Why the Congregation Has Authority Over the Pastorby Rev. Jack Cascione
This article is written in response to some of the objections to our
recently published article "Why the Voters Assembly
Should be Supreme." The objections come from those who contribute to CAT41s
TableTalk mailing list and its administrator, Rev. Eric Stefanski. The uninitiated reader
may not be aware that I have dubbed those who want to return to pre-Waltherian, 18th
century, European, Lutheran hierarchy, as Hyper-Euro-Lutherans. The Hyper-Euros also
believe that the rite of ordination is a sacrament from God as opposed to the LCMS
position that ordination is simply the ratification of a "call" a pastor
receives from a congregation.
This writer asked LCMS Pastor, Rev. Stefanski, "Could you send me a copy of what
you think is the ideal church constitution for an LCMS congregation?"
Stefanski writes about church constitutions: Quotation
removed per author's request.
Stefanskis response is also typical of those pastors from the
Synods Church Growth faction typified by the Michigan 102 on the opposite end of the
spectrum. The Church Growthers also believe that God gives them the right to determine the
style, character, and rubrics of worship, if we can call it that, as required in their
contemporary informal entertainment setting. Both the Hyper-Euro-Lutherans and the Church
Growthers view their offices as being above the congregation. At best they may be benign
dictators, but dictators nevertheless, who resist verifiable accountability to the
Stefanski is certainly entitled to his view which is hardly representative of C.F.W.
Walther and the "Old Missouri." In 1852 the LCMS Convention adopted
Walthers "Church and Ministry" as the official position of the LCMS. This
was restated by Pieper, Fritz, and most recently by the President of the LCMS in January
1999. Stefanskis "never" above is simply to convince the uninformed
layman. There may not be an identical constitution required for every congregation but all
LCMS congregational constitutions are required to reflect the theological position of
Walthers "Church and Ministry." An LCMS constitution much show that the
Voters are supreme.
Lest I be guilty of singling out Pastor Stefanski, he is only speaking publicly on the
same position held by members of the LCMS praesidium, professors at both seminaries, and
hundreds of LCMS Pastors. He is also inadvertently articulating the false theology used by
many District Presidents, officials, and professors to defend the abuses of the Church
Growth Movement. Both the Hyper-Euro-Lutherans and the Church Growth advocates of the
Michigan 102 claim Gods power to rule the congregation, first similar to the Vatican
and second similar to the Board of Directors at General Motors.
It is true that the early church, the Catholic Church, and Luther had no church
constitutions. Rather, they had Councils, canon law, civil law, tradition, rubrics, no
separation of church and state, etc. They also had the foot of the King and the Pope on
the back of their necks. No one had constitutions. Now in America, without European
governmental, social, and ecclesiastical structure, any congregation without a
constitution offers lay people little more than Stephanism. "Mister layman, do you
have a question? I will give you my answer when I have formed an opinion."
The clergy can almost dance to this Hyper-Euro-Lutheran ditty on constitutions.
"Dont have one, dont need one, dont want one." They talk as if
they are from God. "Mister layman, however, we will have your donations and property
and silence as we serve you." On the other end of the spectrum the Church
Growth-Willow Creek-entertainment now-Leadership Training-Harvard School of Business-Peter
Drucker style pastors would describe Stefanskis position as optimized adjudicatory
Pastor Stefanski supports his hierarchical, Grabauist interpretation of the Lutheran
Confessions as follows: Quotation removed per
With the "proper mind-set" above, Stefanski could defend
any position. With the "proper mind-set" Communism, Nazism, Socialism, and
dictatorship could all work, but the potential for abuse is so much greater.
Heb. 13:17: Obey them that have the rule over. This passage
requires obedience to the Gospel, for it does not reestablish a dominion for bishops apart
from the Gospel." (Christian Dogmatics, Pieper Vol. III page 460)
Stefanskis fear of voter tyranny is a moot point since everything in the
congregation belongs to the congregation. They issued the "call" to the pastor
and the final administration of the congregation belongs to them.1 Stefanski
may as well speak of landlord tyranny or representative-government tyranny. We know that
the Voters Assembly, being made of 100% sinners, can make the wrong decision, as can
an American jury, but this is no argument for pastoral authority or doing away with the
American court system.
