Great Stuff — Concordia St. Louis takes issue with the SMP task force recommendations…

Another home run by Pastor Peters over on Pastoral Meanderings:


Pastors_StudyYou can check an earlier post for the SMP task force recommendations and my comments.  Apparently, CSL is not in much agreement with that report or its suggestions.

In the preliminary sections, the Concordia Seminary response takes us through a little history lesson.  One glaring omission from the section on the New Testament is the lack of any clear statement that the pastoral office is not established by the Church but by the Lord and is not optional for the Church.  Second is the implication (either accidental or intentional) that the primary focus of this office is to preach Christ (absent any equal weight given to the Sacraments) as if the function were divinely initiated but not the office.  I may be reading too much into what is missing but it seems to me that this omission may be telling.

In the section of the Reformation, the seminary that once was home to Dr. Arthur Carl Piepkorn has now decided the rite vocatus includes no reference at all to ordination.  Hmmmm….  That’s different (as they say in Minnesota when they disagree).  It would seem absolutely incredible to focus on “call” as we understand it today to be the definition of the Latin, especially considering that Rome in the Confutation seems to have had little concern about Augustana XIV as a clear statement of catholic teaching and practice.

We read from the Seminary:
Ordination is not mentioned, probably because Melanchthon wanted to avoid the sacramental implications associated with it, even if he could admit, by changing the definition of “sacrament,” that Lutherans approved ordination as they understood it (Apology XIII). “Properly called” (in Latin, rite vocatus; in German ordentlichen Beruf) meant, in 1530, “decently and in order” according to the expectations of the Roman Catholic party within the German Empire.

It seems highly speculative that Melancthon was so concerned since the whole nature of the first twenty or so articles of the Augustana was to establish those areas largely in agreement with Rome. It seems to me that the authors of the Seminary document are slanting history a bit to justify their own conclusions (read further).

In the end the Concordia Seminary response says:

  • There is no need to narrow the specificity of the SMP program.  Here the claim is made that there is no Biblical or theological warrant for such narrowing.  In effect the Seminary response admits the glaring weakness of the SMP program when it asks why would smaller congregations need a pastor with “lesser training” than a congregation with several pastors on staff?   In essence the Seminary is admitting the flaw within the SMP program, namely that it provides clergy with equal responsibility but lesser training.
  • The Seminary does not believe study is needed by others; they insist that they are doing all the studying necessary for the integrity of the program.  Personally, I find this a big disingenuous.
  • The Seminary thinks Greek is nice, good if you have it, but unnecessary.  I might ask (as one who had Greek for all of Junior College and Senior College) why is it necessary for any if it is not necessary for all?  It seems a stretch to justify this at the residential seminary level and insist it is burdensome and unnecessary at the distance learning level.  Many find Greek burdensome.  If it is optional for some, should it not be optional for all?  I am being a devil’s advocate here since I think Greek IS beneficial.
  • The Seminary is not worried about the effect of the SMP program on residential seminary education.  If I were on staff at the Seminary, I would be concerned.  Sure, the SMP people so far might not have enrolled in the residential program but the greater issue is whether over time we will be able to justify the high cost of residential seminary training when a cheaper route exists which does not require you to leave your home, job, and “ministry location.”  That pricey real estate in St. Louis is not cheap to maintain and the faculty is not free.  Perhaps we could sell it all off, train everyone by SMP program rules with parish pastors serving as part-time instructors.  Well, we could.  Then what would Concordia Seminary say???
  • Concordia Seminary seems to think that the idea of an ordained diaconate is problematic at best and downright unLutheran at worst.  Interestingly, the sem folks seem to undermine their whole position earlier when they say:  the Lutheran Confessions do not regard “ordination” as that which qualifies one for the office; rather, it is that the candidate be “rightly called,” of which ordination may be viewed as a recognition by the wider church of this man’s training and call. However, by no means is ordination a necessary element.  Here it seems the Seminary is trying to distance itself both from the licensed deacon programs of the Districts (which I also regard as suspect) and lump the whole thing together to say not now and not ever.  Personally, I think that if we need to assist the pastoral office, a permanent diaconate could be just the thing — and it is thoroughly consistent with the catholic and evangelical tradition our Confessions claim.

