Saturday, October 1, 2022

A rebound. . .

And for the rest of the story…  by William Weedon (reprinted from Gottesblog)

In the preface to his Theses on Church and Office, Dr. Walther noted that he was not attempting to cover the whole of the topic. For that, he simply referred his readers to the exhaustive treatment which Chemnitz and Gerhard had already done. Anyone who wishes may in their writings find the full doctrine of our Church on the matter.

And Gerhard is quite exhaustive on this topic (of course, on what is he NOT exhaustive?). In English it is contained in three volumes. The first, the volume on the Church runs to 712 pages for the basic text. The second two divide out the Ministry and run to 279 pages for the first volume and 281 for the second. Thus Gerhard treats of Kirche und Amt in no less than 1,272 pages if my addition is correct.

What I have found particularly of interest in the way he treats the question of ranking or ordo:

“We vehemently disapprove of the anarchy and disturbance of those who remove ranking [ordo] from the ecclesiastical ministry, since it is a source of discord and of every evil. In our churches we retain ranking among ministers and decree that this must be retained, so that some are bishops, some are presbyters, some are deacons, etc. With the variety and difference of gifts God Himself makes a ranking among ministers....Therefore there ought to be grades of ministers also in our church.” (On the Ministry II, pp. 18, 19).

“The establishment of ranking among ministers of the church contributes to harmony and unity, prevents one from fearing the disturbances that arise from selfishness and ambition of lower ministers, and places a restraint on the rashness of those who try to disturb the peace of the church. From the ranking and grades of ministers, this advantage also occurs: that those who are going to be promoted to higher grades can first be tested in the lower ministries.” (On the Ministry II, p. 19)

“Although there are diverse orders in the ecclesiastical ministry, nevertheless the power of the ministry in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments and the power of jurisdiction, which consists in the use of the Keys, belong to all ministers equally.” (On the Ministry II, p. 20)

“One must carefully avoid letting the primacy of rank degenerate into a preeminence of power. This has happened to the Roman Church. The primacy of rank was once given to its bishops because of the renown of the city, which was the capital of the empire; because of the constancy in truth and holiness of their predecessors; because of the multitude of martyrs; and because of that common opinion of the ancients that Paul and Peter planted that church. With the passing of time, however, that primacy of rank was changed into preeminence of power. It finally degenerated completely into the tyranny that decides and does whatever it wishes.” (On the Ministry II, p. 20, 21)

“We do not remove ranking among ministers of the church; rather, we retain the distinction between bishops, presbyters, and deacons. By no means do we, however, establish the sort of difference of power and the sort of distinction that the Papists want… The fact that bishops are set above presbyters in the church happens ‘out of a human institution after the times of the apostles to remove schisms,’ as Jerome teaches (Commentary on Titus 1).” (On the Church, p. 407)

“As a result it happened that the title bishop was entrusted in a specific sense to those pastors who had oversight over other teachers.” (On the Ministry II, p. 46).

What Gerhard’s treatment of this matter does is to receive and retain ranking among ministers as a good, salutary practice which our Church happily observes (and which she may order in different configurations as needs arise), while at the same time maintaining fully the Scriptural truth confessed in our Symbols that there is no divine distinction in power or authority between the various grades. Thus, even when we have very good ideas that work well and do not want to see them laid aside but preserved and kept, we still may not make divine what the Word of God does not! So quintessentially Lutheran, no? No wonder Walther referred to Gerhard for “the rest of the story.”

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks be to God! How id this practice suppressed in our Synod? I served a vacation time at the Lutheran Cathedral in Vilnius, Lithuania some years back and the Bishop of that partner cuurch was liturgically and personally a real Bishop. I am not confident of anything to come of this, but it should!