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.) ... This ministry is distinguished in the New Testament from all other offices borne by men. It has distinctive names, endowments and duties, separating the teachers from the taught, the pastors from the flock, and those that have rule from those who are obedient to that rule. (Acts xiii. 2; Rom. i. 1; Acts xiii. 1; 1 Cor. xii. 28, 29; Eph. iv. 1; Acts xx. 28; 1 Pet. v. 2; Rom. xii. 8; 1 Thess. v. 12; 1 Tim. v. 17.) ... 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.) ... In the New Testament, our Lord did not continue, nor institute a peculiar order of priests. The New Testament priesthood, like its kinghood, is common to all regenerate persons. Its sacrifices are purely spiritual. They are in no sense propitiatory. They consist of prayer, praise and self-consecration. A New Testament priest is not, as such, a minister; nor a minister, as such, a priest. When our Church calls ministers “priests,” it uses the word “priests,” as synonymous with “presbyter”; or regards ministers, simply as the public representatives of a priesthood common to all. This representative priesthood confers no mediatorial power. This power to become a minister by vocation has its root in the common priesthood as the power to bear office by election, as a ruler in a free State has its root in a common citizenship. (Rom. xii. 1; Phil. iv. 18; Heb. vii. 27, 28, ix. 11-28, x. 12, xiii. 15, 16; 1 Pet. ii. 5-9; Rev. i. 6, v. 10, xx. 6.) ... 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. There is a ministerial succession unbroken in the Church; but, there is no personal succession in a particular line of transmission. The ministry that is, ordains the ministry that comes. The ministry of successive generations has always been inducted into the office by the ministry preceding; but, the so-called Apostolical succession or canonical succession does not exist, would be incapable of demonstration if it did exist, and would be of no essential value even if it could be demonstrated. (1 Tim. i. 18, iv. 14, v. 22; Acts xiv. 23; 2 Tim. ii. 2; Titus i. 5.) (“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)

Luther was not long a student of the Bible before he discovered that the Christian Church and the Roman Church are not identical. He soon perceived the characteristics of the New Testament Episcopate, and saw that no such distinction is ordained of God, as that which the Roman Church makes between clergy and laity. ... The Reformation had announced salvation through Christ, and justification through faith. In place of a priesthood communicating salvation, it laid down as a postulate, the universal priesthood of all believers. As early as 1520, Luther in his address to the Christian nobles of Germany says: “All Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is among them no distinction save only that of office. As St. Paul says, in 1 Cor. xii. that we are altogether one body, yet each member hath his own work, whereby he serves the other. The great thing is, that we have one baptism, one Gospel, one faith, and are alike Christians, Eph. iv. For Baptism, the Gospel, and faith, these alone make spiritual, make a Christian people.” This view led first, negatively, to the renunciation of those arrangements of the Roman Church which could not be harmonized with it, and then, positively to a new order of divine service, and to the establishment of the office of the Evangelical ministry. With this ministry commenced the renewed constitution of the Church. In Luther’s judgment the great significance of the ministry is that in it the universal priestly calling of all believers comes into a rightly ordered exercise. He says: “Though we are all priests alike no man must undertake or assume to himself without our consent and choice to do that which we all have equal authority to do. For that which is common no one can assume to himself without the will and command of the Church”; and he repeats the same view elsewhere. The place in which the pastor is to work is the congregation by which he has been called, and in which he is to give himself to the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of love and good works to the poor, the sick and the afflicted, and the training of the young in the Christian faith and life. ... In the Augsburg Confession these solemn convictions gave themselves witness before the Emperor and the realm, as also in the Apology and the Smalcald Articles. The essential element in the ministry is calling men; in which the Church represents her divine master, fulfilling his purpose and acting in his name. “To obtain this justifying faith,” says the Augsburg Confession, Article V., “God hath instituted the ministry to teach the Gospel, and to impart the sacraments.” In Article XXVIII, the ecclesiastical power or power of the bishops according to the Gospel is a power and command of God to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins and to administer the sacraments. This rests upon the command and commission of Christ; John 20:21. “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you. Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained”; as also Mark 16:16. “Go ye into all the world, preach the Gospel to every creature,” etc. In these citations is made manifest that the confessors regarded the ministry, historically considered, as directly instituted by our Lord. They regard all ministers as so far co-ordinate with the apostles. ... Luther, in his exposition of Ps. 110, says: “We must distinguish the office of a preacher or minister from the common estate of priests to which all baptized children belong.” This office is none other than a public ministry committed to one person by the whole Congregation who are all equally priests. Every Christian has and exercises works of the priestly class, but besides this there is the common office of public teaching, to which pastors and preachers belong; for not all in the Congregation at large can attend to this office. It would not be fitting that baptism and the Holy Sacrament should be administered in each particular house; some must be chosen and ordained who are fitted to preach and are exercised thereto in the Holy Scriptures; who can perform the office of teacher and defend the doctrine; who can also administer the sacraments so that it may be known who has been baptized, and that all things may be done in order. Otherwise there would gradually be a Church where every neighbor would preach to another, and everything would be done without order. This is not, however, the priestly estate in itself, but a general or common public office for those who are all priests, i.e., Christians. (“Church Polity,” III, Lutheran Church Review, Vol. III, Whole No. 12 [Oct. 1884], pp. 320-25)

