Holy Ordination in the Church
The goal of this paper is to briefly overview one aspect of the doctrine of the Holy Ministry. Specifically the goal is to look at ordination, and the role of the rite of ordination, and to see how this confesses the doctrine of the Holy Ministry. This paper will look at ordination as it is found in four different eras of history: 1) Ordination in the Scriptures; 2) Ordination in the Early Church as seen in the Fathers and in the Councils; 3) Ordination in the Reformation Era; and 4) Ordination today, specifically as it is found in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This is a very great task, too great for such a paper and yet it may serve as a beginning point for further study.
The first step is to define ordination. Like many terms within theology, ordination has a range of meanings. One way to understand ordination is to use the distinction of broad and narrow. The broad use of ordination encompasses the entire process of placing a man into the office of the Holy Ministry. Thus you have examination, call, and ordination i.e. a man is put into the Office.(1) In the narrow sense of the term, only the rite of ordination is referred to. This is the public rite or service in which a man is formally placed in the Office. We see these distinctions in the writings of Eusebius,
The Ecclesiastical History illustrates the range of meaning which had in reference to ordination for the early church. In one passage it means election. The installation alone is meant in some instances. The whole process of selection and installation is included elsewhere.(2)
Another way is to use the distinction of “what” and “how.” The “what” of ordination, the fact that a man is put into the Office is not an option, for it is included in the divine mandate and institution of the Lord.(3) The “how” of ordination is not specified by the Lord in His mandate. The goal of the “how” of ordination or the rite used by the Church is to identify with certainty the individual whom God has chosen to put in the office of the Holy Ministry. The Church has freedom in the Gospel to use a variety of rites to ordain a man so long as this is what it does. It should be noted, however, that the church has never strayed from the traditional way of ordaining as it has been done for thousands of years. This paper will strive to bring this point to clarity.
ORDINATION IN THE SCRIPTURES:
With the forgoing distinctions understood the first place to begin is with the Lord and His words.
While this section of Scripture speaks of the office of the Holy Ministry and of Holy Baptism, the point of interest is the phrase, “having gone to the place I appoint.” The text is literally,
The usual translation is “Go
therefore . . .” This is however not the whole meaning of the text. When considering a word in a text it is always necessary to look to the prior usage of the word to determine how the author is using it. Verse 16 has the verb, which is an aorist. The disciples arrived at the place, the specific place(4) appointed to them by Jesus. In verse 19 the same verb is used again as an aorist participletherefore the usage previously employed by the author must be taken into consideration. Jesus is sending these men out to be His Apostles in the world. They are being sent to the places which He has chosen for them to be sent. Thus, in the text, the verb carries the same meaning, “When you get to the place appointed for you, Make disciples . . .” This is not something done in their own authority or by their own power. These men did not assume to be Christ’s servants. Rather He chose them and He sends them as the One who has all authority
in heaven and on earth. In the text there is not a rite of ordination but there is a choosing and sending to specific, located place. The next text is John 20:21-23.
Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the elders.(7)
Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure.(8)
Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.(9)
And to Titus Paul writes,
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you; if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, (10)
In each of these passages the placing of a man in the office is done by the rite of lay hands upon the man. This was not something new in the early church. We see this first in the life of God’s people with the ordination of Joshua by Moses.
In the Numbers account of Joshua’s ordination God gave specific instructions for Moses to follow concerning how this was to be done. Moses was to take Joshua and set him before Eleazar the Priest and before the entire assembly of the people and he was to.(11) What was the reason for such an action? The Moses was commanded to lay hands on Joshua and in so doing to give him some of his “glory”(12) and thus the people would be certain that Joshua was the man God has chosen as leader and they would follow him. This phrase is translated by the LXX as. This is the same wording which is in the Acts account of Paul and Barnabas being ordained and sent out. Paul in turn uses the same when addressing Timothy concerning his ordination.
There has been much written concerning the rite of ordination in the New Testament and its origin. It is very possible as suggested by some that the early church copied what was the current practice within Jewish synagogue life. If this is indeed the case, the Old Testament ordination would still lie at its basis.
There is one more interesting facet in the Old Testament use of the laying on of hands. There are forty-seven such references for laying on of hands. Some speak in reference to God laying on His hand to sustain His people.(13) There is even one reference to the people laying hands on the one who has blasphemed the name of the Lord, just prior to stoning him.(14) However, seventeen references are to the sacrifice for sin which is offered to God. The Priest was to lay his hands on the animal, or sometimes the person who had sinned was to do it, and then the animal is sacrificed.(15) The same phrase is used of laying hands upon the one chosen and set aside to God. When the Levites are chosen to be Yahweh’s servants, they too have hands laid on them to offer them as the ones put to service by God.(16)Again we see that nothing is left in doubt. The one who is chosen is specified through the laying on of hands so that all are sure and certain that this is the one!
Here we see that the Scriptures, both Old and New, have the “laying on of hands” as an intimate part of placing a man into the office to which God has appointed for him. Again our focus is to address the “how” of ordination, i.e. the rite, and determine what it says about the “what” of ordination, i.e. that a man is put into the office. From the verses discussed above we can determine that the people of God have been accustomed to ordaining the man God has chosen through the laying on of hands. Thus the people of God, both Old and New, have seen this “rite” as pleasing and acceptable to the Lord.
ORDINATION IN THE EARLY CHURCH:
The writings of the Fathers of the early church and the councils make it clear that the early church understood ordination as a necessary part of being in the office of the Holy Ministry. It should also be noted that the distinction between the “what” and the “how” of ordination, or the “broad” and “narrow” use of the term is not kept in clear distinction. The early church knew ordination and it did not separate or divide it into segments. This can be seen through a chronological overview of statements concerning ordination.