Stefanskis limited presentation of Apology XXVIII above by Philip Melanchthon in
1531 skews Melanchthons position on the authority of the Congregation which
Melanchthon expands in his "Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope"
contained in the Lutheran Confessions. Melanchthon state, "In 1 Cor. 3, 6, Paul makes
ministers equal, and teaches that the Church is above the ministers."2
I repeat, the church, the local congregation, is above the pastor. Here Melanchthon
says the Pope and all pretenders to authority over the congregation should doff their
little hat to the congregation. Pieper, affirms this position in his Christian Dogmatics.3
Melanchthons Treatise is a veritable Magna Carta for the congregation.
Stefanski disagrees that the Voters Assembly is a group that has supremacy even
though Christ says in Matt.18:17 "Go tell it to the church." Here Christ is
speaking about church discipline. He says "go tell it to the church" that is the
local congregation. He doesnt say "go tell it to the pastor." The
congregation, not the pastor, is the final and supreme authority to judge doctrine and the
pastor, not the pastor!
Melanchthons point about the authority of the pastor in the Apology above is only
in relation to the Word of God and only with the agreement of the congregation. Again, in
the Treatise, Melanchthon makes it clear that the full authority of the keys belongs to
the congregation, hence the authority to administer the word, sacraments, calls,
ordination, excommunication, and the affairs of the congregation rest with the
Luther and Walther point out that everyone in the congregation is a priest by virtue of
their baptism and the pastor is elected to office from out of the priests. Pastors are not
special people; they hold a special office. 5 6
The man or group who controls the church roster must control the
deed to the church property. Stefanskis position transfers control of the
congregation to the minister. His claim that the pastor is in charge of excommunication
based on the Apology XXVIII above is an outrageous usurpation of congregational authority.
Melanchthon shows this authority rests with the congregation, "Go tell it to the
As the administrator of word and sacrament in behalf of the
congregation the Smalcald Articles do say that the pastors have jurisdiction in
excommunicating those who are guilty of manifest sins but not without due process before
Excommunication may necessarily cast the pastor in the role of prosecutor and the
congregation as the jury as Paul speaks to the congregation in 1 Corinthians 5 and as
Luther also points out.9 10 If the pastor is correct and the congregation in error the pastor
should suffer removal from office rather than serve Communion to a public sinner.11 The Word is supreme over the pastor and congregation.
Every vote on doctrine gives the pastor and the congregation the opportunity to see who
agrees with Gods Word. The pastor should not interfere with the process because in
judging Gods Word the congregation necessarily judges its own faith as Christ would
have it. "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may
be made manifest among you."(1Cor. 11:19) The final goal in the excommunication is
confession of doctrine and salvation of souls. How dare a pastor interfere with a
congregations right to confess its faith or lack of it in excommunication. Let Judas
show himself. Christ told him to do what he was going to do quickly. Peter didnt get
up and tell Judas to sit down.
Luther shows that the congregation issues a call to a pastor and if the called pastor
proves incompetent the congregation has the right and duty to remove the pastor. The
Voters Assembly is supreme in congregational business.12
The pastor serves as a servant of the word and the Congregation is judge and jury of
doctrine and all matters in the church.13
Stefanskis Hyper-Euro-Lutheran interpretation is further rejected by E. J. Otto,
the former editor of Affirm. In a lengthy article on excommunication in "The Abiding
Word" Otto explains that the Office of the Keys belongs to the congregation. The
final decision in excommunication belongs to the congregation, not the pastor.14
Stefanskis attempt to make the Voters Assembly foreign
to the Bible transfers the authority of the congregation to the pastor. It is true that
the Scriptures do not state there must be a "Voters Assembly." However all
of the passages quoted in "Why the Voters Assembly
Should be Supreme" support this position while there are no passages stating that
the pastor is supreme! There were hundreds of years of Roman culture predating the New
Testament in which people regularly participated in voting.
