Author’s Note: The essay that
follows was delivered on April 24, 2005 to a group of ELS pastors and
laymen at the annual Circuit Meeting of ELS Circuit 8 held at River
Heights Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks.
Several pastors of Circuit 8, with the assistance of other pastors
in the ELS, had prepared a revision of a proposed doctrinal statement on
the ministry. I refer to both
documents in this essay. The
document that this essay was written to oppose was adopted at the June
2005 convention of the ELS by a 62% vote. Fourteen pastors and several laymen recorded their
negative votes. More
recently, twenty one pastors, several laymen, and three congregations in
the ELS have signed a document, “A STATEMENT OF OPPOSITION TO THE PCM
DOCUMENT: ‘THE PUBLIC MINISTRY OF THE WORD’ ADOPTED AT THE 2005 ELS
CONVENTION” in which we state why we cannot accept the document that our
synod has recently adopted.
The ELS has overwhelming doctrinal
unity. An excellent summary
of our public doctrine (“We Believe, Teach, and Confess”) is available
on our official synodical website. The
following essay is posted here with the hope and sincere prayer that my
brothers in the ELS will read it and be persuaded that the document we
recently adopted should either be revised or rescinded.
The 62% vote of last June does not represent a synodical consensus
on this matter. This does not
mean that a consensus document that clearly presents the biblical doctrine
cannot be written and adopted. It
means that a consensus document may not present theological opinions as
divine doctrine. We may not say that God said it unless we can show from the
clear Scriptures that God has indeed said it.
Naturally, I welcome responses to this essay. I invite comments especially from our synodical and seminary leadership, but would appreciate them as well from any members of the ELS, the WELS, or any other Lutheran synod.
Does the Bible Teach a Limited Public Use of the Keys?
By Pastor Rolf Preus
Circuit Meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod
April 24, 2005
The Source and Standard of Christian Teaching
When God blesses a synod such as
ours with doctrinal unity we should never stop giving thanks.
Doctrinal unity is a gift from God.
Yet it is gained through hard work.
We don’t obtain it by means of clever church politicking.
It doesn’t come by means of submitting to the headship of a
charismatic leader. And it
isn’t enough that we all agree to teach the same thing.
Our doctrine must be God’s doctrine or our doctrinal unity is
merely a wall to separate ourselves from other Christians.
True doctrinal unity comes about by God’s grace when we subject
all of our teaching to the standard of God’s written word, the Holy
Scriptures. The Holy
Scriptures are the only standard according to which all teaching and
teachers of the church must be judged.
The Lutheran Confessions are a
standard and judge of the doctrine of the church because they are drawn
from and agree with the Holy Scriptures.
We don’t subscribe to the Confessions in addition to the Holy
Scriptures. We subscribe to the Confessions because they are a faithful
exposition and exhibition of the Holy Scriptures. Our commitment to the Lutheran Confessions is nothing else
than a commitment to the pure teaching of the scriptural doctrine.
When we are confirmed we are asked:
hold all the canonical books of the Bible to be the inspired Word of God,
and the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Bible,
as you have learned to know it from Luther’s Small Catechism, to be the
true and correct one?
We answer: “I do.”
We confess no other doctrine than that doctrine that is drawn from
the Bible. The Catechism
teaches nothing that the Bible did not teach before the Catechism was
We also respect the writings of the fathers. The early church fathers and the Lutheran fathers of the reformation era still speak to us today and insofar as they are faithful to the teaching of the Scriptures we honor their teaching. We are also heirs to the faithful teaching of many Lutheran immigrants from northern Europe who came to America in the 19th century and formed the Norwegian Synod, the Missouri Synod, the Wisconsin Synod, and other confessional Lutheran synods. Seldom has the church experienced such unity in doctrine as did our forefathers of the old Synodical Conference. This unity in doctrine could not have been achieved without a strong commitment to the Scriptures as the only source and norm of all doctrine and to the Lutheran Confessions as a correct exposition of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures.
We are heirs to a wonderful
tradition. But tradition must
constantly be examined in the light of God’s written word.
Whereas tradition has the tendency of developing and changing over
time, the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions stay the same.
This afternoon I would like to talk about a relatively new
tradition that has begun to take hold among us.
