Order in the Church

For about the last year, I’ve used this space to walk through the Augsburg Confession article by article. The Augsburg Confession is the confession of our congregation. Our primary source of doctrine is, of course, the Holy Scriptures. But where disagreements arise, it is often necessary to have documents that clarify our position. The point of these documents is really to hold us to the teaching of the Scriptures. So, in our constitution, we say,

“This congregation receives and adheres to the Apostolic, Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds, and especially to the unaltered Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism; nothing contrary to these confessions shall be taught in the congregation, either in preaching or in the instruction of children and youth.”

These documents prevent us from taking a passage of Scripture and saying, “Well, that’s just your interpretation.” We’ve covered several topics already, including the nature of God, the Trinity, sin, the nature of Jesus Christ, justification, the Church, the Sacraments, and repentance. Article 14 might not be quite as interesting as some of those, but still important.

“Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.”

This is an article which the AFLC has not applied as strictly as some other Lutheran bodies. Some Lutheran bodies strictly forbid anyone from preaching, baptizing, or administering the Lord’s Supper unless they are ordained and rostered in their church body. The AFLC does not impose rules on congregations in this matter. The Sacraments are valid, regardless of who administers them. Yet, for the sake of good order, I, as your pastor, typically administer Baptism, and I strongly avoid being absent on a communion Sunday. However, when I am absent, we do not always have an ordained pastor fill in. Are we violating the Augsburg Confession?

No. I do not think this article is addressing special circumstances. Scripture does not prescribe ordination as a prerequisite for preaching a sermon. It does, however, command good order and watchful care over the teaching in the congregation (1 Cor. 14:40; 1 Tim. 4:16). So we should be very careful regarding the preaching of the Word. This applies to both laymen and ordained pastors.

The man who penned the Augsburg Confession, Philip Melanchthon, was a theologian, but not an ordained pastor. Nevertheless, he did, at times, preach in congregations. I do not think he meant, by this article, that his own activity of preaching was to be forbidden.

One of the reformers’ concerns was that someone from outside the congregation, who is not called to that specific congregation, may come and impose their teaching. One of the issues that sparked the reformation was the preaching of John Tetzel, who had been sent from Rome to preach on indulgences. He taught that, by purchasing an indulgence from the Roman Catholic Church, a person could obtain forgiveness of sins for themselves or someone in purgatory. This teaching was very unwelcome to the reformers. So one of the things this article means is that a church body should not impose a preacher upon a congregation against that congregation’s will, because a “rightly ordered call” comes from the congregation.

The point of the article is that doctrine and the care of souls are very serious matters. We should take them seriously, and we should be very careful regarding who preaches and what they preach. The congregation has both the right and the responsibility to entrust the ministry to faithful men. The Word of God and the Sacraments are great treasures that God has given to us. Through these means he creates, strengthens, and preserves spiritual life. So we should be very careful with these treasures, because they are treasures.

The peace of Christ be with you all,

Pastor Dan Antal