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Receiving the Gifts of Christ with Thankfulness and Faithfulness

July 1st, 2011
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When I posted some remarks that Pastor Weedon made recently about women’s ordination on my Facebook page, I received some interesting reactions. Here are Pastor Weedon’s remarks:

“The impossibility of women’s ordination to the office of presbyter or pastor is simply there in the Apostle Paul’s prohibitions in 1 Tim 2 and 1 Cor. 14. Not once has anyone ever showed a woman placed into that office in the pages of the NT (while the service of women in other arenas is copious in the Scripture).  Not once has anyone ever showed that the Universal Church accepted women to such an office – for even the Pope knows that the Church is simply not authorized to do so.  Take it up with the Lord Jesus!  This is not about a lack of clarity in translation; this is not about a dubious practice that was imposed on the Church through false patriarchal assumptions.  This is about “thus says the Lord” and not listening when another voice asks, ever so intelligently, “Did God REALLY say?”

The one that intrigued me the most came from a friend who reacted very negatively toward Pastor Weedon’s remarks. She said: “My comment was with regard to the standard ham-handed law-heavy (practically Reformed) approach to “discussion” on the issue of women’s ordination. This sort of retreat to the Law is often followed by the backhanded “Gospel” that “women are still honorable creatures too.” I think we, as Lutherans, can do better than that.”

It is her strong feeling that Pastor Weedon’s remarks were all law and will only turn off people who were uncertain or unconvinced about the issue of the ordination of women to the pastoral office. I think that what she is driving at, but not quite arriving there, is that while when we present these issues, we must do so in such a way that the Word of God is taught very clearly and allowed simply to stand on its own merits, we must also take care not simply to present the Bible’s prohibitions against women as pastors without providing discussion of reasons why God has chosen, in His wisdom, not to give the pastoral office to women. And, where I agree with her the most, is when she asserts that simply telling women, “No, you can’t be a pastor. God’s Word says no, now go away” is a rather legalistic and negative approach. The better way is reflect the Bible’s teaching on this issue in such a way that we speak to the positive reasons why only certain men are called to this office and the positive opportunities God gives to women that he does not give to any man. In other words, embracing a holistic approach to the issue is the most helpful one.

At any rate, this conversation called to mind a paper I gave quite some time ago, in the 1990s. It was published as an article in LOGIA journal in 2001. The title of the presentation was Receiving the Gifts of Christ with Thankfulness and Faithfulness. I think in that paper I captured some of these nuances and I’d like simply here to offer it again for your consideration. I welcome your comments and feedback.

By the way, here are a couple different formats of this paper, in case you want to use it: Receiving the gifts of Christ


Receiving the Gifts of Christ with Thankfulness and Faithfulness
Thoughts on the Bride of Christ’s Royal Priesthood and Holy Ministry

by
Rev. Paul T. McCain

St. Paul paints a beautiful picture of the church in the Epistle to the Ephesians. In Ephesians 5 Paul describes the holy Christian church as the Bride of Christ. It is noteworthy that according to St. Paul the Christian family, a man and woman, in their calling as husband and father, and as wife and mother, are to be images of the truth that the church is the Bride of Christ. As God’s creation through the blood of Christ, the church dare never begrudge the gifts that God has given to her. She dare not sneer at God’s gift of the royal priesthood, nor dare she denigrate God’s gift of the office of the holy ministry. She receives both with thanksgiving and praise to God for his wisdom in giving these gifts. How tragic it is when the divine equilibrium between the priesthood of all believers and the office of the holy ministry devolves into a sort of civil war in the church! The church is known, according to Luther, only as “a little flock of those who accept the Word of the Lord and who teach and confess true doctrine against those who persecute them, even though they must suffer for it.”[1]