Presbyters, or Elders, was a designation originally of age, subsequently of office, in which latter sense it was employed first in the Jewish Synagogue, and then in the Christian Church. (Matt. xvi. 21; Acts ix. 30.) Though in the Christian Church the presbyter had features in common with the elder in the Synagogue, yet no identification is to be assumed which is not clearly taught in Holy Scripture or proved by satisfactory evidence, for here, as in all other cases, Christianity acted under the guidance of God’s Spirit, and purified, exalted and conformed to its own life and needs what it adopted. The Apostles, because of the fewness of their number, and the wide nature of their commission could not long supply all the pastoral wants of the growing Church. As the members of the Christian Church were multiplied first in Judea, and afterwards in Gentile cities, a necessity arose for local organizations. To this end the office of the Christian eldership, retaining such features of the Jewish eldership as were conformed to the wants of the Church, was instituted by God, through the Apostles. (Acts xi. 30, xiv. 23.) Certain persons chosen or approved by the people, and examined, approved and ordained by the Apostles, were constituted pastors under the name of Elders or Bishops. (Acts xi. 30, xiv. 23.) The organization of a body of Christians so as to constitute a permanent congregation or local Church, consisted in the definite union of the body or mass of the people, with its divinely constituted spiritual representatives and executive organs, the ministers of Christ or Christian elders. A permanent Christian congregation was a single communion of the people and elders united in common confession of a pure faith, the use of the sacraments, the worship of God, under a common government and discipline. ... (Acts xiv. 23, xx. 28; Philip. i. 1.) ... The Presbyters were called and ordained solely to labor officially as pastors of particular communions in defined localities. They had not the absolute right of official teaching, administration of sacraments and discipline everywhere, which was a distinctive part of the commission of the Apostles, nor did they officially journey from place to place, which was the work of the Evangelists. (Acts xiv. 23, xx. 17-27; Titus i. 5; Acts xxi. 8; Eph. iv. 11; 2 Tim. iv. 5.) ... To the Elders were committed in permanence as the ordinary and abiding ministers of the Christian Church, the ordinary communicable, and permanent powers of the Apostolate. In this they were co-ordinate with the Apostles, while the Apostles lived, and to them, when the Apostles were gone, the Christian Elders as a body, succeeded. The whole body of truly Christian ministers on earth are the successors of the Apostles, in all respects in which the Apostles could have successors. (Acts xiv. 23; 1 Tim. iv. 14; 2 Tim. i. 6.) The names given to the work of the Christian presbyter mark its nature. It is a serving and ministry, a ministering of the word in preaching and worship and of the Sacraments, for Christ and His saints, for the reconciliation of men with God. It is an episcopate, an office of superintendence and oversight, of visitation, and pastoral care. It is a stewardship of the mysteries of God, and of His grace. It is its work to provide that all things be done decently and in order in the Church. To Presbyters are given the name of Bishops, or overseers, superintendents, Elders, ministers, ministers and servants of God, of Christ, of the Lord, of righteousness, and of the Gospel. They are called teachers and preachers, they that are over, and that rule, and have the rule over the Church. In figurative language they are workers in the vinyard, and in the field, in sowing and in harvest, husbandmen, shepherds, inviters to the marriage and the great supper, fishers of men, stewards, ambassadors, witnesses, and heralds. (“Thetical Statement of the Doctrine of the Ministry (Second Article),” Lutheran and Missionary, Vol. XIV, No. 13 [Jan. 7, 1875], p. 1)

