The Ministry and Auxiliary Office
with Respect to Legalism

The doctrine of the Ministry is a part of the doctrine of the Church. It is through the Church and of the Church that our Lord Jesus creates the holy ministry and bestows it upon the Church. He called the apostles directly, of course, except for Matthias, and the apostles are irreplaceable; but ever since Matthias, the pastors, ministers, and teachers were called indirectly by churches. The words of Christ to the twelve apply also to all pastors and teachers in the Church, “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” John 20:21.

The holy ministry is given to the Church and belongs to the Church. While St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:1 “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God,” he also writes in 2 Corinthians 4:5 “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” And again in 1 Cor 3:21–23 he writes to the congregation, “For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” And in Ephesians 4 he writes that Christ ascended into heaven “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” These are His gifts to the Church, and they belong to the Church, servants both of Christ and of the Church. Jesus also explained to the disciples, or apostles, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Matthew 20:25–27. Ministers of the Gospel are not members of a ruling or elite or superior class. They might well be very learned and very spiritual, very skillful in the practice of the works of the ministry; but then they might not be. There are some, after all, who are belly-servers and greedy of filthy lucre; some who are unspiritual and unlearned, even quite ignorant and stupid. Whether they do it or not, their office is to preach the pure Gospel, to teach the Word of God. They sit in Moses seat, and God will hold them accountable for not doing it and for doing damage in the kingdom of God. The fact that pastors and teachers are God’s gift to the Church is no reason for them to become puffed up and proud. Nor should pastors lay stress on passages like “Obey them that have the rule over you,” (Heb 13:17) in hopes of compelling obedience to them, nor should they suppose every word that comes out of their mouths is God’s Word simply because of their position. It is God’s Word only if it conforms to Holy Scripture. While it is true that the pastor is the spiritual supervisor of the souls in the congregation, and their shepherd, he must not suppose that makes him the ruler in the church. The Church has one Ruler, and that is Jesus Christ. The Church is His kingdom, and the ministers are His ambassadors, begging that men be reconciled to God, who has in Christ reconciled Himself to fallen mankind. Hence they must “neither be lords over God’s heritage, but ensamples to the flock.” 1 Pet 5:3. And Jesus commands His apostles and ministers, “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” Matt 23:8. Ministers, then, serve Jesus and the congregation, who have called them as shepherds. When the office of the Keys is committed to a pastor, the congregation does not surrender it to him, but always retains it in full.

Here we need to define the word “ministry,” however. Article V of our Augsburg Confession explains, “That we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.” Here the holy ministry is not depicted as pastors and teachers, but as the teaching of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments. It is sometimes referred to as the holy ministry in the abstract. It is only in Article XIV that the ministry in the concrete is referred to, i.e., the office of the ministry and its occupants. The Gospel work in general is given to the Church, the priesthood of all believers.

Once again we must make a distinction. In the Bible the Church appears in two forms: as the church universal, consisting of all the believers in the whole world. They are the Church, and are known only to God. “The Lord knoweth them that are his.” 2 Tim 2:19 All believers and only believers belong to the Church; not only those of the present time, but all of them from the beginning even until Judgment Day, and it includes also those who are at home in heaven, having received the reward of God’s grace.