One of the earliest of the Apostolic Fathers, I Clement, who was Bishop of Rome from 92-101 A.D. wrote,
The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ was sent from God. The Christ therefore is from God and the Apostles from the Christ. In both ways, then, they were in accordance with the appointed order of God’s will. Having therefore received their commands, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with faith confirmed by the word of God, they went forth in the assurance of the Holy Spirit preaching the good news that the Kingdom of God is coming. They preached from district to district, and from city to city, and they appointed their first converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of the future believers. And this was no new method, for many years before has bishops and deacons been written of; for the scriptures says thus in one place “I will establish their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.”(17)
The point of interest concerning ordination is the word (µ). Clement states that the Apostle after testing their converts by the Spirit, appointed them as bishops and deacons. There was a selection process by which the existing clergy (Apostles) put into the office of the Holy Ministry the one chosen after the testing of the Spirit.
The Didache which is dated by some as early as 50 A.D. and by other as late as 150 A.D.(18) contains the statement,
Appoint therefore for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, meek men, and not lovers of money, and truthful and approved, for they also minister to you the ministry of the prophets and teachers. Therefore do not despise them, for they are your honorable men together with the prophets and teachers.(19)
The word translated “appoint” is This is the same word used by Luke to describe the selection/appointment of elders in the churches by Paul and Barnabas.(20)C.H. Turner has done extensive work on the use of
and the accompanying verbs and their relation to ordination in the early church. is defined as the imposition of hands. is defined as, to ordain or appoint. is defined as a stretching forth of the hand or to appoint. Turner concludes,
Finally we come to the Nicene prescriptions concerning the reception of Meletian and Novatianist schismatics: and, once we have grasp the conclusion to which the whole of the evidence here collected seems to point — namely that the distinction between(so far as they are not used interchangeably, being the most important element in is that the former is the whole process of which the latter is one, though the most essential, part . . . (21)
This is understood to mean that the entire process of placing a man into the office is carried in the noun while the laying on of hands is considered one part of it, a vital part. Thus the laying on of hands was a vital part of the placing a man into the office of the Holy Ministry. This is emphasized by Hatch when he writes,
Again we see the laying on of hands intimately connected with the putting of a man into the office of the Holy Ministry. We also see that it was believed the Holy Spirit and/or His gifts were imparted through the laying on of hands. We see not long after Basil, Theophilus of Alexandria (c.A.D.400) addressing the way in which a candidate for the Holy Ministry is affirmed.
We see here that the placement of a man into the office of the Holy Ministry was not taken lightly, but was done in a precise order within the church. The actual laying on of hands was an intrinsic part; once it was done the task was completed.
The ordination of bishops has been a topic of much discussion through much of the history of the Church. This is reflected by the number of times that Ecumenical Councils dealt with the issue. While the practice of ordination i.e. the laying on of hands, was always deemed necessary for the Holy Ministry, the issues addressed by the Councils focus on the individuals to whom this is to be done. Canon IV of Nicea is an example,
It is by all means proper that a bishop should be appointed by all the bishops in the province; but should this be difficult, either on account of urgent necessity or because of distance, three as least should meet together, and the suffrages of the absent (bishops) also being given and communicated in writing, then the ordinations should take place. But in every province the ratification of what is done should be left to the Metropolitan.(24)
All the forgoing having been stated, the conclusion is that the early church understood that the placement of a man into the office of the Holy Ministry was a great task. It was not taken lightly and it was done in a way which was in line with the mandate and institution of the Lord. For the Lord placed men into the Office who were carefully chosen for the task and He placed them in it in such a way to give them and others certainty as to their holding the Office. The Church has always sought to continue this practice of careful selection of candidates which has calumniated in ordination through the laying on of hands.
ORDINATION IN THE REFORMATION ERA:
After the great councils of the Church, as the church of Rome continued to gain prominence, the teaching of the doctrine of the Holy Ministry was brought into error. Ordination came not to mean the placement of a man into the Office, having been examined and called. Rather is came to represent a special estate on the part of the person which was bestowed on him by virtue of the laying on of the Bishop’s hands. An indelible character was bestowed which elevated him above the laity. This is most clearly laid out in the canons of the Council of Trent which was held between the years of 1545 and 1563. While this is late in relation to the Reformation, this is the first concise attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to formulate their doctrinal positions.(25) It is with such teaching Martin Luther found himself in conflict. Throughout the years which followed the posting of the Ninety-Five Thesis Dr. Luther held firmly that the office of the Holy Ministry was mandated and instituted by the Lord, and that ordination through the laying on of hands was to be done as a man was put into the Office.
In his lectures on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, which were delivered in the years 1516 and 1517 we see Dr. Luther upholding ordination into the office of the Holy Ministry.
If a layman should perform all the outward functions of a priest, celebrating Mass, confirming, absolving, administering the sacraments, dedicating altars, churches, vestments, vessels, etc., it is certain that these actions in all respects would be similar to those of a true priest, in fact, they might be performed more reverently and properly than real ones. But because he has not been consecrated and ordained and sanctified, he performs nothing at all, but is only playing church and deceiving himself and his followers.(26)
Here we see Dr. Luther denying all “functionalist” understanding of the office of the Holy Ministry. It is through ordination that a man is put into the Office and thus does the functions related to it. Dr. Luther continues in the same section to declare that it is God Who makes a pastor,
A monkey can imitate the action of people, but he is not a man on that account. But if he should become a man, this doubtless would not take place by virtue of these actions, by which he has imitated a man, but by some other power, namely, God’s; But then having become a man, he would truly and rightly perform the actions of a man.(27)
If this argument holds, then it is only God Who can take an ordinary man and turn him into a pastor who his then able to do the above mentioned functions of the Office. In considering Paul’s apostleship to the gentiles, Dr. Luther points out that God had chosen him and even ordained him within the womb of his mother for this task.(28) For Dr. Luther, any time a man was set aside for service to God, it was God who did the setting aside. Thus, a man is made a pastor by the hand of God.
A few years later (1523) in his writing On the Ministry, Dr. Luther again notes the distinction between the priesthood of all believers and the clergy. The main point in this work is that a priest is born into the priesthood. Thus, all Christians are part of the royal priesthood by virtue of birth–birth which came through the waters of Holy Baptism.(29) Dr. Luther then continues to say that all priest are not ministers of the Word. If therefore a bishop refuses to ordain men to such a ministry, the people should themselves do it.