Well, again, you can read it all for yourself.

In the end I am less impressed with the Concordia Seminary response than I had hoped.  It seems to say, keep what we have, don’t worry be happy, and we will make sure everything is okay.  None of those can I agree to without a great deal of anxiety — especially given the track record of our Synod in convention and the direction of the Seminary in St. Louis over the past several years.

Here are the resolutions offered to the Convention in the wake of both reports.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff — Concordia St. Louis takes issue with the SMP task force recommendations… — 7 Comments

  1. Dear Norm,

    Thanks for finding this blog post, as the convention approaches and people try to figure out what the SMP program is all about, and its pluses and minuses. This is very helpful, in my opinion.

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I read through the Saint Louis seminary response to the SMP Task Force too, awhile back when it first came out. I find Pastor Peters analysis very helpful and learned some things from him I didn’t discover in my own reading. After reading that seminary response again, Pastor Peters is right. I agree with all five of his bullet points above.

    I also agree with Pastor Peters when he observes they are “slanting history a bit.” “Rite vocatus” in AC XIV would have been understood according to “canon law” at the time, as Apology XIV.1 demonstrates. In a non-polemical context, Johan Gerhard states what that was: “In our churches investiture follows the calling, confirmation, and ordination of ministers” Theological Commonplaces, 26-1. On the Ministry, Part One (St Louis: CPH, 2011), p. 246 (sec. 170). “Investiture” is what we call “installation” now.

    Also Gerhard states: “An examination must precede ordination, according to the apostle’s precept” (ibid., p. 241 (sec. 166). “Rite vocatus” does not refer to just the “call” issued by an individual congregation–and the Saint Louis faculty know that, or at least they used to.

    As I have said before here on BJS, and in a CTQ book review, Johann Gerhard’s treatment of the pastoral office is the most comprehensive and useful that is available anywhere, in print or electronic form. It is in two volumes: Johann Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces, 26-1. On the Ministry, Part One (St Louis: CPH, 2011) and Johann Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces, 26-2. On the Ministry, Part Two (St Louis: CPH, 2012) (go to to order). We could avoid a lot of confusion and unnecessary arguments about the Lutheran pastoral office if our theologians and pastors would read Gerhard carefully and thoroughly.

    Regarding the diaconate, we should also read Gerhard first. See the second volume cited above, pp. 18-48 and 138-139.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  2. I find the statement “This same tendency is to be seen in the nomenclature and function of an “Ordained Deacon,” which is drawn from the Roman Catholic tradition but has never been viewed as helpful in the Lutheran tradition” to be completely bizarre. The Lutheran Church of Sweden had ordained deacons into the seventeenth century. Luther said deacons were an aspect of the church catholic that should be retained. See WA 30 2:250. Heck, I’m currently reading Gerhard’s biography by Erdmann Rudolf Fischer. Fischer was an ordained deacon in Coburg. That kind of historical illiteracy in a seminary publication is embarassing in my opinion. Of course, I admit that I could be wrong and would welcome correction if that is the case.

  3. I am currently re-reading Guenter Stiller’s, “Johann Sepastian Bach and the Liturgical Life in Leipsig,” and I’m reading much about the funtions of the Deacons and sub-Deacons at the parish churches in Leipsig between 1700 and 1750. The prominent function of the clergy-level deacons seems to be as liturgists/celebrants, and as lectors of the Bible readings during the service at the main churches, but functions change in smaller and differently staffed churches. However, the church at Leipzig is noteworthy for being, most likely, the last bastion of orthodox Lutheranism in Germany, and we have a large number of documents that bear upon clergy functions there at that time. I find it interesting that a city clergyman could be called to a church in Leipzig as the Thursday Prediger (preacher). On the other hand, a rural pastor is called to be everything. Circumstances can leave the clergy situation in bud form or fully bloomed in layers of responsibility.

