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.

About Scott Diekmann

Scott is a lifelong LCMS layman. Some of his vocations include husband, dad, jet driver, runner, and collector of more books than he can read. Oh, and also chocolate lover. He’s been involved in apologetics for over a decade, is on the Board of Regents at Concordia Portland, and is a column writer for the sometimes operational Around the Word Journal. He’s also written for Higher Things Magazine, The Lutheran Clarion, and has been a guest on Issues Etc. as well as the KFUO program Concord Matters.


Sleepless in Milwaukee — 103 Comments

  1. Dear John,

    Yes, all Christians have equal access to the Scriptures; that does not mean we should have our own private interpretation. As Edmund Schlink points out “Since in the Confessions it is the church, not an individual, which is expounding the Scripture for its members, there is every reason for the individual member first to listen as a pupil to the church’s instruction. He should do this without offering his own additions, supplementary interpretations, corrections, or criticisms, however well these may be supported by sound exegetical observations. After all, the church is always there before the individual Christian. …Should we not listen first to the church’s exposition of Scripture, since through the Word of God it has given us new birth as children of God?” (Theology of the Lutheran Confessions xxii) Within the context of the congregation, it is the pastor who “is expounding the Scripture for its members.”

    Engelder, Graebner, and Mayer point out that “It is God’s will and ordinance that His Word be proclaimed and taught not only by the Christians in general, but also by ministers, men called to administer the Means of Grace publicly. …No man may act as God’s representative and spokesman whom God does not appoint as such. And no man may act as the representative and spokesman of the congregation in the public exercise of the functions vested in all unless the congregation empower, call, him, to do so.” (Popular Symbolics 107, 108) Christ calls pastors “to administer the Means of Grace publicly” by the mediate call of the congregation. The means of grace include the proclamation of the Word – there’s no distinction between the Word in the sermon and the Word in the lessons. The pulpit and the lectern are both the domain of the pastor, not the layman. The pastor has been trained in the original languages and can exegete the text, so that it is properly read, something few laymen can do. I am not positive there is a prohibition in Scripture against a lay reader (although 1 Tim. 4:13 may do so) nor do I see it being condoned. What I do see is plenty of reasons to avoid it, and no reasons why we ought to do it.

    Your eternal debtor in Christ,

    Scott Diekmann

  2. Therefore, I pray all of you, my dear sirs, let each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision about these external matters

    Even though we probably didn’t come to a common decision, I appreciated your time and the friendly discussion.  

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