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    Pietism was a movement within Lutheranism, lasting from the late seventeenth century to the mid-eighteenth century. The Pietist movement combined the Lutheran emphasis on Biblical doctrine with the Reformed, and especially Puritan, emphasis on individual piety and a vigorous Christian life. It proved to be very influential throughout Protestantism and Anabaptism, inspiring not only Anglican priestJohn Wesley to begin the Methodist movement, but also Alexander Mack to begin the Brethren movement. Forerunners

    As forerunners of the Pietists in the strict sense, certain voices had been heard bewailing the shortcomings of the Church and advocating a revival of practical and devout Christianity. Amongst them were Christian mystic Boehme (Behmen); Johann Arndt, whose work, True Christianity (1605–09), became widely known and appreciated; Heinrich Müller, who described the font, the pulpit, the confessional, and the altar as "the four dumb idols of the Lutheran Church;" theologian Johann Valentin Andrea, court chaplain of the landgrave of Hesse; Schuppius, who sought to restore to the Bible its place in the pulpit; and Theophilus Grossgebauer (d. 1661) of Rostock, who from his pulpit and by his writings raised what he called "the alarm cry of a watchman in Sion." The name Pietism

    The name of Pietist was a pejorative term given to the adherents of the movement by its enemies as a form of ridicule, like that of "Methodists" somewhat later in England. The Lutheran Church continued Philipp Melanchthon's attempt to construct an intellectual backbone for the Evangelical Lutheran faith. By the seventeenth century, the denomination remained a confessional theological and sacramental institution, influenced by orthodox Lutheran theologians such as Johann Gerhard of Jena (d. 1637), and keeping with the liturgical traditions of the Roman Catholicism of which it saw itself as a reformed variation. In the Reformed Church, on the other hand, the influence of John Calvin had not only influenced doctrine, but also empowered Christian participation. The presbyterian constitution gave the people a share in church life that the Lutherans lacked, but it involved a dogmatic legalism which, the Lutherans believed, imperiled Christian freedom and fostered self-righteousness. History


    The direct originator of the movement was Philipp Jakob Spener. Born at Rappoltsweiler in Alsace, on January 13, 1635, trained by a devout godmother who used books of devotion like Arndt's True Christianity, Spener was convinced of the necessity of a moral and religious reformation within German Lutheranism. He studied theology at Strasbourg, where the professors at the time (and especially Sebastian Schmidt) were more inclined to "practical" Christianity than to theological disputation. He afterwards spent a year in Geneva, and was powerfully influenced by the strict moral life and rigid ecclesiastical discipline prevalent there, and also by the preaching and the piety of the Waldensian professor Antoine Leger and the converted Jesuit preacher Jean de Labadie.

    During a stay in Tübingen, Spener read Grossgebauer's Alarm Cry, and in 1666, he entered upon his first pastoral charge at Frankfurt with a the opinion that the Christian life within Evangelical Lutheranism was being sacrificed to zeal for rigid Lutheran orthodoxy. Pietism, as a distinct movement in the German Church, was then originated by Spener through religious meetings at his house (collegia pietatis), at which he repeated his sermons, expounded passages of the New Testament, and induced those present to join in conversation on religious questions that arose. In 1675, Spener published his Pia desideria or Earnest Desires for a Reform of the True Evangelical Church, the title giving rise to the term "Pietists." In this publication, he made six proposals as the best means of restoring the life of the Church:
    1. The earnest and thorough study of the Bible in private meetings, ecclesiolae in ecclesia ("churches within the church")
    2. The Christian priesthood being universal, the laity should share in the spiritual government of the Church
    3. A knowledge of Christianity must be attended by the practice of it as its indispensable sign and supplement
    4. Instead of merely didactic, and often bitter, attacks on the heterodox and unbelievers, a sympathetic and kindly treatment of them
    5. A reorganization of the theological training of the universities, giving more prominence to the devotional life
    6. A different style of preaching; namely, in the place of pleasing rhetoric, the implanting of Christianity in the inner or new man, the soul of which is faith, and its effects the fruits of life.[1]

    This work produced a great impression throughout Germany, and although large numbers of the orthodox Lutheran theologians and pastors were deeply offended by Spener's book, its complaints and its demands were both too well justified to admit of their being point-blank denied. A large number of pastors immediately adopted Spener's proposals. Early leaders

