One of the Biblical qualifications for those who are to be Pastors is that they must be “apt to teach.” Teach the faith, that is. But if we are honest with ourselves, we have all experienced the work of many pastors who are anything but apt teachers, both within and outside our synod. So in one sense, it is more of an ideal to be continually striven towards, rather than an accomplishment to be checked off a list. Even the best of pastors are continual students in the art of apt teaching (as they are taught by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience).
To this end, assemblies of Christians across large geographical areas tend to come together and pool their resources, in order that they might collectively be able to train pastors to teach aptly, to a much higher degree of excellence and consistency than any of them could possibly achieve on their own. As it takes a village to raise a child, so it takes a collective church body to better prepare men for the ministry.
In the LCMS, as in many denominations, we do this through education in our seminaries. However you feel about their success in this endeavor, a cursory survey of comparative processes in other denominations will easily reveal our schools to be among the best performing in the world. Largely, of course, because they hold to sound doctrine (unlike Roman Catholic seminaries), but also because of the rigors of their academics (unlike the Bible colleges of non-denom and independent Evangelicalism), and their historic rootedness (unlike the highly selective catholicity of Baptist institutions).
And thus, as men complete the process, prepared for their development, in our seminary system, our church body as a whole ordains them, and thereby declares on behalf of the entire denomination that these men are “apt to teach” in any of our churches, and eligible to be “regularly called.”
The Augsburg Confession says “no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.” To “regularly call” someone as a pastor necessarily declares they have been found “apt to teach.” (Unless, of course, you’re in an emergency situation with only two people in a sinking boat.) So the question before us, and the challenge for our synod to respond to these days is:
Who gets to decide who is apt to teach and who is not?
The answer we have given is that this is the responsibility of our church body as a whole. It is not the prerogative of individual members, congregations, or districts. We collectively pool our recourses for the training of pastors because we so highly value the teaching of the Word of God, and as a means of confessing this before the world, we ought to spare no expense in ensuring this is done in our churches aptly, to say the least. Therefore, in the LCMS, a significant part of our “walking together” is done for the purposes of making this so, to an extent not possible when individuals, congregations, or districts take the matter into their own hands.
So why, then, do so many continue to do so?
When a local pastor puts laypersons in his pulpit to teach “under his authority,” he is confessing that he personally is the final adjudicator of who is or is not apt to teach and doesn’t need the assistance of the rest of his synod to either ascertain this clearly or prepare these men accordingly.
When a local district trains lay deacons in hermeneutics and homiletics, without specifying that their highest use is to function as lay readers, this confesses that what the broader synod as a whole has labored for collectively, towards the end of apt-ifying preachers, is not necessarily necessary.
When a synod allows this to continue by justifying its use for “exceptional circumstances” and then failing to oversee that such is actually the case, it confesses that convenience and economics are more important in determining who is apt to teach, while undermining the value of the diligent labors of both seminary students and professors.
Is a seminary education absolutely necessary in order to be a faithful pastor? Obviously not! (Insert cliche objection about the 12 apostles, as if three years OTJ with Christ himself, the giving of supernatural abilities we no longer see, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and receiving the very inspiration inspiration to pen New Testament amount to less than a graduate degree specializing in studying those same documents.)
Does it, therefore, follow that the seminary education ought only be required when it is convenient or deemed efficient (by whomever)? Only if we believe the Gospel is a matter of convenience.
What IS absolutely necessary is that our pastors are well studied in the scriptures, and in the art of caring for souls. The church that shortcuts this gets what she deserves. We train our pastors extensively because we believe in the utmost importance of proclaiming the Gospel from the scriptures, for the salvation of men’s souls. This is the most important work the church has before her, and our clergy are those called to publicly represent us in this labor. To equivocate on this is to deny its ultimate priority.
One of the most important reasons for having a denomination is that we might co-labor in the preparation of our pastors. If individuals or groups wish to take these matters into their own hands, they are not “walking together” with us in this. The congregation that rejects our cooperative efforts to ensure ALL our preachers are apt to teach ought seriously consider if they value the Gospel enough to seriously invest in its full and bold proclamation, and if not, whether they really belong in a tradition which, at least historically, does.
It IS, after all, a matter of efficiency. But efficiency of what? We can choose either the efficiency of filling pulpits at minimal cost, seeking quantity over quality, or, we can choose the efficiency of cooperation, in order to devote to this calling all the investment, resources, and prioritization that it deserves.
For the love of Christ, let us not undermine the quality of our preaching for the sake of the first efficiency. What do we have that is more important than the preaching of the Gospel? Do we want it outsourced to China to be stamped out of plastic for five cents a unit? Or, shall we adorn our most priceless treasure with all the riches we possess, sell all that we own to acquire it, while continuing to confess that we are unworthy servants and our efforts aren’t nearly worthy of the Savior it proclaims to the world?