To Save Souls or Control Members?
By Rev. Jack Cascione


Church Growth Vs Hierarchy Vs Walther

Redeemer Lutheran Church, St. Clair Shores, MI recently included the addition of Walther’s writings on the doctrine of church and ministry as the basis for the authority of Voter supremacy in its Constitution.

Redeemer’s constitution always stated that the Voters were supreme. However, it did not include the historic theological writings, of C.F.W. Wather, the Synod’s founder, as the basis for this opinion. Today, 150 years after the founding of the Missouri Synod, there are two factions in the LCMS that are opposed to Voter supremacy in the congregation. Redeemer is trying to protect itself from these two factions in the future and keep control of its doctrine and property.

Opposing Views on Authority in the Congregation

First, many who support the Church Growth Movement have removed the authority of the voters to a board of directors and/or the pastor. Their action is based on leadership management theories promoted by the Harvard School of Business, the Leadership Network, and Peter Drucker, grandfather of modern management theory, just to name a few. Second, another group of pastors believe that the Church Growth Movement has spread in the Synod due to a flawed doctrine of church and ministry taught by C.F.W. Walther. They believe that Voter supremacy is not found in the Bible, the Confessions, and the writings of Luther. They also believe Voter supremacy undermines the God given authority inherent in the pastoral office.

How the Gospel is Lost in Your New Constitution

Both of the above opinions are in error. The original structure of the LCMS is correct. Walther was biblically and confessionally correct on these issues. The question of who has the final authority to excommunicate a member illustrates the practical importance of these issues to lay people. The individual, group, board, hierarchy, or assembly who controls the church roster also consequently controls the church doctrine, business, and deed.

The Gospel is easily lost by the congregation when it gives up its authority to judge the correct teaching of the Gospel to another person or board. This is what took place under the Papacy before the Reformation. It is also now taking place in congregations that have adopted "Church Growth" constitutions under the pretext of promoting growth through "leadership." Americans who would never dream of giving up their constitutional rights to the Congress and courts are giving up their duty to keep the teaching of the Gospel pure in their own churches and the Office of the Keys in the name of growth and efficiency. Once the new district-sponsored constitution is in place they quickly find out that those who object to any "innovations" in the Gospel are no longer members. When they realize they are under the mind control of someone else who writes creeds and liturgy and selects hymns that oppose the Catechism they discover too late there is nothing they can do about it. Thousand and thousands of lay people in the LCMS, who gave selflessly to the construction and maintenance of church properties, now find themselves as little more than spectators in their own congregations instead of members of the priesthood of all believers.

Who has the authority to discipline church members, how much power do they have, and how far can they and should they go? Ignoring these questions means ignoring the reality that church members are at the same time sinners and saints.

The LCMS Catechism reads: What is the Office of the Keys?

"It is the peculiar church power which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of penitent sinners, but to retain the sins of the impenitent as long at they do not repent.

Matthew 16:19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

John 20:22 And when he had said this, he breathed on [them], and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23 Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; [and] whosoever [sins] ye retain, they are retained.

"What do you believe according to these words?

I believe that, when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, especially when they exclude manifest and impenitent sinners from the Christian Congregation, and, again, when they absolve those who repent of their sins and are willing to amend, this is as valid and certain in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us Himself."1

In view of this doctrine the question is: who has the final authority in church discipline and excommunication, the pastor, a board, or the congregation?

The Church Growth Movementand Church Discipline

The Church Growth Movement has shifted the authority of church discipline and excommunication from the voter’s assembly to a board of elders, board of directors and/or the pastor. Under the structure of a board of directors the voter’s assembly may only meet once or twice a year. When they do meet it is primarily to vote on elected offices and accept yearly financial and congregational reports. The board of elders or board of directors meets on a monthly basis and deals with disciplinary actions without the voters.2

Granted, the congregation may have delegated the Office of the Keys to one of these boards and/or the Pastor. However, such an action is in opposition to the Scripture. Matthew 18:17 states "...tell it unto the church." Advocates of the Church Growth Movement claim they are giving new freedom to the congregation when they are actually imposing tyranny. The church (in deliberative terms the, voters’ assembly) has no scriptural mandate to delegate its responsibility and authority to others, no more than the pastor has the mandate to delegate the administration of the word and the sacraments to a lay person. Such a shift in the name of efficiency is nothing more than hierarchy and neglect of Christ’s command.

