Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Deacons, Elders, Armstrong, and...Luther
06/18/2007 - James SwanCatholic apologist Dave Armstrong has been attempting to justify his recent blunder in his new book, The One Minute Apologist. Recall, Dave presented Protestants as holding "...bishops, elders, and deacons are all synonymous terms for the same office." If this were simply one of his blog entries or web pages, it wouldn't be that big of deal for him. He would simply change his blatant error (If you visit DA's blog, you know his entries can appear, disappear, or change hour to hour). Problem solved. Unfortunately for him, the error is in a published book. He will have to wait for his second edition to fix it. Thus, we've been subjected to long blog entries, as Dave tries to put forth anything possible to smooth over his error.
Armstrong has dug up a Martin Luther quote to justify his error: "According to the New Testament Scriptures better names [for priests] would be ministers, deacons, bishops, stewards, presbyters . . ." In other words, Luther equivocated all these terms to mean the same thing. Armstrong then posits:
"It follows (by White's peculiar "reasoning") that Martin Luther was either: 1) exceptionally ignorant, as White claims I am, 2) a wacko on the fringe of Protestantism, leading a tiny sect, or 3) not a Protestant. 4) not a theologian (etc.,etc.). Take your pick (or throw out White's ludicrous argument) . ."
Well, before we thank Mr. Armstrong for such an invincible argument, perhaps we should make sure Luther holds what Armstrong says he does. If he doesn't, then certain conclusions follow as to the value of Dave's research. Before we delve into the Luther quote Armstrong utilized, let's take a quick survey of Luther's writings.
Sometime between 1527 and 1528, Luther lectured on 1 Timothy. This Biblical book sets forth detailed information about elders and deacons. Hence, whatever Luther says here specifically has importance as to his view. When one reads through the lectures, it is not simply a passing comment from Luther on elders and deacons. Rather, one finds long discussions as to what these offices mean. Luther clearly distinguishes between the office of elder and deacon:
"He must be above reproach. This is the first quality he must have. The man who wants to investigate, correct, and teach others should be above reproach." [LW 28:283]
"An apt teacher. Does this mean he should be trained at the university? He should be eager to teach and qualified to teach. Better yet, he should teach carefully." [LW 28:285]
"He teaches what they must learn. At the same time he instructs them in doctrine. Then he refutes those who contradict." (Titus 1:9). [LW 28: 285]
"We have heard that a bishop ought to have this gift, that he teach well and cheerfully. This is the chief responsibility and duty of the bishop: the ministry of the Word, even though our people regard religion most cheaply."[LW 28:285].
"Deacons were men who also preached occasionally. We read in Acts 6:16 that they chose seven men in the church to be in charge of providing for the poor and the widows. Those deacons also at times preached, as did Stephen, and they were admitted to other duties of the church, although their principal responsibility was to care for the poor and the widows." [LW 28:295]
"There ought to be deacons for the church men who should be of service to the bishop and at his recommendations have control in the church in external matters." [LW 28:295]
"You see, the deacon takes care of the people and is the bishop's steward." [LW 28: 297]
"Then let them serve as deacons. He imposes neither the office of teaching nor the qualifications of the bishop on deacons. Instead he gives them the responsibilities for supplies or financing. They should be serious, not double-tongued. They should not sow disharmony within the church. They should have a talent for bringing harmony, for increasing concord, peace, and the reputation of the bishop. They should not be drinkers but be attentive to their business." [LW 28:298]
"You have heard what sort of men Paul wants set up in the church. The rest is the promise which he connects to this: For those who serve well, etc.This promise which the deacons have can be taken generally to refer to bishops as well as to deacons. Paul strengthens them in this way that each is established in his own service. Yet he seems to be speaking especially about deacons, and he seems to be encouraging them. To be sure, the sense is: deacons belong to a lower order; inequality generally causes discord; and, since the lesser envy the greater, they become double-tongued. Paul now wants to interject this promise and make them content with their lot. He says in substance: Even if you do not have duties as solemn as bishops, yet you should be content with your rank. Before God you will not be lower than bishops, as if bishops were better people." [LW 28:299]
"The deacon wants to be the bishop: 'I know as much as he does, and I can preach as well as he.' That's the way they act today too. That rivalry Paul forbids everywhere. Let us have no self-conceit,Gal. 5:26. Let us not rival each other except in good. In this way, then, he now comforts deacons and wants to make them content, etc. Let each serve faithfully in his own vocation. If someone else has a loftier situation, let him not be jealous or despise his own lot. You should be careful that you serve well. [LW 28:300].
"If deacons do not seem to have so important a position, they nonetheless have the highest position in reliance on and faith in Christ. It is enough that they remain in faith toward Christ. That deacon can be free if he knows that his work pleases Christ and that his diaconate is as pleasing to Christ as is a bishop in his bishopric. Therefore he should comfort them that they may minister willingly and well and not be jealous. If some who are jealous do this because they consider that they have a gift of eloquence and good appearance, they have no confidence in pastors who do not have the same blessings. This is to ask for an official position from the world and the flesh. Give thanks! You can be as rich in Christ as a bishop.What is it to me that I do not have the same function?" [LW 28:301].
So what of Armstrong's Luther quote? The quote is from the 1523 treatise, Concerning The Ministry. The treatise was written for the emerging church of the Reformation. These early churches found themselves without pastors or supervision, so Luther was compelled to address this situation. The editors of Luthers Works explain, "Lacking episcopal supervision, the parishes were to be supervised by superintendents who would exercise the essential functions of a bishop, namely, to see to it that the Word was preached and the sacraments administered, the real work of the church" [LW 40, introduction].
Luther moves quickly to address the Roman Catholic priesthood and assert that it is invalid. Luther strongly chastises those who call themselves priests. He strongly condemns them, saying even their titles and their functions are unbiblical. He states, "On this account I think it follows that we neither can nor ought to give the name priest to those who are in charge of Word and sacrament among the people. The reason they have been called priests is either because of the custom of heathen people or as a vestige of the Jewish nation. The result is greatly injurious to the church." [LW 40:34]. Well, if the term priest is not to be used, what do we call those who run the church? Luther says, "According to the New Testament Scriptures better names would be ministers, deacons, bishops, stewards, presbyters (a name often used and indicating the older members)" [LW 40:34]. Luther is stating the priesthood (its role, powers, functions, etc), is not valid. Whatever office priests think they are holding, they are in severe Biblical error. Those who are in charge of the church are ministers, deacons, bishops, stewards, presbyters. Luther is not equivocating these terms. He is stating the papacy and its priesthood are not Biblical.
Luther instructs these new churches to pray for those whom will come forward to leadership roles in the church. He then states,
"When you have so prayed, have no doubt that he to whom you have prayed is faithful and will give what you ask, opening to him who knocks and granting to him who seeks [Matt. 7:8]. Thus you may be assured that you are not pushing this matter, but being pushed in it. 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 Tit. 1[:6ff.], and I Tim. 3[:2ff.]" [LW 40:40].
If you've read my blog or any of my Luther papers, I have stated often that Dave Armstrong has trouble with Luther. The quote he uses once again proves he does not carefully consider his information before hitting "publish" on his blog. What do I think will happen? I think Dave will probably edit his use of Luther in this instance, or blame the Lutheran Scholar C.F.W Walther. Dave's blog is often now you see it, now you don't. I have demonstrated once again, Dave Armstrong struggles with context. In this instance, he has Luther's Works Volume 40, so there is no excuse.