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June 03, 2008


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JS Bangs

You answered rightly, but I doubt that a majority even of confessional Lutherans would agree with you.


Well, I would agree. But the nub lies in the "proper call," doesn't it?


Does this question apply to laymen assisting in the distribution of the sacrament? If it does then I sure hope you're wrong because half of what I've been getting for the past several years is invalid.

As to the particular issue you raised I would disagree with what you said, but merely based on my instincts, not because I have an array of texts marshaled in defense of my position. I would say the sacrament depends on faith in the attached promise of God, not whether the proper hands have been laid on the proper heads. Then again, issues like these have never been a concern of mine, so my opinion and fifty-five cents will get you a Diet Coke.

Chris Jones

JS -

If I recall correctly you said much the same thing about my post on "Forensic justification and theosis" back in 2005 (has it been that long?). I'll reply now as I did then: my hunch is that confessional Lutherans who don't care what other Protestants think of them will be fine with it. The key is the qualifier "who don't care what other Protestants think of them"; whether that filters out a majority of confessionals, I don't know.

Jeremy -

I know that lay assistance in the distribution is a matter of some controversy among confessional Lutherans, but it really was not what I was addressing in this post. As a matter of personal opinion I do not care for it, but it does not seem to me that it puts the "validity" of the sacrament in doubt. St Ignatius of Antioch wrote "Let that Eucharist be reckoned as valid which is celebrated by the bishop or by one to whom he has committed it." The pastor is our bishop, and if he chooses to delegate a part of the administration to laymen who are under his immediate supervision, I think we may regard that as conforming to the principle that St Ignatius laid out. Again, it is not something that I prefer, but it's not my call.

I would not say, as you do, that "the sacrament depends on faith in the attached promise of God." The sacrament depends on the promise itself, not on our faith in it. Making the sacrament depend on our faith makes it subjective rather than objective. We may rely on the means of grace not because of our faith, but because of His faithfulness. And it is, in my view, a false contrast between "the promise of God" and "the proper hands being laid on." Because the provision of the Apostolic ministry is itself a promise of God. As Lutherans it is important to us that the faith by which we are justified is a gift of God, and the Augsburg Confession tells us that it is through the Apostolic ministry that we obtain this faith. If the institution of the ministry of Word and Sacrament is not a firm and reliable promise of God, how can we rely on having received justifying faith?

The longer I am a Lutheran, the more central I see Augustana V.


Yes, the issue of "proper call" is important here. I have always thought that congregations - rather than clergy - are stewards of the sacraments (hence, a free-lancing clergyperson cannot go about celebrating sacraments willy-nilly - sacraments are always shared within the ministry of a congregation that calls the presiding minister). Thus the sacrament belongs to the congregation, not to the clergy nor to the denomination. If a congregation calls - calls, sets apart, "ordains"? - a layperson to preside, then why wouldn't it be "valid"? (Please keep reading)

Our denominations - LCMS, ELCA, WELS, etc - have rules to govern the celebration and sharing of the sacraments, and these rule are good and necessary. But these rules are established to maintain "good order," not to guarantee sacramental validity. There are many things that are spiritually "valid," many things that are Holy and True which are not part of our Lutheran church's good order (and that's ok - we have to draw a line somewhere).

As for a layperson presiding . . . I would not participate in such a Eucharist because such a Eucharist would be in violation of my church's order. Order is important. But do I believe such a sacrament is "invalid"? No, I don't believe so. But I think that "validity" is the wrong question to ask. Sacraments are not formulaic. Sacraments are not recipes (takes these words, these elements, add a pastor and bake at 350 for 45 minutes . . . ). Is the Word proclaimed? Is forgiveness of sins declared? Is the Holy Spirit blowing? Is communion - community - shared, created, encouraged by this celebration? Can and does God work beyond our church orders? Yes.

