The Ministry and the Church


(From Lutheran Confessional Theology [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1943], pp. 33-38, 77-80, 45-49, 50-53.)

Of the Ministry of the Church


This Article emphasizes the means of grace; or we may say it tells us how justifying faith is obtained, the leading thought of the Article being that justifying faith is obtained through the Word and the Sacraments. The Article might simply have said that this occurs through the preaching of the Word, which is quite true, as Rom. 10:17 clearly shows; but the situation called for the mentioning of the ministry of the Gospel as the divine institution through which God creates faith in the hearts of men. In pursuing this course there is no intention of conveying the idea that the means of grace are dependent upon the ministry for their validity or that pastors form an order in any sense. It is consistently maintained that the ministry of the Word is divinely appointed. The contents of the Article may be summarized as follows: 1. The Divine Institution; 2. The Means of Grace; 3. The Bestowing of the Holy Spirit; 4. The Condemnations.


God instituted the office of administering the means of grace that men might have justifying faith. In Article III [of the Augsburg Confession] it was shown that God has done everything that was necessary for the eternal salvation of man; that Christ, through His death, has made full satisfaction for men’s sins; and that sins are now forgiven for Christ’s sake. In Article IV it is asserted, upon the plain teaching of God’s Word, that men are justified and saved through faith, and through faith alone. The question that now arises is, How do we obtain this faith, which is so necessary for us? In other words, Whence comes the power to believe, or to receive by faith, the Savior and His glorious salvation? This important question the Article proceeds to answer. Such power certainly does not reside in ourselves. We must confess, as we do in our Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” Has God, then, who made full provision for man’s redemption, failed to provide for its application, or for its appropriation by man? This seems to be the idea of the Romanists, who endeavor to supplement this supposed defect in God’s plan of salvation by priestly sacrifices and intercessions and by the sinners’ own efforts in the sacrament of penance. The Reformed, on the other hand, or the Calvinists, place everything in the absolute decree of God, who, according to their view, arbitrarily selected a portion of the human race for salvation, redeemed these and no others, and irresistibly works faith in their hearts in fulfillment of His purpose toward them. In each of these cases the result is the deprival of true assurance of salvation. Over against these false positions our Article maintains “that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.” In these words we have a strong defense of the Word and Sacraments as the means of grace through which the Holy Spirit works faith. That these are sufficient for the production of faith, the following Scripture passages fully show: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” Rom. 1:16. “For our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” 1 Thess. 1:5. “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 always, even unto the end of the world.” Matt. 28:19,20. “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you; as My Father hath sent Me even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” John 20:21-23. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” John 16:7. “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak; and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall receive of Mine and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are Mine; therefore said I that He shall take of Mine and shall show it unto you.” John 16:13-15. Another passage in proof of the Lord’s institution of the office of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments is the following: “And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists, and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Eph. 4:11. Our Article here makes mention of the Gospel only. This it does designedly, because it is through it alone, not through the Law, that faith is obtained. According to the teaching of this Article the whole purpose of the divinely instituted ministry is that men may come to faith and receive the salvation that has been so richly provided for them in Christ Jesus.


The means of grace are the Word and the Sacraments. These are the only means through which the grace of God is communicated. This is attested in the words of the Article: “For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given.” To these as His instruments for accomplishing His purposes of salvation God has annexed His promises; and these only -- nothing more and nothing less -- has He commissioned His Church to administer. Neither the Church nor the ministry is the means of grace; but solely the Word and the Sacraments. These divinely appointed means the Church is in duty bound faithfully to use. Scripture testimony to these means is abundant. Witness: “For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goeth forth out of My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Is. 55:10,11. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor. 1:18. “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” 1 Cor. 1:21. “The Word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart; that is the Word of faith which we preach.” Rom. 10:8.

Equally strong testimony is borne by the Scriptures to the Sacraments: “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” John 3:5,6. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior.” Tit. 3:5,6. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Gal. 3:27. “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Matt. 26:26-28. See also the parallel passages in the other Gospels. There should be no difficulty in believing this testimony; for while man cannot save himself by any means within his power, God can save by any means that He chooses for this purpose, because He can and will render these means effective.


