Thursday, July 28, 2011

Who Has a Call and a Ministry in the Church?

For decades now the Missouri Synod has allowed and even actively promoted a confusion over the Church's Ministry.  It has done this in several ways, but perhaps the most effective and widely accepted, and therefore the most repulsive, is the broadening of the Ministry to include all sorts of things which would never have been recognized in the sixteenth and seventeenth century by the orthodox Lutheran fathers, or the Confessions they gave us. 

This goes at least as far back as the period when the LC-MS began to see the school teacher as having a "call" and a "ministry."  Thence this confusion spread to other jobs, such as Director of Christian Education, Lay Minister (whatever that is), and on and on.   Currently the Missouri Synod recognizes the following as "ministers" who can receive "calls."
  • DCE (Director of Christian Education)
  • DCO (Director of Christian Outreach)
  • Deaconess
  • DFLM (Director of Family Life Ministry)
  • DPM (Director of Parish Music)
  • Lay Minister
  • Parish Assistant
  • Teacher
  • Ordained Minister
 Besides these, there are also those whose official ministry is some sort of combination of two or more of the above. 

Aside from what is on the list, the other notable issue this raises in today's Missouri Synod is something that is not on the list, namely the deacon.  For today a man who calls himself a deacon (whether or not he was ever actually made a deacon) can get official synodical permission (normally from a district president) to perform the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, not merely in some broadly defined manner, nor even in the traditionally limited manner for which I would argue, but in the sense of actually being the local minister of the Gospel for a congregation, even supposing to celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar.  The logical question this raises is that if this is the case (even though it ought not be the case) then why don't they include these guys on the official list of those who have a ministry?  But I digress.

One of the most troublesome on the list above is the case of the so-called "office" of deaconess.  For it is the case of something that has only become more confused since the Synod domesticated it, and even incorporated it into the seminary system.  Incidentally, this is not to say that the deaconess program is not filled with good Lutheran women, who have a healthy sense of their role in the Church.  This is not a study of the deaconesses, and their own views.  I have spoken with relatively few of them.  That is beside the point.  The point is how theologically and vocationally confused the matter is, beginning at the top.

Let us take, for example, the theologically bizarre way in which Dean Wenthe speaks of the deaconess in the following video of last year's Call Service, wherein he equates the Deaconess with Word and Sacrament ministry, claiming that she serves the Church with Baptism and the Holy Supper, and even claims that the office of deaconess is apostolic and was established by Christ Himself:



But this is not limited to the quirks of one man.  For Concordia Theological Seminary, in Ft. Wayne, has institutionalized this confusion, for example, by its reference to deaconesses having "calls":

Nor is this matter limited to one seminary.  Concordia Seminary, in St. Louis, has no problem making reference to the "calling" of deaconesses.

How do we begin to bring light once more to this confusion?  We might begin by giving a fresh hearing to our Church's most eminent doctors, like Robert Preus.  Consider what he wrote on this topic (in his essay, The Doctrine of the Call) in the most spiritually mature stage of his long distinguished career:

A second example of the tripartite movement of theology outlined above is the gradual switch in meaning of the terms "minister" and "ministry."  Historically the terms referred to AC XIV and the office of public preaching.  Now the terms have become generic for anyone, man or woman (but not yet child), who serves the Lord and His Church full time, either publicly or privately, and all the shades between the two.  These "ministers" have the "ministry of the Word" by contract or "call," it is supposed, and the Lutheran Annual lumps into one generic category these church workers (a venerable old generic term) "Commissioned Ministers-Teachers."  I suppose that sometimes these people are called, sometimes not; and I do not know whether there is any rationale for calling or only contracting them.  This semantic confusion undermines, at least, the doctrine of AC XIV and all our Confessions which refer to something and someone very specific when they speak of "the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments" (AC V) or men who "publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church."  I have never been able to figure out why these many new offices, classified under Walther's "auxiliary offices" (a term which I cannot find in Luther or the Confessions or the dogmaticians, unless it be their recognition of the office of deacon), should be called "ministries" in contrast to the multitudinous other offices and duties other Christians hold on boards of congregations and in every walk of life.

