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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

The Removal of Ministers Belongs to the Entire Church

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M. Stephan - A minister who was removed.

Following up on Pr. Petersen's post regarding mediated calls and removals, Pastor Lincoln Winter showed that it is not in accordance with the Scriptures to say illicit preaching and teaching may continue on the basis of the Biblical examples of King David, Moses or the Apostle Paul.  

What Johann Gerhard helpfully shows below is that just as calls are mediated through the church, so also are removals.  Removal cannot be given over to pseudo-politicians, or what would be known in our day as Ecclesiastical Supervisors.   Lest we fall into the continuing scandal of the Church of Rome, complete transparency is needed.  District Presidents should give a clear statement of the rationale for removals and resignations of pastors from the roster of the LCMS in order protect the flock and to protect the reputations of the guiltless "lest God's name be blasphemed."  It should also be noted that Gerhard instructs that the removal of a minister the Church is to conform to the Divine Will of God.  That Divine Will is revealed in what have been derided as the "so-called qualifications" of a pastor in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  These passages stand as the revealed will of God for those who serve in the Office of the Ministry and are His Divine mandates for the beginning, continuation and sadly sometimes the ending of that service.

Just as the calling of ministers belongs to the entire church, so also their removal belongs to the entire church. Therefore one cannot approve the opinion of those pseudo-politicians who think that the removal of ministers belongs to the regalian rights of the magistrate such that, according to whim, he can change ecclesiastical ministries and subsitute other ministers for earlier ones who have been removed from their position and driven into exile...

Again, just as a legitimate call should be made according to the divinely prescribed laws, so also the legitimate removal of a minister should be made according to the divinely prescribed regulations.  You see, just as the right to call belongs principally to God alone in a mediate call, so also the right to remove belongs principally to God alone also in a mediate removal.  1 Sam 3:20:  "I said indeed about your ministry that you would minister in my sight forever. But now, far be it from Me, says the Lord."  Hosea 4:6:  "Because you have rejected knowledge and have forgotten the Law of your God, I shall reject you from serving Me as priest."  

As does the call, so also the removal occurs through means, for the most part, namely, through the church's lawful judgment, which must conform to the divine will.  The divine will is this: that a minster of the church should teach the Word of God sincerely and lead his hearers with the example of a blameless life.  Therefore, when a minister of the church falls into heresy or provides and causes a scandal because of his enormous sins so that God's name is blasphemed [Rom. 2:24], then the church has the power to remove him.

Three categories of such ministers can be established.  (1) Some are deceitful, "walking in craftiness and falsifying God's Word" (2 Cor. 4:2; Eph. 4:14).  The are men who obscure the light of heavenly doctrine with clouds of heresy and who corrupt its purity.  The church not only can but also should remove them from itself as an anathema (Gal. 1:18), that is, as a detestable thing which corrupts with its touch.  Of such a kind were those whom the apostle wishes to be "cut off" (Gal. 5:12), and John commands that we open neither our homes nor our ears to them (2 John 10).  (2) Some are burdensome whose crimes are both enormous and notorious. These, too, should be removed from office, lest God's name be blasphemed because of them [Rom. 2:24] and lest they go to set a stumbling block before their hearers.  (3) But some are wayward, guilty of lesser faults.  These should be tolerated.

The causes of dismissal can be traced back to two sources.  One is a lack of ability to serve the church usefully.  The other is an intolerable neglect of ministerial works or will.  Lack of ability includes partly a lack of sound doctrine in the fundamentals, especially corruptions or errors that conflict with the foundation, and partly the loss of the instruments for teaching that doctrine with fruit for the hearers; such can be the loss of the use of one's mind (namely of intelligence, judgment, or memory) or of one's body (such as the tongue and of other members necessary for the administration of one's office) when that use is cut off by sickness or a calamity.  The word "will" includes both enormous neglect in performing the duties of one's entrusted office and shamfulness of life and behavior, whether that is scandalous just for the church or worthy of civil condemnation.  One or both of these causes is a just cause for dismissal, as is concluded from the equivalent.  For whatever can be alleged as a hindrance as regards a person who is to be called, the same thing ought also be a cause for rejecting one who has been called.    Johann Gerhard, Theological Commonplaces: On the Ecclesiastical Ministry, Part One.  Trans. by Richard J. Dinda.  Ed. by Benjamin T. G. Mayes.  CPH, 2001, pp. 252-253.

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