by Dr. George F. Wollenburg

Historical Background


In 1838 a group of Saxons from Germany, under the leadership of The Rev. Martin Stephan, left Germany to settle in America, either in Illinois, Indiana, or Missouri. The decision was made to select Missouri. Four ships left Germany with the colonists who came in order to establish an orthodox Lutheran Church in America, free from the errors of the Union churches in Germany.

On New Years Eve, 1838, Stephan delivered a long harangue to a group of his followers on the ship, Olbers. It was reported by candidate Brohm: "I ask little for myself...l must concern myself with lice and bedbugs tormented and downtrodden man that I am -must concern myself with chamber pots. I do not desire to lead the Gesellschaft,...but so long as I am the one to do it, I demand obedience....l have forsaken my children (a reference to leaving his wife and seven children behind him in Germany.) I would also forsake you, although I love you.... I do not wish to rule, but also do not wish to permit another to rule."

On January 14, 1839 The Rev. O.H. Walther prepared the document for the investiture of Stephan as bishop. In this document we find the following reference to Stephan. " have for a long time already occupied the position of bishop ...this has become even more apparent since the plan, considered according to God's word, of transplanting the Lutheran Church from Germany to the United States has been put into execution.... an abiding conviction has resulted in us that an episcopal form of polity, in accord with the Word of God, with the Old Apostolic Church, and with our Symbolical Writings, is indispensable." (1 )

Stephan accepted the office of bishop with a show of reluctance and hoped that his office would not be made unduly difficult by the stubbornness and ignorance of the people.

Stephan had the full support of the pastors and candidates. On February 16, aboard the Steamboat Selma a "PLEDGE OF SUBJECTION TO STEPHAN" was signed. In this document reference is made to the difficulties that the group was experiencing and the lamentable spiritual estate of the people. The sins that were especially mentioned, and caused distress to the clergy and others were, "...great indifference to God's word and despising of the holy office of the ministry, in particular a damnable spirit of mistrust and dissatisfaction toward our Right Reverend Bishop ... a morbid tendency toward slander, vengefulness, envy, and ill will, hypocrisy and disobedience to the orders given by His Reverence...." (2) They committed themselves to "... live, suffer, and die under the episcopal method of church polity,..." They committed themselves to "...submit with Christian willingness and sincerity to the ordinances, decrees and measures of His Reverence in respect to both ecclesiastical and community affairs ... as the means of promoting our temporal and eternal welfare." (3) This in effect was the creation of a cult, not merely of an episcopal form of church polity. That which identifies a cult is total devotion to a leader, and the willingness to have all interpretation of spiritual and religious matters determined by the leader.

Upon their arrival in St. Louis, plans were made for the proper episcopal accouterments. A staff, a cap, and a cross and chain were prepared for the bishop. Appropriate clerical vestments were planned, not only for the bishop, but also for the pastors. The cost of this equipment was covered by obtaining contributions from the people, who donated their jewelry to the cause. (Shades of Aaron and the golden calf.) Plans for an episcopal residence in Perry County were also drawn up. Stephan told his preachers to attend the dedication of the second Roman Catholic Church in St. Louis to observe the proper liturgical procedures. It was reported that the practice of kissing the bishops hand was introduced.

Financial problems also plagued the colony. Among other matters, one of the causes for the financial problems was the irregularities due to the control which Stephan exercised. The bishop decided that he was entitled to live in a style suited to his high office. He had attained absolute power within the "Gesellschaft". Several examples may illustrate.

Stephan had purchased a special coach in which to leave Dresden, Germany. This was freighted all the way to St. Louis. It was not suitable for use in Perry County and was sold in St. Louis at a loss of 200 Thaler. The bishop ordered quantities of the best and most expensive wines for his use, which were paid for out of the funds of the Gesellschaft. Cash advances were made to anyone who was in good standing with the bishop. Mr. Vehse stated that 4000 Thaler were spent for the personal expenses of the bishop in seven months from November 1838 to May 1839. The pastors and candidates of the group also were well served by the Gesellschaft. When Stephan was finally deposed the treasury was short by $1802.871/2. (4)

Evidence of the cultic character of the Stephanite group is also indicated by the New York immigrants. Under the leadership of a Layman named Sproede a group of immigrants, who were also followers of Stephan, immigrated to New York in 1836. Sproede kept in touch with Stephan by letter and continued to receive instruction from him. Sproede founded a small group which conducted its affairs according to instructions received from Stephan. Johann Friedrich Buenger, a candidate of theology met with the New Yorkers following the 1839 immigration of the Saxons. At a meeting on March 27, 1840, Sproede and Buenger prepared resolutions for the group which were simply announced to the men attending the meeting. No opposition was allowed and differences of opinion were not tolerated. One man expressed the opinion that, "The word of God still existed in Germany." He was one of the few who was getting financial assistance. This was promptly withdrawn. Within 24 hours he repented of his rash opinion and agreed that the Stephanites were the remnant of the true church. (5)


We are all familiar with the eventual deposing of Stephan and his expulsion from the Perry County settlement in the summer of 1840. He was accused of sexual improprieties with several women of the group. His deposition was led by lay members and ultimately also by the clergy, who not only deposed him as bishop, but in their deposition also excommunicated him.

The result of this was theological chaos. The absolute conviction that they were the only remaining true church and that Stephan was God's chosen leader coupled with a great zeal for what they believed to be God's will led them to this tragic state of affairs. The following questions plagued the Gesellschaft, not only in Perry County, but also in St. Louis. Did the pastors have the right to serve congregations? Had they been justified in leaving their congregations in Germany? Had their idolization of Stephan deprived them of the right to claim that they were Christians? Were they a church or a mob? Were they a Lutheran Church or a Stepanistic association (cult)? Did they, if they were congregations, have the right to call pastors? What is a church? What is the office of the Ministry? What are the obligations of both clergy and laity? (6) Some still believed that everything that had been done by the group was justifiable. Others believed that they were no longer congregations, but separatistic mobs and their pastors, impostors.

On April 15, and 21, 1841, C.F.W. Walther, after a prolonged illness of about a year, prepared 8 theses on Church and Ministry which became the focus of a debate. A Layman by the name of Marbach was Walther's opponent in this debate. These theses later became the basis for the Theses on Church and Ministry, adopted by the Synod and published in the book, "The Voice of Our Church on the Question of Church and Ministry". The eight theses are listed below.


The true Church, in the most real and most perfect sense, is the totality (Gesamtheit) of all true believers, who from the beginning to the end of the world from among all peoples and tongues have been called and sanctified by the Holy Spirit through the Word. And since God alone knows these true believers (1 Tim. 2:19), the Church is also called invisible. No one belongs to this true Church who is not spiritually united with Christ, for it is the spiritual body of Jesus Christ.


The name of the true Church belongs also to all those visible companies of men among whom God's Word is purely taught and the Holy Sacraments are administered according to the institution of Christ. True, in this Church there are godless men, hypocrites, and heretics, but they are not true members of it, nor do they constitute the Church.

The name Church, and in a certain sense, the name True Church, belongs also to those visible companies of men who have united under the confession of a falsified faith and therefore have incurred the guilt of a partial departure from the truth; provided they possess so much of God's Word and the holy Sacraments in purity that children of God may thereby be born. When such companies are called true churches, it is not the intention to state that they are faithful, but only that they are real churches as opposed to all worldly organizations (Gemeinschaffen).


The name Church is not improperly applied to heterodox companies, but according to the manner of speech of the Word of God itself. It is also not immaterial that this high name is allowed to such communions, for out of this follows: 1. That members of such companies may be saved, for without the church there is no salvation.


  1. The outward separation of a heterodox company from an orthodox Church is not necessarily a separation from the universal Christian Church nor a relapse into heathenism and does not yet deprive that company of the name Church.

  2. Even heterodox companies have church power, even among them the gods of the Church may be validly administered, the ministry established, the Sacraments validly administered, and the keys of the kingdom of.Heaven exercised.