    In 1686, Spener accepted an appointment to the court-chaplaincy at Dresden, which opened to him a wider, though more difficult, sphere of labor. In Leipzig, a society of young theologians was formed under his influence for the learned study and devout application of the Bible. Three magistrates belonging to that society, one of whom was August Hermann Francke, subsequently the founder of the famous orphanage at Halle (1695), commenced courses of expository lectures on the Scriptures of a practical and devotional character, and in the German language, which were zealously frequented by both students and townsmen. The lectures aroused, however, the ill-will of the other theologians and pastors of Leipzig, and Francke and his friends left the city, and with the aid of Christian Thomasius and Spener founded the new University of Halle. The theological chairs in the new university were filled in complete conformity with Spener's proposals. The main difference between the new Pietistic Lutheran school and the orthodox Lutherans arose from the Pietists' conception of Christianity as chiefly consisting in a change of heart and consequent holiness of life. Orthodox Lutherans rejected this viewpoint as a gross simplification, stressing the need for the church and for sound theological underpinnings.

    Spener died in 1705, but the movement, guided by Francke, fertilized from Halle the whole of Middle and North Germany. Among its greatest achievements, apart from the philanthropic institutions founded at Halle, were the revival in the Moravian Church in 1727, by Count von Zinzendorf, Spener's godson and a pupil in the Halle School for Young Noblemen, and the establishment of Protestant missions.

    However, Spener's stress on the necessity of a new birth and on a separation of Christians from the world led to exaggeration and fanaticism among some followers. Many Pietists soon maintained that the new birth must always be preceded by repentance, and that only a regenerated theologian could teach theology, while the whole school shunned all common worldly amusements, such as dancing, the theatre, and public games. Some would say that there thus arose a new form of justification by works. Its ecclesiolae in ecclesia also weakened the power and meaning of church organization. Through these extravagances a reactionary movement arose at the beginning of the eighteenth century; one leader was Valentin Ernst Löscher, superintendent at Dresden. Later history

    As a distinct movement, Pietism had its greatest strength by the middle of the eighteenth century. Its very individualism in fact helped to prepare the way for the Enlightenment (Aufklärung), which would take the church in an altogether different direction. Yet, some would claim that Pietism contributed largely to the revival of Biblical studies in Germany and to making religion once more an affair of the heart and of life and not merely of the intellect. It likewise gave a new emphasis on the role of the laity in the church. Rudolf Sohm claimed that, "It was the last great surge of the waves of the ecclesiastical movement begun by the Reformation; it was the completion and the final form of the Protestantism created by the Reformation. Then came a time when another intellectual power took possession of the minds of men."[2]Dietrich Bonhoeffer of the German Confessing Church framed the same characterization in less positive terms when he called Pietism the last attempt to save Christianity as a religion: Given that for him religion was a negative term, more or less an opposite to revelation, this constitutes a rather scathing judgement. Bonhoeffer denounced the basic aim of Pietism, to produce a "desired piety" in a person, as unbiblical.[3]

    Pietism is considered the major influence that lead to the creation of the "Evangelical Church of the Union" in Prussia in 1817. The King of Prussia ordered the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia to unite; they took the name "Evangelical," meaning simply "Protestant" in German, as a name both groups had previously identified with. This union movement spread through many German lands in the 1800s. Pietism, with its looser attitude toward confessional theology, had opened the churches to the possibility of uniting. Lutherans who claimed to be more confessionally-strict dissented from the union movement; many immigrated to the American Midwest and formed the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and to Australia, where they formed the Lutheran Church of Australia. (Many immigrants to America agreed with the union movement and formed German Evangelical congregations, later to be gathered as the Evangelical Synod of North America, which is now a part of the United Church of Christ.)

    Pietism did not die out in the eighteenth century, but was alive and active in the Evangelische Kirchenverein des Westen (later German Evangelical Church and still later the Evangelical and Reformed Church). The church president from 1901 to 1914, was Dr. Jakob Pister.

    Pietism was a major influence on John Wesley and others who began the Methodist movement in eighteenth century Great Britain, and modern American Methodists and members of the Holiness movement continue to be influenced by Spener and also the Moravian legacy.