At the heart of these issues, in addition to whatever else might be said, and even must be said, is the question of remaining thankful for and faithful to the gifts the Lord has given, in the manner in which he has chosen to give them. This brief study presents some thoughts on the royal priesthood, the office of the holy ministry, the Lutheran concept of vocation and station in life, and then applies these understandings to some contemporary questions about these important gifts that Christ has given to us. One of Luther’s great rediscoveries at the time of the Reformation was the scriptural truth that all the baptized people of God are called to be the “royal priesthood,” as St. Peter describes it in 1 Peter 2:9. We turn to Luther in light of the fact that our Lutheran Confessions make it clear that “We wish to be regarded as appealing to further extensive statements in his [Luther’s] doctrinal and polemical writings” (FC SD RN, 9; Tappert, 505; BSLK, 837), and that Martin Luther is the “chief teacher of the Augsburg Confession” (FC SD VII, 34; Tappert, 575; BSLK, 983). In Luther’s struggle against the medieval conception of the church as a structure that connected the lowly layperson to the heavenly realms through a system of meritorious works mediated by an ordained priest, Luther held high the centrality of Christ and his gospel by which each baptized person is completely free and liberated from all of his sin and set free to serve in whatever station in life to which he had been called by God. For Luther, the church is not defined by a papal hierarchy or by priestly orders, but by the gospel of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. Luther’s views demolished the Roman Catholic belief that life was to be separated into two distinct realms, the sacred and the secular. Even as Christ humbled himself to be born of a lowly virgin, so now the Christian is set free to serve in whatever status in life he is placed.

Unfortunately, Luther’s liberating conception of the gospel was misunderstood by the Radical Reformation. The radical reformers were very much attracted by Luther’s 1520 and 1523 treatises. They used these documents to justify their position that the church has no structure or order. They believed that since all are priests, all equally may function in the church’s ministry. For Luther, this position was extremely dangerous and misleading for the church. In response to the troubles caused by the radical reformers Luther clarified his position on the relationship between the royal priesthood and the holy ministry. In his 1532 letter “Infiltrating and Clandestine Preachers,” Luther wrote the following: Undoubtedly some maintain that in 1 Corinthians 14, St. Paul gave anyone liberty to preach in the congregation, even to bark against the established preacher. . . .In this passage Paul is speaking of the prophets, who are to teach, not of the people, who are to listen. . . . He is not commanding the congregation to preach, but is dealing with those who are preachers in the congregation or assemblies. . . .From this it is clear that St. Paul . . . is clearly distinguishing between prophets and people. The prophets speak, the congregation listens . . . . It should be clear that he is commanding the congregation to listen and build itself up, and is not commissioning it to teach or preach. [2]
For Luther, what has been given to all may not be abrogated by any individual without a call to exercise the functions of the office of the holy ministry. In one of his earliest documents Luther was able clearly to make this proper scriptural distinction. He had written in his 1520 treatise The Babylonian Captivity of the Church that “what is the common property of all, no individual may arrogate to himself, unless he is called.” [3] The Bride of Christ, the royal priesthood, receives Christ’s gift of the holy ministry with thankfulness and faithfulness. Significant comments by Luther on the relationship between the royal priesthood and the holy ministry are to be found in his sermons on Psalm 110. Two significant quotations from these sermons are as follows:

It is in accordance with God’s creation that we must first be born as human beings, men or women; thereafter He assigns to each his office or position as He will. This is the way it is in Christendom, too. Before anyone becomes a preacher or bishop, he must first be a Christian, a born priest. . . . But having been born a priest through Baptism, a man thereupon receives the office; and this is what makes a difference between him and other Christians. Out of the multitude of Christians some must be selected who shall lead the others by virtue of the special gifts and aptitude which God gives them for the office. [4]

And:

Even though not everybody has the public office and calling, every Christian has the right and duty to teach, instruct, admonish, comfort, and rebuke his neighbor with the Word of God at every opportunity and whenever necessary. For example, father and mother should do this for their children and household; a brother, neighbor, citizen, or peasant for the other. [5]

In his 1527 lectures on Titus Luther wrote:

Christians are all priests as 1 Peter 2:5, 9 says. . . . It is the office of the priests to teach, to pray, and to sacrifice. . . .But not all are elders, that is, ministers, as he has commanded Titus. . . . Therefore it should be noted that it was Paul’s ordinance that he should select “elders.”. . . Elders are those who have authority in the Word. We are called bishops by apostolic rite, and that is what we are. We teach Christ, and we see who believe and who live in a Christian way; on the other hand, we rebuke those who do not do so, and if they refuse to change, we exclude them from the fellowship of Christians and from the sacraments. [6]