  3. Even heterodox companies are not to be dissolved, but reformed.




The orthodox Church is chiefly to be judged by the common, orthodox, public confession to which is members acknowledge and confess themselves to be pledged. (7)


J.A.H. Grabau was confirmed in a Union church in Prussia in 1818. He was ordained at St. Andreas church in Erfurt June 17, 1834. In 1836 he publicly declared that he could no longer submit to the agenda of the Union church. He was suspended from office in 1837. He continued to lead private services in the homes of individuals. On March 1, 1837 he was arrested and imprisoned. With the help of Captain Heinrich von Rohr he escaped from prison and spent nine months on the run. He was arrested and imprisoned again in 1838. He was released in March of 1839.

He led a group of immigrants to America. They arrived in New York in July 1839. (The Saxons under Stephan left Germany shortly after this.) Grabau was pastor of about 1200 Old Lutherans. By the end of 1840 he had established a congregation and seminary. In 1854 he organized the "Synod of The Lutheran Church Emigrated from Prussia," later known as the Buffalo Synod.'(8)

Some isolated Lutheran congregations in America were appointing some of their members to conduct services since they had no pastors. This had also been done in Germany when their confessional pastors were imprisoned. Grabau wrote a Hirtenbrief (pastoral letter) in which he addressed this situation and explained his understanding of the "rite vocatus" (ohne ordentlichen Beruf) of Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession December of 1840. A copy of the letter was also sent to the Saxons of Missouri.

The letter probably did not reach the Saxons until early in the year 1841. At that time the Saxons were busy with other matters. In May of 1839 Stephan had been deposed. The confessional and theological chaos of the Saxons needed their immediate attention. The issues of church and ministry which were contained in Grabau's Hirtenbrief were also the primary concerns of the Saxons.

C.F.W. Walther was ill for most of the year 1840. During this time he prepared himself for what later became the Altenburg debate. He did this by a thorough study of the Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, the church fathers, Luther, and the Lutheran dogmaticians of the 16th and 17th centuries. Since the Hirtenbrief must have reached the Saxons early in 1841, it is reasonable to assume that Walther was acquainted with its content when he prepared the Altenburg Theses in April of that year.

No reply was made by the Saxons until 1843. The reply was drafted by Gotthold Heinrich Loeber at a meeting of the Saxon Pastors in St. Louis in the summer of 1843 (9) In his Hirtenbrief Grabau had set forth his understanding of the "rite vocatus" of the Augustana to mean that a man must enter the ministry in accordance with the old Lutheran church orders. The pastor "pledges himself to the congregation in his faithfulness in doctrine and life, and the congregation pledges itself to him in its faithfulness and obedience in all things which are not opposed to the Word of God." (10)

Grabau also specifically states that a man appointed or called by the congregation, but not ordained by other pastors, cannot (not may not) administer the Holy Communion, or absolve from sin. Such a person "can neither give absolution nor distribute the body and blood of Christ, but rather he gives mere bread and wine." (11)

Regarding the calling of pastors Grabau insists that the election and call of a congregation does not confer the pastoral office. Congregations should do without the Lord's Supper for years, if necessary, if they have no "real pastor". Only emergency baptism should be done by the father of the family. Marriages ought also to be delayed, if possible. He provided for a kind of emergency marriage, where someone pronounced the couple to be husband and wife in the presence of witnesses, provided the couple would promise to have a pastor solemnize the marriage as soon as possible.

The Saxons response to Grabau was rather mild. Loeber summarizes: "If we were to give a summary evaluation of the content of the Hirtenbrief, it seems to us that in the first place, with regard to the old church orders that you emphasize so much, what is essential gets confused with what is nonessential, divine with human, so that Christian freedom is restricted. Secondly, however, it seems that you attribute more to the office of the ministry than is due, and that thereby the spiritual priesthood of the congregation is diminished." (12)

The Saxons state their understanding of "rite vocatus." Good order is necessary, but every form of good order is contingent and conditioned, bound to specific times and places. This includes the rite of ordination. (13) Grabau had stated that a man could only be admitted to the holy ministry by those who are already ministers of the church. By ordaining, the existing clergy commit to him the ministry of the church in the name of the Triune God. (14) The holy ministry is an estate in society which perpetuates itself by ordination.


The following is summarized from a chapter in the book titled "Ebenezer" published for the 75th anniversary of the Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, 1922. (15) The chapter is written by The Rev. Arthur Roth of Chicago, III. He takes his information from a book by T.J. Grosse, "Unterscheidungslehren der hauptsaechlichsten sich lutherisch nennenden Synoden." (Distinctive Doctrines of the Principal Synods that Have Adopted the Name Lutheran.)

  1. The Buffalo Synod teaches that the one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, is a visible church. The Buffalo Synod inserted the word visible into its quotation of Article Vll of the Augsburg Confession.

  2. The Buffalo Synod also taught that the one holy Church are not meant "scattered believers but those who gather about Word and Sacraments," and "that these church gatherings are such as have the Word and Sacrament in purity in the ministry."

  3. Buffalo denied the doctrine "that even where the Word of God and the Sacraments are not wholly pure, the Holy Church of the elect is gathered, so long as the Word and Sacraments are not totally denied, but are retained as to their essence."

  4. The Buffalo Synod rejected the doctrine that "only communion with the invisible church is absolutely necessary for salvation," teaching that "only then are we saved when by faith we also confess with our mouth and thus come into the visible true church."

  5. The Buffalo Synod explained its statement that "outside of the Lutheran Church no one can be saved" in this way: "When we say that outside of the Lutheran Church nobody can be saved, we mean to say that man must be a living member of this orthodox communion..."

  6. Regarding the Office of the Keys, Buffalo said: Christ did not give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to the Church and to each true believer, but solely and exclusively to the pastors." It called the teaching that the Keys are given to the congregation an "anabaptistico-democratic folly." It taught that "the members of a congregation do not have in their midst and for their benefit the power of the Keys, except in the holy ministry and in the present rightful pastors."

Regarding the Ministry Buffalo said:

  1. It is not the congregation which gives or conveys the holy ministry, but the Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost."

  2. A congregation must not, by itself, without the assistance and presence of a representative of the ministry, elect and call a man as its pastor, "because this has not the slightest validity before God..."

  3. "We also believe and confess that this office, as God's own institution in the Church, forms a distinct and separate rank or class."

  4. Lutheran Christians know that when the Word of God says, 'Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves,' this does not only pertain to the sermon, but to all good Christian things ... which are requisite for the good government of the church,..."

  5. The congregation itself has no right to judge the doctrine of its pastor; only other pastors have this right.

Regarding ordination and consecration of pastors Buffalo said: "The ordination is part of the divine order through which a person is lawfully inducted into office." and "...the apostolic ordination is a perpetual command of the apostles to the church, and in this sense must be held to be a command of the Holy Ghost."

Regarding church government; "What is contrary to the Word of God or not, is not decided by one single church-member, but by the Church itself in its symbols (confessions), church rituals, and synods. Therefore the highest and final tribunal ... shall be the incumbents of the holy ministry."


On July 3, 1843 Gotthold Heinrich Loeber, C.F. Gruber, and C.F.W. Walther responded to Grabau's Hirtenbrief with an evaluation.

Grabau had divided the pastoral office into the public teaching part and a priestly part which had to do with the administration of the sacraments. In the evaluation the three men said, " that you place the administration of the sacraments as the main part of the spiritual office, even above the teaching office. When you list the requirements for one who is "rite vocatus," you speak for the most part only of the ability to administer the sacraments;..." They continue, "We must remind you that the real main part of the priestly office is rather the preaching of the gospel, to which holy baptism ... and the holy super are only attached as seals." (16)

They point out that when scripture speaks of the pastoral office (particularly in the pastoral epistles) it speaks almost exclusively of teaching and preaching. They quote Luther's letter to the city of Prague in which Luther states that when the preaching office is bestowed upon a man he may also baptize, conduct mass, and carry out all the duties of pastoral ministry. (17)

They define the "rite vocatus" as placing a man into the holy office in such a way that neither the divine order nor the existing human order is violated. The divine order is the unadulterated confession of the pure doctrine, the testimony of a blameless life, and the necessary teaching gifts. The human order is that he be installed in his office according to the ecclesiastical order that exists in the congregation, i.e. he may not force himself upon them against the will of the congregation. Ordination is "... to be retained as a praiseworthy and beneficial general ceremony received from the earliest Christian times, but not as an express divine command." (18) It serves the purpose of unity and good order.

