We believe and teach
– that Christ, when He called the apostles, instituted the Public Ministry to endure to the end of days;
– that God has given the Public Ministry to the whole Church (all Christians) in order that it should call and ordain qualified and honourable men as pastors whom on the behalf of the Church fulfil the Ministry;
– that the task of ministers is to be servants of the Word, who on behalf of Christ and his Church preach the Word purely and clearly and administer the sacraments according to Christ’s institution;
– that the Church, which by God’s command calls and ordains ministers, has the utmost responsibility for how the ministry of the Church is performed;
– that only in cases of emergency a non-ordained Christian should administer the Holy Baptism, preach and absolve;
– that the Public Ministry could be performed in different ways and is not necessarily bound to service in a certain congregation.
In the Lutheran Church the doctrine of the preaching office (Predigtamt) or the Office of the Public Ministry is closely connected with the main article of Justification by faith. The Ministry is the office of justification or the remission of sins. It is “the living voice of the Gospel” (viva vox evangelii), through which the Holy Spirit creates and maintains the saving faith. The faith comes, according to the Scripture, through the Gospel preached by preachers sent by God (Rom. 10:14 ff.).
The Ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments is the highest and only essential office of the Church. This office is not a free human arrangement – of which there are examples in the New Testament – but a divine institution. The special Ministry was established by Christ when He called His apostles and gave to them and to the whole Church the command to preach the Gospel, administer Baptism and the Holy Supper and make use of the “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19), that is, to open heaven for the repentant and close it to the unrepentant. The means of grace and Ministry are always put together in the New Testament. The commission to the apostles to preach and administer the sacraments was a commission “to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Thus it was a Ministry that was going to continue also after their death. That is done in the office of the Public Ministry. In all the commandments of Christ to his apostles to preach and administer the sacraments we have the divine institution of the special Ministry. The Lutheran Confession says about this: “We have a sure doctrine, that the office of the ministry proceeds from the general call of the apostles” (Tr, Trigl. p. 506, from the German text).
We know that the main part of the activities of Jesus as well as the apostles was preaching and teaching. In the same way is the Public Office always a preaching office. A pastor is Verbi Divini Minister, the servant of the divine Word. The most important task of a pastor, both in the public and in the individual pastoral cure of souls, is to proclaim Law and Gospel through which the Spirit of God brings about a true conversion with repentance from sins and faith in the remission of sins. Even the sacraments require preaching and teaching. Otherwise they will soon become empty ceremonies. When a pastor faithfully preaches the Word of God and administers the sacraments according to the institution of Christ, he is to be looked upon as the representative of Christ according to the word: “He who hears you hears Me” (Luke 10:16). Our Lutheran confessions say about the incumbents of the Ministry: “When they offer the word of God, when they offer the Sacraments, they offer them in the stead and place of Christ” (Ap VII/VIII, Trigl. p. 237).
The Ministry belongs to the entire Church, all Christians, as the priesthood of believers according to 1 Pet. 2:9: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him.” But this does not mean that everyone should perform the Ministry in public or on behalf of the Church. Only those who are called by the Church should do that. When the Church calls and ordains ministers, it is always Christ himself who calls and ordains them. The ordination act is normally the final and public confirmation of the call. The outward forms for the call and the ordination are not dogmatically prescribed in the Bible and may therefore vary. However, they should always express that the joint call of the Church is a divine call.
To the Public Ministry should be called men who have the moral and pedagogical qualifications that are mentioned in the so called Pastoral letters (1, 2 Tim. and Titus). That God has not given the apostolic ministry to women is not an act of discrimination or depreciation of the woman, but an expression of that God has given different roles to man and woman.
The calling of a pastor is not a temporary call, but a call for lifetime to be faithful and like the apostles “endure to the end”. (Matt. 10:22). If the pastor nevertheless fails in his call, for example by preaching false doctrine, he could and should be removed from his office as a pastor unless he repents and is willing to change his behaviour. The Church which delegates the Public Ministry has thereby not deprived itself of it, but is still the owner of the Ministry. The Church has power and duty both to appoint and to remove and it always has the utmost responsibility for how the Ministry of the Church is carried out. All Christians have a duty to pray for their pastors, honour them in their Ministry and contribute to their living, but it is also their duty to watch over the management of the pastors and interfere when they neglect their duties.
The Lutheran Church admits no so called layman preaching, where non-ordained people act in public due to any kind of “inner calls” or because of special gifts of speaking and things like that. The Augsburg Confession very resolutely says, “that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.” Only in cases of emergency, when no pastor is available, the layman temporary steps in, baptises, preaches and absolves. The administration of the Holy Supper does not fall into the case of such need, because the saving Gospel is at hand in other ways.
What is then to be said about the cooperation of laymen in church activities for children and young people? Such activities are mainly to be regarded as help and support for the parents in their God given responsibility to instruct their children in the Word of God and raise them to live as Christians (Eph. 6:4, 2 Tim. 1:5). In the Large Catechism (under the fourth commandment) Luther derives the schoolmaster’s office from the authority of the parents and not from the Public Ministry. Teachers in Christian schools, Sunday school teachers and the like assist and act in this field as the extended arms of the parents. When they do, they are carrying out an important mission, but without holding or interfering with the special divinely instituted Public Ministry. These kinds of organised activities in the church are of course a good help also for the pastor and should stand under his supervision.
