The Arrogation of Powers by Missouri Synod Clergy, by Martin R. Noland

I believe that the LCMS is divided on the issue of the powers of the clergy.  This does not refer to the authority that pastors have to preach and teach the Word of God, to administer the sacraments, to forgive and retain sins, to have authority over doctrine (I Timothy 1:3), and to “correct, rebuke, and encourage” (II Timothy 4:2).  It refers to the arrogated powers of pastors to change congregational practices, rules, or bylaws on their own “authority.”

The traditional view is set forth unambiguously by Walther’s Church and Ministry in Ministry Thesis IX.B (see C.F.W. Walther, Church and Ministry, ed. & tr. J. T. Mueller [Saint Louis:  CPH, 1987], pp. 311-321).  Ministry Thesis IX.B states “The minister must not tyrannize the church.  He has no authority to introduce new laws or arbitrarily to establish adiaphora or ceremonies.”  Walther explains:

“[The] required equality among Christians [including both laymen and clergy] is not abrogated by the obedience that the hearers render to their ministers who teach them the Word of Jesus Christ; for in that case they obey not the ministers of Christ by Christ Himself.  However, this equality of believers is abrogated and the church is changed into a secular organization if a minister demands obedience not only to the Word of Christ, his own Lord and Head and that of all Christians, but also to what his own insight and experience regards as good and suitable.  As soon, therefore, as adiaphora or things indifferent, that is, things that are neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, come in question in the church, a minister may never demand absolute obedience to what merely appears to him to be best.  On the contrary, it is rather the concern of the whole congregation, of the minister as well as the hearers, to decide on what should be accepted or rejected.” (ibid., p. 312).

This statement regarding the powers of LCMS clergy was accepted by the synod, with the rest of the book, at its Milwaukee convention in 1851 “in our name and as our unanimous confession.” (ibid., p. 9).  It was reaffirmed by the LCMS at its 2001 convention.  This is the position that I teach and practice.

On this web-site, in October and November 2009, I published an article in five parts titled “Laymen’s Rights in Lutheran Congregations:  Origins, Developments, and Contemporary Challenges”.  In part five of that series, I attempted to show how and where “the equality of believers” was being abrogated in the Missouri Synod.  I looked briefly at the “Transforming Congregations Network” (TCN), the church-growth movement, and the “high priest” idea.

In the TCN program of the LCMS, the “equality of believers” is abrogated by its “Accountable Leadership Model” and by its process of clergy selection of congregational officers.  This is almost an exact replica of the ideas found in the book Direct Hit by Paul Borden (see book review by W. I. Strieter, in Logia 19 #4 (Reformation 2010): 47-48).  TCN was under the auspices of the LCMS Mission department, and has been adopted for use by many LCMS districts.  Were the LCMS Mission executives and District Presidents who adopted TCN ignorant of how it abrogated the equality of believers and violated Ministry Thesis IX.B?  I don’t know.  Ask your district president, if your district did adopt TCN.  Thankfully, not all districts have adopted TCN!

In the church-growth movement in the LCMS, one of the characteristics is its “empowerment” of the clergy.  Sometimes this is termed “pastor as CEO,” but it simply means that the pastor becomes the boss for everything that is done at church.  This practice, no matter how it is described, also abrogates the equality of believers and violates Ministry Thesis IX.B.

Regarding the “high priest” idea, I pointed to Arthur Carl Piepkorn as the originator of that idea in the LCMS.  I pointed to him, because I could find no one in a position of influence in the LCMS prior to him that taught his positions on the power of the clergy.

I now think that the term “high priest” in my article was not a good term, and if anyone is upset by the term, I retract it here.  My intent, however, was to describe how this idea sees some members of the “priesthood of all believers” as higher than others.  I still think Piepkorn was the originator; and I recently found the citations to prove it.  This is significant, because it means that these ideas have been circulating, and put into practice in the LCMS, since Piepkorn started teaching at the seminary in 1951.

