In 1523, Martin Luther wrote a treatise to the Bohemian Christians titled Concerning the Ministry. Ever since the days of Jan Huss the Bohemians insisted on receiving the Lord's Supper in both kinds and, because of this godly resolve, the pope refused them an archbishop since 1421. In order that the churches in Bohemia might have properly ordained pastors,
candidates who had received instruction went sent to Italy where
Italian bishops, mainly Venetian, ordained them, on the understanding
they would administer communion at home only in one kind. On their
return to Bohemia the newly ordained clergymen had to renounce this
vow before the consistory if they wanted to serve a parish. (AE 40:4)
In response to this ministry situation, Luther reproached the Bohemian Christians for their compromising with Rome; and then demonstrated the right of congregations to elect their own pastors.
In this blog posting, I have chosen to focus on another fundamental right of God's people, that is, the ministry of the Word that has been given to the priesthood of all believers, for
a priest, especially in the New Testament, was not made but was
born. He was created, not ordained. He was born not indeed of flesh,
but through a birth of the Spirit, by water and the Spirit in the washing
of regeneration (John 3:6f.; Titus 3:5f.). Indeed, all Christians are priests
and all priests are Christian" (AE 40:19).
For Luther, there are seven functions of a priest: "to teach, to preach and proclaim the Word of God, to baptize, to consecrate or administer the Eucharist, to bind and loose sins, to pray for others, to sacrifice, and to judge all doctrine and spirits" (AE 40:21).
In summary, "there is no other Word of God than that which is given all Christians to proclaim. There is no other baptism than the one which any Christian can bestow. There is no other remembrance of the Lord's Supper than that which any Christian can observe and which Christ has instituted. There is no other kind of sin than that which any Christian can bind or loose. There is no other sacrifice than of the body of every Christian. No one but a Christian can pray. No one but a Christian may judge of doctrine. These make the priestly and royal office" (AE 40:34-35).
And yet, observed Luther, not all priests are pastors for even though “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...[rather] the community rights demand that one, or as many as the community chooses, shall be chosen or approved who, in the name of all with these rights, shall perform these functions publicly" (AE 40:34).
 "...since they are the people of God it is due them that no one be set over them without their election, and the bishop ought to confirm no one whom they did not know and approve of as suitable" (AE 40:11)…so Luther offered this counsel to the Bohemian Christians in their efforts to elect pastors for ministry in their midst: "then call and come together freely, as many as have been touched in heart by God to think and judge as you do. Proceed in the name of the Lord to elect one or more whom you desire, and who appear to be worthy and able. Then let those who are leaders among you lay hands upon them, and certify and commend them to the people and the church or community. In this way let them become your bishops, ministers or pastors. Amen. The qualifications of those to be elected are fully described by Paul in Titus 1:6ff. and 1 Timothy 3:2ff." (AE 40:40)...and "as the venture succeeds, with the help of the Lord, and many cities adopt this method of electing their bishops, then these bishops may wish to come together and elect one or more from their number to be their superiors, who would serve them and hold visitations among them" (AE 40:41).
 "...the command, to declare the wonderful deeds of God, is nothing else than to preach the Word of God" (AE 40:22); "...the ministry of the Word is the highest office in the church, that it is unique and belongs to all who are Christians, not only by right but by command. Indeed it is not a priesthood if it is not unique and common to all" (AE 40:23); "A Christian is born to the ministry of the Word in baptism..." (AE 40:37) and so Luther, in his interpretation of Acts 18:24ff., recounts how Apollos came to Ephesus without call or ordination, "and taught fervently, powerfully confuting the Jews. By what right, I ask, did he exercise the ministry of the Word except by the general right common to all Christians...this man was afterward even made an apostle without the formality of ordination, and not only functioned in the ministry of the Word but also proved himself useful in many ways to those who had already come to faith. In the same way any Christian should feel obligated to act, if he saw the need and was competent to fill it, even without a call from the community" (AE 40:37-38).
 "...all Christians, and they alone, even women, are priests, without tonsure and episcopal character. For in baptizing we proffer the life-giving Word of God, which renews souls and redeems from death and sins...so when women baptize, they exercise the function of priesthood legitimately, and do not as a private act, but as a part of the public ministry of the church which belongs only to the priesthood" (AE 40:23).
 "...we hold that this function, too, like the priesthood, belongs to all, and this we assert, not on our own authority, but that of Christ who at the Last Supper said, 'do this in remembrance of Me'" (AE 40:24); "if then that which is greatest, namely, Word and baptism, is conferred on all, then it can rightly be maintained that the lesser, the power to consecrate, is also so conferred" (AE 40:25).
 "Christ gives both the power and the use of the keys to each Christian" (AE 40:26); "The keys belong to the whole church and to each of its members, as regards their authority and their various uses" (AE 40:27) and "to bind and to loose clearly is nothing else than to proclaim and to apply the Gospel. For what is it to loose, if not to announce the forgiveness of sins before God? What is it to bind, except to withdraw the Gospel and to declare the retention of sins?" (AE 40:27-28).
 "For Christ gave the Lord's Prayer to all His Christians...[and] to pray for others is to go between and make intercessions of God, which is befitting a Christ only and all His brethren...[but since] we are commanded to pray for all, certainly all are equally commanded to function as priests" (AE 40:30).
 "...in the New Testament there is no sacrifice except the one which is common to all, namely the one prescribed in Romans 12:1, where Paul teaches us to present our bodies as a sacrifice, just as Christ sacrificed His body for us on the cross...Peter likewise commands in 1 Peter 2:5 that we offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, that is, ourselves, not gold or animals" (AE 40:28-29); "Now since there can be only spiritual sacrifices in the church, as Peter says, that is, such as are in spirit and in truth, they can be offered only by one who is spiritual, that is, by a Christian who has the Spirit of Christ" (AE 40:29).
 "For we teach with the Word, we consecrate with the Word, we bind and absolve sins by the Word, we baptize with the Word, we sacrifice with the Word, we judge all things by the Word. Therefore when we grant the Word to anyone, we cannot deny anything to him pertaining to the exercise of his priesthood" (AE 40:21).