The One Gospel Ministry and Auxiliary Offices


(Excerpts from The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance [Fort Wayne, Indiana: The International Foundation for Lutheran Confessional Research, corrected edition 1995].)

At first sight the New Testament features a luxuriant and irreducible variety of offices. ... Behind the appearance of multiformity, there is one basic ministry, for the church has not several life-principles but only one: Christ’s alone-saving Gospel (which always includes the sacraments). From this one and only divine fount and source flows all life and salvation upon the church and, through her, upon mankind. ... In defining the one divinely established office the Augsburg Confession does not begin by fastening upon New Testament “bishops” or “presbyters” or other particular offices, in order to derive from them a divinely prescribed set of offices and structures, in the manner of Calvinism. Instead, it sees “in, with, and under” the variety of offices like those listed in Eph. 4:11 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers) the one great office of the Gospel and sacraments, distributing forgiveness, life, and salvation. Because there is one Gospel, there is fundamentally one ministry to serve it, and this one ministry is just as much a divine institution as are the means of salvation themselves. ... What is divinely instituted, according to Scripture and the Confessions, is not some particular pecking order (Lk. 22:24-27!), but the glorious and permanent (II Cor. 3:11) ministry of life and justification. The Gospel and sacraments themselves -- not organizational chains of command -- are the content, nature, task, and power of the office. (pp. 120-23)

What exactly is it then about the ministry that is divinely instituted? The whole argument is not about a so-called “ministry in the abstract,” but about the concrete office of Word and sacrament, with which flesh-and-blood men here on earth are entrusted. “In the abstract,” that is, considered simply as the functions of proclaiming the Gospel and administering the sacraments, even Höfling cheerfully granted the divine institution of the “ministry.” [“It ever is and remains the office of the administration and use of these means of grace, divinely instituted simultaneously with the divine givenness of Word and sacrament, office, then, which derives its power and authority as well as its origin, not from men and their will, but from God” (Höfling, Grundsätze, 38, our translation). But this “ministry” belonged, for Höfling, to all Christians, and was exercised by particular, chosen ministers only for the sake of order, and this not a divine order, but only one “belonging to the human ecclesiastical and liturgical order,” although this arrangement arose from an “inner necessity” (30, 37).] A “ministry in the abstract,” however, is as fanciful as an abstract Gospel and abstract sacraments. These incarnationally concrete divine means of salvation [media salutis] are to be administered by an equally concrete divinely-instituted public ministry, without the latter thereby becoming yet another “means of grace” itself. (pp. 123-24)

For the origin of the concrete ministry of the Gospel we must look in the first instance not to “presbyters” or “bishops” but to the divinely chosen and appointed apostles. The Treatise rightly points us in this direction by seeing in the equality of Peter and Paul in Gal. 2, the “certain doctrine that the ministry [Predigtamt] derives from the common call of the apostles” (Tr. 10, German). ...Luther put it like this: “Now, if the apostles, evangelists, and prophets are no longer living, others must have replaced them and will replace them until the end of the world, for the church shall last until the end of the world [Matt. 28:20]. Apostles, evangelists, and prophets must therefore remain, no matter what their name, to promote God’s word and work.” [On the Councils and the Church (1539), LW 26:17 ... Italics supplied.] ... Luther’s “no matter what their name” also alludes to the basic oneness of the apostolic Gospel-office, beneath the appearance of diversity. In the New Testament itself we face a bewildering set of “diversities of ministries” (I Cor. 12:5). It behooves modern readers to approach this topic with a fitting reticence, since even the experts are largely conjecturing about what exactly each office or function involved, and how that differed from the rest. ... Our chief source of information about the New Testament “diversities” is I Cor. 12 itself, which offers three somewhat divergent listings in vv. 8-10, 28, and 29-30. These are usually compared with the similar yet different lists of Rom. 12:6-8 and Eph. 4:11. ... We sum up in language closely patterned after that of the great Wisconsin Synod dogmatician, A. Hoenecke: The public ministry of Word and sacraments is the divinely willed ordinary form and continuation of the one Gospel-ministry instituted by God in the extraordinary form of the apostolate. [“The ordinary ministry (Predigtamt, preaching office) is the continuation, willed by God Himself, of the extraordinary apostolic office, and is in and with the apostolic office of divine institution” (A. Hoenecke, Evangelisch-Lutherische Dogmatik, IV:180).] (pp. 126,130,135)