In addition to the neglect of church discipline, Church Growth practice as taught by the Yoke Fellow Institute, Fuller Theological Seminary and many others has also significantly changed the purpose of church discipline. Rather than the congregation dealing with open violations of the Ten Commandments and doctrinal issues, Church Growth practitioners sets up boards to deal with problems in the area of motivation, participation, fund raising, structure, and attitude. They tend to evaluate the membership on the basis of performance and point of purchase market analysis, rather than on the law and Gospel. Rarely are sins against doctrine considered problems that would prevent someone from receiving the Lord’s Supper.

When speaking of church discipline and excommunication, Luther states "... Christ himself and all the apostles have no other power than to help souls, and have left no other power to the church...."3 Again he writes, "First, the power of the ban is given by Christ to the holy mother, the Christian church, that is, to the congregation of all Christians."4

In Church Growth practice, the pastor alone, or the pastor in conjunction with one of the boards, deals with disciplinary issues privately. These issues are usually resolved by telling the individual in question he or she is no longer a member, or their names are simply removed from the roster. The congregation neither votes on the acceptance of new members nor the removal of members. Terms such as discipline and/or excommunication have virtually dropped out of the Voters’ area of responsibility. The "Church Growth" congregation no longer serves as a "church" in the Biblical sense. Rather it functions more as a religious theater company dealing with active and inactive season ticket holders.

Luther’s Understanding of Church Discipline

Instead of using the terms church discipline and/or excommunication Luther used the term "ban." Ban means being banned from participation in the Lord’s Supper. The small or lesser ban refers to a private exchange between the pastor and a member. In Lutheran pastoral practice, the use of the lesser ban was applied at the pastor’s discretion when the member met with his pastor for private confession and absolution and/or to announce for Communion. At that time the pastor determined whether the member should or should not receive the Lord’s Supper based on repentance of a particular sin.

During Luther’s day the Pope abused the large ban, or the greater ban. The "banned" individual in question was a virtual outlaw of the state. He could not trade, buy, sell, be buried, or receive any material help from any Christian. The larger ban then, as now, means the congregation is aware that the individual in question is no longer a member of the congregation because of unrepentant sin.

Luther writes "Christ instituted this outward ban, small as well as large, according to Matthew 18[:15-17]: "If your brother sins against you, punish him between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. Be if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word or dealing may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the whole congregation of the church; and if he refuses to listen to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." Again, St. Paul, I Corinthians 5[:11], "Do not associate with anyone if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reveler, drunkard, or robber-do not even eat with such a one." Again, II Thessalonians 3[:14], "If anyone refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed." Again, John in II John[:10-11] "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting for he who greets him shares his wicked work."5

The King James Version says "...go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone...." Actually the correct translation is go and reprove him, or show him his fault, condemn him, rebuke him, or convict him as the Greek word is used in 2Tim. 4:2, John 16:8, Jud. 15, 1Tim. 5:2, Tit. 1:13, Tit. 2:15, John 8:46, Tit. 1:9, 1Cor. 14:24, Eph. 5:11, John 3:20, Eph. 5:13, James 2:9, Luke 3:19, Heb. 12:5, Rev. 3:19. This is why Luther translates the word to mean "punish him between you and him alone."

The purpose of such action is always to lead the brother to repentance and salvation.

What are the limitations of the Pastor’s Authority?

Under the structure of congregational polity in the LCMS also in a country with a constitutional separation of the church and state, the pastor has no authority to go beyond the lesser ban without the agreement of the congregation.

The pastor may only prevent a person from taking the Lord’s Supper but not remove that individual from congregational membership without the agreement of the Voters’ Assembly.

In his "Christian Dogmatics," Francis Pieper addresses this issue as follows: "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 persons he admits to the Lord’s Supper. Therefore the pastor has both the right and the duty to suspend those whose admission to the Sacrament would be contrary to God’s will and ordinance."6

In the same quotation Pieper explains that if the congregation does not agree with a correct application of the excommunication based on Scripture the pastor is compelled by God and his conscience not to serve the unrepentant member communion even if it costs him his position as pastor.

