Book Review:
The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance

From the “Reviewers’ Desk,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly 89:4 (Fall 1992), pp. 312-15:

The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance (Vol IX of Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics), by Kurt Marquart. Fort Wayne, IN: The International Foundation for Confessional Research, 1990. 263 pp, hc, $14.50.

This book provides one significant piece of evidence concerning the present status of the disagreement between the Wisconsin Synod and the Missouri Synod concerning the doctrine of church and ministry and the doctrine of church fellowship. It provides much more than that, however. This well-written, well-documented work delivers enjoyable, profitable reading concerning many aspects of the doctrine of the church and its ministry. This review, however, will focus primarily on those parts of the book which have the most direct relevance to Wisconsin/Missouri differences concerning church and ministry and church fellowship.

Since Marquart is widely recognized as a spokesman of the more conservative confessional wing of the LCMS, his views give at least a hint of what the situation would be if it ever becomes possible for the WELS to discuss past and present differences with conservatives from the LCMS.

It is, of course, a gross oversimplification to contrast “Wisconsin Synod” and “Missouri Synod” views of church and ministry, since there is greater disagreement between various viewpoints held within the LCMS than there is between the so-called Wisconsin Synod and Missouri Synod views as they have usually been expressed. The membership of the LCMS includes adherents of a more rigid form of the “Missouri Synod position” than that espoused by Marquart, adherents of the so-called “Wisconsin Synod position,” as well as some individuals who emphasize lay ministry at the expense of the pastoral ministry in a way which goes beyond anything envisioned by most defenders of the Wisconsin Synod position.

At the risk of oversimplification, we can say that the “Missouri Synod position” has usually been thought of as that the local congregation is the only divinely instituted form of the church and that the pastoral ministry is the only divinely instituted form of the ministry. All other offices and forms of organization are human institutions, which are auxiliary to the divinely instituted forms. A rigid version of this position would deny that the synod is church or that anyone other than a parish pastor is serving in the divinely instituted ministry. Some in the LCMS and in conservative groups which have split from the LCMS hold this rigid view. Marquart’s position is less narrow than this.

We have no problem agreeing with Marquart’s criticism of a simplistic parroting of the claim, “Everyone is a minister.” This statement is, of course, true if it is simply an assertion that the Greek word diakonia can refer to a wider range of forms of service than the pastoral ministry or other forms of public ministry of the gospel. Those who use this slogan, however, too often brush over the long-established English usage of ministry as a technical term to refer especially to the pastoral ministry and at times to other forms of called, public ministry of the Word. If ministry is going to be used in a wider sense which reflects the etymology and usage of the Greek word diakonia, this should not be done without careful explanation of the shift in usage, so that the distinction of the priesthood of all believers from the pastoral ministry and other forms of public ministry is not blurred or confused. It should be emphasized that the so-called Wisconsin Synod position asserts the divine institution of the public ministry, including the pastoral ministry, every bit as fully as the “Missouri position.”

Concerning forms of the ministry, it is striking that Marquart begins with the admission, “At first sight the New Testament features a luxuriant and irreducible variety of offices” (p 120). He goes on to state, however, that behind the appearance of multiformity there is one basic ministry, the “one Gospel-ministry which is confessed to be divinely instituted in AC V.” We would have no problem with Marquart’s claim that there is one gospel ministry as long as that one gospel ministry is not narrowly limited to the pastoral office as we know it, but is inclusive of other forms of called ministry of the Word. Although the public ministry is divinely instituted, no single form of it (except for the apostolate) is divinely instituted, not even the pastoral office as we have it today, which is a historical development. Marquart does not limit the one office only to the parish pastorate. According to Marquart, seminary teachers, for example, are serving in the divinely instituted ministry of the Word.

We would not have to quarrel too vigorously with Marquart’s assertion that the diaconate in Acts 6 was a human institution and an auxiliary office insofar as it was limited to meeting the physical needs of members and in so far as it was distinguished from the ministry of the Word and prayer. We do not have such an office of deacon in most congregations today. We do have auxiliary positions at our synod offices, however, which are not filled by called ministers of the gospel.

