What did Jesus institute?

There have been some disappointing posts recently on the ELS ministry discussion list. In some cases it has actually degenerated to name calling. What I have seen too infrequently is the kind of spirit that seeks to understand the argument of the other side, making a careful presentation of its own position.

Some would blame the medium, email. I don’t think that’s the problem. The problem is our impatient, prideful human nature. Email just facilitates our sin, like pen and ink or photocopiers, only much faster.

One of the participants recently took a break for a whole week. He may have been composing his responses during that time, because they certainly show more forethought than usual. I won’t reveal his name, to protect the innocent. However, I will quote a paragraph from his post that shows the reasoning behind his position.

His position is this (and I am willing to be corrected, if this summary is inaccurate): Jesus did not instituted an office to be filled by incumbents. Instead, He instituted freedom, so that the Church may create as many different kinds of offices as she may need. He also instituted the use of the Means of Grace. For example, it was His idea that someone should be there to baptize other people from time to time, and that someone (not necessarily the same person) should be there to administer the Lord’s Supper from time to time. Likewise, it was His idea that someone should be tapped to teach the Gospel, and (perhaps another person) to preach it on some regular basis. This free public use of the Means of Grace is called “the Ministry.” The writer supposes that this is the sum total of what the PMW teaches.

It is not, but maybe I’ll demonstrate that another time. For now, see Pastor Jay Webber’s Parsing of the PMW for a fair, “unbiased” understanding of the document.

Here is the writer’s carefully-worded defense of his position. Note that he is arguing against the notion that Jesus only instituted the position of “Pastor,” whether that means parish pastor or something more generalized.

I have in previous emails mentioned other public servants of Christ
that are mentioned in scripture. We are nowhere told that the lists
given is intended to be exhaustive, nor are the various lists
consistent, nor unchanging. We do read of deacons, which were not
the same as pastors, but were specifically mentioned in 1 Timothy. I
have also mentioned evangelists as part of the list in Ephesians 4.
We are not told in scripture that evangelist was a form of pastor. I
have mentioned that St. Paul was not called to baptize (1 Corinthians
1). Though he did baptize a few people, as he mentions, this does
not undo what Paul wrote (that he was not called to baptize). Any
one of these should be sufficient, but just as the early church had
freedom to select seven to serve the church, and these seven were not
pastors (though descriptions of their service included ministry of
the Word, and this may have been part of their call), the church has
freedom to call people into various forms of public ministry; even
those that had not previously existed. This doesn’t make their
service into public ministry any less divinely instituted, just
because scripture doesn’t provide all of the details and specify all
of the forms that public ministry may take.

As I see it, the reasoning is as follows. First, he claims that any one of the following points is sufficient proof for his argument:

  1. The Bible mentions titles of public servants other than the title “pastor.” The Bible is silent about whether lists of such titles is exhaustive.

  2. Deacons are mentioned in 1 Timothy, and are shown to be distinct from pastors.

  3. Evangelists are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, and scripture does not say that Evangelist = Pastor.

  4. St. Paul in 1 Cor. 1 says he was not called (sent) to baptize.

In addition to those “proofs,” the following argument is offered.

The early church had freedom to select 7 to serve the church (Acts 6)
The 7 were not pastors.
Ministry of the Word may have been part of their call.
The church has freedom to call people into various forms of public ministry; even those that had not previously existed.

Finally, the following claim is asserted (in my words):

Though scripture doesn’t provide all the details and specify all the forms that public ministry may take, this does not mean that the service of offices created by the church is any less divinely instituted.

OK, there are a few things here, and careful readers of The Plucked Chicken may already have identified a few problems. But that hasn’t stopped me before, so away we go.

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Explaining the PMW Statement: Response to Circuit 8

I’ve pointed out already that while there is a valid, subservient role for human reason in the household of theology, we must be careful how we use it to support our claims about scriptural doctrine. Another word for “reason” is logic. In general, there are two ways to construct a logical proposition. One can use inductive logic, which takes a collection of observations and concludes that there are certain trends or probabilities in the context of those observations. One can also use deductive logic, which can provide conclusions aimed at truth and falsehood (a binary concept) rather than at probabilities and trends.

Deductive logic follows the pattern: “Since A, B, C, … and D are true, therefore E must inevitably also be true.”

