“Whoever comes out of the water of baptism, can boast that he is already a consecrated priest, bishop and pope.”Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility (1520)
Priesthood of Believers
Luther’s point was that in Baptism all a person needs to be a spiritual leader has been given. This was in contrast to the Roman Churches position that the Priesthood was a separate caste of those set aside and possessed an “indelible character” through ordination.
In the LC-MS we believe that the Bible teaches that all baptized believers are given an equality of position among each other. In other words, there is no special status or hierarchy among the baptized. There are positions differentiated by office or responsibility or roles. For example, the parent has a role of authority over the child in the worldly realm, but in the spiritual Kingdom both are equal in their standing and value before God the creator. Each has received the same forgiveness. Each is redeemed from death by Jesus’ death on the cross. And each have the fullness of the Holy Spirit residing within to guide them as God’s chosen.
This life redeemed by God now belongs to Him. We rise from the font of forgiveness consecrated and empowered to do the work of priests in service to our neighbor. We find our new life is centered on prayer, service to neighbor, and sharing the gospel message of Jesus Christ as Savior. But God didn’t end there. He determined that a special function was necessary to assure that the right administration of His word and His Sacraments would “form” the priesthood for their mission. It’s one thing to make the football team. To win, the team needs a coach to guide them.
Office of Ministry
The Office of Public Ministry equips the priesthood for their functional service by reminding them of their need for Christ’s forgiveness. Additionally, the Office publicly and privately forgives their sin, and binds them together as a congregation in the Supper instituted by Jesus. Each, the Public Office and the Priesthood are necessary by God’s determination to accomplish His objective, to take the gospel “to the ends of the earth.”
Often this divine balance of function becomes dysfunctional. Sometimes the Pastor oversteps and makes demands of the congregation that are outside his responsibility. Most By-Laws have remedies for this situation. Pastors should be confronted when their doctrine, scandalous life or incapacity threatens the continued feeding of the congregation to God’s standard. Forgiveness is affected or deposition may the result.
But the trend today is that many congregations, and often just their leaders, work to remove the called Pastor simply because they don’t like something; personality, style, differences of opinion, or their need to control. This results in a disruption of God’s ministry and fractures the unity of the spirit and ultimately the gospel at that place.
Called To Be Faithful
The remedy involves a number of corrections but the core of the issue is that the catechesis of our church leaders is often a severe part of the problem. The presumptive qualification for the priesthood is that they are devoted to God’s word, immersed in receiving His gifts, and active in following His commands. If your congregation is struggling with this dynamic between the Priesthood and the Office evaluate God’s intention for each. Is the Pastor faithful to Scripture, not living in manifest sin, and able to discharge the affairs of his Office? Are the leaders of the congregation regular at worship and bible study, engaged in promoting peace and not developing factions, and speaking in support of the Pastor, or speaking directly with him?
Remember that your lay leaders are called to a high standard of behavior. And you are called to hold them accountable. This only happens when prayer, immersion in God’s work, and a heart for serving your neighbor sacrificially is the habit of the baptized.