Project Wittenberg

The Ministry
Offices, Procedures and Nomenclature

Part II

A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations
of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

September 1981

To: Contents - This File/ Plain Text - LCMS Documents - Project Wittenberg


Citations from the Lutheran Confessions are taken from The Book of Concord edited by T. G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), and, in some cases, Concordia Triglotta. The following abbreviations have been used:

AC - Augsburg Confession
Ap - Apology of the Augsburg Confession
FC - Formula of Concord
LC - Large Catechism
SD - Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord
Trig. - Concordia Triglotta

Scripture quotations in this publication are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, 1973 (except when otherwise noted). Used by permission.



A. Ministry

The word "ministry" can be and frequently is used in more than one sense. Francis Pieper points this out as he begins his discussion of the public ministry:

There are those who would prefer to use the term "ministry" only in the narrower sense. They feel that this avoids confusion. Others feel that to speak of "the ministry of the laity" is not only permissible but even essential, so that the individual witnessing and teaching of Christians in general may be properly stressed and dignified.

The service of all Christians is intimately connected with the public ministry. All Christians are commissioned in 1 Peter 2:9: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." In Ephesians 4 special offices are pointed out as given by God to equip the saints for the work of serving (eis ergon diakonias). [2] The absence in this report of a detailed discussion of the privilege and responsibility of all Christians to proclaim the Gospel does not indicate a disregard for that service. Here the focus is on the ministry in the narrower and public sense.

It will be helpful already at this point to note the definitions of the following terms as they will be used in this report:

Details regarding these definitions are presented below.


[1] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), 3:439.

[2] Cf. E. W. Janetzki, "The Doctrine of the Office of the Holy Ministry in the Lutheran Church of Australia Today," Lutheran Theological Journal 13 (November 1979), 73. In this article a distinction between ministry in the abstract and ministry in concrete is attempted by speaking of the ministry of the church and the ministry in the church.


B. The Office of the Keys

The church is not left to itself to decide what it shall preach and teach. God has commanded and empowered the church to proclaim the Law and the Gospel. He has instituted the sacraments and commended them to the church, and He has authorized the forgiving and retaining of sins.

The Law, of course, does an alien work. Through it the Holy Spirit brings people to an awareness of their sinful state and drives them to repentance. The Gospel alone, in Word and sacrament, is the means by which the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith. The Office of the Keys is "the peculiar church power which Christ has given to His church on earth." It belongs to the whole church. However, its exercise is not left merely to the efforts of individual Christians or to the uncertain ventures of self starting, charismatic individuals. The church, as a single congregation or as a group of congregations, must call and authorize certain of its members to function publicly on its behalf.

The public ministry, it is here maintained, is not a mere human arrangement or the product of sociological evolution but a divine arrangement from the beginning of the New Testament church. Already in the Old Testament God arranged for the priesthood and prescribed the manner of the selection of the priests. He also called and sent the prophets. They did not decide to prophesy on their own authority. They were selected and commissioned by God, and in some cases they assumed "the burden" with much reluctance. In the New Testament God chose, trained, and sent the apostles. In the post-apostolic church He continued and continues to choose, call, and send men for the ministry which is an expansion of the apostolic office to succeeding ages (Treatise, 10).


C. The Office of the Public Ministry

The office of the public ministry is not merely a divine suggestion but a divine mandate. God has decreed that the church should carry out its functions not only in private, individual actions and speaking but also corporately by selecting men who meet God's criteria and whom He then places into the office of the public ministry.

The office and its functions are called "public" not because the functions are always discharged in public, but because they are performed on behalf of the church. The acts of one who is called to fill the office of the public ministry are "public" even when they are performed privately with one individual. Moreover, the word "public" connotes accountability to those who have placed them into "public" office.

The functions of the divinely established of fice of the public ministry can best be seen by looking at the nomenclature that Scripture uses to refer to it. In 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul uses the word episkopee, that is, the "oversight," to refer to the office of bishop. As a father manages his household, so the bishop stands at the head of his congregation as one who is charged with the duty of caring for the church of God. As the apostle Paul's co-worker, Timothy himself is to exercise the duties of this office as he worked among the congregations founded through the preaching of the apostle. As an overseer of the congregation, Timothy is to command and teach pure doctrine. He is to attend to public reading of Scripture, to preaching, to teaching. He is to oversee the spiritual life of the old men, the young men, the old women, the widows, the children, the slaves, the masters, and "the rich in this world."