The case of choosing an Apostle from either Matthias or Barsabas by casting lots is not
an argument against the Voters Assembly. How could 11 Apostles who were inspired by
God vote in such a case? When it came time to chose seven deacons that appear to be more
like pastors from the congregation in Acts 6:5, the Apostles didnt say, cast
lots. They said, select or chose from among yourselves seven men full of the Holy Ghost.
However this polling or selecting process took place the entire congregation did the
choosing, selecting, or calling of these men. The Apostles let the congregation be
supreme. According to 1 Cor.3:23 all things belong to the congregation and in the
following verse, 1 Cor.4:1, the pastors are stewards of the mysteries of God. Luther uses
Acts 6:5 in defense of the Bohemians electing their own Bishops in Vol. 40 page 38ff of
Walthers understanding of the supremacy of the Voters Assembly representing
the congregation is arrived at by a process of elimination. A vote must carry authority.
Paul tells us in 1 Cor.14:34 and 1 Tim.2:12 that a woman should not teach or exercise
authority over a man in the church. Also, children were not to exercise authority over
adults. Hence women and those under 21, were precluded from voting in Walthers
"Church and Ministry" which brings us to the remainder of those eligible to
vote. This group came to be called a Congregational Assembly and then Voters
Assembly acting in service of the entire congregation.
DEAR PASTOR STEFANSKI: Why wont you say the Voters are supreme? The final
authority to excommunicate cannot belong to the pastor. It cant be decided by lots.
The pastor and the congregation are not equals. One is Christs bride and the other
is a steward. If you dont want to agree with Walthers "Church and
Ministry" why do you remain in the LCMS? A copy of our congregations
constitution is on our congregations website, Redeemer Lutheran Church, St. Clair
Shores, Michigan at, http://www.redeemerlutheranchurch.org/chconst.htm.
What is the church constitution you agree to or are you your own church?
A note about Endnotes
The endnotes used in this work are linked from the note number in
the text to the endnote at the bottom of the page, and vice versa. In addition,
where a note uses "ibid." or "op. cit.", it is linked to the
appropriate parent endnote information.
If you use this "ibid." or "op. cit." link, you will need to use the BACK
button on your browser to return to the endnote you started with. From there, you
can click on the endnote number to go back to where you were in the text.
"In certain cases, however, the pastor must suspend from Communion. The pastors
right of suspension has been discussed much in time past and present. However, the
discussion has not always been correct (cf. Walther, Pastorale, p. 163.) The thing that
must be maintained is that the pastor is personally and directly responsible not only to
the congregation, but also to God, with regard to the person he admits to the Lords
Supper. Therefore, the pastor has both the right and the duty to suspend those whose
admission to the Sacrament would be contrary to Gods will and ordinance....
Of course, the suspended person always retains the right of appeal to the congregation
from the verdict of the pastor, and this for two reasons: (1) the administration of the
Lords Supper is entrusted originally to the congregation and the pastor has
suspended as the servant of the congregation (minister ecclesaie); (2) the suspension
temporarily affects the relation of the suspended to the congregation. But in the meantime
the suspension stands. If it should happen that the pastor justly suspended a person, but
the congregation condemned and annulled the suspension, and despite proper instruction and
a thorough review of the case, perhaps even by Synodical officials, refuses to change its
mind, the pastor must nevertheless suffer removal from office than give the Lords
Supper to a person to whom according to Gods Word, he must deny it." (Christian
Dogmatics by Francis Pieper Vol. III page 388-390)
2. In 1
Cor. 3, 6, Paul makes ministers equal, and teaches that the Church is above the ministers.
Hence superiority or lordship over the Church or the rest of the ministers is not ascribed
to Peter [in preference to other apostles]. For he says thus: All things are yours,
whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, i.e., let neither the other ministers nor Peter
assume for themselves lordship or superiority over the Church; let them not burden the
Church with traditions; let not the authority of any avail more than the Word [of God];
let not the authority of Cephas be opposed to the authority of the other apostles, as they
reasoned at that time: "Cephas, who is an apostle of higher rank, observes this;
therefore, both Paul and the rest ought to observe this." Paul removes this pretext
from Peter, and denies [Not so, says Paul, and makes Peter doff his little hat, namely,
the claim] that his authority is to be preferred to the rest or to the Church. (Treatise,
Concordia Triglotta, page 507, par. 11)
"In this sense too, the Smalcald Articles say that the "Church [i.e.
local congregation] is above the ministers." Concordia Triglotta 507 "Power and
Primacy of the Pope. Par. 11...." (Christian Dogmatics, Pieper, CPH, Vol.
