28 May 2012

The Divine Call

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

The Evangelical Lutheran Church reads this Bible passage and many others at the ordinations of the men our Lord Jesus Christ calls into His service to preach the Word in season and out of season. The Preaching Office is so important that the Reformers addressed its importance in Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession (Augustana). Let us review:

" It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call."

What does Augustana XIV mean? Has its meaning changed since the Confession was read before the Princes in 1530? For some in The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), Augustana means everything concerning the Preaching Office. For others, it means nothing. What happened to Augustana XIV? Where did go?

The LCMS has always held that a pastor was a man who was educated (seminary residency), examined, called (Divine Call), and ordained. She was serious about Augustana XIV. No one was to publicly teach or preach in the Church, nor administer the sacraments in the Church, without a regular call (rite vocatus). In 1989, everything changed for the LCMS. The Synod voted, in convention, to rescind Augustana XIV and replace it with the "lay ministry."

I asked earlier, what happened to Augustana XIV? The answer is that politics removed it from the LCMS.  1989 was a fateful year for the LCMS. She discarded a primary doctrine which the Evangelical Lutheran Church held for 459 years. Now, education and examination are no longer primary instruments in the Church. (See 2 Tim. 2:2; 3:2; Titus 1:9)

The LCMS has created many programs to put men into the preaching office; DELTO (Distance Education Leading to Ordination); AR (Alternate Route); SMPP (Specific Ministry Pastoral Program), and others. The LCMS has also rejected Augustana XIV by allowing men who resigned their Divine Call to continue to preach and administer the sacraments. She also allows men who have retired (resigned their Divine Call) to do the same. She also allows men to "read" sermons written by the pastor during his absence.  Why? And yet, she condemns the actions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for allowing women in the preaching office. What's the difference? Rejection of the Confession is still rejection.

What can be done about this? Can Augustana XIV be restored in the LCMS? Is there any hope that this terrible wrong can be corrected? My answer is yes. I say IT'S TIME! The President of the Synod has been given all the tools and authority to correct the problems stemming from the rejection of Augustana XIV. His actions must include discipline and possible removal of those who do not conform.

It is about theology. It has to be about theology otherwise the LCMS is just another business in the United States of America. In my previous post, Steadfast Office - Theology, not Politics, Rev. McCall made an astute observation in his comment (#23). He asked, (paraphrasing) if nothing is done about an erring brother, does that mean I am still tolerating  such behavior (tolerating his sin)? Or, do I or he need to leave.

His questions are asked because politics have taken over the LCMS. If the LCMS held to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, Rev. McCall's questions would not have to be asked. The erring brother, congregation, District President, or whom ever sinned was corrected, then all would be well in the LCMS. As it is, those who do hold fast to the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions are asking if they have to leave what they confess. This is just wrong. If the erring person refuses to confess his sin and repent (turn from evil), he must be removed from the Church (Matthew 18)

My prayer is that the Lord of the Church grant strength and courage to His Church to stand strong and be bold to call sinners to repentance.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I've been thinking about your post, and I think it is slightly romanticized. While I was a Seminarian, I was asked by the older pastors, "Are you licensed to preach?" That's a weighted question, but one that is interesting. You would be licensed to preach, approved to preach, prior to ordination, even well back before 1989 -- and that seems like a highly weighted term, especially as the history of the other American Synods often licensed pastors before ordaining them... you had a year by year trial. This is part of the reason why there's such adamancy that calls do not have a time limit (we wouldn't have made such a deal of it if our neighbors weren't messing around with it).

Of course - I also think you are too harsh in your reading of AC XIV. The point is that a person is "rite vocatus" - that he is called. AC XIV is simply telling the Emperor that we are not a bunch of wild anabaptists who take up the task of preaching simply of their own volition -- no, we are called according to the rites and customs that you are familiar with. We do not take this task upon ourselves, but the Church lays it upon us.

If the Synod establishes a system (even if stupid), and if the people who go through this system only preach at a congregation's requesting... is this really violating AC XIV? Is it really going against it?

Men are still put and placed in the position of preaching. We do not take up the honor upon ourselves, but it is bestowed upon us. Isn't that the standard of the Scriptures?

Martin Diers said...

Rev. Brown,

I believe you are confusing the arbitrary political decisions of the Synod with the call of the Church. These are not the same. If the synod establishes a program that allows laymen to preach, does this, by itself, equate to a call? Does this mean that that layman has now entered the preaching office? Does that mean that Jesus has called him and placed him into that very Apostolic office which He instituted in John 20? Is that that truly equivalent to the "laying on of the hands of the presbytery," (1 Tim. 4:14) such that he may now feel free to step in and out of pulpits and at all other times abandon the office into which he has, supposedly, been called?

