6/18/2016 6:55:57 AM
Pastor Chris Vossler
Licensed Lay Deacons--Theology
Thus far I’ve discussed the background of the “Licensed Lay Deacon” issue, as far as this Convention is concerned: the concern is with laymen who are serving in the pastoral office without being properly called and ordained as pastors. I’ve also discussed the history of this issue: in 1989 the Synod Convention permitted the licensure of laymen to serve in Word and Sacrament in emergency situations. Today, I want to address the theological points associated with this issue: the Office of the Public Ministry.
The question with the service of Licensed Lay Deacons is not whether or not they have served faithfully—in my first article on this topic I talked about the ways that they have served faithfully in trying and difficult circumstances. The question is how this aligns with our understanding of the Office of the Ministry.
There are two different articles in the Augsburg Confession (AC) which discuss the Public Ministry. The first is Article V, which comes as a supplement to Article IV:
Our Churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4 [3:21-26; 4:5].
So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.
Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word. [Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed.; emphasis added]
From this it should be clear that there is a close link between the teaching of Justification (we are saved by grace alone) and the Office in which this teaching is made known. Christ gave the Holy Spirit to the Church (John 20:22) so that the Church might be equipped to preach the Gospel to all people. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is given to the entire Church to carry out, and we all have a part to play in the work of making disciples, baptizing, and teaching.
However, the Church’s fulfillment of the Great Commission, and its proclamation of the Gospel in its midst, is not something to be taken lightly. In 1 Corinthians, Paul warns the Corinthian church that they must see to it that their worship services take place in good order so that everyone can be built up, rather than everyone acting at the same time and so confusing people. So it is for the sake of good order—and so the Church can be built up—that God instituted the Office of the Public Ministry.
This is not something that we can pass over lightly: God instituted the Office of the Public Ministry. And God did so for the sake of the Church. This is why the church is to set apart 1 man (or a couple men) and place them into the Office of the Public Ministry. This man is to exercise the office “publicly” for the church. “Publicly” means that he does it in the congregation’s midst and for the congregation’s worship services; the whole Church still retains the calling to preach and teach (and in emergencies to baptize) in their daily lives as they carry out their God-given vocations. In the absence of a pastor, the congregation has the responsibility to see to it that someone preaches for them at their worship services (“publicly”).
Who exactly is to preach, teach, and administer the Sacraments publicly for the church? AC XIV sums it up very concisely: “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call” (AC XIV). A “rightly ordered call” means that the man has been “set apart” by God (Acts 13:2) in a way that the congregation and man recognize. God has established certain guidelines for selecting a man to place into the Office (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1):
“An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:2-7; see also Titus 1)
When a man fits these qualifications, he can be given a “rightly ordered call” into the Office of the Public Ministry and become the pastor of a congregation.
So where does the office of Deacon fit into the Office of the Public Ministry? In Acts 6, the Apostles asked the Church to “pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Act 6:3) who could serve as “deacons” (“servants”) and see to the physical needs of the congregation, particularly by ensuring that the widows receive their needed food. Paul later discusses this office in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, where he establishes qualifications for the office of Deacon alongside those for the office of “Overseer” (“Pastor” or “Bishop”). So in the Early Church the office of Deacon was established by the Church to “assist” the Office of the Public Ministry.
This article is getting long already, so I think I will stop here and talk about the history of the Diaconate next week. Suffice it to say that the Office of Deacon has a long history in the Church and has been a great blessing throughout the centuries.
Let us close with prayer:
Lord of the Church, we thank You for calling us all together into Your Body and giving us Your gifts of Word and Sacrament for the strengthening of our faith and expanding of Your Kingdom. We also thank You for establishing the Office of the Public Ministry to publicly exercise these gifts on behalf of Your Church. Grant wisdom to those called to serve in this office and the other offices of the Church. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.