III, page 457)
"...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. [For just as the promise of the Gospel
belongs certainly and immediately to the entire Church, so the keys belong immediately to
the entire Church, because the keys are nothing else than the office whereby this promise
is communicated to everyone who desires it, just as it is actually manifest that the
Church has the power to ordain ministers of the Church. And Christ speaks in these words:
Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc., and indicates to whom He has given the keys, namely, to
the Church: Where two or three are gathered together in My name. Likewise Christ gives
supreme and final jurisdiction to the Church, when He says: Tell it unto the Church.]
Therefore it is necessary that in these passages Peter is the representative of the entire
assembly of the apostles, and for this reason they do not accord to Peter any prerogative
or superiority, or lordship [which he had, or was to have had, in preference to the other
apostles. (Treatise, Concordia Triglotta Page 511 par. 24-25)
"Luther says: In the New Testament the Holy Spirit scrupulously avoids giving
the name (sacerdos, ) priest, to any of the Apostles, or any other office, but restricts
this name to the baptized or Christian as their birthright and hereditary name from
Baptism; for none of us is born in Baptism an Apostle, preacher, teacher, pastor, but
solely priest, are all of us born; therefore we take some from among these born priests
and call and elect them for these offices that they may perform the functions of such
office in the name of all of us." (St. L. XIX:1260.)" (Pieper Vol. III. 457)
"Walther: The public ministry is not a special order, distinct from the holier
than common order of Christians, as the priesthood of the Levites was, but is an office of
service." (Pieper Vol. III. 457)
Op. cit., (Treatise, Concordia Triglotta Page 511 par. 24-25)
"The Smalcald Articles say: It is, certain that the common jurisdiction of
excommunicating those guilty of manifest crimes belongs to all pastors. But this is
not to be done without due process of law. (Concordia Triglotta. 525, Power
and Jurisdiction of Bishops, par. 74; page 521, par. 60.) This due process of
law includes, above all things, the hearing of each case by the congregations and
the verdict of the congregation. Luthers strong term for an excommunication which
has been pronounced without investigation and verdict by the congregation is well known.
(St.L.XIX: 950 ff.) Hearsay: The congregation which is to treat him as
excommunicated should know and be convinced that he has deserved and fallen under the ban,
as this text of Christ (Matt. 18:17-18) states; else it may be deceived and accept a lying
ban and thus do the neighbor wrong....Here, where the souls are concerned, the
congregation, too, should be judge and mistress. Loecher correctly states as
Lutheran doctrine that the congregation passes judgment and pronounces the
excommunication, while the pastor as the public servant of the congregation declares, ore
proclaims, the excommunication." (Pieper Vol. III 459.)
cit., (Pieper Vol. III. 457)
Op. cit., (Pieper Vol. III page 388-390)
"...Luther writes of the power of a congregation to dismiss its minister: If,
then, all of them are servants, their priestly, indelible mark also disappears, and the
perpetuity of their priestly dignity, or that one must always remain a priest, is also
pure fiction, for a servant may justly be deposed if he cannot be induced to be faithful.
Again, he may be left in office as long as he serves well and it please the congregation,
just as anyone in the secular sphere who administers a public office among his equals;
yes, there is far more reason to dismiss a servant in the spiritual sphere than in the
secular field; for the former when he becomes unfaithful, is much more insufferable than
an unfaithful worldly servant, who can damage merely the temporal goods of this life,
while the spiritual servant ruins and destroy also the eternal goods." (St.
L.X:1591) Pieper Vol III page 458.
Op. cit., (Pieper Vol. III page 388-390)
"Church discipline comprises certain essential duties which are enjoined upon every
Christian and every Christian congregation by a clear and direct command of God." (The
Abiding Word, Edgar J. Otto, CPH 1947, vol. 2, page 538-540.)
July 5, 1999
Revised September 28, 1999