In “The Sacred Ministry and Holy Ordination in the Symbolic Books of the Lutheran Churches,” in Concordia Theological Monthly 40 (1969), Piepkorn presented a position that arrogates to the clergy powers that belong to all the members of a congregation.  This is significant, because Piepkorn was reviving one of the positions of Johannes Grabau and the Buffalo Synod, which the theses and the book Church and Ministry were intended to refute. (on Grabau and Buffalo, see:  Walter A. Baepler, A Century of Grace, Missouri Synod 1847-1947 [St Louis:  CPH, 1947], pp. 137-142).

Piepkorn’s article has been reprinted in:  Arthur Carl Piepkorn, The Church:  Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn , ed. Plekon and Wiecher (Delhi, NY:  American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2006).  Page references are to the book, since it is still available.  It is for sale here:

The passage in question, where Piepkorn buried Walther and resurrected Grabau, is on page 68.  Section 17 states “The authority of bishops. Bishops have the right to establish regulations for the government of the church and for worship in the interest of good order, and the congregations and subordinate clergy are bound in charity to obey such canons.” (Piepkorn, p. 68).  This references Augsburg Confession XXVIII, 53-55, which states “Bishops or pastors may make regulations so that everything in the churches is done in good order . . . it is proper for the Christian assemblies to keep such ordinances for the sake of love and peace.” (Tappert, p. 90).

What is the difference?  Piepkorn converted “Bishops or pastors may make regulations” into “Bishops [or pastors] have the right . . .” Piepkorn also converted “it is proper for the Christian assemblies to keep “ into “[they] are bound in charity to obey.”  Piepkorn converted a friendly and cooperative (i.e., Gospel-based) relationship into a relationship of Law and authority.

The Augsburg Confession accepts the clerical powers existing in the medieval church, with certain provisions, as permissible.   The Augustana does not say that bishops or pastors make regulations by right!  This was a major difference between Lutherans and Catholics.  Catholics saw the administrative powers of priests and bishops as their right, as a matter of divine and canon law, which no one could abrogate.

In Augsburg Confession XXVIII, Lutherans saw these things not as a matter of divine right, but as a matter of concession (i.e., “they may”) for the sake of trying to get along with the papal party.  By the time of the Smalcald Articles and Treatise, Lutherans gave up trying to make concessions.  Then they set forth their own position on the powers of clergy, which is expounded in the Treatise on the Powers and Primacy of the Pope, and which is the basis for the LCMS position on clergy powers.

Piepkorn erred in this matter not just in this one section.  In section 12 of his article, he downplayed the importance of the “universal priesthood of believers” (Piepkorn, pp. 65-66).  In section 13, he used the term “parish children” to describe parishioners, with the “fatherhood of clergy” as the correlative (Piepkorn, p. 66).  The result of this position would be a patronizing and paternalistic attitude among clergy.  In section 16, he argued that church polity is an adiaphoron (Piepkorn, p. 68), which we recently heard as a mantra from synodical officials in preparation for the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure and Governance.

When I point out these “errors” in Piepkorn, I am not accusing him of being a heretic or any such thing.  Who knows how or why he said, taught, and wrote these things?  Piepkorn himself is not the issue for me.

The issue for me is that the Missouri Synod’s pastors who graduated from the seminary in Saint Louis, starting in the early 1950s and going through the mid 1970s, were under the influence of Piepkorn.  Many of them saw him as a mentor.  Many of them, some to a greater, others to a lesser degree, have propagated his position on the powers of clergy, which was not significantly different from that of Johannes Grabau and the Buffalo Synod.  It also needs to be said that these same pastors, of an older generation, seem to have found common cause with younger pastors enchanted by the church-growth movement and by the idea that the pastor is a Chief Executive Officer.  The affinity between these two generations, both of which believe that pastors should have more authority in congregations, may explain some of the politics in the Missouri Synod in recent years.

I hope that the synod’s new Koinonia Project will take up this issue, i.e., Ministry Thesis IX.B and the powers of clergy, because I think it is one of the causes of the division in our ranks today and it may be an underlying cause for LCMS membership loss since the 1960s!

Pastor Dr. Martin R. Noland
Trinity Lutheran Church
Evansville, IN


The Arrogation of Powers by Missouri Synod Clergy, by Martin R. Noland — 35 Comments

  1. Nothing in Piepkorn’s corpus that I am aware of indicates that he saw the authority ceded to the bishops in AC XXVIII as a divine right. Is it or is it lawful for bishops to make ordinances for the sake of order and is it proper or is not proper for churches to keep such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquility and to avoid giving offense? “Order” removes the matter from any notion of divine right.