    Stiller mentions that he finds a late flowering of orthodox Lutheran practice in the functions at the Leipzig churches from around 1700 to 1750 and following by a few decades. However, he hasn’t mentioned the possible impetus that losing the Evangelical Electorate in 1697 when the Albertine prince converted to Catholicism to add the throne of Poland to his reign. When Stiller says that around 1700 the Leipzig Lutherans made haste to reopen several unused churches, I can’t help but wonder if this was an act of preexemption to forstall the new Catholic Elector of Saxony from reclaiming those spaces for Catholic worship. We know that losing the ruling house to Catholicism was deeply traumatic to the Saxon Lutherans. And doubly so when the court then remained Catholic at the Electoral succession in the 1730s (and still is to this day).

    Then losing the princely ruler to Calvinism or Pietism or Rationalism was equally disasterous for orthodox Lutheranism, if not more so. The first rationalist prince at Weimar, mother was a Calvinist, was greatly influenced by Herder and Goethe. Stiller does do a good job of showing how practice in Leipzig changed with the slow, but certain transition to Rationalism, i.e. huge decline of attendance at confession and communion. Like I said, the documentation is there.

    I also see at Leipzig in it’s parish church organization structure, a similarity with Walther’s organization of the multi-church parish at St. Louis. I have to wonder how much of orthodoxy was still rememberable when Walther attended the University of Leipzig. We know that pietism was very easy to remember and reproduce there, then, because Walther and his brother are known to have been members of a prayer conventicle while at the University.

  4. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Bethany and Joanne know their stuff!

    If you want a single work that covers this topic, see Jeannine E. Olson, Deacons and Deaconesses through the Centuries, 3rd ed. (St Louis: CPH, 2005).

    On LCMS history of deaconesses, see Cheryl D. Naumann, In the Footsteps of Phoebe (St Louis: CPH, 2009). I see that Dcs. Naumann is up for LCMS Board of Directors–that book definitely demonstrates her industry and competence–I hope she is elected to that board.

    Regarding Lutheran deacons, I was given a rare book for my ordination–the only rare book in my possession–authored by Johann Gunther. He is titled as “doctor of Holy Scripture, arch-deacon of Saint Thomas Church of Leipzig and the women’s college”. The book is dated 1709 and is titled “Standhaffter Lutheraner.” Do you know what that translates into English?

    “The Steadfast Lutheran.” 🙂

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  5. My question is: if deacons have ordination, in what way are their duties, responsibilities, and authorities similar and different from a called and ordained pastor? In my previous tradition (SBC) deacons were often considered responsible for overseeing benevolence funding and work, and for assisting the pastor in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Others have them function as a church board, reducing their role to the corporate structure of the organization.

    It seems that the vast majority of sacramental churches have deacons, but I can’t seem to find much straight talk on their roles. Some say they are assistants to the bishop, who serve in local congregations. Others say they are pre-seminarians who hopefully go on to become priests.

    I’m in the Atlantic District, and we have 2 deacons in our church. They do a lot for the church, they work hard and serve patiently. But so do a lot of other lay volunteers. I don’t see what their position does either for them or the church, but I do think we benefit from them having had the extra training and study.

  6. @Miguel #5

    Dear Miguel,

    There is a lot of confusion on this subject, because the term “ordination” in the Roman Catholic church has been used for all sorts of offices, not just the office of pastor. There is a good and objective article on this in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (in 2nd ed., pp. 1004-1006). I believe the term “ordination” is also used for various offices in the Eastern and Anglican churches. As Bethany notes, the Swedes also used the term “ordination” for more than the pastoral office; but I am not aware that Lutherans did that elsewhere.

