Monday, July 7, 2008

Could a Layperson Consecrate the Elements for Holy Communion?

Below is a presentation I presented at a District church worker's conference last year. Most of the Luther quotes came from Pastor David Jackson now serving in England and many insights also came through discussion with him. I post it hoping to get feedback and response and discussion. At the conference I had some positive response and some negative response which is exactly what I expected. For us North American Lutherans of Missouri Synod heritage - the Office of the Holy Ministry is the issue of the day. How we understand this Office influences everything.

Central District Church Worker’s Conference
October 15-17, 2007 (Winnipeg, MB)
“Could a Layperson Consecrate the Elements for Holy Communion?”
The Reverend Michael L. Keith

The question under consideration is “Could a layperson consecrate the elements for Holy Communion?” I will be presenting the answer: NO.

The fundamental issue is: Has Christ established an order by and through which the Word and Sacraments are to be distributed to God’s people? As we heard Augsburg Confession Article V reads: “In order that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted.”[1] Augsburg Confession Article XIV reads: “Our churches teach that nobody should preach publicly in the church or administer the sacraments unless he is regularly called.”[2] It is clear from the Augsburg Confession that the Reformers believed that our Lord had established an order by and through which the Word and Sacraments are to be distributed.

In accord with Articles V and XIV of the Lutheran Confessions, Lutherans have never allowed the administration of the Lord’s Supper by a layperson (until recently in some isolated circumstances). As William C. Weinrich points out in a recent article in Concordia Theological Quarterly: “Despite all the discussion within our Synod of the rights and powers of the congregation, Walther did not allow this practice, nor did he provide justification for it in circumstances where such a practice might have been in existence.”[3]

It has often been said that the Office of the Holy Ministry was instituted solely for the purpose of good order - that all Christians have the Office of the Ministry but for the sake of good order one is entrusted with carrying out the duties of the Office publicly. This however is false, and is not the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions, of Luther, nor of the Holy catholic and Apostolic Church.[4] Luther wrote:
I hope, indeed, that believers, those who want to be called Christians, know very well that the spiritual estate has been established and instituted by God, not with gold or silver but with the precious blood and bitter death of his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ [I Pet. 1:18–19]. From his wounds indeed flow the sacraments. He paid dearly that men might everywhere have this office of preaching, baptizing, loosing, binding, giving the sacrament, comforting, warning, and exhorting with God’s word, and whatever else belongs to the pastoral office. For this office not only helps to further and sustain this temporal life and all the worldly estates, but it also gives eternal life and delivers from sin and death, which is its proper and chief work. Indeed, it is only because of the spiritual estate that the world stands and abides at all; if it were not for this estate, the world would long since have gone down to destruction.[5]

Luther, here, is not saying that every man everywhere has this Office but that every man everywhere is to have the Office among them so that they might receive the gifts of God. It is for this that our Lord paid dearly – that the Office be present through which He would distribute His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Word and Sacrament in His Church.

Weinrich points out: “Luther imbeds the ministry of preaching and the sacraments within the ‘order of salvation.’ Within this order the pastor is given the tasks to preach and administer; the people are given the tasks to hear and to receive.”[6] Weinrich asks: “Are we really to believe that Christ said ‘He who hears you hears me’ (Lk. 10:16) and ‘As the Father has sent me, so do I send you” (Jn. 20:21) in order to ensure that there is no raucous in the assembly?”[7]

The necessity of the Office of the Holy Ministry is not only a question of public, outward order in the church but arises from the necessity of faith for the justification of the sinner. The necessity of the Office arises out of the will of God that there be a royal priesthood as a result of the means of grace that the Office of the Holy Ministry was instituted by God to administer.[8]

The Office of the Holy Ministry is derived from Christ alone and is not derived from the Priesthood of all Believers but is instituted for the benefit of the Priesthood of all Believers.[9] Bishop Jobst Schone writes: “It is not Luther who says that every Christian is a minister, but that for certain reasons a group of individuals makes a pastor by transferring their authority to one man to be a pastor. Luther’s position is that Christ calls a man out of the multitude of believers. Christ prepares men and calls them to be his servants to the royal priesthood.”[10]

