Lutheran/Reformed Understanding of Church Authority

Why would we LCMS folk have our pastors seek ordination from an heterodox body? Especially when their very heterodoxies would, from the Roman point of view, throw their very ability to ordain into question? It’s just not worth it. We know our presbyter ordinations are “valid,” and that is enough for us.

Heterodoxy or even heresy by itself does not invalidate an ordination. Otherwise it would seem to me that according to Lutheran thought the entire West would be lacking in valid ordinations. Martin Luther, all Lutherans, and all Protestants received their original ordination from the Catholic Church. If errors alone invalidated ordination then apostolic succession would seem to be lost forever. I realize that the Catholic Church teaches errors in the ordination itself can result in a failed attempt at ordination. But within a non-Catholic context what would be the problem?

Hi Ex,
While I am not speaking for him, I don’t think that’s what Don means. I don’t think he’s referring to the validity of the ordinations, but rather the teachings of a given communion. I’m guessing he’s talking, at least in part, about the fact that many of them ordain females, and we consider that heterodox.
From the Augsburg Confession:

Article VIII: What the Church Is.

1] Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: The Scribes and 2] the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, etc. Matt. 23:2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men.

3] They condemn the Donatists, and such like, who denied it to be lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of none effect.

The LCMS (clergy) just doesn’t share an altar with others we are not in communion with, so an ordination involving others, such as Anglicans, would probably not happen unless full altar and pulpit fellowship were agreed to.

What Jon said. :smiley:

=exnihilo;13009202]I know a bit about the history of the Lutheran church and the founding of the LCMS. This was in response to the Prussian Union, correct? It seems to me that the LCMS has done a better job of holding to Lutheran orthodoxy.

Thank you.

As you mention those other churches could have valid bishops. An individual bishop could even be valid from a Catholic point of view in specific cases. It seems to me those other churches have strayed far from Lutheran orthodoxy. It would seem almost impossible for there to be full agreement with them. The other churches would have to make changes that seem very unlikely. Would you disagree?

My personal view is coming to unity does not start from the premise that one side or the other must make changes. I don’t see that ever working.
We talk about that a lot here regarding the power and primacy of the pope. Lutherans reject universal jurisdiction as it is held to now, but that doesn’t mean that the primacy of the pope couldn’t be “developed” on both sides that would bring about a mutually agreed upon understanding. Not a compromise, a convergence. For Lutherans to say unity requires giving up the papacy is a nonstarter. For Rome to say Lutherans have to submit to the pope as it is understood is equally a nonstarter.

Would another option, from the Lutheran perspective, be for a member of the LCMS to receive episcopal ordination from a bishop of one of those churches? This would not require agreement between the different bodies but simply an act of ordination. If so what prevents that from happening right now?
Hopefully I answered this in the other post. If not, I’ll try to expand on it.


I think I understand it. Correct me if I’m wrong but it would be that the LCMS would not want to receive an episcopal consecration from a man in a heterodox/heretical communion. So from the LCMS point of view the other communion would need to reform itself to the point that full communion is possible. Would another possibility be that members of another communion personally join the LCMS and ordain?

It seems to me given what is going on in other episcopal churches that it is more likely that the LCMS would be in full communion with Rome before those other churches. Communion with Rome doesn’t look likely now, but it is interesting to me that it might be more likely, despite the gap.

Great stuff Jon. I greatly appreciate your time. The more I’ve learned about Lutheranism, the more surprised I’ve been.

Not every other body is heterodox. There are many orthodox African bishops, for instance.

They may very well be “valid,” but the historic position of the church has ALWAYS been that even in cases when leaders had to be selected apart from the normal method of appointing leaders in the church (usually because of persecution), the church would always reestablish that bond of unity and authority when possible. Lutherans could do this and I think they should, which I realize is meaningless since I’m not Lutheran.

I think Anglicanism is the best candidate, alongside African Lutheranism (some have valid apostolic lines). The North American Lutheran Church already works very closely with the Anglican Church in North America. It’s not impossible there could be some developments there in the near future.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit