Believers have the keys and priesthood of God’s kingdom

The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (the Tractate) concisely summarizes what Lutherans “believe, teach, and confess” about the keys and priesthood of the kingdom. This doctrine conflicts with recent attempts to limit the divine call to the public ministry to the pastorate of a local congregation.

The office of the keys of the kingdom is given to the believers according to Matthew 18:17-20 and John 20:21-23 because they constitute the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). The Tractate (9, 24, 67-69) brings that out:

John 20:21. 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], when He says: As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you… the keys belong not to the person of one particular man, but to the Church, as many most clear and firm arguments testify. For Christ, speaking concerning the keys adds, Matt. 18:19: If two or three of you shall agree on earth, etc. Therefore he grants the keys principally and immediately to the Church, just as also for this reason the Church has principally the right of calling [ministers]… Here belong the statements of Christ which testify that the keys have been given to the Church, and not merely to certain persons, Matt. 18:20: Where two or three are gathered together in My name, etc. Lastly, the statement of Peter also confirms this, 1 Pet. 2:9: Ye are a royal priesthood. These words pertain to the true Church, which certainly has the right to elect and ordain ministers since it alone has the priesthood.

The Tractate’s adherence to the bare words of 1 Peter 2:9 followed Luther when it appealed to the priesthood as proof that the church may choose her ministers. Luther read that verse to say all believers as priests could administer the sacraments—while holding that it is best for the sake of order to choose a minister to do so.

By contrast, a paper claiming that the local congregation is the only form of the visible church defends its claim by interpreting the priests in terms of hearing (pp. 15-17). Since they need a preacher that they might hear the gospel, they have the right to call one. A tacit but questionable premise needed for the validity of the argument is that if you need something God wants you to have, then you have the right to obtain it for yourself.

1 Pet. 2:5-12, however, favors Luther on this by presenting the priests as speaking or singing rather than listening. The function of a priest is to offer sacrifices. Peter had in mind the sacrifice of proclaiming the saving works of the living God. With the background of the Psalms, Jewish members of Peter’s audience may have envisioned singing in the hearing of the pagan nations. Those called to offer such sacrifices may choose a minister to do so publicly, that is, on their behalf.

The root problem of the paper is its disagreement with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s holding “it to be untenable to say that the pastorate of the local congregation (Pfarramt) as a specific form of the public ministry is specifically instituted by the Lord in contrast to other forms of the public ministry” (see pp. 12ff). Page 12 implies that every individual who holds the presiding office should do everything in the Great Commission. In that case, why didn’t Paul, who undoubtedly held the presiding office, baptize any of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:14)? How is it possible for every pastor, as an individual, to bring the gospel to all nations? It appears that the Great Commission is read somewhat selectively on that page.

The paper points out that schoolteachers are not commanded to administer the sacraments publicly, as the apostles and other elders are. That agrees with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s statement on the ministry, which clearly brings out what Scripture teaches about the keys and priesthood of God’s kingdom and which clearly defines “publicly” as “on the church’s behalf.”

In conclusion, the gospel’s “office or service, the ministry of the keys, has been given to the Church, i.e., to the believers individually and collectively. Mt 16:19; 10:32; 18:18; 1 Pe 2:9.” For further reading:

25 June 2014. Revised 7 November 2014; 25 November 2014.

New LCMS doctrine regarding fellowship

The Ev. Lutheran Church is the total of all unreservedly confessing agreement with the pure Word of God,
of the teaching brought again to light through Luther’s reformation
and delivered summarily in writing to Kaiser and Reich at Augsburg in 1530
and repeated and expanded in the other so-called Lutheran symbols . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church is sure that the teaching contained in its Symbols is the pure God’s truth
because it agrees with the written Word of God in all points . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church rejects all fraternal and churchly fellowship
with those who reject its Confessions in whole or in part . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church has thus all the essential marks of the true visible Church of God on earth
as they are found in no other known communion,
and therefore it needs no reformation in doctrine.


Following Luther and Walther, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) from its beginning rejected “all fraternal and churchly fellowship with those who reject its Confessions in whole or in part” because such rejection was a rejection of some truth taught by “the written Word of God.” The primary proof text for the termination of fellowship is Romans 16:17 (“watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them”).


This does not justify refusing to pray with anyone outside of one’s own church body, which may have been a legalistic way the doctrine of church fellowship has been applied in the past. The doctrine itself is sound: do not have fellowship with those who cause divisions contrary to what you have been taught (Romans 16:17). That is not talking about a weak believer who is not causing divisions and who is willing to believe everything in Scripture but who, out of ignorance, is led astray by false teaching. It is talking about those who stubbornly persist in supporting false doctrine even after admonishments against it. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) makes that distinction clear in its Theses on Church Fellowship.


A change occurred in the LCMS doctrine of church fellowship in the first half of the twentieth century, culminating in the breakup of the Synodical Conference in 1963, as Mark E. Braun documented in A Tale of Two Synods: Events that Led to the Split between Wisconsin and Missouri. The change in the doctrine and practice of church fellowship is related to interpreting and applying Romans 16:17 and related texts of Scripture.


