A little history

First things first. Yesterday marked the 476th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. I hope you all were afforded the time and opportunity to celebrate accordingly. I’d argue that this, more than Reformation Day, marks the real birth of the Lutheran Church. By all means, celebrate the posting of the 95 Theses. But break out the red paraments on June 25 as well!

It saddens me, however, to see just how far we’ve come. An example, and perhaps most of what inspired my last disjointed ranting, involves lay ministry. At the Synodical Convention in Wichita in 1989, Resolution 3-05B was passed, which approved the establishment and use of “licensed lay deacons” whose role it may be to preach and administer the Sacraments (One could argue that it actually started with the 1981 CTCR document entitled, The Ministry.). This absolutely contradicts what we as Lutherans confess about ministry. Reference the following:

  • Jeremiah 23.31: “Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the LORD.'”
  • Romans 10.15: “And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'”
  • Hebrews 5.4: “And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”
  • AC XIV: “It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call.”

In 1995 synodical convention resolution 3-07A tried to put things right in part by requiring such licensed lay deacons (those who were licensed to perform pastoral functions) to apply for admission into the pastoral ministry.

In 2001, resolution 3-08 was submitted. In part it submitted, “that this convention rescinds the 1989 convention resolution 3-05B and the 1995 St. Louis convention resolution 3-07A.” It also called for it to be resolved that no new or renewal licenses for lay deacons would be offered. In good parliamentary order, resolution 3-08B was introduced, which reversed the resolution to endorse and continue with the lay ministry programs, and it passed. It was business as usual under 1989 resolution 3-05B, while 1995 resolution 3-07A was rescinded.

So contrary to what is written in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, contrary to the doctrine which we claim to confess as Lutherans, we have thrown out our confession regarding the Office of the Public Ministry. We play cut and paste (or rather, just cut) with the Augsburg Confession and with Holy Scripture itself. We have publicly reduced ministry in the church to a set of functions, not an office. And we must repent.

In the district conventions this year there have been several resolutions memorializing the Synod in convention to do something about this aberrant practice. Some have called for a blanket rescinding of the resolutions calling for lay ministry. Some have called for the ordination and subsequent rostering of these deacons in the Minister of Religion – Ordained category, making them eligible to be rightly and regularly called. My hunch is that most of these resolutions have failed. Those of which I have been a witness and of which I have heard have all gone down in A Blaze!™ of glory. Apparently we’d rather do it our way than the way in which it has been given to us to do.

It is my prayer that as a synod we would be brought to see the error of such paths and the dangerous ends to which they lead. In 1533, Luther wrote,

For we must believe and be sure of this, that baptism does not belong to us but to Christ, that the gospel does not belong to us but to Christ, that the office of preaching does not belong to us but to Christ, that the sacrament [of the Lord’s Supper] does not belong to us but to Christ, that the keys, or forgiveness and retention of sins, do not belong to us but to Christ. In summary, the offices and sacraments do not belong to us but to Christ… (LW 38:200)

Further, in Ap. VII-VIII, Melanchthon wrote that ministers (pastors),

do not represent their own persons but the person of Christ, because of the church’s call, as Christ testifies (Luke 10:16), “He who hears you hears me.”When they offer the Word of Christ or the sacraments, they do so in Christ’s place and stead.

So what of the licensed lay deacon? Without a regular call he is speaking for the Lord whom the Lord has not called to speak for him. This is dangerous, but we as a church body give him our assent. The distinctions between clergy and laity are blurred even further (I’ve now lately met three such deacons who go by pastor in their congregations. And why shouldn’t they? They are acting as pastor in their places. Their people don’t see a pastor so they call the one who functions as pastor “pastor.”). With a modicum of training we determine to authorize men to undertake activities which carry eternal consequences.

Even if well-intended, it’s a band-aid that only covers the festering sores of real issues we’d rather not address: greed and pride. “We can’t afford a pastor” often means “we won’t exercise the stewardship needed to pay for one.” And small churches are often so stubborn and proud as to not join with sister congregations in the area and together call a pastor to serve them.

It is my prayer, at least for the sake of my own children who will one day need pastoral care that does not come from their father, that we will reverse this tide of un-Scriptural and un-Confessional practice. Let us, as a synod, repent.

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2 Responses to A little history

  1. Whey Lay says:

    Thanks for the insightful post. Those of us who are ignorant to the Synods politics and convention have hoped that believing Lutherans of good conscience were doing what was best for us. I believe those involved are trying to guide the way they feel is best, but ignoring the confessions to arrive at what is thought to be the right answer can only end badly.
    Excellent observation regarding congregations needing called pastors. This should be a priority of the Synod over capturing market share. Dangerous ground indeed for churches to be allowed to use uncalled but “licsensed” lay leaders.

  2. Good post. I’ve got you pegged to my blog roll now. Took me long enough.

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