Grabau's position was that the congregation owed the pastor obedience in all things which are not expressly forbidden by the Word of God. In reply the three Saxon pastors said that this opens the door to idolatry and putting the commandments of men on a par with God's Word. (19)

They likewise rejected Grabau's position that " single member of the church, but rather only the church itself in its symbols, church orders, and synods can decide what is and, what is not, contrary to God's word and cited John 10:5; "They (my sheep) will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." as the Biblical foundation for their evaluation of Grabau's position. They quote Luther's tract "Against Henry (Vlll) King of England (1522)." "If the sheep were not to flee from the wolves until the wolves, through their Christian council and official judgment would direct them to flee, then the sheepfold would soon be empty,...." (20) (The wolves would have devoured all the sheep.)

(It may be of some interest to note that in a letter dated May 5, 1998 I received a letter informing me that the quarterly "Gottesdienst" in the third issue of 1997 published a suggested service with a prayer for Martin Stephan as the first martyr of the Lutheran Church.)


We are familiar with the urgent appeal of Friedrich Wyneken begging for men from Germany to minister to the spiritual needs of the German immigrants in America. Pastor Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe of Neuendettelsau, Bavaria responded to the appeal. He began to train "Nothelfer" (emergency helpers) to prepare them to be sent to America. In 1842 Adam Ernst, a cobbler's apprentice and Georg Burger went to America after a year's instruction by Loehe. Others followed them.

When the Missouri Synod was organized in 1847 it had a total of twenty-two pastors, twelve voting and ten advisory. Of these twenty-two pastors five were Saxons who had a thorough theological training, one additional pastor had a doctorate in philosophy. Most of the rest had minimal instruction. Nine had been sent by Loehe. By 1854, seven years after the Synod was organized the number of pastors was one hundred twenty-five. Of these more than eighty were men sent by Loehe. (21)

In 1853 Loehe broke with the Missouri Synod. After the organization in 1847 Loehe commented concerning the Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States; "We fear, certainly with a perfect right, that the fundamental strong mixing of democratic, independent, congregationalistic principles in your constitution will cause great harm, just as the mixing of princes and secular authorities in our land has done." (22) Loehe did not agree with the doctrine of church and ministry which the Synod held. Loehe said that the Office of the Ministry begets the churches, not the other way around. He said, "The office stands in the midst of the church like a fruitful tree that has its seed in itself." He held that the office perpetuates itself from one generation to the next, as one pastor examines and ordains another. He specifically rejected the Missouri Synod's understanding that the Office of the keys have been given to the church or congregation, and that the church confers the office of the public ministry upon a man by a call. (23)

The Synod invited Loehe to attend its 1851 convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When he could not come the Synod decided to send Walther and Wyneken to Germany to discuss their differences. Loehe remained unconvinced. The final break came in 1852. In 1854 Loehe organized the Iowa Synod.

At the 1851 convention Dr. C.F.W. Walther presented his theses on Church and Ministry in eight sessions. The handwritten minutes of the 1851 convention obtained from the Concordia Historical Institute contain the following: The theses were adopted "with their proofs and testimonies accepted." They were "recognized by the Synod as correct." They "received full acceptance of the Synod." The 1851 Convention then directed the essay to be put in book form, which Walther did.

The proceedings (1851) state that the theses (Kirche und Amt) are supported by, a) the Holy Scriptures, b) the Symbolic books, c) the recognized orthodox teachers of our church and the ancient church, in order to refute the accusation that our doctrine is a novelty and to demonstrate that the overarching consensus of the entire church, from the beginning, agrees with our church. The convention directed the essay to be put in book form, which Walther did.

The Synodalbericht of the 1852 Convention read, "The Synod declared itself open to this subject matter. Since it is most important, in accordance with God's will, to be in agreement, first of all in doctrine with the Buffalo Synod, in particular with Pastor Grabau, therefore the Synod's response of pure doctrine regarding Church and Ministry, compiled by Professor Walther on Synod's behalf, should be sent to the latter (Grabau) with the request that, if possible, this book should be read in its entirety and thereby they convince themselves that our apology is nothing else than the voice of the LUTHERAN CHURCH! It is important to note that this was not declared to be the Synod's voice, but the voice of the Lutheran Church.

It is clear from this that the Synod was not saying that this is one opinion out of several which may be considered true biblical doctrine, but that it was saying that the doctrine which is articulated in Walther's "Kirche und Amt" (Church and Ministry) is the true and correct doctrine of Holy Scripture and that the charges of false doctrine which both Grabau and Loehe made against the Synod were in fact contrary to the doctrine taught in the Scriptures, the Confessions, and by the recognized orthodox teachers of the Lutheran church as well as the ancient church.

Several years later (1859) Loehe conceded that the doctrine of the Missouri Synod was he doctrine of the ministry held by Luther and the Lutheran confessions. In his "Church News From and About North America" (Kirchliche Nachrichten aus und ueber Nord-Amerika), no. 8:1859 he writes, "The sad experiences which the former Stephanites had with their hierarch, Stephan, have made their hearts very receptive to the doctrine of the ministry held by Luther and subsequent theologians, a teaching also reflected in the Lutheran symbols, especially since this doctrine not only commends itself highly to the Christian mind, but also seems made to order for American circumstances." (24) Loehe makes it clear that he regards the conception of the ministry that he held and practiced to differ "from the specific-Lutheran and Lutheran-theological course" but opines that his position has a more "artless attachment to Holy Scripture and antiquity and (by) greater truth in practice."

Thus the Missouri position was that the doctrine presented in Walther's theses on Church and Ministry, together with the testimony and witness of the scriptures, the confessions, and the testimony of the orthodox teachers of the Lutheran church and the ancient church, is the true and correct teaching of Holy Scripture, "das reine Lehre". Loehe regards it as one position among several, each of equal weight in terms of being the doctrine of Holy Scripture.


Before we begin to examine Walther's theses, I will also present some of the present day theological opinions being advanced in our Synod which do not agree with the official position of our church.

An attack upon the office of the public ministry has come unintentionally from some who wish to emphasize the priesthood of all believers. In 1974 Concordia Publishing House published a book by Oscar E. Feucht, "Everyone a Minister: A guide to Churchmanship for Laity and Clergy."

He discusses the role of the pastor; "What then is the pastor's role? He is a member and leader of the Christian community. In a democratized society such as we have in our age, he can be authoritative but not authoritarian. He will serve as inspirer, moderator, animator of the congregation. He will discover and liberate the hidden talents and energies of his people. He will inspire confidence and arouse enthusiasm. He will not be an "answer man." (25)

The influence of this book, even after more than twenty-five, years may be seen in the bulletins of many of our congregations. A sentence such as the following is printed, "This church has one pastor and 300 ministers." The influence of the Church Growth movement also has adopted some of the same principles. C. Peter Wagner writes, about mission-minded congregations that they, "...refuse to hire pastors for their churches. They believe that the Holy Spirit provides each church with all the gifts needed for healthy church life, and that when members are properly using their gifts, a professional minister is simply excess baggage." (26)

Also, some of the methodologies promoted by the Pastoral Leadership Institute emphasize that the pastor is primarily a facilitator to inspire, animate, and motivate. No longer is the pastor one who is called to be a faithful

proclaimer of the Gospel, and faithfully to give the sacraments, as well as being an example to his flock. Instead,

he must find ways to discover how he can accomplish the goals of inspiration, motivation, and animation.

A reaction to this has come from those who wish to correct this emphasis. The reaction, however, is no better than the error they seek to correct. The following material is from my files, gathered over the past several years.