The Concordia Cyclopedia (Concordia Publishing House, 1927, “Unionism,” 774-775) explains the LCMS’s original doctrine in more detail:
Religious unionism consists in joint worship and work of those not united in doctrine. Its essence is an agreement to disagree. In effect, it denies the doctrine of the clearness of Scripture. It would treat certain doctrines as fundamental or essential and others as non-essential to Christian unity . . . A Christian who believes that God has clearly spoken through the prophets and apostles and through the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be a unionist. The indifferent and pacifist stand of the unionist is condemned in all those text which bid us beware of false prophets and to separate from those who deny the truth.
In the light of these texts all joint ecclesiastical efforts for religious work (missionary, educational, etc.) and particularly joint worship and mixed (promiscuous) prayer among those who confess the truth and those who deny any part of it, is sinful unionism. If we hold to the doctrine of the clearness of Scripture, such compromise of the truth cannot be tolerated, nor can it be defended by the plea that religious differences, after all, rest upon misunderstanding.
Thus, full doctrinal unity is required for all forms of fellowship, including not only sharing in communion (“altar fellowship”) and in preaching (“pulpit fellowship”) but also for prayer fellowship and joint ecclesiastical work. Indeed, Romans 16:17 and similar Scriptures do not distinguish between the different categories of fellowship.


By contrast, at least since the adoption of the report “Theology of Fellowship” in 1967, the LCMS has officially distinguished between altar/pulpit fellowship on one hand and prayer/work fellowship on the other hand. According to the report, the doctrinal agreement needed for altar and pulpit fellowship is not necessary for joint prayers:
Our Synod should understand that, in the case of doctrinal discussions carried on with a view to achieving doctrinal unity, Christians not only may but should join in fervent prayer that God would guide and bless the discussions, trusting in Christ’s promise Matt. 18:19: “Again, I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven.”


Such joint prayers, however, are expressions of Christian fellowship according to the Scriptures. Christian prayer is fellowship with the triune God. All those in fellowship with the Father and the Son are necessarily and without exception in fellowship with each other (1 John 1:6). Thus, for Christians to confess fellowship with that God in joint prayer while denying fellowship with each another is to confess something that is impossible according to Scripture. Since there is no distinction between joint prayer and prayer fellowship, there can be no basis for denying pulpit or altar fellowship whenever joint prayer is warranted. By the same token, whenever altar/pulpit fellowship is not warranted because of persistent false teaching, joint prayer (prayer fellowship) is not warranted either (Romans 16:17).


Church fellowship takes place not only in teaching, communion, and prayer, but also when churches carry out their other work together. That is the teaching of Scripture, as explained in the Theses on Church Fellowship of the WELS.


Striking examples of fellowship in church work without true doctrinal unity involve relief organizations in North America. The LCMS, consistent with her adopted report quoted above but contrary to her original doctrine, participates in Lutheran World Relief, joint with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Similarly, the Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC) works jointly with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) via Canadian Lutheran World Relief. The mission/values statements of these relief organizations make it evident that the joint work is not only corporation in non-ecclesiastical matters but is performed on the basis of a shared faith:
Many of the pervasive doctrinal errors of the ELCA and the ELCIC, some of which undermine the foundations of the Christian faith, have been known for decades.


In conclusion, the current fellowship doctrine and practices of the LCMS are substantial and long-standing departures from the original doctrine and practice of the synod. Worse, the teaching and practice of the LCMS and the LCC are contrary to what Scripture says about Christian fellowship and the termination of such fellowship when necessary (Romans 16:17).


What should Christians do if they have strayed into the LCMS, the LCC, or another church body that persists in teaching error in spite of patient admonitions? According to the LCMS’s Brief Statement (1932, Section 28), leaving a church body that causes doctrinal divisions contrary to the Holy Scriptures they have been taught is commanded in Romans 16:17: “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them”:

Since God ordained that His Word only, without the admixture of human doctrine, be taught and believed in the Christian Church, 1 Pet. 4:11; John 8:31, 32; 1 Tim. 6:3, 4, all Christians are required by God to discriminate between orthodox and heterodox church-bodies, Matt. 7:15, to have church-fellowship only with orthodox church-bodies, and, in case they have strayed into heterodox church-bodies, to leave them, Rom. 16:17. We repudiate unionism, that is, church-fellowship with the adherents of false doctrine, as disobedience to God’s command, as causing divisions in the Church, Rom. 16:17; 2 John 9, 10, and involving the constant danger of losing the Word of God entirely, 2 Ti. 2:17-21.

New LCMS/LCC doctrine regarding women

 1Timothy 1Corinthians
The Ev. Lutheran Church accepts the whole written Word of God (as God’s Word),
deems nothing in it superfluous or of little worth but everything needful and important . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church distinguishes sharply
between what God’s Word commands and what it leaves free . . .
The Ev. Lutheran Church has thus all the essential marks of the true visible Church of God on earth
as they are found in no other known communion,
and therefore it needs no reformation in doctrine.