This tradition is set forth in the document, “The Public Ministry
of the Word,” produced by the Presidium’s Committee on the Ministry,
also known as the PCM Theses. The
President and Vice President of the ELS are encouraging us to adopt this
doctrinal statement as the official teaching of the ELS at this summer’s
convention in Mankato. Some
of us are urging caution. We
believe that the PCM Theses teach as biblical doctrine things that are not
taught in the Bible. We have
revised the PCM Theses to correct those portions of it that we believe
substitute church tradition for biblical teaching.
The new tradition promoted by the
PCM Theses is the assertion that God has instituted a “limited public
use of the keys.” We read
on lines 53 – 56:
has instituted the Public Ministry of the Word.
This divinely instituted Public Ministry of the Word includes both
a narrower sense (a presiding office; see II A) and a wider sense (offices
that have a limited public use of the keys, see II B).
The PCM Theses here teach that the divinely instituted office includes offices that have a limited public use of the keys. Later it says that the extent to which one may exercise the keys publicly is determined by the call of the church. We read on lines 116 – 121:
extent to which one is authorized by the call of the church to exercise
the keys publicly is the extent to which one is in the Public Ministry of
the Word. Authorization to
exercise a limited part of the Public Ministry of the Word does not imply
authorization to exercise all or other parts of it (1 Corinthians 12:5,28,
Romans 12:6-8, Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8, 5:17).
Neither the Bible nor the Lutheran
Confessions teach us anything at all about a limited public use of the
keys. When we speak of the
keys we do distinguish between a strict sense and a more general sense. Strictly speaking, the office or power of the keys is the
authority to forgive and retain sins.
In more general terms, the power of the keys is the authority to
preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.
Usually, when we speak of the keys, we are talking about the
binding and loosing of sins, that is, forgiving the sins of penitent
sinners and retaining the sins of impenitent sinners as long as they do
not repent. This was the
authority that Jesus promised to give to Peter in Matthew 16:19.
will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on
earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be
loosed in heaven.
So that no one would misunderstand
His words and assume that He was establishing some kind of a papacy, Jesus
repeated His words about binding and loosing in Matthew 18:18.
I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and
whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Here it is clear that Jesus gave
the power of the keys to His whole church and specifically to every
individual congregation, even if that congregation were made up of only
two or three people. What
does this binding and loosing mean? Here
are the words that we have memorized from the Catechism:
the Office of the Keys?
Office of the Keys is the special authority which Christ has given to His
Church on earth: to forgive the sins of the penitent sinners, but to
retain the sins of the impenitent sinners as long as they do not repent.
evangelist writes, John 20, 22-23: “Jesus breathed on His disciples and
said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven them; and if you retain the sins of any, they are
If one sin is forgiven all sins
are forgiven. The loosing key
is not limited. If one sin is
retained all sins are retained. The
binding key is not limited. So
when we are speaking of the keys as the power to forgive and to retain
sins there is clearly no such thing as a limited use of the keys.
However, we also speak of the keys to refer to the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. This is because the essence of all preaching and administration of the sacraments is the forgiving of the sins of the penitent sinners and the retaining of the sins of the impenitent sinners. This is clearly how the PCM Theses intend to speak. We speak this way in the Augsburg Confession:
But this is their opinion, that the power of the Keys, or the power of the bishops, according to the Gospel, is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments. For with this commandment Christ sends forth His Apostles, John 20, 21 sqq.: As My 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. Mark 16, 15: Go preach the Gospel to every creature.
This power is exercised only by teaching or preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, according to their calling either to many or to individuals. For thereby are granted, not bodily, but eternal things, as eternal righteousness, the Holy Ghost, eternal life. These things cannot come but by the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, as Paul says, Rom. 1, 16: The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. (Augsburg Confession, Article XXVIII, paragraphs 5-9)
Here the authority of the keys is identified with the authority of the bishops or pastors. Jesus sent out the apostles as the first pastors of His church and told them to preach the gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer the sacraments. It is perfectly appropriate to speak of the keys as encompassing not only the forgiving and retaining of sins but also the public preaching of the Word of God and the administration of the sacraments. Our Confessions speak this way. Our catechisms also speak this way. Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Synod, and ELS catechisms over the years have taught that Christ has given His keys to the church and that the church exercises the keys by calling pastors to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.