In an article titled, "Only Playing Church" Douglas Fusselmann wrote concerning the celebration of Holy Communion. "It seems that the young Luther's view of the sacraments was correct: A lay person may perform all the actions of the Holy Communion quite reverently and correctly, yet he/she can only offer ordinary bread and wine; for without Christ's presence through the office of the ministry, (my emphasis) his command and institution simply cannot be observed." (27)

A similar view of the pastoral office was expressed to me in a letter from a young pastor following my presentation on the subject of Church and Ministry in another district in February 2000. He said that he would attempt to pass on to me the theology which he has learned at seminary. I quote: "To say that clergy speak in the stead of the church which speaks in the stead of Christ is wrong.... It is not given to all Christians to speak in the stead and by the command of Christ to one another.... it is not every Christian's vocation to stand in the stead of Christ and, as St. Paul says, beget children through holy sacraments. (my emphasis) ... He (Christ) puts a man in His stead to meet with His bride ... As the water remains water and bread remains bread, so the man remains sinful human nature, yet there in the Office is Christ speaking to His bride and comforting Her while procreating through her.... When the church is viewed as the Bride, the Pastor is found doing what grooms do; cleansing, praising, feeding, and comforting the Bride as in Ephesians 5.... Jesus must be present incarnationally with His Bride, in a way that She can see, hear, touch and taste."

In a taped record of an interview with another pastor the pastor several times stated, "Christ is present bodily in the office." I have also heard the same kind of language regarding the distribution of the Holy Communion. Pastors insisting that only the ordained pastor is to distribute the bread and the wine, since everyone is to receive the sacred species from the hand of Jesus, that is, the hand of the pastor. For the same reason the pastor insists that he must commune himself, since he too must receive the body and blood of the Lord from the hand of Jesus, that is, from his own hand.

This view of the pastoral office defines ordination as a sacrament by which a sacramental presence of Christ in the pastor is effected. It is stated in the following quote: "Bishops and priests are sacramentally ordained to actualize the presence and power of Jesus Himself in the Church, Christ's own personal and individual presence and actuality as the good pastor, the great high priest, the head of the body, the husband of the churchly spouse, the bridegroom of his pure bride. In order for the bishop and priests to complete this sacramental task for the whole church, therefore, he must be one who can actualize the Lord's presence as husband and father of the flock." This definition is stated by a subcommittee of the Ecumenical Task Force of the Orthodox Church in America in its book, "Woman and Men in the Church"(1985). (28 )

Dr. Michael Toten in an article ("What Priesthood do all Believers Possess" Confessional Concerns (8,28,95) wrote " is from Jesus as high priest that the New Testament officers in charge of public worship receive their commission. The administration of the sacraments especially, is presented as having been given directly to those who would administer them and not to the community of the believers (Matt. 28:16-20; Luke 22:14-20; John 20:21-24)." He also implied that there is no biblical and confessional foundation for the priesthood of all believers. "The lack of a biblical and confessional foundation for the universal priesthood concept assumed by "Forward", explains why they and others like them rely so heavily on the nonconfessional statements of Luther and Walther." Again, "the Brief Statement made a similar error when it asserted that in Matthew 28:19-20 Christ's "commission (is given) to all believers to preach the Gospel and to administer the sacraments." At a convocation at the Ft. Wayne Seminary in 1996 I was told in no uncertain terms by one of the students that no parent could absolve or forgive the sins of their children on behalf of God, only the pastor can absolve. Parents may extend personal forgiveness, but in order for their child to receive God's forgiveness, they must bring the child to the pastor.

A pastor in Iowa wrote the following. In answer to the question, "If I confess my sins before God in prayer are my sins forgiven or must I make confession in church before the pastor to be sure?" The answer given was "yes you must." He continues, "Recently I've heard statements about these sins being in a 'state of forgiveness'."

In a letter written to me by a lay person the following is relayed: The pastor "...told me that only through him could I receive absolution. I specifically asked, `You are saying that if I kneel in prayer beside my bed, sorrowfully and ask God to forgive me, He will not forgive me?' `That's exactly right. You must receive absolution from me before your sins are forgiven!'/ he answered."

Directly related to this is the insistence that the Office of the Keys has not been given directly to the church, but to the pastors who pass it on from one generation of pastors to another by ordination. The words of the Treatise, 24 are interpreted to mean that the Office of the Keys is the office of the Holy Ministry and since the office of the ministry belongs to the church, the Keys belong to the church by virtue of the pastor's presence in the church. The sentence "...because the Keys are nothing else than the office whereby this promise is communicated to everyone who desires it (the promise of the Gospel)..." is quoted as the confessional support for the fact that the keys are given to the office of the holy ministry. This argument is also used to support the assertion that the pastor alone may excommunicate and is supported by the argument that Luther's Small catechism stated, "I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by his divine command, especially when they exclude manifest and impenitent sinners from the Christian congregation, ... this is as valid and certain in heaven also, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself (SC Keys)."

This brings us to Walther's Theses on the Church.



("Diese wahre Kirche der Gläubigen und Heiligen ist es, welcher Christus die Schluessel des Himmelreichs gegeben hat, und sie ist daher die eigentliche und allein Inhaberin und Trägerin der geistlichen, göttlichen und himmelischen Guter, Rechte, Gewalten, Aemter, u., welche Christus erworben hat, und die es in seiner Kirche gibt.")

I will not examine Walther's witnesses and testimonies. Instead I will bring additional testimony and witnesses to support the thesis that the Keys are given to the church.

I begin with an examination of the above referenced paragraph from the Treatise. I will quote the entire paragraph. "In addition to this (that the keys are given to all the apostles, (John 20:23) and that Peter is spokesperson for the entire number of the apostles (Matt. 16:18f.;Matt. 18:), it is necessary to acknowledge that the keys belong, not to the person of one particular man, but to the Church, as many most clear and firm arguments testify. For Christ, speaking concerning the Keys, Matt. 18:19, adds: "If two or three of you shall agree on earth, etc.

Therefore he grants the keys principally and immediately (principaliter claves ecclesia et immediate, sicut et ob eum causam ecclesia principaliter habet jus vocationis. Denn gleichwie die Verheißung des Evangelii gewiss und ohne Mittel der ganzen Kirche zugehoert, also gehoeren die Schluessel ohne Mittel der ganzen Kirche.) just as also for this reason the church has principally the right of calling ...,so the keys belonged immediately to the entire Church, because the keys are nothing else than the office whereby this promise is communicated to everyone who desires it, just as it is actually manifest that the Church has the power to ordain ministers of the church." (Tr 24)

Melanchthon further clarifies this in the Treatise. "Therefore it is necessary for the Church to retain the authority to call, elect, and ordain ministers. And this authority is a gift which is in reality given to the church (Tr. 67)." Further, "Here belong the statements of Christ that 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 (Tr. 69)." Since the church has the right and authority to call ministers, it is clear that the church is above ministers.

John 20:22.23 is quoted as the biblical basis for maintaining that the Keys have been given to the apostles and those whom they appointed to succeed them. Jesus appeared to his disciples the evening of the resurrection and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit, whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whosoever sins you retain, they are retained. " I was told by a group of students, the Keys were given to the eleven apostles. They in turn give them to their successors." This offers a kind of apostolic succession as the basis for possessing the power of the keys.

Luther comments on John 20:22,23 "Here it is clearly said that no one has the keys except he who has the Holy Spirit.... Therefore they ought to paint into the pope's coat of arms something I would be happy to suggest and cancel the keys. The escutcheon belongs to quite another person than the pope. However, would I have forgiveness of my sins if my pastor did not have the Holy Ghost (and no one can be certain that another person actually has Him)? How, then, could I be sure of my absolution and have a quiet conscience? In that case it would be as it was before (the confession). Answer: I have cited this in order that we might have the right foundation of this matter. There is no doubt that no one binds or forgives sins except only he who has the Holy Spirit so surely that you and I know it, as these words of Christ here testify. But that is no other than the Christian Church, i.e. the communion of all believers in Christ; that alone has these keys, and you must not doubt. And everyone who appropriates to himself the keys beyond it (the church) is an arch knave and a church robber, be he pope or anyone else. Of the church everyone is certain that it has the Holy Spirit." (29) Again from Luther's comment on Matthew 18:15-18: "The keys belong to the entire congregation of all Christians and to everyone who is a member of the congregation, and this not only according to its power but also according to its use...."(30)

Since some want to distinguish between the young Luther and the more mature Luther with the suggestion that he in fact changed his position, l quote from several sermons of Luther. From a sermon on the Sunday after Easter on John 20:19-21 preached in the year 1522. "...He (Christ) gives spiritual power and rule ... when ye shall speak a word concerning a sinner, it shall be spoken in heaven; for He is in your mouth, therefore it has the same force as if He himself spoke it. This same power belongs to every Christian, since Christ made us all partakers of His power and dominion." (31)