Our Article states quite definitely that by the means of grace the Holy Spirit is given and that He uses them as His instruments in effecting faith. To this it adds that such faith is wrought “in them that hear the Gospel.” This excludes all who do not come under the influence of the means of grace, but includes all who yield to this influence, whether it comes through the reading of the Gospel, or through preaching, or through the use of the Sacraments, or through whatever other way the truth of the Gospel is brought to bear upon them. It is further declared that this faith is wrought not when man wills it, but “where and when it pleaseth God.” This means that the choice of the time for working faith in the individual rests with God. One may be converted at one time and under one set of circumstances; another, at another time and under different circumstances. This is also strictly in accord with Scripture teaching: “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.” 1 Cor. 12:11. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8. If the bestowing of faith is wholly God’s work, it follows as a matter of course that the Holy Spirit “works faith when and where it pleases God” in them that hear the Gospel. This, however, does not relieve man of responsibility for the loss of salvation, since God’s grace, which is freely offered to all and is efficacious for all, may be rejected; and for such rejection man is responsible.


Here are condemned “the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the outward Word through their own preparation and works.” All such are properly condemned as substituting for the divine plan of salvation their own humanly devised plan. Whether this is done in a Pelagian, synergistic, or predestinarian way, makes no difference, because it contradicts the teaching of the Word and introduces fanaticism by rejecting the divinely appointed means for saving men.

Of Ecclesiastical Order


This Article, though brief, is of great importance. Over against the Socinians, Anabaptists, Quakers, and other sects that oppose a public ministry, it emphasizes the call of the Church as a true call of God. It also answers the charge of the Roman Catholics who regarded the Reformers, in view of their definition of the Church (as being essentially the congregation of true believers), as denying the validity of the call. The confutators accepted the Article in part, but added: “It ought to be understood that he is rightly called who is called in accordance with the form of law and the ecclesiastical ordinances and decrees hitherto observed in the Christian world; and not according to a Jeroboitic call, or tumult, or any irregular intrusion of the people. Therefore in this sense the confession is received; nevertheless, they should be admonished to persevere therein and to admit into their realm no one either as pastor or teacher unless he be rightly called.”

This Article lays down the divine order in which the public administration of the means of grace is to take place. God has ordained the Word and the Sacraments as the means of applying the blessings and benefits of the redemption provided for all men through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. These means are to be administered. Their administration is entrusted to His Church, i.e., to believers, with the assurance that they are just as effective in their hands as when directly administered by Himself. Proof for this is given in the following passages: “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” John 20:21. “He that heareth you, heareth Me.” Luke 10:16. A fundamental point here is that the means of grace are entrusted to believers. It follows as a matter of course that believers unite with one another and form themselves into congregations in which provision is made for the administration of the means of grace among themselves. All believers in any such congregation have equal rights and the same duties and obligations. But as only confusion would arise if all undertook to perform the public functions, the administration of these means must, for the sake of good order, be delegated to a certain individual or to certain individuals who have the requisite qualifications and whom the congregation calls for this purpose. The office of the ministry is of divine institution; and God Himself has ordained that suitable persons shall be chosen for this office, as the following passages show: “And God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” 1 Cor. 12:28. “And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” Rom. 10:15. The congregation of believers, and it alone, has the right to call properly qualified men to this office. And their call is just as much a divine call as if it had come directly from the Lord Himself. Such special call is necessary for the administration of the public functions of the ministry. The calling of the seven deacons as narrated in Acts 6 is an example.

Various theories as to how the individual receives the call to the ministry are held. Some contend that the power to administer the means of grace was given to the ministry as an order in the Church. Others hold that it was given to the Apostles and was by them handed down to their successors, the bishops. Another view was that the supreme power was given to St. Peter and from him was passed on to his successors, the popes. All these theories rest upon the assumption that the Church is a ruling body. Consequently such theories will be rejected wherever the true conception of the Church is held. Likewise to be rejected are all theories which divide the Church into different orders, or classes, such as the ministry and the laity. The right of the Church to elect her own ministers is expressly laid down in the Smalcald Articles, which declare: “Where the Church exists, there is always the command to preach the Gospel. Therefore the Churches must retain the power of calling, electing, and ordaining ministers.”