The pastor administrates the Word and Sacraments that God has entrusted to the Congregation. The Word and Sacraments do not belong to the pastor. Again Pieper writes: "The Word and Sacrament, in which they minister, are and remain the immediate property of the congregation, and merely the administration of them in the name of all is delegated to these certain persons by the congregation. In this sense Scripture calls the incumbents of the public ministry not only God’s or Christ’s ministers (1Cor.4:1, Titus 1:7; 2Tim. 2:24; Luke 12:42), but also ministers, or servants, of the congregation. 2Cor. 4:5) ‘And ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.’"7

God has given the office of the ministry and every other church office to the Congregation. "...in Christ and in the congregation is the source of all authority in the Church. For this reason every office in the Church is only committed, [and] in case of misuse reverts to the congregation...."8

Pastors have the authority to exercise the lesser ban and keep members from taking communion until they show the fruits of repentance. However, according to the Bible, Luther and the Lutheran Confessions, no one may be excommunicated without due process in front of the congregation. Matthew 18:17 reads "tell it to the church."9

The Bible limits the exercise of the authority to excommunicate to adult males as it also limits the office of the pastor to an adult male. 1Tim. 2:12 "But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." 1Cor. 14:34 "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but [they are commanded] to be under obedience, as also saith the law." The advent of woman suffrage in addition to Church Growth practice has virtually removed the Office of the Keys and priesthood of all believers from the voters’ assembly. The "Church Growth" pastor writes his own liturgy, designs his own worship, and controls the membership roster. This will eventually bring about the shrink, and not the desired growth of the Synod.

The authority of the Pastor is not based on his person but on the authority of God’s word. God’s word has clearly established the pastoral office according to Acts. 20:28, 1Tim. 3:1-8 and many others. "‘Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves’ (Heb. 13:17), the reply must be made that this passage requires all believers to obey their pastors when the latter proclaim the Word of God."10

"Since the power of the keys has been given by the Lord to every believer, this privilege belongs also to Christian ministers in their capacity as believers as well as in their capacity as called and ordained servants of the Word."11

The authority of the congregation and the pastor are not in competition with each other in the Bible. The office of the pastor is the highest office in the church not a higher order of Christian.12 The call to the office of the ministry is a divine call from God to the pastor through the congregation according to Acts 20:28.13

What is the Congregation’s Responsibility?

Luther says, "The congregation should exclude the persistently impenitent as heathen, so that they may come to a realization of their sins and repent that others may take warning from such example and guard against sin."14

"...God’s people or holy Christians are recognized by the office of the keys exercised publicly. ...Now the use of the keys is twofold, public and private."15 Luther makes this last comment in reference to the lesser (private) and greater ban (public).

"I call it a devil’s and not God’s ban, contrary to Christ’s command, when people are cursed with the ban sacrilegiously, before they have been convicted in the presence of the assembled congregation."16

Finally the Word and Sacraments all belong to God. "For we must believe and be sure of this, that baptism does not belong to us but to Christ, that the gospel does not belong to us but to Christ, that the office of preaching does not belong to us but to Christ, that the sacrament [of the Lord’s Supper] does not belong to us but to Christ, that the keys, or forgiveness and retention of sins, do not belong to us but to Christ. In Summary, the offices and sacraments do not belong to us but to Christ...."17

Walther on the authority of the Pastor and the Congregation in Excommunication

Walther quotes the Lutheran Confessions to show that the pastor has a divine right to preach, forgive sins, judge doctrine, reject false teaching, and exclude manifest sinners from the Congregation.18 It is the work of a true pastor to forgive sins and to remove open sinners from the congregation.19 The Gospel commands pastors to preach, forgive sins, administer the sacraments and to excommunicate unrepentant sinners.20

This authority does not belong merely to one person but to the whole congregation.21 Luther states that all Christians have the power to bind and loose sins.22 A pastor is elected from the general membership, the priesthood of all believers, by the congregation to his office.23 However, the minister has no right to carry out an excommunication, or the greater ban, without the consent of the congregation. The minister administrates the keys for the congregation. The congregation has not given them up when they issue a call.24 The Lutheran Confessions state that the pastor has the right to excommunicate, but that this cannot be carried out without due process before the congregation.25 The final jurisdiction belongs to the church as Luther also teaches.26

