DISTINGUENDUM EST! (An essay on the proper distinction of certain points regarding the Doctrine of the Church and Ministry)
There is an ancient Latin proverb which states: Qui bene distinguit bene docet, which one might paraphrase: He who makes the proper distinctions will prove to be the best teacher. It offers a suggestion which must be heeded especially in matters pertaining to the teaching of the eternal verities of the Word of God. For example, if one does not distinguish between consubstantiation and the real presence in the Eucharist, he will very likely cause a good deal of confusion. It will be readily seen that examples could be multiplied.In the present paper we are concerned with the need of making proper distinctions with regard to certain points in the Church-Ministry difficulty, since this has given not a little trouble for a number of decades, chiefly in the relationship between several bodies in the Synodical Conference.
This paper intends to demonstrate that, if the proper distinctions are observed, the bodies chiefly concerned will be found to be in essential agreement as to Scripture doctrine, even though there may be a slightly different understanding as to a wider or narrower application of certain points. At the same time we shall not lose sight of the fact that the old condition for full fellowship demands agreement in rebus et phrasibus, in other words, that accord in subject-matter must be accompanied by harmony in phraseology, at least to the point that no discrepancy can be alleged. (Phil. 2:2. “be likeminded . . ., being of one accord, of one mind” 1 Cor. 1:10, “that ye all speak the same thing . . ., but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”)
1. The first difficulty seems to be with regard to the distinction between the ekklesia as the una sancta (ecclesia invisibilis obscura, abscondita) and visible groups which bear the name ekklesia per metonymiam aut synekdochen.
a. The Church, in the real, proper, or primary sense of the term, is the sum total of all those who, by faith in the Triune God, specifically in Jesus Christ as the vicarious Substitute and Redeemer of all mankind, have become members of Jesus Christ, as the one Head of the Church and thereby form His body, which is designated also as the temple of God or the household of God. Cf. Eph.1:22,23; 5:23-27; Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27; Col. 1:18; 1 Cor. 3:16,17; Eph. 2:1922; John 11:51,52; 17:11,20,21; 1 Peter 2:9,10.
The Church, in its proper sense, as the communio sanctorum, is so represented and defined in the Lutheran Confessions, namely as the “congregation of saints.” (Augsburg Confession, Art. VII and Art. VIII. Trigl., 47-The Apology, Trigl., 231. 417f.-Smalcald Articles, Trigl., 499. – Large Catechism, Trigl., 687, 689, 693, 697.) Of the many statements found in Luther’s writings we adduce only the following:
“Therefore we rightly confess, in our holy Christian faith that we believe a holy Christian Church. For it is invisible, dwells in the spirit at a place which is accessible to no one; therefore its holiness cannot be seen.” (Exposition of Gal. 5:19. St. Louis Ed., 9,702.)
“Just as the Rock, which is without sin, is invisible and spiritual, thus also the Church, which is without sin, must be invisible and spiritual, which one can comprehend by faith alone.” (Answer to the Book of Catharinus. 18, 1445.)
The number of quotations from Luther could easily be augmented by dozens, e.g., 18, 1013-1015, par. 20 and 24, 18, 1349; 16,2269-2271; 11,152; 8,97ff.; 14,139; 17, 1338. The Church (una sancta), then, in the proper sense of the term, is invisible, obscure, hidden from the eyes of men, and therefore Luther rightly applies Luke 17:20,21, to this spiritual fellowship. (18,1347.) However, Luther refers to certain outward marks by which the presence of the Church may be recognized. In a sermon for Christmas Day he says:
“He who would recognize the Christian Church and the Christians, must recognize it in the Word, the Gospel, faith, and the fruits of the Gospel and faith,” (13,2613.)