Dr. Luther writes,
A Christian, thus, is born to the ministry of the Word in Baptism, and if papal bishops are unwilling to bestow the ministry of the Word except on such as destroy the Word of God and ruin the church, then it but remains either to let the church perish without the Word or to let those who come together cast their ballots and elect one or as many as are needed of those who are capable. By prayer and the laying on of hands let them commend and certify these to the whole assembly, and recognize and honor them as lawful bishops and ministers of the Word, believing beyond a shadow of doubt that this has been done and accomplished by God. (30)
The important point here is that Dr. Luther saw the need for there to be pastors among the people and that if unscrupulous bishops refused to provide such, the people should choose and ordain such as were capable. Dr. Luther later reaffirms this same point and lists the passages where the qualifications of such are to be found.(31) Ten years later after the Diet of Augsburg, Dr. Luther again upholds the rights of the church to call and ordain men to the Office. He states,
. . . St. Augustine, consecrated and ordained many pastors or bishops in his little parish (since they were not yet consecrating bishops or bishops of princely ranks but nothing but pastors), who were sought and called by other cities, as we ordain and send them out of our parish at Wittenberg to other cities which want them and do not have any pastors among them. For ordaining should consist of, and be understood as, calling to and entrusting with the office of the ministry; Christ and His church, wherever it is in the world, have and must have this power, without chrism and tonsure, just as they must have the word, baptism, the sacrament [of Lord’s Supper], the Spirit, and faith.(32)
For Dr. Luther there is a firm conviction that the office of the Holy Ministry is a gift which has been given to the Church and nothing can rob Christ and the Church of this gift. The reformers at Wittenberg were convicted they had the right to ordain men into the Office as were needed in the churches. Luther later in this same work emphasizes there is no rank among pastors. The authority to ordain belongs to all pastors not just to bishops, especially those who rob the church of having pastors.(33) As stated before, throughout his career as a reformer Dr. Luther remained convinced that the Church had the right to call and ordain men into the Holy Ministry. In a later writing we see that for him it was not so much the Church ordaining as it was God.
He wrote of Genesis 28:17 (1540’s),
But the blindness and stupidity of our minds has been put before our eyes like a cloud, so that we do not see such great glory. It is great honor and majesty, however, when one says: “This is the Word of God.” I hear a man’s voice. I see human gestures. The bread and the wine in the Supper are physical things. At ordination the hands of carnal men are imposed. In Baptism water is water. For the flesh judges in no other way concerning all these matters. But if you look at that addition with spiritual eyes, namely at whose Word it is that is spoken and heard there, not indeed the word of a man–for if it is the word of a man then the devil is speaking–but the Word of God. . . Thus the imposition of hands is not a tradition of men, but God makes and ordains ministers. Not is it the pastor who absolves you, but the mouth and hand of the minister is the mouth and hand of God.(34)
We can see through the references given that Dr. Luther’s understanding of the Holy Ministry and ordination into it remained consistent from very early in his life as a reformer until his death. This firm conviction concerning the office of the Holy Ministry as the instrument through which God distributes His means of grace was also declared by the Confessions and the reformers who followed.
The Confessions uphold the mandate and institution of the Holy Ministry, using all four texts of Scripture.(35) We see this specifically in the Augsburg Confession(36), Apology of the Augsburg Confession(37), Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope(38) and the Solid Declaration.(39) While the above mentioned are the references where the mandate passages are employed, the Confessions speak concerning the doctrine of the Office in many different places. The foremost of which is Article V of the Augsburg Confession.
To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this. Condemned are the Anabaptists and others who teach that the Holy Spirit comes to us through our own preparations, thoughts, and works without the external word of the Gospel.(40)
Article V flows out of article IV in a clear procession of thought. God has in Christ forgiven our sin and given to us righteousness and eternal life. Yet this salvation means nothing if it is not appropriated to individuals. Thus God instituted the office of the Holy Ministry for the express purpose of giving out the gifts of salvation, i.e. by the means of grace. Thus the article focuses not so much on the Office or the man put into the Office, but the gifts which the Office gives out. With this understanding of the Article V, it is easy to see how Fagerberg misunderstood the point of the article when he states, “It seems to deal more with the preaching of the Word and the administrations of the sacraments than with the office of the ministry.”(41) What Fagerberg failed to understand is that the Office is never intended to be the center of attention, but rather what the Office does. For in the Office God acts upon His people through His chosen instrument.
As to the rite of ordination by the imposition of hands, the confessors were convinced that it was right and proper to continue the practice. The Treatise quotes the church father Cyprian as saying,
Wherefore you must diligently observe and practice, according to divine tradition and apostolic usage, what is observed by us and in almost all provinces, namely, that for the proper celebration of ordinations the neighboring bishops of the same province should assemble with the people for whom a head is to be ordained, and a bishop should be elected in the presence of the people who are thoroughly acquainted with the life of each candidate . . . in order that by the votes of all the brethren and by the judgement of the bishops assembled in their presence, the episcopate might be conferred and hands imposed on him”(42)
The imposition of hands on the candidate was always seen as the proper way to ordain someone into the office of the Holy Ministry. The Confessions go so far as to say that understood in a proper way, ordination by the imposition of hands can even be numbered among the sacraments.
This is seen most clearly in a revised translation of the Apology, Article XIII.10-12,
If Holy Ministry (ordo) is interpreted in relation to the ministry of the Word, we have no objection to calling the Holy Ministry a sacrament. The ministry of the Word has God’s command and glorious promises: “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rom 1:16), again, My word that goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty. but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11). If the Holy Ministry is interpreted this way, we shall not object either to calling the laying on of hands a sacrament. The church has the command to appoint ministers; to this we must subscribe wholeheartedly, for we know that God approves this ministry and is present in it.(43)
If the Holy Ministry is understood in relation to the ministry of the Word, it can rightly be called a sacrament. Understood thus, ordination by laying on hands as the means of placing someone in this Office can be understood as a sacrament as well. This is set in contrast to the Roman Catholic rite of ordination being a sacrament which brings with it an indelible character to the one ordained and the power to celebrate the mass.
