Sleepless in Milwaukee

2016 Convention Workbook coverAt 509 pages, the 2016 LCMS Regular Convention Workbook is rather hefty. If you’re a delegate and you don’t start studying this thing soon, you’re gonna be sleepless in Milwaukee. One area that’s sure to stimulate discussion on the floor is the Licensed Lay Deacon topic. There’s fifty resolutions directly related to LLD, nearly triple the number of resolutions at the 2013 Convention. These resolutions span the theological spectrum. A concise, clear summary of the issue was written by then Concordia Theological Seminary President Robert D. Preus in his 1990 article “Confessional Lutheranism in Today’s World.” President Preus gives us a quick shave with Ockham’s razor to clear away any remaining stubble of pragmatic argument and addled theology to get to the heart of the issue in a confessional way:

One clear conclusion emerges from the confessional discussion of the pastoral office: it is a unique office, conferred upon some men by Christ. The term “minister” is applied only to pastors with a divine call (Pfarrherr, Prediger). According to the theology of our confessions, the idea of a “layminister” is an inconceivable oxymoron, like sheep being shepherds.

This pattern of church order, or practice, has been that of the LCMS until very recently. Just a couple of years ago the Lutheran Annual designated as ministers–”commissioned” ministers, whatever that means!–all kinds of people who are not ministers at all in either the biblical or confessional understanding, people such as schoolteachers, directors of Christian education, and those in other categories of full-time church work outside the holy ministry. Such a development is confusing, to say the least. At the Wichita Convention a more serious error compounded this confusion. Laymen were permitted publicly and on a regular basis to preach the gospel and publicly to administer the Sacrament of the Altar, something never before condoned in the LCMS. This was to be done in emergency situations, it was said, a practice never approved or even suggested in our confessions. However, emergencies, in the nature of the case, cannot be regularized. Wichita also decided for the congregations of our synod that such a contradiction of Augustana XIV was justified because the lay preachers were to receive supervision. But there is nothing whatever in our confessions about supervision of this kind. If a layman of any age or background desires the office of minister, he should do what he has always done, study theology and then be rightly called. The Treatise and Augustana XIV make it abundantly clear that only ministers are to be called and ministers are always to be called.

Augsburg Confession Article XIV reads “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call” (emphasis added). It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

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