But the movement of God beyond our church orders is not a good reason to abandon our church orders. We must maintain our church orders, cling to them, and embrace them. These orders, created by spirit-led saints of old and by which the Church of all ages has heard the Word proclaimed and feasted on the Real Presence of our Lord, are a gift to us at the dawn of the 21st century. Abandoning our church orders is about the worst thing we can do, for they offer guidance, wisdom, and truth about the nature of God, faith, the church, the created order.

But we must also resist the temptation to assume that God acts only within our church orders. God can and does act through and show up in other churches, other communities, other ways. And that's OK (think of Mark 9:38-41).

Thus I would venture to say that God acts through the sacraments of other churches and gatherings (regardless of who is presiding), just as I am assured that God is present in the sacrament I receive each Sunday in my Lutheran church. The paradox is that we can passionately cling to our church order - every jot and tittle, every "i" dotted and "t" crossed - and also recognize the movement of the Spirit and the presence of our Lord in other Christian gatherings - even those presided over by a layperson.


"The sacrament depends on the promise itself, not on our faith in it."

You're right, of course. I was being sloppy. The sacrament itself does not depend on our faith, though its benefits are received by faith.


Did I answer rightly?

Only if you can discount what actually happens at some LCMS churches. ;P Lay consecration...seen it in action in the LCMS...not as prevalent as open communion in my neck of the woods but it's there.

In a LCMS congregation not so far from me they had a "pastor" who was a member of the congregation and "voted on" by the congregation to serve as pastor. He had no seminary education or certifications and was never ordained...but he was rightly voted on. I suspect this would satisfy many confessionals with regard to proper order but I don't if this is also satisfactory to you as you specifically mention ordination?


I see we cross posted and you already answered my question with regarding to a Sacrament when consecrated by someone who was not ordained. Sorry...I am slow.

Chris Jones


I have always thought that congregations - rather than clergy - are stewards of the sacraments

I respectfully but firmly disagree. It is in the context of a defense of his authority as an Apostle that St Paul writes in 1 Co 4.1: Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God; and he extends this from the Apostles themselves to their successors when he writes to Titus (whom he has ordained as a successor to the Apostles and whom he authorizes to ordain other successors) that a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God. I see no basis to assign to the congregation as a whole the role of "stewards of the mysteries" which St Paul so clearly assigns to the Apostles and their successors.

That does not mean that a duly ordained pastor is a "free agent" apart from the congregation to which he is called. But it does mean that his authority to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments is not something which is merely delegated to him by the congregation. It is not theirs to give. A pastor's call may come through the congregation, but the call itself is from God; and it is the pastor, not the congregation, who is the one called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

In defending the necessity of a properly called and ordained priest for a proper celebration of the Eucharist, I did not intend to suggest that our Lord and the Holy Spirit are absent from other Christian gatherings. The Orthodox have a saying that I fully subscribe to: God is not bound by the sacraments, but we are. The fact that we are bound to the sacraments means that we are not to look for His grace anywhere else but through His appointed means of grace (that is, through the Word and Sacrament ministered by His Apostolic ministers); but the fact that He is not bound by the sacraments means that He can (and presumably does) bestow His grace in other ways than through His covenanted mysteries. But it is not given to us to rely on any of those other ways.



I think you might be confusing me with the author of this blog. "Chris" who posted above is not the same as "Christopher Jones." So, you two did not "cross post" as you suggest. Those comments about ordination were mine - and were largely based on the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, where he write about the authority of bishops, though much of that sentiment appears in the Apology to CA VII & VIII.

For what it is worth, I wouldn't advise any congregation to call an untrained layperson to be their pastor (that has disaster written all over it). However, it would be a "call" in a strict sense, even if an irregular call according to wider Lutheran practice (herein we have the broader church vs. congregational authority issue). Such a "call" might be allowed in a strict reading of the Confessions, but I imagine it would not be allowed in LCMS polity (I wouldn't know. I'm not LCMS).