The people are to be encouraged and guided to pray for all men. Women are to be guided in modesty of dress and adornment. The members committed to the overseer's care are to be instructed about and warned against those who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving. From all of this it is clear that the oversight is not exercised according to a man's own ideas and standards but according to the revealed will of God through the inspired apostles' God-breathed words. There is a bishop's office (episkopee) and oversight is one of its definitive functions.

Another Scriptural term for the office of the public ministry is elder (presbyteros). There are different kinds of elders, and 1 Timothy 5:17 indicates that some were specifically engaged in preaching and teaching. The presbyters teach and preach the Word of God, by which the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in the hearts of the members of the flock and empowers and guides them for Christian living and service.

Hebrews 13:7 indicates that there were in the church "leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God," and in verse 17 the people in the churches that are addressed are admonished: "Obey your leaders (heegoumenoi) and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account."

In Ephesians 4:11-12 St. Paul refers to the various offices that God gave to the church for the building up of the saints for the work of service. Two important observations should be made within the context of this report. In giving the "shepherds and teachers" to the church, God was also appointing them, just as He appointed kings for Israel (1 Kings 1:48;1 Sam. 12:13; cf. Also Eph. 1:22). Moreover, by attaching the definite article "the" to "shepherds and teachers" the apostle indicates that teaching belongs to the essence of the duty of shepherding. Although there are varying interpretations of this passage from Ephesians 4, it is evident that teacher (didaskalos) does not refer to the modern office of the parish school teacher. The emphasis here is on how the saints are prepared for service by apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers. The pastor does this by teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments. Hence the Lutheran Confessions call his of five "the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments" (AC V).

Of great significance for the nature of the New Testament ministry are expressions like "the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4), "ministers of a new covenant" (2 Cor. 3:6), "the ministry of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:8 NIV), "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18), and Paul's reference to himself as "a minister" of the Gospel (Col. 1:23).

In Titus 1:5 Paul writes: "This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective [ta leiponta, used intransitively to indicate what is absent, lacking, missing], and appoint elders in every town as I directed you." Immediately the prerequisites for such elders, who are referred to as bishops, are presented (v. 7).

In Acts 14:23 the example of the apostles is recorded. They appointed (ordained) elders for them in every church. [3] In Acts 20:17 and Acts 20:28 the terms elder and bishop are used interchangeably, as in Titus 1:5 and 7. In Acts 20:28 Paul admonishes the elders: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son."

From these references there emerges a picture of an office that was instituted by God, in and with the apostolate, for which very specific qualifications are listed, and the essence of which is properly defined in the Augsburg Confession as "teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments" (AC V) on behalf of and with accountability to the church ("publicly") (AC XIV).

No specific "checklist" of functions of the office of the public ministry is presented in the Scriptures. For instance, nowhere are we told specifically that an elder "celebrated communion" or that only the elders spoke the words of institution at the celebration of the sacrament. The supervision of the shepherd-elder-bishop is a supervision of the teaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments. In this way they are leaders to be obeyed in their speaking of the Word of God. They are supervisors of the spiritual life, the faith, and the Christian service of the church and its members. This is a heavy responsibility that no man can take upon himself but rather to which he must be legitimately called by the church (rite vocatus) (Acts 1:23-26; 13:2-3; 14:23; 2 Cor. 8:19; AC XIV).

On the basis of the Scriptural evidence and the corroborating statements of the Lutheran Confessions, the office of the public ministry, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments in the church, is divinely mandated. It may exist in various forms, that is, the "flocks" to which a man ministers may have various forms, and the of fice may be designated by a number of names, but it remains an office mandated by God for the good of the church. It is not enough to say that God commands that the Gospel be preached and that the sacraments be administered. God has ordained a specific office. The duty of those who hold the office by God's call through the prayerful summons ("call") of the church is to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments in the church and to supervise the flock committed to their cared. [4]


[3] The verb used in this passage is cheirotoneoo, "elect or choose by a show of hands." Reference to this root meaning of the verb may emphasize the congregation's role in calling men into the pastoral office. However, the word is also used in the simple sense of "choose."

