Most, if not all Lutherans are introduced to the theological mastery of Martin Chemnitz by way of his confessional contributions as expressed in the Epitome and Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord. Sadly, however, these documents are, for some, the sum total of their acquaintance with the writings of Chemnitz. Once considered second only to Luther in his theological prowess, today, many of Chemnitz’s works are not widely read or studied. Though Chemnitz wrote on nearly every topic of theology, his works sit on pastors shelves, neglected, in favor of modern theologians. Despite the fact that Chemnitz was first and foremost a pastor, and that within many of his writings he expresses pastoral care and guidance for the laity, parishioners rarely hear of him outside of his work on the Formula. Now, by no means, should the Formula of Concord be taken lightly, for in it, Chemnitz summarizes nearly all of his theological thought. Yet as our Lutheran forefathers often cited from Chemnitz, there is prudence in studying his works and discovering (or rediscovering) for ourselves, the theological mastery of Martin Chemnitz.
Thus, dear fellow pastors and laypeople, we come to the intent of this section, aptly titled, Steadfast Chemnitz. For, by the grace of God, we shall all become more acquainted with Chemnitz’s works. We shall dutifully examine what this great theologian has put to ink and pen, albeit translated into English. We shall engage in studying Chemnitz’s works, not because of the fact that Chemnitz was a confessional and theological giant, but because of whom he always points us to; God, Father, Son and Spirit. Through the pastoral and theological insights of this “second Martin,” may you and I, dear reader, come to a greater and stronger understanding of who God is, when, why, and how God makes Himself known, and where we may find Him.
With that, let me introduce you to one of Chemnitz’s works, the work that was my introduction to Chemnitz outside of the Formula of Concord; that being his Enchiridion on the Ministry, the Word, and the Sacraments, a little book that is packed with amazing depth.
Martin Chemnitz’s Enchiridion was developed as an outgrowth of the visitation of the churches in the duchy of Braunschweig in 1568. Newly crowned Duke Julius was anxious to get the reformation of Braunschweig underway and during the months of October and November of 1568, Chemnitz, who was Julius’ appointed ecclesiastical adviser, chairman of the consistory, and the superintendent of Braunschweig city, supervised as well as took part in the visitations of the churches. The results were unsettling. Out of 278 pastoral positions within the duchy of Braunschweig, but not including the city itself, 90 pastors were to be kept on only if they showed significant improvement. [endnote i] As was common for the times, the more educated and university trained men gravitated towards the courts, cites, and universities, while the less educated men dominated the rural areas. These less educated clergymen were also more likely to be less competent in their office, partly due to their education in Holy Writ, and partly because of the extreme poverty many of these pastors succumbed to in the rural areas. Upon the 1568 examination of pastors within the duchy, Chemnitz penned his Enchiridion in 1569 in German for the following reasons:
“And this form of examination is drawn up in the German language, not with the intent that the pastors should be educated only by the medium of German and take this little book as a Dormi secure (for the examinations are held, and should also be chiefly held, in the Latin language), but  becauseone often finds that many recite the customary definitions like a parrot and either do not understand their true meaning or are unable to show any basis for them in God’s Word, and  because it is one thing to discuss something in the schools in Latin but quite another to set the same before the common man in such a plain way that he can thoroughly understand, grasp, and receive it. Finally , also, it [this little book] is written in German so that the laity might read and know what is discussed in examinations and what is the model in the chief heads of salutary doctrine, according to which also the hearers might judge whether their pastors follow the true voice of Christ, the only Chief Shepherd, or if they speak with the voice of a stranger, Jn 10:3–5.” [endnote ii]
As evidenced in his three reasons, the Enchiridion was designed to help both the pastor and the laity in their understanding of the Word of God. Chemnitz’s method of instruction involved the catechetical, or question and answer structure. Such a structure was a common teaching tool in the 16th century and favored in the instructing of the less educated. Thus the Enchiridion, much like Luther’s Small Catechism, sets forth the doctrines (or teachings) concerning the Office of the Ministry, the Word of God, and the Holy Sacraments, to both pastor and parishioner in a profound yet simplistic manner.
