Monday, May 18, 2009

Roundtable 43: Ordination and the Call (Smalcald Articles III X)

At the time of the Reformation, it was important for there to be a renewed understanding of the extent of the authority of the Church's bishops and other authorities in matters pertaining to the calling and ordaining of the church's ministers, that is, her pastor/preachers/priests — the title makes no difference. Luther was willing to permit a legitimate role for bishops in the administration of the Church, as long as they understood that their authority extended only over matters pertaining to the welfare of the Church. Ordination, that is, the ancient rite of the laying on of hands to commission a person to begin his ministry as a pastor in the Church, does not require a bishop in order to be efficacious. This was an erroneous view that had become well entrenched and established by the time of the Reformation. However, in historic, genuine Lutheranism there was never any doubt that a proper call to serve, formalized through ordination into the ministry, was necessary in order for a pastor to be a properly authorized public servant of Christ.

The problem with Bishops and the system of Bishops at the time of the Reformation was that they had seized power, through a succession of historical circumstances, and had become, particularly in some areas, rulers of both the Church and the civil state. In the Church, the Scriptures teach that only men with the proper theological and personal qualifications are able to serve as pastors in the Church. See 1 Timothy 3:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 15). Even the practice in the Early Church demonstrates that pastors, could, and should, when necessary, ordain other men to be pastors.

The key consideration for whether or not the ministry of bishops can properly be received and used in the Church is simply whether, and to what extent, they would be true actual bishops, that is, overseers who are devoted to the Church and the Gospel.

The Lutheran Church was faulted for ordaining clergy without the participation of bishops in the so-called "line of apostolic succession" which, of course, is more myth than fact.

In the church today, what, and how, could the church make use of the ministry of bishops? Have American Lutherans lost sight of the fact that the historic episcopate is a model that is perfectly acceptable, and is strongly rooted and grounded in historic precedence? Is the greater danger today bishops, or a lack of proper ecclesiastical supervision and care for the spiritual welfare of the Church? Comment.