As it is the prerogative of the congregation of believers to call properly qualified individuals to discharge the public duties of the ministry on their behalf and as their representatives, no one should presume to arrogate this office to himself without a regular call. To do so would be to sin against the divine order. Members of the congregation in calling a minister to perform these public functions do not abdicate their rights, gifts, or privileges as kings and priests to whom the Lord has committed the means of grace. They still retain all their rights and privileges as spiritual priests and still administer them in their private capacity. They simply appoint someone as a minister to discharge the public functions which they cannot discharge directly in their own persons. They hold the person appointed as pastor responsible for the right conduct of his office. At the same time such a pastor is also responsible to the Lord, who has called him through His Church. Hence the Church, which is responsible to the Lord for the public discharge of the office according to His will, must insist that no one should publicly preach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be rightly called.

Of the Church


This Article ranks second only to Article IV in importance. It exhibits one of the most glorious achievements of the Reformers and had much to do with the success of their great movement. It was in their conception of the Church and of the way of salvation that the Lutherans stood out in most striking contrast to the Roman Catholic Church. The Romanists conceived of the Church as being an external, visible organization, consisting of rulers and subjects. In their view the duty of the rulers was to govern; the duty of the subjects was to obey. The Church, according to their conception, is essentially a mixed body, consisting of both the good and the bad, and as embracing in its fold all those who are called and have been baptized. Such is their conception of the Church to this day. At the head of this Church, which “is as palpable as any earthly kingdom,” stands the Pope. To his authority all must submit or forfeit their eternal salvation. Naturally this Article VII was wholly rejected by the Roman Catholic confutators. The Article may be divided into these three parts: 1. The properties of the Church; 2. The Definition of the Church; 3. The Marks of the Church.


In the opening sentence of the Article we read: “Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever.” Here three things are stated: First, that the Church is one, thus excluding a multiplicity of Churches. Secondly, that the Church is holy. And thirdly, that the Church is of perpetual duration. These attributes are of such a character that no human organization can ever claim them for itself. It is quite true that the Roman Church puts forth such claims for itself; but it is equally true that it cannot substantiate them. Very early in its history the Christian Church was divided into an Eastern and a Western branch; and the Eastern Church makes similar claims for itself. Manifestly, both these claims cannot be true. As a matter of fact, neither is true. But, while this is so, the perpetuity of the Church does not fail. Nor can it fail; for it rests upon no less secure foundation than the Lord’s own words of promise: “Upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matt. 16:18. This testimony of the Lord includes both the oneness of the Church and the assurance of its perpetual duration. It also implies the holiness of the Church as built by Him who is the Holy One. Our Article therefore, in its very first sentence, confesses that the Church is one, that it is holy, and that it will endure forever.


On this point nothing could be clearer than the short sentence “The Church is the congregation of saints.” This can mean only one thing, and that is, that believers, and believers only, constitute the Church. While this definition of the Church is diametrically opposed to the view that prevailed during the years preceding the Reformation, this does not signify that we have here a new conception, doctrine, or definition of the Church. On the contrary, the view here set forth was the conception of the Church held in the beginning of its history. In the Book of Acts we read: “And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved.” Acts 2:47. The Church also had early defined this doctrine, incorporating it in the Apostles’ Creed in the words “The communion of saints.” This definition had long been forgotten or misinterpreted or misapplied; but there it stood as a testimony through all the ages as to what the Church in reality is. And so Luther, standing on this firm ground, says in the Smalcald Articles (Art. XII): “Nor will we listen to those things which under the name of Church they enjoin or forbid; for, thank God [today] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” This definition of the Church does not, however, deny the necessity of organization. Outward organization is necessary for the carrying out of the great work entrusted by the Lord to His Church. And we find, accordingly, that immediately upon the day of Pentecost believers began to gather together to execute the Great Commission of their Lord and for the purpose of common worship and mutual edification. Accordingly, we read: “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Acts 2:42. Now, it is true that in this outward organization there are to be found some who are not true believers and therefore not saints. These are connected with the outward organization of the Church and have common participation with the believers in the means of grace; but they do not belong to the Church in the proper sense of the term. Only true believers constitute the Church in any locality. The outward organization is entitled to the name Church, not as comprising all who have connected themselves with it, but as containing within it those who are true believers. We ourselves cannot tell who these are, but “the Lord knoweth them that are His.” And we know that the Church is there because God does not leave Himself without witness and does not let His Word return unto Him void.


