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The Relationship Between the Office Of
The Public Ministry And The
Priesthood Of All Believers:
A Partnership of Joy
Dale M. Kleimola, D.Min.
This paper is a paper written to meet course requirements for a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. This essay is also included as one of the chapters in my Major Applied Project.
PROBLEM UNDER CONSIDERATION
To define the Office of the Public Ministry as it relates to the Priesthood of all Believers.
1. Whose Church is it?
2. Who works for whom?
3. What is the goal of the Ministry of the Church? (I.e., what is the "mission" of the Church?)
4. Where is the power for ministry found? (i.e., the concept of exousia/authority.)
To define ministry as a "Partnership of Joy". Effective ministry is not a dualism, nor does it give the appearance of "we vs they." Rather, an effective ministry is a "Partnership of Joy." It is "us" working side by side for the same goal: the goal of proclaiming Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. As that is done, the Holy Spirit is at work to create faith and enlarge the Kingdom of God.
The Relationship Between the Office Of
The Public Ministry And The
Priesthood Of All Believers:
A Partnership of Joy
St. Paul in his Epistle to the Philippians shares some exciting words about the relationship between the Office of the Public Ministry and priesthood of all believers experienced by the church in Philippi:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now (Phi 1:3-5).
In conversations with brothers in ministry it is far more likely that frustration will dominate the discussion, and the spirit of joy St. Paul speaks of in these three verses will be absent. The concept of "partnership" in ministry is often strangely lacking in the pastor-parishioner relationship experienced in the church today. As a result, a mentality of "we vs. they" develops.
As I have reflected on my personal frustrations, lack of joy and sense of absence of partnership, and as I listen to others share theirs, a common theme begins to appear. The discussion frequently centers around questions introduced by systems theory, that is, questions of roles, rules and expectations.
ROLES, RULES AND EXPECTATIONS
The concepts of roles, rules and expectations evolved from the family therapy practices of gathering family history and family traditions. Within the church, the three concepts are often introduced with the phrase, "That's the way we have always done it."
The fundamental question addressed when discussing the role of a pastor in the ministry of a congregation is simply, "Who am I"? The question can be answered in at least two ways. It can first be answered theologically by defining the Office of the Public Ministry on the basis of the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions. The question can also be answered by understanding the traditional role or relationship the priesthood of all believers in a particular place has experienced with its parish pastor(s). In other words, how would the congregation describe historic relationships with their pastors? How has the priesthood of all believers traditionally related to the Office of the Public Ministry.
In a larger congregation the question of the role relationship between the Office of the Public Ministry and the priesthood of all believers becomes even more complicated as the question of roles is also asked by and for the professional staff. Who is the Coordinator of Volunteers, the Parish Administrator, the Ministers of Music, Youth and Athletics? How does the Day School Principal fit into the equation of roles? And once more, the question of role(s) can be answered from both theological and practical perspectives.
The third aspect of roles has to do with lay leadership. What is the role of the officers and council as they relate to the leadership of the professional staff? The question could be asked bluntly, "Who's in charge?"
The question of roles is critical for the development of a congregation's ministry.(1) Depending on how roles are defined, pastors, professional church workers and lay leaders will either be empowered for leadership or be compromised in their ability to lead. Therefore, if the question of roles is not properly addressed, the ministry of the congregation (ultimately that means the proclamation of the gospel) will suffer. At the same time, the careful definition of roles, rules and expectations can be enhance the effectiveness of a congregation's ministry simply because the positions of authority are clearly defined. If an individual's role is not known, neither can "rules" of action or "expectations" of intended outcome be developed. As a result, effective ministry is either stymied or enhanced by careful consideration of roles, rules and expectations.
The concept of rules is fundamental to the way a congregation operates. Rules are determined by a number of factors, theological preconceptions being only one of many, and, unfortunately, in most cases, a minor consideration. Rules are established by the conscious and unconscious, the spoken and unspoken politics of the body of believers; they are determined by the cultural background of the people of God; and they are limited or enlarged by the spiritual maturity of the members of the congregation. The concept of rules is largely grounded in the statement, "That is how we have always done things around here."
As a result, the rules of the congregation are challenged in nearly every situation requiring change. And so, when a pastor works to define or redefine his role, conflict is generated, for inevitably one or more parishioners will have the impression that their pastor has violated a congregational rule adopting a different role.
That happened to me recently in the course of selecting candidates for congregational offices. I took the liberty of speaking with a layman who has impressed me with his spiritual maturity and self confidence about being nominated for the position of Assistant Executive Director. After two or three meetings, he gave me permission to place his name in nomination.
When my action was reported to the Nominating Committee by the Coordinator of Volunteers, the immediate reaction was, "And who gave him the right to do that!"
I assumed I could make that inquiry and report it to the Nominating Committee because of my role as Senior Pastor. After all, my Ministry Description gives me the responsibility to "oversee the development of lay leadership". The Nominating Committee did not agree. They felt I had overstepped the boundaries of my position by speaking with a potential candidate prior to consulting with them. They felt they should have been consulted first, and then make the contact. The unspoken rule of the Nominating Committee was "Consult us first, then act."
The concept of rules invites the Pastor or professional church worker to ask the question, "How am I supposed to do what I have been called to do?" At the same time, the concept invites the rest of the priesthood of all believers to ask the question, "What should I be doing in service to the Lord?"
