Which Lutheran synods retain Walther’s view of the ministry? A review of John Brug’s The Ministry of the Word

In The Ministry of the Word, John F. Brug ably defends the position that the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) have preserved the lonely doctrine of Scripture and C. F. W. Walther’s writings understood in context, while the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) now harbors a spectrum wide enough to include errors from both the “minimalist” and “maximalist” opponents of Lutheranism. At the end of 400 pages of exegetical and historical material and just before the 80-page section on the LCMS-WELS debates, he concluded, “Those who reject the WELS position on the ministry should honestly acknowledge that it is the position of Luther (and Walther) which they are rejecting” (p. 397). Those are strong words considering Brug’s careful efforts against overstating his case.

Brug and many others in the WELS believe that when Walther’s theses on the ministry are read in the wider context of his other writings, including those noting that schoolteachers serve in the ministry of the word (pp. 358, 372-380), they are found to agree with the conclusions that the Wauwatosa theologians leading the WELS arrived at exegetically. In fact, the Wauwatosa men affirmed the Waltherian 1932 Brief Statement of the LCMS doctrine, which WELS theologians apparently hold to to the present day (pp. 442-443).

By contrast, theologians in the LCMS fellowship increasingly distance themselves from Walther (pp. 352-359), leading to the corrective adoption of his Church and Ministry in 2001. The widely circulated notion that the LCMS agrees with Walther on the ministry to a greater extent than the WELS and ELS is highly questionable at best. Brug convincingly contends that the opposite is now the case in light of deep divisions between LCMS theologians, and he calls for a movement back to Walther’s doctrine since it is the teaching of Scripture.


As an aside, Brug’s book is helpful in its clarifying the distinction between purely hypothetical situations contemplated for the sake of argument and those that are at least moderately likely. For example, while Brug observed that the Scriptures do not explicitly state that women may not be ordained as pastors (pp. 208-209), he found the practice to be contrary to the Scriptures (p. 209). He cannot envision any situation in which Luther’s hypothetical example of a woman being properly called to preach to an all-woman congregation would become a reality, and Brug opposes the practice of women communing other women (pp. 216-219). This is in accord with the 2005 ELS statement on the ministry, which correctly notes that in the hypothetical event of an emergency requiring the Lord’s Supper, appropriate action must be taken.

The commendable emphasis on exegesis and the stand-alone nature of each section make this work a valuable resource even for those not interested in the history of Lutheranism but only in what the Scriptures teach about the gospel ministry. Seven annotated bibliographies in addition to the copious references in the footnotes provide guidance for further study.

This review was expanded in light of feedback from Daniel Gorman.