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.

3 comments:

Mike Keith said...

It seems to me that we North American Lutherans are the only Lutherans that do not see their overseers as bishops. Furthermore, we put men in the position of Bishop, i.e. District Presidents, but do nto call them Bishops. We need our DPs (Bishops) to serve as ecclesiatical supervisors, to help, guide, and teach. We need our Bishops to be pastors to the pastors. We need our Bishops to help through supervision to aid in promoting and securing unity.

TimB said...

A Bishop has authority in as much as he has a proper call to a congregation. I don't see a need for some magisterium to push sola ecclesia on us, we have the Word of God.

Topper's Dad said...

"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."
As acceptable a model as the historic episcopate may have been in former times, it would be both unacceptable and unnecessarily confusing to today's confessional Lutherans. SA III:X has a function: to reclaim the view of the early church that had been obscured by the machinations of the fully developed and authoritarian episcopate of Rome. To call for repristination of an episcopate fails to acknowledge that the episcopate was an imposed novelty, later turned virulent, (not to mention anti-virile)that came to have more to do with concupiscence than "precedence." It was wrong for Bishops to claim authority and to hold consciences accountable to them on account of their usurped ecclesiastical as well as secular "powers" to grant or withhold training and appointment of Ministers of the Gospel. What an insult to the Lord they had become. Today, in this age of confusion, vocabulary and word usage in church practice take on connotations that may go far beyond intended use/meaning and place additional burdens on communicators of the church's message. To make an issue of imposing an ecclesiastical title, in this case, "Bishop," with its attendant negative historical baggage, on functionaries, secondary or tertiary to the office of preaching and teaching and administering the sacraments, seems unwise at best and, perhaps, just plain foolish. Meanwhile, the LCMS and others have set up District Presidents or Bishops in their own fiefedoms with quasi-secular "powers" (that are unevenly applied from one district to another)and they have become distractions from the mission they supposedly are elected to support. The pastors would be better "pastored" and assisted through the same network of teachers and father confessors who trained them in the first place, rather than a foreign layer of puffed up political bureaucrats who should have nothing to do with authorizing or denying anything having to do with the fitness of candidates and the calls that come their way from congregations, other than administrative logistical functions. Church polity be condemned to the ash heap if one soul is endangered because of confusing teachings and/or practices regarding ordination and the call, leading that soul to question from whence the Authoritative Word emanates.
John Mark Hopmann