Inductive logic may follow the pattern: “In cases A, B, C, … and D, we have noticed that proposition E generally applies. Therefore E must also apply for cases F, G, H, etc.”

A related, but different, process is the “scientific method,” in which someone makes a hypothesis out of pure conjecture, which then may (or may not) be tested to see if it can be disproven. If it can not be tested, the hypothesis doesn’t have much value for the scientific method. If it is tested and disproven, then we know it doesn’t match reality. If it is tested and not disproven, then we know that it may match reality. Nothing is ever proven by the scientific method, but some things are eventually accepted as useful. The scientific method is completely inappropriate for theology, because as Martin Luther wrote to Erasmus, “The Holy Ghost is not a skeptic.” God deals only in truth, and is not subject to a human standard of usefulness.

The purpose of theology is to repeat what God has revealed in His Word. It ought to be a somewhat boring discipline for those who wish to invent things on their own. The nature of theology is truth, not probability, likelihood, trends, or usefulness.

If you can understand and accept the summary above, then let’s apply this to A Response from the ELS Presidium to Circuit #8 Concerning the Circuit’s Memorial to the 2005 Convention, published on October 11, 2005. This document illustrates the reasoning used in the PMW document, showing how it arrives at its conclusions from the scripture passages it cites. Note that I don’t necessarily agree with the main conclusions as summarized in this Response, as I have also explained previously.

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Concordia, Second Edition

Ah, they arrived today. I wondered if CPH would remember my order from some time last summer. They did.

Two copies of the second edition of Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. They are wonderful. Now I have a copy to read at both churches and at home.

Now, I thought the first edition was good, and I hope CPH didn’t lose track of me as a purchaser. It’s possible my copy was part of a group order for members at Grace, so I may have to request that the “update” materials be sent to my new address. But at least I already have the second edition to enjoy.

I’ve read some of the introductory material. Two thumbs up so far. The timeline will be more fun to read than you might think. I noticed something about the first known batch of scotch made in Scotland. That was included only for reference and interest, I’m sure. It scores both ways.

What I’d really like to do is dive into the 52-week, daily reading schedule. It’s really just Monday through Friday, not daily. That leaves me with extra time to write blog posts about the week’s readings. I intend to do that on the church blog, Confession and Life so that the posts might be used in our printed newsletter too. I will welcome comments and cross-blog chatter on these topics. If anyone else would like to join in on the same reading schedule (beginning Monday), it could be the basis for some good doctrinal discussion.

“Selective Fellowship” Protest

The title of this article is a direct quotation from the synod announcement concerning the three churches and their pastors who have entered a state of confessional protest. See earlier posts for a description of this protest, and an analysis of the initial response.

I’m going to present the sequence of relevant events in a brief form, as I saw them occurring from my own point of view. I believe my point of view is the truth, or else it wouldn’t be my point of view. You may certainly disagree about that.

The first event relevant to this announcement was when Pastor Rolf Preus was given an ultimatum by the synod president: either recant/retract/withdraw your paper “Clarifying the Issues,” or you will be expelled from the synod. The showdown meeting began with the president asking that Pastor Preus retract his entire paper, as the only acceptable sign that he is not charging the synod with false doctrine. The request/demand was repeated throughout the meeting. Preus’ response was to ask for biblical proof that what he had written was wrong, for without such proof, he believed that his paper was correct and to retract it would be a sin. The meeting ended with no retraction, and no serious attempt to show from the Bible that the paper was wrong.

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Should Have Read This in Seminary

I finally finished a little book that’s already been more influential upon me and my work than any other non-theological book, and even many theological books. Upon a first look at the cover and name, it may appear to be of the “self-help” variety, a genre which I have not taken seriously for many years. Many self-help books have religious overtones, and even teach a kind of self worship. I despise that kind of thing as the dangerous drivel it is. But this one is different. I wouldn’t even call it a self-help book.

The title is Getting Things Done. It’s a fairly popular book by a “personal productivity guru” named David Allen. I found it while searching the Internet for better ways to use the functionality of the DateBk6 program on my PDA. (That’s “Palm Pilot” for the acronymically challenged.)

After reading this book and implementing its techniques in at least part of my life, I’m convinced that it should be a textbook for a third semester class at our seminary. That’s the first semester of the second year. Why then? Because any earlier, and the students would not appreciate the difference it makes, and probably wouldn’t take it seriously. Any later, and the students would lose too much of the increased potential for learning at seminary once they start using these techniques.