    Historically Lutherans were not the least bit confused on this matter. The Church Orders held force of law in Lutheran lands and pastors and parishes were expected to conform to them. Yet those very Church Orders also taught that such conformity is for the sake of good order and tranquility in the churches and not out of some divine necessity. This becomes particularly important when we recall that the authors of the Formula – particularly Chemnitz and Andreae co-authored the Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel KO which specifically enjoins that the ceremonies are to be observed as detailed in that work throughout the duchy.

  2. Dr. Noland,

    You should send copies of these documents you have prepared to President Harrison for consideration in the developing of the Koinonia Project.

    The meeting of ACELC and COP representativies has decided to encourage the topics addressed in an ACELC document be incorporated into the Koinonia, and the Wyoming District Pastoral Conference passed a resolution to forward some of its Bible study documents to President Harrison for consideration in the Koinonia Project.

    Such documents, including yours, would seem to be ideal given the Year 1 goal of the Koinonia Project – “The goal of the first year would be simply to identify the issues that trouble—to begin to formulate the ‘status of the controversy’.”

  3. One more point: in Profiles in Belief, II, p. 85, Piepkorn expressly places himself in what is clearly the Walther position on the Ministry: “The present exposition falls into the third of the categories mentioned above.”

  4. How to now turn this attitude around. Some of the Pastors I have run into around the synod are down right arrogant in their “leadership”. At various parishes I have witnessed contemporary “worship” run amuck, healing services using olive oil in a manner that suggests a new sacrament, sermons devoid of the word sin, etc. They may see themselves as having more power than they do but that does not excuse their american evangelicalism. This may provide some explanation for how it began but not how to stop it. We have become a church divided and united in name only.

  5. Dr. Noland et al,
    My question concerns the opposite side of this coin. What recourse does a pastor have who desires to move Holy Communion to every week v.s. once a month where the members of the elected laity are opposed? or if the pastor wants to establish and communicate set hours for confession and absolution, but again are opposed for whatever reason (it’s too catholic, etc.)? It seems these are areas that clearly fall under the pastor’s purview, yet I find many pastors complain, “My church won’t let me move in these directions.” He could obviously begin teaching on the benefits of these moves and hope to gain favor with the parish, but it seems that many of the older generation look upon the pastor merely as an employee, which seems to hamstring a good many of our pastors who actually want to move their Divine Services in a more Lutheran direction.

  6. Dr. Noland identified a conflict between Piepkorn’s statement in his 1969 CTM paper and Thesis IX on the Ministry in C.F.W. Walther’s Kirche und Amt. Coincidentally, there happens to be a document, known to those familiar with Missouri Saxon history, containing another “Thesis 9,” which deals with one of the “Rights of a Congregation” on the same subject:

    “Ninth right: The congregations have authority also to regulate the adiaphora (morally neutral matters), to establish a liturgy and ceremonies, and to administer church affairs.”

    Supporting this right, the document’s three authors (Dr. Carl Eduard Vehse, Heinrich Ferdinand Fischer, and Gustav Jaekel) refer to the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article X.9:

    “Therefore we believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has, according to its circumstances, the good right, power, and authority [in matters truly adiaphora] to change, to diminish, and to increase them, without thoughtlessness and offense, in an orderly and becoming way, as at any time it may be regarded most profitable, most beneficial, and best for [preserving] good order, [maintaining] Christian discipline [and for eujtaxiva worthy of the profession of the Gospel], and the edification of the Church. Moreover, how we can yield and give way with a good conscience to the weak in faith in such external adiaphora, Paul teaches Rom. 14, and proves it by his example, Acts 16:3; 21:26; 1 Cor. 9:19.”

  7. Exactly right, but this cuts just as strongly against liturgical minded pastors who seek to impose their adiaphoric preferences on unwilling congregations.

