(Nihil Note: This was also posted to Bailing Water in 2010)

The Office of the Holy

Ministry (sic       ) in Wisconsin



Faculty + Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary + Circa 1961


Oktoberfest Seminar + October 13, 2008

St. Paul Lutheran + Kewaunee, Illinois



Rev. Fr. John W. Berg


This presentation was delivered at the thirteenth annual Oktoberfest held at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Kewanee, Illinois (October 13, 2008) and is presented here in edited form.  It was one of four presentations delivered by former members of the Wisconsin Synod, now members of the Missouri Synod, about the differences between the two former Synodical Conference partners. 




In 1961 it was a matter relating to church, not ministry, that was the final death blow dealt to the Synodical Conference by the Wisconsin Synod as it withdrew the hand of fellowship from Missouri - the Evangelical Lutheran Synod already having exited.


While church issues took the foreground, looming in the background were issues of ministry. Yet as late as 1948 the Synodical Conference was still able to amicably take up the issue. The joint committee assigned the task issued a majority report which represented the so called Missouri view, signed onto by two Wisconsin men, and a minority report representing the so called Wisconsin view authored by a lone Wisconsinite. Yet even in those tense times the Wisconsin minority report was still able to state with great comity


There are two marked differences in the [Evangelical Lutheran] Synodical Conference in the matter of Church and Ministry. These are not differences in doctrine as such… They are differences in application.[1]


However, freed of Missouri restraint Wisconsin forged ahead to develop her doctrine on her own. And did she!  And though it was thought that the two Synod’s doctrines of ministry were not divisive of fellowship for their first 110 years, barring the intervention of the Spirit these differences present an insurmountable obstacle today. This would depend on whether Missouri corrects a WELSward drift from its confessional moorings, a drift retired Bishop Roger Pittelko observed reacting to the Council of Presidents study entitled “Holy Ministry,”


Notice the exclusion and avoidance of the definite article. This is extremely significant, I assure you![2]


Once tolerant of Missouri Wisconsin will no longer be.  The Missouri Doctrine, which, frankly, the WELS does not quite understand, has received the official anathema sit. And my fellow Missourians you may not realize how heretically wrong the Wisconsin Synod finds you! The magisterially entitled booklet WELS and Other Lutherans in its summary of differences between WELS and… other… Lutherans lists eight differences between itself and ELCA and with no less than 15 differences between itself and Missouri[3] with a full fourteen of those “differences” involving ministry related issues. 


To be charged a “Missourian” in Wisconsin nowadays marks you as an agitator. Those foolish enough to wear a collar remain under suspicion, the “Packer” tie or polo shirt being the clerical of choice. Indeed, as Bishop Pittelko noted in Missouri, articulating the word “ministry” will raise red flags, let alone if you accord it an uppercase “M.” Speaking of a concrete Office of the Holy Ministry restricted to qualified men was enough for the inquisitors in their bright red ties to ignite the faggots and set two of this seminar’s speakers ablaze.


As I began to associate with those outside the sect, a breech of fellowship [4] I was warned, and began to enjoy the fellowship of those in the Missouri Synod, I quickly learned that many Missourians know little more about Wisconsin than Wisconsin knows about Missouri. This was true nowhere more so than in regards to the issue of the Ministry. “Really?!” was the comment I most often heard from Missourians when I explained Wisconsin’s views. So, let me dispel any doubts or illusions you might have about Wisconsin in regards to “ministry.” As Bishop Pittelko said, the lack of a definite article is extremely significant, I assure you!


Now Wisconsin, unlike Missouri, is quite monolithic in her thinking about most things. Allegiance is demanded to their Doctrinal Statements and though accorded confessional status in its midst they aren’t always helpful in divining its teachings as they are often little more than general statements with a catena of Bible passages to “proof text” the point in question. Where true Wisconsin is found is in the Talmudic writings of its seminary professors. But to truly understand Wisconsin though you must read the seminal article from which its admittedly novel doctrine found its genesis, the Holy Grail of Wisconsin’s view of the ministry lauded as “breathtakingly bold,” and “Lutheresque”[5] Wauwatosa theologian John Schaller’s “The Origin and Development of the New Testament Ministry.” Your reading it will spare me the charge of overkill.


The Office (sic) of the Holy Ministry


The first of the official statements on the ministry which we consider today might have you wondering if poor Wisconsin is being unfairly criticized here. It reads,


 Christ instituted one office in His Church, the ministry of the Gospel.


But as good Lutherans we must ask, what does this mean? Let me assure you, aside from the word “Christ,” this does not mean what you think it means.  Vital in understanding Wisconsin is to know that Augustana V’s “Ministry of the Gospel,” the ministerium Evangelii, or in the mother tongue, das Predigtamt, is not the Office of Preaching, but the function of proclaiming the Gospel. As seminary professor and Wisconsin’s point man on the issue John Brug bluntly says, “The Predigtamt is the Gospel.” [6]  Schaller for his part is more incarnational and finds this office incarnated in the royal priesthood,


This [New Testament Ministry] is basically nothing other than the doctrine of the spiritual priesthood.[7]


Curiously, Brug, perhaps not checking the bullet points on the issue or his own history, bristles,


We must reject [Kurt] Marquart’s opinion that the Wisconsin Statements lead to a “virtual identification of the universal priesthood and the ministry.” [8]


What is historically called the office of the Holy Ministry, the OHM as the cognoscenti say, Wisconsin calls the “public ministry” which itself for Wisconsin is not an office, but the approved carrying out of the tasks assigned it by the church. For Wisconsin, Augustana V does not create an office that Augustana XIV fills, even abstractly. Leaving the argument to the gnesio, neo, anti or pseudo Waltherians about that term, Walther says in Thesis II of Kircke und Amt  


This statement [AC V] does not speak of the ministry of the Word in concreto, but only of the ministry of the Word in abstracto[9].


