Updated: Mar 14, 2022
Start with WHY. If you don’t know your Why, very few will follow you to What. (Thank you, Simon Sinek.) Your Why should be compelling and clear. Your Why should catalyze action.
Last week I wrote about how our Why for deploying local leaders comes from a mandate given by God, God’s Son, the Apostle Paul and the Early Church. You can read more about Part 1 here. For churches and leaders in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) our Why is rooted in the story of the 16th century Reformation. Ordaining and deploying local pastors and leaders is what the Reformation church had to do. They had no other choice.
I would like to share excerpts from the Book of Concord and the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) document titled, “the Divine Call,” to make a case that leadership development, including ordination, belongs to the local church, not institutions of higher education, nor denominational officials.
The Book of Concord is a confessional document of the church of the Reformation. It is fully subscribed to by pastors (like me) within the LCMS. The Book of Concord consists of treatises written by the early reformers including Martin Luther, Philip Melancthan, as well as those who politically and theologically supported their work, such as John Frederick and the Duke of Saxony (among others). The actual treatises consist of the Augsburg Confession, Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, the Large and Small Catechisms of Martin Luther, and the Formula of Concord.
Many of you are well aware of the primary arguments made in the Book of Concord such as “...we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for our trust in God…” (Article IV of the Augsburg Confession (AC)) -1 Other topics explored were the theology of free will, good works, and the doctrine of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper (among others).
One of the biggest points of doctrine was the theology of the church, and in turn, church leadership. As the Reformation progressed, one of the last “power plays” of the Roman Catholic Church bishops was to withhold ordination from local churches. The Reformers had to struggle biblically with the Nature of the Church, as well as where the power and authority for such rites actually rested.
AC VII Concerning the Church
“It is also taught that at all times there must be and remain one holy, Christian church. It is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel…it is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that uniform ceremonies, instituted by human beings, be observed everywhere.” -2
Three things are interesting to note from this section of AC VII.
One, the church is the “assembly of all believers.” The Church is the Church regardless of what leaders are in place.
Two, “the gospel” must be purely preached, and “the sacraments administered according to the gospel.” This text obviously implies that leaders, pastors, overseers will be in place to help distribute the Word and Sacraments according to the Gospel.
Three, “uniform ceremonies” are not needed for the unity of the church. Unity can exist despite variety in leading the liturgy of worship and raising up leaders from within the local church. Unity does not mean uniformity of practice. In the past 30 years or so, since the advent of “contemporary” worship music, AC VII has been primarily focused on various liturgical styles and orders of worship. Should this variety in “ceremonies” also include variety in forms and systems used for local leadership development given the diversity of cultures and people groups our church seeks to reach?
Yes. Yes, I think it should.
The rest of the Book of Concord is going to agree.
The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (TPPP…Yeah, you know me. Sorry. We love our acronyms.) is the primary treatise in the Book of Concord that articulates the need for ordination to be given to the local church.
“(Christ) grants the power of the keys principally and without mediation to the church, and for the same reason the church has primary possession of the right to call ministers.” -3
The reformers were concerned that Papal authority was getting in the way of multiplying ministers of the Gospel. The reformers go on.
“Even if the pope held councils, how can the church be restored to health if the pope permits nothing to be decreed against his will, if he grants no one the right to express an opinion…” -4
Is the LCMS creating space for differing opinions regarding how the church can be restored to health? Unfortunately, I am not witnessing a robust and all-inclusive conversation, with local church leaders at the table trying to talk about how our rapidly declining church body could be restored to health. (I will write much more on this next week.) The reformers continue writing. Bear with me. These quotes are a bit long…but so good.
“Finally this is also confirmed in Peter’s declaration (1 Peter 2:9): ‘You are a...royal priesthood.’ These words apply to the true church, which, since it alone possesses the priesthood, certainly has the right of choosing and ordaining ministers. The most common practice of the church also testifies to this, for in times past the church chose pastors and bishops. Then the bishop of either that church or a neighboring one came and confirmed the candidate by the laying on of hands. Ordination is nothing other than such confirmation.” -5
Let’s get behind the scenes here a bit. It appears as if the Pope and some Catholic Bishops are withholding ordination from some of the churches somehow connected to the movement of the Reformation. The reformers look to the Scriptures, namely to Jesus who gave the office of the keys to His apostles by the power of His Word and Spirit, and realize the same authority has been given to the church, who alone possesses Word and Sacrament. Simply said, if the local church needs leaders, the local church has the right and responsibility to discover, develop, ordain and deploy such leaders. The reformers' charge for ordination to be given to the local church continues.
“All this evidence makes it clear that the church retains the right to choose and ordain ministers. Consequently, when bishops either become heretical or unwilling to ordain, the churches are compelled by divine right to ordain pastors and ministers for themselves in the presence of their pastors.” -6
Catholic Bishops were withholding ordination from “godly teachers” identified and called by local congregations. This greatly upset the reformers. The reformers main goal was that called and ordained ministers were equal, and the authority for the call was given to the local congregation.
Let me be clear. Current LCMS leadership does not rival the power and control exerted by the Popes and Bishops of the 16th century church. (Praise Jesus!)
However, three questions must be asked.
Is LCMS leadership truly working to provide the quantity and quality of leaders needed for the local church?
Is the local church encouraged to identify and call their ministers?
Does the LCMS formation system make it easy for the local church to identify and call ministers of the Gospel from within their congregation?
Unfortunately, in 2022, in the remarkably small, and yet deeply needed corner of God’s kingdom that is the LCMS, these three rhetorical questions must be answered with…
No. No, the LCMS is not a mission first, adaptive and cross-cultural church body. The world needs confessional and missional Lutheranism (LCMS style) more than ever before. Our theology is pure Gospel, yet we wield leadership development, including the rights and privileges of the “elite” ordained (resident ordained MDIV students is naturally the “gold standard”), like a sword of the Law.
This is not the way of Jesus. We can do better. We must do better for the sake of those who are walking in the darkness in need of the light of Christ. Believe it or not, there are many other references in the Book of Concord that support leadership development given to the local church. I’ll share those in future blogs.
If this is a post-Christian America, with pre-Christians awaiting the Gospel (though they may not know it yet), the LCMS must adapt to meet the needs of local churches looking to discover, develop and deploy local leaders for the works of mission.
How can we, at the ULC serve you? Let us know and join us next week with Part 3 to hear more of the ULC story and the current struggles within the LCMS.
1- Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wengert ed. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2000. 38-39.
2- Kolb, The Book of Concord, 42.
3- Kolb, The Book of Concord, 334
4- Kolb, The Book of Concord, 339.
5- Kolb, The Book of Concord, 341.
6- Kolb, The Book of Concord, 341.