But our Lutheran Confessions and our synodical catechisms have never spoken of a limited public use of the keys. More to the point, the Bible never does so. The Bible says nothing about anyone exercising a limited part of the Public Ministry of the Word. But the PCM document claims that the Bible does teach this. It goes so far as to claim that the limited public use of the keys is divinely instituted. After asserting that someone is in the divinely instituted public ministry of the word to the extent that the church authorizes him to exercise the keys publicly the PCM Theses cite a number of Bible passages. Let us examine the texts that the PCM Theses claim teach the divine institution of a limited public use of the keys.
Limited Public Use of the Keys in the Light of Scripture
The PCM Theses list a number of
Bible passages after making the claim that one is in the public ministry
of the word to “the extent to which one is authorized by the call of the
church to exercise the keys publicly.”
The passages are: 1 Corinthians 12:5,28; Romans 12:6-8; Philippians
1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8; 1 Timothy 5:17. Let
us examine each of them.
1 Corinthians 12:5, “There are
differences of ministries, but the same Lord.”
This text does not say that the different “ministries” are
different ministries of the word in which a person is in the public
ministry of the word to this or to that extent.
The word “ministry” is a generic term that is used to refer to
various kinds of service. It
may or may not refer to the ministry of the word.
There is nothing here to suggest that there is more than one
ministry of the word.
1 Corinthians 12:28, “And God
has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third
teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps,
administrations, varieties of tongues.”
The question before us is whether or not God has instituted a
limited public use of the keys for His church.
The PCM Theses claim that the extent to which one is authorized by
the call of the church to exercise the keys publicly is the extent to
which one is in the public ministry of the word.
This text says nothing about that.
The apostles and prophets taught God’s word but they were not
called by the church. They
were called directly by God without the participation of the church.
There is no suggestion that the teachers here mentioned were in any
way constricted or limited in their teaching.
What follows in this list does not belong to the public ministry of
the word. So there is nothing here to suggest a limited public use of
Romans 12:6-8, “Having then
gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use
them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or
ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching;
he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who
leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Again, there is nothing in these words to suggest a limited public
use of the keys. The fact
that God gives different gifts, some of which pertain to the public
ministry of the word and some of which are only tangentially related to
it, simply does not address the matter of a limited public use of the
Philippians 1:1, “Paul and
Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus
who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”
1 Timothy 3:8, “Likewise deacons must be reverent, not
double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money.”
These texts say nothing about a limited public use of the keys. There is evidence that the deacons in the New Testament who
served well were later placed into the public ministry of the word and
sacraments. However, there is
nothing in the New Testament that suggests that they engaged in a limited
public use of the keys. It
just isn’t there.
1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders
who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who
labor in the word and doctrine.” The
elders who labor in the word and doctrine are what we today call pastors.
In the New Testament they are called elders, bishops, teachers,
pastors, etc. There is
nothing in this text or the others to suggest that a limited public use of
the keys exists in the New Testament.
Where did the idea of a limited
public use of the keys come from? The
Bible does not teach it. As
we have shown, the biblical texts cited to prove it do not prove it.
It has been read into the Scriptures.
It has not been taken out of the Scriptures.
The Confessions do not teach it.
Our catechisms have never taught it.
How, then, did this concept develop?
It certainly didn’t spring out of nowhere.
I believe that this question should be addressed because I am
convinced that our brothers who promote this idea are in fact deeply
devoted to the Scriptures as the sole source and standard of all Christian
teaching and they would not promote any doctrine that they did not
sincerely believe was set forth in the Scriptures.
If the texts cited above do not prove it, why do Bible
believing men assert it? There
must be a logical explanation for the rising of this unbiblical tradition
within a synod that has always taught that all our doctrine must be
grounded in the Scriptures alone. And
When the Norwegian Synod was
founded some 152 years ago she had to adjust from the hierarchical type of
church government of Norway to a more democratic and congregational type
of church government here in the United States.
The Germans who founded the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods had to
make the same adjustment. In
the old country, the schoolteachers were under the authority of both the
church and the state because it was a state church.
In America, with the separation of church and state, the Lutheran
immigrants had to come up with new ways of arranging things.
The congregations and the synods they formed had to take over
responsibilities that, in the old country, were handled to a certain
degree by servants of the state. It
was an exciting and fascinating time for the church as she struggled to
apply old principles to new situations, always careful to appeal to the
authority of the Scriptures as she did so.
