From CHRISTIAN DOGMATICS, By Dr. Francis Pieper

There is No Special Spiritual Order Superior to That of the Christians

Luther at times follows the custom of his day and calls the public servants of the Church "geistlicher Stand" (spiritual order), "Geigtliche" (divines), and "priests." (St. L. X:423f.; XIX:113f.; etc.) But at other times he calls attention to the fact that these names are not taken from Scripture and are very misleading. Scripture says that all those in whom the Holy Ghost dwells and works through faith in Christ, that is, all Christians, and they alone, are the "spiritual order" or spiritual people ("Geistliche"). Not of a smaller circle within the Christian Church, but of all Christians does Scripture assert the "anointing" which "teacheth you of all things" (1 John 2:27). All Christians are "spiritual" Gal. 6:1, and are called "a spiritual house, an holy priesthood," 1 Pet. 2:5. It is therefore really an unscriptural usage to call a limited number of people within the Christian Church, namely, the officeholders, the "spiritual order," "divines, priests. Luther says: "In the New Testament the Holy Spirit scrupulously avoids giving the name sacerdos, priest, to any of the Apostles, or any other office, but restricts this name to the baptized or Christians as their birthright and hereditary name from Baptism; for none of us is born in Baptism an Apostle, preacher, teacher, pastor, but solely priests are all of us born; therefore we take some from among these born priests and call and elect them for these offices that they may perform the functions of such office in the name of all of US. (St. L. XIX: 1260.)

The incumbents of the public ministry are correctly called the public servants among the Christians. The Word and Sacrament, in which they minister, are and remain the immediate property of the congregation, and merely the administration of them in the name of all is delegated to these certain persons by the congregation. In this sense Scripture calls the incumbents of the public ministry not only God’s or Christ’s ministers (1 Cor. 4:1; Titus 1:7; 2 Tim. 2:24; Luke 12:42), but also ministers, or servants, of the congregation. 2 Cor. 4:5: "And ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake." After saying that the appellation priest has been "taken over to the great harm of the Church" from the pagans or the Jews, Luther adds: "But according to the evangelical Scriptures it would be much better to call them ministers, deacons, bishops, stewards.. . . Paul also calls himself servum, that is, a servant; he also says more than once: ‘Servio in Evangelio,’ I serve [minister] in the Gospel. This he does by no means to set up a caste or an order, an authority or a special rank, as our Scholastics assume, but only to praise the office and work and to reserve the privilege and honor of the priesthood for the congregation." (St. L. X: 1590 f.) Walther: "The public ministry is not a special order, distinct from and holier than the common order of Christians, as the priesthood of the Levites was, but is an office of service" (Kirche u. Anit, p. 221 [Walther and the Church, p. 73]). In this sense, too, the Smalcald Articles say that "the Church is above the ministers" (Trigl. 507, Power and Primacy of Pope, 11). The Church and its ministers have the same relation to each other as employer and employee or owner and steward.

This relation also is the reason why the congregation has the authority and obligation to supervise the official conduct of its public servants and to dismiss them from office when they no longer possess the required qualifications, become guilty of willful misconduct, or are no longer able to execute the functions of their office (Col. 4:17; John 10:5; Rom. 16:17-18; Matt. 7:15). Contending also against the Roman character indelebilis, Luther writes of the power of a congregation to dismiss its minister: "If, then, all of them are servants, their priestly, indelible mark also disappears, and the perpetuity of their priestly dignity, or that one must always remain a priest, is also pure fiction, for a servant may justly be deposed if he cannot be induced to be faithful. Again, he may be left in office as long as he serves well and it pleases the congregation, just as anyone in the secular sphere who administers a public office among his equals; yes, there is far more reason to dismiss a servant in the spiritual sphere than in the secular field; for the former, when he becomes unfaithful, is much more insufferable than an unfaithful worldly servant, who can damage merely the temporal goods of this life, while the spiritual servant ruins and destroys also the eternal goods." (St. L. X: 1591.)