[4] Cf. Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 5962. "In the Confession and in the Apology we have set forth in general terms what we have to say about ecclesiastical power. "The Gospel requires of those who preside over the churches that they preach the Gospel, remit sins, administer the sacraments, and, in addition, exercise jurisdiction, that is, excommunicate those who are guilty of notorious crimes and absolve those who repent. By the confession of all, even of our adversaries, it is evident that this power belongs by divine right to all who preside over the churches, whether they are called pastors, presbyters, or bishops. Accordingly Jerome teaches clearly that in the apostolic letters all who preside over the churches are both bishops and presbyters."


D. Office and Function

A distinction must be made between "office" and "function." Failure to make this distinction results in confusion. For instance, when a congregation is temporarily without a man to fill the office of the public ministry in its midst, it may ask a properly supervised teacher or a lay leader to perform some functions of the office of the public ministry. This is done in an emergency situation and not as a mere convenience. However, performing such functions does not make those who do them holders of the office of the public ministry. Even in such emergency situations a congregation properly requests a man who does hold the office of the public ministry and is serving as pastor in a neighboring congregation to assume that office for them as "vacancy pastor" or "interim overseer." Thus the oversight and accountability remain with one whom the church has called and designated as a pastor and who supervises those who temporarily perform some pastoral functions. Such practices are common and reveal a "folk"" understanding of the ministry even if the root of such practices is not consciously analyzed.


E. Other Offices in the Church

The office of the public ministry includes within it all of the functions of the leadership of the church. Early in the history of the church we have an example of the church selecting some of its members to carry out in the stead of and under the direction of the apostles some of the functions of their ministry. In Acts 6 we read that, at the request of the apostles, the church selected and commissioned certain men to perform functions that the apostles had been carrying out. They were appointed to the duty of providing for the physical support of the widows in the church. They were called by the church in prayer and were set apart for their office by the laying on of hands. Scripture suggests (although it does not say it directly) that this new office was of great help to the work of the church. It is reported that immediately after they were commissioned "the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem" (v. 7). The caliber of these men is forever memorialized in Acts 6 and 7 by the account of the witness and martyrdom of Stephen.

The church has the right to create offices from time to time that have the purpose of extending the effectiveness of the office of the public ministry. Here a word of C. F. W. Walther is instructive. He wrote: "The highest office is the ministry of preaching, with which all other offices are simultaneously conferred. Therefore every other public office in the Church is merely a part of the office of the ministry, or an auxiliary office, which is attached to the ministry of preaching .... " [6] Walther sees such offices as "sacred offices of the church," and each exercises a function of the pastoral office of the church and is an aid to the pastoral ministry.

The church has the right to distinguish such auxiliary offices of the church from each other. Some require extensive knowledge of Scripture, ability to teach or to counsel, or other capabilities that are closely related to the teaching and shepherding functions of the office of the public ministry. The church has always exercised the right to designate some of its offices as so involved in the spiritual functions of the office of the public ministry that it has provided specific training, is more formal in summoning members of the church to such offices, and has rightly included such offices within its concept of "ministry." Such offices call for functions that not only are necessary for the functioning of the public ministry but that only the church performs as an institution. Thus, the teaching of the faith in a Christian school is a function unique to the church. Properly speaking, a professional trained teacher who is called as a teacher by the church may be said to be performing a function of the office of the public ministry. The teaching of the faith to the children and youth of the flock is a major duty of the pastoral office. To refer to it as "the teaching ministry" is less awkward and readily understandable in the church.

By using the term "teaching ministry" we are indicating the special nature of the auxiliary office of teacher in our church. One who is in the "teaching ministry" (man or woman) meets the following qualifications established by the church. He or she

These are the criteria by which our church designates the occupants of its teaching ministry office.


[5] Serving in the distribution of food did not in and of itself entitle Stephen, for instance, to preach or teach publicly. Since he clearly did so, our great theologians of the past, like Chemnitz and Gerhard, surmised either that the "seven" of Acts 6 were selected from among the ministers of the Word to begin with, or that some of them were subsequently ordained into the ministry of the Word. However, we are not told in the Scriptures that Stephen either was or became an elder of the Word.

[6] C. F. W. Walther, "The Theses on the Ministry," in Walther and the Church, ed. Wm. Dallmann, W. H. T. Dau, and Th. Engelder (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1938), p. 79.