The marks of the Church are indicated in the following words: “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” These marks were called forth as a protest against the papal assumption to be the Church in spite of its apostasy from the Gospel. They lay down the test by which Churches in their outward organization are to be tried. This excludes Jews, Mohammedans, Unitarians, and all sects and organizations which lack the essentials of Christianity or overthrow its foundations. It does not exclude the recognition of the Roman Catholic Church or of any of the Reformed bodies which still retain the Word and Sacraments, as being a Church of Christ. The Church as the communion of saints is known to God alone; and no Lutheran dare identify it with the Lutheran Church. We freely acknowledge that it exists in the Roman Church in spite of its usurpations and in the Reformed Churches in spite of their departure in many respects from the truth of the Gospel. This test is not to determine the essence of the Church, but is intended to serve believers who are concerned for the preservation of the truth of the Gospel in the outward organization of the Church. It passes no judgment on the state of the heart of individuals composing any communion, but only judges the teaching of such communion by applying to it the Scripture test. What is involved in this test is loyalty to Christ, the great Head of the Church, who gave us the Gospel and instituted the Sacraments and who has entrusted these treasures to the Church to be preserved in their purity. Agreement concerning the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments are the fundamental condition of all union of churches. Rites or ceremonies instituted by men need not be alike; but unity in the preaching of the pure Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments is essential. We cannot ask for anything beyond this; but on this unity our Church, if it is to be faithful to its trust, must always insist. Where such unity does not obtain, no union should be entered into or practiced. As stewards of the mysteries of God it is required of us that we be found faithful. We must therefore not compromise, but ever let our testimony be strong and clear.

What the Church Is


This Article might have been more appropriately headed by the designation given to it by the Roman Catholic confutators, who, recognizing its main theme, spoke of it as “The Ministry of Evil Men in the Church.” The teaching of the Article may be set forth under the following headings: 1. Reiteration of the Definition of the Church; 2. Admission with Reference to the Church; 3. Assertion Concerning the Means of Grace; 4. Condemnations.


In its opening words “Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers” we have a repetition of the definition of the Church as given in the preceding Article. This is a fundamental definition, which can in no wise be surrendered. To the Church as thus defined only those belong who by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word and the Sacraments have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ. Who these are God alone knows; but they are found in the congregation of those who use the means of grace and confess Jesus Christ as Lord. This must be so, because it is only by the employment of these means that the Holy Ghost implants faith and changes sinners into saints. The Church in the proper sense is and always remains an object of faith, hence invisible. It is true that the persons who compose the local congregation are visible, and so also are the marks of the Church; but no one can know absolutely who among those brought into contact with the means of grace have actually received Jesus Christ by faith and so are real living members of the true Church.

Nevertheless, the external congregation is rightly entitled to the name church, because in it God is accomplishing His work of saving men through the means of grace, which are there administered. This does not mean that there are two churches, one the congregation of professed believers and the other the congregation of saints; or that one of these can ever become the substitute for the other. But it means that the outward Church, in spite of the admixture of foreign elements in its organization, is properly a congregation of true believers, or in other words, “a communion of saints.”