In other places the Reformer briefly writes that the Gospel and the Sacraments are the marks or tokens indicating the presence of the Church. This is not contradicted by the fact that the great Reformer, in that remarkable classic “Of the Councils and the Churches,” specifically in the last part, “By What Marks the Christian Church Is to Be Recognized,” seems to offer what at first blush appear to be seven tokens or marks by which the presence of the Church might be determined. However, a careful reading of the entire essay will readily show that Luther differentiates between essential marks or tokens by which the presence of the Church is established, namely the means of grace, and four functions which also indicate that presence, but do not represent a visible side of the Church, namely the exercise of the Office of the Keys, the holy ministry, public worship, and the fact of persecution. We see at once that these functions are connected with the first essential mark of the Church, namely the Word of God. The difference thus presented by Luther may readily be illustrated by several analogies. The soul or life of a person is his real self, and it is invisible; yet it manifests itself in the activities of breathing, walking, working, etc. Thus electricity is an invisible power, but it manifests itself in producing light and power. The same holds true of the invisibility of the Church, the una sancta.These statements being true, we are bound to reject as false and misleading, if not outright anti-Scriptural, to find in the intercessory prayer of Christ, John 17:21-23, an admonition to outward unity, whereas the Lord clearly had reference to the unity which obtains in the una sancta. It is confusing to assert, as has been done in a public document, that the “visible” Church should “become the visible manifestation of the una sancta.” We may speak of marks or evidences of the invisible Church, but the Church cannot be made visibly manifest. It is misleading to state that “the Church, as the company of those who are born again, is the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” for that is equivalent to externalizing the invisible Church. It would be safe to say that the visible churches, the professing Christians, have this obligation resting upon them.There must be no confounding of the attributes and functions of the una sancta with those of visible, corporate bodies, who bear the Christian name because of their Christian confession. It is ambiguous to say “that the Lord gave the right and privilege of all the functions of the Church to the Church.” The intention of the sentence seems to be: The Lord gave the rights and privileges of the universal priesthood to all believers, who in reality constitute the Church in the true sense, and it is because of them (hidden as they are in the church bodies of which they are members) that the Lord recognizes the activities of those bodies. More concerning this point in another part of this paper.
b.We now take up that moot question as to the use of the term ekklesia in referring to visible bodies. The designation could, according to its etymology, be applied to any assembly of Christians, and the meaning of the word in its wider connotation may be conceded in a few passages, e.g., Acts 9:31, if the singular is here the correct reading, but see Gal. 1:22; 1 Thess. 2:14); Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6.) However, even in these instances there is no reference to a larger organization, but the apostle speaks in general terms, just as we might today speak of the Christian Church in Illinois or Wisconsin. For the same reason 2 Cor. 1:1 is ruled out, especially when we compare this reference to the saints of Achaia with 1 Cor. 1:2 which includes all that are called saints. Let us therefore state at once that we have no passage in the New Testament which applies the designation ekklesia to what we now term a synod.However, in this connection we are bound to declare that the term ekklesia is applied to visible organizations, to congregations as they appear before the eyes of men, The Lord of the Church in this instance has accommodated Himself to the limitations of men, and Holy Writ recognizes the existence and activity of organizations, of corporate bodies, which, by a well-known metonymy (or synekdoche) bear the designation ekklesia (church), This is certainty true in Matthew 13 and in 25: 1ff., where Jesus, speaking in parables, uses the word “kingdom” as a synonym for “church.” The Lord clearly has a visible group of such as profess the Christian faith in mind in Matt. 18:17, for He refers to dealing with a “visible brother.” Acts 8:1, compared with chapter 2:41,44; 4:23,32 also clearly refer to visible organizations. In Acts 6:1-7 the “multitude” is clearly to be identified with the congregation or church at Jerusalem, as it is in Acts 21:22. In Acts 15:3,22 the designation “church” cannot possibly, according to the context, refer to the