Schaller without naming names takes dead aim at Walther


God did not institute a ministry in abstracto, but he continually creates the ministry of preaching [Predigtdienst] through his Gospel. 


Predigtamt becomes Predigtdienst for Schaller I suspect in order to completely distance any thought of an office from the amt.[10] 


For Wisconsin “Predigtamt” is simply function. Typical of the attempts to cobble this view to the Confessions is illustrated in a set of Theses by a Michigan District conference of the Wisconsin Synod which was commissioned to extinguish the pernicious error of a reprobate who wrote a paper making the audacious claim that God created an office. This sacred congregation for the defense of the faith without quoting Luther or the Confessions proclaimed


Luther and the confessors understood Predigtamt as synonymous with the Means of Grace… Amt is a very elastic word.”[11] 


Or one might say wax. And follow this logic closely; in explaining that the ministry is not an office they schooled the writer, who suggested that the office of the ministry is an office,


To say “the ministry is an office” is about like saying “an automobile is a car.”  “Ministry” and office” are synonyms.” “Office” does not necessarily define or clarify the meaning of “ministry.”


I’m not sure how synonyms don’t bring clarity to each other, but the Tractatus (25) uses Predigtamt as preaching office, not means of grace, which of course are what the office is all about,


Christ addresses [Peter] as a minister of this office (amt) in which this confession and doctrine is to be in operation and says “Upon this rock, i.e., this preaching (Predigt) and ministry (Predigtamt).


Now, indeed “amt” is used in this sense in the Smalcald Articles in discussing the functions of the law and Gospel, as is “ministry,” but couple Amt with Predigt, which presumes a Prediger, the Amt, dare I say, becomes quite fleshy even if the function of the office is the matter at hand. To the committee we offer Luther himself in the “Answer to the Hyperchristian, Hyperspiritual, and Hyperlearned Book by Goat Emser in Leipzig-Including Some Thoughts Regarding His Companion, the Fool Murner” which would test their assertion,


Scripture, I say, calls the spiritual and priestly estate a service, caretaking, an office, an elder, an attendant, a guardian, a preaching office, and a shepherd. [12]


The problem with Rome, as Luther so clearly points out in his De Ministerio, is that the Papists separated the evangelical functions from the office, indeed turned it into a sacrificial office. The problem with the Schwaermer on the other hand is that they unhinged the functions from the office and clandestinely snuck about. Luther spoke of such office-less functions


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 in all respects would 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. [13]


The answer to the Romanism is not enthusiasm. But this is the fear in Wisconsin. So to find an office in AC V will find you suffering the calumny expressed by Professor Brug, who says about many in this crowd, I suspect,


This is why Romanizing Lutherans must battle to inject the institution of the pastoral ministry into AC V, just as they often battle to inject it into Matthew 28.[14]


Martin Chemnitz, too, must suffer this calumny as he in his Examination of the Council of Trent of all places applies the Matthew 28 citation to those in this teaching office.[15] In fact he refers to the John 20 text of Jesus breathing out on his disciples as their Ordination, though rejecting the idea that such an exsufflation is necessary today.


For Wisconsin uses of the term “ministry,” “Predigtamt” or even the “Office of the Holy Ministry” by the Confessions or Luther or other Lutheran fathers are all fair game to be considered as equal to the Gospel or the royal priesthood. On this very point John Brug in a paper entitled “The Meaning of Predigtamt in AC V” cites a passage from Apology XIII (7ff) in which he maintains its use of Predigtamt is equivalent to “means of grace.” That passage,


The adversaries do not understand the sacrament of orders and priesthood as the ministry of the Word (Predigtamt) or the office (amt) of administering the sacraments for others, but they understand it of priests who are ordained to offer sacrifices…If ordination is understood as carrying out the ministry of the Word we are willing to call ordination a sacrament. For the ministry of the Word (Predigtamt) has God’s command and glorious promises. For the church has the command to appoint ministers, which should be most pleasing to us, because we know that God approves this ministry and is present in the ministry.


Unless you are approaching this text with a predetermined position, you cannot help but see that this passage, whose subject that ordination which can rise to sacramental status (sorry Jack), speaks of an office. Brug later chides those who view AC V or even the public ministry as an office with this straw man,


The Holy Spirit is efficacious through the gospel. It is a Romanizing trait to make the pastor a means of grace. [16]


Now who says that? But is it Romanizing to say “how can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?”  Well, I guess it is Romanizing. Perhaps Wisconsin needs a gentle reminder that the Gospel and Sacraments save no one. The Gospel preached and the Sacraments administered do. But that a pious believer gives an answer for the hope he has and a parent speaks to her child the love of Christ does not put them into office.


Wisconsin hinges much on the term “public” before ministry and so without it, you just have ministry without an office. It is interesting to note that the word “public” as an adjective before “ministry,” if Larson’s concordance is reliable, occurs only once in the Confessions, although it is translated into Predigtamt or ministerium several times. The lone occurrence is in an inconsequential reference in the Apology in “The Marriage of Priests.” (Rome reasoned that since priests should always pray and since praying was an exercise of their office, they didn’t have time for “conjugal intercourse.” The lusty Lutherans said, sex doesn’t prevent us from praying.)