Following the Council of Trent, Chemnitz in his Examination notes the difference between the “what” of ordination and the “how” of ordination in response the Roman Catholic misuse of it. He writes;
It is also worthy of consideration that when the apostles wanted to apply some outward rite in ordination, they did not take the visible sign of breathing on the ordinand, which Christ had used–lest people think that Christ had given a command about using the rite of breathing on them. Therefore thy took another rite, one indifferent and free, namely, the rite of laying on of hands, for they did not want to impose something on the church as necessary concerning which they did not have a command of Christ. Now the ministry of the Word and the sacraments has divine promises, and the prayer at ordination rests on these, but these promises are not to be tied to the rite of the imposition of hands. . .(44)
In light of this, it is clear the reformers saw the ordination of a man into the office of the Holy Ministry as something which was not an option for the Church. It was necessary for the Church to have pastors to minister the Word and sacraments to the people. This was so important for Dr. Luther that if existing bishops were unwilling to provide pastors the laity were directed, in such an emergency, to ordain men themselves. The convictions of Dr. Luther were shared by other reformers for the same conviction is seen throughout the Confessions. The office of the Holy Ministry has been established by God for the purpose of distributing the means of grace to His people. The Confessors in Augustana XIV declared that the Word and sacraments could not be administered by someone who was not in the Holy Ministry. Thus it was incumbent upon the people to have a man in the Office. The placing of a man into the office, in the mind of the confessors, always entailed a rite of ordination. The rite which was used was the one the Church has always know, the laying on of hands.
ORDINATION TODAY AS IT IS FOUND IN THE LC-MS:
In the years following the Reformation there were many factors which influenced the Church. With the onset of Pietism followed by Rationalism there was a new dimension introduced into the doctrine of the Holy Ministry. One author described the influence this way,
Pietism had subjected much of the Church to a stringent individualism with heavy emphasis on personal piety after an experientially identifiable conversion. Then came Rationalism with its concern for the reasonable. These two movements within the Church did not leave ordination and its practice untouched.(45)
No longer was the Office viewed as a gift given by God to the Church, but rather a burden which a man must bear. We see this clearly in the Saxon ordination rite of 1812. This was presumably the rite used at C.F.W. Walther’s ordination.
Due to the problems which arose out of Pietism and then Rationalism, such as the 1812 Agenda, there was a move on the part of some to emigrate to America. Under the leadership of Martin Stephan, 665 Saxon immigrants departed for America. Due to the loss of the Amalia only 612 arrived in 1839.(46) Shortly after their arrival in Perry County, Missouri, Bishop Stephan was excommunicated on the grounds of adultery. The colony was then split as to the authority they had to continue in America as a church. It was claimed by some(47) that they had no right to be a church, for they had separated themselves from the State Church of Germany. With this being the case the pastors among them had no right to administer the sacraments and they had not power to ordain. With this as the dilemma facing the colony it was determined that a debate should be held at Altenberg. It was at this point that C.F.W. Walther rose to prominence as a leader of the colony. The question was settled by Dr. Walther–The colony was Church and as such the sacraments could be administered in their midst. With this having been settled the Saxons moved forward, but the questions concerning the office of the Holy Ministry we far from being settled.
One of the great works of Dr. Walther as he continued to expound the doctrine of the Holy Ministry, was Church and Ministry. In “Thesis IV” Dr. Walther puts forth the statement that Christ gave the keys of the kingdom to the Church. But by saying this Dr. Walther did not mean that each individual Christian could administer the Keys. His understanding of the power of the keys is spelled out by the selections of Confessions and the writings of the Reformers he includes. Dr. Walther quotes the Treatise to show that the Church has the right to ordain pastors in their midst to administer the keys of the kingdom.(48) Walther quoted the Erfurt Catechism to show the power to forgive sins come by way of the ordained pastor.(49) Concerning the Holy Ministry, in his first thesis Dr. Walther proclaims boldly that there is a distinction between the pastoral office and the priesthood of all believers.(50) Every quote supplied by Dr. Walther from Dr. Luther reaffirms what has been said previously concerning Dr. Luther’s understanding of the Holy Ministry. In “Thesis II”(51) on the Ministry, Dr. Walther upholds the mandate and institution of the Office by the Lord. In “Thesis VI”(52) Dr. Walther addresses the call of God through the congregation and the validity of a call only when ministers are not excluded. In the second section of this thesis ordination is addressed. This is held by some to show that Dr. Walther believed ordination is an adiaphoron. The statement in question is,
The ordination of the called persons with the laying on of hands is not a divine institution but merely and ecclesiastical rite established by the apostles; it is no more than a solemn public confirmation of the call.(53)
Dr. Walther states that while there is no Divine mandate for the laying on of hands it is not a meaningless ceremony,
According to God’s Word there is, of course, no doubt that even today ordination is not a meaningless ceremony if it is connected with the ardent prayer of the church, based on the glorious promises given in particular to the office of the ministry; it is accompanied with the outpouring of heavenly gifts on the person ordained.(54)
While Dr. Walther understood the laying on of hands (the how) was not Divinely mandated, he in no way saw the “what” of ordination as optional for the Church.
Dr. Walther’s understanding of ordination and its relation to the office of the Holy Ministry can be seen in the first ordination rite of the LC-MS. When the Saxon immigrants arrived in Perry County they had in their possession one agenda.(55) While this agenda included the majority of services which were needed for the life of the church, it did not contain an rite of ordination. It did, however, contain an ordination prayer; “Prayer for Apostledays and for Ordinations,”
It is gone her sound in all countries, Hallelujah!
And her speech to the ends of the world, Hallelujah!