una sancta, the invisible congregation of the elect on earth and in heaven, for members of the congregation are presented as visible, speaking, acting persons. In Acts 5:1-11 Ananias and Sapphira are clearly referred to as members of the congregation (church) at Jerusalem (note v.11!). And in I Cor. 5:1 (“among you“), likewise in v.13 (“put away from among you“) the apostle has reference to the statement of v.11 (“if any man that is called a brother”). And what about the impact of conditions as pictured in the description of the church at Corinth, of the churches in Galatia, and in those of Proconsular Asia, eg. Rev. 2:14,20 24; 3:2,4? Hence the distinction must be kept in mind: The Lord of the Church Himself uses the realistic approach; He accommodates Himself to the views and the manner of speaking ordinarily employed by men; He applies the name “churches” to visible organizations, to corporate bodies consisting of persons professing the Christian faith, as they appear before the eyes of men. At the same time it remains a fact that each such corporate body bears the name ekklesia only by a metonymy and that all resolutions and acts of such a body have validity before God only because of the members of the invisible Church included in them. The members of the una sancta. in and through the corporate body of the ekklesia in which they are contained, perform the work which God expects of them. Referring once more to the analogy given above: The situation is like the activity of the soul or the life of man acting through his body, or like the stream of electricity in a machine or appliance, the latter in itself being without life and receiving all its power from the invisible source contained in it.This Scriptural truth, namely that the Lord Himself applies the designation ekklesia to a visible organization, namely by virtue of the fact that the true believers in such a body are its life and soul, is taught also in the Lutheran Confessions, e g., in the Apology. We read:
“And the gloss upon the Decrees says that the Church in its wide sense embraces good and evil: likewise, that the wicked are in the Church only in name, not in fact,” (Trigl., p. 229, col. 2).
“Hypocrites and wicked men are members of this true Church according to outward rites (titles and offices).” (P. 231, col, 1.)
“Christ also speaks of the outward appearance of the Church, when He says, Matt. 13:47: The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, likewise to ten virgins; and He teaches that the Church has been covered by a multitude of evils, in order that this stumblingblock may not offend the pious: likewise, in order that we may know that the Word and Sacraments are efficacious even when administered by the wicked. And meanwhile He teaches that these godless men, although they have the fellowship of outward signs, are nevertheless not the true kingdom of Christ and members of Christ.” (P. 233, par. 19.)
It is evident that the Apology does not hesitate to make the concession concerning the application of the designation “Church” (in a figurative sense) to the ekklesia in its outward form. It is a clear case of “distinguendum est.”Luther observes the same distinction. In the same treaties in which Luther so emphatically and correctly rejects the false teaching of Alveld regarding the visibility of the Church, the great Reformer inserts statements which show that he fully appreciated the distinction between the proper and the improper use of the term “Church.” He writes:
“There are many among the Christians in the corporate assembly and union, who nevertheless by their sins exclude themselves from the internal, spiritual union.” (St. Louis Ed., 18,1015, par. 23.)
And a little farther on:
“In addition to this way of speaking of the Christian Church (namely that of teaching the invisible nature of the Church), there is still another way of speaking of the Christian Church, According to that we call an assembly in a house or parish, bishopric, archbishopric, the papacy, in which assembly the outward forms are in vogue, such as singing, reading, chasuble, a Christian congregation (Christenheit) . . . Therefore, for the sake of a better understanding and in the interest of brevity we shall call the two churches with two different names. The first one, which is natural, thorough, essential, and true, we shall call a spiritual, internal Christendom (Christian Church). The other, which is manmade and external, we shall call a corporate, external Christendom (Christian Church): not as though we should want to separate them from each other; but, just as I would speak of a man and call him spiritual according to his soul and corporal according to his body; or as the apostle calls him an internal and an external man. Thus also the Christian assembly according to the soul is one congregation in one faith, harmoniously; although according to the body it cannot be assembled in one place, yet every group is assembled in its place.” (18, 1018f.)