Augustana XIV, of course, uses it adverbially. The ministry is by nature and institution publice. One certainly can turn the Confessions and Luther on their heads if one were to say they were speaking of the witness of all the royal priesthood which Wisconsin says Predigtamt is, when they may be talking about the Office. Again, that all things belong to all Christians, yes, the ministry of the keys, does not mean there is no office of preaching. The Tractatus (26) reminds us that 


The Predigtamt of the New Testament is not bound to places and persons as the Levitical ministry, but is dispersed throughout the whole world and is there where God gives His gifts, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers; neither does this ministry avail on account of the authority of any person, but on account of the Word given by Christ.


The lone confessional citation which Wisconsin in all of its official writings uses to prove its point is from the Formula in which the errors of the Schwenckfeldians are condemned when they


[Assert] that the ministry of the Church, the word preached and heard, is not a means whereby God the Holy Ghost teaches men and works in them saving knowledge of Christ.”[17]


However the authoritative German does not use Predigtamt here, but Kirchendienst, and the issue here with the Stink-fledians was not the office per se, but a fluttering Spirit not fettered to the word. The Formula doesn’t simply say the “Word,” but the “word preached,” and the last I heard is that they cannot hear without a preacher and he can’t preach unless he is sent. Simply ignored by Wisconsin are the many uses of Predigtamt later in the Augustana, the Apology, and the Smalcald articles, for example


Therefore the bishop has the power of the order, i.e., the ministry of Word and Sacraments.[18]


So the “office” in Wisconsin’s “Christ instituted one office in His Church” is not an office.  In fact in the first explanatory comment on this thesis in the Doctrinal Statement we read, “It is the task of proclaiming the Gospel.”




Though adamantly insisting that the Predigtamt is divinely instituted, vain, in Wisconsin, is the hunt for a red citation, that is, a red lettered word of institution from Christ.  Schaller says


It is clear from this in which sense we can speak of the divine institution of the New Testament ministry. God very obviously wills the preaching of the gospel. He accomplished this will by calling people to the fellowship of the gospel… Jesus commands to preach are not the original institution of the gospel ministry; they substantiate the fact that it had been instituted. He couldn’t give a command to preach if he didn’t already have preachers.[19]


Yes, the Gospel is preaching because the Gospel is the Word, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and the Hypostatic Word was inscribed for us and must as a word be preached to us. The eternal Word did not need to be instituted; it the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. So isn’t it a bit odd, then, to say as our Confession says that God instituted something that needs no institution?  As Schaller himself says,


 But if one wishes to speak about an institution, one must, of course, be able to cite the instituting command.[20]


Though its Doctrinal Statements cite Matthew 28, Mark 16, Matthew 16, and John 20, along with 1 Peter 2:9 and Matthew 18 under its theses, upon closer examination you see that these Apostolic commissionings are not cited as instituting words, which most would be led to believe, but as passages which confirm the “task,” that, is to “proclaim the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.”  There is no difference made between Christ granting the keys to the church and to the Eleven. Wisconsin virtually equates the priesthood with the apostolate and their successors. Seminary professor Leroy Dobberstein places the Matthew 28, Mark 16 and John 20 citations under the title of “the institution of the universal priesthood.”[21] Dobberstein also owns up,


In asserting this [that there is no mandatum Dei for the New Testament Ministry] the Wauwatosa men were in fact departing from the earlier position of Adolf Hoenecke and the position held by Franz Pieper and others in the Missouri Synod. [22]  


No mandatum Dei. But there you have it in AC V, “instituted.” And so “instituted” becomes “instituted in this sense” in Wisconsin’s confession “Christ instituted one office in His Church, the ministry of the Gospel.”


The “Public” Ministry


Again, Wisconsin uses the term “public ministry” for what you would call the Office of the Holy Ministry. And again, Wisconsin maintains that the public ministry is divinely instituted.  And again, when you ask for the instituting word, you come up empty, again.  Schaller writes,


But if one wishes to speak about an institution, one must, of course, be able to cite the instituting command. It was supposed, to be sure, that the divine institution of at least one form of the public ministry had been indirectly established. But it is certainly a questionable undertaking to try to establish a divine command, and hence a positive moral precept, by means of circumstantial evidence. Is it God’s practice in other in serious matters that directly concern our soul’s salvation to leave it to our reason to make a deduction concerning a particular act of the will?


Erling Teigen of the ELS in Logia notes that the translator of Schaller’s work gets a bit hinky here and footnotes Schaller’s comments that Scripture does speak about the necessity of a public ministry. Teigen notes, however, that there is nothing in Schaller’s essay that would lead us to believe Schaller believed that. Schaller not only says no forms are instituted, but no office is. Teigen opines whether Schaller and his compatriot August Pieper were the real but unnamed coconspirators of brother Franz’s attack on Hoefling in his Dogmatics. This view, however, is not unique to Schaller. Dobberstein writes,


The fact of the matter is that the WELS position from the time of the Wauwatosa theologians has not looked to legal commands of God to establish the public ministry.[23] 


Dobberstein quotes another Wisconsinite, Peter Prange, who lauds the Wauwatosa theologians


The Wauwatosa men didn’t pay mere lip service to the power of the gospel and, therefore, never felt the need to resort to the legalistic idea of mandata Dei. They didn’t depend upon legal regulations to guide the life of the Church. 


In their rush ad fontes these Wauwatosa theologians too quickly by-passed our Lutheran Confession which notes that, the public Office of the Holy Ministry,


Has God’s command, mandatum Dei, and glorious promises.  For the Church has the mandatum, to appoint ministers, which should be most pleasing to us because we know that God approves this ministry, and is present in this ministry.


