Monday, July 2, 2012

Was John Eck Right – Just 482 Years Too Early?

Just before the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, Dr. John Eck released his Four Hundred and Four Articles for the Diet in Augsburg. Eck’s theses were partly a mix of half-truths, out of context quotes, and straw men, designed to paint the Lutheran confessors as heretics. Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession was written, at least in part, as a reply to Eck’s theses 267 – 269, which read
267. Any one can absolve any one; accord freest authority of hearing confessions is to be to all brethren and sisters (Luther).

268. The Church of Christ ignores the sacrament of Ordination (Luther). But it is a figment invented by men (Zwingli, Rieger, Amsterdo).

269. As many of us as have been baptized are all equally priests; and any layman can consecrate churches, confirm children, etc. (Luther, Zwingli).
One has to wonder whether Eck’s three theses have more of a ring of truth to them today than they did when written in 1530.

As reported last week, the Rocky Mountain District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod resolved to “apart from renewals, discontinue the licensing of lay deacons to serve as pastors (preaching and administering the sacraments) without being rightly called and ordained into the pastoral office.” In their convention workbook, the Committee on Licensed Deacons Report stated
The Licensed Deacon Committee has consistently and unanimously agreed that the need for a vacant congregation is a pastor; thus, a man serving as a licensed layman needs to be called and ordained into the pastoral office. The licensing of a layman to serve the so-called “functions” of the pastoral office is not the same as the calling and ordaining of a pastor into the office of holy ministry as we confess in the Augsburg Confession Article XIV which reads “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach or preach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a properly ordered call (Latin: rite vocatus)”. The Committee has worked diligently over the years to bring this issue to the attention of the Synod for action at its conventions.
On the other hand, the Northwest District (NOW) of the LCMS resolved to “to continue the practice of utilizing already accepted means of call, training, and supervision of Licensed Deacons to perform Word and Sacrament ministry….” The introduction in the NOW resolution claimed
The LCMS has properly held that the ministerium of the Synod serves the fundamental mission of the Church to faithfully proclaim the Gospel (Matthew 16:17-19, Romans 10:14). This has resulted in practices which, while perhaps not ideal, circumstances have compelled our Church to provide for the preaching of the Word and proper administration of the Sacraments, lest they be denied to the people of God for lack of an ordained clergyman. The Holy Scriptures repeatedly show that it is the privilege of all believers in Christ to share the good news of Jesus Christ to all people (Acts 1:8, Luke 10:1-2, Philippians 2:11, 2 Timothy 2:2, Matthew 28:19-20)

In the past, these circumstances were overcome through the use of “emergency helpers” (Nothilfern) in our earliest years, through circuit riders, through the combining of smaller congregations into dual (or more) parishes, and more recently through the use of properly trained, called, and Synod-approved Licensed Deacons. These methods have been used effectively, and while some smaller congregations grew to a size where they could call a seminary-trained, ordained clergyman, many have not and anticipate remaining of such a size that cost and other factors preclude them from that preferred option for the foreseeable future. The means of grace would be denied or reduced in these smaller congregations if it were not for these men serving faithfully in extraordinary circumstances.
Obviously, we’ve got some widely divergent thought processes going on in the LCMS, where one district resolves one thing, and another resolves the opposite. This is more than a pragmatic difference due to geographically-imposed need, this is a difference in theology. These two resolutions get to the core of Augsburg Confession Article XIV. They cannot both be correct. Dr. William Weinrich points us in the right direction, in his Logia article titled “Should a Layman Discharge the Duties of the Holy Ministry?
Historically, Lutheranism has answered the question of whether or not a layman should exercise the duties of the Office of the Public Ministry with a definite "No." …The exegetical, dogmatic, and pastoral tradition of the Lutheran heritage admits of no circumstance that justifies the use of unordained laymen for purposes of preaching, baptizing, and administration of the holy supper. This tradition does recognize the requirement of preaching and baptizing in cases of necessity, that is, when no ordained minister is available, nor can be acquired.
The NOW District has a page on its website titled “Deacons in Action…stories of ministry…”  which highlights two Licensed Deacons. The first is “serving as minister” in north central Washington state: “The congregation called me to a one-year contract to provide ‘pastoral services.’" One has to wonder how much of an “extraordinary circumstance” could exist in central Washington, as the NOW resolution implies must occur in order for a layman to exercise the duties of a pastor. The first president of the LCMS, C.F.W. Walther, quoted Heshusius regarding emergency situations where a layman could practice Word and Sacrament ministry:
Further Tilemann Heshusius (d. 1588) writes: “In a case of necessity, since one cannot have regularly called servants of the church, there is no doubt that every Christian has the authority from God’s Word and is authorized according to Christian love to carry out the service of the church with the proclamation of God’s Word and the administration of the Sacraments. … But here we are speaking of that case of necessity when one cannot have true Christian and upright servants of the church and what is then up to a Christian. As if some Christians are at a place where there are no called pastors [Seelsorger]; if some Christians were in prison for the sake of the truth or were in danger on the sea; or if some Christians were under the Turks or the Papacy where there were no correct pastors; if some Christians were under the Calvinists or Schwenkfeldians or Adiaphorists or Majorists, from whom, as from false teachers, they must separate according to God’s command; or if some Christians were under such pastors or such church servants who practiced public tyranny and horribly persecuted the correct confessors of the truth. …”
With Walther’s quote in mind, it hardly seems that the other Licensed Deacon highlighted on the NOW page fits the extraordinary circumstance category either, since he serves as “Visitation Pastor” at a congregation which also has a regularly called pastor in Beaverton, Oregon, located 7 miles west of Portland, a city of over a half-million residents. What is happening? This is a case where our practice has rewritten our theology. In our desire to reach more people with the Gospel, which is certainly a worthy desire, we have compromised our Confession. Notice that in the first paragraph of the NOW District’s resolution it immediately points to the priesthood of all believers, and then makes the jump to lay ministers. The everyone-a-minister church growth concept has infiltrated our theology. One could argue that a subsistence village in Alaska, where there are no roads to the village, might be a candidate for a licensed deacon (AC XIV disagrees, that situation would also require an ordained servant of the Word for Word and Sacrament ministry, but the argument has been made), but a town seven miles east of Portland doesn’t fit the bill. John Eck wasn’t right in 1530, but perhaps he is now. We now have laymen, who have not been ordained, co-opting the duties of the called and ordained pastor, preaching the Word, offering absolution, and administering the sacraments. John Eck is smiling in his grave.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As I've said before on this and other sites, Oscar Feucht ("Everyone a Minister") has a lot to answer for.

Joe Strieter