The call is not just a matter of doing things "decently and in order" by being asked to preach. That was not the concern of the Confessors. I would argue that the present system in the LCMS is, in spite of its controlled chaos, in no wise different from the wild anabaptists. Rather than taking up preaching on their own, the LCMS "authorizes" people to preach by employing politically established programs that have nothing to do with the call of Christ to the preaching office, and in fact explicitly deny that laymen who take up preaching duties by this means are in the preaching office. To this day, the LCMS denies these "lay-preachers" the right to administer the Lord's Supper, which is, in itself, a tacit admission that they are not in the preaching office.

Jesus has instituted this office, defined its duties, and to this days places men into that office which He Himself has created, through the call of the Church. the Church does not have the right, by virtue of its intermediary roll, to re-define the office which Christ has established, anymore than she has the right to change the institution of the Lord's Supper or Baptism. Therefore you cannot have it both ways. Emergencies excepted, either a lay preacher is a full incumbent in the preaching office (and thus must meet all the requirements of the office, and is then, by definition not a lay-preacher), or he is a usurper. There is just no middle ground.

Cecil The Sea Sick Sea Serpent said...

Steve Harris - Layman:

Good topic. Please keep it going, because it is rather confusing to the church. For example which authorizes the Holy Ministry; the call service or Ordination?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for the post, Pr. Wurst.

I do think there is a certain hyperbole involved in the critique of the Wichita amendment to the Augsburg Confession, and there is always the danger of romanticizing the past. But hyperbole can be a legitimate rhetorical means of highlighting a genuine error, and, while we should be realistic about the falleness of the world and the sinfulness of those who have gone before us, we should still aim for that which is good and right and true. Though there is no one who does not sin, we can bridle our tongues and discipline our flesh to say and do what is "meet, right and salutary" in conformity with the Word of Christ.

I don't believe that AC XIV was only a matter of good order, though it certainly included that. Good order in the life of the Church should not be despised, but honored as a gift of God. There is more to the Divine Call than simply that, however, as Luther's discussion of the Call in his great commentary on Galatians lays out very strongly.

The Saxon visitation articles, the sixteenth century church orders, the actual "polity, structure and governance" of the Lutheran Church in that century, and the questions by which the pastors were regularly examined by their "supervisors" (bishops), as demonstrated in the little Chemnitz book (the title of which escapes me at the moment), all point to a comprehensive view and understanding of the Office itself and of the Divine Call to the Office. It involved the whole Church, including the "Seminaries," the "Congregations," and the larger fellowship of "Pastors and Bishops." For it is Christ the Lord who calls and ordains a man through the agency of His Church.

The irony in the Missouri Synod today -- which has gotten far worse since 1989 -- is that men are "called and ordained" to offices far removed from the pastoral work of preaching and the Sacraments, while men who are not called and ordained are permitted in various and sundry ways to preach and administer the Sacraments. We have mimicked medieval abuses, turning the office of bishop into a powerful political office instead of a chiefly pastoral office. And the downplaying of the pastoral office and its proper work is shown by the quick and easy ways in which men are ushered into that "role."

But the Missouri Synod (not alone) has been confused about the Office of the Ministry from the start. And while the Synod has recoiled from the churchly grades of clergy that developed historically, it has created its own bureaucratic and political versions of the same.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think Martin Diers drives to the point when he says, "Emergencies excepted, either a lay preacher is a full incumbent in the preaching office (and thus must meet all the requirements of the office, and is then, by definition not a lay-preacher), or he is a usurper. There is just no middle ground."

I will contend if you have been placed into the preaching office, then you are in the office. And note that I said "placed" - put there, by the Church, by means that the Church has recognized. Even with all these other "routes" they are still methods of having men placed into an office... not a matter of an individual usurping it. The fact that we don't use the historic terms is... well... a sign of our own stupidity and hubris.... Mayhaps I'm important ideas from common law marriage, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck -- let's treat it like a duck, even if it swears up and down it's not a duck, just doing duck things. If you have been placed into the office, you are in the office.

For what are the "requirements" of that office? Is a Seminary education a requirement? If it is, it a requirement de jure humano... and can be modified by man. This is important because we are not going to be able to win this discussion by simply saying, "See, this violates AC XIV". There's too much that we can import into AC XIV to make it that cut and dry.

This ultimately is a matter of what is wise - what is the best way to train pastors for the Church, how to prepare men. Does it violate the Scriptures to not have a seminary? Does it violate the Scriptures to not have a three fold office? I'd say no.

The discussion must be what is good... not what we must do... because the question of what we "must" do can always be pared down. Today, the question of what we "must" is a minimizing question -- it's answer will always lead to a diminishment. The question ought be what "should" we do, what would provide for the most well trained clergy.

