Christ Gave No Law Concerning Church Governance (He Didn’t Even Mention a Voter’s Assembly)
Yet another reason why Lutheranism flummoxes the Reformed, on the one hand, and the Roman Catholics/Eastern Orthodox on the other, is because we absolutely insist that nowhere does Christ institute a certain form of church governance.
Sasse puts matters, as always, not only succinctly, but clearly and briefly! We Missouri Synod Lutherans must be very careful we never assume that the Voter’s Assembly method of organizing a congregation has any more legitimate “Biblical” command or order than any other method or system of organizing a congregation, or a larger church body. Every form is feasible, and no form can claim to be the “more Biblical” form. Christ gave no law concerning the Church’s constitution or how it is to to be organized and governed. None.
Let’s hear Sasse:
“One should stop and realize just what that means. Of every other church one may say with the familiar words of Calvin that it professes an ordo, quo Dominus ecclesiam gubernari voluit [“ an order by which the Lord wills His church to be governed”]. That is true of the Catholic Churches of the East and West, as well as of the Reformed denominations. Opinions differ only as to what this ordo may be: the universal monarchy of the popes or the episcopo-synodical administration of the Eastern and Anglican Churches; the governing of a church by a senate of presbyters, among whom there may be no difference of rank, or the autonomy of the individual Congregational or Baptist congregations (to name but a few of the church polities for which it is claimed that they are prescribed in the New Testament). The true greatness of Luther and the boldness of his basic theological principle of strict separation of Law and Gospel becomes clear when one observes how, apart from all these other possibilities, he travels his lonely way: Christ has given His church no law de constituenda ecclesia [concerning the constitution of the church]. Every form of church government is feasible which leaves room for a proper administration of the means of grace, which imposes no restrictions upon their administration.
“One thing, indeed, the Lord has given His church, something that does not pertain to its bene esse but to its esse [not to its well-being but to its very being]: “Ut hanc fidem consequamur, institutum est ministerium docendi evangelii et porrigendi sacramenta” [“ That this faith may be obtained, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted”], as the Augustana states, Article V. In order that we may attain this justifying faith of which the preceding article speaks, the Gospel must be preached and the Sacraments must be administered, and for this purpose God has established the ministry, the service [Dienst] by which this is done. But wherever the means of grace are properly administered, there, according to the divine promise that the Word shall not return to Him void, is also the ecclesia, the congregatio sanctorum, the congregation of saints, of sinners justified.
“The manner in which the congregation shall organize itself is prescribed just as little as the form which is taken on by the ministerium ecclesiasticum [the church's ministry]. The apostles came to realize that they would be better able to fulfill the duties of their spiritual office if they would be relieved of the obligation of ministering to the poor and administering financial affairs. That is how the supplementary office of deacons originated. But the church was church even without this office. That is how the church of all the ages may, because of the needs of the times, create certain auxiliary offices, e.g., the office of the episcopate, superintendency, or whatever else one may mention. But the existence of all these “offices” is justified only insofar as they serve the one great ministry of preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. A bishop may have the function of administering the affairs of a large diocese. The underlying purpose, however, can only be to create opportunity for the ministerium ecclesiasticum. His true office is that of a pastor, even though he be pastor pastorum. Iure humano [“ by human arrangement”] he may have the duties of a superintendency. Only the office of the preaching of reconciliation [das Amt, das die Versöhnung predigt] is iure divino [“ by divine right”].”
Herman, Sasse. Letters to Lutheran Pastors. Volume 1: “Letter 8: On The Problem of the Relation Between the Office of the Ministry and the Congregation,” (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2013), p. 121.