Lay Ministry Biblical References

Here is a post from our archives written by Pr. Martin Noland that may help with our current day issues.


What are good bible references that speak against lay ministry programs? If there is someone who thinks the lay ministry program should be reinstated I’d like some good theological help on how to speak against it for scriptural reasons. Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession I know is good but I want as much help as I can get.

The LCMS has two official documents on the divine call into the pastoral office that you can read here:

Theology and Practice of “the Divine Call” [2003]

The Ministry: Offices, Procedures, and Nomenclature [1981]

Both of these documents contain the relevant Bible passages, which are the basis for the Lutheran teaching on the call, ordination, and the rejection of “lay ministry.” Some of the commentary on those documents is vague and not helpful, but overall the documents are correct and useful.

The most complete discussion of the matter is:

Johann Gerhard, “Theological Commonplaces: On the ecclesiastical ministry, part one“, tr. Richard Dinda, ed. Ben Mayes (Saint Louis: CPH, 2011). Gerhard was the theologian that C.F.W. Walther quoted most frequently when he tried to answer theological questions in detail.

The main issue re. lay ministers is whether they need to be ordained as pastors in order to do the work of pastors. Let me quote just a portion of Gerhard:

“We say that the rite of ordination [into the pastoral office] should by no means be omitted; rather, outside a case of necessity, it should always be used in establishing the ecclesiastical ministry. This we say because of the ancient custom of the apostolic church and of the church nearest to the time of the apostles, in which the presbytery would, through prayer and the imposition of hands, ordain ministers selected by the church and would “consecrate” them to God, so to speak (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6), as well as because of the salutary purposes we listed a little earlier . .. [then Gerhard points to Acts 9:17 and 13:3 as examples] . . . Nevertheless we deny that ordination is necessary by reason of a particular divine precept, which cannot be demonstrated; or by reason of the sort of effect that the Papists attribue to it . . . or by reason of an absolute and simple necessity, as if a man legitimately called by a church could not perform the ministry before being ordained and consecrated, not even at a time when the rite of ordination cannot be had, such as in time of siege, plague, etc, for nothing can be set forth from the Scriptures about such an absolute necessity.” (Gerhard, pp. 209-210).

This is the position of the orthodox Lutheran church wherever it has been found in the world and in history. “Necessity” is not understood as “there is a need,” because “there is a need” for pastors everywhere. Nor is “necessity” understood as a situation where no one is willing to pay a full-time pastor. Rather the “case of necessity”, where ordination and consecration into the pastoral office is not necessary, is during the time of siege, plague, etc., where the general society is in chaos, yet people still need to be baptized, hear the Word, etc., and the normal procedures cannot be followed for induction into office. Luther also mentions the case of complete isolation, e.g., being marooned on an island.

The second issue re. lay ministers is their competence to serve. That issue is addressed also by Gerhard, pages 71-100, 168-179, 241-247, and 262-278, with countless Bible passages. It would be better for you to read the book yourself in this matter, than to try to summarize it. It is a sad thing to say, but many men became “lay ministers” only because they would not pass the competency requirements that Gerhard quotes from Scriptures.

You can obtain free electronic copies of older issues of LOGIA, some of which have articles on this subject. One article I remember is E.W. Kahler, “Does a Congregation Ordinarily Have the Right . . .”. You can download that whole issue here.

I hope this is of some assistance.

Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland
Pastor at Trinity, Evansville, IN


Lay Ministry Biblical References — 10 Comments

  1. The Scriptural Basis of Augsburg Confession, Article XIV
    Augsburg Confession, Article XIV: Of Ecclesiastical Order.

    Of Ecclesiastical Order they [our churches] teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.
    Romans 10:15 – And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”

    Hebrews 5:4 – And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.

    1 Corinthians 4:1-2 – Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

    Jeremiah 23:21 – I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.

    1 Corinthians 12:28-29 – And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

    Acts 1:15-26 – And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples[c] (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, 16 “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; 17 for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.”
    18 (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. 19 And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)
    20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms:
          ‘ Let his dwelling place be desolate,
          And let no one live in it’; and,
          ‘ Let another take his office.’

    21 “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
    23 And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen 25 to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” 26 And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

    1 Timothy 4:13-16 – Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. 15 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

    Jeremiah 14:14-16 – And the LORD said to me, “The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart. 15 Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who prophesy in My name, whom I did not send, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not be in this land’—‘By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed! 16 And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; they will have no one to bury them—them nor their wives, their sons nor their daughters—for I will pour their wickedness on them.’

    Hebrews 13:17 – Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

    Acts 20:28 – Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

    (See also Numbers 16; Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-16; John 20:19-23; Matthew 26:20; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14.)

    Also see:

  2. Excellent, succinct, and, imo, *pleasantly* blunt–at the end. By all means! We want our laymen, in particular, lay elders/deacons, congregational presidents, and the like, to be men who are eager for theological understanding, who study faithfully 1st, the Holy Scriptures, and most certainly, also, our right exposition of the same, the Confessions. But such knowledge and faithful study does not, in itself, make them qualified for the pastoral office. Nor does it give them a “right” to it.

    One of the most important problems with the various LLD programs is that it becomes sectarian, in the sense that a DP puts a man into Word and Sacrament ministry without the acknowledgement, consent and blessing of *the entire* communion/fellowship, that is, the Synod. DELTO and SMP pastors, as well as Alt Route and MDiv. guys, *do* have that, by virtue of their certification by the seminaries, and their subsequent ordination–with other pastors of our fellowship in attendance, giving their blessing.