Almighty Lord God! We ask you, give your church your Spirit and divine Wisdom that your Word runs among us and grows, with all happiness, as it ought to be, preached, and that by that you Christian church get improved, so that we serve you with constant faith and persist in the confession of your name until our end, through Jesus Christ, your dear Son our Lord. Amen.(56)
As the LC-MS grew and churches were established there was a need for the Saxons to be able to ordain men into the Holy Ministry. Not wanting to depart from the mandate of the Lord or from what had been handed down through the Church, Dr. Walther was faced with a decision. Which ordination rite should be in the new agenda? His options were the 1539 Ordination Rite written by Dr. Luther(57), The 1565 Wittenberg Agenda(58), The Royal Saxon Ordination Rite of 1812, or as a final option William Loehe had provided a rite of ordination for churches in America. Dr. Walther and those working on the new agenda chose to put the rite supplied by William Loehe in the first LC-MS Agenda, dated 1856.(59) While there could have been several factors as to this choice, one is clear: the rite Loehe had supplied was based upon the mandate and institution of the Lord. It escaped the Pietism and Rationalism of the 1812 rite and reinforced the mandate which was lacking in the 1539 and 1565 rites. This again reaffirms Dr. Walther’s conviction that ordination was a vital and final part of placing a man in the office.
As to the specific question proposed at the beginning of this paper, how does the “rite” reflect the “doctrine” of the Holy Ministry? A quick overview of the 1856 rite reveals it to be based on the mandate and institution of the Lord, as we see John 20 and Matthew 28 used as the first words spoken to the Ordinand. This lays the foundation for it being a rite which is centered in the Gospel and not the Law. There are no burdens placed upon the candidate who is being ordained into the office, but rather he is being gifted to the church. There is a strong confessional statement and subscription which was vitally important to Walther and the other Saxons who had left Germany in order to be a confessional church. But what is indispensable for considering Dr. Walther’s understanding of the rite of ordination is the actual bestowal of the Office on the Ordinand. The rite states,
We herewith deliver up to you through the laying on of our hands the Holy Office of the Word and the Sacraments of God, the Triune, ordain and consecrate you as a servant of the Holy Church in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit!(60)
With all the possibilities available to Dr. Walther, he chose a rite which stated clearly that the laying on of the hands of the ordaining pastors conferred the office of the Holy Ministry. While Dr. Walther may have understood the laying on of hands with regard to the “how” of ordination as adiaphoron, it is clear that he did not deny that the “what” of ordination was essential. With regard to this, Dr. Walther did not deem it necessary to change what the Church had done throughout history. The laying on of hands as the means of ordination has been what the Church has always done.
The following generations saw some changes in the LC-MS understanding of the office of the Holy Ministry and thus in the rite of ordination. Franz Pieper in his Christian Dogmatics, addresses the topic of the “Public Ministry” from the point of Apostolic directives as opposed to the mandate and institution of the Lord. Within the entire section dealing with The Public Ministry(61) the mandate passages are used only in relation to the authority Christ has as opposed to the Antichrist. For Dr. Pieper, the mandate and institution of the Lord is not the basis for the doctrine of the Holy Ministry. Indeed, this is even seen in the terminology used by Dr. Pieper. It is no longer designated the “Holy Ministry,” but the “Public Ministry.” This itself shows a move away from the Divine mandate and institution of the Lord. Dr. Pieper states of ordination that it belongs to the “adiaphorous practices”(62) and as such it is the call and the call alone which makes a man a pastor. While no one would deny that a call is necessary for a man to be put into the office of the Holy Ministry, the Church has never known of pastors who had only call and no ordination.(63) John Fritz in his Pastoral Theology follows in the line of Dr. Pieper in that the mandate and institution of the Lord is not the basis for the Holy Ministry. Like Dr. Pieper, the Apostolic practice becomes the focus with the understanding that it is the “Pastoral Office.”(64) He states of ordination,
What makes a man a pastor is the divine call which has been extended to him by those who have the right to do so and which is accepted by one who has the right to accept such a call. A man is not ordained to the ministry, but ordained to enter upon his work as a pastor of a certain congregation, the ordination signifying that a man , usually one who has been declared to be fit for the office, has chosen the ministry as his life’s calling . . .(65)
Dr. Fritz, like Dr. Pieper, has reduced ordination to only a visible service which serves only to show the world what a man has chosen to do. There is no working of God, or spiritual blessings imparted to the one ordained. This stands in stark contrast to the Churches understanding of ordination.(66) This formative influence upon the LC-MS caused changes in the understanding of the Holy Ministry which can be seen most clearly in the agenda produced in 1922.(67) In this agenda the ordination service remained much like it was in 1856 agenda, except the wording of the actual bestowal of the Office was changed dramatically. A translation from the German reads as follows,
Beloved brother in the Lord, since you have the witness that you desire to stand before a congregation of the Lord, that you also have been shown to be prepared to conduct the Office of the New Testament among the congregation, who has lawfully called you, we herewith declare and confirm you through the laying on of our hands, publicly and solemnly as a coworker in Word and doctrine and we ordain you to the ministry of the Holy Church in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.(68)
The changes are clear. The man is no longer delivered the Holy Office of Word and Sacraments through the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. He is now declared to be prepared for the “Office of the New Testament.” Thus, mandate and institution is lost. He has been lawfully called through the congregation and so the call is “declared and confirmed” through the laying on of hands. Here we see that God is given no credit for the calling or ordaining of a man into the Holy Ministry. He is declared a “coworker in Word and doctrine” and is “ordained into the ministry of the Holy Church.” There is not mention of Holy Office and all reference to the sacraments has dropped out. The changes introduced were not long standing, for in the agenda produced in 1941 much of the above mentioned error was corrected. The Lutheran Agenda contains the following wording for ordination,
I now commit unto thee the holy office of the Word and the Sacraments; I ordain and consecrate thee a minister of the Church and install thee as pastor of this congregation in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. The Lord pour out upon thee His Holy Spirit for the office and the work committed unto thee by the call, that thou mayest be a faithful dispenser of the means of grace. Amen.(69)