The only other way the Church appears in the Bible is as individual congregations in particular places, or as Paul puts it, “in every city,” or, to translate more literally, city by city. These churches are assemblies of Christians, or believers. They are visible churches. Since “the kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, Lo, here, or Lo, there; for behold, the kingdom of God is within you,” (Luke 17:20–21) no one can say who in a particular congregation is a believer and who is not. No one can point out the invisible church. Congregations are units of the Visible Church. Jesus compared the visible Church to a net that caught both good and bad, and to ten virgins, five wise and five foolish. We can say, then, that most, if not all, congregations are made up of true believers in Christ and some hypocrites and ungodly people. We have Jesus’ assurance, though, that the gates of hell will not prevail against His kingdom; hence wherever the marks of the church are found in a regular local assembly, there are believers present. Hence each such congregation is truly a church and a divine institution. It is to these institutions that Christ commits His divine authority, the Office of the Keys. Our Small Catechism, p. 183, answers Q. 270, “To whom, then, has Christ given this power?” thus: “Christ has given this power to His Church on earth, especially toevery local congregation. Matt 16:19; John 20:22–23; 1 Peter 2:9; Matt 18:17,18,20. See also texts under Q 267, Mk 16:15; Mt 28:18–20.” The individual Christians are the original possessors of the Office of the Keys. The public exercise of them belongs to the congregation, which is a divine institution. A. L. Graebner puts it this way in his Doctrinal Theology, p. 210, “The invisible Church of Christ is endowed with certain spiritual rights, privileges, and powers, all of which are vested in every local congregation of believers.”

Only the believers in any congregation and throughout Christendom really hold the Keys and possess the promises and privileges and authority of Christ. Every single Christian has been made a royal priest before God and possesses all the authority and power God has distributed to all equally, and every Christian has the right and authority, and in fact the duty, to exercise this authority.

Luther says, AE, XXXVI, 150, “Where are you now, Pelagius, with your proud, insolent, slanderous tongue, daring with puffed up cheeks to say in your fleshly law: ‘Where the authority is, namely the spiritual authority, there is the right to command; upon the rest devolves of necessity the matter of obedience.

“Christ has given to everyone the right and power to weigh and decide, to lecture and preach. Yet you venture on your own wicked authority to subjugate everything to yourself, and to exalt yourself above everyone, like Lucifer. You falsely allot to yourself alone the right to speak and judge, contrary to God and the Scriptures! Away, you villain, all Christians have a good and perfect right to lecture and preach from the Scriptures, even if you should burst.”

Pieper refers to “Luther in his comments on Col 3:16, ‘What is meant by teaching and admonishing has been stated repeatedly, except that St. Paul here attributes the office of teaching to all Christians by saying ‘teaching and admonishing one another,’ which means that all Christians should teach and admonish one another, as well as themselves, so that, in addition to the public ministry, the Word of God should everywhere dwell richly among them, both publicly and privately, both generally and individually.’” (St. L, XII, 394) (F. Pieper, “The Laymen’s Movement and the Bible,” What is Christianity and Other Essays, p. 107.) Pieper also answers the question, “However, who is to proclaim the Word of God? It is the clear teaching of Scripture that in view of their calling all Christians have received the divine command to preach the Gospel and to administer the divinely instituted Sacraments. This truth is clearly expressed in Matt 28:19,20; 1 Pet 2:9; Matt 16:19; 18:18–20, as we shall demonstrate later.” (Ibid., p. 106)

While the Office of the Keys resides with the individual Christians, including women, children, the sick, the demented or retarded, and the newly baptized infants; and while the congregation is the divinely appointed agency in the public exercise of the Keys, the congregation elects and calls pastors to carry out this duty in Jesus’ name and in their name. It transfers, or rather commits the authority of all to the pastor. Our Catechism asks, “Q. 275. How does the local congregation publicly administer the Office of the Keys? According to God’s will the Christian congregation chooses and calls men as ministers, who in the name of Christ and in the name of the congregation publicly perform the functions of the Office of the Keys. (The Pastoral office a divine institution, Acts 20:28; Eph 4:10–12.) 1 Cor 4:1; Acts 20:28; 2 Cor 2:10; 1 Tim 2:11–12.” A.L. Graebner puts it this way: “For the public performance of the privileges and duties of the Church in preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments Christ has instituted the ministerial office in the Church.” (p. 212)

That is the normal, divinely willed procedure. But the congregation has the authority to alter it in cases of necessity and under the requirements of Christian love.