"For it [the congregation] must take part if anyone is to be excommunicated, as Christ here says, and it need not believe the official’s notice or the bishop’s letter; indeed, it must not believe it, for in God’s matters men must not be believed. A Christian congregation is not the servant of an official, nor is it the taskmaster of a bishop, so that he might say: ‘Listen, Greta; Listen, Johnny; excommunicate this or that person.’ Oh, indeed we do welcome you, dear official! In the secular government this certainly might make sense, but here where souls are concerned the congregation should also be judge and mistress. St. Paul was an apostle, yet he did not desire to excommunicate the incestuous person. He wanted the congregation to act also (1 Cor. 5:1,5 :13)" Concerning the Keys," 1530, St. Louis Edition, 19:950-51.27

The Duty of the Clergy

The Minister must remember he does not have the right to excommunicate without the consent of the congregation.28

When the sin is public the minister need not follow the first steps of Matt. 18 but move directly to public confrontation before the congregation.29

"It is for this reason that God did not command any human being to rule over his Christian Church, but rather reserved this privilege for himself and commanded us to teach nothing but his Word.30

Paul was an apostle, yet he was not willing to excommunicate a person who was living in adultery with his stepmother [1Cor. 5:1]. But he called on the congregation to act. And when the congregation did not take any action, he did not either, because he was satisfied with whatever punishment the congregation meted out to him.31

Hierarchy Gaining Support Among LCMS Clergy

On the opposite side of the Church Growth Movement are some Lutheran pastors who believe the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions give the pastor the right to excommunicate members without consulting the congregation. They appeal to the writings of Rev. Wilhelm Loehe and Rev. Johannes Grabau. Though the theological views of those who follow Church Growth Movement versus hierarchy may be completely divergent, the outcome is the same: the usurpation of congregational authority.

A fourth year seminary student (name omitted), with the approval of his Seminary Advisor, Dr.(name omitted), writes in his thesis as follows: "It was the Pastor’s duty to keep the welfare of each member and the church as whole in proper health and attitude; because of this, the pastor primarily was responsible for the proper procedure in carrying out excommunication."32

The student correctly states that congregations should not carry out excommunications without the agreement of the pastor but then states that pastors may proceed to excommunicate without the voters’ assembly.33

He appeals to Luther’s letters on excommunication as proof that Luther practiced excommunication of members without consulting of the congregation.34 Here the student misses the point. The authority over the Castle Church at Wittenburg was not the voters’ assembly, but Duke John the Elector’s. Therefore Luther consults the Elector before he moves from the lesser ban to the greater ban. The student sites a number of other letters that Luther wrote on this subject but never explains the difference between the polity Luther recommended on this subject verses the reality in which he found himself in Wittenburg.

It is true that the apostles did exercise their own discipline without consulting a congregation such as Peter dealing with Annanias and Saphira, and Simon Magnus and others. The Bible says the church is founded on the prophets and the apostles. However, called pastors are not apostles and prophets.

The student mistakenly concludes, "Granted, Luther believed the Office of the Keys belonged to the congregation, but when a pastor was called, the authority, duty and right of the Keys was delegated to the pastor to perform in the name of the congregation."35 He goes on to say that since the pastor doesn’t need the congregation’s permission to preach and baptize, he doesn’t need the congregation’s permission to excommunicate a member.36 In other words, the student believes that the power to excommunicate is inherent in the pastoral office as taught by the seminary professor.

Luther clearly did not teach that the pastor excommunicates members in place of the congregation by divine right. Luther says the clergy only administrate the Lord’s Supper they do not own it! "But it [the Lord’s Supper] is not called a sacrament of the clerics but a sacrament of the church; and a cleric should be a servant of the church and not his own lord in opposition to the church."37

"...[pastors] are taken from the ranks of such born clerics and called or elected to these offices which they are to discharge on behalf of all of us."38

For Luther, if the means of grace, the office of the ministry, and the right to call belong to the congregation so did the right to excommunicate.39

The congregation has the duty to point out sin in excommunication. They must do this if they are concerned about the soul of the erring brother.40 Since all Christians are equal through baptism, they have the right and duty to exercise the Office of the Keys.

"The Office of the Keys belong to the whole church and to each of its members, both as regard their [the keys] authority and their various uses."41

"For since we have proved all of these things to be the common property of all Christians, no one individual can arise by his own authority and arrogate to himself alone what belongs to all."42

Final Authority for Excommunication Belongs to the Congregation

The entire debate of pastoral versus congregational authority is at the expense of the authority of God’s word. Pastors have nothing to fear if their Voters are instructed in God’s word and Congregations have nothing to fear if their pastors rely on the authority of God’s word.