    Jeaninne Olson, in the book I cited above, explains Luther’s view of deacons, and that they were to serve in the functions of poor care and the administration of external matters of the church, not for Word and Sacrament ministry or leadership in worship.

    The Swedes were a bit different from the other Lutherans in this and other areas; because they retained more of the Catholic tradition than the other Lutherans. The Swedes were also the last of the Lutherans to adopt the Book of Concord, if my memory is correct. I am not picking on Swedes, since part of my ancestry is Swedish-Finn.

    In our own circles, i.e., in the LCMS and old Synodical Conference churches, “ordination” has always only been used for pastors. Since the term is not in the Bible, like the term “sacrament,” you could theoretically use it or not use it for anything. But to reduce confusion and arguments, it is better for us not to use the term for deacons. LCMS already has the term “commission ministers” that would fit the deacon office, and that is how the deaconesses are presently classified among us.

    I like peace and harmony and love among the brethren. Doing something just because it is “historically correct” according to another church tradition that is not our own, when it will result in fights, arguments, confusion, etc., does not seem to be me to be the “evangelical” way of doing things. If a practice has biblical warrant, then we have to endure the arguments that come, no matter what. But if it is only “tradition,” then love should serve the neighbor. See Luther’s “The Freedom of the Christian Man” (1520) on that topic.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  7. A deacon in hellenic areas in the first century was a man who waited on tables to feed people in a public setting. One would find a table at a cafeneion, snap ones fingers, and call for service from the busy diakon, the overworked waiter. In a public setting, only men would be the servers and the customers, as is indeed the case even today in a cafeneion (although the cook in the kitchen might be a woman).

    When the apostles determined that the number of widows and orphans who needed to be fed on a daily basis in the church had grown beyond their ability to perform reliable table service, they delegated that function to a group of seven non-clergy men. They called these seven men deacons because they would perform the menial task of waiting on tables and feeding the needy. Although indeed a menial task, Jesus had made it a holy task and required it of all his followers, so these church deacons must be blameless men who know well Jesus’ teachings.

    Later, and beyond the time of the New Testament church, another specialization of the deacon arose, that of the altar deacon, a specialization of the clergy. With this, some clergy would specialize in waiting on the table of the altar and in the feeding of the church with the mystical body and blood of Christ. So, the initial formation of waiters was a specialization of lay men, this second formation of waiters was a specialization of clergy men.

    Specialization and delegation as needed with overseers, elders, and assemblies sending and calling as the need required.

    However, we still try to avoid the confounding of lay deacons and clerical deacons. This involves the fine distinction of different functions/roles in one person. For instance, let’s look at the Evangelical Abbess of Quedlinburg. In her religious role, she could not exercise authority over men in their religious role. However, as the reigning princess of the Abby, the city, and it’s surrounding territory, she did function as a ruler in authority (albeit with a Vogt to handle the military defense situation). Such situations were not uncommon among Evangelicals until Napoleon destroyed the Holy Roman Empire early in the 19th century.

    So, deacons in an Evangelical congregation today would also call for fine distinctions of multiple functions in the same persons. A male lay deacon could also be delegated with some of the functions of a clerical deacon (a lay role at one time, a clerical role at another) as properly and orderly delegated by a clergy person who has that authority already. However, an abbess could not be delegated the same religious roles that an abbott could be delegated. More when only women are to be served, and fewer when man and women are to be served.

    Observers of the diakonate in the Atlantic District see what appears to be an amateurish rush to vest persons, call them deacons, and give them religious functions that might be beyond careful adherance to the orderly and proper deligation of authority/function in the church. The same person can function at one time as a clerical deacon and at another as a lay deacon, and one person can be limited in a clerical function in one circumstance and not in another. That’s why most don’t go where angels fear to tread. The ground is unsteady aggregate. One could easily, even without intention, create a monster of innovation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.