Marquart grants that teachers in institutes of theological training and possibly some catechists may be within the one public gospel ministry, but asserts that Christian day school teachers whose main work is to teach secular subjects are not (pp 141,142). In his summary, Marquart states that the church has the evangelical freedom to create new auxiliary offices and to change old ones, to recognize and provide for specializations and concentrations within the one gospel ministry, to attach auxiliary functions to gospel ministers, or to detach them, and to ordain incumbents of auxiliary offices into the one gospel office when they are qualified. Thus we see that Marquart’s position is not in as sharp a contrast with our position as the more rigid (perhaps somewhat stereotyped) version of the Missouri Synod position would be. There are potential openings for fruitful discussion, but there are remaining problems concerning the exclusion from the gospel ministry of certain offices which Marquart regards as only auxiliary.

(The scope of this article neither permits nor necessitates a fuller discussion of Marquart’s view that the divine institution of the public ministry is the topic of AC V other than to note that AC XIV is the specific locus dealing with the public ministry. AC V speaks about the New Testament ministry spoken of in 2 Corinthians 3:8,9, that is, about the means of grace, rather than about the public ministry.)

The situation created by Marquart’s views concerning forms of the church is very similar to that which exists concerning forms of the ministry. In contrast to the narrower version of the Missouri position, Marquart maintains that synods very clearly are churches, but he would apparently exclude other types of cooperative groups formed by Christians which carry out duties and exercise rights of the church.

Another problem is that Marquart’s excursus on Missouri and Wisconsin views of the ministry oversimplifies the actual historical development of the “Wisconsin view” and the resultant differences that arose between Wisconsin and Missouri. It is true that there are statements in [Adolph] Hoenecke which could be characterized as in accord with the so-called Missouri position, but it must be remembered that these were written before the careful restudy of Scripture which was brought about by the fallout of the Cincinnati case. It is certainly an oversimplification to say that the “new Wisconsin” position had its chief impetus from [John Philip] Koehler. [John] Schaller and [August] Pieper had equal or greater roles in the restudy of Scripture mentioned above. It was this restudy of everything which Scripture has to say on this issue which was the impetus for the “new Wisconsin” view. Koehler also distanced himself from his early comments which could be understood as a blanket endorsement of [Johann Wilhelm Friedrich] Hoefling, when he realized more fully what Hoefling had really said. We would also have to reject Marquart’s opinion that the Wisconsin Statements lead to a “virtual identification of universal priesthood and ministry” and to a “failure to distinguish the one gospel ministry from auxiliary offices,” as has been shown in the discussion above.

Marquart holds that the substance of ordination, namely, the bestowal of the divinely instituted office, is a divine institution. The how of that bestowal, namely, through a ceremony of laying on of hands, is not a divine institution. This is correct if it means that no one should preach or administer the sacraments in the name of others without a call (AC XIV). But there is no divine institution in Scripture of a rite of ordination.

We certainly have no quarrel with Marquart’s assertion that women may not be ordained to the pastoral ministry which serves the whole congregation. We would have to disagree, however, with his statement, “Women cannot occupy the office of the gospel ministry,” since it is a reflection of his narrower view of gospel ministry which excludes Christian day school teachers and other forms of service by women which are not in conflict with the scriptural principle of submission. His position takes on a bit of irony in light of the LCMS’s recent successful lawsuit to gain government recognition of its women teachers as ministers of the church for tax purposes. This is just one of many indications of the division within the LCMS on this doctrine.

Another area that would need careful discussion would be the relationship of the pastoral office to the apostolic office. Marquart seems to make the pastoral office too directly descendant from the apostolic office, although he makes a definite effort to preserve the distinctiveness of the apostolic office.

In some ways Marquart’s treatment of church fellowship was more of a disappointment than the section on church and ministry. Although he distances himself from former President [Ralph A.] Bohlmann’s “levels of fellowship,” he leaves too many loopholes for practicing of church fellowship without doctrinal agreement in areas other than formal altar and pulpit fellowship. One is disappointed to read, “Church fellowship then is the common participation in the salvific goods or treasures of the church,” and to see an apparent endorsement of the principles set forth in the Overseas Committee Statement of 1961, which the WELS found it necessary to reject at the time of the breakup of the Synodical Conference (pp 43-48). According to this view, complete agreement in doctrine is necessary only for fellowship in “sacred things,” and “sacred things” are limited to the means of grace. The concept of “cooperation in externals” is then used by some as a loophole to justify joint prayer and occasional joint worship without agreement in doctrine. The WELS recognizes that Christians who are not in fellowship may under some circumstances cooperate in external things such as charity and presenting shared concerns to the government, but prayer and worship can never be “external things.” Our practice concerning prayer and worship with false teachers and their adherents cannot be determined by a definition of “sacred things” as derived from church history. It is determined by the commands of Scripture, “Keep away from them,” “Have nothing to do with them,” “Do not welcome them.” Such admonitions can hardly mean “Pray with them,” “Worship with them.”

