25 February 2006

Lesions & Tumors

It's not always good to point out the flaws in your mother--especially when those flaws are rather ugly. However, it is not only good but necessary to urge your mother to seek medical attention when she exhibits the symptoms of deadly cancer. And to urge her sometimes means to point out ugly lesions and tumors.

The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, in which I was nutured in the Faith, exhibits the symptoms of deadly cancer. And they get uglier, and more noticeable, all the time. Take, for instance, the answer given to a very important question in the Q&A section of the February 2006 Lutheran Witness (the official periodical of the LCMS).

The question (which doesn't appear in the online version) asks "who is allowed to bless the wafers and wine for distribution at Communion." It occurs because, since 1989, the LCMS has officially permitted lay presidency; i.e., that the unordained may celebrate the sacraments and serve as a "lay minister." The questioner mistakenly believes that this lay celebration occurs only in small rural churches so that "if the church is located in, say, ... Detroit ..., only an ordained minister has this privilege" of being the celebrant.

It is my understanding that the answers provided in this regular column are always vetted through the LCMS Commission on Theology & Church Relations. This one begins with laying to rest the misconception of the double standard (to which I add my attestation; for the nearest LCMS parish to my own in inner-city Detroit is served by an unordained man). The answer then goes on to defend this heretical and ungodly practice--and in the most disingenuous way.

In the first place, the answer quite simply (and most deliberately, I suggest) ignores Augustana XIV which forthrightly confesses that no one may preach or teach or administer the Sacraments in an Evangelical-Lutheran Church unless he is called according to the rite (i.e., ordained).

Because of this, the answerer decidedly forgets the history of congregations (or scattered faithful men and women) in remote locations who refused to take it upon themselves to exercise the pastoral office, but rather yearned for and rejoiced at the arrival of a pastor riding his "circuit" who would then perform baptisms, weddings, and administer communion for that remote band.

Worse of all, however, is the common gnostic error of supposing one can have the Word of God apart the Lord's ministry; which is carried further by the lie that the Lord never really instituted a ministry. The defense for such heresy is a refusal to distinguish between the unworthy (i.e., impious or immoral) priest from the false prophet. Following the only sensible reading of Scripture (i.e., the Tradition), Apology VII/VIII takes great pains to state that one must flee the false teacher while one may continue to receive Holy Communion from the man whose personal sanctity is in question. In short, immorality does not equal heresy.

Based on this gnostic logic, the unordained are not seen as false or heretical but merely as no different or better than the impious and immoral. Or, truth be told, such is not even considered. For a disincarnate, disembodied Word--regardless of where it sounds--is the final trump card. Hence the argument that "it is the Word of God's promise attached to the elements that grants these great blessings to those who believe."

Such gnostic logic urges one uncharitably to speculate that someone has considered--or is considering--offering the sacraments via a weblink. For, after all, if the "word" is all that matters, then why have a person present at all--especially when many have already adopted the habit of distributing communion by merely passing around the plate.

And so the tumor grows, and the lesion worsens.


Frank Gillespie said...

I agree with your assesment of the article. Only a few years ago I got to teach the Augustana to my high school Sunday school class. We spent a week on article XVI discussing who are Christ's called servants of Word and Sacrament. The only place where I get into "fuzzy" territory is in places like Alaska where the synod only sends someone once or twice a year to remote parishes. I've always thought a lay led service was ok, as long as it was Matins and not the Divine Service. Do you have any ideas on how to handle the Eucharist in remote areas? Is it ok to consecrate the elements in advance and leave them with lay leaders or elders as long as the parish is taught that that the elements are being administered by those who are not called according Augustana XVI?

Fr John W Fenton said...


Thanks for your comments and questions.

Historically, the Divine Office (Matins, Vespers, etc) may be led by laymen provided certain rubrical and textual variations are observed. (For example, the layman should never say, "The Lord be with you.")

In remote places, if at all possible, one of the "on-site" men should be ordained. Otherwise, efforts should be made to visit these faithful with the Eucharist more than once or twice each year. The lack of effort suggests a low view of the Sacrament.