One may attempt to point to the Catholic Church in America as proof that hierarchy is not a barrier to church and ministry. However, the Catholic Church only claims 60 million of all Americans when they have suffered so many losses in America they should have at least double that number. They have become the great feeding trough for other denominations. Numerically the Catholic Church has suffered greater losses in America than it did during the Reformation. They would have far more members if they had operated their churches under the authority of voters’ assemblies instead of the priests.

The laity must be able to sit in the pew and be certain that the pastor’s first priority is saving their souls by teaching them God’s word and administrating the sacraments, not control and manipulation in the name of the Lord.

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.

1.    Luther’s Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1943, page 18

2.    Sample Constitution provided by the Michigan District Office to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Eastpointe, MI and adopted by St. Peter’s on Nov. 20, 1995.
"Article IV-Membership, Section 4, Termination of Membership, Excommunication- A member who persistently acts and/or lives in an unchristian manner shall be admonished according to Matthew 18:15. If he refuses to repent he shall be considered to have excluded himself. This self-exclusion shall be recognized by formal Excommunication by the Board of Elders. The Board of Directors will be informed of the action, and a registered letter shall be sent to the person excluded."

3.    Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, American Edition, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1970, Vol. 39, page 12

4.    Ibid., page 16

5.    Ibid., page 8-9

6.    Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Concordia Publishing House St. Louis 1950 Pieper Vol. III, page 388-390 "In certain cases, however, the pastor must suspend from Communion. The pastor’s right of suspension has been discussed much in times past and present. However, the discussion has not always been entirely correct (cf. Walther, Pastorale, Page 163f.) 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 persons he admits to the Lord’s Supper. Therefore the pastor has both the right and the duty to suspend those whose admission to the Sacrament would be contrary to God’s will and ordinance. Walther specifies: "A pastor, though without authority to excommunicate a member of his congregation, must suspend a member from Communion when he has committed or lives in a manifest mortal sin and will not repent; has committed a theft and will not return the stolen goods; has insulted or offended someone or a whole congregation, or has been offended by someone, and in either case will not be reconciled, Matt. 5:23-25; 18:28ff; Luke 17:3, etc. In such a situation it becomes necessary to suspend from the Holy Supper, that is to say, the pastor refuses to commune such a member until his offense has been removed, or demands that the members postpone his Communion until he gives evidence of repentance, or of readiness to be reconciled, and the like. A pastor may not and must not become partaker of other men’s sins, 1Tim. 5:22. Certainly he must, then, have the right of suspension from the Lord’s Supper in all cases where he by admittance to the Lord’s Table would knowingly assist in the commission of a grievous sin and thus become partaker of other men’s sin. As emphatically, therefore, as our old orthodox theologians deny the right of pastors to excommunicate without the congregation, so emphatically they defend the pastor’s right to suspend from Communion."
"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 Lord’s Supper is entrusted originally to the congregation and the pastor has suspended as the servant of the congregation (minister ecclessiae); (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 rather suffer removal from office than give the Lord’s Supper to a person to whom, according to God’s Word, he must deny it."

7.    Ibid., Page 456-458 "No. 7. The Ministry No Special Spiritual Order Superior to That of the Christians. 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 Christians as their birthright and hereditary name from Baptism; for none of us is born in Baptism an Apostle, preacher, teacher, pastor, but solely as priests 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. Louis Ed. XIX:1260).
"The incumbents of the public ministry are correctly called the public servants among the Christians (minstrantes inter Christianos). The Word and Sacrament, in which they minister, are and remain the immediate property of the congregation, and merely the administration of them in the name of all is delegated to these certain persons by the congregation. In this sense Scripture calls the incumbents of the public ministry not only God’s or Christ’s minister (1Cor.4:1, Titus 1:7; 2Tim. 2:24; Luke 12:42), but also ministers, or servants, of the congregation. 2Cor.4:5): ‘And ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.’ page 456- 457.
"Walther: ‘The public ministry is not a special order, distinct from holier than the common order of Christians, as the priesthood of the Levites was, but is an office of service’ (Kirche u. Amt, Page 221 [Walther and the Church, page 73]). In this sense, too, the Smalcald Articles say that ‘the church is above the ministers’ (Triglot, page 507, Power and Primacy of Pope, par. 11). The church and its ministers have the same relation to each other as employer and employee or owner and steward. page. 457
(This writer hopes that with the last sentence above Pieper does not mean that the pastor is little more than a hired or contract worker.)
"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 pleases 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 destroys also their eternal goods." (St. Louis ed. X: 1591)