In a second sermon preached in the year 1522 on the same text; "This power is here given to all Christians, although some have appropriated it to themselves alone, like the pope, bishops, priests, and monks have done: they declare publicly and arrogantly that this power was given to them alone and not to the laity." (32)

Again preaching on the same text the Sunday after Easter in the year 1540: "This (whosoever sins ye forgive etc.) is not said alone to ministers or servants of the church, but to every Christian. Here each may serve another in the hour of death, or wherever there is need and give him absolution. If now you hear from me the words, "Thy sins are forgiven thee", then you hear that God wants to be gracious to you, deliver you from sin and death and make you righteous and blessed.... If thou, therefore art sad and worried on account of thy sins, and art afraid of death, with which God eternally punishes sin, and thou hearest of thy minister, or if thou canst not have access to him, of a Christian neighbor comforting thee with these or similar words:...." (33)

Also from Luther's treatise, in which he addressed the controversy in the city of Leisnig, 1523. "For no one can deny that every Christian possesses the Word of God and is taught and anointed by God to be a priest.... But if it is true they have God's word and are anointed by Him, then it is their duty to confess, to teach, and to spread (His word)... it is certain that a Christian not only has the right and power to teach God's word, but has the duty to do so on pain of losing his soul and of God's disfavor. Indeed a Christian has so much power that he may and even should make an appearance and teach among Christians -without a call from men -when he becomes aware that there is a lack of teachers, provided he does it in a decent and becoming manner." (34)

Again from Luther in his letter to the Senate and people of the city of Prague (1523). "Christ gives the power and use of the keys to each Christian, when he says, `Let him be to you as a gentile (Matt. 18:17). For who is this "you" to whom Christ refers when he says, "Let him be to you?" The pope? Indeed, he refers to each and every Christian. (35) The keys belong to the whole church and to each of its members, both as regards their authority and their various uses." (36)

That this also refers to the power to consecrate the bread and wine in the Holy Communion is also clear from what Luther writes. The third function of the priesthood is to consecrate or to administer the sacred bread and wine. "...we hold that this function, too, like the priesthood, belongs to all, and this we assert, not on our own authority, but that of Christ who at the Last Supper said, `Do this in remembrance of Me.' ... Christ spoke this word to all those then present and to those who in the future would be at the table, to eat this bread and drink this cup. So it follows that what is given here is given to all. Those who oppose this have no foundation on which to stand except the fathers, the councils, tradition, and that strongest article of their faith, namely, `We are many and thus we hold: and therefore it is true.'" (37)

The meaning of the terms, "principaliter et immediate" in the treatise have the meaning of "originally and without means." The English word principal (principally) is from the Latin "princeps" (prince) and means highest in rank, authority. The other English word is "principle" which stems from the same Latin word and has the meaning of source or origin. Thus the Treatise affirms that the keys are not given to the church mediately, that is through an ordained ministry, or through some other human agency.

This is reflected in the hymn of the church: "So Wahr Ich Leb' Spricht Gott Der Herr." Nikolaus Herman 1560 cento:

This is the power of Holy Keys

It binds and does again release

The church retains them at her side

Our mother and Christ's Holy Bride.

(see translation in "The Handbook of the Lutheran Hymnal, No. 331, stanza 9, p. 237) (38)



(Das predigtamt wird von Gott durch die Gemeinde, als Inhaberin aller Kirchengevalt oder der Schluessel, und durch deren von Gott vorgeschriebenen Beruf uebertragen.)

There is no question or doubt that God has commanded the church to establish the ministry of the Word and to call suitable men to fulfill that ministry. We will not examine all of Walther's scriptural witnesses, but will instead look at the witness of some of the Confessions as well as other books of teachers of the church.

Article V of the Augustana is the foundation for discussing the confessional doctrine of the Ministry of the church. The title of the article is "Vom Predigtamt" in German, and De Ministerio Ecclesiastico, in Latin. The English translation reads, "That we may obtain this faith (which justifies before God) the ministry of the Teaching of the Gospel and Administering of the Sacraments was instituted." (Triglot)

We will briefly examine the original languages. At one time it was generally held that German was the original and the Latin was a later translation or gloss on the German. Today this is questioned. Whatever the situation, the same man, Phillip Melancthon, is the author of both the German and the Latin. The German version reads, "...hat Gott das Predigtamt eingesetzt, Evangelium und Sacramente gegeben..." Literal translation: God has established the office of preaching and given the Gospel and the Sacraments in order that we might obtain such faith. It is significant to note that the name given to the office is Predigtamt, preaching office, not Pfarramt (pastoral office).

The reformers, particularly Luther, laid great emphasis upon preaching. Priority was attributed to the preaching of the word. The sacraments were regarded as visible signs which confirmed the preached word. The function of the one who is called by the congregation is given in the Latin, "Docendi evangelii et porigendi sacramenta." Docendi is the Latin for teaching which originates in the Latin word "doctor". Preaching or teaching is the primary duty of the one who occupies the ministerial office. The Lutherans primarily referred to those who held the ministerial office as preacher. Not until the time of Pietism did the term pastor become prominent.

In his letter to the city of Prague (The Bohemians) Luther writes, "If the office of teaching be entrusted to anyone, then everything accomplished by the Word in the church is entrusted, that the office of baptizing, consecrating, binding, loosing, praying, the judging of doctrine. Inasmuch as the office of preaching the gospel is the greatest of all and certainly is apostolic, it becomes the foundation for all other functions which are built upon it,..." (39) Most of us are familiar with Luther's reference to the church as a "maul-haus" -mouth house. The primary function of the church's ministers is the preaching of the Word. The Apology speaks of the sacraments and their relationship to the preaching of the Word in the following manner, "...God at the same time, by the Word and by the rite, moves hearts to believe and conceive faith, just as Paul says, Rom. 10:17: `Faith cometh by hearing.' But just as the word enters the ear in order to strike our heart, so the rite itself strikes the eye, in order to move the heart. The effect of the word and of the rite is the same, as it has been well said by Augustana that a Sacrament is a visible word...." (40)

Luther also insists that "Publicly one may not exercise a right without the consent of the whole body or of the church." (41 ) While the Keys have been given to all Christians, no one may assume the public performance of these functions without the call of the congregation. Here the word public does not mean something which is done in front of other people. Instead it means to do something on behalf of others. This is the intent and meaning of the Latin "publicus".

The English word public means; "of or pertaining to the people." "A pastor administers the office of the keys, baptizes, preaches, administers the sacrament, and performs other ministerial functions by which he serves the congregation, but not on his own account (that is, according to his own authority) but on account of the congregation (that is, as one to whom the congregation entrusted it so that he does it by its commission). For He is the servant of the whole congregation, to which the keys have been given, though he may be a rascal. If he does it in place of the congregation, then the church does it." (42)

"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 this ministry (that God will preach and work through men and those who have been chosen by men, Gr)"; writes Melanchthon in the Apology. (43) That Article XIV of the Augustana is written as a defense against the opinion of the Anabaptists is indicated in the words that follow, "...against the fanatical men who dream that the Holy Ghost is given not through the Word, but because of certain preparations of their own, the Enthusiasts formerly taught and the Anabaptists teach now." (44)

The right to call into the ministry of the Word belongs primarily to the congregation. To say that the Office of the Keys is given to the whole church, not specifically to congregations reduces the church to an abstraction. This abstract church cannot call anyone. The congregation is the church in a specific place. This should be obvious from the words of our Lord in Matthew 18:17,20. "and if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church ... For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." In the same way the Letters of Paul are addressed to local churches.

The keys are not only given to the congregation as a community, but also to each individual member. This is evident from the fact that in an emergency even the baptism done by a woman is a valid and true baptism through which God the Holy Spirit works. Such a baptism is not done by the individual on the basis of a personal authority, but on behalf of the church, the Holy pure Bride of Christ to whom He has given the keys to his house, his authority.