    The 16th century German church voluntarily ceded authority on some ceremonial matters, or were required to by the state, to bishops. We could do the same. But pastors cannot issue orders on adiaphora until congregations have voluntarily given him that authority in charity. Pastors don’t have that authority as part of their office. And they certainly cannot demand acquiescence from the congregation. Teaching anything as required or mandatory that is not required or mandatory in scripture is teaching false doctrine. That includes choice of order of service.

    So to retain the historic liturgy,as I agree it is the best at teaching the Gospel, you have to teach pure Gospel and proper understanding of the power of the Word, so congregations desire and love the liturgy and the unity through all times it offers. It absolutely can’t be imposed as Law, at least until congregation trusts and agrees to follow bishop or pastor’s decision, in charity, and not compelled by Law.

  8. Authored by Chemnitz, Andreae:

    The Third Church Order

    of Julius, by God’s grace

    Duke of Braunschweig and Lüneberg, etc.

    How the teachings and ceremonies of my principality Braunschweig, the Wulffenbüttel region, and the matters and institutions of the churches attached to the same should henceforth be kept, by God’s grace.

    Accordingly, I have assigned and commanded some theologians specifically to this work, to concentrate on such a church order as would maximally advance the Word of God and the Christian Augsburg Confession thoroughly in all [its] corresponding articles, but in the ceremonies should be maximally similar to the neighboring churches of these territories, so that the variations in ceremonies may not cause irritation and all types of offense for those Christians who don’t understand and who are not well edified in God’s Word; all of my pastors and ministers should act according to this in doctrine and use of the highly worthy sacraments, marriages, funerals, the burial of the dead into the earth, and other such things, in a thoroughly uniform way, and also otherwise as to not give offense in their holy calling and high office.

    And although Christians are not everywhere bound to one certain type of ceremony, rather Christian freedom has its place in this area, as the ancients say: “Disagreement in rites does not take away agreement in faith,” [Dissonantia rituum non tollit consonantiam fidei]194. However, because there is yet all sorts of benefits when ceremonies, as much as is possible, are maintained uniformly and this also serves to maintain the unity in doctrine, also common, simply weak consciences are all the less troubled, rather the more improved, it is thus viewed as good that as much as is possible a similarity in ceremonies with the neighboring reformed church be affected and maintained. And for this reason henceforth all pastors in the churches of our principality shall in ceremonies strictly abide, and orient themselves, by the order described below, and not depart from it without special, grave cause.

    And nevertheless, the common people can be instructed regarding such ceremonies as to how they are a matter of Christian freedom, to what end they are maintained and used and so that the old papistic delusion not again be hung about the ceremonies.

  9. I am going to take a chance and make a comment that might have little to do with the exact theses in this article, but at least seems to run parallel, in terms of the general problem stated in the title.

    When the MO synod decided women could exercise authority over men in the traditionally ‘supreme’ local voters, on essentially no Scriptural authority, and in a confused and self-contradictory fashion, and only coincidentally of course (!) in the presence of a very strong and smelly wind of radical feminism blowing at it from the culture, the course was set for the voters to have less and less relevance, and provide less and less balance to the pastor in terms of personal authority over the congregation’s life and practices. The (male) pastor having undue authority and responsibility would be reckoned less harmful than women directly running things. This is actually correct, but not at all optimal, and not even Scriptural, on the face of it.

    I apologize that this probably does not address the article, though I believe it does address the headline, and it’s not a small thing, with low male attendance, broken homes, incessant (though perhaps in remission a little for a time) pressure for female pastors, (unbelievably) approval of female elders, and other issues rampant.

  10. A general question – does the size or age of the congregation have anything to do with the authority given to the pastor?

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that smaller, or more rural congregations see the pastor differently than larger, maybe rural congregations.

    Any thoughts?

  11. Parish children is a literal translation of parishioner from German: Pfarrkinder. It appears in LC Intro, par. 3: ( Für ihre Pfarrkinder beten…) among other places.

  12. @Weedon #12

    > Parish children

    I understand that there exists a correct meaning for this phrase. I accept that there is a fatherly element in the role of the overseer.

  13. Dr. Noland, thank you very much for revealing the autocratic tendencies of some pastors in the LCMS. We must beware of power grabs both by pastors and by lay leaders, too!
    Regarding Johannes Grabau, he has been demonized for over 150 years now, and I would contend, unfairly. I am not saying that his theology and especially his pastoral practice should be a role model for us. But I am saying that he is not guilty of even half the things people accuse him of.