Compare also Luther’s exposition of Joel 3:22 (6, 1628f,): the Longer Exposition of Galatians (9,42-44); Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Trinity (11,1759); Reply to Catharinus (18, 1464ff.); Of the Councils and Churches (16, 2274ff.).And just as Luther correctly taught the distinction between the ekklesia in the proper and in the improper sense, so he also observed the distinction in its practical application. The most important documents in this connection are contained in volume 10, where we have, e.g., his “Order of Divine Services in the Congregation” (col. 220ff. ), “That a Christian Congregation Has the Right and the Power to Judge All Doctrine” (col. 1538ff.), “Order (or Constitution) of the Congregation at Leisnig” (col. 954) and many others. As we study Luther’s works, we are bound to acknowledge that Luther was definitely realistic in his treatment of the question and in observing the distinction between the una sancta and the congregation or local parish.
2. Distinguendum est. The second difficulty concerns the distinction between the rights of the universal priesthood, individually and collectively, and the public exercise of those rights and privileges in the name of a corporate body for which a person is acting.
a. We teach the universal priesthood of all believers chiefly on the basis of 1 Peter 2:9, the magna carta of the Christian Church, the promise of Ex. 19:6 applied to New Testament conditions. There is no special “order” of priests in the New Testament Church, for all believers are kings and priests unto God and Christ, Rev. 1:6; 5:10. They all offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus, Christ (1 Peter 2:5); they all offer their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God (Rom. 12:1.) All believers, in the universal priesthood, are possessors of marvelous spiritual blessings: forgiveness of sins, peace with God, access to the Father, the powers coming to them as members of the body of Christ. Of particular importance in this connection is the statement in 1 Cor. 3:21,22: “All things are yours.” This includes, above all, the power which we commonly designate as the Office of the Keys. For all Christians are directed, by the Word of God, to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all things which Christ commanded. Matt. 28:19,20. And again: “That ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” And this is properly the Office of the Keys in a general sense, namely to proclaim liberty to those held captive in sin. Wherever Christians are, they have the duty to make known to men everywhere the great truth of the redemption of mankind through the blood of Christ. At the same time this power and office includes the duty to warn unrepentant sinners of the wrath to come.Every Christian possesses this power, Matt. 16:19, and he may therefore give the assurance of the grace of God in Christ Jesus to individuals and to groups who are in sorrow over their sins. Thus also, in an occasional gathering of people, where Christians are present, they have the power, and the duty, to exercise the right of the keys, to forgive the sins of the penitent sinners, but to warn the impenitent of the judgment of God upon them, as long as they do not repent. Christians in any group have this power. Of the many quotations from Luther which we could here adduce, we offer only two from his tract “How Ministers of the Church Should Be Chosen.” (Vol. 10,1570. 1590.)
“But let us continue and prove the same (namely that all Christians are priests) from the priestly offices, as they call it, that all Christians in the same way are priests for these passages, I Pet. 2:9: ‘Ye are a royal priesthood,’ and Rev. 5:10:’Thou hast made us to be kings and priests unto our God,’ I have adduced sufficiently in other books. But these are approximately all the priestly offices: to teach, to preach and to proclaim the Word of God, to baptize, to bless or to administer the Sacrament of the Altar, to bind and to loosen from sins, to pray for others, to sacrifice, and to judge concerning the doctrine and the spirit of others. Truly, these are powerful and royal prerogatives. … We firmly insist upon this, that there is no other Word of God but that alone which is commanded to all Christians to proclaim; that there is no other Baptism than that which all Christians may administer; that there is no other commemoration of the Lord’s Supper than that committed to every Christian, which Christ has instituted for observance; also that there is no other sin but that which every Christian may bind and loosen; also that there is no sacrifice but the body of every Christian, also that no one may pray but only the Christian; in addition that no one should judge concerning the doctrine but only the Christian. But these are truly the priestly and royal offices.” Cp, also 19, 113f., 10,1541; 3,723; 10,1544; 5,1038; 10,.1557.2224-2226.