EXPECTATIONS OR RESPONSIBILITIES
The third question, the question of expectations, is equally challenging: "What should the end result of my ministry be?" When will the pastor hear the encouraging and comforting word of the Lord, "Well done, good and faithful servant?" And, at the same time, when can a pastor commend his people for a job well done?
Joseph Barbour remarked in a D.Min. class on "Family Therapy" that expectations are difficult to overcome because the system has no other pattern to follow. What he said about families is valid for the congregational family as well. Expectations are very difficult to define, for they are often rooted in subjective areas of church life. What is expected of professional and lay leaders are the result of a congregation's theological heritage, history, pastoral traditions and congregational practices, unfortunately with history, traditions and practices often overshadowing theology. The goal in establishing the expectations of pastors, professional staff and laity is to create expectations on the objective Word of God.
As I survey the church in the latter part of the 20th century, I see the doctrine and practice of church and ministry, being questioned, challenged and redefined as a result of the questions of roles, rules and expectations. And as the questions are debated, I envision healthy contributions being made to the life and ministry of the Christian Church in general, and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in particular.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Questions about the relationship between the Office of the Public Ministry and the priesthood of all believers are not new. They have been asked for generations. The early struggles of what became first "the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States," and later "the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod" were in large part created by conflict between the Office of the Public Ministry and the priesthood of all believers.
The "father" of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther had this to say in his 1852 pamphlet, The Voice of Our Church on the Question of Church and Ministry:
We are convinced that the great divisive battle of the Reformation which our church fought against the papacy in the 16th century centered in the doctrines of the church and ministry, which have now again been called into question, and that the pure and clear teaching concerning them constitutes the precious spoils that our church gained from this struggle.(2)
In part, the tension between the public ministry and the priesthood of all believers was prompted by the circumstances surrounding the Saxon Immigration. As a result of the ethical questions raised regarding Martin Stephan's life and ministry, the immigrants started to question the legitimacy of their exodus from Germany. In A Brief Historical Sketch of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Carl Meyer notes the Saxon immigrants asked hard questions of themselves. "Had they acted right in leaving Saxony? Could they still lay claim to being a church? What assurance did they have that even the sacraments administered by the pastors among them were valid?"(3) Their questions and misgivings had to do with roles, rules and expectations. The questions were resolved through the leadership C.F.W. Walther provided in the Altenburg Debate of April, 1841, and his classic treatise Kirche und Amt. In the course of the Altenburg Debate, "he convinced the colonists that they had the right to regard themselves as members of the true church and that the Word of God was in their midst."(4) Through Kirche und Amt, Walther was able to clearly define the roles, rules and expectations of pastors and laity within "the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States."
Yet the work that was done in the latter half of the nineteenth century must be reconsidered and reevaluated in light of the needs and challenges of the church in the latter half of the twentieth century. That is certainly part of former synodical President Ralph Bohlmann's concern in his February, 1992 "Letter to Pastors." In that correspondence to the pastors of the Missouri Synod, he addressed the question of difficulties in ministry today. Bohlmann noted that "supporting pastors and the pastoral office is one of the top priorities of the Synod." Later in the article, he noted that there are eight factors which generate questions and difficulties concerning the role of the Office of the Public Ministry.
(1) Our society--and we as a part of it--suffers from a general lessening of respect for clergy, which is encouraged by negative treatments in the secular media and by highly publicized instances of clergy misconduct and malfeasance;
(2) the ascendancy of a secular corporate mind-set in the calling and evaluation of pastors--what we might call a "hire-fire" mentality;
(3) increased demands and expectations of parish pastors by parishioners and church leaders;
(5) theological confusion, including both functionalist and clericalist misunderstandings of the office;
(7) continuing questions about lay ministry.(5)
Questions lurk behind Dr. Bohlmann's comments. How does contemporary society understand the role of the pastor? Who determines what a pastor can and cannot do? Who is the pastor responsible to and for? Who determines the expected outcome of the parish pastor? These are questions that ask "What are the roles, rules and expectations for today's parish pastor and, for that matter, professional church worker?"
Roland Martinson, a contemporary theologian from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America also notes that the problem of definition of the relationship between the Public Ministry and the Priesthood of all Believers in the 20th century Lutheran Church. He puts the challenge into a perspective role and expectation: Who is the pastor? What is the pastor called to do? He makes the salient point
Each generation of clergy is faced with the challenge of reenvisioning the work of ordained ministry in new and radically different contexts...In so doing there is always great risk; risk that the authority and heart of ministry will give way to that which is tangential. At its best this distortion results in ineffective ministry; as its worst it compromises the gospel.(6)
C.F.W. Walther, representing the Missouri Synod of the 19th century; Ralph Bohlmann, representing the Missouri Synod of the 20th century; and Roland Martinson, representing the wider Lutheran Church of the 20th century, all sound an alarm that must be heard and be given a clear response.
First, what is the relationship between the Office of the Public Ministry and the priesthood of all believers? [That is, how are the two similar? How are they different? What are their respective roles?]
Second, what rules govern their approach to ministry? And what expectations do pastors have for the laity and the laity for pastors?
The remainder of this paper is intended to address only the first of those three questions, the respective roles of pastors and people. The remaining two questions concerning rules and expectations will follow in subsequent chapters of my Major Applied Project.