    Case in point: Baepler. Baepler’s scholarship cannot be trusted. He relies far too much on Hochstetter. And Hochstetter himself did not document his sources, and made many assertions about Grabau that cannot be substantiated.

    The fact is that Grabau would have been appalled at the power grabs you describe inasmuch as they are independent and autonomous from the rest of the church and from the Lutheran Church’s classic polity and customs. Unfortunately, his statement that congregations must obey pastors in all things not contrary to the Word of God goes way too far. If that is applied to the congregational level, it would lead to the kind of abuse of pastoral authority that you describe. But I think one can ask whether that’s really how Grabau meant it.

    The church needs the freedom to live according to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, and these include things that are unpopular in many congregations–such as private confession. Should a voters’ assembly have the right to forbid a Lutheran pastor from conducting his office as a Lutheran pastor? Neither Walther nor Grabau would have said yes. Should the individual pastor have the right to institute any kind of ceremony he wants in the congregation? Again, neither Walther nor Grabau would have said yes, though Grabau has been accused of this for over 150 years.

  14. “Pfarrkinder” (parish children) is a standard German Lutheran way to describe laypeople. The correlative to it is “Beichtvater” (father confessor). It is not patronizing. It describes the congregation as a loving family. Luther uses the term. Here’s an example:

    Search Google Books for more hits.

  15. I think that things would go a lot better for us if we would simply return to the teachings of Lutheran Orthodoxy.

    As one “untimely born” (I was not born and raised LCMS), it seems to me that there are two primary opposing sides within the Synod: those with Romanizing tendencies and those with Evangelical tendencies. Here I’m not suggesting that we follow some kind of “conservative” Golden Mean; rather, what I’m noting is that at some time we have lost the rich patrimony of biblical, confessional theology of which we are rightful heirs.

    Let’s get back to quoting Scripture first, the Confessions second, Luther and theologians from the Orthodox period fourth, and then other Church teachers. Also, pride of place for systematic training of our pastors should be a fresh translation of Baier-Walther and German Pieper. The Synod should raise funds and pay for this. Right now we’re just paying lip service to our great Walther-Pieper heritage, and things will not get better until we actually address the real issue: doctrine.

  16. “On the contrary, it is rather the concern of the whole congregation, of the minister as well as the hearers, to decide on what should be accepted or rejected.”

    The ministry plan that is created each year is first reviewed and approved by a board of laity then it is put before the congregation before it is carried out by the pastor.

    A CEO is not their own boss, neither in the corporate world or in the Accountable Leader model. An Accountable Leader is first and foremost accountable to the doctrine of the LCMS, they are accountable to the congregation and to the laity board.

    None of the information I have read through the districts is suggesting that the pastor select the lay board. It may be Borden’s preference but that is not what I’m finding in material through the district.

  17. @Pastor #17
    The ministry plan that is created each year is first reviewed and approved by a board of laity then it is put before the congregation before it is carried out by the pastor

    “What does this mean?” 🙂

  18. @Pastor #17

    None of the information I have read through the districts is suggesting that the pastor select the lay board. It may be Borden’s preference but that is not what I’m finding in material through the district.

    In a congregation that was beginning to implement TC as I was leaving, the Board was 3 persons elected by the congregation, chosen from 5 people nominated by the Pastor.

  19. Any discussion of Walther’s Thesis IX must include the handling of Thesis VIII.

    “The preaching office is the highest office in the church, and all other offices in the church stem from it.”

  20. Thesis VIII distinguishes the pastoral ministry (the higest office) from other offices in the church. As Walther explains:

    Any other public office in the Church is, therefore, a part of the same or an auxiliary office, which supports the pastoral ministry, be it the elders [das Aeltestenamt], who do not work in word and doctrine (1 Tim. 5:17), or rulers [das Regieramt] (Rom. 12: 8), or the deacons [das Diakonat] (service ministry in the narrower sense), or offices in the Church that may be transferred to particular persons for special administration. The offices of the school teachers, who have to teach God’s word in their schools, the social worker [der Almosenpfleger], the sexton [i.e., the custodian of the sacristry and altar], the cantor/music director [der Vorsänger] in the public worship services, etc., are therefore all sacred church offices which are part of the one church office and support the pastoral office.