Questions quickly arose about the
office of a Christian schoolteacher in America.
How are we to understand this office?
Everyone agreed that it derived from the office of father and
mother. However, inasmuch as the schoolteacher also assisted the
pastor was it not also correct to say that this office derived as well
from the pastoral office? The
one proposition does not contradict the other and the general consensus
was that the office of Christian schoolteacher derived its authority from
both the parental and pastoral offices.
This was more than a merely theoretical consideration because in
America the Christian schoolteacher was a servant of the local
congregation. Without a state
church the state no longer played a role.
The congregation put the Christian schoolteacher into office.
This raised the question of the
call. Lutherans had always
taught that pastors were to be called and ordained.
When the congregation called a man to preach the gospel and
administer the sacraments in her midst it was God Himself who extended
that call. This is true for two reasons.
First, because God instituted the office of preaching the gospel
and administering the sacraments, that is, He instituted the pastoral
office. Second, because God
gave this office to every Christian congregation.
The office was divine. The
divinely instituted office belonged to the congregation. Therefore, when the congregation called a man to be her
pastor God called that man. It
was a divine call.
What about the Christian
schoolteacher? Should these
men also receive calls? This
was discussed and debated for years.
How could they receive divine calls?
The office of Christian schoolteacher is not divinely instituted.
The Bible says nothing about it.
Yes, but the pastoral office is divinely instituted.
And the pastoral office requires of every pastor that he feed the
whole flock including the lambs (John 21:15-17, Acts 20:28).
It is the pastor’s duty to teach the word of God to the children.
Therefore, when the church calls a Christian schoolteacher to teach
God’s word to the children of the congregation she thereby entrusts to
that teacher a part of the pastoral office.
Naturally, the pastor remains responsible for teaching the children
and so he is responsible for what the teacher teaches the children.
But the Christian schoolteacher is engaged in carrying out divinely
ordained duties that belong to the divinely instituted pastoral office.
For this reason, it was argued, he should be called.
True, God did not specifically institute the office of Christian
schoolteacher, but He did specifically institute the pastoral office from
which the office of Christian schoolteacher is derived.
It was on account of this organic connection to the pastoral office
that Christian schoolteachers were given divine calls.
This is the origin in America of the idea that a Christian schoolteacher should receive a call. Had the tradition stopped there we would not fault it. After all, it is a compelling argument that a part of a whole is as divine as the whole. But the tradition moved as traditions tend to do. During the early decades of the 20th century the tradition evolved into something different from what it had been. The organic connection between the pastoral office and the office of Christian schoolteacher was broken. A new generation of theologians arose at the Wisconsin Synod seminary in Wauwatosa who argued that God had not actually instituted the pastoral office as an office. Instead, God instituted a generic ministry of the gospel and the sacraments with the command that properly qualified people should be chosen to carry out the duties of this ministry. There was no command for any particular “form” of an office. The divinely instituted office was now any use of the means of grace on behalf of Christians. The public office came into being by means of Christians delegating their authority as Christians to individuals who would act on their behalf.
This was a radical break
with the past. The Lutherans
in the Norwegian, Missouri, and Wisconsin synods had always agreed that
the office God instituted belonged to the church and to all Christians of
the church. On that there was no debate.
But they had also understood that this office was a real concrete
office. It was not just a
category of activities. It
was a position that Christ had established in and for His church.
It was a concrete office with specified duties, namely, to preach
the gospel and administer the sacraments.
It was not one form among many forms but it was formed by Christ
Himself when He instituted it. Therefore,
when the church called men into the public ministry of the word she was
not thereby forming that office. She
was conferring it. It
belonged to her as church, but it was instituted, formed, and fashioned by
Christ Himself in His sending out of His apostles as recorded in Matthew
28, Mark 16, and John 20. This
is the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions.
This was also the teaching of C. F. W. Walther in the Missouri
Synod, Adolf Hoenecke in the Wisconsin Synod, and H. A. Preus in the
The new understanding of the
public ministry of the word did not derive the office of Christian
schoolteacher from the pastoral office.
The divinity of the office of Christian schoolteacher did not come
from the divinity of the pastoral office.
The new tradition insisted that the Bible taught no “divinely
fixed form” of an office. Instead,
it taught that the Holy Spirit leads the church to establish many
different forms of the office each of which is as divine as the other.
