The nature of the public ministry may be defined as follows: Under the office of the public ministry we understand the proclamation of the Word of God together with the administration of the Sacraments by commission of a Christian congregation. The establishment of the public ministry always presupposes the commission of a congregation; and the very word “public,” as used in this connection, has reference to the Christian public, or congregation, which stands behind the public minister, and through whose agency God has made him a minister by means of the divine call extended to him. He is a public servant, or minister, because of that definite Christian public, or congregation, on whose behalf, by whose commission, and as whose representative, he exercises all the functions of his ministry, both in house to house visitations and in the pulpit. The minister can no more divest himself of his public character, as representative of his congregation, when admonishing a sinner in private or comforting an individual Christian in distress, or administering Communion at the bedside of a sick person, or officiating at a burial, than he can when he stands in the pulpit or ministers at the altar. Always and everywhere, when performing the functions of his office, the minister acts as the representative of Christ and of the Christian congregation which has called him to function in its behalf in accordance with the revealed Word and will of God, and hence is at all times responsible to Christ and the congregation for every act which he performs in such capacity.
The commission of the congregation is expressed by the word inaccurately rendered in our King James Version of Acts 14:23 as “ordained,” a word which has no connection with the act of “ordination” spoken of elsewhere in the New Testament. The difference between the word used in Acts 14:23, and which refers to the conducting of an election by a show of hands (in its only other occurrence in the Greek New Testament, 2 Cor. 8:19, it is correctly rendered “chosen” in our KJV), and the New Testament word for ordination (as used, for instance, in 1 Tim. 4:14 and 2 Tim. 1:6) is that the former means, literally, “stretching out of hands” (to vote in an election), while the latter means “laying on of hands.” Thus the office of the public ministry is conveyed by the call of a Christian congregation which results from the choice, or election, of a certain individual to exercise the official functions of the ministry by commission of the congregation.
Besides the public ministry which is committed or delegated to an individual by the call of a congregation we must hold fast to the divine institution also of that ministry which is enjoined upon all Christians in 1 Peter 2:9; 3:15; and Col. 3:16 (not in a public capacity, but as a personal spiritual endowment or spiritual priesthood, which is inseparable from personal faith in Christ), which neither should nor can be superseded by the public ministry.
Also missionaries in the field of foreign or home missions are in the public ministry, even when congregations have not yet been formed in the field of their labors; for behind the missionary stand Christian congregations which by God’s command send out missionaries, Matt. 28:19, 20.
As to the relation of the public ministry to the spiritual priesthood of all Christians, as taught, for instance, in 1 Peter 2:9, we must hold that the public ministry is distinct from the spiritual priesthood for the following reasons: a), because the public ministry requires a special call from a congregation for its legitimate exercise; b). because a special aptitude to teach is requisite in order to serve an entire congregation with the Word of God: 1 Tim. 3:2; 1 Cor 12:29 (“Are all teachers?”); and a special holiness of conversation is needed in order to be an example of life to the congregation, 1 Peter 5:3. The catalogue of qualities which should be found in a pastor is given (with very slight variations) in two passages in St. Paul’s “Pastoral Epistles,” which are so important both to pastors (that they may always be conscious of what God requires of them) and to their flock (that they may know what they may rightly expect of their pastor, and the qualifications which are requisite in one to be called to this holy office) that we shall here devote the space to print them out in full.