WHOSE CHURCH IS IT?
The question of the relationship between the Public Ministry and the priesthood of all believers is like the riddle of the chicken and the egg: that is, which came first?
The riddle has been answered both ways. Some theologians insist God created the ministry first, then the church; and others argue the exact opposite--church first, then the ministry. In his essay, "Ministry in 19th Century European Lutheranism," Walter Sunderberg refers to Wilhelm Loehe, who asserted that the Gospel of Word and sacrament depends on the apostolic ministry established by Christ. Therefore, he maintains that the office of ministry stands above the congregation, or putting it in the context of the chicken and egg, the ministry is first, the church (congregation) is second. Referring to Loehe, he writes,
Not the office originates from the congregation, but it is more accurate to say, the congregation originates from the office...(7)
Within the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the doctrine of church and ministry posited by Walther can be interpreted so that the church exists over the Office of the Public Ministry. Walther makes the following theses regarding the relationship between church and ministry:
The ministry of the Word is conferred by God through the congregation as the possessor of all ecclesiastical power, or the power of the keys, by means of its call which God Himself has prescribed.(8)
The holy ministry of the Word is the authority conferred by God through the congregation, as the possessor of the priesthood and all church authority, to exercise the rights of the spiritual priesthood in public office on behalf of the congregation.(9)
The implication can be drawn that God created the church (that is, the priesthood of all believers) first, and then called the Ministry of Word and Sacrament (the Office of the Public Ministry) out of this spiritual priesthood.
The effect of the two answers is significant. They relate directly to the kind of role assigned to both the Public Ministry (and from the Public Ministry, the professional church workers who assist the pastor in ministry) and the priesthood of all believers.
In Loehe's view of church and ministry, the public ministry is over the congregation, even to the point that Loehe did not consider it proper for a congregation to select or call its own pastor. Sunderberg reports Loehe writing,
Any collegial church order that gives congregations the right to vote on ecclesiastical affairs is 'not only unapostolic but highly dangerous.' The idea that congregations can choose their own minister is out of the question.(10)
The role of the pastor within that context is less likely to be collegial, and more likely to be authoritarian. The implication is that the pastor can be "over" the congregation, and has the last word in matters under dispute.
On the other hand, when a church body (such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) has a theological practice that teaches "the ministry of the Word is conferred by God through the congregation...",(11) roles change. Therefore, in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, where the congregation has the authority and responsibility of calling the pastor who will serve them, it would be most presumptuous for a group of clergy to determine who will serve a particular congregation.
As a result, the role of the pastor is different in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod from a church body that reflects more of Loehe's theology of Church and Ministry. In the Missouri Synod the pastor is seen as a servant of the congregation for Christ's sake, that is, for the sake of the Gospel. The pastor labors for Christ in the public conduct of ministry on behalf of the congregation.
Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to both ways of thinking. In a sense, more can be accomplished, faster, by an authoritarian pastor than a servant pastor. But at the same time, the understanding of church and ministry as servanthood can be compromised by an authoritarian pastor.
ASKING THE QUESTION IN A DIFFERENT WAY
Norman Nagel puts the question of origin of church and ministry in a different perspective. He does not answer the question, "which comes first, church or ministry," with either church or ministry. He contends there is a different beginning point for both church and ministry. For him, the beginning point lies at the focal point of our Christian faith: Jesus Christ. "The progression here is Christ, church, disciples, pastors, Holy Absolution."(12) Later in his article he makes these comments about the flow of responsibility:
The church does not make itself church. The disciples do not make themselves disciples. Ministers do not make themselves ministers. They are all given to be what they are from Alpha Christ by the Omega of His forgiveness, surely delivered by the called ministers in Holy Absolution with the words given them to speak by the Lord Jesus.(13)
The source of church and ministry is found in Jesus Christ. Christ, church, disciples, pastors, Holy Absolution...all are from the Lord. All are God's gifts to people. The authoritative Word which defines the beginning of the church is found in Jesus' word to Peter. When Jesus asked the disciples the question, "Who do you say I am?", Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!" To which Jesus responded, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it." Jesus then went on to announce, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mat 16:15-19).
In describing the origin of what Christians are called to do, Jesus does not speak of either church nor ministry. He commends the confession of faith, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus describes the church as originating in the confession of Him as Savior and Lord. Without the Savior, the church does not exist.
Then He shows the Church is built on pastors who faithfully proclaim the Living Word. And finally, the church is found in the forgiveness of sins, the promise of forgiveness of sins.
In Nagel's model, the progression is Christ, people called to faith, pastors and absolution. The Lutheran Confessions define the church in like manner:
[The church] is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel (Tappert, 32, AC, VII, 1).
In the next article, the Augsburg Confession defines the church in much the same way:
Again, although the Christian church, properly speaking, is nothing else than the assembly of all believers and saints...(Tappert, 33, AC, VIII, 1).
The beginning point for properly understanding the church is Jesus Christ, her Savior, Lord, Groom, Master. From Christ, comes what Jesus came to do: that is, to bring salvation to sinful humanity--to people. From the church, through Jesus Christ, comes the Office of the Public Ministry so the Word of God might be proclaimed "in its purity and the holy sacraments administered according to the Gospel" (AC, VII, 1).