Indeed, all the Sacraments, however many you have, 3, 4 1/2 , 7 or more, have the mandatum Dei. What Wisconsin misses is that the Office of the Holy Ministry is, like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, an evangelical institution.


As regards the divine institution of the public ministry Wisconsin’s doctrinal statement rather than saying that the public ministry is divinely “instituted” says, that


The public ministry constitutes a special God-ordained way of practicing the one ministry of the Gospel.


An otherwise innocent and pious sounding “God ordained” in the absence of an instituting word is simply human presumption. Dobberstein clears up the matter so that you can see that I am not engaging in mere leptological hairsplitting,


When the WELS speaks of a divine institution for the public ministry it is not referring to a specific command of institution.[24]


Incredible, a divine institution with no divine institution! So the public ministry with no mandatum Dei is a special God-ordained way of practicing the one ministry of the Gospel, but no form of it is. This always puzzled me, forms.  Preaching and administering are, by the way, its form. The WELS Doctrinal Statement enlightens us,


There is, however, no direct word of institution for any particular form of the public ministry.  


What does this mean?  Schaller provides the answer.  


We come thus to the indisputable conclusion that God can indeed recognize something that has been established under his invisible dominion and yet also according to human decision.[25] 




The pastoral ministry as such is not a Biblical, but rather in each individual case a historically developed concept. That means the pastoral ministry is for each time and in each place, what the church so says.”[26]


Talk about Voter’s Assembly’s run wild! Wisconsin says that though an instituting word for the public ministry is lacking, the public ministry and any form it devises is divinely instituted a posteriori.  So, forms of the ministry developed by man are divinely instituted but no form is divinely instituted. It is here where the language of diplomacy with the ELS, Wisconsin’s little Norwegian buddy, is important. The ELS says the pastoral ministry is divinely instituted, which to maintain peace Wisconsin interprets; yes any form is, a posteriori. I won’t try to stir the pot, too much, by whispering that the ELS means this a priori.


David Vallesky former Seminary president also finds no mandatum Dei and incredibly cites Apology XIII (11) which says


The church has the command to appoint ministers, which should be most pleasing to us, because we know that God approves this ministry and is present in the ministry


And then concludes,


This Confessional Statement echoes they way the Scriptures speak. Though one will search in vain for a direct word of institution for the public ministry, e.g. for baptism, the Scriptures assume the existence of what we have come to call the public ministry.[27]


It is ironic, that Vallesky says that Predigtamt here is speaking of the public ministry, whereas Brug cites the same passage to say that Predigtamt here does not speak of the public ministry. Whatever, for Wisconsin there is no mandatum Dei, but a divine assumption. 


The “divine institution” of the public ministry is, however, substantiated by the Doctrinal Statement for other three related reasons, first that a call is necessary. 


The authority to call is implied (emphasis in original) in the authority to administer the Gospel given to the ‘Church.’ Hence, it is proper to speak of the derived right of local congregations to call. 


So what is meant by a “divine institution” of the public ministry for Wisconsin? They assume there is such from the call to preach from which the church infers the authority to call from which the local congregation derives its right to call. So I guess we pastors should speak of being derivatively called to serve in a Divine Inference. Other reasons cited by the Doctrinal Statements are that God is a God of order, not all are equally qualified, God gave these gifts to people and who is to deny anyone their gift, even the so called gift of pastoring or pastoretting and finally that these public ministers were appointed by God.


One does sense the specter of Johann Hoefling floating about. Yet Wisconsin bristles at the suggestion, for though Hoefling did not reject the divine institution of the Gospel, he did reject the divine institution of the public ministry, which Wisconsin maintains, sort of. Kurt Marquardt of blessed memory writes that Hoefling maintained against Loehe, that 


The concrete office of Word and Sacrament does not arise out of a direct divine command and institution. Rather, it emerges by an inner necessity out of the priesthood itself, that is, by the latter’s delegation [Ubertragung] of its individual member’ spiritual rights and powers to one of themselves, for the sake of good order.[28]


Marquart labels Hoefling’s later attempts to “make this scheme add up to a divine institution of the concrete preaching office,” only “cosmetic.”  Or as Schaller said earlier


But it is certainly a questionable undertaking to try to establish a divine command, and hence a positive moral precept, by means of circumstantial evidence.


No one would quarrel that this is all true of a divinely instituted office, the need for a call and so forth, but does it add up to one? Is Wisconsin’s “divine assumption” with inferred rights a cosmetic cover up for a blemished doctrine? Wisconsin’s angry denials ring a bit hollow to me, such as this by John Brug in his dim review of Kurt Marquart’s book “The Church and Her Fellowship, Ministry and Governance,”  


It should be emphasized that the so-called Wisconsin Synod position asserts the divine institution of the public ministry, including the pastoral ministry, every bit as fully as the “Missouri position.”[29]


Ever bit as fully?  An assumption from an inference with no mandatum Dei? Ok.


Now, what does Wisconsin do with the dominical commands and institution of Matthew 28, Mark 16 to which Chemnitz appeals and most certainly the John 20 text to which the Tractatus appeals?  Those have been taken off the table by Wisconsin as they are said to be spoken not to the apostles, but to the church as a whole.


Yet we see that Melanchthon cites John 20:21ff and Mark 16:15 in the Apology and in the Tractatus he cites Matthew 28 and John 21 when speaking of this responsibility given the Apostles. When speaking of the Church’s possession of the keys he uses Matthew 18 and reminds us that the Church has the right to elect and ordain ministers since it alone has the priesthood (69) which the Papists claimed for themselves.