1 Timothy 3:2–7: “A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well in his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?) not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
Titus 1:7–9: “A bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful Word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”
The public ministry is not a human, but a divine institution. What do we mean by calling the ministry a divine institution? Under the divine institution of the public ministry we understand the fact that it is not left to the option of the Christians who live in a certain place whether they wish to establish the office of the ministry among them or not, but they have a divine command to do so. This command is found in Titus 1:5, where we read, with reference to the purpose of leaving Titus in Crete: “that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain” (the word used in the original means “establish,” and has nothing to do with the laying on of hands) “elders” (here in the sense of “preaching elders,” or pastors, “elder” being the usual New Testament name for the local pastor) “in every city” (city by city, wherever congregations had come into existence), “as I had appointed thee.” The word “appoint” is used in the sense of “command, charge, give order,” a common usage of the word in King James English and in full accord with the Greek original. Since Paul was not accustomed to issue orders on his own authority (compare 2 Cor. 8:8: “I speak not by commandment,” and v. 10: “herein I give my advice, for this is expedient for you”), we must regard this command of Paul to Titus as being given by divine authority, and hence as proof for the divine institution of the ministry. Also the expression “the things that are wanting” indicates that a congregation in which the office of the ministry was not yet established lacked something which was essential to its divinely ordained form. That it was also apostolic practice to establish the office of the parish pastorate in each individual congregation we see from Acts 14:23, cited above, which may be plainly translated from the original: “When they had conducted elections for pastors (elders) in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed.” This is also the teaching of our Lutheran Church in accordance with Holy Scripture. In the Smalcald Articles we read (Triglotta, p. 523, par. 67): “Wherever the Church is, there is the authority (command) to administer the Gospel. Therefore it is necessary for the Church to retain the authority to call, elect, and ordain ministers.” See also Smalcald Articles, page 507, par. 10 (in translation from the German text): “The office of the ministry proceeds from the general call of the apostles.” Therefore if any one were to ask us where the words of institution for the office of the ministry are to be found, we should reply, with our Church, that they are to be found in Matt. 28:19, 20. To put it in the words of Dr. Walther (Walther and the Church, p. 72): “The divine institution of the ministry of the New Testament appears from the call of the holy apostles to the ministry of teaching by the Son of God, as recorded Matt. 10; 28:18–20; Luke 9:1–10; Mark 16:15; John 20:21–23; 21:15–17 (‘Feed My sheep’), and of the seventy disciples, as recorded Luke 10:1–22.”
As to the necessity of the public ministry, we must regard this necessity, like the necessity of receiving the Sacraments, as not absolute but relative. The public ministry is not absolutely necessary for salvation, because faith in Christ can be created and preserved also through the reading of Scripture and the functioning of the spiritual priesthood. However, an abuse of this truth occurs when Christians do not diligently hear God’s Word in the public preaching, when the pastors do not diligently prepare their sermons, and when congregations and pastors do not diligently make provision for the education of preachers and teachers. As not the deprivation but the contempt of the Sacraments damns, so we may say also of the public ministry, in accordance with Luke 10:16: “He that heareth you” (preachers of God’s pure Word) “heareth Me; and he that despiseth you despiseth Me; and he that despiseth Me despiseth Him that sent Me.”
The incumbents of the office of the public ministry form no special spiritual order superior to that of the Christians, like the priests of the Old Testament, but are officers (public servants) among the Christians. Therefore we call the incumbents of the public ministry not “spiritual” or “priests,” because these titles, according to the Scriptures of the New Testament, belong to all Christians (see 1 Peter 2:5, 9; 1 Cor. 2:15). Scriptural names of the incumbents of the office of the public ministry have reference either to their relation to God or to their relation to the Christian congregation, a). With relation to God: “ministers of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:1); “servant of the Lord” (2 Tim. 2:24); “steward of God” (Titus 1:7). b). With relation to the Christian congregation: “your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). An incumbent of the office of the public ministry therefore occupies a twofold position of service; he is the servant of Christ and of the congregation. However, he is not fifty per-cent Christ’s servant and fifty per-cent the congregation’s servant, but one hundred per-cent Christ’s servant and therefore also one hundred per-cent the congregation’s servant. This does not mean serving two masters. For in serving the congregation, which in its call requires him to perform his office in complete accord with the Word of God, he is not serving men, but Christ Himself, as Paul writes, Gal. 1:10: “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” Only if the congregation should demand, contrary to the provisions of the divine call, that their pastor serve them otherwise than God’s Word teaches, would the pastor be confronted with a situation in which, in order to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), he would have to leave the service of such a congregation. Since the congregation is the original possessor of the power of the keys, and hence the means of grace (Matt. 18:17–20), and by divine command delegates the public administration of the means of grace to competent persons (Acts 14:23), therefore the administration of these delegated powers remains under the supervision of the congregation, Col. 4:17. In this respect it is stated in the Smalcald Articles (Triglotta, p. 507, par. 11): “The Church is above the ministers.”
Since the Christian Church is an absolute monarchy, in which Christ through His Word has sole dominion, Matt. 23: 8–10, there results therefrom a double truth: a). With regard to the authority of the servants of the Church, obedience is due them when they teach God’s Word, Heb. 13:17; Luke 10:16; but obedience is to be refused when they depart from God’s Word, Rom. 16:17. b). With regard to the relation of the servants of the Church to one another, all superiority and subordination is not of divine but only of human right, for by divine right all are equal. In Luke 22:24–26, when the disciples of Christ strive about rank, Christ answers them: “Ye shall not be so,” adding the instruction that there are superiors and subordinates only in worldly kingdoms.