F. One Ministry or Many?

Is there one ministry in the church or many? [7] in common parlance we do refer to "the pastoral ministry," "the teaching ministry," "the youth ministry," "the music ministry." Such terminology does convey meaning. It usually indicates that someone functions in a special way in the church by authorization of the church, usually full time and in a capacity that supports the ministry of Word and sacrament. However, less than cautious use of the term "minister" and "ministry" tends to blur the distinctions that need to be made and leads to practices that are theologically insupportable and that confuse the church about the doctrine of the ministry.

Putting it simply, there is only one pastoral office, but the office which we formally refer to as "the office of the public ministry" has multiple functions, some of which are best handled by another, e.g., the parochial school teacher who is performing that function of the pastoral office. The pastoral office with all of its functions is mandated for the church. Other offices are established by the church to assist in carrying out pastoral functions.

Thus, we may speak of various "ministries" in and of the church, but we must be careful to distinguish them properly. An of five is not defined solely by what one who holds it does (function) but by the duties, responsibility, and accountability assigned to it. The pastoral office is unique in that all the functions of the church's ministry belong to it.


[7] Cf. Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 3d ed. Under "Amt." "Strictly speaking only the Lutherans have a doctrine of the ministry, while at the corresponding place the Calvinists treat of ministries [Aemter, offices] and the Roman Catholics and Orthodox, as well as, in their own way, the Anglicans, of the hierarchy .... Lutheranism powerfully underscores, with its doctrine of the preaching ministry [Predigtamt] (AC 5) as the ministry [Amt], the position of the Gospel as the lifegiving center of the congregation." (Our translation.)


G. Parish and Non-Parish Pastors

In considering the office of the public ministry one must consider the relationship between "parish pastors" and" non parish pastors." Some would deny the necessity for any distinction. To them only men whose office of the public ministry is carried out as pastors of congregations that are geographically locatable are really in the ministry of Word and sacrament. Others point to the personnel listing for The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in The Lutheran Annual. It includes 18 categories under the heading "Pastors of Missouri Synod." Only one of them is "parish pastor." To be sure, the vast majority of names listed are designated as "parish pastor," and the parish pastorate is the primary form of the pastorate. But other kinds of pastors serve to provide a support system for the work of the parish pastor and his congregation. The classification code of the Synod also includes such designations as "Administration-District," "Administration- Synod," "Campus Pastor," "Military Chaplain," "Professor Serving a Synodical School." These are all listed as "pastors" and are often called "pastor" by people in the church. The question therefore arises whether or not only parish pastors are holders of the office of the public ministry.

Some would solve problems in this area by asking what a man does during the week. Does he preach from the pulpit every Sunday? Does he celebrate communion once a month or more often? Does he make sick and shut-in calls? On that score only parish pastors-and not even some of them-would qualify as being in the office of the public ministry.

The more theologically appropriate questions to ask are the following: Has the church found an individual to be qualified for the office of the public ministry? Has the church called him to exercise an overseeing and shepherding ministry in the church? Has the church formally called him to hold the office of the public ministry and entrusted him with the responsibility of that office, even though it may ask him to specialize in certain functions of this office? And is he, upon installation into the office, pledged to be and remain accountable for the faithful conduct of his office to God, to the church, and to the believers committed to his care? Questions such as these indicate a need for clarity and precision in the issuing of "calls."

The question is also asked: is it possible to exercise the office of shepherd and overseer in the church only in a typical parish situation? In the case of "administrative officials," for instance, is the church calling as an "elder of the church" a man qualified to exercise oversight when it calls him to be a District president? Or a seminary professor? Or a campus pastor? The answer may be yes or no. It depends on the call. If a man is asked merely to perform a necessary but only secular function for the church but is not caller to public accountability as an overseer in the church, he is not in the office of the public ministry. However, District presidents who are charged with the oversight of the overseers of the flock, or professors who are charged with the oversight of the men who are preparing to be the shepherds of the church, or men who are charged with the oversight of the faith and life of the church's youth on a college campus or in the military can be properly said to be serving in the office of the public ministry of the church.