One Office and Auxiliary Offices

Dr. Walther’s thesis VIII under the ministry in his Church and Ministry says, “The pastoral ministry is the highest office in the church, and from it stem all other offices in the church.” The mention of other offices in the church implies that there may be such other offices. Walther, Luther, and others in fact mention a few, such as deacons, almoners, sextons, teachers, evangelists, catechists and the like. All these offices are conferred upon the pastor when he is called and placed into office. He is the overseer or supervisor of the whole congregation and is responsible for all the souls in it, as we read in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” All those other offices are subordinate offices, because the highest office is the preaching of the Word. Walther quotes Luther thus: “Therefore the one to whom the ministry is entrusted is entrusted with the highest office in Christendom. After that he may also baptize, administer the Sacrament (Mess halten), and minister to souls. Or if he does not desire these duties, he may adhere merely to preaching, letting others baptize and administer the minor offices, as did Christ and all apostles (Acts 6).” p. 292. (St.L. X, 1547–48) Various such minor offices are usually set up in congregations. That quotation from Luther shows that they are not merely a matter of serving tables, as does also his explanation of Ephesians 4:11 when it mentions Teachers: “These were not commanded to rule or watch over the congregation, but they only instructed the people in doctrine, as the catechists did later.”

Two questions are raised: Do such subordinate or auxiliary or helping offices have a call? a divine call? and May such officers administer the Word and the Sacraments? As to the first, the call, we must define what is meant by a call. My dictionary defines it as an invitation to become the pastor or minister of a church. Synonyms for the call are command, or send, or even sanctified, Jer 1:3. God says in Jeremiah, “I have not sent them, yet they ran.”* (Jer 23:21) Behind a call lies a selection, or an election. The Bible specifies that the congregation elects a qualified man for the office, and then he is issued an invitation to become the pastor. The congregation does so as the agent of the Holy Ghost, under His guidance and authority, and by His command. The calling of at least one pastor is not optional, but commanded by God, and the pastor has been called by God; He has a divine call. He has been placed into office by God, albeit through the agency of the congregation. Acts 20:28 says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Every faithful pastor should take comfort in that fact and should redouble his zealous efforts to feed the flock of God. And every Christian should look to his pastor to care for his soul and should heed the Word of God as it comes from his lips.

*This passage, by the way, should not really be used to distinguish the called from those who are not called, but rather to distinguish the true from the false prophets. For God says in the next verse: “But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.” It is not that they should not have spoken at all, but they should have preached the Word of God instead of their dreams or imagination.

As to the auxiliary offices, we cannot be as sure. Where they are offices of the Word, such as a schoolteacher, we might well say they have a divine call, but there are no Bible passages referring to schoolteachers. The deacon also seems to have a divine call in Acts 6, because the congregation chose the seven, but there was no divine command to elect them. The church did so in its freedom. Deacons also are to have nearly the same qualifications as the pastors. Whether or not these are divinely called offices is a matter of casuistry. In questions of casuistry there are usually conflicting principles involved, and one must make the best judgment he can.

John C. Wohlrabe finds that P. E. Kretzmann taught that “Auxiliary offices are branches of this one office of the ministry and are designated to certain functions of this office by the call and discretion of the congregation or groups of congregations. Holders of an auxiliary office have a divine call because they assist the one public office of the ministry. Such offices include parochial school teachers, deacons and deaconesses, assistant pastors, professors, and synodical officials.” (Kretzmann, “Apostelamt, Predigtamt, Pfarramt, Synodalamt,” CTM, 1932, 232–33)