Marquart has missed the mark in the footnote on page 47 where he maintains that since the WELS principle forbids “every joint expression” of faith, the WELS unit concept would forbid Lutherans and Catholics to work together in political action against abortion if their underlying motives for such action were their religious faith. In this context Marquart has emphasized the wrong words. The issue here is “every joint expression of faith.” Regardless of their underlying motivation, WELS Lutherans and Catholics could work together in a non-sectarian right-to-life organization in which they participated as citizens with common concerns. They could work together even with non-Christians in such an organization. They should not, however, work together in a group which was set up as a religious organization and which gave joint expression to faith through worship and prayer.

It is difficult to understand what lies behind Marquart’s claim that the WELS’ unit concept of fellowship makes the faith of individuals its starting point and introduces subjectivism into judgments concerning the practice of fellowship (fn, p 47). The WELS position maintains that our public dealings with fellow Christians must be based, not on a subjective judgment concerning their personal faith, but on the public confession which they express by their church membership.

Private acts of prayer are not governed by “familial and social relations,” as Marquart claims (p 47). Private prayer is governed by the same principles of Scripture as public prayer. Even in our private devotions we should not engage in a joint expression of faith with someone whom we know to be an adherent of false teaching. (This does not mean that no such person will ever be present when I pray, or that I may never be present when such a person prays, but there should be no joint expressions, which imply agreement where it does not exist.) The only difference between public and private expressions of prayer and worship may occur when there is a contradiction between a person’s public confession (e.g., membership in a heterodox church) and his personal confession (e.g., stated opposition to the false teaching entering his church body.) In such cases where public confusion and offense would not be caused, it may be possible to give private expression to the unity of faith we share (see the WELS pamphlet Timely Topics).

Perhaps Marquart himself would not endorse dubious applications of his limitation of “church fellowship” to joint use of the means of grace, such as the practice of those who would permit joint prayer with leaders of ELCA, who are committed adherents and promoters of false teaching. He quotes with seeming approval the statement, “We cannot pray with those who represent divisions and offenses.” But his position, which too narrowly limits church fellowship to use of the means of grace, seems to leave the door open to those who are looking for loopholes in the application of the scriptural principles.

Perhaps we have not correctly understood Marquart’s position, as he apparently has not understood ours. Be that as it may, those with a special interest in the doctrinal differences between the WELS and the LCMS should read this book as one indication of the considerable problems that would have to be overcome in reaching a scriptural agreement concerning the doctrines of church and ministry and church fellowship even with those in the LCMS who are most faithful to the Synodical Conference’s doctrinal heritage.

-- John F. Brug


In John F. Brug’s review of The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance, we read: “Although the public ministry is divinely instituted, no single form of it (except for the apostolate) is divinely instituted, not even the pastoral office as we have it today, which is an historical development.” To understand the intended meaning of this statement, emphasis should be placed on the phrase “as we have it today,” and not on the phrase “pastoral office.” WELS writer Thomas P. Nass states that “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 X:3 [Holy Trinity 2001], p. 33) Nass also makes this observation:

It is likely that the way church life operates in everyday practice according to the “Wisconsin” view is probably not much different in most cases than according to the “Missouri” view. Pastors are called for general spiritual oversight. Other offices may or may not exist to help with the work in the congregation. These other forms work under the leadership of the pastor. To a certain extent one may even conclude that the differences between the “Wisconsin” view and “Missouri” view are a matter of terminology. Certainly the term “public ministry” has to a degree been understood differently. This term, of course, is not found in the Bible, and it therefore necessarily receives ecclesiastical definition. ... If the difference is only a matter of terminology without a difference in substance, the difference should be tolerated. (pp. 37-38)

On a related point, Brug affirms elsewhere that

The WELS would also maintain that our position is in agreement with that of [C. F. W.] Walther and that his position has not been correctly understood by some of his followers, nor has enough attention been given to the circumstances which he was addressing in his writings, namely to reject the anti-congregational views of Grabau. In some places we would not word things the same way Walther did, but we have no disagreement with his doctrinal position. In his theses themselves Walther does not always make it clear that Predigtamt (office of preaching or ministry of the Word) is a wider term than Pfarramt (pastoral office) (Theses 1, 2 and 7). The quotations with which he supports the theses, however, show that Walther recognized the existence of various offices. (“The Ministry: By Christ Through the Church,” unpublished essay)

