Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Luther: diakonia = Amt

I am slowly reading my way through the book At Home in the House of My Fathers and came across a very interesting sermon by CFW Walther on the Office of the Holy Ministry (p. 146ff). What is interesting here is that he follows Luther in interpreting Romans 12:7-8 as a kind of “job description for pastors.”

In the ESV, these verses (6-8 to give context) read: Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Reading the translation as it is given above, most modern interpreters apply these verses to all Christians in general. Luther, however, does not. And he does not because he translates what is rendered above generally as "service" (Greek: diakonia) as more specifically "Office" (German: Amt). So for Luther, one of the gifts given by God is the Office of the Holy Ministry, and what those in this Office then do is listed in five participles: teaching, exhorting (admonition), giving (concern for the poor), leading (discipline and order), and mercying (concern for the sick, weak, and dying).

Now, don’t let the punctuation in the English verses above make you discount this theology and think Luther a bit crazy on that account - that we obviously have here a list of things that cannot be broken apart as Luther has done. The punctuation was added by editors of the Greek NT later, and in examining the Greek (though I am no Greek scholar), it seems that Luther’s interpretation is indeed possible.

Why don’t we see it that way today? Perhaps because we have been so infected with the “everyone a minister” theology and an aggressive egalitarianism that chafes against the idea of Office. But seeing things here as Luther does honors the Office but does not harmfully aggrandize it, as some would accuse. For clearly, the Office is an Office of serving (diakonia), and of serving the people of God. To highlight the distinction of the Office then becomes a good and wonderful thing for the people of God, who receive the service of the one God has “called and ordained” and placed into their midst to serve them.

It is exactly the “everyone a minister” theology - that seeks to highlight (elevate?) the people of God - that actually harms them. For while yes, the people of God have their service of love to neighbor as well, by making everyone a minister, we rob them of the Office that the Lord has created for them and their benefit. The result is what we often see in churches today: the pastor and people in competition with each other and robbed of their joy, instead of the pastor joyfully serving his people, and the people joyfully receiving his service.

Walther says that “Luther always and very correctly translated diakonia with the word office or Amt” (p. 152) - and not the more general word “ministry.” I do not have the time today to look at the other places in Scripture where this occurs and how that would change our look at things, but what an interesting exercise that would be! And I think this is very worthy of more study and discussion in our church today, to help clarify our theology of the Office, and the Call, and the role of pastor and people, which seems to have gotten a bit muddy of late. It is often said that we need this discussion in our church today - so let’s start here, with Luther and the theology of diakonia = Amt. If Luther is right, what are the ramifications of this for us today?

(If you want to see Luther’s German Bible translation of a passage, go to biblegateway.com and select to see the Luther Bible of 1545.)

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