Some of the auxiliary offices are not offices of the Word; some are caretakers and sextons and the like. Are they all called of God? If we say that any auxiliary offices, not to mention all of them, have a call, we must be clear that we are using the word Call in a broad or loose sense, and it cannot mean the same thing as the call of a pastor. These officers are not called for life, nor do they hold the entire office with all its functions, nor is the church instructed to support them all. They can be volunteer workers holding a term of office or being let go at any time. It is not necessary to find them guilty of false doctrine or moral turpitude or incompetent or incapacitated. They can be replaced at the will of the congregation, and all such offices are created by the congregation in its Christian freedom. In any case, no offices but that of additional pastors in a congregation are equal or parallel offices, nor are they independent or distinct offices alongside the pastorate; they are auxiliary offices, often designated as branch offices, subsumed under the pastor’s office. The pastor, as overseer of the whole congregation, supervises them all. And he in turn is under the authority of the congregation; so the pastor supervises them under the supervision of the congregation. The congregation calls, appoints, or hires assistants to the pastor, and the congregation outlines their authority and their duties. Often, however, the church yields to the pastor and acquiesces to his arrangements. Walther remarks in Church and Ministry, pp. 289f., “Every other public office in the church is therefore a part of this office or an auxiliary office, that supports the ministry, whether it be the elders who do not labor in the Word and doctrine (1 Tim 5:17) or the rulers (Rom 12:8) or the deacons (the office of service in a narrow sense) or whatever other offices the church may entrust to particular persons for special administration. Therefore, the offices of Christian day school teachers, almoners, sextons, precentors at public worship, and others are all to be regarded as ecclesiastical and sacred, for they take over a part of the one ministry of the Word and support the pastoral office.”

Now the second question: May such officers administer the Word and the Sacraments? Or in other words, may the congregation call them to do so ordinarily, or assign them to do so, or, may the pastor assign them to do so? Answer: In an assisting way, they may, so long as they do not infringe upon the pastor’s office. Such people may serve under the pastor to assist him. There are not many offices where an actual call is employed. School teacher can be one of them. Others, such as Sunday-school teacher, youth leader, and the like, are performing a service of love under the direction of the pastor and can be said to be called to that service only in a loose sense.

The counter-argument to this is the citation of Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession, which says: “Of ecclesiastical order (our churches) teach that no one should publicly teach in the church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.” This is sometimes taken to mean that only a called servant of the church can teach or administer the Sacraments; all others are but hearers. Pastor Wallace McLaughlin observed in his translation of Guenther’s Comparative Symbolics, section 148, that “… Christ instituted only one ecclesiastical office with various functions: preaching, administering sacraments, loosing, binding, maintaining good order, caring for the poor, etc.. But nowhere did He command that these various functions should be performed by one person only. 1 Cor 1:17. Acts 6:2–4.”

Dr. Walther wrote a short exposition of the Augsburg Confession, and his explanation of Article 14 shows that its purpose was not to limit the work of the ministry to the pastor alone. His explanation here follows:

“This article deals with the public ministry. All Christians are spiritual priests according to God’s Word, 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6, 5:10. But alongside them God has established also a public office of teaching, the holy ministry, or pastorate, Eph 4:11; Acts 20:28. And only those who have been regularly called thereto should exercise this public office of teaching. So whoever usurps to himself this office without a regular call, transgresses God’s order and grossly sins, Rom 10:15; Heb 5:4; 1 Pet 4:15; 5:2. A regular call, however, is one that proceeds from the congregation to whom the Lord Christ has given the power of the keys, Matt 18:18–20. The Enthusiasts of Luther’s time pretended that the so-called inner call sufficed, and they dared to teach publicly. But apart from the fact that such an “inner” call rested mostly on conceit and self-deceit, also the outward call must come from the congregation in addition to an inner call if anyone wants to be sure he is teaching according to God’s will. The Quakers of our time preserve the error of the old Anabaptists, as do the Universalists and Darbyites.”

From this you should be able to see that this article stands in opposition to such heretics as Luther referred to as “infiltrating and clandestine preachers” and self-appointed preachers, and other such, who pretended to be pastors. It was not written to oppose auxiliary or branch offices or functions. Neither Walther nor Pieper nor anyone else says it is. In fact, early Missouri Synod scholars specifically allow for schoolteachers being called, subject to the pastor.