When it comes to auxiliary offices, the classic example is of course that of the Seven in Acts 6:1-6. ... This is the origin of the diaconate, whose special responsibility is the care of the needy. ... The diaconate of love is not, however, the whole story of the Seven. It turns out that Stephen and Philip in particular preached, and this not simply in the capacity of private Christians in non-Christian surroundings, at least in Philip’s case, for we are expressly told that he was an “evangelist” (Acts 21:8). The information is too fragmentary to permit any certain conclusion. Chemnitz held that the Seven were not originally ministers of the Word, but that “the apostles afterwards accepted into the ministry of teaching those from among the deacons who were approved, as Stephen and Philip.” [Examination, II:683.] Gerhard, on the other hand, believed that the Seven were “not simply excluded” from the work of teaching, but were “principally put in charge of tables.” Such deacons, “conjoined with presbyters, preached the Word together with them, administered the sacraments, visited the sick, etc.,” and so “were made teachers of a lower order in the church ... Phil. 1:1 ... I Tim. 3:8.” [J. Gerhard, Loci Theologici, XII.XXIV.29.] (pp. 139-41)

School-teachers in our modern sense appear in the Latin of the Small Catechism as the “paedagogues,” who are to “teach their boys” the chief parts. The German speaks instead of house-fathers teaching their households. Although Luther can occasionally list schoolmasters, with sacristans, among the persons comprising the ecclesiastical order [Cf. e.g., A Sermon on Keeping Children in School (1530), LW 46:220 ...], the Large Catechism derives the schoolmaster’s office from that of the father, not from the ministry of the Word (Fourth Commandment, 141). ... How then did Walther relate the school-office to the one Gospel office? Walther held that in the apostolate Christ had “instituted only one office in the church, which embraces all others and by which the church of God should be provided for in every respect.” [C. F. W. Walther, Church and Ministry, 289.] His 8th Thesis states therefore: “The preaching office [Predigtamt] is the highest office in the church, out of which office all other ecclesiastical offices [Kirchenämter] flow.” [J. T. Mueller renders this: “The pastoral ministry (Predigtamt) is the highest office in the church, and from it stem all other offices in the church” (Church and Ministry, 289). The original has: “Das Predigtamt is das höchste Amt in der Kirche, aus welchem alle anderen Kirchenämter fliessen.”] Accordingly, “every other public office in the church is a part of [the preaching office, Predigtamt] or an auxiliary office that supports the Predigtamt, whether it be the office of those elders who do not labor in the Word and doctrine (I Tim. 5:17) or the ruling office (Rom. 12:8) or the diaconate (office of service in the narrow sense), or whatever offices...” In this context also belongs the office of schoolmaster: “Therefore the offices of Christian day school teachers [translation omits: who must teach God’s Word in their schools], almoners, sextons, precentors at public worship, and others are all to be regarded as [ecclesiastical holy offices, which bear a part of the one ecclesiastical office and assist the ministry of the Word (Predigtamt)].” [We have followed Mueller’s translation, except for the bracketed words, which render more precisely Walther’s sense: “kirchliche heilige Ämter..., welche einen Theil des Einen Kirchenamtes tragen und dem Predigtamte zur Seite stehen.” Mueller: “ecclesiastical and sacred, for they take over a part of the one ministry of the Word and support the pastoral office.” This is misleading in that the original (1) does not distinguish between “ministry of the Word” and “pastoral office”; (2) speaks of “the one office of the church,” not “the one ministry of the Word.” ...] A certain tension arises from Walther’s treatment of the Predigtamt (1) as the one office from which all others flow, and (2) as the highest office, distinct from the others, but assisted by them. (p. 143)

Very illuminating and significant is the treatment in Pastor E. W. Kaehler’s 1874 theses, adopted by the combined [Synodical Conference] pastors’ conference of Columbus, and reprinted in Lehre und Wehre. The theses distinguish between “essential” and “derived” functions of the ministry (Predigtamt), and therefore between the ministry strictly speaking, and the ministry in a wider sense, the latter including non-teaching deacons, lay elders, and school-teachers. Relevant extracts follow: “The rights conveyed with the office of the Word (in the narrow sense) are: the authority to preach the Gospel and to distribute the sacraments, and the authority of spiritual judgment... When the congregation confers an essential part of the ministry [Predigtamt], then it virtualiter [virtually, in effect] confers the whole of it, only with the provision to attend to the designated part alone... There are, however, services which are indeed necessary in the church for her governance and therefore belong to the ministry [Predigtamt] in the wider sense, which however do not necessarily involve the bearing of the office in the narrow sense; therefore such auxiliary services may be rendered also by such as do not thereby become entitled also to exercise the office of the Word and the sacraments... We know now that someone who has to attend to an essential part of the office of the Word can do that only because the whole office of the Word has been conferred upon him; he thus really occupies the ministry [Predigtamt]... The offices of councillors [Vorsteher], elders, almoners, school-teachers, sextons, and cantors in our congregations are therefore all to be regarded as holy, churchly offices... But they by no means involve the bearing of the ministry [Predigtamt] in the narrow sense” (“Hat die Gemeinde das Recht, ordentlicher Weise einen wesentlichen Theil des heiligen Predigtamtes irgend einem Laien temporär zu übertragen?” Lehre und Wehre, 20, 9,11,12 [Sept., Nov., Dec. 1874], 261, 331, 334, 336). (p. 144)


Kurt E. Marquart

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