But we shall add one more quotation, because this serves as a transition to our next point, an excerpt taken from Luther’s sermon on I Pet. 2:5:
“These three offices He has given to us all. Because He is priest, and we are His brethren, therefore all Christians have power and command to preach and to proclaim God’s mercy and attributes, etc., and to step before God, in order that one might pray for the other and sacrifices himself to God; yet, as St. Paul says, that everything be done in order, that not every one teach in the congregation and administer the holy Sacraments, but only those who have been called by the congregation and to whom the ministry is committed, the others should listen in silence, etc.” (9,1173.)
b. Here we say again: Distinguendum est. Every Christian possesses the right and the power of the Office of the Keys, but the public exercise of this power, in the name of the entire local congregation, is clearly vested in that individual ekklesia, Matt. 18:15-20, for this passage, as we shall presently see, can be understood only of such a well defined group of believers, in one parish or locality. Cp. 1 Cor. 5:1,2, 11,13 (“among you; called a brother; put away from among yourselves.”) We refer here also to 1 Cor. 14: 33,40: “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace…. Let all things be done decently and in order.” The work of preaching and administering the Sacraments in the name of all cannot be carried out by the congregation members acting individually. If every individual member of the congregation would insist that he has the right to preach in public worship, that would inevitably cause confusion, disorder, strife. The pastor is the public administrator of the Christian ministry not only in public worship, but whenever and wherever he, as the representative of the congregation, performs the duties of his office. Through him the congregation and every individual member of the congregation preaches, teaches, baptizes, administers the Sacrament, calls upon the sick, ministers to the dying. Thus, by God’s will and order, the public administration of the gifts which Christ has given to the believers, as we have shown above, is entrusted to the local congregation. In this body the promise of internal (Matt. 13.33; Eph. 3.16) and external growth (Matt. 13:31f.; Acts 6:7; 2:47) is fulfilled; by the Christian congregation the command to bring the Gospel to all the world (Luke 24:47-cp. Acts 13:2) is carried out. To the local congregation the Lord has expressly committed church discipline in its specific sense. If, therefore, the rights of the universal priesthood and the public administration of these rights in the local congregation or parish are properly distinguished, there will be no clash.
3. Distinguendum. est. As stated above, the Office of Keys, given to all believers by virtue of their universal priesthood, is concentrated, in its public administration, in the corporate activity of the Christian individual-ekklesia. And the establishing and functioning of the individual-ekklesia is done in accordance with God’s will and order, expressed in particular by Biblical example. The usus specialis of the term ekklesia, as referring to the local parish, to a group of professing Christians exercising the rights of the universal priesthood through the ministry of the Word, is supported by the following facts) the frequent use of the plural churches, this being the case in at least 36 instances, of special interest in this connection being Gal. 1:2, where one might expect the singular, if there had been a joint organization of some kind analogous to our present synodical bodies;
b) the distributive use of the term ekklesia, as in 1 Cor. 4:17; 14:33; 2 Cor. 11:28;
c) cases where the context permits no other understanding than that of a parish in the restricted sense, e.g.. 1 Cor, 14:33; Col. 4:15; Philemon, 2.
d) each individual ekklesia (assembly or congregation) was regarded as a definite unit under an acknowledged leader, as in the case of Jerusalem and elsewhere (Acts 4:23-“their own company” cp.v.32; 6:2.5-“the multitude” Acts 15:4,12 -“they were received of the church . . . then all the multitude” Acts 14:23-“ordained elders in every church” Phil. 2:25; Titus 1:5, etc.)