There is also the proposition that has been urged, that when a part of the pastoral office is committed to anyone, that person is a holder of the whole office, although he may be limited by the congregation to act only in the designated sphere. (E.W. Kaehler.) So a school teacher is to stick to his teaching, though he has the power to act as a pastor when called upon to do so. But is he a possessor of the whole office? That cannot be proved from the Bible. It is, in fact, a fiction. John C. Wohlrabe observed that in early Missouri the office of teacher was held to be a divine office, but a teacher “was not a holder of the full public office of the ministry.” (Ministry in Missouri until 1962, p. 13) 1 Corinthians 12:28–30, in fact, speaks of various offices, functions or gifts, but does not make them incumbents of the ministry. It says, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?”

Marquart correctly explains,

“What is quite clear is that also in Walther’s view schoolmasters hold not the one Predigtamt, Gospel ministry, but an important office auxiliary to it, like the diaconate, and the lay-eldership. Such teachers are therefore to be placed “under the supervision of the public ministry [Predigtamt].” Much needless confusion on this score arises from a linguistic laxity, which ambles along amid “office” (Amt), “ministry,” and “the ministry” (Predigtamt), without noticing the differences.

“The church has the evangelical freedom to create new auxiliary offices and to change old ones, to recognize and provide for specializations and concentrations within the one Gospel-ministry, to attach auxiliary functions to Gospel-ministers, or to detach them, and to ordain incumbents of auxiliary offices into the one Gospel-office, when they are qualified. Only one thing the church may not do. She may not forget the difference between what God Himself has established in the church as His institution, and what men establish from time to time as fruits of faith and love. (Kurt E. Marquart, The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance, p. 144)


We belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Evangelical is the opposite of legalistic, and Lutherans have always opposed legalism. Legalism is a slippery subject because Christians want to please God with their behavior, and they look to God’s commandments to see what they should do; so it is easy to slip into legalism. Legalism can be defined as subjection to the laws of men instead of God’s, or as an undue emphasis on the Law, or as the inclination to want to be justified by the works of the Law. What is fitting and proper can be turned into a law, a matter of conscience, when it is actually a free matter. With regard to the church and ministry, inferences are drawn from the doctrine that are not implied in the doctrine, and those inferences are turned into rules. It is easy to multiply rules and regulations and so enslave consciences. Jesus said, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” There must, of course, be order in the church, since God is a God of order; but the evangelical approach is as Wohlrabe, p. 16, reports as that of the early Missouri Synod, where “the Law of love was placed above any set order. … For the sake of the salvation of souls the law of love compelled them to forsake the established order within certain prescribed limits.” Just as an illustration, itinerant ministers were called by many congregations, even though that was against their principles. (See Wohlrabe, p. 11)

Likewise, the early Missourians railed against temporary calls. Nevertheless, F. Pieper said: “The essence of the temporary call does not consist in this that a call is limited as to time, but in this that human beings arbitrarily limit a call as to time, that is, that they want to determine how long a pastor is to be active at a certain place. … If a congregation issues a so-called temporary call, that is, if it in advance and arbitrarily decides that the man to be called is to leave his place after one, two, three, or four years, it becomes guilty of encroaching upon God’s office and work.” (LuW 1898, 339–41. Quoted in Marquart, The Church, p. 158, note 30.)

In the same spirit Marquart explains, “It is another matter of course if the position or task is itself by its very nature temporary, e.g. chaplain to an expedition, helping out in cases of illness, etc. What is objectionable is the limitation of the “call” without intrinsic need, simply to allow the calling persons to dismiss the minister at their pleasure, without having to bother about proving ungodly doctrine or life, or incompetence.”