    In the nineteenth century, there was a revival of confessional Lutheran doctrine, known as the neo-Lutheran movement. This movement focused on a reassertion of the identity of Lutherans as a distinct group within the broader community of Christians, with a renewed focus on the Lutheran Confessions as a key source of Lutheran doctrine. Associated with these changes was a renewed focus on traditional doctrine and liturgy, which paralleled the growth of Anglo-Catholicism in England.[4]

    Some writers on the history of Pietism—for example, Heppe and Albrecht Ritschl—have included under it nearly all religious tendencies amongst Protestants of the last three centuries in the direction of a more serious cultivation of personal piety than that prevalent in the various established churches. Ritschl, too, treats Pietism as a retrograde movement of Christian life towards Catholicism. Some historians also speak of a later or modern Pietism, characterizing thereby a party in the German Church which was probably at first influenced by some remains of Spener's Pietism in Westphalia, on the Rhine, in Württemberg, and at Halle, and Berlin.

    The party was chiefly distinguished by its opposition to an independent scientific study of theology, its principal theological leader being Hengstenberg, and its chief literary organ the Evangelische Kirchenzeitung. Atheistic pietism

    A term used in Sweden to describe a pietistic (moralistic) approach to life without religion. “We have denied the existence of God but kept the pietistic rules.” Atheistic pietism has been suggested to be one of the characteristics (traits) of the modern day Swedish national spirit. The term is first known to have been used by W.H. Mallock in 1879. Notes

    1. Philip Jacob Spener, Pia Desideria (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002).
    2. Rudolf Shom, Outlines of Church History (Beacon Press, 1958).
    3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom: Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (HarperOne; Rev Sub edition, 1995).
    4. James A. Scherer, "The Triumph of Confessionalism in Nineteenth-Century German Lutheran Missions," Missio Apostolica 2 (1993): 71-78.

    • Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. A Testament to Freedom: Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. HarperOne, 1995. ISBN 978-0060642143
    • Dorner, I.A. History of Protestant Theology. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004. ISBN 978-1592446100
    • Dunn, David and L.H. Zuck, A History of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Pilgrim Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0829808551
    • Lindberg, Carter, ed. The Pietist Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2004. ISBN 978-0631235200
    • Shom, Rudolf. Outlines of Church History. Beacon Press, 1958.
    • Spener, Philip Jacob. Pia Desideria. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002. ISBN 978-1579108861
    • von Schubert, H. Outlines of Church History, ch. xv (Eng. trans., 1907).

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    Pietism, or the Pietist movement, saw its origin in Jan Hus, the pre-Reformation preacher in the modern day Czech Republic, in the 1450s; more specifically, the movement originated in Germany in the seventeenth century within the Lutheran church with a group of Lutherans interested more in the working of the Spirit and a personal faith than the institutional type faith of the church at that time. Many such Lutherans stayed within Lutheranism; some of these “Pietists,” however, were disenchanted with the attitudes in the Lutheran church, and began their own churches, most of them involving the term “Brethren,” of which the Church of the Brethren is the oldest and one of the largest. John Wesley was influenced greatly by the Pietists, and many consider him to be a Pietist. These groups are known for a focus on individual faith with the workings of the Spirit and a very literal reading of New Testament practices, including foot washing and the holy kiss. Sections on this Page


    The Moravian Brethren, called as such by the region of their origin, trace their history back to the 1450s with Jan Hus and his preaching. Otherwise, the Pietist movement has many members within the Lutheran churches, but by the beginning of the eighteenth century, some groups began to separate, starting with the Schwarzenau Brethren, now known as the Church of the Brethren, in 1708. The Old German Baptist Brethren separated from the Church of the Brethren in 1881 over the adaptations in dress and custom in the nineteenth century; in 1921, an even more conservative faction of the Old German Baptist Brethren split off, calling themselves the Old Order German Baptist Brethren.

    On the other side of the Church of the Brethren, the “Progressive” Brethren split off in 1882 over the lack of adaptation to some of the innovations of the nineteenth century. They formed the Brethren Church (Ashland, Ohio), which would split again in 1939 with the formation of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. Finally, another smaller division occurred within the Church of the Brethren in 1926 with the departure of the Dunkard Brethren.

    The Pietist movement also came to America. The Brethren in Christ Church formed on the basis of revivalistic preaching heavily influenced by Pietism and Anabaptism in Pennsylvania in the late eighteenth century. In 1767, some of those who were influential in establishing the Brethren in Christ Church diverged and formed the United Brethren. The United Brethren were split in the late 1860s by one George Hoffman, whose followers were known first as the “Hoffmanites” and later as the United Christian Church. In 1889, another division occurred in the United Brethren, with a portion of the more liberal members joining the Evangelical Church (another sect of German Pietists) to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which in 1968 joined the Methodists to form the United Methodist Church.