e) the congregations of the Apostolic Age were referred to as well-defined groups, with a registered membership in a certain locality (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 21:20; 6:1);
f) there was a careful checking of membership, and those among the registered membership who were revealed as hypocrites were excluded from the local congregation (Acts 5:1-10; 1 Cor. 5:9-13);
g) the congregation (ekklesia) of Antioch (Acts 15:3) sent its representatives, who were then cordially received by the ekklesia of Jerusalem (v.4), which is also called pleethos (v.12), and this entire local ekklesia under the direction of the apostles and presbyters (v.22) passed resolutions which were then sent to Antioch and subsequently presented to the congregations of Galatia (Acts 16:4);
h) letters of various kinds sent by congregations or to congregations were addressed as pertaining to the individual ekklesia (3 John, 9; Acts 15:30,31, 1 Cor, 16:3;
i) cases of church discipline, in particular, presuppose a circumscribed body functioning as a definite unit for some length of time, not merely as a casual or occasional assembly (Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5:4- cp. 2 Cor. 2:6-8);
j) meetings held for the administration of the means of grace clearly presuppose some form of congregational organization (Acts 2:42, 1 Cor. 11:18ff.; Heb. 10:23).Hence a corporate organization that possesses and performs all the functions which Christ has entrusted to the individual ekklesia cannot be a mere casual or fortuitous phenomenon, a mere historical development, but must be regarded as existing and functioning according to divine will and order.***********************We now turn to the opinion expressed in some quarters, namely that other assemblies of Christians, who possess the rights of the universal priesthood, may exercise these rights in the same manner as the individual-ekklesia. Keeping in mind the apostle’s injunction: “God is not the author of confusion. . . Let all things be done decently and in order,” I Cor. 14:33,40, we readily admit that, as said above, individuals as well as groups possess, and therefore may use the power implied, but only according to Scriptural precept and example. Walther’s reference to the lack of divine institution in the case of ordination cannot be transferred to the ekklesia situation because the cases are not identical. God’s will and order concerning the formation of local congregations is too clear from what we have just presented. For Christians it is not necessary to have an expressed law when God’s will and order is so clearly set forth. As shown above, we have no instance in the New Testament where we could rightfully suppose the term ekklesia as referring to what we now call a synod, neither Acts 15 nor 2 Cor. 1:1 (cp. with 1 Cor. 1:2) warranting such an assumption. It is particularly significant that the plural, ekklesiai, is used in Gal. 1:2, although Paul addressed his letter to them as a group, and Acts 9:31 (if the singular is the correct reading) is counter balanced by I Thess. 2:14 and Gal. 2:22. In Phil. 3:6, Gal. 1:13, and 1 Cor. 15:9 the word “church” is used as a general concept and has no reference to any kind of an organization. If we therefore say that such bodies as synods are established in accordance with God’s will and order, we do so chiefly on the basis of three factors:
a. that the Lord bids Christians to serve one another in love, Gal. 5:13, and to minister the spiritual gifts received, 1 Peter 4:10; Rom. 12:4,5: 1 Cor. 12:7,25;
b. that the Lord declares all things to be our, 1 Cor. 3:23;
c. that the cooperative activities of the early congregations, 1 Cor. 16:1.2: 2 Cor. 8:4; Acts 20:4 cp. with 2 Cor. 8:19-22, serve as examples for the Christians of today.And here we add: Of course the functions of any kind of Christian organization or even of corporate bodies are derived from such passages as those here listed and are divine, simply because they, collectively, make use of their rights of the universal priesthood. But the careful theologian well knows that this divine character is based on 1 Peter 2:5,9, and hence will not assert that any group of Christians, such as a laymen’s league, a women’s missionary league, a young people’s association, a men’s club, a ladies’ aid society, or even a synod as such possesses the rights which are clearly associated in Scripture with the individual-ekklesia. A synod, as a corporate body, has direct power and jurisdiction, according to its constitution, over its officers, including the teachers at its educational institutions. But a synod, over against its constituent congregations, is only a service institution, a federation of congregations and certain individual members cooperating in the performance of activities which can ordinarily be done more efficiently by combining forces, since the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every Christian to profit withal, 1 Cor. 12:7. At no time may a synodical organization assume the authority of a super-church with executive powers. Wherever and whenever this is done, it is bound to result in papistical tyranny.