And in the same evangelical spirit, Marquart goes on to explain, (p. 165)

“Purely assisting functions, such as reading printed sermons in the pastor’s absence, or helping him with the distribution of the Sacrament (as distinct from consecrating or deciding who may be admitted to the Lord’s Table), may of course be delegated to suitable laymen. And in a footnote (note 50), “’Vicars’ in the North American Lutheran sense, do not, strictly speaking, ‘preach,’ but deliver sermons for which the properly called pastor takes responsibility. P. Brunner rightly says that assistance in the distribution of the Sacrament was ‘an important liturgical function of the ancient deacon.’” (The Ministry and the Ministry of Women, 36)

It would be shocking for a pastor to teach that

1. It is a sin for laymen to read sermons in the absence of the pastor;

2. It is a sin for a seminary student to preach to a congregation. All vicarages are wrong. Students are allowed to practice preaching only in front of their professors;

3. Elders should not be regarded as overseers of the doctrine;

4. It is a sin for a retired pastor to perform duties related to the pastoral office; and

5. The word of the pastor should be received as the Word of God eve if the word of the pastor has no scriptural proof. (Memo from Resurrection Lutheran Church, Sioux City)

Also when such things as these are asserted:

“When certain members of our pastoral conference asserted that seminary students should not preach in the church without a call, it was on the basis of this article [Article XIV] that they made the statement.

“It is granted that this understanding of article XIV has fallen out of use, such that not only student preaching, but lay preaching (in the absence of the pastor) is not uncommon among us. Yet, this paper will argue that these and similar practices represent the casual intrusion of error.

“In no way, then, can it even be granted that a schoolteacher can be given a subordinate divine call. Therefore any oversight in the church of a pastor over a school, cannot be a case of one incumbent in the Ministry, overseeing the work of another incumbent in the Ministry. A schoolteacher, therefore, must not be operating in the place of the pastor. His authority to teach the children must therefore derive from the parent, and not the pastor, for it is the parent, and not the pastor, who places the children into the Christian school.

“To insist that a schoolteacher takes over a portion of the ministry on behalf of the pastor, thereby makes the school a divinely established function of the church, contrary to the scriptures, for the church cannot create new institutions and make them divine.

“The student can deliver his sermon directly to his professor. … If nervousness before the public is a problem, might I suggest the student join Toastmasters.

“Vicarage is another new practice in the Lutheran Church, one that is not even 60 years old. Simply put, it is a pastoral internship, without a call. As such, it should be plain that vicars have no more right to preach than a layman. If a vicar is given a divine call, remember that such a call is permanent, not temporary.

“But besides such exceptional emergency situations, the question must be asked: What divine necessity has ever been established in the scriptures, which commands that the worship service must be held every Sunday? … Is canceling church for one or two Sundays really the forsaking of the assembling of ourselves together? If church is canceled due to bad weather, is that likewise breaking the Biblical requirement?

“With modern technology, the sermon, prayers, and benediction may be recorded, with hymns sung in between. I have used this method in my own congregation in my last several absences. To insist that a layman must be able to lead such services is once more merely pragmatism, the path of least resistance based upon past practices.” (M. Diers, Who May Teach in the Church?)

These are legalistic statements, presuming that the alternate practices are wrong and sinful.

Emergency Situations

The question is asked: May a layman or another officer carry out the functions of a pastor in an emergency? May he preach, read a sermon, baptize, distribute or administer communion, or teach? Well, what is an emergency? Martin Luther cited an old proverb that “Necessity knows no law.” Dr. Walther gives us a definition in his Pastoral Theology, pp. 137–139 (translation by John Drickamer), citing

“Joh. Gallus, professor of the Augsburg Confession at Erfurt (d. 1588) on the question: ‘Whether it is permitted also for a layman, in a case of necessity, to administer the holy Supper, and where such administration is valid?’ … ‘Since Christ gave the authority to remit and retain sins not to the apostles alone but rather commanded all the pious and godly in general to proclaim the Gospel to their penitent brothers; therefore it is permitted not for the servants of the church alone but also for laypersons, in the greatest and most extreme cases of necessity (that is, at a time when no servant of the church can be had and one [a layperson] is sought and requested by other fellow Christians), to administer the holy Supper, as well as to baptize and to speak the Absolution. If the Baptism and Absolution of a layman are valid in the most extreme case of necessity, why should not in the same way also the administration of the most worthy Supper be valid when it is done by a layman in a case of necessity? For there is no difference between these things, baptizing, absolving, and administering the Supper.’ (Bidembachii consil. Decad. 3. p. 148f.)

