Fall 2017, IDE Today
In this unique year of Reformation 500, I have been bringing to you specific insights into the minds of the Reformers as they wrote and spoke the Reformation into the Church. While the Reformation officially began on October 31st of 1517, it took shape over the next 53 years. One specific year that affected the Reformation was 1545, when a document was written called the Wittenberg Reformation. It was a clarification of what had been developing over the previous 28 years and serves as a template for the years to come.
One particular focus in 1545 was the “Office of the Ministry”, also known as the “Preaching Office.” There was no question the Reformers began from the precept that the Preaching Office is a divinely ordered office, established by Christ Jesus Himself. They then list three reasons for the existence of the Office:i
- “It is an eternal, unchangeable truth that the preaching office and service of the sacraments is necessary, and that the church is bound to this, and that the people of God and the elect do not exist except only in the group where the voice of the Gospel and the sacraments are present.”
- “God has mandated that the church herself should elect persons to the preaching office and service of the sacraments, and that through these persons elected by the church He wills to act; He awakens many among the same, and enlightens them with special gifts for the betterment of the church, just as Paul commanded Titus to appoint and set in place priests in each city, and as he has ordination in mind when he writes to Timothy.”
- “Obedience is owed by God’s command, under pain of eternal damnation in all matters commanded or forbidden by the Gospel, to those persons who are called to the Preaching Office and service of the sacraments, and who thus carry out the high, divine work of teaching the Gospel rightly and distributing the sacraments according to divine command.”
- “In summary, proper heartfelt reverence with proper humility is owed to the Preaching Office, through which God is at work and present among us, and the highest form of worship consists in helping to preserve this Ministry with sustenance, protection, and all good will.”
We can’t help but notice how important the Pastoral Office is to the Reformation. The congregation and the Office always go together; each needs the other and does not exist without the other. It is also interesting that the Reformation places pastors in Office through the church, but makes no mention of voters assemblies. It is not as though voters assemblies are not a permissible way to do this, but the Reformation knew of no such assembly. They relied on a more Episcopal system. The obedience owed to the Office is not a blind acceptance of the man, but a faithful reception of the Word of God that the office holder preaches and teaches, as long as it is in accord with the Word of God. The penalty that number 3 above refers to is directly tied to ‘justification by grace through faith’. Were that objected by a parishioner, the parishioner would have placed themselves outside the saving gift of the Gospel.
Within the Office of the Ministry is a rank for the sake of oversight and good order. The Reformers call this the Office of the Bishop. The unity and harmony the Reformers were looking for in the church was expected to happen through the Bishopric. This is expressed in 1545 when it was written: “There is no other way toward Christian Concordia and unity than this alone, that the bishops plant proper doctrine and Christian use of the sacraments, and that on these terms we be subject to them as prelates of the church, which we pledge ourselves to do.” The 1545 Wittenberg Reformation laid out six responsibilities of the bishop:ii
- “The bishops should therefore appoint God-fearing men in their principalities and lordships, men who teach properly.”
- “God commands that they carry out ordination with proper solemnity, namely, with examination and instruction…the proper work of bishops is to order the examination be conducted with great diligence and with instruction, so that unfit persons not be admitted, but only fit persons…this helps toward understanding and unanimity to doctrine.”
- “The bishop is to pay attention to the rectors and preachers that they teach and rule properly. In time past, this was the chief reason for the holding of visitations…they are to preserve proper doctrine concerning God and good morals.”
- “When necessary, God commands that false doctrine and blasphemy be punished with the ban, and proper doctrine and good discipline be maintained.”
- “There is great need for the holding of synods (conferences).”
- “The bishops should exercise particular diligence as overseers of doctrine in the proper running, and care of universities and particular schools.”
As we can see, the Reformers had no problem with the term bishop nor their overseeing responsibilities. In fact, they placed the unity of the church within the ranks of the bishopric. Bishops were not a separate stand of men; they were parish pastors who were elected by the church to exercise oversight for the sake of maintaining pure doctrine, good preaching and proper teaching. Once again, the Reformers demonstrate a dependence on true doctrine and the life of the church.
The Pastoral Office today may not be filled exactly the way the Reformers did it, but there remains a tremendous amount of similarity on the importance of the Office and the respect of the Church toward it. God bless our pastors as they bring the Words of Jesus to the souls in the Church.
i. The Wittenberg Reformation, Translated by John R. Stephenson; Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, 2016; pp. 24-25
ii. The Wittenberg Reformation, Translated by John R. Stephenson; Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, 2016; pp. 30-31