Luther makes it clear that people are not born into the Office of the Ministry, but men are “taken” from the “ranks” of the priesthood of all believers to fill the Office. He states: “For none of us is born as apostle, preacher, teacher, pastor through baptism, but we are all born simply as priests and clerics. Afterward, some are taken from the ranks of such born clerics and called or elected to these offices which they are to discharge on behalf of all of us” (AE 38:188). Luther is not saying here that the Office of the Ministry is derived from the priesthood of all believers, but simply that the priesthood of believers is from where candidates for the Office of the Ministry are drawn. Qualified men are “taken” from the priesthood of believers and placed into the Office of the Ministry by Christ for the benefit of the priesthood of believers. Baptism does not make a man a pastor, call and ordination do. Likewise, ordination does not make a man holy, baptism does. In other words: Priests are born, that is through baptism, while ministers are made, that is through call and ordination.

When Luther was dealing with preachers who were coming into the various communities who were neither called nor ordained he wrote Infiltrating and Clandestine Preachers (1532). In this he states: “So we say, either demand proof of a call and commission to preach, or immediately enjoin silence and forbid to preach, for an office is involved--the office of the ministry. One cannot hold an office without a commission or a call” (AE 40:386). This statement contradicts the idea that all Christians are in the Office of the Ministry and only some are chosen to be pastors for the sake of good order. Luther continues:
“If the interloper can prove that he is a prophet or a teacher of the church to which he comes, and can show who has authorized him, then let him be heard as St. Paul prescribes. Failing this let him return to the devil who sent him to steal the preacher’s office belonging to another in a church to which he belongs neither as a listener nor a pupil, let alone as a prophet and master.” (AE 40:388)

Luther also wrote: “The call, therefore, is not to be despised. For it is not sufficient if a man has the Word and the pure doctrine. He must also have the assurance of his call, and whoever enters without this assurance enters only in order to kill and destroy (John 10:10). For God never prospers the work of those who are not called. Even if they teach something good and useful, it does not edify.” (AE 26:19, 20)

Therefore it is clear that the Office of the Holy Ministry has been established by Christ. It is through this Office and this Office alone that the Word and Sacraments are to be administered. It is incompatible with our Lord’s institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry to have a layman consecrate the elements of the Sacrament. The Office of the Holy Ministry exists because of our Lord’s institution and command. For a layman to consecrate the elements of the Sacrament is to step outside of our Lord’s institution, His Word, and His promise. We are not free to substitute the bread and wine of the Sacrament with coffee and doughnuts or beer and pretzels. If we were to do so it would be an invalid Sacrament because it was not done in accord with our Lord’s command and institution. Therefore, to have a layman consecrate the elements is likewise contrary to our Lord’s command and institution and invalidates the Sacrament.
Johann Gerhard wrote:
Indeed, the distribution of his body and blood in the sacred supper is to be attributed to Christ himself, although no longer immediately as at the first supper, but it is executed mediately through the ministers of the church, through whose ministry the power of his promise is efficacious. When they distribute the consecrated bread and the consecrated wine, then he himself at the same time distributes to those partaking of his own body and blood in, with, and under the consecrated bread and wine. Indeed the action of Christ and of the minister neither can nor ought to be separated.[11]

In a well known and often mentioned quote in this context, Luther said:
I do say that even if the devil himself came (if he would be so pious that he wanted to or could do so), and let us suppose that I found out afterward that the devil had inveigled his way into the office by stealth or, having assumed the form of a man, let himself be called to the office of the ministry, and publicly preached the gospel in the church, baptized, celebrated mass, absolved, and exercised and administered such offices and sacraments, as a pastor would, according to the command of Christ -- then we would for all that have to admit that the sacraments were valid (AE 38:200).

Many have used this quote to validate the belief that a layman could administer the sacrament since Luther said that if even the devil did so it would be valid. However, the point that Luther is making is missed since Luther is pointing to the Office and not to the man. Luther is pointing out that if the devil somehow assumed the Office of the Holy Ministry such things would be valid. It is only through the Office that such things would be valid and not because the words happened to be said correctly.