This has reference to the Church in its outward aspect. It finds expression in the words of the Article: “Nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith.” This admission means that, in spite of all the precautions of the true Church or the congregation of saints against the entrance of unbelievers into their communion, many hypocrites and evil men are mingled with the Church in this life. The Lutheran Church’s first concern is for sound doctrine. It insists that the Gospel be preached in its truth and purity to accomplish its work. And where the Gospel is received by faith, good works will follow as its fruit. But in spite of its insistence upon purity in preaching and practice, there are hypocrites and wicked men in the visible Church, and there may be men of such type who actually hold office in it.


This has to do with the efficacy of the Word and Sacraments as administered by wicked men. On this point our Article testifies: “It is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: ‘The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,’ and the words following.” To this it adds: “Both the Sacraments and the Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men.” This teaching is central in the Article and the only thing referred to in the condemnations that follow. This position was necessitated by the true doctrine concerning the means of grace. Since man did not make these means, man cannot change them. God alone, who appointed them, can alter them. Certainly only those who are themselves in a state of faith ought to undertake the administering of them. To the wicked God says, “What hast thou to do to take My words upon thy lips?”; and God will certainly judge the person who does so. And yet such wicked administrators cannot render God’s own appointed means invalid. St. Paul brings this out very explicitly, saying, “Can the unbelief of some make the Word of God without effect?” And he tells the Philippians that he rejoices when Christ is preached, even when this is done from impure motives.

Another serious consideration is this: If the administration of evil men invalidates the means of grace, no one can ever be sure that he has received the grace of God, since no one can see into the heart of the minister and tell whether he has true faith and is personally a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ or not. And so everything would be in confusion and doubt. Our Lord’s own attitude here is decisive. He distinctly held the authority of the scribes and Pharisees, in spite of their hostility to Him, so long as they sat in Moses’ seat and taught the Word. Accordingly our Article rightly contends that the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of their institution by Christ, on whom they depend for their authority. They therefore depend in no wise upon the holiness or faith or even intention of those who administer them. As the medium through which the Holy Spirit applies the redemption purchased for us by Christ these means have an objective efficacy, which the character of the administrator cannot effect.


These find expression in the words “They condemn the Donatists and such like who denied that it was lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of none effect.” The Donatists, a sect that arose in the fourth century, denied the validity of the Sacraments when administered by worldly priests and thus made the means of grace dependent upon the personal piety and devotion of the ministers rather than upon the Word and promise of God. In the words “and such like” are included all others who held the same or similar errors, with special aim at the Anabaptists of the Reformation era. These words also are applicable to the Pietists of a later time, who in their reaction against orthodox Lutheranism fell into similar error.



The Article [Augsburg Confession XXV] begins by...declaring that Confession is not abolished in our churches. Far from this being the case – they add – the usual practice among us is not to communicate the body and blood of our Lord except to those who have been previously examined and absolved. ... The minister, as Christ’s servant, pronounces absolution in Christ’s name and by His authority upon all who truly repent and are heartily sorry for their sins. In every such case it is the Lord Himself speaking through the mouth of His servant. Ministers are but the public agents of the congregation in this matter. As such public agent, however, the pastor is not to administer the Communion indiscriminately, but is to see to it that the people examine themselves and is under obligation to guard against unworthy participation in the Sacrament by the communicants. ... With us Confession is a voluntary matter. Our ministers are not judges, but evangelical pastors, spiritual physicians, ministering comfort and consolation to all who truly lament and confess their sins. (Lutheran Confessional Theology, pp. 125-27)

The not a kingdom of this world. Its only authority is that of the Gospel; and its sole purpose is to deliver men from eternal death and condemnation caused by sin. The Lord Jesus Christ, the great Head of the Church, gave to His Church no other power than that of preaching the Gospel, administering the Sacraments, and of remitting and retaining sins. ... The Article [Augsburg Confession XXVIII] declares that bishops, as those to whom the means of grace are committed, have no other jurisdiction than to remit sin, to inquire into doctrine and reject such as is inconsistent with the Gospel, and to exclude manifest sinners from the Church’s communion. In these matters obedience should be rendered to them according to the saying of Christ: “He that heareth you heareth Me.” Luke 10:16. But when the bishops act contrary to the Gospel, obedience is forbidden by Christ. Whatever other power or jurisdiction bishops may have, they exercise not by divine, but by human right. (Lutheran Confessional Theology, pp. 134-35)