8.    Ibid., page 458

9.    Ibid., page 458 "Hase says correctly that ‘evangelical teaching" makes the congregation the source of all authority in the Church. All that the pastors of the congregation do as pastors is delegated, that is, is done solely at the command of the congregation. This is true in particular when they pronounce excommunication. 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.’ (Triglot, page 525, Power and Jurisdiction of Bishops, 74; 521, 60.) Luther’s strong term for an excommunication which has been pronounced without investigation and verdict by the congregation is well known. (St. Louis ed. XIX: 950ff.) He says: ‘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.’ Loescher 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, or proclaims, the excommunication."

10.    Curtis C. Stephan, Abiding Word, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis Volume I , 1946, Page 345

11.    Ibid., Page 357- 8

12.    Ibid., Page 358 "The office of the ministry, charged with the public administration of the keys, is not a mere human arrangement or idea, nor does it create a special class of believers over and above other Christians, but it is a divine institution, the highest and most honorable office in the Church, all other offices being subordinate to it."

13.    Page F. Koehneke, Abiding Word, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis 1946 Vol. I, Page 366-367 "The same truth holds good of the servants of the Church who had been called mediately, though the congregations. Paul tells the elders of Ephesus: ‘Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood’ (Acts 20:28). To the congregation of these elders St. Paul writes: ‘And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers’ (Eph. 4:11). ‘And God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets; thirdly teachers’ (ICor. 12:28). Therefore the Lord exhorts the believers of all times: ‘Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest’ (Matt. 9:38). Scripture also emphasizes this truth of a divine call in the sending out of missionaries: ‘As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate for me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them’" (Acts 13:2).

14.    Edgar J. Otto, Abiding Word, Concordia Publishing House 1946 Vol II. page 546

15.    Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, American Edition, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1970 Vol. 41 Page 153

16.    Ibid., Vol. 40 Page 371

17.    Ibid., Vol. 38 Page 200

18.    C.F.W. Walther, Church and Ministry, Concordia Publishing House. St. Louis 1987, Page 214 "Therefore, according to the divine right, it is the office of the bishops to preach the Gospel, forgive sins, judge doctrine, and reject teachings that are contrary to the Gospel as well as to exclude from the Christian congregation, not by any human power, but only through God’s Word, the wicked whose perversity is manifest. And in such cases the parishioners and the congregation owe obedience to the bishops according to Christ’s declaration: ‘He who hears you, hears Me’ (Luke 10:16)" (Art. XXVIII, par. 5-21; German text , Triglot page 84, 86)

19.    Ibid., "...But we speak of the true Christian bishops, and the old division or distinction pleases me very well, according to which it was said that the power of the bishops consists in potestate ordinis (the power of order) and potestate iurisdictionis (the power of jurisdiction), that is, in the administration of the sacraments and the exercise of spiritual jurisdiction [geistlichem Gerichtszwang]. Therefore, every bishop has potestate ordinis, this, the power to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments, as well as the power of spiritual jurisdiction in the church, that is, the authority and power in the church to exclude from the Christian congregation those who are found guilty of open crimes and again to receive and absolve them when they are converted" (Art. XXVIII [XIV], par. 12-14; German text, Triglot, page 446).

20.    Ibid., "For the Gospel commands those who should preside over the churches to preach the Gospel, forgive sins, and administer the sacraments. In addition, it confers on them the jurisdiction to excommunicate those whose vices are publicly known and to loose and absolve those whose desire to make amends. Now everyone, even our adversaries, must confess that this command is given alike to all [believers] who preside over the churches, whether they are called pastors or elders or bishops." (Of the Power and Jurisdiction of Bishops, par. 60-61; German text, Triglot, page 520).

21.    Ibid., Page 271 "In addition it must be admitted that the keys do not belong merely to one person but to the whole church, as this can be proved sufficiently by clear and convincing arguments. For just as the promise of the Gospel belongs surely and without means to the whole church, so also the keys belong to the whole church without means (in the Latin original: principaliter et immediate, i.e. originally and immediately). For the keys are nothing else than the ministry [Amt], by which the promise is communicated to everyone who desires it, as indeed it is obvious than the church has the power to ordain ministers. When Christ said: ‘Whatever you bind,’ etc. [Matt.18:18], He indicated at once to whom the keys were given, namely, to the church, by adding: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name’[v.20]." (Of the Power and Primacy of the Pope, par. 24 German text, Triglot, page 510).