At this point we quote with great satisfaction, in accordance with our aim of demonstrating the agreement of Lutheran doctrine with universal Christian Biblical doctrine, the testimony of a great Bible scholar who belonged to the Anglican or English Episcopal Church, where it is commonly taught that there are three distinct and divinely ordained orders or ranks of the clergy, namely bishops, priests (or presbyters), and deacons. Henry Alford remarks on 1 Tim. 3:1 (“If a man desire the office of a bishop,” etc.): “The ‘bishops’ of the New Testament have officially nothing in common with our bishops. The identity of the ‘bishop’ and ‘presbyter’ (or ‘elder’) in apostolic times is evident from Titus 1:5–7.” In connection with Acts 20:17 (“called the elders of the church”) and verse 28 of the same chapter, and referring to the same persons (“take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops”), Alford points out the unfairness of translating the Greek word for “bishops” in the latter verse as “overseers,” whereas in every other passage of the New Testament where it occurs it is translated “bishops.” If it had been uniformly rendered, as it ought to be, in Acts 20:28, then, says Alford, “the fact of elders and bishops having been originally and apostolically synonymous might be apparent to the ordinary English reader, which now it is not.”
The public ministry is the highest office in the Christian Church. As the local congregation is the only divinely instituted society in the Christian Church (societies outside the congregation, such as synods, and societies within the congregation, such as young men’s, young ladies’, ladies guilds, men’s clubs, etc., are only human ordinances), so also the office of the public ministry is the only divinely instituted public office in the Christian Church. Auxiliary offices within the congregation can according to need be branched off from the office of the ministry (elders, teachers, almoners, etc., Acts 6), but these remain under the supervision and responsibility of the pastor according to Acts 20:28: “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops.” In this sense Luther calls the office of the public ministry “the highest office in Christendom.”
At least a few lines must be added here with reference to the Scripture doctrine concerning the Antichrist; for it is here, and not in the treatment of “the last things,” that this doctrine belongs. Nothing in Scripture suggests that either the rise or the revelation of the Antichrist is to take place at the end of the world, though indeed his final destruction will be accomplished by “the brightness of Christ’s coming” (2 Thess. 2:8). The Scripture warnings against the Antichrist form an appendage to the doctrine of the ministry for the reason that the Antichrist described in 2 Thess. 2:3–12 represents the grossest perversion of the office of the public ministry. He “sitteth in the temple of God,” that is, in the Christian Church, and claims to be “the vicar of Christ,” and in that capacity to rule the church on earth as a visible monarchy, setting himself above all divine authority (“Object of worship”) and divinely ordained authority in the kingdoms of this world (civil rulers in this respect being rightly “called gods,” as in Psalm 82:6, cited John 10:34, as those who “are sent by God for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well,” 1 Peter 2:13, 14), as though Christ had abdicated the throne of His Church upon earth or absented Himself from His dominion in this world (2 Thess. 2:4). Yet the whole rule and authority of Antichrist is nothing but the supreme apostasy from the central article of Christian doctrine — justification by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, without the deeds of the Law — which the papal sect curses in the Sixth Session of its Council of Trent, especially canons 11, 12, and 20. Compare 2 Thess. 2:3, where the Holy Spirit calls the rule of “that man of sin,” “the son of perdition,” by the name of “the apostasy” (“falling away”). If anyone should fail to recognize that all these marks or criteria of the Antichrist, including the “power and signs and lying wonders” of 2 Thess. 2:9, are completely fulfilled in the Roman papacy, and in it alone, or should imagine the possibility of a still greater apostasy than the cursing of the central doctrine of Christianity and substituting a human authority for that of Christ — then such a person would show such ignorance of the chief enemy of our holy faith as would be inexcusable in a teacher of Christians, or would expose his failure to appreciate the supreme importance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Finally, the suggestion that the Antichrist is not assuredly identifiable would tend to make Scripture’s solemn warning not to let ourselves be seduced by Antichrist vain and unprofitable for Christ’s people.
As the blessings of the Gospel ministry are dear and precious to us, so vigilantly must we guard against the seductions of its counterpart, the Roman Antichrist.
N.B. For further information on the subject of the closing paragraphs see Smalcald Articles, Part II, Art. IV (Triglotta, pp. 471–477), and “Of the Power and Primacy of the Pope” (Triglotta, pp. 503–521); also “Brief Statement,” Art. 17 (par. 43); and finally, “Our Confessional Platform,” by Dr. P. E. Kretzmann, Art. 6, d.