Equally surprising to all those who long for the second coming of the Synodical Conference is the view of the Tractatus (10) as to the origin of the office, that this “Predigtamt“ proceeds from the general call of the apostles.”  One such would be John Brug, who writes,


Nothing in Scripture indicates that the office of pastor or any other public ministry of the Word is derived from the apostolic office.[30]


Now that would be surprising to those who penned and subscribed with their own hands the Tractatus.




The answer to the question “What is the difference between Missouri and Wisconsin?” given by the average Wisconsinite reflects the presentations that we four apostates are giving today:


- Missourians pray at Yankee stadium with pagans; we don’t pray with our LCMS grandmother. 

- Missourians base their teachings on the Confessions; we base ours on the Bible.

- Missourians let their women vote; we make our ministers, and

- Missourians say only parish pastors are in the public ministry; we say that anyone who does anything on behalf of the church is.


To illustrate, first, that Wisconsin does not understand the term “pastoral ministry” and thus Missouri, listen to Tom Nass who, on the attack, writes,  


There does not need to be someone called “pastor.” The work of shepherding must be done. But the office of pastor, as we know it, is not essential. The work could be delegated and accomplished in another way.”[31]


Pastors are not needed although pastoral ministry needs to be done. Ok. Does he really think this is about titles? Or is there more to this distinction without a difference?


Now I jest not when I say that in Wisconsin anyone doing anything on behalf of the church is in the public ministry in the WELS.  The issue of forms of the public ministry is at the heart of Wisconsin’s teaching. Behind this Doctrinal Statement “The one public ministry of the Gospel may assume various forms as circumstances demand” you will find lurking, Ac 6:1-6. In Wisconsin, the one Gospel ministry has expanded exponentially beyond AC V’s tasks to table service and beyond. This goes far beyond the question of whether theological professors and Synodical executives are in the Office. Staunchly conservative seminary professor John Brenner writes,


Already in apostolic times the public ministry was exercised in a variety of ways. The Christians in Jerusalem chose seven deacons to supervise charitable work in their name.[32]


Now yes, I know what you are thinking.  This form of ministry was instituted by the church so that the apostles would not neglect the “ministry of the word.”  That problem is generally brushed aside as here we see in former Seminary president Armin Schuetze’s little tome entitled “Church-Mission-Ministry” that such ministers


Contribute to the public proclamation of the Word so that the church may be edified. [33]


His recently retired successor David Vallesky flings open the doors left ajar by Schuetze’s  ambiguous “contribute,” 


Including staff ministry and member ministry, even that which supports rather than directly participates in word and sacrament ministry, under the term public ministry is biblical.[34]


A former synodical vice president and former seminary professor, Wayne Mueller delivers the WELS improbat on any contrary opinion (even that of AC V),


Christian ministry is misconstrued or torn from its biblical moorings (when) ministry is thought of too narrowly as though it included only the ministry of the keys…[35]    


Mueller insists that all that a Christian does is the one Ministry given the Church, AC V a subcategory. Now years ago Wisconsin would attempt to shelter its ever burgeoning list of ministries under the tent of AC V by showing they use the “Word.”  The same happens today generally only when writing for public consumption. Tom Nass, for example, in Logia says


Even the physical education professors at Martin Luther College are called into the public ministry, because they are expected to use the Word of God with students. As coaches, they may lead their teams in prayer. As faculty advisors for students, they are expected to counsel students with God’s Word.[36]


Yet Nass should know from Wisconsin doctrine such use of the Word is not a sine qua non for the Ministry.




The formlessness of this public ministry is supported by this assertion which we find in the People’s Bible book on the subject,


A list of duties outlining the responsibilities of everyone who is called into the public ministry does not exist.[37]


This would be news to the cosignatories of the Lutheran Confessions who believe such a list does indeed exist, and provided it! The Tractatus (60), for example, echoing Augustana XXVIII,


The Gospel assigns to those who preside over churches the command to teach the Gospel, to remit sins, to administer the Sacraments, and besides jurisdiction, namely, the command to excommunicate those who crimes are known, and again to absolve those who repent. And by the confession of all, even of the adversaries, it is clear that this power by divine right is common to all who preside over the churches, whether they are called pastors, or elders, or bishops.


Aside from appealing to the various titles the incumbents of the Office of the Holy Ministry are given in Scripture, pastor, bishop, elder and so forth and the Acts 6 passage the other passage always marshaled for support in Wisconsin is 1 Timothy 5:17. The NIV, not always to be confused with the New Testament, translates (sic),


The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those who work is preaching and teaching.


However, the blessed Apostle literally wrote


Let the well ruling elders be worthy of double honor especially the one laboring in word and teaching.


The words “affairs of the church,” you quickly note, are not in the text. Are these presbyteroi lay ministers of the church maintaining the church’s non-Word and Sacrament “ministries?” Or is not Paul simply encouraging people - in this list of encouragements - to honor older men, which, of course, is what presbyteroi means, like the presbyteros or older man of verse one of this chapter whom Paul encourages Timothy not to rebuke too harshly. Also, the word Paul uses here proestote, is used in chapter 3 informing us that bishops and deacons must “manage” their households well.  Paul undoubtedly is simply saying, “older men who manage (their households) well, are worthy of double honor, honor, for we always honor our “elders” and honor, for being good household managers, especially those (elders) who work in word and teaching.” 


Yet upon these two passages Wisconsin has expanded the ministry to anyone doing anything on behalf of the church. These passages were appealed to when Wisconsin instituted its staff ministry program. 


