Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Sincere Question for Confessional Lutherans

So, what are we going to do about the variety of teachings and practices regarding the Office of the Holy Ministry among us?


revalkorn said...

We seem to like eating our own, and that seems to work well for us. We're always told to stick with our strengths, and that seems to be one of them.

For a serious answer . . . I think we need to look at Scripture and the Confessions, do away with those teachings and practices which are contrary to those things, and after that agree that we're not going to have complete uniformity.

Now, if you're talking about those who call themselves confessionals but really aren't, then we're pretty much out of luck even going that far.

Mike Keith said...

Well, I think it is a little more difficult than that because there are those for whom I have respect for as confessional theologians but with whom I would differ in their understanding of the Holy Ministry.

With regard to uniformity - well, that is the problem. How one understands the Holy Ministry is very practical on a day-to-day level. It seems to me many of the issues among us today go back to our lack of uniformity on the Office of the Holy Ministry.

Vic Morris said...

Random thoughts...

1. Is this not an example the reality/tension of trying to apply black and white (we confess....we condemn) to a world of grey? We read Article V AC and say "yes, we confess how do I apply in this place, at this time etc.

2. Uniformity in what? For what? What is the end state we are pursuing in relation to the Missio Dei?

is it:
a. Uniformity of Confession (thought we all subscribed and we had that) OR
b. uniformity of practice (Is that possible given the diversity of this office ie Ephesian 4:11-13) OR
c. Uniformity in our application of confession (Is that possible in a culturally diverse country like Canada?)

More questions than answers I realize!

Mike Keith said...


Good questions. Way to muddy the waters... :-)

The unity of which I speak has more to do with the practice. For example: LCC is unable to make a statement - one way or another - regarding whether a Vicar can consecrate the elements for Holy Communion. Ultimately, that questions comes down to an understanding of the Office. My answer is: ABOSLUTELY NOT. To me it is crystal clear. However, it is not crystal clear to many in our Synod. To me, this lack of unity and understanding produces confusion both in teaching and practice - and it is unhealthy. Or, as has been raised in my area - how about elders officiating at Holy Communion?

And to complicate matters - even if two people were to agree that neither Vicars nor elders should officiate at Holy Communion - they may be agreeing for different reasons.

So, I think we need to sit down as a church and figure out what we believe, teach, and confess regarding the Holy Ministry. This directly influences day to day life in our parishes.

Vic Morris said...


I agree one hundred percent.

I think the root cause of what we observe, and experience with these issues is that we do NOT have uniformity of confession.

This troubles me, and personally I struggle greatly with this reality in the Church.

You raise the vicar/communion question, and it takes me back to the convention when we discussed this as a synod.

In that discussion there were some who stood up and said to the effect "why are we even talking about this (vicars officiating), we have already decided our position on who exercises the office in the confessions"

ahhhh, but there is the problem. We don't all hold to those do we.

So instead of discussing how do we establish the office in that place (ordain, set apart one from within that community; or send a pastor; or create circuit riders etc.) we end up saying "Did God really say that only a pastor could celebrate the sacrament..."

or we let the human, the logical, the fiscal, the logistical reasons override our theology. (To far to travel, there is a vicar there already...I mean they're already preaching right..., it would cost to much to send someone, we could not ordain someone that did not go to seminary etc.)

One of our biggest challenges became very clear for me in observing that exchange - how do we even discuss these things when we are not even starting on the same page?

I read recently of a pastor who was using a basketball analogy for this struggle - basically how can we determine who is the greatest basketball player (Lebron or Kobe) if we cannot even decide that they both play basketball, first.

We are trying to answer questions about the office in a context where we have not agreed whether we are playing "basketball" or not.

And because we have not, (and cannot?) or will not agree in Sola Scriptura as understood through the proper exposition of the Confessions, here we stand(ish)....

and that troubles me the most, because I thought we all stood up before God and men and swore to that....

ps. my votes for Kobe. and I do not want him celebrating communion anytime soon.

Mike Keith said...


The trouble with pointing to Article XIV and trying to say: "There, that settles it" is that depending on you understanding of the Holy Ministry prior to reading Art XIV you will come up with different understandngs of what it means (as we see among us today).

Within LCMS/LCC we have a wide spectrum of thinking on the Holy Ministry from what amounts to plain ol' functionalism to nearly sacerdotalism (I also think this is more a North American problem born out of the specific history of the LCMS.)