What is divine, according to this new tradition, is not any
particular form of the office (like the pastoral office, for example) but
that those who teach God’s word do so on behalf of other Christians.
The PCM Theses do not entirely
embrace this new tradition. They
correctly teach that God commands that the church establish the pastoral
office. However, when they
speak of what is divinely instituted they include both the pastoral office
and offices of churchly origin. The
PCM Theses do not derive the office of Christian schoolteacher from the
pastoral office. They do not
argue that the office of Christian schoolteacher is divine because it
takes over a part of the divinely instituted pastoral office.
Instead they teach that it is divine because the teachers do their
work on behalf of Christians. Here
we see in the PCM Theses the influence of the tradition that evolved in
the Wisconsin Synod during the 20th Century.
The PCM Theses state:
It is by
human right that the church separates a limited portion of the office to
one individual. But it is by
divine right that one exercises that work on behalf of the Christians
though whom the call has come. (lines 134-137)
It was probably inevitable that
the tradition would evolve as it did to become something quite different
from what it was in the first place.
The Germans who immigrated to America in the 19th
Century were extremely careful to distinguish between what was by divine
right and what was by human right. They
would not have conceived of saying that the Christian schoolteacher had a
divine call unless they could connect him to a divinely instituted office.
This is why they joined the Christian schoolteacher’s office to
the pastoral office. But in
time, as we became more Americanized, what was “divine” became more
and more akin to Jefferson’s “deriving their just powers from the
consent of the governed” and less and less in accord with the divine
institution confessed in the Augsburg Confession!
Such are traditions. They
move. They move as the
culture moves. When the
tradition of the church moves the church must reexamine her tradition in
light of the Scriptures and the Confessions.
The Circuit 8 Revision of the PCM
Theses attempts to correct this ever evolving tradition by going back to
the sound formulations of C. F. W. Walther.
H. A. Preus credited Walther with having done more than anyone else
to lead the Norwegian Synod to a biblically sound teaching on the doctrine
of church and ministry. The
Circuit 8 Revision does teach that the Christian schoolteacher teaches
God’s word by God’s authority and assists both parents and pastors. The
Circuit 8 Revision avoids speaking of taking over a “part of” the
office because this language can easily be misunderstood to support the
unbiblical tradition that has evolved among us.
An ongoing and quite emotional
issue is the divine call for Christian schoolteachers.
What does the Bible teach? Tradition
within our synodical history does teach a divine call for a parochial
school teacher, but, as we have seen, the tradition has moved.
What does the Bible say?
“How then shall they call on Him
in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom
they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” Romans 10:14-15a
“Of ecclesiastical order we
teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the
sacraments unless he is rightfully called.” Augsburg Confession, Article
XIV (Latin text)
“It is taught among us that
nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the
church without a regular call.” Augsburg
Confession, Article XIV (German text)
The PCM Theses claim that calling
men and women to teach children in parochial schools is done “in
accordance with Romans 10:14-17 and Augsburg Confession XIV.” (lines
132-133) AC XIV is based on
Romans 10:15. Our Lutheran
fathers also cited the following texts as teaching the necessity of the
call into the Ministry of the Word: Acts 14:23; 20:28; Ephesians 4:11; 1
Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6; 2:2; and Titus 1:5.
These texts refer to men who publicly preach the gospel and
administer the sacraments. None
of these texts refer to the activities of women.
None of these texts refer to schoolteachers.
The word that is translated
“preach” in Romans 10:15 is used consistently throughout the New
Testament to refer to the public preaching of men.
When the apostle asks, “How can they preach unless they are
sent?” the word he uses for “are sent” is the verbal form of the
word “apostle.” The
preaching of Romans 10:15 is the public preaching of the apostles and
those men who were called by God through the church to preach the
apostolic gospel. The
Scriptures do not use this word to refer to the teaching of children by a
Sometimes we use words in a wider
than literal sense. There is
nothing wrong with that. We
may speak of Christians “preaching” the gospel to one another when we
aren’t talking about literal public preaching.
But we base our doctrine on the plain sense of the biblical text.
What do the Scriptures say? We
don’t ask what this word might mean in another context or if this word
may be used in a wider or metaphorical sense.
We ask: what does this word mean here in the text where we find it?
We must take Romans 10:15 as it reads without imposing our modern
practices on the text in order to find biblical justification for them.