  21. The rural vs metro is an interesting subject. I’ve been a “parish child” of both.

    I prefer, as if that is by choice, I prefer rural. The CEO model, doesn’t work well in small parishes, or large for that matter. One of the blessings of small or be it rural, is your Pastor knows you, he knows alot about you, as you do him. I’ve been a member, but for 3months, of a mega church, metro Milwaukee area. Not only did my name & face not matter, my serial number-the number on our tithe envelope, was what we were known by. Sad commentary, but is most true of CEO’s in the business world. They don’t know or have little knowledge of their employees, or at times, the company in general.
    They who report or are employed are known by only their SS# or employment file. TCN & PLI, encourage this model, encourage Pastoral appointment rather than election, etc. Much has been written both here & else where on both.
    I would like to think, and need to know, I matter more than the # given on my Tithe envelope. At least, the very least, to my Pastor. He may in charge of my burial, & for him to have to call, search, and grill, friends, family, & search for those who knew me, in order to give a message at my “send off” is not, what I think it should be.

    But it does happen, all the same. Thank you Pastor Nolan, for again, writing on & giving such lovingly sound advice.

  22. The ministry plan lays out the “goals” for the year which are formed with a team of laity and the pastor. Those goals then go to the lay board to which the pastor is accountable for approval then to the congregation for final approval. The pastor is not free to do whatever he likes and does not make rules on his own.

    The difficulty in many of the polities under which I served is that leadership is ascribed to no one and therefore no one is responsible or accountable. Oftentimes the pastor steps up to move something forward but based on the polity most congregations have him off to the side as basically a consultant or advisory member.

  23. As a practical matter the authority of the pastor is in the trust and love he has for the members of the congregation and the trust and love they have for him. If these are not there, things will not go well.

    A pastor earns his authority by his teaching and preaching of the true word in love and patience and by being there in the needs of his members. Members know if you really care about them personally.

    As far as deciding things: Things get done in peace when members get them done (after the pastor has patiently tutored them – sometimes). Plant the seeds and let them grow and ripen. If you do not plan to stay long enough to love your people and let the Word of God do its work, you need to turn in your collar. Some people need extra grace and they need it from their pastor.

  24. Here is the suggested script for “Interim By-Laws” that comes straight from the TCN website that are used to transform your congregation:

    You can read for yourselves what powers are vested to the pastor-turned-CEO.

    Quoting from my article “The Transforming Churches Network: Part 6, Turning the Church Upside Down” found on BJS here:

    “In a business, the CEO is held accountable by the Board of Directors. In the Accountable Leadership Model as it is being set up by TCN, it is much more likely that the BOD is a rubber stamp for the pastor‘s ‘vision.’ In most cases, the members of the BOD are nominated by the pastor, so they are naturally going to be supporters of his ‘vision.’ If the TCN script of proposed bylaws is followed, BOD members ‘must successfully complete a training course taught by the Senior Pastor covering the mission, vision, and structure of the Church.’ The primary role of the Board is to write concise Guiding Principles that the pastor is to follow. These Principles include three areas, Mission Principles (‘What ends the Church exists to achieve’), Boundary Principles (What you‘re not allowed to do to accomplish the Mission Principles), and Accountability Principles (‘How the Board is to establish the Guiding Principles and to monitor the Pastor‘s compliance with them’). Ironically, the pastor is also to ‘lead the Board by guiding its discussion of mission and boundary principles.’ Thus the Principles the pastor is to follow are based on his own input, a rather circular design in which the fox guards the hen house.”

  25. It seems to me that, in discussions of this nature, the division comes about in the Christian/Lutheran’s understanding of the Office of the Keys. I think that pretty much everyone agrees that the power that is invested in the Office of the Keys originates with Christ. It is His power to give. From that point, where does that power go … To the Church?Or to the Pastor/Clergy?Here is what the Confessions say about this subject, in particular the Treatise:

    23]And what is here said [to Peter alone] in the singular number: I will give unto thee the keys; and whatsoever thou shalt bind, etc., is elsewhere expressed [to their entire number], in the plural Matt. 18:18: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc. And in John 20:23: Whosesoever sins ye remit, etc. These words testify that the keys are given alike to all the apostles and that all the apostles are alike sent forth [to preach].