It is this spectrum that exists that causes all the trouble. I mean, there are those who say after they retire they are then laymen. But, they will preach and administer the Sacrament if a vacant congregation asks them to for a Sunday. Why? Because the congregation CALLED them to do that for that Sunday. I think that functional understanding of the Office and the Call falls far short of what AC Art. XIV is getting at by "rite vocatus."

Vic Morris said...

Agreed. I think you have nailed it, the problem is not that the confessions are unclear, or that scripture is unclear on these matters.

The problem (IMHO) is that we who have said "This we confess..." are approaching the practical implications "bass-ackwards" (to quote my dad).

Instead of STARTING with what we confess, and then determining the "what does this mean" - we have started with the "I think, I feel, My experience, I understand it this way, I want" etc, and then go looking for an article, or passage to back that up.

Kind of like Dr. Harold's warning of finding a really good illustration, and then writing a sermon around it. bass-ackwards.

The challenge of this goes beyond this specific situation (vicars and communion) - it effects everything we do.

Until we figure out a way to sit down and discuss this as theologians - I see no end in sight.

Instead what I expect more of is the sniping behind anonymous pen-names on forums, more online activity (sin)of like-minded individuals creating websites etc. More Matthew 18 getting hammered.

Perhaps we have lost the art of debate, or reasoning with one another and we don't know how to sit down and discuss this in that order. Perhaps it is the result of the dark days (seminex, etc) that shaped a great deal of our contemporaries.

We did not experience that, and perhaps that is why I do not understand why we can not grab a case of beer, a quiet place, some sincere hearts and minds, our bibles and books of Concord, and sort it out.

In a synod the size of our's, with the quality pastors we have - is this so unrealistic?

Mike Keith said...

In a Synod our size it is absolutely do-able (one of the motivating reasons behind the St. John Chrysostom Lutheran Preacher's Retreat, actually). I have seen it happen - I have even taken part in such discussions with people who I believe to be wrong - but we were able to be and remain civil. Though, I believe beer to be for the barbaroi - I'll have a much more refined glass of wine thank you.

However, we are dealing with a great deal of baggage. Stefan, Walther, Lohe. American individualism. Democracy. That si why I was pleased with what came out of LCC's CTCR documents - they went back to the Scriptures and came out at a different place than the LCMS has been for the last 100 years. I am still surprised there was not more fireworks over those dcuments.

Also, have you read the paper I presented at our Central Distict Pastoral Conference a couple years ago? I threw caution to the wind and made some bold claims - fortunately I was not procalimed a heretic - though some would say so. Anyway - youi can find it here...

Vic Morris said...

Will read. Thanks.

Vic Morris said...

Mike, Read your paper - good stuff.

Where you asked about emergency baptisms and Vicars/Field workers preaching - Two acts by those who do not hold the office?

Vic Morris said...

Should read

"were you asked..."

Mike Keith said...


I was not asked that question directly in that context - that I recall. However it has been a quesiton that has been under discussion often in these circles - which ended up in the overture to the previous Synod convention seeking to re-evaluate the vicarge system. The original overture came from our Winkel that meets in Regina asking the Synod why we allow vicars to preach but not administer the Sacrament in light of Art. XIV. If I recall correctly, the overture requested an investigation into ordaining vicars (we had also submitted somethinf to re-evaluate the whole process and perhapps add a mentorship period of 2-3 years after sem after which tiem a person would become "fully on the roster."). But is has been a few years so all of that is a bit blury to me now - even though I had a hand in it!

Anyway, the vicar question is a big question that we need to address to remain consistent. I say - ordain 'em.

Vic Morris said...

Yes - to be consistent you have to go one way or the other; Either you ordain vicars (or one from within the congregation for that matter...)and they exercise the full office, or don't ordain them, and quit preaching, baptizing, teaching etc.

The next question though will be what about the "Call", meaning the official call of a congregation, done in good order and all that - to have one exercise the office in their midst.

Would you suggest ordination is enough? I wrestle with that as well - a couple weeks from now I am to go to a vacant congregation to conduct the service, with communion. I will preach/teach/administer the sacrament/exercise the office of the keys etc.

I have no call there. My call is only to my congregation.

For the record - this is one of those congregations that is being serviced by a vicar....exactly the situation what we are talking about...


Mike Keith said...

Well, I have a whole bunch of thoughts regarding the Call...