In order that the calling of men into His Kingdom might be carried on after His death, Jesus chose twelve men to be His apostles or ambassadors to gather disciples into the fellowship of His Church (St. Matt. 10:40; 16:18). And this Church, or communion of believers, He constituted heir of all the promises given to Israel and committed to it the power of the keys (St. Matt. 28:19-20; 16:17-19; 18:15-18). (New Testament Handbook [1939], p. 103)

The Church was founded by the apostles through the outpouring of the Holy Ghost and the institution of Baptism. From the Day of Pentecost the requirement for all who would connect themselves with the Church was that they should be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38,41; 8:12; 10:48; 18:8). The Lord’s Supper was also observed and became the central bond of union by which the Church was preserved in brotherly fellowship in common participation in the doctrine of the apostles and in prayer (Acts 2:42). This fellowship expressed itself in provision for the poor through the voluntary selling of possessions and the turning of proceeds from the same into the common treasury (Acts 4:37; 5:4). When the multiplications of such service made it burdensome to the apostles, they called upon the congregation to choose suitable men to take charge of it (Acts 6:2-6). This was the introduction of an entirely new office, the diaconate. While in the passage noted the Seven are nowhere called deacons, their function is designated as a serving, a diakonein, from which the name deacon is derived. The function of serving tables did not, however, prevent such among them as were qualified, as, e.g., Philip and Stephen, from preaching the Word. The office of elder on the other hand, which is incidentally introduced in Acts 11:30, was a familiar office in the synagogue, and was taken over into the Church immediately upon its organisation. The apostles, relieved of administering the benevolences of the Church, were now free to devote themselves to their specific work, the preaching of the Gospel and prayer. (New Testament Handbook, pp. 121-22)

The Church, or the body of believers, is according to Peter the realisation of the ideal of the Israelitish theocracy, thus constituting an elect race to which only believers among the Israelites belong and from which all unbelievers are excluded (I Pet. 2:7-9). Gentiles received into the Church through Baptism are joined to the elect race. It is quite true that God chose Israel to be a people for His own possession. This cannot be denied. But God’s choice of Israel was not of such a character that they could disobey His voice and disregard His covenant and still be reckoned as His people (cf. Ex. 19:5; Deut. 7:6). After the ideal of the theocracy had been reached in the Church, unbelieving faithless Israel no longer constituted the people of God. Only believers, and that irrespective of race or nationality, were such. The Christian Church now became heir of all the prerogatives and privileges formerly pertaining to the Old Testament Priesthood, and constituted the house in which God dwells (I Pet. 4:17). Its members are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, and as such form a brotherhood (I Pet. 2:9-10; 2:17; 4:17; 5:9). As constituting a brotherhood Christians are under obligation to show brotherly love toward one another, to serve one another faithfully, and to be humble and meek in their bearing toward each other (I Pet. 2:17; 5:12; 1:22; 3:8; 5:5; 3:15). Peter also clearly defines the duties of elders or pastors, as those who are entrusted with the care and oversight of the Church (I Pet. 5:2-3). (New Testament Handbook, pp. 123-24)