    Meanwhile, many Swedish Lutherans who were caught up in the Pietist movement immigrated to the United States and formed the Evangelical Covenant Church and also what would become the Evangelical Free Church of America. These two groups tend to be more loosely Pietist.

    Another group of note is the Mennonite Brethren Church, discussed in Anabaptism: Variants.

    The Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) is sometimes considered part of the Pietism movement, having come out of the holiness emphasis of both Pietism and Wesleyanism. General Considerations

    Part I

    Lutheranism: Faith Alone

    Anabaptism: Nonresistance

    Religious Society of Friends (Quakers): Physical and Spiritual Natures Part II


    Ecumenism Part III

    Baptism: Tripartite Baptism; Baptism is for Remission of Sin and is Necessary for Salvation

    The Church Treasury, I: Benevolence: Church Benevolence to Non-Saints; The Missionary Society

    The Church Treasury, II: Other Considerations: Hospitals; Centers of Education; Kitchens/Fellowship Halls

    Concerning Observances:
    Observances Concerning the Lord’s Birth: Christmas
    Observances Concerning the Lord’s Death: Palm Sunday; Good Friday; Easter

    Instrumental Music

    The Lord’s Supper: When Should the Lord’s Supper Be Observed? Part A: Weekly

    Positions of Authority: Who Is the Pastor?; Synods, Councils, Conventions, and Other Meetings Foot Washing

    One of the practices of note of the Pietist movement is foot washing, the practice of washing another’s feet as a sign of servitude. The Scriptures used to justify this are John 13:12-15 and 1 Timothy 5:9-10:
    So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and sat down again, he said unto them,
    “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you.”
    Let none be enrolled as a widow under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works; if she hath brought up children, if she hath used hospitality to strangers, if she hath washed the saints’ feet, if she hath relieved the afflicted, if she hath diligently followed every good work.
    Do these mean that we must wash the feet of others? Not necessarily. We certainly do not condemn the Pietists for practicing foot washing, for there is clear Scripture showing that it can be performed. The practice itself is not mandated, however, and we can see this by understanding the words of Christ and Paul.

    Christ is teaching His disciples the lesson of servitude in John 13:1-15. He takes the most extreme example, the washing of feet, which was generally considered a despicable work because it was one done by slaves. Foot washing was necessary because the ancients walked either barefoot or with hard sandals; either way, their feet were sure to be callused after any journey of distance. By washing the disciples’ feet and telling them to do the same, He teaches them that they ought to serve one another. This is brought out even more clearly by Paul in 1 Timothy 5:10, who uses foot washing as a qualification of a widow being placed on the “list.” It is interesting to note that Paul never says that she “served the saints;” he says that she has “washed the saints’ feet.” Paul clearly uses foot washing to represent her serving the saints, for it would make no sense for the widow to need to help the afflicted and show hospitality to strangers but nothing for the saints beyond mere foot washing!

    Therefore, we can see that “foot washing” was a symbol for the practice of saints assisting one another. If one wishes to wash another’s feet today, he is surely able to do so. To interpret this practice so literally as to bind it as necessary for proper obedience to God, however, is not Biblically justifiable. Love Feast

    Pietists also practice the agape or “love feast,” a dinner before the Lord’s Supper. The evidence for this is Mark 14:22and 1 Corinthians 11:20-21:
    And as they were eating, he took bread, and when he had blessed, he brake it, and gave to them, and said,
    “Take ye: this is my body.”
    When therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord’s supper: for in your eating each one taketh before other his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunken.
    Do these verses justify a feast before the Lord’s Supper? The entirety of the Scriptures does not support this. It is true that Jesus most certainly partook of an evening meal (the Passover meal, in fact) before He instituted the Lord’s Supper; we see, however, that He only made commandment to observe the Lord’s Supper itself, as seen in Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
    And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying,
    “This is My body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of Me.”
    And the cup in like manner after supper, saying,
    “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, even that which is poured out for you.”
    For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said,
    “This is My body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of Me.”
    In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying,
    “This cup is the new covenant in My blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
    For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.
    We see, therefore, that the memorial instituted was the breaking of the bread and the dividing of the cup, not the meal that occurred beforehand. We can take this understanding to 1 Corinthians 11:20-21, which shows clearly that Paul is discussing the Lord’s Supper, for the Corinthians had not come together for the purpose of remembering the Lord as much as to eat and drink. Paul in fact says the following about eating of meals in 1 Corinthians 10:22:
    What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
    The solution to the class divisions manifest in the eating of meals among the Corinthians, therefore, is not to eat such meals in the assembly, but to eat and drink at home. This demonstrates quite clearly that a meal before the Lord’s Supper is not justified.