Wilhelm Pauk in an essay titled, "Ministry in The Time of The Continental Reformation" (45) writes, "In Wittenberg, ... Until then, (1535) ordination was nothing else than the confirmation of the call to the ministry in a particular congregation." Also, "At the very beginning of the Reformation, Luther had argued that the ministry made sense only in relation to a local congregation. Rejecting, therefore, the Roman Catholic sacrament of Ordination as an induction into the status and order of the priesthood, he insisted that no one should be ordained into the ministry unless he had a call from a congregation." (46) Not only the Lutheran church, but also the ancient church rejected absolute ordination, that is, ordination without a call of assignment to a specific place. The Council of Chalcedon (450 A.D.) adopted the following canon: "For teachers (doctors), pastors, bishops, presbyters are called to certain churches, and have not absolute power of teaching everywhere or in all churches (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). And thus, God through a special call, is accustomed to show in what place He wishes to use the service of anyone. Therefore, by virtue of this call, they do not have the power to teach in other churches to which they do not have a special call. Hence, in the Council of Chalcedon (Canon Vl, and according to the Gratian Canon XVI), there was a statute that no one ought to be absolutely ordained, unless to a certain work and a certain church" (47)



Those who disagree with this often point out that the Apology article Xlll (Vll).11 speaks of ordination and is willing to allow it to be named a sacrament. "But if ordination be understood as applying to the ministry of the Word, we are not unwilling to call ordination a sacrament." I call your attention to the words that follow in Article X111.16 Melanchthon writes that matrimony, since it has both God's command and promises, likewise prayer, alms, and afflictions may be called sacraments. (I have yet to find any individual who eagerly sought the sacrament of affliction.) However, Melanchthon says that if these are to be called sacraments, they ought still to be distinguished "...from those preceding ones (the two former ones -Baptism and the Lord's Supper), which are properly signs of the New Testament."

Article V of the Augustana (Vom Predigtamt, De Ministerio Ecclesiastico) does not use the terminology, office of the Pastor, as I pointed out above. It refers to the office of preaching in the German text and the gifts given to the church. i.e. the Gospel and the sacraments, "through which the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith in those who hear the gospel, when and where it pleases God." The Latin text uses two participles, The Latin of the text uses a passive verb, "That we might obtain such faith the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted (...institutum est ministerium docendi evangellii et porrigendi sacramenta)."

That these actions are done by a human agent in the church belongs to Ecclesiastical Order, (Kirchenregiment, De ordine Ecclesiastico (Augustana XIV, "Of ecclesiastical order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the church unless he be regularly called (ohne ordentlichen Beruf, nisi rite vocatus)." The English translation: "Without a regular call."

In the Confutation the Roman theologians responded, "It ought to be understood that he is rightly called (rite vocatus) who is called in accordance with the form of law and the ecclesiastical ordinances and decrees hitherto observed everywhere in the Christian world. In the Apology, article XIV, Melanchthon correctly understands them to mean that they would approve the word "regular call" if this included the provision "...that we employ canonical ordination." (48)

Concerning such canonical ordination he states that the Lutherans "were willing to maintain church-polity (old church regulations and the government of bishops) even though they have been made by human authority."

(49) It is evident from this and from the fact that there is no discussion of a single passage from Holy Scripture, that the ordination referred to is a matter of human rules and according to the title of Article XIV of the Augustana and of Article XIV of the Apology in both the Latin and the German (De Ordine Ecclesiastico, Von Kirchenregiment) is a matter of human rules and not a divine command.

That this is not a misinterpretation of Melanchthon is clear from his words in the Treatise. "These words (1 Peter

2:9 `you are a royal priesthood') pertain to the true church, which certainly (certe) has the right to elect and ordain ministers, since it alone has the priesthood." (50) He refers to ordination as a most common custom (gemeine Brauch, communissima ecclesiae) of the church: "For formerly the people elected pastors and bishops. Then came a bishop of that church or a neighboring one, who confirmed (confirmabat electum, besteetigte) the one elected by the laying on of hands; and ordination was nothing else than such ratification." (nisi talis comprobatio, nichts anderes gewesen denn solche Bestaetigung). (51)

Heinrich Schmid in his book, "The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church" (52) quotes that most eminent of the Lutheran Dogmaticians, Johann Gerhard, "Ordination is a public and solemn declaration or attestation, through which the ministry of he church is committed to a suitable person, called thereto by the church, to which he is consecrated by prayer and the laying on of hands, rendered more certain of his lawful call, and publicly in the sight of the entire church, solemnly and seriously admonished concerning his duty (Gerhard Xll,b. 145 Loci Theo. de Eccl.)." (53) Again (Gerhard Xll,b.163); "We make use of the cheirothesia (laying on of hands), not as though it were a sacramental symbol, appointed by Christ Himself, and commanded to be employed in this rite, but we use this ceremony according to our freedom, because it descends to us from the practice of the apostolic church (Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6)..and because it affords useful admonitions. Ordination is, therefore, no sacrament (Gerhard Xll,b.147) Again, (Gerhard Xll,b.146) "We deny that ordination is necessary by reason of any special divine command, as this cannot be produced; or by reason of any absolute and pure necessity." (54)

Quoting Hollaz, "The necessity of ordination is "ordinate", for the sake of good order or decorum, and because of the divine command (Acts 13:2), although the number and form of the ceremonies vary according to the judgment of the church; nevertheless, the necessity is not absolute." (55) Quoting Chemnitz, (Loci, De Ecc1.,126) "Although ordination does not constitute the call, if someone has been rightly called it is a custom which publicly attests that the call is a rightful one." (56)

The Council of Nicea (canons 8,9,10) left open the question as to what constituted valid ordination and what constituted the difference between election (eklogee), recognition or installation (katastasis), imposition of hand (cheirothesia, and ordination proper (cheirotonia.) (57) St. Augustine (b. 354,d.430) "...,by separating the question of orders from the nature of the church and schism (in order to contribute to the healing of the North African schism -Novatinism), made ordination wholly a possession of the individual apart from the community in which and through which it was conferred. In thus individualizing ordination, Augustine witnesses indirectly to the extinction in the West (c.400) of the older Catholic feeling for the corporate ministry of the local church."


"Prior to this, Gregory of Nyssa (c. 367) gave expression to an Eastern view of ordination when he compared the change of a cleric at ordination to the sacramental action whereby bread becomes the Body of Christ." (59)

C.F.W. Walther summarizes the position of the confessions and teachers of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. "Indeed, neither the examination administered by a duly appointed extra-congregational commission and to which a candidate called to the pastoral office submits himself and which he passes, nor the ordaining he likewise receives from duly appointed persons outside the congregation, make the vocation valid; however, both procedures belong to the most salutary arrangements of the church and have particularly in the case of the latter, among other purposes he weighty one of publicly certifying the vocation as one recognized by the whole church as legitimate and divine (rechtmaessig und goettlich). Anyone, therefore, who, except in the case of necessity, omits one or the other, acts schismatically and lets it be known that he belongs to those who "having itching ears ... accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own liking", 2 Tim. 4:3.) (60)

The constitution of the Synod contained the following by-law until 1962; "Ordination shall be accorded only to him who has received a regular call from and to a particular congregation." In 1962 this requirement was amended. The words, "...a call extended through the proper channels" was substituted. In 1969 the present wording, "... shall have received and accepted a call, through an assignment by the Board of Assignments...." was adopted. The principal reason for the 1969 amendment was the Herman Otten case.

Carl Mundinger in his book, "Government in the Missouri Synod"points out the fact that the synod does not place men into the ministry, neither can it remove them. "When a pastor, after repeated admonition, refuses to change (immoral living, false doctrine) the President must report the facts to the assembled synod, which in turn must make a last effort to win the sinner from the error of his ways. If this is not successful -he is expelled from membership in the Synod and the congregation must deal with him on the basis of Matthew 18:17-20, including excommunication, if necessary. The right to depose a pastor from office remains in the hands of the congregation. This differs from all other Lutheran Synods in America. The call of a congregation places a man into the ministry and the congregation also removes him." (p 186) This is in keeping with Thesis Vll(p), "the Holy Ministry (predigtamt) is the power conferred by God through the congregation as the possessor of the priesthood and all church power, to exercise the rights of the spiritual priesthood in public office in the name of the congregation.



