Pastoral Authority: Teaching by means of supervising or supervising by means of teaching?

Feed My Lambs.

In Acts 20:28, Paul tells the elders in Ephesus, “Pay special attention to yourselves and of all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He bought with His own blood.”

Pastors/Elders (according to its Biblical meaning, that is, pastor) /Presbyters/Bishops are supposed to supervise doctrine, caring for the church of God. But how do they do this? We know they are supposed to teach. So do they teach by means of supervising or do they supervise by means of teaching? Jesus tells His disciples how they are to make disciples of all nations, namely by baptizing and instructing them in the doctrine of Christ (Matt 28:18-20). Paul mandates to Timothy (1 Tim 4:11-16):

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the doctrine. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

So the gift Timothy was given is the task to teach doctrine, read doctrine, and apply doctrine. Does Paul say to Timothy, “Make sure these things get done as long as it is under your watch.”? No! Rather, he says, “Command and teach these things.” Timothy is supposed to teach, and this is how he supervises and cares for the church of God.

This is exactly what AC XXVIII says is the power of bishops, namely, to teach and preach the gospel, to remit and retain sins, and to administer the sacraments. The bishops do not have any supervisory power outside of this authority given by Christ. They cannot preach, teach, administer the sacraments, forgive or retains sins by means of supervising. It is the other way around. One cannot just say that he teaches because he supervises.

So what are the present-day implications of this? Well, it seems a bit backwards when women are allowed to read (preach) the lessons from the lectern as long as they are being supervised by the pastor. This is because it is not the pastor’s job to merely supervise, but rather to teach, which includes reading and preaching (speaking aloud in the public assembly; lalein). To say that it is alright for a women to read the lessons because she is doing so under the authority of the pastor is to say that the pastor’s authority is not only in the office/task he has been given to preach, teach, and administer the sacraments, but also in him. This is like having a women preside over the sacrament, and say the Words of Institution, but have something in the bulletin which says “It’s ok! The pastor already consecrated the elements!” It is sacerdotalism to say that the practice of women lectors does not violate God’s command in 1st Timothy 2:12 and 1st Corinthians 14:34 as long as the pastor “supervises” it.

If we want to understand the task of the office of the ministry, we cannot confuse ourselves by trying to make conclusions based on certain unclear examples in the Scriptures. Rather, we should look to the mandates of God.  God says that Pastors should teach, baptize, read the Scriptures, administer the Lord’s Supper (Just as Christ said to His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”), and to forgive and retain sins.

And why is this so important?  First, we are no different than the Theological Liberals who ordain women if we allow women lectors.  Also, people are not saved by being supervised or by being “active” in the church service.  Rather, they are saved by Pure Doctrine, doctrine which is preached to them, taught to them, washes them, and feeds them.  Jesus did not tell Peter to merely supervise His lambs.  Rather, He said, “Feed my lambs!” (John 21:15-17)  That is to say, “Feed My lambs with My Gospel, My Scriptures, My body, and My blood, given and shed for them for their forgiveness, life, and salvation.”

About Pastor Andrew Preus

Pastor Andrew Preus is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran/St. Paul Lutheran, Guttenberg/McGregor, IA. He is the eighth of eleven sons, with one sister. He received his seminary training at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines, ON (MDiv) from 2009 to 2013, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN (STM) from 2013 to 2014. His main theological interests include Justification and Church and Ministry. He is married to Leah Preus (nee Fehr), and they have five children: Jacob, Solveig, Kristiana, Robert, and Marian.


Pastoral Authority: Teaching by means of supervising or supervising by means of teaching? — 118 Comments

  1. Pastor Weedon’s comments help us to see why throughout the Church’s history laymen have read the Holy Scriptures when the Church is gathered for worship. It is interesting to note that in the pre-Reformation Church the Passion was chanted by three deacons: one sang the narration, another sang the words of Christ, another sang the words of the other people who appear in the Passion. The choir would join in singing the words of the crowd. In Lutheranism this custom continued and even developed so that there finally appeared the magnificent Passions of J.S. Bach.