As Luther indicates so often in his writings, the royal priesthood has a wonderful diversity of vocations in this life. It is precisely in these various vocations that the royal priesthood exercises the duties and responsibilities Christ has entrusted to it. It is a terribly harmful error to imply that it is only when a member of the royal priesthood is involved in some sort of church work that he is truly living up to his calling in Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth. What a delusion we will inflict upon the church if we reinstitute a sort of monasticism by which the functions and duties of our “secular” life are of lesser degree, value, worth or merit in Christ’s church than the service one renders in a “church” job! Service within the four walls of a church building is not to be viewed as being of greater worth or value than the duties and responsibilities Christ has given us in our callings in life. No, we dare not slip into a new monasticism with this kind of thinking. We serve where we have been called and placed by God, not demanding what has not been given to us by him. We receive his gifts with thankfulness and faithfulness. As St. Paul writes If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. . . .Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor 12:15–16, 27). A disciple is a learner who sits at the feet of his master.
What God has given his church through the apostles is not to be ignored, twisted, or distorted to support an agenda alien to the apostolic Scriptures. The Christian faith is not other-worldly but counter-worldly. It is not a message that is anti-cultural, but rather counter-cultural or perhaps supra-cultural. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. The order Christ has given his church as a reflection of that divine order we find in creation is not to be set aside, ignored, or otherwise rejected. Again, the royal priesthood receives this order for the church’s ministry with thanksgiving as yet one more gracious gift from the Bridegroom of the church, Jesus Christ. He knows just what his beloved bride, the church, needs for her very survival.
I would now like to apply the foregoing remarks to a particular situation and issue that I am convinced lies behind much of the other discussion we hear these days about the royal priesthood, the service of women in the church, and the office of the holy ministry. The issue really takes the form of a very simple question: May a woman, surely as much a member of the royal priesthood as any man and certainly given gifts by the Holy Spirit, serve in the ordained ministry of word and sacrament in the church? It is not sufficient for any of us to say, “That is not our concern,” or, “That is not our issue,” or to say, “I do not have an opinion on that matter.” Nor dare we suggest that this is an open question. Rather, we must ask, “Are we willing, as the royal priesthood, as members of the body of Christ, the church, to receive with thanksgiving our Lord’s will for his bride?”
The holy ministry is as important a gift to the bride of Christ as is the royal priesthood. It is not an option for us, nor is it to be overlooked as we discuss the royal priesthood. The royal priesthood is not intended to be an “emancipation proclamation” for the laity, giving them the freedom to overlook the holy ministry and the responsibilities God has entrusted to this office. According to God’s inspired, infallible, and inerrant word, given to the church through Christ’s apostle St. Paul, specifically in 1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 3:2, 5; and 1 Timothy 2:12, the responsibility for public, authoritative preaching and teaching of the gospel in the church is to be entrusted to capable and qualified males. These men are to be placed by the church into the office Christ has given his church, the office of the holy ministry, through a “rightly ordered call,” as we confess in Article XIV of our Augsburg Confession. This being the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, it is not possible for the evangelical, orthodox church of the Lutheran Confession to recognize the legitimacy or validity of female pastors.
The situation is as Luther wrote in his commentary on Romans:

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 would in all respects be similar to those of a true priest, in fact, they might be performed more reverently and properly than the 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. [7]

Luther’s consistent, lifelong position is seen clearly even in his early writings. For instance, in his commentary on the First Epistle of Peter from 1522 we read that, while Galatians teaches that in matters of salvation there are no distinctions in the church, there must be one person chosen for the pastoral office. Luther says, “All may proclaim God’s Word, except that, as St. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 14:34, women should not speak in the congregation. They should let the men preach, because God commands them to be obedient to their husbands. God does not interfere with this arrangement.” [8]
Note also Luther’s remarks in his 1527 lectures on 1 Timothy concerning 1Timothy 2:11:

I believe that Paul is still speaking about public matters. I also want it to refer to the public ministry, which occurs in the public assembly of the church. There a woman must be completely quiet, because she should remain a hearer and not a teacher. She is not to be the spokesman among the people. She should refrain from teaching, from praying in public. She has the command to speak at home. This passage makes a woman subject. It takes from her all public office and authority. . . .Paul does not entrust the ministry of the Word to her. He wants to save the order preserved in the world. [9]

To those church bodies that would alter or otherwise distort these gifts we must, for the sake of the gospel itself, understand that a church that ordains women to the office of word and sacrament ministry thereby indicates publicly that it does not wish to conform itself to the word of the apostles. This is a most serious matter. For Christ our Lord said, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). Churches that ordain women as pastors are not apostolic churches any longer, but are sub-apostolic and anti-apostolic.
The older Luther provides us further insight into the matter of vocation and one’s station in life. The notion of office, station, and calling in life seems to be lacking in much of the discussion we hear these days about the royal priesthood. It would appear that all too often those who speak about the royal priesthood wish immediately to leap into a discussion of service in the church, often specifically service within the actual church building itself. As we have mentioned, this is not a proper reflection of Luther’s theology and, more importantly, not an accurate representation of scriptural theology. As evidence of Luther’s strong view of station and office and calling, we will provide an extended quotation from a sermon Luther preached at the Torgau Castle Church on 5 October 1544, in which he made the following remarks:

There must be many stations, and each one has enough to do in his own station. . . . Be and remain what you are, and do what is commanded you and your station demands, but see to it that you are not proud and that you do not exalt yourself before this Lord who has invited you and others . . . . Therefore, among Christians, nobody need complain that he is too poor or in too humble a station. Beloved, do you not have as much as a king or sovereign prince—a golden crown, power, goods, earth, the same Christ, the same baptism, and his whole heavenly kingdom; as St. Paul says of the Christians, they have nothing and yet possess everything, for, as he says in 1 Cor. 3 “all things are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”. . . But remain in your station and be content, whether you sit above or below. . . .God creates one and same standing within the great inequalities of many different stations and persons as he himself ordains how they must live in this life, and yet in such a way that each one perform his office and do the work of that office as his station required in the humility which renders all stations and persons equal in the sight of God, since he has created them all alike and to him one is as good as the other. . . .For he appoints many different offices, and Christ, the Son of God who sits at the right hand of the Father, bestows many gifts, in order that he may test us and see whether we fear him and are willing to serve him therein and thus humble ourselves. If we do not do so in this life,we shall nevertheless be grievously cast down in the end when we die. . . . each must be satisfied with his own place and not exalt himself above others, even though he may be higher and greater than others in the eyes of the world. Christ the Son of God was also high and noble, and yet he made himself equal to us poor men, indeed, he humbled himself beneath everybody. A woman must be a woman and cannot be a man. . . . But should I be proud because of this and say: I am not a woman, therefore, I am better in the sight of God? Should I not rather praise God for creating both the woman and me also through the woman and putting me in my station? What an un-Christian thing it is that one should despise another because he is in another station or is doing something other than he is doing. . . .He who scoffs at a station scoffs at the Lord himself. [10]

We receive Christ’s gifts with thankfulness and faithfulness. These gifts include our calling, office, and station in life. These are to be cherished as precious and priceless blessings from God that permit us to serve him. Will the bride of Christ receive the bridegroom’s gifts and then turn to him and say, “But we don’t think this is the way you should have given them. We want more. We want you to give us something different. We want something else. We are not sure you really meant for us to have these things in this way”? Our blessed Lord and Savior, our true bridegroom, has given his bride, the church, such precious gifts. He gives us the lifegiving water of holy baptism by which we are made his and through which we receive his gift of faith. We receive the word of pardon and peace in holy absolution. We receive with our mouth the actual body and blood of Christ given for the salvation of our souls and the strengthening of our faith in his holy supper. He has given us eternal life and salvation through these precious gifts of grace. What marvelous gifts! What an even more marvelous Gift-giver! Yes, truly we receive his gifts with thankfulness and faithfulness. I recognize that these issues will continue to be the focus of much attention in the Lutheran Church. I hope and pray that we can retain the beautiful understanding of the relationship between the royal priesthood and the office of the holy ministry without confusing either or otherwise rejecting in any way the marvelous gifts Christ has given to his bride. As Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, the church “is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God” (LC II, 42; Tappert, 416; BSLK, 655). As baptized sons and daughters of our mother, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, we receive with thankfulness and faithfulness all that Jesus Christ has given to our mother, his bride, the church. Included among these gifts is an order for the church that serves the gospel: a royal priesthood that serves Christ, and a preaching office, the ministry, that serves the royal priesthood on behalf of the Lord of the church, our divine Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

Endnotes

1. AE 13: 286;WA 41: 145.
2. AE 40: 388–391;WA 303: 522–523.
3. AE 36: 116;WA 16: 566.
4. AE 13: 331–332.
5. AE 13: 333;WA 41: 211.
6. AE 29: 16–17;WA 25: 16–17.
7. AE 25: 234;WA 56: 284.
8. AE 30: 55;WA 12: 309.
9. AE 28: 276–277;WA 26: 46–47.
10. AE 51: 348, 350–351, 352–353;WA 49: 607, 609, 611.

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