4. Distinguendum est. It is God’s will and order that local congregations of Christians (individual ekklesiai) have shepherds and teachers who in the name of all (von Gemeinschafts wegen) perform the ministry in their midst,a. It is clear that the parish ministry is a divine institution. When Paul wrote those significant words: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God,” 1 Cor. 4:1, he was not merely referring to his own apostolic office, but to that of Apollos as well, v. 6; chap. 16:12. And when the apostle gave instructions to Timothy concerning the office of the bishop, that is the parish pastor, he was definitely speaking of just that office, as the entire context shows. The same is true of Titus 1:5-9. And we have good reason to conclude that Epaphroditus (Phil. 4:18), Archippus (Col. 4:17; Philemon, 2), and others were parish pastors. The individual-ekklesia and the parish pastor are correlates. A pastor or shepherd presupposes a particular flock-but the invisible flock cannot be shepherded by men (John 10:16), it is included, contained, in the visible flock (Acts .20:29); the minister or servant presupposes a specific group whom he serves (2 Cor. 3:6); the preacher presupposes hearers, and such hearers, moreover, who acknowledge him as given to them by God (Rom. 10:14; Heb. 13:17; Titus 1:5); the steward (1 Cor. 4:2) presupposes a household, the bishop such as are placed in his care, under him as overseer (1 Tim. 3:1,5). In none of these instances can the correlation expressed in these terms, and in their context, be thought of without a local connection or without reference to a specific organization of Christians.Luther taught these truths with great emphasis. In his exposition of Ps. 82:4 he writes:
“That the apostles at first went into strange houses and preached was due to the fact they had the commandment to do so; they were ordained, called, and sent that they should preach in all places, as Christ said Mark 16:15: Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. But since that time no one else has such a general apostolic command, but every bishop or minister has his definite parish (Kirchspiel), whom St. Peter therefore calls kleros, that is, a part, inasmuch as a number of the people is committed to each one (as St. Paul also writes to Titus), in which no other person or stranger, without his knowledge and consent, may dare to teach his parishioners, either secretly or publicly.” (5,271.).
And in that great classic “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation” the great Reformer writes:
“I want to salve my conscience and open my mouth wide, no matter whether it will vex pope, bishops, or whomever it will, and I say thus: According to the institution of Christ and the apostles every city should have a minister (Pfarrherr) or bishop, as St. Paul clearly writes, Titus 1:5…. I want to speak of the ministerial office, which God has established, which is to rule a congregation with preaching and the administration of the Sacraments, live with them, and perform the duties of stewardship.” (10, 314f.)
b. Therefore we must keep in mind that the training for the pastoral office does not warrant a man’s performing the functions of that office nisi rite vocatus. (Augsburg Confession, Art. XIV.) And when the same confession speaks of the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments (Art. V), the expression ministerium Verbi Dei is not to be understood of the ministry connected with the universal priesthood of all believers, but of the officium praedicandi in the individual-ekklesia. We do not for a moment doubt that the various offices in a local congregation and even in a larger church body forming a federation of congregations are divine offices and that the incumbents of such offices have a divine call, inasmuch as they are in the service of the Word and, directly or indirectly, assist in the work of every congregation with which they are connected. This is true of parish teachers, Sunday school teachers, deacons or elders (if really functioning in that office according to 1 Tim. 3); deaconesses, and, in the wider sphere, of officers of a synod, professors at church schools, chaplains in hospitals, etc. But whether a man has the training for the full office of the ministry, with all its functions, or not, he has no right to take over the work of a parish pastor unless rite vocatus. For the right to preach in another man’s church and to minister to the needs of any parishioner even an ordained clergyman must have the call or invitation of that parish, express or implied. No professor may presume to enter a parish in any way, shape, or form, unless rite vocatus; no official of synod may interfere with the functions of the parish pastor for the same reason, just as a parish school teacher or a deacon may not take over any part of the parish work unless by the expressed will, of the members of the parish. Only by the observance of these plain conclusions on the basis of the Word of God will the apostle’s admonition in 1 Cor. 14:40 be applied: “Let all things be done decently and in order,”
P. E. Kretzmann