The text as it reads refers to the preaching of men who, like the
apostles, were sent by God to preach the gospel publicly to the whole
church. It does not refer to the teaching of children in a parochial
AC XIV is based on Romans 10:15. AC XIV has always been used in the Lutheran Church to refer
to the call of pastors into the pastoral office.
The teaching mentioned in AC XIV is the teaching/preaching of the
pastor. This is made clear by
a comparison of the Latin and German texts.
The Latin uses the word “teach” to encompass both teaching and
preaching. Furthermore, the
“regular call” of AC XIV includes the rite of ordination. The fact that this was the original intent is established by
the fact that the Roman Catholic Church, in its Confutation of the
Augsburg Confession, approved of Article XIV.
It stipulated that the ordinations would have to be canonically
approved and the Lutherans refused to go along, but both the Lutherans and
the Roman Catholics of the time understood that AC XIV entailed
The call of a parochial school
teacher is unknown in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.
What is neither commanded nor forbidden by God must remain a matter
of Christian freedom.
Nevertheless, there is nothing in
the Scriptures to forbid the current practice of ELS congregations
extending “divine calls” to Christian day school teachers.
It is wrong to mandate such a practice on the basis of God word
because God’s word does not require it.
It is appropriate to speak of a call for a parochial school teacher
in order to say that the teacher is serving both God and God’s children
with God’s word. While there
is nothing given to the CDS teacher to do that God does not first give to
the fathers and mothers of the children to do, the CDS teacher is a
minister of the church because the church has put him into the office he
holds. He assists both
pastors and parents in their divinely ordained duties.
Therefore, while Romans 10 and AC XIV do not address the
office or call of the CDS teacher, we may call parochial school teachers
in accordance with the pattern established for pastors in Romans 10 and AC
XIV. Preachers must be
called. God’s word requires
it. It is therefore a good
church custom to call people to offices of churchly origin that assist the
preaching office in the teaching of God’s word.
The Circuit 8 Revision of the PCM Theses does not advocate changing
must always distinguish between what is by divine right and what is by
human right. The pastoral
office is divinely instituted. Offices
of churchly origin are not divinely instituted.
The written word of God determines for us what is and what is not a
divine institution. A divine
institution has the command and promise of God.
It is wrong to teach that what the church in her divinely given
freedom may do or leave undone is an institution of God.
God, not the church, determines these things, and He tells us what
He has determined in the clear words of the Holy Scriptures.
PCM Theses teach that the pastoral office is commanded.
But when it speaks of what is divinely instituted it includes
offices that are established by human right.
How can what God commands and what God does not command both be
divine institutions? The
divinely granted freedom to establish an office is not the same thing as
the divine institution of an office.
It is wrong to assert that something is a divine institution
without any biblical support for the assertion.
It is wrong even when tradition says it is right.
Where does the Bible teach us that when one Christian does certain
things “on behalf of” other Christians this is a divine arrangement?
That this is a popular tradition cannot be denied.
This does not make it biblical doctrine.
After the PCM Theses claim that the divinely instituted public
ministry of the word includes both a narrower and a wider sense (lines
53-56), it cites a number of Bible passages.
Every single one of them refers to the ministry in the narrow
sense! The ministry in a
wider sense is not divinely instituted.
is one thing to teach that the church is free to establish offices that
God has neither commanded nor forbidden.
On that we all agree. But
what is neither commanded nor forbidden is not by divine right!
Parochial school teachers, Sunday school teachers, and others who
serve God’s children with the word of God in offices of churchly origin
do divinely ordained work. This
we can and should confess. What
makes their work divine is that God commanded that it should be done.
It is not divine simply because it is done on behalf of Christians.
PCM Theses fail to distinguish rightly between what is by divine right and
what is by human right. The
ministry “of the word” is Lutheran shorthand for “the ministry of
teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments.” (AC V)
This is the office that God instituted and that is necessary for
the church of all times. The
ministry in a wider sense must be sharply distinguished from the ministry
of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments.
The office of deacon (which belongs to the ministry in the wider
sense) was first established so that the apostles would be able to devote
themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4)
The church may establish offices to assist the divinely instituted
ministry of the word, but these offices are neither commanded nor
forbidden by God. Divine
institutions must have God’s command.