We need to give our attention to the thesis that unconditional obedience is due to the preacher when he proclaims the word of God. It is important to understand that the pastor's personal opinions and his own personal interpretation of the scriptures is not the same as the word of God. Private interpretation of scripture is forbidden by 2 Peter 1:20,21, " prophesy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophesy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." Only when there are clear passages of Holy Scripture, and there must be more than one clear passage which plainly teaches the same thing, is it possible to say, this is what God clearly teaches.

To insist that the pastor's personal opinions are binding on the congregation is a sin against the second commandment which forbids the use of God's name in order to lend authority to my words, unless there is a command of God. False doctrine is not only failing to teach what the scriptures teach, or altering the teaching of Holy Scripture, it is also teaching as God's Word and command that which is not taught clearly in the scriptures. Nor does the fact that a number of pastors hold the same opinion give it any authority. An opinion of a theological faculty is an opinion: and, an opinion is an opinion is an opinion. My dictionary defines opinion as: "belief stronger than mere impression, less strong than positive knowledge."

Recently a number of opinions which pastors have imposed on their congregations have come to my attention. An example is that of declaring that a chalice must be used to administer the holy blood of our Lord in the Eucharist, or it is not a true communion. This insistence that a chalice must be used or it is not a true communion burdens the conscience of Christian people by calling into question whether or not they have blasphemed the word of God by not receiving the blood of Christ from a chalice. The same is true when the pastor states, that although it may not be sin to receive from an individual cup if one is afraid of transmitting a communicable disease to another person, but if this is not the case, the person who communes from an individual cup may be a schismatic.

Another opinion that I hear in some circles is that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. That this change is a permanent change and that the wine remaining after a celebration is still the blood of Christ, also the wafers. For this reason the pastor, either alone, or together with the elders, must consume the wine that remains. I have not heard this argument with respect to the wafers that remain. (Do you think that there may be some sort of attributing of greater holiness to the alcohol in the wine than to the unleavened bread?)

I quote from Dr. C.F.W. Walther's essay of 1879, delivered at the opening convention of the lowa District. "When the word of God has neither commanded nor prohibited something, then the congregation must decide, not some synod, not some pastor, not some presbytery, not some consistory, but the congregation." (61 ) "A congregation is not required to obey the pastor not only when he teaches false doctrine, but also when his teaching is sound but he proposes something which God has not commanded. Then his congregation must assert its independence and say, ...we'll do what seems best to us." (62) Again; " one can let another tyrannize his conscience, for every individual must say, 'show me where that is written in Scripture!'" He continues, "The proverb has always been true, `A know-it-all is a know nothing' (Je Gelehrter je Verkerter) ... That is why such a person must be humbled, and like a child must be taught by the word of God, otherwise he cannot be saved." (63) And Luther wrote to Melancthon: "...a bishop has no power to impose on his congregation any rule or ceremony without having the clear consent of the congregation in writing.... when a pastor tries to force a congregation to do something that God has not commanded, though it is not sinful in itself, and he says, 'By virtue of my office I command you to do that, for have you not read Hebrews 13:17, "Obey your teachers?", then the congregation must respond, `we would be denying Christ by obeying you!'" (64)

In the February 2, 1882 issue of Lehre und Wehre Dr. C.F.W. Walther wrote concerning his opponents in the predestinarian controversy, "Within the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference, as is well-known, a controversy on the doctrine of predestination has erupted within the past two years. In this controversy one of the parties (Ohio Synod) not only desires to base the truth of its teaching primarily on the private writings of a number of Lutheran dogmaticians and calls its opponents heretical for dissenting from certain statements of these dogmaticians, but it also attempts to interpret and understand our church's official confession in the light of these "private opinions." (65)

Not only may no doctrine be based upon one passage of scripture without support from other clear passages, but it has also been the universal rule of the church that the "sedes doctrinae" may not be taken from the antilegomena of the New Testament, but must be found in the homolegoumena. Although this distinction is no longer emphasized as it once was, it remains an hermeneutical rule. An illustration is the words from the Epistle of James; "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14)." While this may be done in Christian freedom, the pastor must be certain that the people understand that this is not a divine command, and that this anointing with oil is not a kind of sacrament which has a promise attached to it.


When our Lord (Matthew 18:20) describes how love works to rescue a brother from the sin which would destroy him, he does not say, "If someone sins against you, tell the pastor." Instead, he tells us we are to go to the one who has sinned and seek to restore him. If this effort is not successful, then take several witnesses in order to persuade and convince the sinner. If this is not successful, Jesus says, "...tell it to the church," not "tell it to the pastor." And "If he does not listen to the church [not if he does not listen to the pastor], let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector." When St. Paul deals with the incestuous adulterer in Corinth, he writes to the church in Corinth, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, ... deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor. 5:4,5)." He does not say "I command you to obey me." Also in St. John refers to Diotrephes who unjustly put people out of the church. (3 John 9,10)

Concerning human tyranny in the church Phillip Melanchthon writes in his "Treatise on The Power and Primacy of the Pope"; "...that the keys belong not to the person of one particular man, but to the Church ... For Christ, speaking concerning the keys, Matt. 18:19, adds: `If two or three of you shall agree on earth', etc. Therefore he grants the keys principally and immediately to the church.... Likewise Christ gives supreme and final jurisdiction to the Church (Item, Christus gibt das hoechste und letzte Gericht der Kirche,), when he says, `Tell it to the church'". (66). In speaking of the papal claim to ultimate and final authority over the church Melanchthon says, "...the Pope does not want to be judged by the Church or by any one, and puts his own authority ahead of the decision of councils and the entire Church. But to be unwilling to be judged by the church or by any one else is to make oneself God." (67) Of this sort of tyranny in the church the Treatise further says, "The pope exercises a twofold tyranny: he defends his errors by force and by murders and forbids judicial examination. The latter does even more injury than any executions, because, when true judgment of the church is removed, godless dogmas and godless services cannot be removed, and for many ages they destroy innumerable souls. (68) This is based upon canon law (Quest. 9, canon 3) which says, "No one shall judge the first seat; for the judge is judged neither by the emperor, nor by all he clergy, nor by the kings, nor by the people." (69)

Johann Gerhard wrote concerning excommunication; "Excommunication is public, when to all the impenitent and unbelieving, the wrath of God and eternal condemnation are declared from the Law; private when to any obstinate wicked one in particular, the retention of sins is announced." With respect to degrees, excommunication is said to be twofold, the less and the greater. The former is exclusion from the use of the Lord's Supper, the latter is expulsion from the communion of the Church. The former is called kathairesis (purifying), the latter apharismos (excommunication in the proper sense). To the latter degree of ecclesiastical censure we dare not progress hastily, without serious deliberation, and without the consent of the Church, and especially of the Christian magistrate, but the order prescribed by Christ, Matt. 18:15, must be carefully observed." (70) Hollaz writes, "The power that ministers of the Church have to retain sins is not principal and independent, but ministerial and delegated the right to the key of binding, Christ has entrusted to the Church, as the spiritual mother of a family." (71)

Finally, let every pastor understand clearly that he is privileged to be the servant of those who are the brothers and sisters of Christ, his own brothers and sisters as well. They are, as he is, born from the womb of the Bride of Christ, to whom Christ has given his own authority, for He has given her the keys to his house. The preacher stands before people who are named "Saints of the Most High" when he preaches. And, he has been given the great privilege and grace of being their servant. They are the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, a people who have been purchased with the blood of God's Son. "To Him who washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen"

George F. Wollenburg

April, 2002

From a paper, "Current issues on Church and Ministry" prepared for the Council of Presidents by Dr. Wilbert J. Sohns, April 1, 1988.



RESOURCES: A Century of Grace, 1947, Baepler, The Congregation's Right to Choose its Pastor, CFW Walther; Lutheran Cyclopedia, 1954, 1975; An unpublished B.D. thesis, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, 1959,

Schmelder: "The Office of the Pastoral Ministry and the Priesthood of all Believers", Sam Nafzger, Fall 1995,

Lutheran Education: Walther and the Church, 1938, Dallmann, Dau, Engelder.

A WORD OF CAUTION: It is important to interpret or understand the following within the context of "official" writings/articles as well as within the context of the above listed resources.


  • Ordination (according to the old church orders) is a divine and necessary institution, performed by previously ordained men, which gives validity and efficacy to the work of a pastor.