22.    Ibid., Page 276 "So all of us Christians have the power to bind and to loose" (Church Postil: Gospel Portion, "On the Day of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, " 1525, St. Louis edition, 11:2305).

23.    Ibid., Page 279 "None of us is born in Baptism as an apostle, minister, teacher, or pastor, but there we are born merely as priests. Then the congregation takes some out of such born priest and calls and elects them to those offices in which they perform their ministry in the name of all of us." ("On the Private Mass and Holy Orders," 1533, St. Louis edition, 19: 1260).

24.    Ibid., Page 321-322 "C.  The minister has no right to inflict and carry out excommunication without his having first informed the whole congregation....It is certain that the office of the keys in the more narrow sense, namely, the power publicly to loose and bind, is also entrusted to the incumbents of the ministry of the Word. Nevertheless, it does not lie within the power of the ministry to excommunicate a sinner without his having first informed the congregation. Otherwise the congregation would have to obey the minister blindly, even in matters pertaining to salvation. Here he deals not merely with a clear doctrine of the divine Word but with judgment of a person’s spiritual condition [Seelenzustand]. And this judgment is of such a nature that it closes heaven to the person in question and forbids him brotherly fellowship with Christians, and vice versa. Therefore, although the public enforcement of excommunication belongs to and must remain with the incumbents of the ministry of the Word, according to the Lord’s command sacred institution, nevertheless, it must be carried out according to the Lord’s express command and order only after the congregation (that is, the minister and hearer) has considered and made final judicial decision on the matter."

25.    Ibid., Page 323 Smalcald Articles: "It is certain that all pastors should have the common jurisdiction to excommunicate those who wallow in manifest vices, and that the bishops have tyrannically arrogated this power to themselves and have shamefully abused it to their own benefit....Since such an accusation is very grievous and weighty, no one should be condemned in such a case without due process of law and after proper admonition...." (Of the Power and Jurisdiction of Bishops, Par. 74-75 German text, Triglot, page 524).

26.    Ibid., Page 323-4 "...Where two or three are gathered in My name,’ etc. Likewise, Christ gives the highest and final jurisdiction to the church when He says: 'Tell it to the church'" (Of the Power and Jurisdiction of Bishops, par. 24 German text, Triglot, page 510).... Luther: "In this passage you hear that there must be certain public sins of a certain person, as when a brother sees another sin; in addition, it must be such a sin as had been reproved before and had finally been proved publicly before the congregation."

27.    Ibid., Page 324-5

28.    C.F.W. Walther, Pastoral Theology, Lutheran News, New Haven 1995, Page 239-40 "In the practice of church discipline, the preacher should primarily remember that he does not have the power in any case to excommunicate any person alone and without the preceding trial by knowledge of the congregation."

29.    Ibid., Page 240 "If the sin of a congregation member is so manifest that the whole congregation knows it and is offended by it, it is not necessary to retain the states of admonition indicated in Matt. 18. For in this case the congregation is the one of whom the Lord says: "If thy brother shall sin against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone" (Matt. 18:15). So we read that, after Peter had given public offense, Paul rebuked him, not in stages, but right away "before them all," publicly (Gal. 2:13-14). Paul writes explicitly about such cases: "Them that sin rebuke before all that others also may fear" (1 Tim.5:20)."

30.    Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, American Edition, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1970 Vol. 40 Page 352

31.    Ibid., Page 372

32.    Rev. (name omitted) , Excommunication in the Theology of Luther: A Research Report Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Master of Divinity Degree, Advisor Dr. (name omitted), (seminary omitted), May 1982, Chapter Four Excommunication: The necessity of its use in the Church (Luther Excommunicates Laymen) Page 37.

33.    J. Buenger, The Confessional Lutheran, XII (April, 1951), page 67-68. "We therefore see in Scripture that the local congregation (1Cor. 5:1-5) and the congregations together with their pastors (Rev. 2:9-21) are held responsible for the proper excommunication. . . . The idea that any chance gathering of Christians has the power to consummate an excommunication has no ground, either in Scripture or in the practice of the Christian Church at any time.