When church and ministry are defined as beginning in Christ, roles and functions begin to be defined more clearly. One called into the Office of the Public Ministry is called by God through the congregation as one who belongs to the priesthood of all believers. Clearly one is not above nor below the other. Both are included in the creative work of God; both are gifts of God to the world for the purpose of proclaiming in word and deed the saving activity of God within the world.
Herman Sasse also taught that church and ministry originate in the Lord. When viewed in that way, "[ministry] becomes very large and can be received and rejoiced in as the great gift it is."(14)
When one begins a discussion of the church with Jesus Christ, the question of ownership is answered. For if Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, it must belong to Him. If we are called into fellowship with Him to make the church reality, we must, then, be subject to Him as the Lord of His church. And if the Public Ministry comes from Christ Jesus, through the congregation, pastors and other professional church workers are then subject first to their Lord, and secondly to His people. Lest it be missed, the motive for the joyful response of God's people to the call to be involved in ministry (whether the ministry of the laity or the Office of the Public Ministry) is the faithful response of God's people to the love of God in Christ Jesus.
In considering the relationship between the church and ministry, a healthy beginning is made when we learn to see each as a gift of the risen Lord to the other. The church was created by God to serve the Lord, his pastors and other professional church workers; the ministry (and its auxilliary offices(15)) was created by God to serve the Lord and his church. The question is not who is over whom, but how can each serve the Lord who created both, and preserves both.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AS THE ORIGINATOR OF THE CHURCH
At another point, the Confessions define the origin of the Church in a slightly different manner. We confess in the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed, "I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or effort, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel..."
The Lutheran Confessions speak of the Holy Spirit as the originator of the Church. Without the Spirit of God creating faith in the heart of sinful man, there would be no church and if there were no church, there would be no ministry. Luther wrote in his Large Catechism,
Where [the Holy Spirit] does not cause the Word to be preached and does not awaken understanding in the heart, all is lost. This was the case under the papacy, where faith was entirely shoved under the bench and no one recognized Christ as the Lord, or the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier. That is, no one believed that Christ is our Lord in the sense that he won for us this treasure without our works and merits and made us acceptable to the Father. What was lacking here? There was no Holy Spirit present to reveal this truth and have it preached...Therefore there was no Christian Church (Tappert, 416, LC, Creed, III, 43-44).
The point is well taken that the church and its ministry are found in the Holy Spirit, working through the Gospel of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
All this is important to note, for it will give confidence to both the church and ministry. Since the Holy Spirit originates the church, it is also the Holy Spirit who preserves the church. That is why we confess with Luther, "In the same way He [the Holy Spriit] calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith" (SC, Creed, III).(16) In the same way, Walther could write with confidence,
Wherever, therefore, along with the divine Word, Holy Baptism is administered, there the gates of the church are invisibly opened; there people will be found who believe and are saved; there the Lord is graciously present; there we have an infallible mark of the church's existence; there we must joyfully exclaim: 'Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it...'(17)
Finally, the Holy Spirit as originator of the church, calls the church into existence to be a "family," a "fellowship," a "community." Pragman notes in Traditions of Ministry
It would be a mistake to understand the universal priesthood and Luther's view of it in an individualistic way. The priesthood is not synonymous with religious individualism. The priesthood can be properly understood and appreciated only in the context of the community of God's people, the communio sanctorum. The individual Christian possesses the universal priesthood not in isolation but only as a member of the congregation of God's people. To see the universal priesthood as something that can be separated from the wider Christian community would constitute a failure to understand Luther's teaching on the universal priesthood of believer.(18)
CHURCH AND MINISTRY FROM A SYSTEMS PERSPECTIVE
This paper is written from the perspective of systems theory as it relates to the Christian Church. Systems thinking is a product of the computer generation. It is a psychological model used to understand the relationship between various parts of a homogeneous unit. One example of a system is found in the relationship of the human body to diseases of the body. If I were to have the flu, more likely than not I would say "I'm sick." While the flu will effect only part of my body directly, the illness is applied to the entire body. What effects one part of the body, impacts the whole body.
Systems thinking works with the understanding of interconnectedness, being part of the whole. Former President Reagan was thinking systemically with his theory of trickle down economics. That is, if the wealthy are better off, if the richest segment of society are growing more prosperous, the rest of society will benefit as a result. The growing wealth of the richest segment of society will have a direct impact on the wealth of the rest of society.
I am working with the presupposition that the church is a system, and that ministry, coming from the church is intimately connected with the church. What effects the priesthood of all believers will effect the office entrusted with the public proclamation of Word and Sacrament; at the same time, what effects the Public Ministry will also impact the priesthood of all believers.
The Biblical model I draw upon is the model St. Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, where the church is described as "the body of Christ." At the risk of imposing a human model on the divine Word, I see Paul speaking in both letters of each member of the church being dependent upon the other. In his first letter to the Corinthians he concludes his discussion of the interrelationship of each member of the church with the words,
"If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Cor 12:26-27). He explains to the Roman Christians, "For as in one body we have may members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another" (Rom 12:4-5).
It is my contention that the church and ministry [defining ministry here in the most general sense of the service the people of God offer to the Lord and his people] are inseparably bound. Therefore, one cannot be understood apart from the other. When church and ministry, the priesthood of all believes and the Office of the Public Ministry, are separated from each other, conflict will be generated. For the appearance will be given of either professional church worker or lay leader trying to rise up over against the other.
