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

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