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The Basis of Unity Within a Synod

What brings churches together to form a synod? This is something that I’m sure everyone in the ELS would agree upon. It’s God’s Word. We agree on the doctrine, and this is the basis for our cooperation together. Without agreeing on the doctrine, we couldn’t have common missions, support a common seminary, or even figure out what our college should teach.

Because of this, the synod as a corporate body has an interest in preserving that unity of doctrine. So one of the tasks of the synod president, and other synod officials, is to help preserve it. How? The same way pastors work in the parish: by speaking and writing God’s Word. Pastors and synod officials do this publicly because they have been authorized to do it publicly, each shepherd to his own sheep in the proper context. The authorization may come in a variety of ways, but that’s how they have that authority.

Yet the authority of God’s Word is independent of the authority that pastors or synod officials have. God’s Word has it’s own authority. If pastors or synod officials speak what is not God’s Word, then their words do not have God’s authority. Yet if a layman speaks God’s Word to his pastor or to a synod official, then it must be heeded as God’s Word. To do otherwise is sinful. (cf. the Third Commandment)

What else can pastors and synod officials do to help preserve our unity in God’s Word? Individually, they can do nothing else.

Someone may say, “What about Matthew 18?” I say: the first steps of church discipline are indeed done by individuals, but they are still nothing but speaking God’s Word. The last step, excommunication, is a corporate speaking of God’s Word. It’s also not the same thing as removing (or suspending) someone from membership.

How is membership established? Corporately, mutually, and voluntarily. How is it terminated? Corporately, and when all is well, mutually and voluntarily. Neither establishing membership nor terminating membership is required by God’s Word. Neither one may be enacted by an individual. Membership is not identical with fellowship, though fellowship in doctrine is a prerequisite for membership. To combine the authority of speaking God’s Word together with the power to terminate membership unilaterally, either in the office of a parish pastor or synod president is contrary to God’s Word. It makes a ruler out of one who only has the authority to speak God’s Word. It confuses the ministry of the Gospel with the administration of temporal matters.

The Weighty Matters of God’s Word

I love the way you can read parts of the Bible where you don’t expect to find anything new, and yet there it appears. It truly brings forth treasures both new and old.

Jesus verbally spanked the scribes and pharisees, saying something really instructive for us: “you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Matthew 23:23.

Justice, Mercy and Faith. Ponder that for a while, without leaving the rest undone. It’s good stuff.

Churchliness of Synod: Final Chapter

Synod has a churchly character, but what sort of churchly character is it? At this point, I’ve concluded (with help) that the synod exists as the cooperative efforts of its member churches to do certain things. I strongly suspect that it’s the nature of these efforts that lends the synod its whole churchly character, and not any independent characteristics that the synod may have.

But once I start something, I almost always do my best to finish it. So let’s finish our exploration of contrasts between the churchly character of synod and that of congregations, as touching their use of the means of grace, and as touching their context.

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Churchliness of Synod Continued

I was going to address how synod and congregation differ regarding their use of the means of grace and regarding their context, but we need to finish something else first, namely, how they differ regarding their shepherds.

Based upon feedback, I need to clarify something. I appreciate the thoughtful email responses I receive to these posts, but since they are private communications, I don’t think I should publish who the sender is. He wanted to explain what the Treatise says in association with AC XVIII, in response to what I wrote here:

So if presiding is pastoral ministry, then the president must be a shepherd to someone else. Is it the pastors of the synod or missionaries? No, because a formal relationship like that would violate Treatise paragraphs 7 and following, with the accompanying scriptural passages.

My email responder distinguishes the authority to set up the synod president as the pastors’ pastor from his authority to act as the minister of the synod’s pastors. The first authority is acknowledged to be done by human right, and the latter by divine right. This distinction echoes what’s written in the PMW: “But it is by divine right that one exercises that work on behalf of the Christians through whom the call has come.” (That’s written about the wider sense of “public ministry.”) By making this distinction, it is supposed that having a synod president as the pastors’ pastor does not violate Treatise 7ff, because we have a synod president by human right. But when he “supervises” his “flock” by teaching them (that is, correcting their doctrine, and presumably suspending those who disagree with what he teaches), he does this by divine right.

Continue reading “Churchliness of Synod Continued”