THE CHURCH: CHRIST'S GIFT FOR MINISTRY
It is axiomatic that without the church there can be no ministry, for the ministry was established by divine mandate to serve the church, not church to serve ministry. It is also axiomatic that from within the church comes the priesthood of all believers: the invisible Christian Church on earth. And it is axiomatic that from within the priesthood of all believers come the ones who serve
(a) in the Office of the Public Ministry,
(b) in other professional roles within the Christian Church, and
(c) in lay leadership positions within the congregation. Therefore, without the ministry, there can be no church as well.
Herman Sasse notes
It is therefore in fact impossible in the New Testament to separate ministry and congregation. What is said to the congregation is also said to the ministry and vice versa. The office does not stand above the congregation, but always in it.(19)
In the Lutheran Confessions, congregation is often synonymous with the church. The symbols offer a broad definition of the church. In Article VIII of the Augustana, the church is defined as
nothing else than the assembly of all believers and saints, yet because in this life many false Christians, hypocrites, and even open sinners remain among the godly, the sacraments are efficacious even if the priests who administer them are wicked men...(Tappert, 33, AC VII, 1).
Clearly, the Lutheran Confessions define the church as including false Christians, hypocrites and open sinners among the godly. But yet, they are not the church. Arthur Carl Piepkorn demonstrates the distinction in this way:
While the evil members of the church are not the church, yet because the kingdom of God has not yet been revealed, they are mixed into the church, have the association of the external signs, and even bear offices in the church. The church strictly is the pillar of truth, but among its members will be weak persons who will erect perishable structures of straw upon the foundation, without, however, overthrowing the latter.(20)
The church, properly speaking, is those who find their righteousness in Christ Jesus. The church is made up of people who, while saint and sinner, find their holiness in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Though not yet perfect, because of the old Adam who clings so tenaciously to them, they are seen by the grace of God as being perfected in Christ.
This people, made perfect in Christ Jesus, is described by St. Peter as a "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people" (1 Pet 2:9). From that verse, the Christian Church has derived the concept of "the priesthood of all believers," or the "spiritual priesthood."
Where ever the Christian Church is found, there, too, the priesthood of all believers will be found. Luther pointed to baptism as the place where one becomes a priest. From that perspective, the perspective of baptism, all Christians (whether clergy or laity) have the same status before God.
THE ROLE OF THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS
While all Christians are priests before God, all Christians do not have the same role or, using the word used by Luther, the same office. That raises one of the fundamental questions being proposed in this paper. That is, what is the relationship between the Office of the Public Ministry and the priesthood of all believers? How are the two offices similar? How are they different? The basic similarity is that both the Office of the Public Ministry and the priesthood of all believers serve the Lord Jesus Christ through the one church and one ministry.
Compared with the wealth of information regarding the Office of the Public Ministry, little scholarly study has been done to understand the role and function of the priesthood of all believers. And what has been written, i.e., Oscar E. Feucht's Everyone a Minister, is critiqued to the point that its usefulness is debatable.
The result is confusion. While we believe, with Martin Luther, that God has called all Christians to be part of this spiritual priesthood, we do not have a very clear understanding of what the role of the priesthood is. As a case in point, I refer to Kurt Marquart's debate on the relationship between the priesthood of all believers and the Public Ministry in his Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics. Marquart goes into great detail to describe what the spiritual priesthood is not (it is not the same as the Office of the Public Ministry), but does little to describe what the priesthood is.(21)
Obviously more can be said of the role of the priesthood of all believers in relationship to the ministry of the church. However, one can be left with the impression in reading the theological debate that the theologian's main concern is to protect the Office of the Public Ministry from the intrusion of the priesthood of all believers into its private domain, "saving souls."
And so the confusion. It is God who created the royal priesthood. In the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, God confers this priesthood on all his children. The Scriptures affirm that it is an important function within the church. But, if I were to ask the average "person in the pew" what it means to be part of the priesthood (that is, to be a servant of Jesus Christ), I would be surprised if they could answer the question.
What is needed is more that affirms the spiritual priesthood as a gift from God that has been instituted, like the Office of the Public Ministry, for the proclamation of the Gospel.
That is certainly clear from Peter's description of the spiritual priesthood:
"You are a ...royal priesthood...that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
And so what is the role of the royal priesthood? Without a doubt, the most important role of the priesthood is what St. Peter wrote in the sedes docrina: "that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness," that is, the proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel is always the work of the church and its ministry. God calls his people to faith so that we might proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope notes,
"For wherever the church exists, the right to administer the Gospel exists" (Tappert, 331, Tri., 67.)
A second role of the priesthood of all believers that is closely connected, but not the same, as the first is, to call men to serve in the Office of the Public Ministry. Again, the Treatise on the Power and the Primacy of the Pope notes,
"For wherever the church exists, the right to administer the Gospel also exists. Wherefore it is necessary for the church to retain the right of calling, electing, and ordaining ministers" (Tappert, 331, Tri., 67).
That the priesthood is to call pastors is certainly Biblical. At the risk of entering a debate between the relationship of the office of deacon to the Office of the Public ministry, a debate I do not wish to conclude, the calling of the deacons in Acts 6 was accomplished by "the body of the disciples" at the urging of the apostles (Acts 6:3).