It is surprising that even some Lutherans criticize the statement that the public office is committed ("uebertragen") to qualified men by the congregations through the issuance of a call. But the term must be declared adequate if only the teaching of Scripture is maintained that Word and Sacraments have been entrusted by Christ to all Christians for possession and administration. If it is furthermore granted that there is to be among Christians an office of the Word in which one or more persons apt to teach are to serve the congregation, this office can be established only by commission. Even the rationalist Hase declares it to be "the teaching of the Evangelical Church" that "in Christ and in the congregation is the source of all authority in the Church. For this reason every office in the Church is only committed, in case of misuse reverts to the congregation, and in an emergency every spiritual rite can be executed by any member of the congregation." (Ev. Dogm., 3d ed., 494.) Besides, the term "committed" is used frequently by our old Lutheran theologians.22

Hase says correctly that "evangelical teaching" makes the congregation the source of all authority in the Church. All that the pastors of a congregation do as pastors is delegated, that is, is done solely at the command of the congregation. This is true in particular when they pronounce excommunication. The Smalcald Articles say: "It is certain that the common jurisdiction of excommunicating those guilty of manifest crimes belongs to all pastors." But this is not to be done "without due process of law." (Trigl. 525, Power and Jurisdiction of Bishops, 74; 521, 60.) This "due process of law" includes, above all things, the hearing of each case by the congregation and the verdict of the congregation. Luther’s strong term for an excommunication which has been pronounced without investigation and verdict by the congregation is well known. (St. L. XIX: 950 if.) He says: "The congregation which is to treat him as excommunicated should know and be convinced that he has deserved and fallen under the ban, as this text of Christ (Matt. 18:17-18) states; else it may be deceived and accept a lying ban and thus do the neighbor wrong. . . . Here, where the souls are concerned, the congregation, too, should be judge and mistress." Loescher correctly states as Lutheran doctrine that the congregation passes judgment and pronounces the excommunication, while the pastor as the public servant of the congregation declares, or proclaims, the excommunication

The Authority of the Public Ministry

Since the ministry is the office of teaching God’s Word, while man’s word is forbidden in the Christian Church, obedience as to God Himself is due the ministry as far as it proclaims the Word of God. Heb. 13:17: Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves;" Luke 10:16: "He that heareth you heareth Me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me." To obey pastors beyond God’s Word is not commanded, but strictly forbidden to Christians (Matt. 23:8; Rom. 16:17). Also adiaphora [i.e. matters neither commanded or forbidden by God’s Word] are not decided by the pastor or the pastors, but settled by the entire congregation of any place by mutual agreement (per mutuum consensum). See p. 427.

Against the appeal of the Romanists to Heb. 13:17; Luke 10:16, etc., the Apology says: "For it is certain that the expression Luke 10:16: ‘He that heareth you heareth Me,’ does not speak of traditions, but is chiefly directed against traditions. For it is not a mandatum cuin libera (a bestowal of unlimited authority), as they call it, but it is a catttio de rato (a caution concerning something prescribed), namely, concerning the special command . . ., i. e., the testimony given to the Apostles, that we believe then with respect to the word of another, not their own. . . . ‘He that heareth you heareth Me’ cannot be understood of traditions. For Christ requires that they teach in such a way that [by their mouth] He Himself be heard, because He says: ‘He heareth Me.’ Therefore He wishes His own voice, His own Word, to be heard, not human traditions. Thus a saying which is most especially in our favor, and contains the most important consolation and doctrine, these stupid men pervert to the most trifling matters, the distinctions of food, vestments, and the like. They quote also Heb. 13:17: ‘Obey them that have the rule over you.’ This passage requires obedience to the Gospel, for it does not establish a dominion for the bishops apart from the Gospel. Neither should the bishops frame traditions contrary to the Gospel, or interpret their traditions contrary to the Gospel. And when they do this, obedience is prohibited, according to Gal. 1:9: ‘If any man preach any other gospel, let him be accursed.’" (Trigl. 449, XXVIII, 18 if.)

The Equality of the Servants of the Church

The fundamental truth that Christ is the one and only Master in the Church regulates also the relation of the servants of the Church to One another. As the servants of the Church are not lords of the congregations so neither of one another. Superiority or subordination among them is not a divine, but a human arrangement "Neither is the Pope superior to the bishops," says Luther, "nor the bishop superior to the presbyters by divine right."

The Opposite teaching of the Papists, of the Anglicans, and of other Romanizing Protestants has no foundation whatever in Scripture. As for the alleged specific difference between presbyters and bishops, note that Scripture calls pastors at one place presbyters, at another, bishops (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7) In short, there is no room in the Church for the rule of man, under whatever name or pretext it may be exercised, because only Christ rules the Church through His



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