In relation to what the current practice is within the LC-MS today, there has been a regression. The ordination rite in the current Lutheran Worship Agenda(70)seems to stand in the tradition of the Royal Saxon Ordination Rite of 1812, and the 1922 agenda ordination rite. We see again that the Office is not referred to as the Holy Ministry but as the “Public Ministry”.(71) While the mandate and institution texts are included, the rubrics allow for texts to be chosen in such a way as to not use them. Thus the mandate and institution of the Holy Ministry is relegated to an option. There is also the insertion of a question to the candidate which has not appeared in an LC-MS agenda prior to this one. It reads,
Will you faithfully instruct both young and old in the chief articles of Christian doctrine; will you forgive the sins of those who repent, and will you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you; will you minister faithfully to the sick and dying; will you demonstrate to the Church a constant and ready ministry, admonishing the people to a lively confidence in Christ and holy living?(72)
The insertion of such a question to the candidate must prompt the enquiry as to why it was
inserted. It seems that the motivation is to compel the individual who is being placed in the Office to focus on specific functions of the Office. This is no doubt a compulsion which stands in line with the pietistic motivation of the 1812 agenda, this in the way of the Law. There has also been a drastic change in the words used to confer the Office. They read,
name , I ordain and consecrate you to the holy office of the public ministry in the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.(73)
The Holy Ministry is designated as both a “holy office” and the “public ministry.” This in itself is no drastic change, but we also see that all reference to the Word and sacraments has once again been lost. There is also the inclusion of another question which has never before appeared in our liturgy. It comes after the ordination of the candidate as reads,
Will you, assembled here as God’s people and speaking for the whole Church, receive name as a servant of Christ, a minister of Word and Sacrament, given the Church to serve God’s people with the Gospel of Grace and salvation? If so, answer, We will.(74)
The Church throughout history has settled the question as to the people’s desire to have a man as their pastor as being done prior to the ordination of the candidate. In the 1856 agenda the rubrics even spell out that after the laying on of the hands and the words of ordination the man is considered an ordained pastor. This is seen in the switch from “Ordinand” to “Ordained” in the rubrics.(75) The Church has always understood the task complete with the laying on of the hands. There are no questions left to be asked, nothing left to be done.
The LC-MS must in future agendas seek to maintain the mandate and institution of the Lord as the basis of the Holy Ministry. Along with this there must be a clearer understanding of ordination as the Church has understood it throughout her history. The laying on of hands is the culmination of placing a man in the Office. Once that is done, he is a pastor.
Throughout the history of the Church, both in the New Testament era and beyond there has been an understanding that ordination is in accord with God’s will for placing a man in the office of the Holy Ministry. While there is no direct mandate as to the “how” of ordination, the “what” has always been present. As such the Church has, throughout the centuries, used the rite of laying hands upon the man chosen in order to ordain him into the Holy Ministry. The rite of laying hands upon the man gives certainty to the individual who is being placed in the Office that he is the one God has chosen. It also give certainty to the Church that “this” is the one God has called. The laying on of the hands of pastors as the rite of ordination, while not specifically mandated, has been chosen by the Church as the proper way to ordain. In extreme cases where no other pastors are available, the laity may choose a man for the Office and lay hands on him.(76) Whenever other pastors are available, they are to be sought out for such a task. This is what the church has always understood and practiced. There has also been the understanding that the rite of ordination itself is not a meaningless rite, but God Himself imparts gifts to the ordained for the purpose of fulfilling God’s call to be pastor.(77) The Church should seek to guard against all who would tear away at the understanding of the Holy Ministry, and instead should seek to build up the understanding of this great and noble Office.
Within the LC-MS there have been those influences who have sought to lift up the individual congregation and its autonomy to the point that the office of the Holy Ministry has become misunderstood. The Holy Ministry can never be set in opposition to the congregation. Both have been established by God. We within the LC-MS must seek to build up both for both are gifts from the Lord. If we loose the proper understanding of ordination as it flows from the mandate and institution of the Lord then we loose the certainty of the one who is chosen by the Lord to be His instrument for the giving out of His gifts. When ordination is understood as the means of placing a man into the office of the Holy Ministry and it is confessed by way of the Lord’s mandate then it is also understood to be Holy Ordination. Holy because it is given by the Lord. To neglect or deny Holy Ordination is to reject the gift which the Lord has given. Article V of the Augsburg Confession states God instituted the office of the Holy Ministry so man might obtain faith in Christ. To loose ordination is to loose the office of the Holy Ministry and thus to loose the certainty of the giving out of the Lord’s gifts.
If anyone says that there is not in the New Testament a visible and external priesthood, or that there is no power of consecrating and offering the body and blood of the Lord and of remitting and retaining sins, but only an office and bare ministry of preaching the Gospel, or that those who do not preach are not priests at all, let him be anathema.
If anyone says that there are not in the Catholic Church other orders, both major and minor, beside the priesthood, through which as by certain steps advance is made toward the priesthood, let him be anathema.
If anyone says that order or holy ordination is not truly and properly a sacrament instituted by Christ the Lord, or that it is some human invention. thought out by men inexperienced in ecclesiastical matters, or that it is only some rite for choosing ministers of the Word of God and the sacraments, let him be anathema.
If any one says that the Holy Spirit is not given through holy ordination and that it is therefore in vain that the bishop says, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” or that through it a character is not imprinted, or that he who was once a priest can again become a layman, let him be anathema.
If anyone says that the sacred anointing which the Church used in holy ordination not only is not required but is despicable and destructive, and other ceremonies of order likewise, let him be anathema.
If anyone says that there is not in the Catholic Church a hierarchy, instituted by divine ordination, which consists of bishops, presbyters, and ministers [or deacons], let him be anathema.