In his address "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation" (1520), Luther approved of a third role. Pragman reports Luther's point in this way:
"Because all Christians are priests and of the spiritual estate, they have the authority to test and judge in matters of faith."(22)
Again, this is compatable with the testimony of Scripture. The Epistle to the Galatians was written as an encouragement for the Galatians to judge doctrine so they would not be led to believe in a false Gospel. Ephesians 4 contains the words, "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ..." (4:15).
Arthur Cark Piepkorn notes a third role of the priesthood of all believers. Piepkorn wrote, quoting from the Smalcald Articles,
"The imparting of the grace of God is not the responsibility only of the sacred ministry; the Gospel gives us counsel and aid against sin through the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren."(23)
To the Galatians, Paul wrote,
"If a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness...Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:1, 2).
Finally, David Luecke notes a fourth role. That is, "God gave church leaders to get fellow members into place for the work of service to build fellowship in the body of Christ."(24) The Biblical authorization for such an assertion is found in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, as Paul encourages the members of the church in Corinth to use their gifts for the building of Christ's body.
And so, the role of the priesthood of all believers is to proclaim the Gospel, call pastors, judge doctrine, provide others with Christian comfort and consolation, and encourage one another to do works of service. To this, responsibilities such as, pray, encourage, equip and teach could be added.
Theologians definitely recognize specific roles God assigns to the spiritual priesthood, but at the same time recognize the role of the priesthood is limited. The limitation is two fold: the first because of the limited gifts and abilities of an individual; the second is by the distinction Scripture gives between the priesthood of all believers and the Office of the Public Ministry.
Paul addresses the first boundary in 1 Corinthians 12. In that chapter, the Apostle compares the church to a living organism, the human body. He notes that just as the body is composed of many members, and not all members have the same function, so it is with the body of Christ. Just as with the human body, when all parts are in proper working order, the body is healthy, so it is with the body of Christ.
It is important for each member of the body of Christ to recognize what his role is within the body so the body will function properly. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians of the church as the body of Christ and concluded, "when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love" (Eph 4:16).
This boundary is healthy to recognize. St. Paul explained the boundary limitation in 1 Corinthians 12 with the human body analogy: "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you'" (1 Cor 12:22). In a similar way, we can affirm each other in the boundaries that limit each person's area of service. No single individual can do all that must be done for effective ministry. By recognizing and using the varied gifts (abilities) of the Body of Christ the congregation can offer a healthy ministry of Word and Sacrament.
The second role limitation suggests different expected outcomes between the spiritual priesthood and the Office of the Public Ministry. For instance, Martin Chemnitz acknowledged the priesthood of all believers, but also recognized that being part of the priesthood of all believers does not give every priest the right to publicly exercise the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Pragman, reflecting on Chemnitz' theology, notes, "the pastoral office of the ministry has been instituted by God, and the church has been commanded to call fit individuals to serve in that office."(25)
Referring again to Ephesians 4, the Apostle noted "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers [emphasis mine]" (Eph 4:11). Paul makes a similar point in his letter to Titus: "This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you" (1:5).
Walther notes that the priesthood of all believers is not the same as the Office of the Public Ministry.(26) However, that does not mean the Office of the Public Ministry is unrelated to the priesthood. First, those who hold the office are called out of the priesthood, and remain part of the priesthood of all believers. Secondly, while all Christians are not in the office, the office still "belongs to all who are Christians by right and command."(27)
THE OFFICE OF THE PUBLIC MINISTRY
The Office of the Public Ministry is essential for the priesthood of all believers. For the Office of the Public Ministry is God's gift tot he spiritual priesthhod for the benefit of all of God's people. Loehe wrote in his Gesammelte Werke,
"Not the office originates from the congregation, but it is more accurate to say, the congregation originates from the office."(28)
Pragman said much the same thing in Traditions of Ministry:
"The authority of the ministry comes not from or through the universal priesthood but from and through the call to ministry which the pastor has from God alone."(29)
But yet, as noted above, one who is the pastor of a congregation does not in any way give up his belonging to the priesthood of all believers. He is always a priest. He is always part of God's people. He is not above them, as the "final word and authority" in all matters of church and doctrine, for the right and duty to judge doctrine also belongs to the royal priesthood; nor is he under them, as an inferior who is subordinate to a superior, and therefore held hostage to the whims and fancies of the priesthood of all believers. Sasse summarizes the relationship of the Office of the Public Ministry to the priesthood of all believers very well when he wrote,
"When the holy ministry is received and instituted as given by the Lord, not over the congregation but in the congregation, then it becomes very large and can be received and rejoiced in as the great gift it is."(30)
A pastor is part of the spiritual priesthood, who has been called by God through a local congregation to be the public steward of the congregation's ministry of Word and Sacrament. The relationship between the Office of the Public Ministry and the priesthood of all believers will avoid conflict if Kurt Marquart's comment is borne in mind:
The church is Christ's, the ministry is his gift to her, and so part of her....It is pointless to ask, therefore: 'Is it the church or the ministry doing this?'--as though two separate entities were acting. It is, rather, Christ's church which baptizes, confesses, teaches, consecrates, prays, serves and does everything else, including the appointment of ministers...(31)
With that thought, the debate or conflict of "we vs. them" is broken. The pastor of a congregation is a member of the priesthood, he is part of the body of Christ. Therefore he is one of the "us" of the holy catholic and apostolic church. St. Paul put it this way, "No man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church" (Eph 5:29).