34.    Ibid., Page 40 "Luther was tormented by this man’s ceaseless evil and unconcerned attitude regarding his lifestyle. In a letter to Elector John in Wittenberg on June 16, 1531 Luther writes:
Our captain, Hans Metzsch, has time and again been admonished by me, kindly but seriously, to stay away from harlotry and dealing with prostitutes. After a while it was impossible for me, as a preacher, to tolerate such scandalous behavior or to be silent about it. But he continues, and does it so openly that everyone’s mouth and nose, and ears and eyes are full of it. He also admitted to me in private that he could not be without women. Thereupon I informed him of my refusal to associate him personally, and privately I forbade him to come to the sacrament. Since he is so closely knit to the braids of prostitutes that he show little fear of God with his conduct, and since from now on I will have to proceed against him also by means of public preaching and judgment, I ask with this letter for Your Electoral Grace’s benevolent attitude (toward me). Should Your Electoral Grace find out that I clash with Metzsch on this issue, then Your Electoral Grace may graciously remember this information I have given. For this scandal will be an obstacle to the preaching of the Gospel, and will give to others also occasion to do evil. Metzsch may be a good soldier, but I would not want him to defend me in an emergency since he does not have before his eyes God who has thus far miraculously protected us without striking a blow, and daily still preserves us. (Luther’s Works Vol 50 page 54)

35.    Ibid., page 49-51 "From this discussion it is apparent that the use of excommunication in the Christian congregations by the pastor is essential, unique and a vital force in the office of the Keys and to the health of the Church and the individuals in it. ... All pastors have an example in the bravery, the faith, the courage, and the love of the theologian and pastor Luther. We, too often, do not think excommunication should be used because of the dramatic negative effect it may have on the members of the congregation....When pastors fail to use excommunication they are in a sense not concerned with the eternal welfare of their members and are swayed by contemporary living which turns its back on morals, ethics and God’s Word....Too much quibbling has been done concerning congregational rights, allegedly derived from the priesthood of all believers, versus the authority of the pastoral office. Granted, Luther believed the Office of the Keys belonged to the congregation, but when a pastor was called, the authority, duty and right of the Keys was delegated to the pastor to perform in the name of the congregation. Since the pastor does not need special permission or congregational vote every time to preach, administer the Sacraments, declare absolution, and admonish, it only follows that ecclesiastical jurisdiction, which includes excommunication, is also given to the pastor to use and apply where the situation merits its enforcement. As the Confessions clearly declare, "It is certain that the common jurisdiction of excommunicating those who are guilty of manifest crimes belongs to all pastors." (Tappert, Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, page 332 par. 74)

36.    Ibid., page 51

37.    Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, American Edition, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1970 Vol. 38 page 162

38.    Ibid., page 188 "For this reason also the Holy Spirit in the New Testament diligently prevented the name sacerdos, priest or cleric, from being given to any apostle or to various other offices, but it is solely the name of the baptized or of Christians as a hereditary name with which one is born through baptism. For none of us is born as apostles, preacher, teacher pastor through baptism, but we are all born simply as priests and clerics. Afterward, some are taken from the ranks of such born clerics and called or elected to these offices which they are to discharge on behalf of all of us.

39.   Ibid., page 212. Now if we are to be a holy Christian church and to possess the most important and necessary parts such as God’s word, Christ, the Spirit, faith prayer, baptism, the sacraments, the keys, the office of the ministry, etc., and should not also possess the humblest part, namely, the power and right to call some persons to the office of the ministry who administer to us the word, baptism, the sacrament, forgiveness, which in any case are available, and serve us through these, what kind of church, I ask, would this be? What would happen to Christ’s word when he says: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" [Matt. 18:20]? And again: "If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven" [Matt. 18:19] if two or three possess such power, how much more the entire church?"

40.    Ibid., Vol. 39 page 10 "For his mother, the holy church, wants to show hear dear son this unbearable damage of sin, by way of the punishment of the ban, and thereby wants to bring him back from the devil to God again."

41.    Ibid., Vol. 40 page 27

42.    Ibid., page 34

Rev. Jack Cascione is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church (LCMS - MI) in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. He has written numerous articles for Christian News and is the author of Reclaiming the Gospel in the LCMS: How to Keep Your Congregation Lutheran. He has also written a study on the Book of Revelation called In Search of the Biblical Order.
He can be reached by email at pastorcascione@juno.com.

April 16, 1999


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