    We can discuss and debate the merits or demerits of those routes to ordination–and we really should! These are set within the realm of human (sanctified!) wisdom, and Christian freedom, and the discussion of the preparation of our pastors should *never* end. But those who have not received the blessing and acknowledgement of the whole communion are not being treated properly.

    And, as Dr./Pr. Noland stated, sometimes, well-intentioned, sincere Christian men who simply don’t meet the biblical standards for the office are, nevertheless, given the duties of the office, in what amounts to an “under the table” way. (To be sure, this does not mean that mistakes have not been made by the “regular” means of the seminaries, or by the district committees that “vet” potential sem students, et al.!)

  3. @Rev. David R. Mueller #2

    “without the…consent…of *the entire* communion/fellowship, that is, the Synod.”

    Pastor Mueller, can you tell me where you got that quote from or is that an interpretation from your perspective? I’m one of the people who believes it is proper and often times needed to bring laymen into LLD ministries, provided they are properly and well supervised by a rightly “called and ordained servant of the Word.” If a DP approves of that appointment, and he is acting in behalf of his District, how is that not appropriate in that situation?

  4. @RevJimO #3

    If a DP approves of that appointment, and he is acting in behalf of his District, how is that not appropriate in that situation?

    Our districts should be acting in the same way throughout, even more now that a lay family can be transferred anywhere in the country or out of it. You may not remember when you could attend any LCMS church and follow the liturgy without a book, but I do.

    And the fact that a convention made a mistake and wandered away from the Book of Concord and our Synod’s original structure should not be a reason to keep on making it. We have a recent and readable BOC so that lay people will be taught (and any pastor who’s forgotten will be reminded) what the Lutheran church teaches about the office of the ministry.
    And should practice.

  5. @RevJimO #3

    [If a DP approves of that appointment, and he is acting in behalf of his District, how is that not appropriate in that situation?]

    No, because he is not acting on behalf of the district. He is an officer of synod, and is to represent synod to the district. Synod is advisory only to the self governance of the congregation. Shorthand: the SP is episcopal to the DP who is episcopal to the CV. The synod organized ITSELF into districts and circuits for more efficient and practical administration. And as such, Synod has found it better to allow election of DP’s within their district, to find someone who can understand situation better on the ground and actually live there for quicker response and visitation. Synod could reserve its right to have all DP’s elected at the synodical convention, and occasionally overtures get submitted about that exact condition.

    SO a DP trying to represent his district to Synod is actually sectarian, something our Constitution and doctrines speak against. And it is sectarian in that the District wants to goes its own way and thumb its nose at other Districts.

  6. Dear BJS,
    Jason and Pastor Mueller are right on target here. Lutherans have always ordained those men who do pastoral functions. Gerhard gives the rationale. In our polity, District Presidents ordain or authorize ordination. The issue of who should train pastoral candidates is a matter of the unity of our synod in the area that matters the most: doctrine. We have enough problem keeping two seminaries united in doctrine. We don’t need 35 mini-sems (i.e. district training programs). That is a sure recipe for chaos. Some people like chaos. Jesus wants unity.
    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  7. @Martin R. Noland #6

    “Some people like chaos. Jesus wants unity.”

    I agree. The middle ground for me is that chaos is the absence of boundaries, and I do welcome boundaries. By the same token, I also appreciate the creativity which is often ignited in the midst of chaos. I don’t know that “unity” and “chaos” are necessarily mutually exclusive. I think the tension between the two is where Lutheran excel the most. In my view, the question for those who push for unity, is: “Where is your endpoint?” When is enough…enough?

  8. @James Otte #7

    Dear Mr. Otte,
    I can’t speak for others. My view of unity is based on LCMS Constitution Articles 2 & 3. In the first, the substance and parameters of our unity is defined, i.e. Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. To add to that is just as sinful as to subtract from it (see Walther’s discussion on open questions in “On Syncretism” in the new “Church Fellowship” volume (CPH, 2014)). In the second, this doctrinal unity is stated to be the first purpose of synod.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  9. C.F.W. Walther’s essay, “On syncretism,” to which Rev. Noland referred, is, according to the 2014 book’s copyright page, from the June 1975 issue of Concordia Journal (p. 119-124).

    However, that is simply a reprint of an article, “Dr. Walther’s Foreword for Volume XIV of “Lehre und Wehre, 1868,” which was published in the July, 1946, issue of Concordia Theological Monthly (Vol. XVII, No.7, 481-499) and is a translation by Alex Wm C. Guebert of C.F.W. Walther’s Vorwort zum vierzehnten Jahrgang XIV, Januar 1868. No. 1 (p. 1-4). The Foreward continues in the February (p. 33-39) and March (p. 65-70) issues.

  10. At the end of his three-part article, Walther noted (in Guebert’s translation): “In a special article in the next issue we shall show how untenable those reasons are by which men try to justify themselves in declaring those portions of divine revelation which have been presented to be open questions.”

    The special article on open questions was a multi-part article entitled, “Die falschen Stuetzen der modernen Theorie von den offenen Fragen,” starting in the April issue of the same Lehre und Wehre, Vol. XIV, 1868, pp. 100-114, pp. 129-141, pp. 161-169, pp. 201-212, pp. 233-240, pp. 297-305).

    Walther’s article is available as an 8-part English translation in the Concordia Theological Monthly (1939), under the title, “The False Arguments for the Modern Theory of Open Questions,” (Parts 1 – 8).

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