In this way we distinguish between what is by divine right and what
is by human right. Walther
refers to churchly created offices as “sacred ecclesiastical offices.”
Incumbents of such offices do sacred work but they do not hold the
office of divine institution. The
office they hold is by human right.
line 106 of the PCM Theses we read that the synod president is an
incumbent of the pastoral office. If
one who holds the office of synod president is thereby an incumbent of the
pastoral office then the office of synod president must require duties
essential to the pastoral office. The
document does well in setting forth what those duties are.
It quotes from the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope
are the duties of those who preside over the churches.
But where are these duties given to a synod president?
The PCM Theses suggest that because he “supervises
doctrine in the church” the synod president is an incumbent of the
pastoral office. This is
false. According to the
Lutheran Confessions, doctrinal oversight consists by divine right in the
actual teaching of God’s word. There
is no episcopal authority apart from the activity of teaching/preaching
the word of God. The only
authority any pastor has by divine right is the authority to preach the
gospel and administer the sacraments and so all pastors have equal
authority (Treatise, paragraphs 7-11).
The fact that one pastor is chosen to exercise oversight over many
pastors is by human right, not divine right. (Treatise, paragraphs 60-65)
Years ago synodical presidents served as pastors of congregations.
It was unheard of to suggest that a synodical president had a
divine call to serve as a synodical president.
He had a divine call to serve as a pastor!
The office and oversight of a synodical president is solely by
human right. When a synod
takes a man out of the pastoral office to exercise such oversight, the
office thereby established is solely by human right.
Unless the duties of the office of synod president are to preach,
teach, or administer the sacraments it is false to say that this office is
the office to which preaching, teaching, and administering the sacraments
It is true that only pastors are
eligible to be elected to the office of synod president.
When a pastor is elected to this office he is still ordained and
fit to serve in the pastoral office.
He may serve as a guest preacher in congregations of the synod.
The fact remains that when the church creates an office that does
not require its incumbents to do what is essential to the pastoral office
to do this is an office of churchly creation and not the pastoral office
of divine institution. To teach that a synodical president, solely on account of his
supervisory doctrinal authority over others, holds an office of divine
institution is a papistic argument. It
is not necessary that a pastor regularly carry out all the duties of the
office. Called and ordained
missionaries, theological professors, and chaplains may not do all the
duties of the office on a regular basis.
They are nevertheless incumbents of the office.
But, as his office is presently defined among us, a synod president
is not obligated to preach, teach, or administer the sacraments.
If we want to define the office of synod president as the divinely
instituted pastoral office we must assign to this office duties that are
essential to the pastoral office. Otherwise
we are once more confusing human right with divine right.
Defining the office of synod
president as the pastoral office also raises questions about the doctrine
of the call. A pastor may not
be removed from office unless circumstances or the word of God require it
but the synod president may be removed from office after four years when
neither circumstances nor God’s word requires it.
If the office of synod president is the pastoral office we are
extending four year “calls” that may be revoked by the bare will of
50% plus one of voters in attendance at a synodical convention.
Is it right to remove a pastor from office when he is not guilty of
false doctrine, scandalous life, or is unwilling or unable to carry out
his duties? When we define the office of synod president as the pastoral
office we undermine our Lutheran insistence on the permanence of the call
into the pastoral office.
The central weakness of the PCM
theses is that they fail to distinguish properly between what is by divine
right and what is by human right. Several
pastors of the ELS have worked together to revise the PCM theses further
in order to make this distinction clear.
This document is known as the Circuit 8 Revision of the PCM Theses,
though pastors all across the synod have helped in its production.
It stays close to the PCM Theses for the most part, but makes the
necessary distinction between what is by divine right and what is by human
right. It will be offered to
our synod for adoption in a memorial submitted to the convention in June. Please compare the two documents to see which one best
distinguishes between what is by divine right and what is by human right.
While we are heirs of a wonderful tradition, we must never assert
our own tradition as doctrine if it is not clearly taught in the written
Word of God. As you compare
the two documents, study the citations from the Scriptures.
The Scriptures alone establish doctrine for the church.
For more information go to www.christforus.org You will find an open letter to the ELS along with links to the PCM Theses, the Circuit 8 Revision of the PCM Theses, and a helpful comparison of these two documents prepared by Pastor Joe Abrahamson.
Pastor Rolf D. Preus