Is Ordination Necessary?


(From Liber conscientiae apertus, sive theologiae conscientiae, pp. 230, 1005-06; quoted in C. F. W. Walther, Church and Ministry [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1987], pp. 265-67.)

Origen was not ordained, but when persecution set in, he went to Jerusalem, where he was permitted to preach and administer the sacraments. But Demetrius, the bishop of Alexandria, disliked this, because thereby the canons of the church were not observed. However, Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, answered him very aptly that nothing is done against custom if anyone teaches and administers the sacraments without ordination, as long as he has been called. ...

Is ordination necessary for conscience’ sake? It certainly is necessary, but not because of any necessity of purpose or means (as though the purpose in view could only be accomplished by this means); for also without ordination Paul and Barnabas (Acts 9:24), as well as Aquila and Priscilla, Frumentius and Aedesius, could effectively administer the office of the ministry. It was therefore an unnecessary and purposeless anxiety that caused the Bohemian Brethren to deal with the question whether an ordination is legitimate if an elder chose an elder but not a bishop; therefore, they cast lots to decide the question, as the Moravian Comenius relates. Nevertheless, it (ordination) is necessary according to the necessity of an apostolic and positive (not moral) command: “Separate to Me Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 13:2) and the ancient apostolic custom (1 Tim. 5:21). There is also a necessity that accrues from the benefit that the examined and unexamined teachers of the church may be distinguished and no one may raise the accusation that the Lutherans often use certain scholars who are not yet ordained with the laying on of hands as vicars, permitting them to hear confession, feed the sick, and administer Holy Communion. Nor should anyone think that the case of a pastor and a reporter were one and the same. ... Thus the solemnization of a marriage by a pastor is not absolutely necessary. Nor is a bridal wreath necessary, though it is beneficial to use this ornament. Nor is the crowning at Frankfurt something without which the Roman emperor could not exist; yet it serves to enhance the glory of the emperor.
Who then is the opponent of good order who superciliously despises this custom? He is neither peaceful, because he goes counter to the church, nor conscientious, because he regards the means that serve to calm consciences as worthless; but he is an obstinate ass.

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