The Church has the freedom to organise the performance of the Ministry in different ways. In the New Testament the Ministry of the Word is exercised by, e.g., apostles, prophets, elders, shepherds (pastors) and teachers, everyone with their special profile. In the similar way also among us the Ministry could have different names and consist for example in being a bishop, an ordinary parish pastor, a missionary, a pastor with a special mission to serve certain groups with the Word of God or to assist congregations in a diocese or in a certain area. An ordained pastor does always have the whole Public Ministry, even if he during certain periods does not exercise all parts of it.
And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 16:19)
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)
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:19-20)
And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” ‑ ‑ ‑ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom. 10:15, 17)
He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me. (Luke 10:16)
Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. (1 Cor. 4:1-2)
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (2 Tim. 4:2)
But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim. 4:5)
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28)
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Pet. 2:9)
And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers… Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? (1 Cor. 12:28-29)
And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. (1 Tim. 2:12)
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (Matt. 7:15)
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (1 Tim. 5:17‑18)
… meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. (Col. 4:3-4)
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. (Heb. 13:7)
What the Lutheran Confessions say
That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. (AC V, Trigl. p. 45)
But this is their [our churches’] 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., Mark 16:15. (AC XXVIII, Trigl. p. 85)
But they [the priests] are called to teach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments to the people. Nor do we have another priesthood like the Levitical, as the Epistle to the Hebrews sufficiently teaches. But if ordination be understood as applying to the ministry of the Word, we are not unwilling to call ordination a sacrament. For the ministry of the Word has God’s command and glorious promises, Rom. 1:16: The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth… If ordination be understood in this way, neither will we refuse to call the imposition of hands a sacrament. For the Church has the command to appoint ministers, which should be most pleasing to us, because we know that God approves this ministry, and is present in the ministry. (Ap XIII, Trigl. p. 311)
When they offer the Word of God, when they offer the Sacraments, they offer them in the stead an place of Christ. Those words of Christ [Luke 10:16] teach us not to be offended by the unworthiness of the ministers. (Ap VII/VIII, Trigl. p. 237)
Of Ecclesiastical Order they [our churches] teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called. (AC XIV, Trigl. p. 49)
For Christ, speaking concerning the keys adds, Matt. 18:19: If two or three of you shall agree on earth, etc. Therefore he grants the keys principally and immediately to the Church, just as also for this reason the Church has principally the right of calling. (Tr, Trigl. p. 511)
Hence, wherever there is a true church, the right to elect and ordain ministers necessarily exists. Just as in a case of necessity even a layman absolves, and becomes the minister and pastor of another; as Augustine narrates the story of two Christians in a ship, one of whom baptized the catechumen, who after Baptism then absolved the baptizer.
Here belong the statements of Christ which testify that the keys have been given to the Church, and not merely to certain persons, Matt. 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together in My name, etc.
Lastly, the statement of Peter also confirms this, 1 Pet. 2:9: Ye are a royal priesthood. These words pertain to the true Church, which certainly has the right to elect and ordain ministers since it alone has the priesthood. And this also a most common custom of the Church testifies. - - -
From all these things it is clear that the Church retains the right to elect and ordain ministers. And the wickedness and tyranny of bishops afford cause for schism and discord, [therefore, if the bishops either are heretics, or will not ordain suitable persons, the churches are in duty bound before God, according to divine law, to ordain for themselves pastors and ministers]. (Tr, Trigl. p 523 f.)
all kinds of false doctrines that contrary to the Scripture teach, for example,
– that the Public Ministry is not a divine institution, but only a practical question of good order;
– that the Public Ministry requires so-called apostolic succession in order to be valid, that is, the ordination of pastors must be done in an unbroken chain of episcopal imposition of hands down from the apostles (Roman error);
– that God also has called women to be pastors (old, Gnostic deviation);
– that Christians could move in and out in the tasks of the Public office just as they like;
– that laymen for the sake of variety should be permitted preach in public services, assist with distributing the Holy Supper or do other things that belongs to the special Office of the Ministry (sneaking dissolution of the ministry);
– that laymen neither can nor should from the Scripture examine and judge the preaching of their pastors (blind faith and obedience);
– that laymen should not break the church-fellowship with false teachers and that they by themselves never have the right to call and ordain pastors.
Lord of the Church, we
For those who guide us in Thy way
And speak Thy holy Word.
With love divine their hearts inspire
And touch their lips with hallowed fire
And needful strength afford.
Help them to preach the truth
Redemption through the Savior’s blood,
Nor let the Spirit cease
On all the Church His gifts to shower—
To them a messenger of power;
To us, of life and peace.
So may they live to Thee
Then hear the welcome word, "Well done,"
And take their crown above;
Enter into their Master’s joy
And all eternity employ
In praise and bliss and love.