However, having said that, it is important to recognize that a pastor's role is different from the roles of other members of the spiritual priesthood. C.F.W. Walther wrote,
Although Holy Scripture attests that all believing Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6, 5:10), it at the same time teaches very expressly that in the church there is an office to teach, feed, and rule, etc., which Christians by virtue of their general calling as Christians do not possess.(32)
The difference comes in a variety of ways.
A pastor is different, first, because he is "set apart" by God and God's people for a particular function or role. He speaks as a representative of the Lord and God's peoples in the public proclamation of the Word of God. As one who is set apart, he is a "holy man." Not, however, as holiness is generally understood, that is, a bit lower than God, but holy as understood with the concept of being set aside for God's purposes. In his book Traditions of Ministry, James Pragman notes,
The authority of the ministry comes not from or through the universal priesthood but from and through the call to ministry which the pastor has from God alone.(33)
Second, he is different because he is a public figure. He publicly administers God's gifts of his Holy Word and Sacraments. He publicly proclaims the word of absolution "as though from Christ Himself." While the public ministry of the church is the concern of the universal priesthood, each individual in the priesthood of all believers is not in the business of dictating to the pastor what he should and should not be about. One who holds the Office of the Public Ministry has the responsiblility of remaining faithful to God and the Word of God wwhich established it. God and His Word determines the role of the Pastor. Herman Sasse noted,
When the holy ministry is received and instituted as given by the Lord, not over the congregation but in the congregation, then it becomes very large and can be received and rejoiced in as the great gift it is.(34)
And so, as the public steward of the means of grace, set aside by God for that task, he is to ensure that the Word of God is properly and correctly taught and preached.
Third, as a public figure, he is to stand out in front of God's people providing direction, correction and leadership. Like Moses of the Old Testament, he leads his people to the "promised land," to heaven through the forgiveness of sins won in the Lord Jesus Christ. David Luecke notes in New Designs for Church Leadership what form that leadership takes.
In church life, nothing is more practical than the Gospel at changing lives. To build fellowship, a pastor will need to be a leader of organization and programs. But above all, a pastor is the leader of the spiritual needs [my emphasis] by which God calls and moves his followers.(35)
As spiritual leader of the congregation, he is responsible for not only the public ministry of Word and Sacrament, but also guiding the members of the congregation in developing their own skills for ministry in the community in which they live and work.
DEVELOPING A PARTNERSHIP OF JOY
A later chapter will more fully address the distinction in roles between the holder(s) of the Office of the Public Ministry, support staff and members of the congregation. In particular, great care will be given to the need to clearly define the roles and the relationships between the various individuals who are involved in the ministry of the Gospel. In doing so, the goal is always to develop "a partnership of joy" in ministry. That, of course, is the thesis being offered with this study.
For the time being, permit me to quote David Luecke who offers eight suggestions for developing a partnership of joy. Each is significant in that it points both the professional and lay leader beyond self, to others and to God.
1. Keep the partnership spiritually based.
2. In partnership, keep your sights set high and beyond yourselves.
3. Exercise partnership by encouraging each other.
4. Exercise partnership by comforting each other.
5. Work hard to settle disagreements.
6. Pastors, show the leaders your care for them.
7. Leaders, care for your pastor [and other professional church workers] and show it.
8. Salute each other regularly and often.
Luecke's point is simply this: it takes hard work to grow in understanding of the role relationship between professional church workers, and between the workers and lay leaders. We tend to err too much in assuming too much about the way roles, rules and expectations are understood.
The relationship between any congregation and its workers (whether lay or professional; volunteer or paid) would be far healthier if careful, intentional conversation were to take place to clarify role expectations. That can be illustrated with a personal story.
The question of roles is largely relative to the size and traditions of a congregation being served. The larger the congregation, the more proactive(36) the professional staff must be with regard to leadership; the smaller the congregation, the more the pastor should defer to the guidance of the lay leaders.
My first congregation was in Cissna Park, a rather middle size congregation in a small, rural central Illinois community. The average tenure for a pastor was 3.5 years over the entire 75 year history of the congregation. When working on vision for the future, an influential lay leader pulled me aside one day and made an incredibly important statement. "Pastor, you need to listen to us [meaning the long-standing members of the congregation] more. Remember, you will only be here a short period of time. We will remain behind, and will have to live with the changes you initiate." His point: the laity have more of an interest in the congregation than you. Let us be the primary leaders. My role in that case would be to encourage the lay leaders to lead, not to be an initiating leader.
I am now Senior Pastor of one of the larger congregations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The average tenure of the pastors of Trinity over it's 84 years of history is about 25 years. At the same time, the congregation's constitution is written in such a way that there could potentially be a 100% turn over of lay leadership on the Church Council in any given year. Here, I would turn the Cissna Park statement around. The lay leaders must recognize that they will be in designated leadership positions for a limited period of time; the staff, however, will have to live with changes made long after the lay leader leaves office. Therefore, the professional leaders of Trinity, Wausau must be permitted to be initiating leaders, encouraged by the lay leaders to do so.
Obviously the role definitions between the lay leadership and the pastoral leadership are vastly different at Trinity, Wausau than at Trinity, Cissna Park. But then again, so are the congregations.