  2. @Pastor Charles McClean #99
    “it was simply no longer possible to follow the ancient Christian pattern of the celebrant always being assisted by readers and deacons and singers”

    This seems to me to be a bit of a leap, from some evidence of such practice to declaring it the ancient Christian pattern. One could similarly cite what the Corinthians were up to and declare that the ancient Christian (even Scriptural!) pattern.

    Is it the best construction when one judges another as not putting the best construction on it? 🙂

  3. Rich,

    It was customary for a visiting/traveling rabbi to read the scriptures on a given sabbath and then offer the commentary. Jesus was known as one of those rabbis and so was asked to follow the custom of reading and preaching.

    BTW – for those of you reading this who think the liturgy was totally invented by ritualistic radicals, this notion of reading and preaching that we still practice today is as old as the Scriptures themselves.

    BTW #2 – Ted’s answer of “prophet, priest and king” is not a dodge but a good answer. Jesus breaks the mold. It is impossible to somehow make him the model for anything, other than perfection, in the church.

  4. There is abundant historical evidence that prior to the introduction of “Low Mass” in the middle ages the Divine Service/Mass involved not only the role of the celebrant but also lectors, deacons, etc. I would encourage anyone who doubts this to consult any standard history of the liturgy. Here are two standard works: Joseph Jungmann’s magisterial two volume “The Mass of the Roman Rite” and Dom Gregory Dix’s “The Shape of the Liturgy.” Both of these volumes trace the history of the liturgy from earliest times. As far as “putting the best construction” on what has been said: we surely cannot look into another person’s heart. So how on earth can we possibly know that the use of the lay readers in church is motivated by “works righteousness”? And to accuse other Christians of being motivated by “works righteousness” (!) is a most serious charge and surely should not be made without irrefutable evidence that this is the case. Both LW and LSB encourage the custom of laymen assisting in the liturgy. Would anyone argue that in so doing the compilers of these authorized service books were motivated by “works righteousness”? We are certainly free to disagree about the desirability or wisdom of a given practice but to ascribe unworthy motives to fellow Christians is scarcely charitable. It is surely not uncharitable to help one another to see where we have perhaps been mistaken in judgment.

  5. @Pastor Charles McClean #99
    “It seems to me that an even more important lesson to be learned from this discussion is that we simply must – we must! – “put the best construction on everything” and so speak charitably when there are differences of opinion and practice among us. The failure or inability to do that is truly a now old and deep sickness which rages on and on in our Synod – it is seen not only online but also in a certain notorious publication”

    Say what you will about that “notorious publication,” without the decades of calling a spade a spade by Herman Otten and Kurt Marquart, the LCMS today would probably be in full fellowship with the ELCA. And the UMC, and the UCC, and the Episcopalians, and the Reformed, and the…

    When one strays from the Word and another calls him on it, the calling can be done wrongly, sure, and that should be avoided. But the one who strayed in the first place is the cause of the division and should consider the content of the exhortation, even if the delivery is not to his liking.

    The one who said to put the best construction on everything is not well known for his delicate, sweet and gentle corrections…

  6. Ted Crandall :The one who said to put the best construction on everything is not well known for his delicate, sweet and gentle corrections…

    Exactly. BEST construction. Not the nicest, not the softest. The BEST. The most truthful. And if the Word is truly efficacious, sometimes that may mean the harshest and most direct. The Law need to smash through the unrepentant heart so that a person can repsnt, and THEN be forgiven by the Gospel.

  7. Is assuming works righteousness as the motivation for lay readers the best, most truthful construction?  

  8. @John Rixe #108

    It is for some, and/or entitilement. Depends on the piety. But not everyone is like that. I guess if a lay person wants to… why? What is their motivation? Pastoral discernment should be in order.

  9. @Pastor Charles McClean #105
    “As far as “putting the best construction” on what has been said: we surely cannot look into another person’s heart. So how on earth can we possibly know that the use of the lay readers in church is motivated by “works righteousness”?”

    What other motivation can there be?

    When I wrote (@Ted Crandall #94 ), “Giving everyone a chance to do something during Divine Service is a motivation that comes from works righteousness and encourages more works righteousness; that motivation for having any lay readers takes the people’s focus away from the Gospel, which is not us doing something, but us receiving from God the gifts he gives us in Christ,” I also asked, “What other motivation is there for having lay readers?”