    Therefore, there is no commandment to partake of a “love feast” before the Lord’s Supper. More information on these subjects can be seen in The Lord’s Supper and Kitchens/Fellowship Halls. The Holy Kiss

    Pietists also observe the holy kiss, as seen in Romans 16:16:
    Salute one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ salute you.
    It is certainly justifiable if one wishes to greet one another in this fashion; to bind it on others, however, is Biblically unjustifiable. It was customary in ancient Roman and Greek society (and in many European and Asian societies today) to greet one another with kisses, and Paul here determines that the kiss must be “holy.” Our custom in America today is to shake hands or to give a slight hug, and by doing so we share with one another the same affection and warmth that was demonstrated in Roman times with a kiss.

      Pietism might have even worked for awhile, but like all good ideas ( why not make one's walk with Jesus a personal and day to day walk?), it became twisted and the organizer of my own Synod, Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther, came to condemn what Pietism represented. Another link: C.F.W. Walther on the Layman's Role in the Congregation's Ministry

      Yesterday's blog post, Lay Ministry: A Continuing Legacy of Pietism, began with the sentence, "Pietism was a raging problem among Lutherans in mid-19th Century America," and closed by pointing out that in Norway, "[p]olitically and culturally, religious liberty [had become] synonymous with lay participation in the functions of the Office of the Ministry within the congregation, such that, by the time of the first wave of Norwegian emigration to the United States in the middle of the 19th Century, not only was the practice of laymen carrying out the functions of the Pastoral Office culturally accepted, it was considered a political right." This was the result of Haugean Pietism which had coursed through Norwegian religious and political culture not more than a generation prior, and which was still at work reforming Norway's cultural institutions, as dramatic political and economic changes continued to occur there.1

      Hans Nielsen Hauge died in 1824 a folk hero. In 1825, the first of several major migrations from Norway to America occurred, landing mostly in northern Illinois along the Fox River. By the third large migration, around 1840, Norwegians were settling in southeastern Wisconsin, and it is about this time that Norwegian Lutheran congregations began forming.2 The Norwegian settlers during the 1840's and 1850's were very closely "connected with the Church in the homeland, and they brought with them greater respect and love for the rites and usages of the Church of their fathers."3 Yet, prior to 1843, there were no pastors to serve them -- only Haugean lay preachers. Two Norwegian pastors, Dietrichson and Clausen, finally arrived, and did much work during these days in the Koshkonong and Muskego settlements, correcting the confusion wrought by Pietism, diligently securing deliberate and specific confessions of faith and intent from new members of a growing number of congregations, and working for greater unity among them. Rev. Stub joined them in 1848, and in 1850, with a great deal of groundwork completed under the leadership of Rev. Dietrichson, three pastors -- Clausen, Stub, and Preus -- along with eighteen congregations between Muskego and Koshkonong, Wisconsin, formed the Norwegian Synod.4

      The situation was slightly different among the Germans. Pietism was nearly a century-and-a-half in the past for them, and time had carried them through Enlightenment Rationalism and ecumenical mergers. Elements of Pietism and Rationalism abounded among them, and, intermingled, were a great danger -- often being more subtle and insidious. German Lutherans had been in America since the early Colonial days, and this was largely the case among those in the East.
      When the Stephanites landed in Perry County, MO, having emigrated from Saxony to escape various forms of religious persecution which resulted from the Prussian Union, they found that the seed of Lutheran orthodoxy existed in America and was already at work in the eastern States to purify doctrine and practice -- the Henkel clan in the Tenessee Synod and Charles Porterfield Krauth having begun the work of addressing error, and grown experienced in spotting its subtleties. C.F.W. Walther, after ascending to leadership of the Saxon Lutherans in Missouri, sought them out, resonating with their doctrine and their task (having himself been a Pietist at one time). On the other hand, in the Norwegian Church, Rationalism hadn't yet made any real inroads, nor had indifferentism generally grown into open ecumenism with the Reformed or with the Methodists (although it had among the Haugean lay preachers, at least in this latter case). The only real inroad made by Rationalism was a mild form borrowed from an early 19th Century Danish theologian named Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig -- "Grundtvigianism," or the error of elevating the Creed to authority equal with Scripture, and Baptism of the deceased to procure their Salvation. In fact, this issue was brought against Reverends Clausen and Stub in the mid-1850's, and they were found to have been teaching this error with Dietrichson all along. Stub confessed and retracted his errors, Clausen retired.5 As one can imagine, other issues abounded and were resolved, the constitution was reworded and improved, and as the Norwegian Synod grew, they grew more aware of their similarities with the Missourians and formed a positive opinion of them and their theology.6

