Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What's the Missouri Synod's error regarding a call to the ministry?

Words can make things clear. Or they can confuse.

Like "fat" in English.

Olive oil is a "fat." But we also use the word "fat" to describe someone who's obese.

So a lot of people imagine that "eating fat" makes them "fat." We've known scientifically that this wasn't true for a long time. But the words still confuse people.

In the LCMS, there's a fundamental misunderstanding in the theology of the ministry. And it stems from 2 meanings of an English word.

The word is "call."

The Augsburg Confession, article 14, says, "they [the Lutherans] teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called."

"Regularly called" is an English translation of the Latin "rite vocatus." What in English is "call" stems from the same word we use in describing someone's "vocation." So in AC 14, it's saying that no one can preach or teach in a Lutheran congregation without having a calling (or vocation) to preach.

Switch to the way that congregations in the LCMS obtain a pastor. The congregational autonomy is jealously guarded in the LCMS, and a congregation holds a meeting of all recognized members, and a vote is held to determine who will be called as pastor. That's termed a "call," and the call given in this manner is imbued with all kinds of grandeur: it's identical to God's calling to the congregation, it's a guarantor of godly authority, all kinds of stuff.

The problem is that nowhere -- nowhere -- in the scriptures does this event ever happen. Nowhere do congregations of Christians decide who they want to be pastor over them.

There's one instance where something similar seems to occur. In Judges 17 an Ephraimite named Micah hires a priest (we're even told the wages he paid) to serve as Micah's own personal pastor. But this is clearly not a good thing there in Judges.

The Bible speaks a great deal about prophets being "sent." God sometimes sends prophets directly, or more often mediately, that is, through men.

One of the problems in LCMS ecclesiology is the lack of a "sender." There are no bishops, and the hierarchy -- such as it is -- consists of a group of elected officials given the unfortunate name of "presidents."

The history of the church is clear. Those preaching should have a clear calling from God, and itinerant preachers should be ignored. But the way that congregations in the Missouri Synod determine and place pastors is wrong. It's without biblical command, example, or precept. It should be changed.

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