And this:

The CTCR document on The Ministry, after broadening the term "ministry" to include also every kind of auxiliary office (19), redefines the term "called," at least as it is used in respect to the ministry of the Word in AC XIV. "A person is 'called' when he or she is summoned by the church (?) to the office of Word and Sacrament or to an office auxiliary to it on a full-time permanent basis and by education, by certification, and by solemn and public act (eg., ordination or commissioning) is brought into a unique relationship with the church from which he or she has unique authority and through which he or she has been ordained or commissioned, at a specific post for the length of time which is ordinarily continuing and indefinite, but which in certain cases and under certain specific circumstances may be a specified period of time, which is evidenced by the individual's name being placed on and retained on one of the official rosters of the Synod" (p. 29). This is all one sentence! But who, really, knows what it means? Certainly the term "call" is given a new meaning, a meaning quite different from that in AC XIV. Perhaps the reason for the statement of the CTCR was simply to justify what was already happening in the use of nomenclature in the Lutheran Annual. We can understand no other reason for this new, confusing definition of the term.

And this:

Prior to the turn of the century men were called to only two positions (status) as ministers: pastors and professors (teachers of theology). These two positions were both thought to embrace the Predigtamt, and in fact the two positions were combined. Then in the 1890s a controversy on the office of parochial school teachers broke out between the Wisconsin Synod and the Missouri Synod. J.P.Koehler led the Wisconsin camp in advocating the "call" being extended to teachers. The Predigtamt which belonged to the universal priesthood and sprang from the universal priesthood was exercised publically by a school teacher as well as by a pastor of a local congregation, Koehler maintained. The Predigtamt was not the pastoral office (Pfarramt), but embraced all sorts of other offices and possible multiplication of them (Hoefling). School teachers were called, but, for some reason, not ordained. Missouri resisted that change in practice for half a century. For in Missouri's theology, as clearly taught in the Confessions, especially the Treatise, the public ministry of the Word was an exercise of Christ's ministry through the apostolate and was a unique office. Only to this specific office could suitable persons be called, and only to this office could one be ordained.

Then, long after the controversy with the Wisconsin Synod, changes came in the LCMS. Day school teachers were called, various district and synod staff workers, often occupied in affairs not directly related to the ministry of the Word, DCEs and others. Throughout her history district presidents were always in the ministry of the Word, having a call to a local congregation. Now since the 1950s almost all of them have no call to a congregation. Many of them perhaps perceive that they have a temporary call by virtue of their election; but do they? This was not the case in Luther's or Chemnitz' day when all Superintendents were also pastors. Nor did visitors, who always had parishes, receive calls. And I suspect that they do not now. Perhaps a call is given only to those, men and women, who work full time in the congregation or synod and whose work is tangental to the one ministry of Word and Sacrament? But one thing seems certain: the proliferation of "calls" and "ministries" in the Missouri Synod has caused great confusion and degraded the one office of the ministry, to say nothing of our understanding of AC XIV and doctrine of the call.


Phil said...

This is an excellent essay.

What would you say characterized the less spiritually mature stage of Preus's career?

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

That which preceded it, which is not to say that I can think of anything in his corpus that is particularly 'immature', just that in the final stage of his earthly pilgrimage, his learning was fused with spiritual anfechtung in a way which produced great theological fruit.

Paul said...

Now your suggestions for corrective action, please?

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Each can only do, and indeed he must do, what is within his ability and station, even in trying or scandalous situations. In the present case, for example, I for one will keep speaking up and raising my little nonsynodically approved voice with the truth as I see it. I also refuse to engage in the mistaken practices which follow from a false view of the call and the ministry, such as saying that a teacher has a call, or that a deaconess has a call, or giving any respect at all to the false deacons who openly violate CA XIV, etc. If others begin to do the same, then one day, those who are in position to change synod practice and what is taught in the classroom, both at the universities and at the seminaries, might just take a clue and make those changes.