Saturday, June 16, 2007

Do Lutherans think that "bishops, elders, and deacons are all synonymous terms"?

According to Dave Armstrong, "yes," (two updates, below) quoting a Lutheran who asserts that all the offices are of the same in dignity/function.

Recall that Armstrong had previously claimed:
"A Protestant might further object: . . . bishops, elders, and deacons are all synonymous terms for the same office: roughly that of a pastor today."

At least some of the flaws in Armstrong's reliance on the Lutheran whom he quotes are:

a) From the document Armstrong quotes, it is clear that the Lutheran in question is taking the view that the expulsion of a deacon by a bishop was improper, wheras the bishop himself had taken the view that it was proper (evidently disagreeing that the role of deacon is not subbordinate to that of bishop). Consequently, at best, Armstrong has shown that one Lutheran sees no difference between the offices of deacon, bishop, and elder, whereas at least one other Lutheran does see a difference, and has acted based on that perceived differnce.

b) There is a rather obvious reason that Armstrong has to turn to citing a paper written as a complaint within the Lutheran church: the position presented in the paper is not the official position of any Lutheran church, at least not of any Lutheran church of which this author is aware. Quite to the contrary, the historical documents of the Lutheran church equate presbyter and bishop but, of course, do not lump deacon into the mix.

c) Even the source Armstrong relies on admits that in Scripture the office of deacon is not synonmous with that of bishop: (from Armstrong's own source) "The so-called Deacons and Lay Elders of the apostles' time were, as was already suggested, in no way preachers and overseers of souls. They were rather only their helpers for functions of the preaching office which do not make up the essence of the office." Thus, the Lutheran Amstrong cited certainly would not make the straw man objection that Armstrong poses above.

d) The fact is that Lutherans ordain men (and women) to more than one office. There is not a single "pastor" office. Does anyone suppose that the only difference between being ordained a deacon and a bishop in the Lutheran church is the word that pops into the ordaining bishop's head during the ceremony? And, of course, this highlights one obvious difference in the Lutheran church between the office of the bishop and the office of the deacon. Ordination is by the laying on of hands of the bishop. They are not just two flavors of clergyship at Baskin Robbins.

But perhaps I'm all wet. If any Lutherans happen to read this, and wish to add their two cents about whether the offices of Bishop and Deacon are synonymous in the Bible or in the practice of any of the Lutheran Churches, please feel free. Your comments are most welcome.


Compare this position, for example, to that described by Mr. Armstrong. (Example 2)


Mr. Armstrong has now added a paragraph from Luther's work, in which Luther criticizes the Roman Catholic church for calling its priests "priests." The paragraph does not indicate that Luther taught a single church office, or that Luther taught that the terms "deacon," "bishop," and "elder" are synonymous. (Second Update: James Swan has written an excellent, more detailed explanation clearly demonstrating that Luther was not claiming that "deacon," "bishop," and "ender" are synonymous, in the unlikely event that anyone thinks that the quotation Mr. Armstrong provided actually supported Mr. Armstrong's hypothetical objection. Link.)

He also quotes some places where Paul refers to his own deaconal role (though why Armstrong demonstrates this, is anybody's guess).

1 comment:

David said...

Armstrong is even more than his usual degree of loony in that response, er, 'paper.'

I wasn't catching the relevance of the Paul/deacon references either.

Overall, it was funny how he wrote the entire response as if he knew all that material (in his mind material justifying his initial statement) at the time he wrote the intiial post. It's like he's gloating my saying: "See? I got lucky afterall! I'm NOT an idiot! You are!"

But we have to be careful how we speak of and deal with Mr. Armstrong. He's been showing signs of psychological imbalance (more than the usual juvenile, dictionary-intellectual stuff).