    24] In addition to this, it is necessary to acknowledge that the keys belong not to the person of one particular man, but to the Church, as many most clear and firm arguments testify. For Christ, speaking concerning the keys adds, Matt. 18:19: If two or three of you shall agree on earth, etc. Therefore he grants the keys principally and immediately to the Church, just as also for this reason the Church has principally the right of calling. [For just as the promise of the Gospel belongs certainly and immediately to the entire Church, so the keys belong immediately to the entire Church, because the keys are nothing else than the office whereby this promise is communicated to every one who desires it, just as it is actually manifest that the Church has the power to ordain ministers of the Church. And Christ speaks in these words: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc., and indicates to whom He has given the keys, namely, to the Church: Where two or three are gathered together in My name. Likewise Christ gives supreme and final jurisdiction to the Church, when He says: Tell it unto the Church.]

    So, the bottom line is … who gets the Office from Christ? The Church, and from the local congregation (visible representation of the Church) to the Pastor to administer on behalf of the congregation … or to the Pastor directly?

  26. The Missouri Synod since 1851 holds and reaffirmed in 2001 as the “definitive statement under Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions of the Synod’s understanding on the subject of church and ministry:”

    Thesis IV on the Church: It is to this true church of believers and saints [the invisible church in Thesis III] that Christ gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and it is the proper and only possessor and bearer of the spiritual, divine, and heavenly gifts, rights, powers, offices, and the like that Christ has procured and are found in His church.
    Thesis VII in the Church: As visible congregations that still have the Word and the sacraments essentially according to God’s Word bear the name “church” because of the true invisible church of sincere believers that is found in them, so also they possess the power [authority] that Christ has given to His whole church, on account of the true invisible church hidden in them, even if there were only two or three [believers].

    Others have followed (or adulate) Wilhelm Loehe’s view:

    The sad experiences which the former Stephanites [the Missourians] had with their hierarch, [Martin] Stephan, have made their hearts very receptive to the doctrine of the ministry held by Luther and subsequent theologians, a teaching also reflected in the Lutheran Symbols, especially since this doctrine not only commends itself highly to the Christian mind but also seems made to order for American circumstances. Conversely, some of us were led by experiences of an opposite and different nature to have an eye for a different conception of ministry and church, a conception which was present already at the time of the Reformation in the church of the Reformers and had been recommended particularly in some parts of southern Germany. Where it differs from the specific-Lutheran and Lutheran-theological course (Richtung), it seems to commend itself by virtue of a more artless attachment to Holy Scripture and antiquity and by greater truth in practice. (Kirchliche Nachrichten aus und über Nord-Amerika, No. 8 [1859]; quoted in C. F. W. Walther, “Do We Draw the Lines of Fellowship Too Narrowly?”, Editorials From “Lehre und Wehre” [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981], pp. 75-76) [Emphasis added]

  27. Dan at Necessary Roughness :@Pastor #17

    None of the information I have read through the districts is suggesting that the pastor select the lay board. It may be Borden’s preference but that is not what I’m finding in material through the district.

    In a congregation that was beginning to implement TC as I was leaving, the Board was 3 persons elected by the congregation, chosen from 5 people nominated by the Pastor.

    Dan–you’re right on the mark. This is the rule, rather than the exception. Next time you’re in my part of the country, I’ll buy you that beer. Of course, no matter how the board is chosen/elected/appointed/gerrymandered, TCN still spells trouble. And now “The Church Unique” is rearing its ugly head. Yuk! Anybody want to loan me a copy, I’ll do a review.


  28. @Pastor #23
    “The difficulty in many of the polities under which I served is that leadership is ascribed to no one and therefore no one is responsible or accountable. Oftentimes the pastor steps up to move something forward but based on the polity most congregations have him off to the side as basically a consultant or advisory member.”