  • Only properly called pastors can administer the Sacraments.

  • Absolution from pastors alone is valid.

  • Congregations owe obedience in all things not forbidden in God's Word to rightfully called pastors.

  • What is forbidden in Scriptures is to be answered not by individual Christians but by the church.

  • The One Holy Christian Church is a visible church; members of the true Church are not found in communions that teach error; external fellowship with a visible orthodox church is necessary for salvation.

  • The Son of God together with the Father and the Holy ghost gives or conveys the holy ministry not the congregation.

  • A congregation has no right to call a pastor without the assistance and presence of a representative of the ministry.

  • The ministry forms a distinct rank of class.

  • Only the ministry, not the congregation, has the right to judge doctrine.

  • Christ did not give the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to the Church and to every true believer but solely and exclusively to the pastors.

  • The pastor alone has the power to excommunicate.

  • The congregation has no right to call any man as pastor except one who has been divinely ordained by the laying on of hands of accredited clergymen. The official acts of one not so ordained are invalid.

From a paper, "Current issues on Church and Ministry" prepared for the Council of Presidents by Dr. Wilbert J. Sohns, April 1, 1988


  • The rights and privileges of the office of the keys are not given to every Christian.

  • The office of the ministry is not derived through the spiritual priesthood of the believers but from Christ directly.

  • Only in exceptional cases may a congregation call a pastor without the presence of an advising pastor.

  • Through the Church, the congregation and the clergy, not simply and only the location congregation, the Lord calls and ordains men for the ministry.

  • Ordination is more than a church ceremony that publicly attests the validity of the call.

  • The Church is a visible institution.

  • Loehe did not agree with Grabau on the obedience of the pastor issue nor did he agree on the papistic doctrine of excommunication.

  • Not all doctrines of Scripture were fixed in the confessions. Many doctrines including the doctrine of the Church (and Ministry???) were open questions (Loehe's subscription was conditional).

  • Pastors constitute an autonomous special estate and privileged class of people (a sacred aristocracy).

  • Only a pastor can create a pastor (succession of elders or ministerial succession). Only ordination by a clergyman can make a clergyman.

  • Church governance is part of the office of the Ministry.

  • The sacred office (pastoral office) begets congregations.

From a paper, "Current issues on Church and Ministry" prepared for the council of Presidents by Dr. Wilbert J. Sohns, April 1, 1988.


  • The old church orders do not exist by divine right.

    • Ordination is a wholesome ceremony but has not been ordered by God and is therefore not essential to

    • the ministry.
  • Only when and inasmuch as the pastor proclaims the Word of Can can he expect obedience.

  • The decision whether or not the pastor is proclaiming God's commands rests with the individual Christian.

  • The efficacy of the means of grace does not depend on the office of the public ministry but on Christ" Word.

  • The church in its true sense is invisible, true believers are found in churches that hold false doctrine but who do not deny the Word of God; salvation is not dependent upon communion with any visible church but justification by faith in Christ.

  • Since Christians are called a royal priesthood, they must have the power to elect ministers.

  • While congregations will consult with ministers before calling a pastor, its call is valid without their presence or cooperation.

  • All Christians are priests and therefore the ministry does not form a distinct rank.

  • The pastor is not a ruler of the church whom all members must obey.

  • The laity share the right of judging doctrine in accord with the Word of God.

  • The Keys have been given to the whole Church originally and immediately.

  • The local congregation has the right and power to call pastors and shepherds who in the name of the congregation are to administer publicly the means of grace.

  • The clergy are not above the laity.

  • The Holy Spirit through the means of grace begets congregations.


  1. Walter O. Foster, Zion on Mississippi. St. Louis, MO, Concordia 1953 p.289

  2. ibid. p. 293

  3. ibid. p. 294

  4. ibid. p. 363

  5. ibid. p. 407

  6. ibid. p. 516, 517

  7. ibid. p. 523, 525

  1. William Schumacher Grabau's Hirtenbrief and The Saxons Reply in Soli Deo Gloria-Essay on C.F. W. Walther Thomas Manteufel & Robert Kolb 15-5050

  2. ibid. p. 137

  3. ibid. p. 136

  4. ibid. p. 136

  5. ibid.p. 138

  6. ibid.p. 136

  7. ibid. p. 144-145

  1. Arthur Roth, The Missouri Synod and The Buffalo Synod, Essay upon observing 75th anniversary of the Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other states published in the book Ebenezer ed. W H T Dan, St. Louis, Mo Concordia 1922. p. 124f.

  2. Schumacher, supra-p. 157

  3. Luther's Works vol. 39 That a Christian Assembly has the Right to Judge. p. 314

  4. Schumacher-supra p. 159

  5. ibid. p. 161

  6. ibid. p. t74

  7. George V. Gude-C.F. W. Walther as Spokesman to the Current Church Essay in Soli Deo Gloria supra p. 31

  8. Carl S. Meyer (ed) Moving Frontiers St. Louis, MO Concordia 1964 p. 122

  9. Kenneth Schurb -unpublished essay at the 1997 Montana District Convention.

  10. Editorials from Lehre and Wehre Hubert J. A. Bouman translator, Aug Sueflow Editor St Louis, MO Concordia 1981 p. 75,76

  11. Oscar E. Feucht, Everyone a Minister: A Guide to Churchmanship for Laity & Clergy St. Louis, MO Concordia 1974, p. 51

  12. Quoted in The Office of the Holy Ministry. Unpublished essay by Armand Boehme Delivered at the National Free Conference in St. Louis, MO Feb 16 & 17, 1990. P. 14

  13. Douglas Fusselmann Only Playing Church published in Logia, Journal of Lutheran Theology Epiphany 1994

  14. Charles F. Caldwell, Head and Glory Sacred Orders or Secular Chaos, Swedesboro, NJ. Preservation Press, 1966 p. 89

  15. C.F.W. Walther The Form of a Christian Congregation Tr. John Theodore Mueller, 1963 St. Louis, MO Concordia p. 15,16

  16. ibid. p. 16

  17. Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 2 Ed. John Nicholas Lenker. 1983 Grand Rapids, Ml Baker. P. 362

  18. ibid. p. 375

  19. ibid. p. 393

  20. Luthers Works vol. 40 Church and Ministry. Instructions for the Parish Visitors ed. Conrad Bergendoff. 1958 Philadelphia, p. 310

  21. ibid. Concerning the Ministry p. 22

  22. ibid. p. 27

  23. ibid. p. 24

38. Supra Form of a Christian Congregation p. 15

  1. Luther's Works vol. 40 supra p. 36

  2. Ap. Xlll (Vll) 5 41 Luther's Works Vol. 40 supra p. 39

42. Form of a Christian Congregation supra p. 17

  1. Ap Xlll (Vll 12

  2. Ap Xlll (Vll) 13

  1. Wilhelm Pauck The Ministry in the Time of the Continental Reformation essay in The Ministry in Historical Perspective ed. Richard Niebuhr and Daniel D. Williams 1956 New York, Harper & Brothers p. 140

  2. ibid. p. 139

  3. Chemnitz Loci Theologici De Eccl. iii, 124

  4. Ap XIV 24

  5. idem

  6. Heinrich Schmid. The Doctrinal Theology of the Lutheran Church Tr. Charles A. Hay & Henry E. Jacobs, Minneapolis, MN Augsburg p. 609

  7. SATr69

  8. SATr 70

  9. Schmid -609-supra

  10. ibid. p. 611

  11. idem

  12. idem

  13. George H. Williams essay The Ministry in the Late Patristic Period contained in The Ministry in Historical Perspective supra p. 75

  14. ibid. p. 75

  15. idem

  16. C.F.W. Walther, Pastoral Theology 1877 St. Louis, MO Concordia p. 62

  17. C.F.W. Walther Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod Essay for First lowa District Convention 1879. Translated by The Rev. Everette W. Meier 1988. Published by the Wyoming District of the L.C.M.S. p. 47

  18. ibid. p. 49

  19. ibid. p. 50

  20. ibid. p. 52

65. Editorials from Lehre and Wehr supra p. 175,176

66. SATr 24

67. ibid. p. 40

68. ibid. p. 51

69. ibid. p. 50

70. Schmid supra p. 612

71. ibid. p. 614