      From the influence of pietism, from both pastors within the Norwegian Synod and its laity, the question of "laymen's activity" arose in the late 1850's, stirred for a few years, and finally broke into open controversy in 1860. The party in favor of "laymen's activity" asserted the following:
      • Laymen should have the right to teach and pray publicly, (1) because they belonged to the universal priesthood of believers; (2) because Christian brotherly love demanded it; and (3), because it was the practice of the early Christian Church.7

      The opposing party within the Norwegian Synod "conceded everything except the point on which the whole thing hinged:How and when can a laymen teach and preach?"8

      At loggerheads over this question for two years, finally at the 1862 Convention of the Norwegian Synod, C.F.W. Walther was invited to address the question, in hopes of helping them to find a resolution. He did so by dividing the question into three parts:
      • (1) the spiritual priesthood of all believers [Universal Priesthood]; (2) the special office of the ministry in the congregation established by God [Office of the Ministry]; and (3) how necessity knows no laws, hence supersedes the regular order in this matter [emergency situations].

        In regard to the first... Paul, in Ro. 3:2, declared of the Old Testament Church, or believers at that time, that "unto them were committed the oracles of God." They were, therefore, the possessors and the stewards of God's Word, or the ministry. When factionalism arose in Corinth between the followers of Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, and each faction gloried in its leader, the apostle said to them: "Therefore let no man glory in men, For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's and Christ's is God's" (1 Co 3:21-23)... The Office of the Ministry is therefore not to be regarded as a private privilege, which alone belongs to the minister of the Gospel, but is a common privilege belonging to all the members of the Church... [From further lengthy proofs from scripture], it is apparent that every Christian not only has the office of the ministry, but that he also, if he at all wishes to be a Christian, must perform its duties, so that he also confesses the Word, teaches, admonishes, confesses, reproves, and in every way has a care for his neighbor's salvation; that is, for his conversion as well as his preservation in the faith....

        But the Lord sees, secondly, how Christians are beset by the frailties of flesh and blood, and on account of this frailty and weakness of the average Christian, God has instituted a special Office of the Ministry of the Word. According to God's Word, certain persons who are prepared, gifted, equipped and tried for this office should be elected, called and set aside from the Christians in general, to perform these offices publicly among them, and in their name thus preach the Word and administer the Sacraments, lead their meeting for mutual edification through God's Word, and are, in fine, the mouth of the Christians.

        Wherever the holy apostles established Christian congregations, they, at their departure, did not entrust the office of mutual edification to the converted congregations, so that anyone could publicly teach and lead the others, but they placed certain persons, called elders or bishops, as leaders or overseers. Paul says to his companion and co-worker Titus: "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee. If any be blameless... for a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God... holding fast to the faithful words as he has bee taught" (Ti. 1:5-11). These elders or bishops did not only have the call, like other Christians, to use God's Word over against their neighbors as spiritual priests, but they had definite congregations, whose spiritual service was entrusted to them alone. Peter therefore writes: "the elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder... Feed the flock of God which is among you" (1 Pe. 5:1,2). This is not only a good human ordinance, but it is an ordinance instituted by God Himself... [After much explanation from Scripture, concludes], the Public Ministry is therefore a gracious institution of the merciful God, whereby God's Word can henceforth be richly and purely preached and false prophets be warded off, and the Sacraments be properly administered. Thus God's whole dispensation, whether in the Church or the local congregation, is carried out in a good, blessed, and God-pleasing manner.