The question of roles is finally resolved with a simple affirmation. That is, the professional staff and the lay leaders of a congregation work together most effectively when, using their unique spiritual gifts, spiritual maturity and spiritual insight, they work collaboratively to proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. That foundational affirmation begins the process of sharpening role expectations for all who are part of the congregation and its ministry.
1. By tradition, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has a very precise definition of "ministry." That is, the work of service to our Lord offered by those called to the Office of the Public Ministry. In contemporary usage, particularly on the popular, congregational level, the word "ministry" has a much broader definition and usage. It refers to all service offered to the risen Lord by the people of God, whether that ministry is offered by the Office of the Public Ministry or the priesthood of all believers. In this paper, the broad definition of ministry is to be understood.
2. Walther On the Church: Selected Writings of C.F.W. Walther, John M. Drickamer, trans. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981), 12.
3. Carl S. Meyer, A Brief Historical Sketch of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963), 8.
4. Meyer, 8.
5. Ralph Bohlman, "Letter to Pastors," February, 1992.
6. Roland Martinson. "The Pastoral Ministry" in Called and Ordained: Lutheran Perspectives on the Office of the Ministry, Todd Nichols and Marc Kolden, eds. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1990), 182.
7. Walter Sunderberg, "Ministry in 19th Century European Lutheranism," from Called and Ordained: Lutheran Perspectives on the Office of the Ministry, Todd Nichol and Marc Kolden, editors (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1990), 85. Sunderberg draws this comment from Loehe's Gesammelte Werke, ed. Klaus Ganzert (Neuendettelsau: Fremund-Verlag, 1954), 5:262.
8. Walther On the Church, 85.
9. Walther On the Church, 93.
10. Sunderberg, 85. Refer to Gesammelte Werke, 5:287f. for original quote.
11. Walter, 87.
12. Norman Nagel, "The Office of the Holy Ministry in the Confessions," in Concordia Journal (July, 1988), 286.
13. Nagel, 287.
14. Herman Sasse, We Confess the Church, Norman Nagel, trans., from the We Confess Series, Vol. 3 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 81-82.
15. Walther, 103.
16. Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1991), 15.
17. Walther, 35.
18. James H. Pragman, Traditions of Ministry (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1983), 17.
19. Sasse, 78.
20. Arthur Carl Piepkorn, "What the Symbols Have to Say About the Church," reprint from Concordia Theological Monthly, (October, 1955), 25.
21. Marquart, Kurt. The Church, Volume IX of Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Ft. Wayne Seminary Press, 1990. Note especially pages 103-111.
22. James H. Pragman, Traditions of Ministry (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1983), 14.
23. Piepkorn, 19.
24. David S. Luecke, New Designs for Church Leadership (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1990), 144.
25. Pragman, 49.
26. Walther, 73. [Thesis I: The holy ministry of the Word or pastoral office is an office distinct from the priestly office which all believers have.]
27. Pragman, 16.
28. Sunderberg, 85.
29. Pragman, 20.
30. Sasse, 81-82.
31. Kurt Marquart, The Church, Volume IX of Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Ft. Wayne Seminiary Press, 1990, 149.
32. Walther, 73.
33. Pragman, 20.
34. Sasse, 81-82.
35. Luecke, 159.
36. The word, "proactive" has become an over used, and rarely well defined term, in recent years. Proactive, with it's prefix "pro" refers to the intentionality of action. That is, taking action by one's own decision, rather than by the necessity of circumstances. To be proactive is to act on one's own accord, rather than by force.
The Book of Concord. Theodore G. Tappert (Ed. and Trans.) Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959.
Bohlman, Ralph, "Letter to Pastors," February 1992.
Called and Ordained: Lutheran Perspectives on the Office of the Ministry. Todd Nichol and Marc Kolden (eds.) Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.
Luecke, David S. New Designs for Church Leadership. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1990.
Marquart, Kurt. The Church (Part of Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Vol. IX). Fort Wayne Seminary Press, 1990.
Meyer, Carl S. A Brief Historical Sketch of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963.
Nagel, Norman E. "The Office of the Holy Ministry in the Confessions," in Concordia Journal (July, 1988), pages 283-299.
Piepkorn, Arthur C. What the Symbols Say About the Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955.
Pragman, James. Traditions of Ministry. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1983.
Sasse, Herman. We Confess the Church (Part of the We Confess Series, Vol. 3), Norman Nagel (trans.) St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986.
Selected Writings of C.F.W. Walther: Walther and the Church. John M. Drickamer (trans.), August R. Suelflow (Series Editor). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981.
Church and Ministry: Chosen Race, Royal Priesthood, Holy Nation, God's Own People. Institute of Liturgical Studies Occasional Papers, Number 2. Daniel C. Brokopp, Brian L. Helge and David G. Truemper (eds.) Valparaiso, IN: Institute of Liturgical Studies, 1982.
Coiner, Harry G. "The Pastor as Administrator of the Christian Fellowship," in Concordia Theological Monthly (XXXV, 5) May, 1964, pages 271-283.
Ehlert, Werner. The Structure of Lutheranism. Walter A Hansen (Trans.) St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962.
Grothe, Jonathan. Reclaiming Patterns of Ministry: Jesus and Paul. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1988.
Hefner, Philip J. "The Church" in Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 2. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (eds.) Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.
Luecke, David S. Lutheran Substance/Evangelical Style. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1988.
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