    The only alternative I’ve seen suggested so far amounts to, “But that’s how we’ve always done it,” which I seriously doubt. References were provided from the books of men, but where is it written in the Word of God?

    In what I wrote above, I don’t mean to imply that anyone sat down and deliberated long and hard and then decided to practice works-righteousness. (That wasn’t the best construction you could have put on my words.)

    I am saying I don’t see any other motivation for insisting that everyone should get a chance to do something during the Divine Service. What does motivate one to take the focus off of receiving the gifts of God in Christ crucified and put the focus instead on us participating? What can it be, if not works-righteousness?

    And just to be perfectly clear, I am not saying it is sinful to have lay readers; I am saying it is misguided and not the best practice, since it takes the focus off of what God has done for us and puts our focus on what we are doing.

  10. I can’t imagine anyone thinking they can earn something by being a lay reader.  It’s not that important to me, but I like lay readers simply because they add richness and interest to the hearing of God’s Word.  I like music and choirs for the same reason.  

    I’ve occasionally been a reader, and works righteousness as a motivation just seems nuts.

  11. It seems to me that the length of this discussion is out of all proportion to the importance of an issue which is indisputably an adiaphoron, neither commanded nor forbidden in Holy Scripture. It is an established historical fact that laymen – that is to say, persons not ordained to the pastoral office – have in fact read the lessons in church from ancient times. Any standard history of the liturgy will show that this is so. It is also a custom which was not abolished in the Church of the Augsburg Confession. Before we speak on these issues we need to be sure of the facts of the case. The soon to be published (by Concordia Publishing House) book concerning the preservation of the ancient liturgical heritage in the Lutheran Church – cf. Cyberbrethren – will shed much light on the history of worship in early Lutheranism. In his pre-publication review of the book Pastor Weedon in fact says that the book will be almost as good as having “Sehling” on one’s book shelves, “Sehling” being the multi-volume work of E. Sehling containing the Lutheran Kirchenordungen of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I would hope that no one would deny that there are in fact genuine doctrinal problems that we as a Church need to address in charity and in truth. But preocuppation with this sort of question is a distraction – or so it seems to me. And impugning of motives is never defensible.

  12. This discussion was supposed to be about the means by which a pastor watches over his flock.

    Also, I was aiming at addressing the issue of women pastors/lectors. The issue of the roles of men and women has been an issue for years, and it will continue to be an issue. Apparently, it seems that many in the LCMS have rolled over and died over the issues of the roles of women in the church. When I say I am against women suffrage because it hinders the dignity of the order of creation, I don’t want to hear, “Well, I’m not for suffrage at all,” because that isn’t the issue. I may agree with much of what is implied and elaborated from that statement, but the issue is still about the roles of men and women. I will also concede to the fact that women suffrage is not as clearly rejected in the Bible, but women lectors absolutely is.

    If we are men, not chauvinists, but gentle-men who care about God’s created order, God’s Word, and the dignity of women, we should not be afraid at all to address these issues concerning the order of creation.

    I really don’t have the time to read about all the history of how the Mass was reformed. I read Spinks’ short booklet for class, and that was interesting and helpful. All I know is that I grew up with the Lutheran liturgy. We didn’t have the Eucharistic prayer, and we sang good Lutheran hymns. And we called the Lord’s Supper the Lord’s Supper. We knew what the Bible clearly taught concerning the roles of men and women in the Church and in the home. We mustn’t treat our liturgy as Melanchthon treated the Augsburg Confession, revising it over and over and over and over and over again. The LSB has way too many settings, btw. I know I am going off track, but my whole point is that instead of seeing how many liturgical settings we can come up with, it would be nice if we could just follow the hymnal, stick to a good setting, sing good Lutheran hymns, and not have ladies doing anything during the church service except for playing the organ or helping out with the choir, stuff like that. That would be great!