The New Testament speaks of but one official, distinctive class of Christian elders or Presbyters: it gives no hint of official distinctions within this class. All Presbyters are identified with Bishops, and are constantly spoken of as one body, and as having a common ordination both to rule and teach. (Acts xiv. 23, xv. 2, 4, 6, 22, 23, xvi. 4, xx. 17, 28; Phil. i. 1; 1 Tim. iv. 14; Tit. i. 5; Jas. v. 14; 1 Pet. v. 1.) The Elders, in all cases in which their functions are described in full, are represented as needing the gifts, and conjoining the duties of rule and teaching. (Acts xx. 28; 1 Tim. iii. 1-7; 2 Tim. ii. 24, 25; Tit. i. 5-9; 1 Pet. v. 2-4.) ... The true interpretation does not preclude the idea, if the idea be rendered otherwise probable that as the special gifts of ministers developed themselves, or as the special wants of the Church might suggest, some Presbyters should devote themselves, or be expected by the Church, in her freedom, to devote themselves more largely to one department of official duty, and others to another. But these would be voluntary, and individual, special providential differences rising within one office. The choice between certain proportions of functions implies the general ordination and right to exercise both. Still less does the true interpretation exclude, but on the contrary naturally involves, the idea of great differences in the ability, willingness and fidelity of men ordained to the same office. (1 Cor. i. 14, 17; 1 Tim. i. 3, v. 22, vi. 3; 2 Tim. iv. 1-5; 2 Pet. ii. 1.) (“The Doctrine of the Ministry Thetically Stated (Third Article),” Lutheran and Missionary, Vol. XIV, No. 15 [Jan. 21, 1875], p. 1)

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 office itself was proposed by the Apostles; the Apostles defined its functions; determined the proper character of those who should be chosen to it; and suggested the method of choice. The multitude concurred and approved; chose persons for the office; placed them before the Apostles, who ordained them by the laying on of hands with prayer. (Acts vi. 2-6.) The persons thus appointed are not called “deacons” in the Acts, but the name was suggested by the daily ministration (diakonia) to the wants of the widows; by the desire of the Apostles no longer to “serve (diakonein) tables,” but to devote themselves “to the ministry (diakonia) of the word.” 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], p. 1)

Acts vi. 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)

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)