“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 so that they [the former] would then also sufficiently reveal that they were not members of the true church, and that godly Christians were then obligated to withdraw from their fellowship in order not to strengthen their tyranny and help condemn the innocent Christians: in such and similar cases of necessity, which happen quite often, that one cannot have true servants of the church, whose doctrine and confession is upright and agrees with God’s Word, it is permitted also for an individual private person and believing Christian to absolve the penitent sinner of sins, to comfort the weak with God’s Word, to baptize babies, and to administer Christ’s Supper. …’” (Ibid, pp. 135–140)

Walther even cites a ruling where such was the regular practice. In The Form of a Christian Congregation, p. 61. Note 2, he notes that “In the Saxon General Articles we read: ‘In affiliate charges, whenever the minister conducts the early morning service in one of the parishes and the people in another parish cannot hear the minister’s sermon, the rural schoolmaster should read the Epistles and Gospels of the Sunday with the exposition of Dr. Luther and the Chief Parts of the Catechism without the explanation, and he should in addition sing some Christian German hymns.’”

Pieper agrees, saying in his “The Laymen’s Movement and the Bible,” p. 123 “But how are we to judge a congregation that has not as yet been able to secure a man who possesses the qualifications demanded by the public ministry or temporarily happens to be without a pastor? … And such a congregation will of course not omit the public preaching of God’s Word altogether, but will authorize certain persons to read sermons in public worship on all holy-days, to visit the sick, and to administer Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. (Cf Walther’s Pastoraltheologie, p. 180f)” See Note 4, Walther-Drickamer, Pastoral Theology, 134.

Walther also goes on to say. “Most of the same Lutheran theologians state that the administration of the holy Supper by a layman is never correct and legitimate. But none denies that it can be done with validity and in fact. When Luther enumerates the offices of the spiritual priesthood in his letter to the Bohemians, he writes: ‘The third office is to bless or administer the holy bread and wine. Here those who bear the tonsure boast a special triumph; here they are gloriously defiant and say: no one else has this power, neither the angels nor the Virgin, the Mother of God. But let us dismiss their nonsense and say that this office is also common to all Christians as the priesthood’ (X, 1841ff). Luther did not teach this only in earlier times, as some want to maintain, but rather until his death. For example, in 1533 he writes in his writing, “Of Private Masses and the Consecration of Clerics”: ‘Our faith and Sacrament must not be based on the person, whether he is pious or wicked, consecrated or unconsecrated, called or having snuck in, the devil or his mother.’ (XIX, 1551)

“Here Luther did not want to state that a layman would be doing right if he would arrogate to himself the administration of the holy Supper. As has already been mentioned above, Luther much rather declared himself to be against that with all earnestness. With that doctrine he only wanted to oppose the error that the preachers of the New Testament constituted a special, holier estate of priests, who alone could make real the means of grace of the New Testament by the power of their consecration.

“Gerhard writes, ‘Bellarmine scourges Luther for having taught that every baptized person has the power and the right to administer the Sacraments. But Bellarmine knows that we by no means approve of disorder in the church and ascribe to no one the power to administer the holy Supper except to him who has been legitimately called, not even in an emergency, since Baptism and the holy Supper are in a different relationship. As far as Luther is concerned, he does not ascribe to all baptized persons unconditionally and absolutely the power to administer the holy Supper; rather he speaks of a certain general capacity which the Christians, as distinct from unbelievers, have with respect to the Sacraments, because they have been received into God’s covenant through Baptism and are fit and capable for this office if they have been called to it. Luther sets this capacity over against the priestly character about which Scholastics and Papists argue that through the sacrament of ordination a certain spiritual power has been worked and caused in the soul of the recipient, through which the priest becomes capable of making the Sacrament of the Altar so that it can by no means be made without it, and because they say that a character has been impressed on the soul as a sign of this power. (Loc. de sacram. sec 29)