—C. F. W. Walther

With those bold words, a founding father of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) set the course for the newborn synod. Does she still show herself to be a synod of the church that “accepts the whole written Word of God,” considering nothing in it to be unimportant (Matthew 5:18-19), and therefore needing “no reformation in doctrine?” A controversial passage will serve as a test case.

The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Timothy 2:11-15,  an insignificant and outdated passage by today’s standards:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.


On the basis of that Scripture, the LCMS originally taught:
1a. Women are to make use of their distinctive gifts rather than to teach in the church service since in doing so they would “exercise authority over a man.”
1b. Such an exercise of authority is forbidden because it is contrary to the fact that Eve was formed after Adam.
1c. Thus, Paul prohibited all exercises of authority contrary to the created order,  even those unrelated to the performance of pastoral functions.
As a result, women did not hold office or even vote in church meetings.


That teaching began to change as the roles of North American women evolved in the 1960s. Both the LCMS and the Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC) now reinterpret 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as follows:
2a. Women are to make use of their distinctive gifts rather than to “exercise authority over a man” in the form of performing pastoral functions.
2b. Such an exercise of authority in the form of performing pastoral functions is forbidden because it is contrary to the fact that Eve was formed after Adam.
2c. Other exercises of women’s authority over men are not contrary to the fact that Eve was formed after Adam.
Accordingly, women as non-elder officers such as congregation presidents may now exercise authority over men since those offices do not involve performing any functions of the pastoral office.


While the adoption of the new doctrine is completely understandable in terms of pressures to conform more and more to modern culture, the logical reasoning behind 2b and 2c is not clear. How could Paul forbid women from  performing pastoral functions on the grounds of the created order but not forbid other exercises of authority over men on the same grounds? That could be clarified by explaining why the fact that Eve was formed after Adam should prohibit exercises of women’s authority over men in the form of performing pastoral functions but not in any other forms. Unfortunately, if such an explanation exists, it is not readily available, not even in the relevant committee reports. None of the commentaries in the bibliography even mentions the novel LCMS/LCC approach to interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15.


In fact, that approach appears to be not so much a careful exposition of what the passage says but more of a pragmatic compromise between the traditional approach (1a-1c) and the progressive approaches of those who favor the ordination of women as pastors. For example, Towner implies that the text can be best understood by imagining a situation in which some women in the church at Ephesus tried to dominate based on a misreading of Genesis 2-3—a situation does not pertain today. That speculation, while creative, is implausible in light of Paul’s exhortation to silent learning not just in Ephesus but also in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). Similarly, Keener argued that Paul’s exhortations do not apply to women who are much better educated than those of the first century. However, Paul did not ground his exhortations on the women’s level of education but rather on the order of creation (1 Timothy 2:13) as recorded in “the law” (1 Corinthians 14:34). In view of 1 Timothy 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 11:8-10, Paul’s appeal to “the law” was a reference to Genesis 2:15, 22 (Ciampa and Rosner; Johnson; Knight; cf. Matthew 5:18-19). If those progressive opinions had more credibility, they might support the new LCMS/LCC doctrine by indicating that 1 Timothy 2 is unclear on the points that seem to establish the traditional view.


If, as is much more certain, the traditional doctrine is the clear teaching of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 after all, two options remain: rejection or acceptance of the authority of the passage. Each has its own difficulties. Rejecting the authority of that Scripture would call into question the authority of other Scriptures. More radical theologians resort to this approach, with Johnson looking for flaws in Paul’s logic and with Collins denying that Paul wrote the epistle. Accepting the authority of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 would mean rejecting deeply cherished attitudes of modern society. Biblical scholars taking that stand include Knight and Yarbrough.


The LCMS and LCC still tolerate their former interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Each congregation is allowed to teach that doctrine and to enforce it in its constitution even though it is contrary to the newly adopted doctrine of those synods. Unlike the LCMS and the LCC, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod remain in agreement with the traditional understanding of the passage and do not condone different teachings:




Changes leading to the current LCMS/LCC doctrine:



Expositions closer to the original LCMS doctrine:



Commentaries and related works:


Ciampa, Roy E., and Brian S. Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Mich. Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Apollos, 2010.


Collins, Raymond F., and Daniel J. Harrington. First Corinthians. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2006.


Collins, Raymond F. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus : a Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.


Johnson, Luke T. The First and Second Letters to Timothy: a New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven London: Yale University Press, 2008.


Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992.


Knight, George W. The Pastoral Epistles : a Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich. Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans Paternoster Press, 1992.


Towner, Philip H. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2006.


Yarbrough, Robert W., “Progressive and Historic: The Hermeneutics of 1 Timothy 2:9-15,” in: Köstenberger, Andreas J., and Thomas R. Schreiner, editors. Women in the Church: an Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.