Anyway, just because something is permissible or allowable doesn't mean it is advisable . . . After all, in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Melancthon gladly cedes the authority to ordain to the bishop, unless "the regular bishops become enemies of the gospel or are unwilling to ordain," at which time "the churches retain their right to [ordain]." The right to ordain is in the congregation. For good order, a sense of uniformity and unity, and a broader communion, congregations provisionally cede such authority to bishops (or to denominational structures). And he (and the Confessions) make it clear that subjection to a broader church order/authority is preferable - that breaking with the bishops and Holy Catholic Church is a last resort.


You've given me more to think about . . . not sure any other comments will come, but I appreciate your insights from the Orthodox Church. Thanks.

Pr. Lehmann

The correct response is to refuse to participate in the discussion. Validity has no place in the same sentence with "Eucharist" or "Baptism."

John H

As has been mentioned already, the key issue is what is a "proper call". If a congregation decides to appoint someone from among its membership to preach and to preside at the Supper, then surely that person has been "called" and is therefore not acting as a layperson, regardless of his absence of seminary education, dog collar or "Rev'd" at the start of his name.

So it is a perfectly regular sacrament, even if the call itself is somewhat irregular and at odds with usual practice (and hence generally to be deprecated on the grounds that God is not a God of disorder but of peace).

The same point has crossed my mind on occasion regarding "lay communion" as proposed by certain elements of Sydney Anglicanism: namely, if you are calling lay people to preach the gospel and administer the Supper - as opposed to simply having a free-for-all as people take it upon themselves to do this uncalled - then you are calling them to the holy ministry even if you choose to call it "lay" communion.

Chris Jones

Pr Lehmann,

In the original discussion on Mr Schütz's blog, I did point out to him:

... the way you have framed the issue is quite un-Lutheran, so the Lutheran teachings on these issues don't necessarily fit well into the categories. Lutherans don't talk about "confecting" the sacrament, nor about "validity" either of the sacrament or of orders. We talk about whether or not something is "rightly" done -- about whether a pastor is "rightly called" and whether the sacraments be "rightly administered."

I understand what you are getting at when you say that "validity has no place in the same sentence with 'Eucharist' or 'Baptism'." At the same time, I cannot agree that "the correct response is to refuse to participate in the discussion." If we hope to correct those who have fallen into error, we cannot do so if we refuse to talk to them. We can correct the erring only by talking with them about the issues on which they have erred, and sometimes the best way to do that is to use the terminology and thought-categories most familiar to them -- because that is what they will understand. All the while, however, it is part of our task to show them why their terminology and categories are not right.

Pr. Lehmann

I should have said, "Refuse to participate in the discussion as they have framed it." From your post here it appears that you are allowing them to set up the framework of the discussion.

So long as you do that, your experience will be like Santa Anna at San Jacinto.

I would say, "I'm not willing to talk about valid Sacraments, but if you want to talk about whether the Sacrament is there under these circumstances, I'll do that. Augustine was wrong when he posited the possibility of an "invalid Sacrament."

Chris Jones


The vote of a congregation to appoint a minister is not, in itself, a "call." Perhaps if the congregation were entirely isolated from all other congregations, it might be so. But each local Church is accountable for its own orthodoxy and orthopraxis to the other Churches with which it is in altar and pulpit fellowship. If the congregation in the next town, with which my congregation is in fellowship, calls a man who is either incompetent or heterodox, it is not a matter of indifference to me or to my congregation. It is of vital interest to a congregation that all Churches with which it is in fellowship should remain fully orthodox in faith and pracice.

For this reason, the wider Church has a role to play in the calling of a man to shepherd a local Church. The way that role has manifested itself has varied through the course of Church history. This is the reason, for example, for the requirement of the ancient canons that a bishop be ordained by three or more bishops from the regional synod to which the local Church belongs. The ordination by three neighbouring bishops is, in effect, an endorsement of the suitability and orthodoxy of the ordinand by the wider Church.