If anyone says that bishops are not superior to presbyters, or that they do not have the power of confirming and ordaining, or that the power they have is common to them together with the presbyters, or that orders conferred by them without the consent or call of the people or of the secular power are invalid, or that those who have neither been validly ordained nor sent by ecclesiastical and canonical power, but have come from elsewhere, are lawful ministers of the Word and the sacraments, let him be anathema.
If anyone says that bishops who are obtained by authority of the Roman pontiff are not legitimate and true bishops but a human creation, let him be anathema.
[First one should sing Veni Sancte Spiritus (O Come Holy Spirit), then the Collect is to be read. After that the Superintendent reads this following text:]
So writes St. Paul in the first letter to Timothy in the third Chapter:
Here in a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2) Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4) He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5) (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgement as the devil. 7) He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
So admonishes St. Paul the Elders of the church in Ephesus (Acts 20:28-31)
28) Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with His own blood. 29) I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30) Even from your won number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31) So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
Here you hear that bishops who are Preachers and Masters (“Pfarherr”=man with authority over a ceratin area) are called and should be called (in future) for us. It is not commanded to tend geese or cows, but the church which God has bought by his own blood that we should tend it with the pour Word of God, also to remain awake and to watch that not wolves or gangs gain ground among the poor sheep; because of this he calls it a delightful (noble, excellent) work.
Also for our person, ourselves, we should live modest and honest, our house, wife, child and domestics (servants) keep and educate in a Christian way.
Are you now willing to do such things, so speak: YES.
[Then the Superintendent and the other servants of the Word who are present lay the hands on the head of the candidate. There after he shall speak:]
Let us pray. Our Father . . .
Merciful God, heavenly Father, you have said to us through the mouth of your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Mt. 9:37-38) Because of this your divine mandate, we ask you most heartily that you will give those your servant together with us and all who are called to your Word (to preach your word), plenty of you Holy Spirit that we are with big crowds you evangelists; remain faithful and solid against the devil, world, and flesh. So that you Name is sanctified, you kingdom grow and you will done. Also steer finally and stop the fatal horror of the pope and Mohammed together with other gangs who slander you name, destroy your kingdom, oppose your will. Such our prayer (because you ordered it, taught it and consoled it) you will graciously grant it now we believe and trust in it through your dear Son our Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in eternity. Amen.
So go now and tend the flock of Christ how it is commanded and look well on it to do it not forced but willingly, not for infamous profits sake but from the bottom of your heart, not as those who reign above the people but become examples to the flock. So you will get the unfading crown of honor (when the archshepherd appears). Benedicat Nobis Dominus, ut faciatis fructum multum, Amen.
* Kirchenordung Wittenberg, 1565.
Translated by Marcus Mueller, Advent 1991
The Ordinator proceeds to the altar with his assistants. Before the steps of the altar stands the Ordinand. At the conclusion of the hymn the Ordinator and his assistants turn to the Ordinand and the former says:
Our Lord Jesus Christ after his resurrection said to his disciples in John 20: Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you. And when he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit! To Whom you release the sin, they are released from them and to whom you retain them, they are to them retained.
And subsequently before his ascension he said to them in Matthew 28: To me has all authority been given in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and teach (lehret) all people and baptize them in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to hold to all that I have mandated to you. And look, I am with you all days until the end of the world.
And after He “had ascended above all heaven, so that he might fill all, he established (setzen) some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers, so that the saints are prepared for the work of the Office (zum Werk des Amtes), through which the body of Christ is built.” (Eph 4:11ff)
Thus it is instituted by the Lord Himself the Office that preaches reconciliation, the Office of the Spirit, which makes righteous, living and blessed. And one would not be fit in himself to conduct the office of the New Testament, rather those who are fit are so through God. They are ambassadors (Botschafter) in the stead of Christ, God appealing through them, and they bear God’s Office full of boundless charity (2 Cor. 3:5).
Therefore they also should adorn it in all pieces as St. Paul writes to Timothy and Titus. “For a bishop should be irreproachable, a man of one wife, who has believing, obedient children with all respectability, who governs his own house well, (but if someone does not govern his own house blamelessly, how will he care for the congregation of God?), not stubborn, not wrathful, sober, temperate, not a drunkard, not violent, not driven by dishonorable manipulation, modest, chaste, tactful, just, holy, hospitable, kind, not quarrelsome, not covetous, gentle, not a new convert (Neuling), so that he does not become puffed up and fall into judgement with the deceiver, apt to teach, who holds to the Word, that it is certain and can teach it, so that he is able to exhort with the wholesome doctrine and to strive with those who deny it. He must also have a good reputation before those who are outside, so that he does not fall by the blasphemer into shame and a trap. He should be an example to the believers in word, in walk, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. He should attend to reading, exhorting, teaching and not neglect the gift which was given through prophecy with the laying on of hands of the elders. These should he practice, to them be devoted, so that his progress may be apparent in all things. He should pay attention to himself and to his doctrine and endure in these matters. For where he does this, he will make himself blessed and those who hear him. –As then all of these things the same holy apostle in his admonition to the called elders from Ephesus (Acts 20) briefly collects when he says : Take heed over yourselves and over the flock among whom the Holy Spirit has appointed you as bishops, to pasture the congregation of God, which he won through his own blood.
From all these, recognize what a high and holy Office it is, to which you have been called, and what the apostle said is certainly true: He who desires the Office of Bishop, desires a noble work.
Therefore I ask you now, beloved brother in the Lord Jesus Christ, before the eyes of God, our Lord Jesus Christ and his holy angels, also before the ears of this congregation, whether you stand prepared after careful reflection, to assume this holy Office, and according to the ability which God bestows, to accomplish and to exercise it for every pleasure of the Lord and Chief Shepherd of the congregation.
Yes, I am prepared, after earnest reflection, to assume this holy Office to which God has called me; I pledge and promise (gelobe und verspreche) before God and his congregation, according to the ability which God grants, to accomplish and exercise it for every pleasure of the Lord, the Chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls.