    “Pastor”, you raise a good point–an important issue. However, accountablility/responsibility/authority (“A/R/A”) issues are a people problem, not a systems or constitution problem. Anyone who has spent time in the corporate world knows how fads come and go. And like TQM and other business management fads, TCN, despite all its hype, is doomed to failure if the varous partiies don’t “play by the rules.” Sheer orneryness or abysmal ignorance are the root of most of “A/R/A” difficulties. And that goes for all the parties concerned.


  29. Johannes,
    You are correct about fads in the corporate world. The LCMS is following corporate fads from 10-15 years ago. The business world has moved on the the latest and greatest fad.

  30. Johannes,
    If these corporate fads really worked, they would not need any new fads. The fact that one fad replaces another fad just proves that they do not work–neither in the business world but especially not in the church.

  31. I find our synodical position on “Church and Ministry” defined as “in our name and as our unanimous confession,” an interesting one. At my ordination I did not make any vow regarding my subscription to this particular work. Is the synod’s position that this work is equal to documents in the Book of Concord? Apparently not, as we are in fellowship with church bodies that have a different polity than that described by Walther, correct? My question is, as an LC-MS clergyperson, how am I to regard this work vis-a-vis the Confessions? Certainly not as an equal, but somehow higher than the constitution and by-laws that I am bound by as a member of synod?

  32. Is the synod’s position that this work is equal to documents in the Book of Concord?

    The position of the Synod on church and ministry since 1852, which it reaffirmed in 2001, is this:

    Resolved, That The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod meeting in convention in the year of our Lord 2001 affirm the above referenced writings of C. F. W. Walther as the definitive statement under Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions of the Synod’s understanding on the subject of church and ministry; and be it further
    Resolved, That the LCMS in convention reaffirm the decision of the 1852 convention in recognizing C. F. W. Walther’s book, The Voice of Our Church on the Question of Church and Ministry, as the official position of the LCMS; and be it further
    Resolved, That all pastors, professors, teachers of the church, and congregations honor and uphold the resolutions of the Synod as regards the official position of our Synod on church and ministry and teach in accordance with them

    Oh, and don’t forget another doctrinal position of the Synod in “A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (1932).”

  33. To BJS bloggers,

    Thanks to everyone for all your comments so far!

    Just remember that the point of my post is not to get into historical debates about what various persons have said (though that is important), but to note how Ministry Thesis IX.B (i.e., that the pastor does not have the “authority to introduce new laws or arbitrarily to establish adiaphora or ceremonies” in a parish) was the original position of the LCMS and how we have departed from that.

    Of course, bloggers are free to comment at will, but I want BJS readers to understand that just because someone disagrees with, or corrects, me, does not mean I disagree with the commenter. The person correcting me may certainly be right! My point in this post is Ministry Thesis IX.B.

    “new pastor” in comment #32 asks an important question, namely: Is the 1851 theses and “Church and Ministry” equally binding as a “confession” as the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions on LCMS “members”? Does it make any difference if it was reaffirmed in 2001, or not?

    This gets to the confused and controverted question of: Do doctrinal resolutions of the synod have the same authority as the Lutheran Confessions? And if not, what sort of authority do they have? Is there any difference between doctrinal statements and doctrinal resolutions?

    This question about the authority of doctrinal resolutions was addressed in LCMS 2010 Convention Resolution 8-32B, by sending it to the synod for discussion in the next triennium.

    On this topic, I am preparing an essay titled “Synod Wide Discussion on Constitution Article VII” for the Lutheran Concerns Association conference in Fort Wayne on January 17, 2011. If you are interested in this topic, you should be able to find more information about the conference here:

    Then go to “The Lutheran Clarion,” vol. 3 #2 (Nov 2010), p. 5 for more information and registration forms. There is time for extensive discussion after each essay at the conference. This conference will be immediately prior to the Fort Wayne seminary symposium. Maybe I will see some of you there!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  34. As one who studied under Dr. Piepkorn – I was in fact his last STM student; he died only three days after participating in the oral examination on my thesis about the Colloquy of Montbeliard 1586 – I think I can shed some light on his approach. He was very far from advocating any kind of kind of clerical autocracy. He always advised seminarians not to make any changes during the first year in a new parish so that the people can first come to see that you love them. He was a very kind man, full of charity, and with a gentle sense of humor which was never at the expense of others.
    Charles McClean

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