will accomplish what pleases God. (Is. 55:11) Cf. AC 7

(A3) God has given His church the commission [Auftrag] to preach His Word and to administer the Sacraments. This is called the office of the keys. The believers are commissioned to use the keys privately [individually] and collectively. (John 20:21-23; 1 Peter 2:9) Cf. Tractatus § 24

(A4) God wills that Christians come together in assemblies to use the means of grace pure and unaltered for their own edification as well as to let the unity among them be recognized, and to bring the Good News of salvation in Christ to others. (Jeremiah 23:28; John 8:31f; Acts 2:42; Psalm 133:1; Matthew 28:19f) – This assembly occurs, for example, in the outward [external] forms of congregation, synod, and church. Although God wills that Christians come together for public worship, He has not prescribed a fixed form of the gathering. “The kingdom of God does not come with observation” (Luke 17:20). The local congregation [Gemeinde am Ort] holds the highest rank among these gatherings of Christians because it is the place where Christians normally live and can best carry out God’s command practically.

(A5) The single authority in the church is the Word of God. Where this Word is spoken – whether it is in the private or in the public sphere (in the congregation or the church) – it is as valid as if the Lord Himself had spoke from heaven. (Luke 10:16) Cf. SA B 2,15; Tractatus § 42; Apol. 7,28

(A6) If we love God and would be faithful to His Word we must see to it that we remain members of the true church: in that we preserve our faith in the Savior; in that we belong to a congregation, synod, or church, which teaches God’s Word without error; in that we do all in our power to further the spread of the kingdom of God through prayer, personal service (2 Corinthians 12:15) and financial support; and in that we avoid all false teaching churches. (2 Corinthians 13:5; Matthew 7:15; 1 John 4:1; Romans 16:17; 2 Corinthians 6:4)

(A7) The relationship between the various Christian forms of gathering should be orderly and honorable. (Ephesians 4:3-6; 1 Corinthians 14:33, 40) Christians let themselves be led by the law of Christian love. This applies also to the powers of the synod in relation to the congregation as they are delineated in the synodical constitution. (ELFK-Verfassung, Art. III)

B. The Public Preaching Office
[Das öffentliche Predigtamt]

(B1) The “public preaching office” [öffentliches Predigtamt] denotes the public ministry of proclamation [öffentlichen Verkündigungsdienst] to which God has commissioned His church. (Divine institution; Cf. Matthew 28:19f with 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11f; Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5-9) Through this ministry the Gospel in Word and Sacrament (office of the keys) is to be publicly administered. This ministry occurs in the name of Christ and is conferred through His church.

(B2) There is only one public ministry of proclamation [öffentlichen Verkündigungsdienst], but this ministry can take various forms as is required in the life of the church. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 27-31) The purpose of this ministry is to nourish and build up the church of God through the means of grace. (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 4:1; Ephesians 4:11f) The public ministry of proclamation is conferred on individuals. It is to be distinguished from the private proclamation ministry of all Christians. (Universal priesthood)

(B3) The office of the keys (losing and binding key) has been conferred on the one holy Christian church and therewith on every Christian. (Universal priesthood of believers) (1 Peter 2:9; Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:17-20; Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:22f) Cf. AC 28,5f; SA C 7,1; Tractatus §§ 22-24. 65-70

(B4) It is God’s will and command that the office of the keys be administered publicly. Therefore He has instituted the public ministry of proclamation. This ministry is conferred on those whom God calls into it through His church. Those who are called exercise the functions of the office of the keys by the commission of the church as well as in the name of Christ and His stead. Wherever we hear Christ’s servant we hear Christ Himself speak. (Luke 10:16; Titus 1:5-9; Acts 20:28, 14:23; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:12f; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6; 4:5; 5:18f; Ephesians 4:11f) Thus the public ministry of proclamation is a divine institution and not merely the product of historical development nor merely a beneficial institution of the church. Cf. AC 5; AC 28,5f+21f; Apol 12,39f; Apol 14,1

(B5) The public ministry of proclamation should be exercised only by those who are regularly called, whether immediately through the Lord Christ (as in the case of the apostles) or mediately through the church. If someone publicly proclaims the Word of God or administers the Sacraments without a regular call, this contradicts not only good order, but also the will of God. The duties and responsibilities of each called servant must be determined by his call. (Romans 10:14-17; Acts 6:1-6) Cf. AC 14; Apol. 14,1

(B6) Ordination is not a divine institution but a fine churchly order from early times. (1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Timothy 5:22; 2 Timothy 1:6) It demonstrates the public confirmation of call by the Word of God and prayer. We speak of ordination when pastors are installed in their office for the first time and are bound to the Confession. But also with other calls into the public ministry of proclamation the commissioning should be publicly recognized. Cf. Apol. 13,11; Tractatus § 70

(B7) The public ministry of proclamation is instituted by God but it is not limited to a fixed form. The New Testament names various offices. Therefore the form of the public ministry of proclamation can vary according to the need of the church but there is only one public ministry of proclamation in the church. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 27-31; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11f; 1 Timothy 3:1,8; 5:17) Cf. SA B 3,1; Tractatus §§ 63-66.72.26

(B8) The term “preaching office” [Predigtamt] is customarily used in our church to describe the office of pastor. This use should continue. The pastor’s office is the most comprehensive and fundamental form of the public ministry of proclamation. Full spiritual oversight over the flock of Christ is conferred on pastors in their local congregations [Ort]. (Proclamation of the Word, administration of the Sacraments, church discipline, care of souls, 1 Peter 5:2f) – Where there are, in addition to the pastoral office, other offices of the public ministry of proclamation in the congregation, the pastor bears the total responsibility [Gesamtverantwortung]. Because Christ wills to have responsible shepherds for His flock, such an office is indispensable. (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 20:28-31; Titus 1:6-9; 1 Peter 5:1-3; Hebrews 13:17) In the ministry of the pastoral office only suitable males may be called. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 14:34f; 1 Timothy 2:12) Cf. Apol. 14,1

(B9) The purpose of the public ministry of proclamation is to nourish and build up the church of God through the means of grace. This occurs through the Word of God and the Sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper. (1 Corinthians 4:1; Ephesians 4:11f) Ministers [servants, Diener] in the public ministry of proclamation possess no worldly authority but only the Word of God in Law and Gospel, through which they should lead their entrusted flocks. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9; 1 Peter 5:3) Where they properly carry out this ministry the highest respect is due them [those in the public ministry of proclamation]. (Romans 10:15; 1 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 13:7; 1 Timothy 5:17) Cf. AC 5; AC 28,5.8-17; Tractatus § 11

Evangelisch-Lutherische Freikirche: Thesenreihe zur Lehre von Kirche und Amt (original German text)

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