If the parish is taught that the Sacrament may be administered by those not called according to AC XIV, then the parish is being taught that AC XIV may be set aside. Which then will regrettably lead someone to conclude that other articles of the Faith may be set aside; or that some articles are "essential" while others are "non-essential."

What is better is to urge sacrifice--on the part of synod by sparing no expense to minister to the faithful; and on the part of the faithful to travel great distances because the Eucharist is our life.

Frank Gillespie said...

Fr. Fenton,
Is it possible for the elements be consecrated by an ordained Pastor, and then "administered" by the laity? I was not even remotely suggesting that the practice of layity consecrating the elements was acceptable. I know this is going on in many districts and everyone just seems to turn a blind eye to the practice.

On your sacrifice comment, I couldn't agree more. It's a shame that we would rather print up glossy flyers rather than preach the Word and administer the Sacraments.

Chris Jones said...


Traditionally and canonically, the administration of the reserved sacrament is limited to those in deacon's orders. Since the evangelical Lutheran Church does not maintain the threefold ministry, we have no deacons. A Lutheran pastor is bishop, presbyter, and deacon; but a layman is not ordained to any office of the sacred ministry. Therefore, it is not permitted for a layman to administer the reserved sacrament.

One of the benefits of restoring the traditional threefold ministry would be that men who are devoted to the Church but are not able to be full-time professional clergy could be ordained as deacons and help out in situations where the Church cannot afford to place a full-time pastor. For example, if several parishes in a rural area had to share a single circuit-riding pastor, each one could have a deacon to serve matins and preach (under the supervision of the pastor) on the Sundays when the pastor was not able to serve the Liturgy.

Of course, given the great confusion that already exists in the Synod about the doctrine of the sacred ministry, any attempt to restore the threefold ministry at this time would only add to the confusion. Maybe someday.

John Rossomando said...

Considering Lutheranism rejected apostolic succession as essential to the Church, who then has the authority in the LCMS to distinguish between a layman and a cleric on spiritual grounds?

Considering Lutheranism rejects the priesthood as Catholics and Orthodox understand it and Lutheranism teaches Christ is present by faith, why then do you need someone who is formally ordained?

I say this as a Catholic and former Lutheran.

Chris Jones said...

With respect, Mr DeMaistre, it would seem that you have forgotten your Lutheran doctrine, or you were poorly catechized when you were a Lutheran.

It is true that the evangelical Lutheran Church does not teach that a pastor must be ordained by a man in episcopal orders. But that does not mean that a proper call and ordination is a matter of indifference among us. The Augsburg Confession clearly teaches otherwise. The fact that the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize the validity of our orders does not mean that we cannot distinguish between ordained clergy and laymen by our own lights.

We do teach that "Christ is present by faith" in our worship, since "where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in their midst". I am sure that the Roman Catholic Church teaches the same. But we do not teach that the true body and blood of the Saviour are present simply by virtue of faith. We teach that only a called and ordained pastor may rightly administer the sacrament of the altar. When a properly ordained pastor, presiding over a congregation of an orthodox confession of faith, consecrates the bread and wine in the manner that our Lord and Saviour commanded; then, and only then, we believe, teach, and confess that the bread and wine are, in very truth, the precious body and blood of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Roman Church does not recognize our pastors as true priests. But we do. It's not that we have "rejected the priesthood"; it's only that Rome rejects our priests. That is a different thing.

Fr John W Fenton said...


Augustana XIV does not merely forbid the consecration, but also the distribution of the Sacrament, by laymen. This is demonstrated in two ways: the understanding of administrare or riechen in 1530; and the unbroken practice of Lutheran churches until the mid 20th century. Hence, according to our confessional tradition, the "elder" or "eucharistic minister" ought not be distributing the Sacrament together with the Pastor.


I think Chris has adequately answered your question. I would simply add that while the Roman and Orthodox Churches treat our converted pastors as no different from their laymen (hence, they receive us as laymen, not as priests), their acceptance of the Baptism our pastors perform and the acknowledgement that our Eucharist is not nothing suggests (at the very least) that they recognize some working of the Holy Spirit within our clergy.