This paper cannot delineate all of the possible ways in which the church may need to assign her spiritual leaders. Good order requires, however, that the church itself carefully define the offices and their functions to which it summons its spiritual leaders. It should exercise good stewardship in not thoughtlessly drawing men from the office of the public ministry to tasks that are necessary but that do not require one of the pastors of the church. Or, if a man agrees to accept a position that is not within the scope of the pastoral ministry, he should no longer function as a holder of the office of the public ministry but as a lay member of the church. Confusion occurs when men "resign from the ministry" but continue to appear as holders of the office of the public ministry doing such things as accepting occasional preaching engagements, performing marriages, or setting up business as ministerial marriage counselors. Since by such behavior a man holds himself forth as a pastor and performs pastoral functions without a call and without the authorization of the church-indeed having removed himself from the ministry-his actions must be declared wrong. [8]

A man who has been called by the church to serve as an elder who labors in Word and sacrament other than as a parish pastor is available to the whole confessional fellowship of the church to preach the Word, administer the sacraments, or perform any of the functions of the office of the public ministry at the invitation of any segment of the church. He does not need to be "called" each time he accepts an invitation to preach. The common usage of the church seems to sense this. Confusion arises when we assume that the church can function only as one congregation at a time, or that the ministry of Word and sacrament must be defined only in terms of the activities of a parish pastor. Worse confusion arises when a man who once held the office of the public ministry continues to function as such after he has publicly disavowed his call from the church.

We may say here that this same principle applies to auxiliary offices of the public ministry. A teacher of the church is defined not solely by his or her teaching in an elementary classroom. The church may call him or her to serve as a director of education, a director of youth guidance, or some other post that is just as vital to the public ministry as classroom teaching. [9]


[8] Cf. "A Statement on the Relationship of the Ordained Ministry to Pastoral Counseling." This statement, approved in 1978 by the Standing Committees of the Division of Theological Studies and the Department of Specialized Pastoral Care and Clinical Education of the Lutheran Council in the USA, is available from LCUSA, 360 Park Avenue South, New York, N. Y. 10010.

[9] The Lutheran Annual presents seven categories of "Teachers of the Missouri Synod," only one of which is "TeacherElementary School."


H. Ordination

Ordination has its historical roots in the New Testament and in the church through the ages. [10] It is a solemn ecclesiastical rite by which a duly qualified member of the body of Christ who has accepted a valid call from the church is presented to the church as a gift of the Holy Spirit and publicly declared to be a holder of the office of the public ministry. It is a public ratification of the call and an invocation of the blessings of God upon the new minister. While the rite of ordination including the laying on of hands is not a necessity, it is to be revered as an ancient apostolic custom. In keeping with this custom, the laying on of hands of other pastors, and the presence of teachers and members of the church from places other than the site of the ordainee's immediate call is meaningful. When a man is ordained in one congregation, for example, he is recognized as a member of the public ministry of the whole confessional fellowship. Ordination as an act does not impart an additional authority that the call does not give, nor is it a sacrament. As a matter of uniform nomenclature and in accordance with common understanding, the term "ordination" should be reserved for a man's entry into the office of the public ministry. The initial acceptance by the church of the gift also of those who are to serve in the vital auxiliary offices should be carried out with solemnity befitting the office. Tradition, common expectations, and the uniqueness of the pastoral office speak against using the term "ordination" for other than the office of the public ministry. Other suggestions regarding nomenclature appear below.

It may be added here that participation of clergymen of churches not within the confessional fellowship in the actual rite of installation is no more fitting than it is in a joint Communion service. In its sacred acts the church confesses its faith. Obviously, the presence of fellow Christians of other confessions or of civic leaders should be graciously welcomed and opportunity given for them to speak other than in the worship service itself, if they desire to do so.


[10] The word "ordination" may be used in a wide or in a narrow sense. In the wide sense it refers to the whole process of placing a qualified man into the office of the public ministry (cf. Ap XIII, 11-12). In the narrow, and more usual, sense "ordination" means specifically the rite of the laying on of hands, in other words, the form of ceremony, as distinct from the call as such. Cf. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3:454.


This text was converted to ASCII text for Project Wittenberg by Rev. Robert Grothe and Rev. Todd Dittloff and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute, copy or print this text. Please direct any comments or suggestions to:

Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary.

E-mail: [email protected]
Surface Mail: 6600 N. Clinton St., Ft. Wayne, IN 46825 USA
Phone: (260) 452-3149 - Fax: (260) 452-2126

To: Next Section - LCMS Documents - Project Wittenberg