        Although all believing Christians in virtue of their faith have the office of priests, yet they should not perform those duties in such a way that they disturb or abolish the divinely instituted public ministry of the Word in their local congregation. As urgently as the Bible exhorts Christians to be faithful and zealous in the fulfillment of their duties, it nevertheless says: "My brethren, be not many masters" (Ja. 3:1), and Paul, after saying, "God hath set some in the church, first apostles, etc.," asks: "Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?" (1 Co. 12:28-29). [After further adducing Scripture concludes,] In public assemblies arranged for edification, the lay Christians should not teach, admonish, console, correct, lead in prayer or publicly administer the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord's Supper, as these are functions reserved for the Christians properly called and ordained by God for this purpose.

        But, thirdly, necessity knows no law. In case of need, as,for instance, if the Christians have no publicly appointed pastor, or if he be a false prophet, or if he serves them so seldom that they are in danger of spiritual starvation in case nothing more were done among them, then it is not wrong if also laymen in such cases of need preach the Word and pray in public assemblies or publicly administer Baptism... But they do not function according to the ordinance of God, but as emergency pastors lest needy souls be lost. The Lutheran Symbols, therefore say: Just as in a case of necessity even a layman absolves, and becomes a minister and pastor of another; as Augustine narrates the story of two Christians in a ship, one of whom baptized the catechumen, who after baptism then absolved the baptizer." (TR:67) 9

      Walther here is quite clear. In fact, his theses to the Norwegian Synod were the basis for their resolution to settle the matter of "layman's activity," using it henceforward as their official doctrine, as follows:
      1. God has instituted the office of the public ministry for the public edification of Christians to salvation through God's Word. Unanimously accepted.
      2. For the public edification of Christians, God has not instituted any other order which should be placed by the side of this. Unanimously accepted.
      3. When one undertakes to lead the public edification of Christians by the Word, he undertakes and exercises the office of the public ministry. Unanimously accepted.
      4. It is sin when anyone without call or in the absence of need undertakes this. Unanimously accepted.
      5. It is both a right and a duty in case of real need for anyone who can to exercise in proper Christian order the office of the public ministry. Unanimously accepted.
      6. The only correct conception of need is that actual need exists, either where there is no pastor or one cannot be gotten; or if there is a pastor who does not rightly serve them, but teaches falsely; or who cannot serve them sufficiently, but so insufficiently that they cannot be brought to faith or be preserved in faith and guarded against error, and that Christians would succumb from lack of oversight. Two voted against.
      7. When such need is at hand, it ought to be relieved by a definite and proper order, according to the circumstances. Unanimously accepted.10

      WELS has publicly made plain in their discussions with Missouri on the subject, that we hold to Walther's teaching on Public Ministry. The above is the teaching of Walther, as plainly and simply stated as this author has ever read it. Notice that "the public ministry" described above is one ministry that includes "teaching, admonishing, consoling, correcting, leading in prayer, and public administration of the Sacraments" in public assemblies within the congregation, and is understood as synonymous with the Office of the pastor. Is this the teaching we observe practiced in our WELS congregations? Do laymen publicly teach, preach, and offer prayers in our churches, or Publicly execute other functions of this Office? If it is claimed that such laymen possess a Divine Call, then what constitutes a valid Call and how is possession of a valid Call communicated to the assembly? For that matter, what constitutes valid Approval criteria -- are such criteria arbitrary? And of course, we must ask this with respect to the Office of the Ministry itself, asking what it is? Do we agree with Walther, or not?


      1. Petterson, W. (1926). The Light in the Prison Window: Life and Work of H. N. Hauge. (2nd ed.).Minneapolis: The Christian Literature Company. pp. 73, 173-179.
      2. Ylvisaker, S (Ed.). (1943). Grace for Grace: A Brief History of the Norwegian Synod. Mankato, MN: Lutheran Synod Book Company. pp. 9-15.
      3. Ibid. pg. 15.
      4. Ibid. pp. 16-34.
      5. Rohne, J. M. (1926). Norwegian American Lutheranism up to 1872. New York: Macmillan. pg. 144-145.
      6. Ibid. pp. 162-163.
      7. Ibid. pg. 168.
      8. Ibid. pg. 168.
      9. Ibid. pp. 174-178.
      10. Ibid. pg. 178.


      LABELS: CHURCH AND MINISTRY, LAY MINISTERS, PIETISM Intrepid Lutherans: C.F.W. Walther on the Layman's Role in the Congregation's Ministry
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