    Pastor McClean, I agree that we can’t be too rigid on the practice of lay-readers (except women readers, of course, since God forbids it), but all I am saying is that there is always a reason for having lay-readers. Unless I am mistaken, and if I am please correct me, I don’t believe it was ever a regular practice in the Church for laymen to read unless they were potential candidates for the office of the ministry. I spoke to Dr. Korcok yesterday about his book on Christian Education (published by CPH within the past year), and he told me that the Lutheran Church historically had the practice of giving boys a theological education just in case they would be needed as pastors later on. This is why Loehe’s Emergency Helpers were able to be sent with little training, because they did in fact have a lot of training from their youth. Thank you for bringing to my attention that fact of Luther. It is very interesting. I don’t think, however, that we can quickly use that to conclude that it is totally doesn’t matter if we have lay readers who are already grown and not in anyway training to be pastors.

  13. @Andrew Preus #113
    Everything we do in worship matters immensely in the sense that it can either help or hinder the delivery of Christ’s gifts and His people’s joyful and faithful response of faith and love. Careful thought must be given to it all. I am very much in sympathy with your comments here and I am truly sorry if I have given the impression that your concern for the means by which a pastor feeds his flock is not important: it is in fact immensely important! Like you I also wonder about the usefulness of having four (!) different orders for the Divine Service (and two different forms for morning and evening worship!) in our present service book. There was a wonderful unity in practice in our Synod when The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 was in use, but that is another whole question. What I was trying to say – perhaps unsuccessfully! – is that the question of who in fact reads Holy Scripture in church can scarcely be in itself a doctrinal question. I certainly agree that there can be doctrinal implications. These should of course be taken seriously and, as the Formula of Concord (Article X) makes clear, what is intrinsically an adiaphoron may because of circumstances cease to be an adiaphoron. My truly great concern is that we not impugn the motives of perfectly orthodox clergy and congregations – such as the Church where I assist – which choose to have properly qualified and competent lay readers. Nothing is worse than having lessons poorly read by poorly prepared and incompetent persons! As far as history is concerned, the lectors who read in the ancient church did not expect to be ordained to the pastoral office, but in the Western Church in the Middle Ages they did normally go on to be ordained to the priesthood. As far as Lutheranism is concerned, there is the evidence I cited from Luther’s writings. I would add one other reference (LW 53, p. 12) where Luther writes: “We should assemble daily at four or five in the morning [!] and have [God’s Word] read, either by pupils or priests, or whoever it may be, in the same manner as the lesson is still read at Matins.” I suppose the question could be formulated in this way: Is the reading of Holy Scripture the exclusive prerogative of the divinely ordained pastoral office? I am convinced that it would be difficult to prove that from Holy Scripture. I hope these comments are helpful. One of the great blessings of my life for which I thank God is having had Dr. Robert Preus as my teacher in seminary.

  14. @Pastor Charles McClean #114
    Thanks Pastor McClean. Those quotes by Luther are very helpful. Thank you for your kind words about my grandpa.

    I see what you are saying, and I agree that it can’t in and of itself be doctrinally incorrect.
    I think it is probably better to say that doing the readings is an essential duty of the pastor, so I agree that we can’t go so far as saying it is necessarily exclusive, that is, no one else can ever do it.

    I think what has become difficult is the fact that we are always battling against Methodism and such. So if we do have such a practice, we should at the same time be aware of the dangerous Methodist influence that people have been exposed to. The practice of lay-readers implemented by Wesley was not of the same theological understanding as Luther.

    This is the case with any kind of lay-involvement within the church. Lay-involvement is not bad; it is very good. But how do we have lay involvement? What should they do? What should be emphasized? The Methodists and such emphasize lay-involvement, but they don’t accompany that emphasis with a proper understanding of the Church and the Office of the Ministry.

    And this also goes with the Roman Catholics. We always get annoyed when someone says, “That’s too Catholic!” I, for one, wish they would just as often say, “That’s too Methodist,” or “That’s too Baptist.” But we should still understand why they say something is too Catholic. The reason is simply because they don’t understand the theology behind it, whatever it may be, and they know the Catholics do it, so therefore, it’s too Catholic. But if we can’t explain to them the theology behind whatever practice it is they think is too Catholic, well, then maybe they are right. Maybe it is too Catholic. So likewise, if we can’t give a good Lutheran theological understanding that is behind the practice of lay-readers, well maybe it is too Methodist or too Anglican after all.