The term Church is used by Paul, just as it is with us, in various ways. Sometimes he applies it to an assembly of Christians in a given place; sometimes to a single congregation, sometimes to the whole body of believing Christians in a definite city; and sometimes to the Church as a whole as constituting a single organism characterized by real, living fellowship with Christ. In this latter sense he addresses all Christians as saints, holy, consecrated to God and belonging to Him alone (I Cor. 1:2; 12:28; Rom. 16:1; II Cor. 1:1). This fellowship is brought about by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, through which believers are incorporated into Christ (I Cor. 12:12-13,27; 10:16-17; Gal. 3:27-28). Through the activity and gracious influence of the Holy Spirit the Church constantly increases in scope and is edified in the development of the spiritual life of its members (I Cor. 12:7,11,26-28; 14:4,12,26; II Cor. 10:8). The fundamental duty of Christians, according to Paul, is love, the firstfruit of the Spirit and the source of all other virtues, such as humility, modesty, gentleness and the like (Rom. 12:3,9-10,16,19,21; I Cor. 4:7; 16:14; 13:4-7; II Cor. 6:6; Gal. 5:22). This love, according to the apostle, is to be employed in solving such religious difficulties as the question of eating things sacrificed to idols and of the distinction of days. While here laying down the principle, that all things not sinful in themselves are lawful to the Christian, he urges the strong to bear in love with the infirmities of the weak (I Cor. 6:12; 10:23; 3:22; 8:9-13; 10:32-33; Rom. 14:13,21; 15:2-3; Gal. 6:1). In the matter of the active participation of women in the conduct of public meetings in the Church, the apostle in these Epistles as elsewhere gives no uncertain decision; but clearly forbids it on the ground of the fundamental distinction between the sexes in the order of creation; this is clearly brought out in such passages as I Cor. 14:34, with which compare I Cor. 11:8-9, and is amply substantiated in I Tim. 2:11-14. No true exegesis can get around this fact. (New Testament Handbook, pp. 156-57)

Paul treats also in these [Pastoral] Epistles of the Church and its government. He describes the Church as “the house of God, the pillar and ground of the truth”. He includes in its membership all true believers, who belong to God “according to the faith of God’s elect” and who manifest their faith by “departing from all iniquity”. He acknowledges as externally connected with the Church, though not actually belonging to it, those who outwardly “name the name of the Lord”, but are in reality vessels of dishonour (II Tim. 3:19-20). In treating of the government of the Church various officers are mentioned, and instructions are given for the guidance of their conduct toward different classes in the community (Tit. 2:1-6,9-10; I Tim. 5:1; 6:1,17-19). The office bearers are termed bishops, presbyters, deacons, and deaconesses, and a temporary order, that of widows, is described. The qualifications of these office holders are set forth and suitable exhortations are given them (I Tim. 3:1-7; 4:6,13,16; 6:2; Tit. 1:5-9; 2:7; II Tim. 2:24-25; 4:2,5; 3:10,14; I Tim. 3:8-13; 5:9-16). It is clear from Tit. 1:5-7 that bishops and presbyters or elders designate holders of one and the same office. (New Testament Handbook, pp. 170-71)

Believers by reason of their fellowship with Christ have fellowship also with one another. This fellowship has its outward as well as inward form, and results in the gathering together of believers and forming of a Church (I John 2:23; 3:16-18; 4:2-3; II John 8-11; III John 6,9). This fellowship incurs the hostility of heretics and unbelievers. Against these believers are urged to be on their guard; but they are assured of victory through their fellowship with Christ, who has overcome the evil one (I John 2:18,22,26; 4:1-6; II John 8,10,11; I John 4:4; 5:18-19). (New Testament Handbook, p. 183)

The pastor’s chief function is to administer the Means of Grace. The commission laid upon him by His Lord is to “preach the Gospel” [Mark 16:15], to “preach the Word” [2 Tim. 4:2]; and nothing can take the place of that. St. Paul is a good example of this when he says, “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” [1 Cor. 2:2]. He made Jesus Christ and His redemption central. (Disputed Doctrines [Burlington, Iowa: Lutheran Literary Board, 1933], p. 114)

See also Doctrine of the Call to the Ministry and Question of Admission of Women to Church Offices.

Carroll Herman Little (1872-1958) was the son of a Tennessee Synod minister and a native of Hickory, North Carolina. He graduated from the General Council’s Mount Airy (Philadelphia) Seminary in 1901, received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Lenoire-Rhyne College in 1914, and in 1928 received his Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from Chicago Lutheran Seminary. Little served pastorates in Nova Scotia and Ontario, and from 1917 to 1947 was professor of theology in the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada in Waterloo, Ontario, an institution of the United Lutheran Church in America.

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