In the first section of the Enchiridion, Chemnitz clearly and succinctly sets forth the difference between the immediate and the mediate call. The immediate call being the direct call by God of His apostles and prophets. Such people called in this immediate sense have the testimony of the Spirit, of miracles, and of an inerrancy of doctrine. The mediate call, or call through regular means, is how the Church since the times of the apostles has called and continues to call her ministers. Commenting on who should handle the matters of election and call, Chemnitz writes:
“God is not a God of confusion; He rather wants all things to be done and administered decently and in order in the church. 1 Co 14:40. Therefore to avoid confusion…the matter of the election and call of ministers of the Word was always handled according to a certain order by the chief members of the church in the name and with the consent of the whole church. Thus the apostles first set forth a directive as to what kind of persons are to be chosen for the ministries of the church. Acts 1:15 ff.; 6:2 ff. Then the church, according to that rule of the directive, chose and set forth some… [The church] submitted those who were chosen and nominated to the judgment of the apostles, whether they be fit for that ministry according to the rule of the divine Word… [F]inally the ministries are committed to those nominated, elected, and called, with the solemn prayer of the whole church and public testimony, namely laying on of hands.” [endnote iii]
Simple and straightforward, Chemnitz sets forth the order in which one is called and ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry, dispelling the notion self-ordination, a notion which many denominations, while they do not overtly promote, certainly do not hinder. Within Lutheranism, such a distinction between the immediate and the mediate call is insightful and worthy of serious reflection in these days where so many seem to be confused as to whom are called to be pastors.
In the second part of his Enchiridion, Chemnitz expounds on the various aspects of God’s Word and the Holy Sacraments instituted by Christ Jesus. Here in this second part, which comprises the majority of the work, one finds clear and succinct explanations to relatively difficult questions. As an example, to a person who does not regularly attend the Divine Service yet maintains that because they have the Scriptures that is all they need, Chemnitz would admonish them:
[Of those who neglect and despise the Word and the Sacraments] “One departs from true faith … Hearing the Word, and faith, are correlative, for faith is conceived, nourished, and increased thereby. He who wants to apprehend Christ by faith must know where he should look and [where] he can find Him, namely in the Word and the Sacraments. Likewise, if faith, as our hand, is to receive anything from God, we must not seek it outside the Word and without the Word, out of the air, as it were, but receive [it] from the hand of God, which He opens in the Word and the Sacraments, offering us the fullness of His grace. For God has determined to deal with us at this point through the Word of the Gospel and the Sacraments. Ro 10:17; Tts 3:5.” [endnote iv]
Abstinence from the Word and the Sacrament is detrimental to an individual. Here, Chemnitz provides us with a direct, yet loving response to give to that individual, be it ourselves, or our neighbor. Always pointing us to God’s Word and His Sacraments, always pointing us back to Christ, such are the nuggets of clarity that Chemnitz provides in his Enchiridion.
These are just a few examples to whet your appetite concerning the relevance and lasting benefit of Chemnitz’s Enchiridion. In forthcoming posts, we shall further examine what Chemnitz has to say in this wonderful work, designed for the instruction of both pastor and parishioner in the doctrines of the ministry, the Word, and the Sacraments.
Associate Editor’s Note: With this post we introduce Pastor Derrick Brown to be writing from his gleanings and study of the works of Martin Chemnitz. It is good to hear from our fathers in the faith, even in these gray and latter days. Hopefully this will spark an interest in reading the works of this “Second Martin”. Rome doesn’t think that Luther’s teachings would have survived without this Second Martin.
Author Biography: Upon graduating from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne Indiana, in 2010, Rev. Derrick Brown was called to serve Christ’s flock gathered at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Curtis, Nebraska, and subsequently ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry on August 15, 2010. Prior to this, Rev. Brown, originally from Ohio, received his bachelor’s degree in Music Performance from a private college in Wisconsin. His wife, Kris, holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism Graphics and Photography, and has lovingly devoted herself to the esteemed vocation of homemaker, where she keeps both her husband and their daughter Katherine in line. Rev. Brown, who enjoys spending time with his family and in the comfort of a good book, relies on caffeine, not to save him, but to keep him going.
[i] Preus, J. A. O. The Second Martin: The Life and Theology of Martin Chemnitz (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1994), 145, quoting Kronenberg.
[ii] Chemnitz, Martin. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion, trans. Luther Poellot (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981), 17.
[iii] Ibid, 34.
[iv] Ibid, 76.