While all forms of public ministry derive their authority from the gospel, not every office of ministry in the New Testament was directly involved in teaching the Word and administering the sacraments.[38] 


The authority from the Gospel not to preach the Gospel?! Vallesky notes about these non Word and Sacrament forms, that they need a divine call


Even if the staff ministry role as designed by a particular congregation does not involve direct use of Word and Sacraments.[39]


For a Synod that prides itself in its ad fontes it is surprising that Wisconsin eschewed exegetical investigation and employed the Reformed NIV’s translation. To illustrate the lengths to which this goes see this notice from the WELS run Wisconsin Lutheran College from one of its mailers,


Wisconsin Lutheran, under the auspices of the Southeastern Wisconsin District presidium, is seeking faculty candidates for divine calls in the following disciplines: anthropology, art, biology, business, chemistry, communication, computer science, early childhood education, economics, education, English, finance, German, history, mathematics, music (instrumental), philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, sociology, Spanish, theatre (sic).[40]


The Call and Qualifications


To this amorphous and atomized public ministry an equally amorphous divine call is the order of the day. An essay given to the 1965 WELS’ synod convention spoke of the call


Not all…receive formal calls, diplomas of vocation. Some are ordained, some installed, some inducted, some commissioned, some merely introduced and some are simply put to work, perhaps even without special mention. Be all of that as it may, as long as members of the church, in whatever way they have gathered to express themselves, have asked the service of these people… they all have divine calls.[41]


To illustrate the lengths to which this all can go, at Wisconsin Lutheran College the campus pastor desired to have all the students recite the general confession and absolution in chapel. But since the general absolution in Christian Worship reads, “therefore, as a called servant of Christ” the pastor, to insure that all things met Augustana XIV muster, I assume, called all the students so they could publicly absolve each other “as called servants of Christ.”




This broad view of the ministry will have implications when it comes to the qualifications for this ministry. When 1 Timothy 3 is examined WELS writers instinctively talk about the “form” of the ministry called the pastorate and not about all the other so called forms. Dobberstein, almost misty-eyed, writing on the “apt to teach” clause speaks of the Wisconsin Synod’s worker training program for the “public ministry” that it is “second to none” and “might well be the envy of any other church body.”[42]  Of course he was only speaking of pastors and teachers. But when pressed 1 Timothy 3’s qualifications are cited as applicable for any form of this public ministry because they are said to apply to all Christians. The People’s Bible commentary incredibly notes    


That [these qualifications] are stated here does not set up a unique standard for overseers or pastors. [43]  


For they are found, he says in a “greater or lesser degree” in all Christians. Dobberstein writes


The longer lists of characteristics for such reliable and qualified men are nothing other than an enumeration of the characteristics God wants all Christians to have.[44]


So logic demands if one needs to be 1 Timothy 3 qualified to teach art, then one is 1 Timothy 3 qualified for the office of bishop. Everyone a bishop! To illustrate the lengths to which this goes I offer an anecdote. In a discussion of a conference paper on 1 Timothy 3’s bishop’s qualifications the presenter ultimately concluded, in a real life scenario I put to him, that a man who had been imprisoned for child molestation, who repented and was absolved and humbly returned to his church where all knew of his sin, would have been judged by him to be disqualified from serving in the form of the public ministry called the “buildings and grounds committee.” His “scandalous life” disqualified him from taking his turn mowing the grass.  Just an anecdote? Noting that the WELS People’s Bible commentary says the word “respectable” means that the chap among other things “should not be slovenly in his appearance”[45] listen to, at the time, parish pastor Tom Nass in the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly.


What is most interesting is simply to notice the sizable and well organized public ministry which existed [at St. Mary’s] in Wittenberg, and the variety of different offices. It reminds me a little of the congregation I presently serve which has three pastors and twelve Christian day school teachers, plus secretaries and janitors, who are all ministering in some sense. [46]




Now I do not wish to steal the next presenter’s thunder, but if I do she will submissively endure it. But briefly, I will quote her father, a Missouri Synod pastor and friend, who when asked “what is the difference between the WELS and ELCA in regards to women in the pastoral ministry?” quipped “about 20 years.” I thought him pessimistic. However there is no theological barrier here to women pastors. The WELS addendum to the Book of Concord, “This We Believe,” notes,


We believe that women may participate in offices and activities of the public ministry except where that work involves authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11, 12). This means that women may not serve as pastors nor participate in assemblies of the church in ways that exercise authority over men (1 Corinthians 11:3; 14:33-35). (Emphasis added.)


Carefully note the wording, “Women may not serve as pastors… in ways that exercise authority over men.” Now Wisconsin is too conservative to ever call its women ministers, “pastors” though they may do the pastor things. In theology Wisconsin beat ELCA by several generations, in terminology it remains stealthily behind, in practice it is closing fast. A conference paper given at a conference I was at in California was accepted as sound theology in which the presenter told the case of a female teacher manning the paten at a pastor-teacher conference who could do so because male ushers fenced the rail. The only hubbub was that the ministerette’s red dress was on the short side. Woo-hoo!


As you know Wisconsin for a time ordained its male teachers and though David Scaer was angrily denounced for suggesting that there was no reason not to ordain its female teachers, the  very angry critic in question, John Brug, wrote in a paper on the misconceptions Missouri has,


Since ordination is not a scriptural term, and Scripture does not limit the laying on of hands to the pastoral ministry, women could be installed into permitted forms of public ministry with the laying on of hands.[47] 


All Equal?