Do you also acknowledge that God’s Word and will, according to which you should conduct your Office, are explained and set forth purely and without adulteration in the three chief symbols of the church, the Apostolic, Nicene and Athanasian, also in the unaltered Augsburg Confession, its Apology, the Smalcald Articles, the two Catechisms of Luther and the Formula of Concord? And do you intend to execute and accomplish your Office according to these confessions of our holy church until your end?
Yes, I acknowledge the three chief symbols of the church, the unaltered Augsburg Confession and its Apology, the Smalcald Articles, the two Catechisms of Luther and the Formula of Concord as the pure, unadulterated explanation and exposition of the divine Word and will, I confess them as my own confession and intend to execute my Office faithfully and diligently according to them until my end. May God strengthen me for this through his Holy Spirit! Amen.
Upon this your promise made before God and us, we pray God the Father of our beloved Lord Jesus Christ, the only Lord of the harvest, that He, who called you to His Office, would make you fit for it through His Holy Spirit. May He grant that you give no one offence through which the Office is defamed, rather in all things He shows you as a servant of God, in great endurance, in affliction (Trubsal), in needs, in fears, in beatings, in dangers, in turmoils, in work, in watching, in fasting, in purity, in knowledge, in forbearance, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in unfeigned love, in the Word of truth, in the power of God, through weapons of righteousness in the right and the left, through honor and disgrace, through bad reports and good reports, as an imposter and yet true, as a stranger and yet known, as one being killed, and look you live, as one punished and yet not killed, as one who mourns but is always joyful, as one who is poor, but yet makes many rich, as one who possesses nothing and yet has everything (2 Cor. 6). May the Lord grant you thus to bear and to do the work of an evangelical preacher, that you will be able to appear on the great Day before the judgement seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give answer to the universal, honorable (gestrengen) and just Judge of the living and the dead, to receive praise and honor from his hand and to shine as the brightness of heaven and as the stars forever and eternally!
We herewith deliver up (uberantworten) to you through the laying on of our hands the holy Office of the Word and the Sacraments of God, the Triune, ordain and consecrate you as a servant of the holy church in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
Let us pray! Merciful God, heavenly Father, you have said to us through the mouth of your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few: pray the Lord of the harvest, that he would send workers into his harvest.” Upon this your divine mandate we pray heartily that you would richly bestow your Holy Spirit upon this your servant together with us and all who are called to your Office, so that we with the great company may be your evangelists, remain true and firm against the devil, world and flesh, that your Name may be hallowed, your kingdom increase, and your will brought to completion. Curb also all your enemies, those who defame your Name, destroy your kingdom, and strive against your will, set a goal and an end, and wherever your servants witness and work, promote their witness and the work of their hands to the praise of your all holy Name and to the salvation of souls. Amen.
Now go forth and pasture the flock of Christ as you are mandated, and take care that it is not coerced but willing, not for shameful gain but from the depths of the heart, not as one who lords over the people, but be an example to the flock: thus you will receive the unfading crown of honor when the Chief Shepherd appears. The Lord bless you from the highest and establish you as a blessing for many, that you produce much fruit and that your fruit remains to eternal life!
Then one sings: “Herr Gott, dich loben wir . . .” (Luther’s paraphrase of the Te Deum, 1533) or “Danksagen wir alle . . .”, after which one begins the Word of Institution of the Holy Supper. The pastors (Geistlichen) accompany the newly ordained to the table of the Lord.
If an already ordained pastor (Geistlicher) is entering a new parish (Pfarrei), the installation can proceed in exactly the same way, only that no conferral (Uebertragung) of the holy Office in general follows, but after the response to the questions, one of the following prayers is spoken with the laying of hands, followed by: “Now go forth . . .”
Merciful God, heavenly Father, you have given us fatherly comfort through your holy apostle Paul and have said that it greatly pleases you, O heavenly Lord and Father, through the foolish preaching of the crucified Christ to bless all who believe it: We heartily pray you, that you would bestow your divine grace to this your servant, whom you have called to your holy office of preaching, and would give and impart to him you Holy Spirit. Likewise, strengthen him against every temptation of the devil and make him wise and fit to pasture your precious, purchased sheep with your wholesome and unadulterated Word according to your divine will and pleasure, to the praise and glory of your holy Name, through Jesus Christ! Amen.
O Lord Jesus Christ, eternal Son of God, you sit in the highest at the right hand of your heavenly Father, you give gifts to men upon earth and send pastors and teachers, that the saints would be prepared for the work of the Office and your spiritual body be built up: We give you hearty praise, honor and thanks, that you again have sent a pastor to this congregation, and we pray that you would grant to him and to us all your divine grace, that we may do what pleases you, guard faith and a good conscience until the end, and receive eternal blessedness with all the elect. Amen.
The new pastor does not preach on the day of ordination or introduction, but his inaugural sermon is on the following Sunday.
Translated by Willian Cwirla
Advent 3, 1992
* Kirchen-Agenda fur Evangelisch-lutherische Germeinden ungeandereter Augsburgischer Confession. Zusammengestellt aus den alten rechtgaeubigen Saechsischen Kirchenagenden und herausgegeben von der Allgemeinen deutschen Evangel.-Lutherischen Synode von Missouri, Ohio und anderan Staaten. St. Louis: Der Deutschen Ev.-Luth. Synode v. Missouri, O. u.a. St., 1856.
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5. Luther’s Small Catechism. St. Louis; Concordia Publishing House, 1991. p. 27. While it is true that this was not included in the Small Catechism when Dr. Luther first wrote it, the foot note on this page is well taken.
20. Acts 14:23. It should be noted that there is no indication that this was a congregational vote. The text gives the implication that it was Paul and Barnabas who did the selecting. They were the only ones present who would be able to judge the worthiness of an individual for the Office.
24. The Seven Ecumenical Councils. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Grand Rapids:Eerdmans. p. 11. Other examples from the Councils are: Nicea (325) Canon IX, Antioch (341) XIX, Laodicea (343) III & IV, Chalcedon (451) VI, XV, XXV, Trullo (692) XXXIII.