An illustration: a person may say all the words correctly through a wedding ceremony, may even speak the words “I pronounce you husband and wife,” but if that person has not been given the office and the authority that comes with it to say these words – they are meaningless and accomplish nothing. If the speaker has no authority to pronounce the man and woman husband and wife, even if the words are said correctly, they are not made husband and wife just by the speaking of the words. The same is applicable to the Sacrament. If a man who has not been called and ordained to the Office of the Ministry speaks the Words of Institution they accomplish nothing because he has not been authorized to do so. Weinrich writes that among Lutheran theologians “there is no abstract reference to God’s ‘absolute power,’ that is, to the divine power inherent in the Word. Reference is always made to the ‘ordered power’ of God, that is, to the means and instruments that God has in fact placed in the church, and to which he has attached his promises.”[12]

When the Lutheran theologians discussed cases of extreme circumstances when there were no called and ordained ministers available it is important to note how it was handled. Weinrich writes, “when no ordained minister is available for the foreseeable future, Christians may assign the functions of the public office to one not called and ordained. It is important, however, to note that even in these cases, the Lutheran divines made it clear that the one who is functioning as the de facto pastor needs to be called and ordained as the pastor.”[13] Walther when addressing this issue wrote, “in the case of the Lord’s Supper no genuine case of emergency can arise.” Walther went on to say “almost all orthodox Lutheran theologians declare that no layman should administer holy communion.”[14] Weinrich notes that Walther was merely reflecting the common opinion of Lutheran exegetical and dogmatic tradition.[15]

It is not in keeping with the historic Christian Church nor with the practice of the Lutheran Church to have a layman consecrate the elements in the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, it is contrary to our Lord’s will and institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry. This innovation of practice to the Christian Church would bring into doubt the sure Word and promise of our Lord. A legitimate call and ordination locates where God has willed to place his voice and hands and lends assurance[16] and comfort for those seeking His grace and forgiveness.

In closing Luther wrote:
For we must believe and be sure, that Baptism does not belong to us but to Christ, that the Gospel does not belong to us but to Christ, that the Office of preaching does not belong to us but to Christ, that the Sacrament does not belong to us but to Christ, that the keys, or forgiveness and retention of sins does not belong to us but to Christ. In Summary, the Office and the sacraments do not belong to us but to Christ, for He has ordained all this and left it behind as a legacy in the church to be exercised and used to the end of the world; and He does not lie or deceive us. Therefore we cannot make anything else out of it but must act according to His command and hold it. However, if we alter or “improve” on it, then it becomes a nothing and Christ is no longer present, nor is His order (AE 38:200).

[1]Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The Augsburg Confession : Translated from the Latin (The Confession of Faith: 2, V, 1-4). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
[2]Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The Augsburg Confession : Translated from the Latin (The Confession of Faith: 2, XIV). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
[3] William Weinrich, “Should a Layman Discharge the Duties of the Ministry?,” Concordia Theological Quarterly (July/October 2004): 208.
[4] Departments of Systematic Theology. The Office of the Holy Ministry (July 2007): 243.
[5]Luther, M. (1999, c1967). Vol. 46: Luther's works, vol. 46 : The Christian in Society III (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Vol. 46, Page 219-220). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
[6] Weinrich, 210-211.
[7] Weinrich, 212.
[8] Weinrich, 214.
[9] Joel P. Okamoto, The Office of the Holy Ministry, Concordia Theological Quarterly (April 2006): 98-99. Also: David N. Jackson, Dr. Martin Luther and the Office of the Holy Ministry, unpublished paper.
[10] Jobst Schöne, The Christological Character of the Office of the Ministry and the Royal Priesthood (Plymouth, MN: LOGIA Books, 1996) 18; emphasis added.
[11] Johann Gerhard, Loci Theologici, ed. Eduard Preuss (Berolini: Gust. Schlawitz, `867), 4:10. Locus 21, “Concerning the Holy Supper,” Chapter 4, “Concerning the Minister or Dispenser of this Sacrament,” Paragraph 16.
[12] Weinrich, 219.
[13] Weinrich, 221.
[14] C.F.W. Walther, The Congregation’s Right to Choose Its Pastor, trans. Fred Kramer (Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary, n.d.), 107.
[15] Weinrich, 213.
[16] Naomichi Masaki, “Augsburgh Confession XIV: Does It Answer Current Questions on the Holy Ministry?” Concordia Theological Quarterly (April 2006): 160.

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