  15. @Andrew Preus #113
    @Pastor Charles McClean #114

    If I may…. I do not find the 5 major settings to be all that bad, although I think this should be an upper limit. I am okay with a little (emphasis little) variety and diversity. And they all seem to follow a general pattern. Anything beyond, such as creative worship, CoWo, etc., I think becomes divisive. On the bright side, at least we don’t have ELW, with its 10 major services, gender inclusiveness (i.e. neutrality which equals emasculation) and lack of the Athanasian Creed. Next time we do a hymnal, I say we really tighten up. If we think we have to add another service, guess what, a current one has to go. Just my two cents. And thanks for the great posts. Love to learn from them.

  16. I agree that some of us Lutherans have in fact been unduly – and in some instances most unfortunately – influenced by Anglican and especially post-Vatican II Roman Catholic practice, e.g. the distribution of Holy Communion in which people receive the Sacrament in a moving line while those who administer the Sacrament stand in place at the front of the nave. I also agree that it is an error to suppose that laymen are not “involved” unless they hop up and do various things in the course of the liturgy. Everyone present at the Divine Service is in fact deeply involved by singing the hymns and the liturgy, devoutly following the prayers, hearing the sermon and receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood. Having said that I must hasten to add that this whole question is made more difficult by the utter confusion which seems to surround the doctrine of the Predigtamt, the divinely instituted office of the Gospel and Sacraments – and that despite the fact of our common commitment to the Lutheran Confessions and our Synod’s reaffirmation of Walther’s writings on the Church and Ministry as expressing its own understanding. In this connection I think we should all be very glad that Pastor Harrison has now made a fresh translation of Walther’s great works on the Church and Ministry since responsible theologians, e.g. Dr. Nagel, have pointed out that the popular (mis)understanding of Walther rests in part on some very inaccurate translations of his work. The use of the word “ministry” has itself become a source of endless confusion in our circles in the past thirty or forty years. I can remember when “the Ministry” was understood as referring to the Predigtamt, the office of the Word and Sacrament and “the Minister” was the called and ordained incumbent of that holy office. But current use of these words in our Synod is a morass of confusion with “ministers of religion-ordained” and “ministers of religion-commissioned” and even the preposterous “lay minister”! In briefly checking the LSB Altar Book and that very fine book, Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, I discovered that even there a person – either lay or ordained – assisting the pastor at the Divine Service is called “[assisting]minister.” So to come to my point: I think this discussion is part of the larger problem of the doctrine of the pastoral office not least as it relates to the “priesthood of all believers.” I think it can be demonstrated that part of what drives the desire to have laymen taking part in the conduct of the Divine Service is the horribly mistaken notion that this somehow expresses the “priesthood of all believers.” So there are questions and questions and questions here and – so it seems to me – a great deal of confusion. Although I would not argue in this way, I think one could well argue that, given this present confusion, it might perhaps be wisest (for the time being) to have only the pastor(s) read the lessons (at least in the Divine Service) until – God willing – the doctrine confessed in the Book of Concord concerning the Predigtamt again becomes the truly living confession of us all. As far as a Lutheran theological justification for lay readers is concerned I can only say this much. The fact that Luther did not abolish the practice is simply part and parcel of his conservative Reformation. I cannot remember reading any actual explanation of the practice: its retention is just one aspect of the conservative principle of the Lutheran Reformation. Pp.97-103 of Dr. Sasse’s book, Here We Stand, are a wonderful exposition of this principle. Whereas the Reformed demanded that everything done in Church have explicit Biblical justification – e.g. the use of the altar, chalice, candles on the altar, the historic liturgy and ancient chants – the conservative Lutheran principle was that everything not contrary to the Gospel could and should be retained not least as an expression of the confessors’ conviction that the Church of the Augsburg Confession is no new Church but the one holy Church that has been in the world since the first Pentecost – so in the conclusion of the Augsburg Confession: “nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to the Scripture or to the catholic Church”(Augsburg Confession Conclusion 5). I am under no illusion that I have fully answered your questions! The older I get the more I realize how much I don’t know.

  17. @Jason #116
    I agree. Having five settings obviously isn’t the end of the world, and like you said, it’s not Creative Worship. In fact, it kind of demonstrates how far so called contemporary worship is from the liturgy. The five settings aren’t five different liturgies. There is one liturgy. They are rather five different settings. Although setting three is clearly the superior one.

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