When Christ separated the holy apostles unto their office (Matt. 10:1 ff.; Mk. 6:7 ff.; Luke 9:1 ff.) he established the church office (Kirchenamt) or ministry of the Word or office of soul care (Seelsorgeramt) above all. Therefore in the Smalcald articles it says: “We have a certain teaching, that the ministry of the Word comes from the general call of the apostles.” (See Tractate 10.) The office he thereby established has many different functions (Verrichtungen): to preach God’s Word, to administer the holy Sacraments, to loose and bind, to watch over discipline and order, to care for the poor, sick, widows, orphans, to care for souls in the congregation etc. Yet, all these many functions are the responsibilities of the one office which Christ established. Therefore when the Papists speak of seven and the Episcopalians of three, and the Presbyterians of two special offices established in the church, they have no ground for it in the holy Scriptures but rather it is purely human imagination. Although God established only one office in the church, still he did not command that all the functions which belong to this office must be carried out by one person alone. Therefore it stands in the freedom of the church to take from the preacher certain functions of the preaching office, which do not belong to the essence of the office but rather are necessary only on account of the essential parts, and assign them to other people. These people are then helpers of the preacher and thereby branch and helping offices are established. The church used this freedom already in the time of the holy apostles. At first, for example, the apostles carried out even the bodily care of the poor in the Christian congregation in Jerusalem on account of their office. When however the growth of the congregation made it impossible for them to do this any longer without skipping over this or that person, they suggested that the congregation should elect certain men for performing this function. And thus the apostolic office of deacon (Diakonen) or servant (Diener) in the narrow sense originated, namely, the office of caring for alms, as a branch and helping office of the one church office (Kirchenamtes). In the same or similar fashion the office of such elders who do not labor in word and doctrine but rather give attention to the care of discipline and order in the congregation may have originated in apostolic times (1 Tim 5:17). Later these were called Lay Elders or Seniors of the people. Their office too was as little the ministry of the Word as the deacon’s office. It is rather a branch or helping office of the holy ministry of the Word. Therefore Martin Chemnitz, the well-known co-author of the Formula of Concord writes: “Because many functions belong to the office of the church (Kirchenamt) which when the number of believers is large cannot all be performed well by one or a few, so it was begun, so that all would be orderly, proper, and for upbuilding, when the church grew large, to arrange every function of the preaching office into certain grades (Stufen) of ministers of the church (Kirchendienern). These were later called (in Greek) Taxeis or Tagmata. This was done so that every one might have his certain decided position, in which he might serve the congregation through certain functions of the preaching office. So in the beginning the apostles cared for the office of the Word and Sacraments and likewise the distribution and administration of the alms. Afterwards however, when the number of disciples grew, they conferred (uebertrugen) this part of the ministry of the Word, which concerned the alms, to others whom they called Deacons, that is, servants. They themselves state why this was done, namely, that they might look after the ministry of the Word and prayer without ceasing. Acts 6:4.” (Examen Concil. Trid. II, 13., fol. 574.) The so-called Deacons and Lay Elders of the apostles’ time were, as was already suggested, in no way preachers and overseers of souls. They were rather only their helpers for functions of the preaching office which do not make up the essence of the office. Indeed, their functions too were commanded by God. But that these should be carried out only by particular people in an office is not based on God’s express command. Their office as a special and separate office from the preaching office was also not a divine order and institution but rather an office ordered by the church (kirchlicher Ordnung). These helping offices were not established in all congregations and yet no divine command was being transgressed. Therefore also the Deacons and Lay Elders are sometimes installed for a certain period of time or for a certain term, or when one does not need them any longer he releases them from their office. It was an entirely different circumstance however when in a congregation more than one were installed who in every way (allerseits) had the office of the Word. In this instance they all had the same divine office established by Christ, the same spiritual and ecclesiastical authority. It was only a matter of human order (Ordnung), when they either divided certain functions of the office or the care for certain parts of the people among themselves. Likewise when they chose one from among themselves to whom the others submit themselves freely and according to human right or also when a whole group of ministers of the church (Kirchendiener) labor in the word in one congregation and continuously submit themselves one to another. The so-called system of bishops originally rested on this view of things in the times when the pure teaching still reigned in the church. It was recognized that a Bishop set over the other ministers of the church was really nothing other than a presbyter (Elder), a pastor, who only for the sake of church order was set over the other ministers of the church and who had the additional authority given to him merely by human right. (“Comments on the Expulsion of a Lutheran ‘Deacon,’” Der Lutheraner, Vol. 23, No. 9 [Jan. 1, 1867], pp. 65 ff.)

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. (“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 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)


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 that 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) (This essay was originally published [in three parts] in Lehre und Wehre [edited by C. F. W. Walther], Vol. 20, Nos. 9, 11, and 12 [Sept., Nov., and Dec. 1874].)


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. ... 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. ... 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. (A Summary of the Christian Faith [Philadelphia: The United Lutheran Publication House, 1905], pp. 419-21, 430-31, 444-45)

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