In the present-day polity of the Missouri Synod, that involvement of the wider Church is manifest (among other ways) in the requirement that a man be on the clergy roster of the LCMS. Being on the roster means that a man has had an adequate theological education, and that he has subscribed to the Synod's doctrinal standard. For us, that is part of what "rightly called" means. A congregation might call a layman with no theological education, who has neither been accepted onto the clergy roster of the Synod, made the requisite doctrinal subscription, nor been ordained by other pastors of the Synod; and technically that man might actually be the pastor of that congregation. But I am not sure that I would recognize that congregation as orthodox, and my congregation's altar and pulpit fellowship with that congregation would be in doubt.

John H

Chris: I agree (mostly) with what you say. My point was simply that (to put it in Pr Lehmann's terms) the Sacrament would be there under those circumstances. Church order and discipline are not to be despised or taken lightly, but that is a different question. I think we're probably in agreement on that.

The only qualification I have is that there could well be circumstances where different approaches to how the call is exercised in practice may become necessary in some circumstances, e.g. in mission situations or where no pastor is available due to lack of available resources. The Church of England has experimented with ideas such as Locally Licensed Ministry, where individuals (who have had some theological training but not a full seminary course) are ordained but only licensed to serve in one congregation that would otherwise lack ordained ministry, and I don't think that sort of approach should be ruled out.

William Weedon


You already knew that I thought you were quite correct. I'd like to address briefly Dixie's comment: that it is practiced in some places in the Missouri Synod by no means equates to it being acceptable as Lutheran doctrine. And in this, I'd point out that the same surely holds among other jurisdictions as well. Abuse does not abolish use, but establishes it. Wherever it is practiced in the Missouri Synod, it is practiced in utter contradiction of the Symbols which the pastors and people have pledged themselves to uphold and teach. It calls for repentance.

Steve Martin

We actually like to have our pastor sit in the pews once in awhile and have lay people preside over the Lord's Supper.The message it sends is that it is Christ's work being done here and no one in particular is necessary to make it valid, other than Christ and His words given and shed for you.

Jason Loh Seong Wei

You are dead wrong.

Lutheran ministers do not OFFER the Eucharist. They DISTRIBUTE the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is not a SACRIFICE, but the Last WILL and TESTAMENT of Jesus Christ. This understanding is BASIC to LUTHERAN sacramental theology. The Lord's Supper is a Sacrament. Hence, it is Gospel.

All the talk will go no where UNLESS and UNTIL the WHAT is the Lord's Supper is settled.

This is why in Lutheranism, the validity of the Lord's Supper is not dependent on the ministerial priesthood but on the Words of Institution, i.e. the Gospel itself.

John H

Jason: have you actually read Chris's post? The only use of the word "offer" comes in the following sentence: "the priest who offers the Eucharist is our Lord Jesus Christ".

Fr. Gregory Hogg

Two comments:

1. The correct question is not whether Lutherans have the right *doctrine* concerning the priest's role in the Eucharist. (That is necessary, but not sufficient.) The correct question is whether Lutherans have the right *practice*. The former is word; the latter is word-made-flesh. By your works you show your faith.

I was in dialog with an intelligent, well-read Lutheran layman for months. He kept telling me how great Lutheran ecclesiology is. He mentioned Quenstedt's book on the Church, and said, "This book is thoroughly Scriptural. All that Scripture says on the church, it says; all that it says, Scripture says." "Fine," I replied. "Where is the Lutheran body that actually embodies all that book says?" There was a long pause, and he said, "There is none." "Then what are we talking about?" I answered. That was the end of that.

Lay consecration of the eucharist is not a difference of opinion. It is gangrene in an ecclesial body. If it is not swiftly and completely uprooted--by amputation if necessary--the whole body dies. To remain in communion fellowship with those who practice lay consecration is to mourn the potential loss of a limb, while enduring the actual loss of life.