Ordaining or installing men, women and children into the Office of the Holy Ministry and all the WELS forms thereof, VBS assistants, custodians, ushers, mowers, greeters, coffee servers, would seem to make nonsensical the Tractatus which reminds us that “all ministers are equal” and which  citing John 20:21 says,


Christ sends forth His disciples on an equality, without any distinction [so that no one of them was to have more or less power than any other.[48]  


Yet, Tom Nass in his public apologetic on Wisconsin’s revised “This We Believe” flatly denies what the Tractatus says is true of the Lutheran confession is true of the Wisconsin Synod,


So if someone says that all forms of public ministry in the WELS are equal and on the same level, that is not a fair and complete statement. [49]


As you delve deeper into the writings of the Wauwatosa theologians, you encounter one bit of irony after another. Bizarre is the kindest word I can think of to describe the harsh critique offered at their seminary’s recent symposium of Matt Harrison who wrote


I am convinced that there is an overwhelming explicit and implicit mandate for mercy as a corporate churchly task, inherent in biblical Lutheran theology.”


The author, one Tom Nass, chided Harrison for this “social gospel, and says of Harrison


Where is this mandate? As we have seen, it is not in the commission passages, nor in the apostles’ description of their work, nor in the Lutheran Confessions.  I agree with Armin Schuetze: “Claiming the church is to provide ministries and services for all the needs of ‘the whole man’ places upon it responsibilities that go beyond Scripture and sidetrack it from its saving mission and the means entrusted to it by God.” [50]


Ironic in that it is Schuetze, as well as Wisconsin’s doctrinal statements, who cite the charitable act of food distribution in Acts as their sedes doctrinae for forms of the ministry! For its part, Wisconsin has invested much into its social efforts aimed at growing the church. One highly touted mission offers Starbucks Coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts and for those who are bored by church, they promise “fun” in learning about God. (“You learned about God, Uzzah. Having fun yet? Krispy Kreme Donut?”) Believe me, Missouri, this isn’t your grandfather’s reclusively oddball brother’s church anymore.




Our Lord Jesus Christ breathed out the Spirit from the cross in blood and he died. The stigmatized and risen Lord breathed out his Spirit upon the apostles this ministry of the New Testament in his blood.  The completed sacrifice of the cross is the New Testament ministry in his blood justifying and absolving all from Adam to you and to me.  This ministry did not begin in time at the cross or in the upper room as Schaller insists you teach.  For the Lamb was slain from the creation of the world. The New Testament ministry in his blood was completed, instituted on the day, the holy Triduum of his death, burial and resurrection which fulfilled the New Testament in his blood by which we are crucified, buried and raised with him, the New Testament in his blood with which we are sprinkled with the aspergillum of the tongue, the New Testament in his blood which we drink. This one completed sacrifice was the substance of the Old Testament preaching and, dare I say, of its sacramental rites.


The New Testament ministry was instituted when Christ breathed out on his disciples, commissioned his disciples and instructed his disciples, go, baptize, teach, do this, forgive and restore.  He did not simply repeat things but he completed things in blood on the cross which completeness covers all time, from the beginning of time to the end of time. This New Testament ministry was conducted imperfectly in regards to time in the Old Testament, completed in time in the New Testament and breathed out. It is an office given to the church, possessed by the church, filled by the church, judged by the church, accountable to the church, to serve the church. In it Christ is present among his people; it is a Christological office, a Christologically iconic office that is accordingly fenced.




On the surface and in practice the ministry of the WELS for the most part is often indistinguishable from the ministry of the LC-MS.  In its literature you find orthodox statements as well as orthodox sounding statements. A haven for a beleaguered and weary Missourian? “Be forewarned before you swim the Mississippi, for to say that a VBS assistant was in the Office of the Holy Ministry 30 years ago would have brought guffaws of disbelief, today to say she isn’t will bring the discipline of district officials. Incarnate proof is here today.


Some, recently, have, as the 1948 Synodical Conference committee’s minority report on the issue, suggested there are just semantic differences between old mates and plead in Rodney King fashion “Can’t we all just get along?”[51] There are profound differences here and grave consequences as well. When everyone is a minister and everything is a ministry then the church’s mission is muddled. When those not properly and theologically trained assume the mantle of teacher (i.e. the proliferation of lay ministers [sic]) then the church is threatened, for the sole marks of the church, the preaching of the Gospel and the administering of the Sacraments are in jeopardy. For example, in a recent issue of Wisconsin’s lay magazine in an articled entitled “The Many Faces of Volunteering” the writer, a pastor, says of volunteering in the church’s multitudinous ministries “To have a meaningful relationship with the church and God, you need to be involved.”[52] 


As you suspect Wisconsin Synod’s view of the Ministry of the Word confuses justification and sanctification. Indeed the Christological nature of the Office of the Holy Ministry is fading into the background. Recently one student embedded at their Seminary covertly reported that the editors of the Motley Magpie, whose bones are regularly dug up and burned, were wrong in stating that Christ speaks through the pastor. Rare these days in Wisconsin is an “in loco Christi” sighting.[53]


The title of this presentation was “The Office of the Holy Ministry (sic) in the Wisconsin Synod.” Now you know. Now you can judge my insouciant sic. In his apologetic published in Logia a rather sanguine and cloistered Tom Nass for his part writes


I would not be surprised if there are readers who have always imagined that the WELS is on the extreme fringe in Lutheranism when it comes to the doctrine of the ministry, based on impressions (or sometimes misinformation) that have circulated. As a person who has grown up in the WELS and preached and taught in the WELS, however, I have just the opposite impression.  One could argue that the doctrine of This We Believe presents a wholesome middle ground that avoids saying more or less than Scripture on the topic of the ministry.[54]


That I argued the contrary finds me here today.



