WordAlone - Seminarian Ordination issue
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A Confession —

Concerning Ordination

[This confession was written by seminarians in the WordAlone chapter at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. They requested that others support their confession by signing their confession and having their names listed publicly on the WordAlone website. There are links at the bottom of the confession should you wish to support the seminarians.]

Christians in every time and place are compelled to confess their faith in the lordship of the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ. Whether for the sake of evangelical outreach or to guard against those who would profess a doctrine contrary to the Word of God, faith finds utterance in the public confession of the elect in Christ. So it is that we, as students preparing for the ordained ministry, express our desire that this confession regarding the apostolic ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ be heard: We believe, teach, and confess that the Gospel is nothing other than the proclamation of Jesus Christ, “who was handed over to death for our trespasses, and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Also, we confess “that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. And for the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments” (Augsburg Confession, Article VII Book of Concord 43:1-2). It is enough, therefore, that as theologians and pastors of the ELCA we likewise affirm the oath of apostolic ministry to “preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions,” as they are understood to be a faithful exposition of the Scriptures. Should any confession contrary to this be required of us, we are compelled by the Word of God to resist.

When in 1999 the ELCA adopted Called to Common Mission, the agreement establishing full communion between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church USA, the issue arose as to whether the adoption of episcopal ordination rites as necessary for the unity of Christian churches constituted a compromise of the evangelical witness of the ELCA. We agree with those who claimed that to make a specific kind of churchly order into an article of faith in this way decidedly conflicts with both the Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions. Recognizing the need for further clarity on this issue, the churchwide assembly in 2001 passed a by-law amendment to allow for what was labeled “ordinations in unusual circumstances” (ELCA Constitution 7.31.17). We believe that what makes the need for such ordinations unusual, however, is not our confession. What is unusual is that the church itself has placed us in a situation where we cannot help but ask for an exception to the human tradition of episcopal ordination. We understand that what actually makes the Christian ministry unusual is the confidence that in matters of faith nothing other than the Gospel given in preaching and the Sacraments can justify and unite all believers in Christ. According to this witness of the church, it is this unity in the Gospel and not institutional uniformity that enhances and extends the mission of Christian ministry—to publicly proclaim that the Word of God alone bestows the forgiveness of sins and is witnessed to in Christ Jesus’ giving himself to sinners through the administration of the Sacraments.

The ELCA needs assurance that its witness has not exchanged the visible unity evident in a human practice for true Christian unity. We understand that the specific calling of ordained ministry is to preach and administer the Sacraments publicly in the name of the church. The authority to preach and administer the Sacraments is entrusted when one is called by a congregation to comfort and console troubled consciences through the public exercise of this divinely established office of election. Ordination is not an article of faith whereby a human institution may use the event as an opportunity to assert authority over when and how the Holy Spirit is given. Ordination is governed by the power of the Holy Spirit, who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith." (Small Catechism, Book of Concord 355-6:6). It is this faith that compels us to request that the provision for exceptional ordinations be unequivocally granted. “For the apostles did not want us to think that through such rites we are justified or that such rites are necessary for righteousness before God” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Book of Concord 181:39). While human traditions can be useful for the orderliness of religious practice, and at times for the effectiveness of our evangelical witness, they neither constitute nor create the true unity of believers in Christ. For “the church is not only an association of external ties and rites like other civic organizations, but it is principally an association of faith and the Holy Spirit in the hearts of persons” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Book of Concord 174:5).

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