I can never cease saying, while I have breath, that the problem is not a matter of doctrine, and of books, but of life and existence. Jefferson Davis' epitaph for the Confederacy ("Died of a theory") comes to mind here.

2. The _proton pseudos_ of Lutheran ecclesiology is the notion that the episcopal office is a later, _de iure humano_ upward movement of an original presbyteral office. Historically, the movement was just the opposite. In the beginning, the apostles ordained bishops, one per city*, and presbyters and deacons to assist them. As the Church grew, and multiple parishes became formed in the same city, the bishops allowed the presbyters to serve the outlying parishes in their place. The bishops gave over more or less of their authority to the presbyters in that service (e.g. in the east the presbyters were allowed to chrismate; in the west the bishops reserved that right to themselves)--but never in such a way as to renounce their full, iure divino episcopal office or its duties.

A priest serves _de iure divino_ at a parish *by the bishop's blessing* (represented in the east by the antimins on the altar). If the bishop removes his blessing, the priest ceases to function properly.

Yesterday the Roman cardinal of Chicago suspended the priest who had made fun of Mrs. Clinton in a recent sermon. Thought experiment: Imagine if that priest had been a Lutheran pastor. What would have happened? (And use a different issue, if you like.)

*Some might point out the current situation of the Orthodox in North America, where multiple jurisdictions exist in the same cities. This historical anomaly arose out of the Russian revolution (before 1917 all American Orthodox were under the Russian patriarchate). It does not directly violate the "one bishop, one city" rule because the different jurisdictions are not different communion fellowships--any canonical Orthodox layman may commune at any canonical Orthodox parish, and priests routinely move from one jurisdiction to another. It is regrettable, to be sure; but the actual experience of the Orthodox (witness the recent reunion of the Moscow patriarchate and ROCOR) is that gradually, God is bringing all the American Orthodox back into a single jurisdiction.

Chris Jones


You are welcome to comment here, even if you think I am "dead wrong" (you are not alone in that view, to be sure). But please don't shout.

I don't agree with you that we can't answer David Schütz's question without settling the "sacrifice" question. I think they are two separate questions. But let's suppose that you are right, that the Lord's Supper is not a sacrifice and that the pastor does not "offer" anything. What does that mean as far as the answer to David's question is concerned? Does that mean that the Lord's Supper does not depend on the proper ordination of the pastor who presides?

As to the idea of "sacrifice" itself, let us be careful about exactly what teaching and practice is condemned in the Lutheran Confessions under the heading of "sacrifice." In the Apology Melanchthon makes this useful and central distinction:

A Sacrament is a ceremony or work in which God presents to us that which the promise annexed to the ceremony offers ... A sacrifice, on the contrary, is a ceremony or work which we render God in order to afford Him honor.

This is not a definition of "sacrifice" which covers all of the meaning of the word nor which is adequate to every context in which the word is used. But it does bring out the aspect of "sacrifice" which the Romans had got wrong. The Mass was being treated as a work which we render to God. That is what we as Lutherans condemn: the Mass is not a sacrifice that we offer to God, because (1) the Mass is His gift to us, not our gift to Him, and (2) we have nothing that we could offer Him -- certainly the Lamb of God does not belong to us, that we could offer Him to the Father.

But so long as it is remembered that it is Christ Who is the true priest, that we offer nothing while He offers all, it is safe to recognize that there is a sacrifice being made present at the altar. But it is not our sacrifice, but His.

William Weedon

In response to Fr. Gregory, just these:

Phil. 1:1 (note plural bishops in one city!); Acts 20:17-28 (note plural bishops in one city also called presbyters); Titus 1:5-7 (presbyters and bishops used synonymously); 1 Tim 4:14 (ordination by presbyters)

That is apostolic teaching; and no later tradition can contradict it without forfeiting the title of being apostolic.

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