Thank you very much.

[1] Proceedings. Ev. Lutheran Synodical Conference 1949 Report of the Synodical Conference interim committee, pp. 135ff.

[2] Logia Volume II, Number 1 “The Office of the Holy Ministry in the Life of the Church: A View from the Parish” page 33, the cautionary italics in the original.

[3] WELS and Other Lutherans, Brug, Fredric, Schuetze, NPH 1995 pages 25, 81

[4] A WELS pastor friend while in the study of another WELS pastor was warned by that chap about reading Missouri (eek!) literature with the reprimand “they are not our theologians.” The miscreant, in reply, pointed to the Reformed Hendrickson’s commentary on the chap’s shelf and said “And he is?”

[5] Theses on Papers on the Doctrine oft the Ministry, SE Michigan District Conference. Bruce Ahlers, Gregory Gibbons, Arnold Kunde. April 21, 1998, p. 9

[6] As quoted by David Scaer in CTQ, Vol 70 p. 114 fn.

[7] WELS Ministry Compendium. 1992. The compendium is a collection of essays by WELS authors on the subject of the ministry.  P.  449.

[8] Brug, “Addressing Some Misconceptions about the Wisconsin and Missouri Synod Positions on Church and Ministry,” p. 7.


[9] Church and Ministry, C.F. W. Walther. CPH, St. Louis. P. 178.

[10] Ironically, one of Schaller’s successor’s, former seminary president Carl Lawrenz, didn’t get the memo. In his critique of Walther’s theses on Church and Ministry published in their quarterly Lawrenz in an attempt to claim Walther for Wisconsin does not object to Walther using AC V as the locus for the public ministry.  Lawrenz however is dead and gone and any trace of an office, let alone the public ministry, being attributed to AC V is systematically being erased along with any of its proponents within its midst.

[11] Theses on Papers on the Doctrine oft the Ministry, SE Michigan District Conference. Bruce Ahlers, Gregory Gibbons, Arnold Kunde. April 21, 1998, p. 10, quoting Paul Stratman.

[12] AE. 39, Page 154). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

[13] AE. Vol. 25: Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[14] “The Meaning of Predigtamt in AC V”. John Brug.

[15] Loci Theologici translated by J.A.O. Preus. CPH   p. 706,  Also the Examen, Vol. II p. 468, 680.

[16] “The Meaning of Predigtamt in AC V”. John Brug, p. 3.

[17] FC TD XII 30

[18] Ap. XXVIII 13.

[19] Compendium, p. 448

[20] Ibid, p. 460.

[21] Ibid. p. 686.

[22] Ministry – Study. WLS essay file.

[23] “Ministry – A Study.”  WLS essay file.

[24] Ibid, p. 10


[25] Compendium, p. 463

[26] 18 Pastorale Praxis, NPH, 1913, p. V.

[27] As quoted in James Huebner’s “The Relationship Between the Doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers and Public Ministry,” p. 9.

[28] The Church and her Fellowship, Ministry, and Governance. LCR, Waverly, Iowa. 1990, p. 113

[29]  WLQ 89:4, p. 312 ff

[30] Brug, “Addressing Some Misconceptions about the Wisconsin and Missouri Synod Positions on Church and Ministry,” p. 10

[31] WLQ Volume 91, number 4, p. 254

[32] Paper delivered to “Issues in WELS.”

[33] P. 102. Ironically and unfortunately, the lust for an organized diaconate among some confessionals I know in the LCMS has led them to appeal to Acts 6 as its sedes for such, some insisting that the table waiting here in question is the administration of the Supper. The context, the text itself, completely argues against that view.

[34] WELS Ministry Compendium, p.803.

[35] WELS Ministry Compendium,  p. 557.

[36] “Revised This We Believe.”

[37] P. 113

[38]  Compendium p. 676.

[39] As quoted by Dave Vallesky quoted by James Huebner’s “The Relationship between the Doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers and Public Ministry.” Unpublished conference paper.

[40] Today the magazine of Wisconsin Lutheran College, Fall/Winter 1997 page 15, emphasis added.

[41] “The Call to the Public Use of the Keys” WELS Synod Convention essay 1965, Erwin Scharf as quoted  by Dave Vallesky who was quoted by Huebner, p. 14

[42] Ministry: A New Testament Study. Compendium, p. 694.

[43] 1Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus” The People’s Bible, NPH, p. 51.

[44] Ibid., p. 11.

[45] Ibid., p. 51.

[46] Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Volume 91, number 4, p. 252, emphasis added.

[47] “Addressing some misconceptions about the Wisconsin and Missouri Synod Positions on Church and Ministry,” p. 10.

[48] Tractatus 9,11.

[49] Logia, X, 3. p. 37. Nass also notes, “On the other extreme are those who say that pastors are not important or are on an equal plane with all other forms.” P. 40. An ironic statement made for this egalitarian, many headed WELS ministry.

[50] “The Church and Its Ministry” p. 21

[51] This is no knock on poor Rodney who admirably tried to calm a racially torn Los Angeles with his now infamous and plaintive cry.

[52] Northwestern Lutheran, May 1999 p. 15

[53] The WELS hymnal dropped the “in the stead” language of TLH in their general absolution. In its mingy rite for “Private Confession,” whose officiant may be a pastor or “fellow Christian,” there is no question asking if the penitent believes that the officiant’s absolution is Christ’s nor is there the “in stead of” language in the absolution, two essential elements rendering this rite quite weak, nay, unusable.

[54] Logia X, 3 p. 40.