Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Ordination of St. Timothy (Johann Gerhard)

Johann Gerhard discusses the call and ordination of St. Timothy in this selection from Theological Commonplaces: On the Ministry, Part One (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), § 62, pp. 83-85. Gerhard is arguing against the Socinians, whom he calls "Photinians." They were a unitarian movement centered in southern Poland.
§ 62. Schmaltzius makes the objection, Refut. D. Frantz., p. 376: “Instead of the observed and considered custom of the Old and New Testament churches being able to remind us that one by no means teaches, [and] that no one is able to take upon himself the duties of teaching others without a sending, much rather it can assure someone that it is not necessary for that to be observed perpetually, since custom and necessity are all but contrary.”

We respond. That perpetual practice of the church depends on divine ordinance and institution, as is obvious from the previously cited passages. Hence it should not be set against necessity. Therefore Augustine’s statement holds true here (De bapt. contra Donat., bk. 4, ch. 4): “Reason and truth must be preferred to custom; but if the truth supports custom, nothing should be retained more firmly.” One cannot say without great absurdity that custom and the necessity of a commandment are perpetually opposed to each other. Luke 2:[42] says that Christ’s parents went up to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover “according to custom.” Yet they were doing this very thing under the necessity of a commandment (Exod. 23:17; Deut. 16:16).

Theophilus Nicolaides (Defens. tract. Socin. de ecclesia et missione ministr., ch. 1, p. 143) makes some specific objections to those passages. (1) He claims that “1 Tim. 4:14 speaks not about the teaching duty but about the grace of God that was in Timothy, that is, about the spiritual gifts which had come to him miraculously.”

We respond. We do not deny that χάρισμα properly means “spiritual gifts.” However, from this one cannot infer that the sending and ordination of Timothy cannot be deduced from this text, because those spiritual gifts had come to Timothy in the very call and ordination, which was being accomplished through the imposition of the hands of Paul and of the presbyters.

Nicolaides is forced to acknowledge this, now that the lightning of truth has convicted him. Therefore he adds: “The teaching office had come to Timothy through prophecy, that is, through the votes of the chief men in the church of Christ, with the imposition of the hands of the presbytery.” Therefore he makes a different objection and adds: “Even if it were conceded that Paul sent Timothy by the imposition of hands, what will he” (Miedzebozius) “make of this, responding that each and every one who enters the teaching office is sent by someone else? Yet an affirming conclusion from species to genus is not valid. At that time, Timothy could have been sent by Paul or even by other elders of the church, not because this was necessary for that office of teaching and because without a sending Timothy could not have taught others, but because at that time order and decency in the church required it.”

We respond. (a) The Photinians’ theorem is that those who are not bringing out a new and previously unheard-of doctrine have no need for a particular sending. It is correct to set the example of Timothy against this. He did not propose new doctrine in the church at Ephesus, of which he had been established as bishop, and yet he in particular had been sent and ordained to the ministry. In fact, Paul says explicitly about Titus: “This is why I left you in Crete, that you might appoint presbyters in every town” (Titus 1:5).

(b) Indeed, it is not always permissible to argue from species to genus. Yet one may proceed from an enumeration of all species to the genus, from a sufficient induction of all examples to a general rule, and from those things that are constituted in the same way and do not allow a contrary objection to a universal declaration. This is how Paul, in Romans 4, proves the free justification of faith from the examples of Abraham and David, because all the devout are justified in the same way as Abraham and David were justified, and no one can give a contrary example of people who were justified differently. The matter is constituted the same way in this question about the calling of ministers. As Timothy did not preach without a sending, so none of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and other teachers of the church preached without a sending. Consequently, from the example of Timothy it is correct to infer the general rule that no one should preach without a sending.

(c) Whatever sort of order and decency of the church once required Timothy’s sending, the same sort of order and decency of the church also today requires the sending of ministers. But now, that order was not arbitrary and indifferent [ἀδιάφορος] but was necessary by virtue of divine command, apostolic example, and the salvation of the church. Therefore such order still today requires the sending of ministers.

Nicolaides acknowledges this in part as he immediately adds: “It would have been excessively disgraceful in an already well-established commonwealth for there to be so great a confusion (ἀταξία) and for those things to be neglected that had to do with adorning it. So also today it would be indecent for those who are going to teach others to be established without a certain order and decency, because the assemblies have been established and there are elders in them.” What he adds in regard to the lack of a necessary and general regulation in this matter can be judged from the preceding.

(2) He says that 1 Tim. 5:22 “deals not with the ordination of ministers but with receiving a fallen sinner” (Defens., ch. 2, p. 177).

We respond. On the contrary, wherever in the history [Acts] and Epistles of the apostles there is mention of the imposition of hands, there is expressed there, for the most part, the ceremony that was usually used in the ordination and sending of ministers (Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). This ceremony was also used in conferring the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17) and in miracles (Acts 9:12; 19:6; 28:8). But nowhere do we read that the apostles used this ceremony in receiving fallen sinners. Therefore it is groundless for him to assert that this apostolic statement must be taken to mean such a reception. The words that follow, “Do not participate in the sins of others,” do not oppose our interpretation. These words, you see, either contain a particular command distinct from the previous one, or they give the cause why the ministry should be committed to no one quickly, namely, lest such a neophyte, without careful judgment and consideration, having been selected, should stir up disturbances in the church, the cause of which could be attributed partly to us. See Ambrose and all the ancients on this passage.
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  1. I am deeply moved when the Beichtvater lays his hands on my head to give his absolution to me. It make this more real than Words alone as does the elements in our mysteries.

    However, Gerhard doesn't list this laying on of hands as a custom of absolution, and even mentions the Photinian/Socinian's claim of relating certain ministry texts to receiving a fallen sinner as not appropriate.

    Are we OK with our current custom/practice of the laying on of hands at the minister's forgiving of sins in absolution?

  2. I notice in the lovely icon of St. Timothy the Apostle (sent out), that his right hand is making the sign icxc, iesus xrhistos, the c often being used for s's.

    And then Gerhard talks much about "being sent."

  3. That's interesting...I've just happened upon this post today; this morning I was studying 1 Timothy 4! Always beneficial to have Gerhard's teaching on a subject (and is there a subject in the theological encyclopedia he didn't touch on?)