And until we begin to show people what we should be doing because it is good and right... well... more and more people will assume the bare bones "must" answers.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Pr. Brown, your points are well taken and helpful. The approach you are suggesting guards the evangelical character of the Office, without suggesting that "anything goes."

Where you may be oversimplifying things, it seems to me, is in your identifying of various "alternative routes" as simply another way of placing men into the Office. Surely the placing can be done in a variety of ways, but it still ought to involve the Church rather than being done "off in a corner."

To simplify my point, let me put it this way: The placement of a man into the Office ought to involve (1.) those who, in some way, prepare and certify him for that Office; (2.) those who receive and accept him into that Office; and (3.) those who, already holding the Office, actually put him into that Office on behalf of the Church. If various "alternative routes" are doing these things with integrity and accountability, well, then, so be it; although they are still subject to assessment and evaluation, as to whether they are in the best service of the Gospel. But if these routes are actually short-cutting the process itself, and not just reducing the amount of time it takes (and the quantity of learning), then that is sectarian and harmful to the Office (and harmful to the Gospel, for which the Office has been established by God).

In what I have written above, I have not intended to suggest that the three-fold ordering of the Office is "necessary." Rather, I believe that it originated out of practical wisdom and a churchly good order, and that a churchly approach to such ordering of the clergy would be more conducive to the Ministry of the Gospel than the political and bureaucratic divisions that now hold sway.

It troubles me, in particular, as I have previously written, that men can be allowed (in some cases, quickly and easily) to preach and administer the Holy Sacraments without being "called and ordained," while men with jobs involving very little if any preaching or administration of the Sacraments "must" be called and ordained -- for the sake of status, perhaps, and not for the sake of the Gospel or good order in the Church.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Rev. Stuckwisch,

I think what you have said is good -- and I like your three criteria for a good and proper placement. Where I think you point to some major problems is when you have districts doing their own programs that the rest of the Synod doesn't recognize... that's where things get really strange.

Martin Diers said...

To be clear, I absolutely do not wish to make graduation from a resident seminary program a requirement of the preaching office. I would actually go so far as to say that the chief duty to train new pastors belongs to the pastors themselves. In one sense, seminary professors are acting as surrogates to said pastors.

Furthermore, I have just as much a problem with professors teaching the word of God in the seminaries when the calls of said professors have originated from a synodical body, rather than from the Church proper. It is just as much of a problem as laity preaching without a call. Both problems originate from a common source.

Professors should be called, because they are teaching the Word publicly, and performing a function of the preaching office which is explicitly ascribed to the office in 1 Tim. 1:3.

As Rev. Stuckwich rightly noted, the source of the "call" is just as important in determining the legitimacy of said call, as is its essential nature.

There is a great danger in equating the "Church" with a body that is one or more levels withdrawn from the actual church-es. The Church is wherever the Word and Sacraments are regularly administered in a particular locality, with the office of the ministry established in that place. This is the only place we know, with absolute certainty, that the Church exists and the Holy Spirit is present. There is no other definition that you can have without going beyond the Scriptures.

Following the Interim, our theologians spoke of a three-fold body which is a prerequisite for the establishment of the pastoral office: The clergy, the laity, and the magistrates. The latter referred to the governing body of the congregation in question, which, at the time the distinction was made, would generally correspond to the elector or prince. Some might argue that the synod corresponds to the "magistracy". This is hardly the case. The magistracy is that body which administrates the external affairs of the congregation, which for better or worse, usually corresponds to the voter's assembly in the USA. In any case, the external method and means of calling is intrinsically placed in the local congregation, not because there is any so-called "divinely supremacy of an all-male voter's assembly" (an assertion which I vehemently deny, for what it's worth), but because the local congregation is the only place where God has promised that He is present with His gifts. It is the only place that can rightly be called "Church".

The more programs and institutions usurp the right of call from the congregation, the more they establish a new oligarchical order, setting up a hierarchy in the church which Christ has explicitly forbidden, and which no longer has any legitimate claim to the ministry in so far as it is divorced from the regular preaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments.

All of which is a roundabout way to say that the Lutheran Church needs to rethink her assumptions about the training and calling of pastors. Seminaries are invaluable institutions, but there is a reason that the professors of said seminaries received calls from local congregations in the early days of CSL. This was not done as a "just in case" way to legitimize the public teaching done at CSL, but because the professors were rightly regarded as full incumbents in the ministry, and as such needed to have their call originate from the Church proper.

Whatever "Alternative means" are used to train pastors, those who teach others to teach, must themselves be incumbents of the teaching office.