Brug’s review mentions “the Overseas Committee Statement of 1961, which the WELS found it necessary to reject at the time of the breakup of the Synodical Conference.” However, in 1973 the WELS Commission on Doctrinal Matters advised representatives of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK) “that we agree with the substance of the Overseas Statement ‘Fellowship in Its Necessary Context of the Doctrine of the Church’ being in accord with Scriptures.” So, the Overseas Committee Statement was not at that time “rejected” by the WELS representatives, although they did say that their agreement with the substance of the statement did not include agreement with an addendum (“beginning with the words ‘This statement bears...’”) that had been added to the statement’s theses. On this occasion the Commission on Doctrinal Matters also advised the SELK representatives “that we do not expect church bodies in fellowship with us to formulate their position on church fellowship according to our approach or in line with our terminology, but only that our position be acknowledged as being in harmony with the Scriptures.” (Statement from the WELS Commission on Doctrinal Matters to the Representatives of the SELK, Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly 70:4 [Oct. 1973], pp. 276-77)

Brug’s review refers to a pamphlet entitled Timely Topics. This pamphlet, written by Armin Schuetze, discusses the way in which the Biblical principles of church fellowship should be applied in various settings. In answer to the question, “What about Private Personal Relationships to Others?,” Schuetze writes:

But now such a person from an erring church body is with you in your home, or you are in his home. From your private contact with him you know that he confesses trust in Christ as his Savior from sin, that he confesses himself to the Scriptures. It is apparent that his membership in the false church body is the result of a still weak faith that does not fully understand the seriousness of the errors, or it is clear that he actually does not share the errors at all. In this case you have more to go by than the confession of his church membership; there is also his own personal confession before you. And since now in your private personal relationship to him public offense and confusion is not involved, you may well ask yourself: Is this perhaps one of those of whom the Word of God tells you: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations” (Rom. 14:1)? Is this a smoking flax that you are not to quench? Thus, in your private relations where public offense is not involved, you may on the basis of a man’s confession recognize him as a brother in Christ with whom you may then also join in prayer, and that includes table prayer. (pp. 6-7)

In a more recent essay Schuetze also writes:

We may visit a sick relative or friend who is not of our fellowship. What do I do? Must I avoid any religious discussion and prayer? This may be a fruitful opportunity for Christian witness, to strengthen the sick person’s faith, to proclaim the Lord’s forgiveness, mercy, power to help, and faithfulness. But what about prayer? A simple confession of faith in the Lord Jesus as Savior from sin and the only hope for salvation may be the only confession I need to join this sick person in approaching the throne of grace in prayer. This confession may well show that a person’s membership in a heterodox church is a weakness, that in this private situation his personal confession supersedes anything else I may know. When a confession is lacking I can still pray for the person, also in his presence. This is a time to build and strengthen faith. We may come upon a person who is seriously hurt, a total stranger. What if that person should request that I pray with him? If there is no possibility for any kind of confession, I can speak a prayer to the Lord Jesus in his behalf. This may well comfort and meet the needs of someone who has faith in the Lord Jesus. If the person was a pious pagan, the Christian message in the prayer is the Holy Spirit’s means that may prove effective. On the other hand, if there is opportunity for a gospel witness and a response of faith, under these circumstances this is the only confession I need to join this person in prayer in his desperate need. (“Joining Together in Prayer and the Lord’s Supper,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly 93:2 [Spring 1996], p. 128)

On the subject of joint prayer between spouses who belong to different churches, Brug himself states elsewhere that

If one spouse is a non-Christian, the Christian partner may pray for and in the presence of the non-Christian husband or wife. Obviously, they cannot pray together. If the other spouse is a member of a heterodox church and ridicules or rejects the beliefs of our member, joint prayer is hardly possible. If the other spouse’s membership in a heterodox church is seen as a matter of weakness in understanding, joint prayer may be possible in the privacy of the home. (Church Fellowship: Working Together for the Truth [Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1996], p. 149)

And in emphasizing that these and similar situations should be approached evangelically and not legalistically, Brug observes that

Jesus stated that even the law against work on the Sabbath permitted exceptions for the priests offering sacrifices or for anyone helping individuals or even animals in distress. The Pharisees’ mistake was that they had forgotten that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). We shouldn’t forget that fellowship principles were made for man; man wasn’t made for fellowship principles. If we remember that God desires “mercy, not sacrifice,” we won’t condemn the innocent (Matthew 12:7). (p. 119)

-- David Jay Webber

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