First - we need to understand that our call is not from a particular congregation. Our call comes from Christ. Christ calls us through the Church - and that call is mediated through a particular congregation (in most cases). We are then called by Christ through the Church to serve a particular congregation (in most cases).

So, in the case of you carrying out the Holy Ministry at the vacant congregation you are simply exercising the call you have received from the Lord of the Church to preach, teach, and administer the sacraments. The vacant congregation is in an unusual situation and therefore has requested that you carry out this among them. Therefore, upon the request of those people, you cary out the Office based upon the authority given you by Christ's call to the Office.

The very interesting thing is in the way that LSB has the absolution in Setting 1,2, and 4 (I can't recall 5). In LW and TLH is was "as a called and ordained servant of the Word" but in LSB it is "as a called and ordained servant of Christ." A subtle change - but I think it is a good one.

So, from my perspective there is no problem for a DP or Sem prof etc., presiding over the Sacrament because they have a Divine call - that from Christ through the Church.

Vic Morris said...

I typed first, and thought second on my last post - your response is helpful.

I should correct the statement

"I have no call there. My call is only to my congregation."

That is incorrect, and if true would null and void any legitimacy I have as a chaplain with the Fire Dept and Military.

Perhaps I could have worded it better as "my call is only THROUGH the congregation (the Church-here) that I serve"

This is key point to unpack. The office is not some nebulous thing - it is located amongst Christ's people - the Church.

Without Christ's people through whom would a call come?

Without Christ's people all you would have is a calling prior to ordination.

The Office then requires Christ's people (the Church), and through whom bestow Ordination (setting apart) and issue a Call.

We have a fellow in our congregation who was ordained by the Christian Ministers Assoc.

He showed me his card, and said now we can team up in ministry.

Once I gathered my thoughts I stated that while he may have a card stating that he is "ordained" , he does not have a Call.

I think this lines up with what you wrote in the previous post:

"you carry out the Office based upon the authority given you by Christ's call to the Office"

This is where the congregation (plural for dist, synod etc.) and the Call through them, in good order is so important.

Applying this to Vicars then - We can ordain, and we can call (we could even place limits as we do terms on a elected position) - and we should then if we desire that they exercise the Office.

Hmmmm....who would issue the Call? The Synod or District (as in chaplains and missionaries?)

Mike Keith said...

Vicars are weird. I am still not sure what to do with them. One should do an historical study to see from whence they came. I am told that there were no such thing as Vicar's in Luther's day.

I think we ought to ordain them. We as a church body can place, by human arrangement, any and all restrictions we so choose. However, should a man after vicarage and after being ordained prove unsastisfactory to the Church - it gets a bit difficult. Sure, we simply say the man is not fit and will not be rostered and therefore is not eligible to serve in our parishes. However, he is still ordained into the Office. I am not sure of the ramifications of that... (one thinks of Herman Otten in this context - though the DP of that District could discipline that congregation for having a non-rostered pastor serving them - but for soem reason for over 30 years or so that has not been done).

I think due to our LCMS heritage we have a view of the Church that is far to congregational and isolationist. There are many who would view their call as solely coming from their congregation (this is where you get essentially functionalism for good order, etc). So they are running it that they are called by St. John's Lutheran, Armpit, SK. They view the divinity of the call in the sense that God wants them there and has called them THERE.

This is mistaken. We are called to a specific location certainly. However our call is from Christ to into the OFFICE. Yes, this call is mediated through the Church - but even how that occurs doesn't really matter (i.e. Luther was called by a city council to teach at Wittenberg!). Our process of congregational calls through a Voter's assembly is meet, right, and salutary. But we must not think that it is biblically mandated (Paul instructed Titus to go about and APPOINT elders/presbyteroi/pastors - no voter's assembly there!).

Vic Morris said...

Hey Mike,

Just read a CTCR on emeritus clergy - have you seen this?

Some interesting thoughts related to ordination and call.

Mike Keith said...

I saw something that at the time was not for "public consumption." I was impressed... where did you find it? If we are talking about the same thing then I think it sheds some light on what we are talking about. But now I am going to have to go back and read it again... :-)

Mike Keith said...

I just got my copy of LTR in the mail today and read the article. I am not sure if that si exactly what I read previously but it is very close. I think the article does a fine job of presenting the Office. However, if oen reads closely I believe it is saying something different than what si commonly understood in LCMS/LCC circles. Bravo, I say.