Lutherans on Congregational Voting

This is the third installment in a multi-part series on what it means to be a part of the ekklesia – the assembly of believer – the local body of Christ; and how it is to be ruled: by despotism or the Spirit.

Today, I summarize a section of John Theodore Mueller’s Christian Dogmatics, which is a very authoritative source of information regarding Orthodox Confessional Lutheranism. The information summarized here comes from the chapter entitled, “THE DOCTRINE OF THE PUBLIC MINISTRY” beginning on page 563.  We look specifically at section 5. THE CALL INTO THE MINISTRY.

Meuller distinguishes between a immediate call and a mediate call.  The immediate call is the internal work of God through the Holy Spirit on the minister’s heart, without any intervention on the part of men.  The mediate call has God as its author, but is mediated through the agency of men.  The Scriptures the author gives to defend the two-fold call are too numerous to list.

Since the mediate call is extended through men (the Church), we must consider also the question who the men are by whom God duly calls His ministers.  The Romanists claim that only the Pope has authority to create bishops and their assistants.  The Episcopalians teach that ordination by the bishop confers the highest orders.  …However, Holy Scripture ascribes this power to call to all true believers, since to them Christ has entrusted the Office of the Keys, Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor 5:4 [etc].  Christ’s Great Commission, Matt. 28:19-20, was meant not only for the apostles, but for all Christians; for He states expressly: “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”  By virtue of their spiritual priesthood all believers “unto the end of the world” possess the inherent right to preach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments [a good Baptist would say Ordinances].  Since, then, all Christian believers are entrusted with the means of grace, it is their  privilege to call pastors, or ministers, who in their name publicly apply the means of grace.  Cf. Luther: “That some are chosen form the multitude is done for the reason that they, as representatives of the congregation, should administer and execute the office, which they all have.”

Note: I am not all that informed on Lutheran theology, but it would seem that Dr. Luther had a view of the priesthood of the believer as Scriptural and robust as the best of the Baptists have traditionally had.

After a few notes regarding the authority of “local churches” to call ministers, versus a higher governing authority, Dr. Mueller address a few Popish objections.  One of which includes:

(a) Not local churches but apostles ordained elders (Acts 14:23, Tit 1:5) – says Luther, “.. he, after the example of the apostles, appointed them after their election by the people…”.

  • Mueller points out that in Acts 14:23, xeirotonesantes, suggest calling of elders by a popular  vote – raising of hands.
  • Secondly, Acts 6:2-6 indicates the “whole multitude” elected by popular vote certain ministers.
  • See also 2 Cor 8:19

Mueller concludes the section by stating:

…they are elders and bishops (ministers, pastors) not through any “apostolic succession” nor through any “self-propogation of teh clerical estate”, but solely by virtue of the call which they have received from their churches.  In other words, it is alone the divine call extended to them mediately through the local congregation that makes them “fellow-elders” of the apostles.


5 thoughts on “Lutherans on Congregational Voting

  1. Considering what scripture has to say on the subject…what are your thoughts on the size of a congregation and the plurality of Elders?

    What I mean is, at what point should a church have a plurality of Elders in leadership? 20, 50, 100 members? Let’s say a new Pastor shows up to an IFB church and they have Deacons only, the church has over 50 members and not one of them is qualified to take the role Elder.

    What should the Pastor do in that case?

    Let us also consider the number of Elders in relation to the size of congregation. How many Elders for a congregation of 100 members? 75? 50?

  2. If we consider what scripture has to say on 1) the size of a congregation, and 2) the number of elders, I think we can only conclude that Scripture is not dogmatic on this point. So how many elders should a church have?

    As many as it needs, I guess. I’m not trying to be cute. I think the Bible doesn’t give us the right number because it leaves it up to the congregation to decide. If a church needs more elders, it will be apparent and the Lord will raise qualified men to fit the role.

    In my opinion, a church should have as many elders as it needs to minimally meet the basic governance of church ‘business’, visiting the sick and elderly, in addition to handling discipline and counseling, providing an adequate teaching ministry, and having a robust visitation program. I really think a Pastor is nothing more than a lecturer if he doesn’t spend quality time with the families in the church – getting to know them, helping them in their spiritual walk, providing guidance and counsel, etc.

    This last point ties in very closely with #1 above. How large is too large? It is an interesting to note that the JWs (as far as I’ve been told) strictly limit the size of their congregations. Why? For control. We (Christian congregations) certainly don’t want to emulate them, but we could learn something from them. They do it for mind control, as they are a cult. We should do it for nurturing so that no one ‘slips through the net’ as it were. Instead of trying to build churches vertically (bigger), we should be expanding horizontally (spreading). A church should be no larger than the size such that a handful of elders can know each of the church families and each family can know the elders. When a congregation starts feeling like it has a formalized structural hierarchy – it is too large!

    Regarding small IFBs, I don’t see why 1 pastor isn’t enough. I would think a Pastor would be a very lazy man if he couldn’t stay close to 50 members and still take care of all his ministry needs and read widely. Should that Pastor take on additional Pastors in order to create a plurality – only if needed, I say. Why create plurality for plurality sake. When furthers elders are needed, the Lord will provide qualified men – or, perhaps the Pastor should begin training, tutoring, mentoring the future leadership now, so when the time comes, there will be an abundance.

    IFBs get knocked b/c they don’t have a plurality of elders in a formal sense, and yet, IFBs often have assistant pastors to assist the Pastor as the church grows. I’ve attended elder-ruled churches that indeed had an elder board, but yet only the teaching elder was looked at as a true Pastor. So which of these models represents what Paul commanded? A plurality for the sake of plurality (but not effectively), or the church that rejects plurality, but implements it in a practical sense?

  3. I would reply the same way you did. It would be best to have a plurality of Elders but that’s not always possible and in those cases it may take years and years before men are raised up in the faith and able to lead.

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