“How far the teachers of our church are removed from the horrible doctrine that only a legitimately called and ordained preacher is capable of effecting the presence of Christ in the holy Supper, which would destroy all certainty of the holy Supper, is shown by the fact that a whole series of our unquestionable, strictly orthodox Lutheran theologians have taught that, in an (assumed) case of necessity, the holy Supper could be validly administered by a layman, not only de facto but also de jure.

“About the words of the Council of Trent: ‘If anyone would say that all Christians have the authority of administration in the Word and all Sacraments, let him be accursed,’ M. Chemnitz writes: “Concerning the meaning of this canon, as the words are put down, I answer definitely and clearly that if some believe that every Christian, without distinction, without a special and legitimate call, is given the power to use and exercise the office of the Word and the Sacraments in the church, they are correctly condemned. For they are contesting against that divine rule: ‘How shall they preach except they be sent.’ (Rom 10:15) Further, ‘I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran.’ Jer 23:21 Further against St. Paul’s rule that everything be done decently and in order in the church. 1 Cor 14:40. Nevertheless the church has always excepted the case of necessity as Jerome testifies against the Luciferians and Augustine testifies to Fortunatus.” (Examen, II, cap. de ministris sacram, f. 223.)

“Johannes Corvinus, professor at Erfurt, as quoted by Gerhard in his Methodus of the doctrine of the holy Supper (1579 sic) affirms that a layman is permitted to administer the Lord’s Supper in cases of necessity: 1. since Christ gave the authority to forgive and retain sins, not to the disciples alone, but to all the pious, and because the command is a general one, to the brethren, who ask that the Gospel be preached\; 2. because laypersons are permitted to baptize in a case of necessity. (Loc. de s. coena, sec 17)

“The strict champion of Lutheran orthodoxy, Johannes Fecht, writes, ‘If it happened that, in a case when a pastor could absolutely not be had, someone in the greatest danger of death, with the good intention of strengthening his faith, appealing to the fact that the Sacrament was instituted to be added to the Word for confirmation in a case of weakness, would constantly ask for it from someone who was familiar with the administration of the Sacrament, and [the one in danger of death] would not be calmed by his exhortation, then I would not accuse such of disturbing good order. Since the Sacraments are fundamentally given to the church; and it is agreed that it [the church] in a case of necessity baptizes, teaches, and absolves through a layman; and although very rarely — more often with respect to other actions — a case of necessity arises; then I confess that I cannot judge otherwise than that it should be done, if the case is as just described.’ (Instruct. pastoral. e. 14, sec 3, p. 157f.)

“Zach. Grapius, professor of theology at Rostock (d. 1713) writes: ‘The laymen are priests but are suited for all official churchly actions only through an inward capacity and so also for the administration of the holy Supper; so that we do not think that it would be a less true Sacrament which a layman may have given, perhaps through necessity or in error.” (System. noviss. controvers. IV, p. 89)

“No one doubts that the administration of the holy Supper by a layman who had been temporarily called by a whole congregation in an emergency, although not ordained, would be valid and legitimate. Grapius writes: “The theologians do not doubt that in a time of pestilence, when all regular ministers have been taken away by death, also in times of public disorder when the order of the church is dissolved,or in foreign places where one lives among unbelievers and errorists, one person can be called provisionally with the agreement of the Christians present, that he may teach the Word only through reading aloud, as well as give the holy Supper to those who desire it, until they are again provided with a regular minister. But in this way the layman is administering it not as a layman, but as a minister who has truly been called for a time..” (L.c. p. 86) Drickamer, 135–139

St. Paul sets forth the principle: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” 1 Cor 6:12. Also: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.”


K. K. Miller
April 21, 2006