The Bans & the OHM

Can a pastor tell someone that they should not come to the sacrament without the approval of a voter’s assembly?
If so, under what circumstances?
If not, what then happens to the pastor’s authority to retain sins? Can he do so without voter approval? If not, does he then have to leave sins in “limbo” while the voter’s consider the matter? After all, if the person who is sinning is attending the Divine Service and receiving the Absolution, does that not reinforce that their sins are forgiven? Does God wait for the actions of the VA to hold sins against a sinner who will not repent, or is the VA simply declaring that which God has already done? If that is the case, they are not doing the retaining, God has done it already. But if they do not really have the authority to retain the sins, then do they actually have the authority to forgive them? Jesus does not say, “Whoever sins you forgive, I have already forgiven…”
If a judge can only declare a man innocent, but never guilty, (or vice-versa) then he has no real office. He is simply a functionary who rubber stamps a decision already made. Judges are officers of the court specifically because they can make judgments within the limits of the law – which is sometimes very strict and sometimes broad. Are pastor then office holders who can use their authority to forgive and retain sins (according to the very strict limits given them by Christ) or are they merely functionaries, rubber stamping the forgiveness on behalf of the congregation? If so, what if a congregation and pastor disagree? What if the pastor forgives, but the congregation were to retain the sin? Is the sin forgiven, or not? What about the reverse? Can a pastor retain a sin if the congregation forgives it? What if your pastor says the sin is bound to you, but a neighboring pastor of our confession says the opposite? Are you forgiven? Can you be sure? Is there any authority at all in the Office of the Holy Ministry that is intrinsic to the office itself, or does it receive all authority from the congregation? And can that authority ever be said to bind sins in the presence of competing opinions? Or must we always assume that whoever is forgiving is correct and the retaining party is wrong?
Discuss amongst yourselves.


13 Responses to “The Bans & the OHM”

  1. Norm Fisher Says:

    Huh? When did the Voter’s assembly come into play here? The way I understand it’s always worked is the Pastor has the authority to forgive or retain sins, and the authority to give or not give communion. In cases where sins are retained either the pastor consults with the elders or a sub-group of same .. but that is usually after the fact after Pastor has had several conversations with the person. I’ve never heard of anything like this going to the voter’s assembly!

    Perhaps I missed discussion on a previous posting?

    • forestboar Says:

      The Synodical Catechism says (Q 282):
      What is the duty of the called minister of Christ when the congregation has excommunicated an openly unrepentant sinner?
      The called minister of Christ must carry out the resolution of the congregation…
      Yes, this says “congregation”, but I’ve never seen a congregation in synod that passed a resolution that didn’t actually have the VA do the job. Perhaps there is a congregation in synod that does not vest that authority in the VA, but it would be the exception that proves the rule.
      I have actually told a person that it would be best if they did not receive the Sacrament because they were contemplating a sin, and seemed set on carrying it out. I told said person that, until they reconsidered their course of action, they should not attend the sacrament. No one else in the congregation ever knew anything about it.
      Not sure what the authors of the SynCat would say about it, but it did the job.

      • Thomas Christopher Says:

        I take it that “it did the job” means that your advice about the Sacrament was seriously taken and led to repentance. But, what would you have done if the person you advised to not attend the Sacrament did attend? Would you then have refused to give them the Sacrament? And if so, what would you have told the congregation as the reason? And would you then, in order not to appear arbitrary, have been obliged to reveal a sin that was not yet public (I am assuming, of course, that the sin was not public at the time)? Is that not then a violation of the 8th Commandment?

        Of course, I suppose you could always claim the sanctity of the confessional and tell people to just trust you as their pastor because that person really shouldn’t be receiving Holy Communion, but I hope any orthodox Lutheran pastor wouldn’t go there. Not only does it breed gossip, but it breeds fear (as in terror) of the pastoral office, and, ultimately, despising of the man in the Office if not the Office itself – I know, I have seen it at work in congregations. “You’d better tow the line or Pastor won’t give you Communion.” Not good. That is not being a servant of the Church, but a lord over it.

        I believe Walther, Pieper, and even Luther (although I cannot find the quote right now), among others maintained that Church discipline must not be done without the consent of the congregation. Whether or not this involves the voters assembly I don’t believe matters too much. If that is how the congregation is represented, then so be it; but in any case it must be the congregation who pronounces discipline which the pastor then carries out.

        For what it’s worth, I, too, have told people they should not attend the Lord’s Supper until they have repented of some sin. At the same time, although I would not tell them this, I wouldn’t refuse to give them Communion if they approached the rail — not so long as the sin is private and unknown to the public. If it is public, then it is another matter, but still the congregation must be involved in the discipline before a person is banned from Holy Communion.

        For what it’s worth. Rebuking and correcting are welcome.

      • forestboar Says:

        I’m a bit confused. You say that it is “the congregation who pronounces discipline, which the pastor then carries out” – a position entirely in line with the SynCat. Yet, you have also said that you have told people they should not attend the sacrament until they repent of some sin. Is that not part of the process of discipline? I will comment more on the concept of discipline in the main blog, but I think we have a skewed view of it in our synod – a position that is not original to me, but which I first remember hearing from Korby. (Credit where credit is due.)

      • Thomas Christopher Says:

        Yes and yes. Isn’t that weird?

        Now, as per my previous post, what would you do if the person you advised not to take Holy Communion showed up at the rail? I think telling someone they shouldn’t be taking Communion and actually banning them from the Sacrament are two separate things. Does the pastor have the authority to ban someone from the Sacrament on his own authority? Maybe, although I an not convinced of this (but am open to being convinced). Should he ban someone from the Sacrament on his own authority even if he has that authority? Hmmmm. I think we have to be verrrry careful here.

        Where do we draw the line on this pastoral authority? Who draws the line on this authority because, like all authority, it can and will be abused? If the pastor bans someone from Holy Communion for a sin that only he knows about why should I as a layman trust that the offense was worthy of the ban, after all, it was the Pastor’s opinion, sanctified though it may be? Didn’t Luther even say that the congregation must be convinced so they are not deceived and impose a “lying ban”?

        Believe it or not, I know of a congregation where the pastor banned a whole family from the Sacrament. Why? As it turned out when all came to light, it was because they didn’t approve of the pastor’s wife’s choice of Communion wine and apparently grumbled about it to this person or that. The pastor, finding out about it, accused them of unrepentantly slandering and defaming the character of his wife and, after all was said and done, ban them from the Sacrament, claiming pastoral authority. Needless to say, the family went to a neighboring congregation where, after an attempt at reconciliation with said pastor (during which attempt the whole reason for the ban came out) they were welcomed to the Sacrament (was that wrong?).

        Maybe I’m going in a direction this topic was not meant to go, but as I see it we are treading on some very messy and potentially dangerous ground here. Which is why Walther said something to the effect that church discipline should not be carried out if it is not unanimously agreed to by the congregation. I believe the point was that if it is not unanimous the sin isn’t clear enough to discipline. But then, that’s just Walther’s opinion. You may want to reread Pieper’s discussion of this in Vol 4, pp. 458-459 (I admit it, I read and ascribe to Pieper — does that make me a “bronzie”?). “. . . the congregation passes judgment and pronounces excommunication, while the pastor as the public servant of the congregation declares, or proclaims, the excommunication.” (Pieper, IV, 459)

  2. Norm Fisher Says:

    I read the previous posting. It’s MY understanding that when it says the pastor is doing this in the stead of the congregation that the congregation has given the Pastor the authority to do same through the Call to him.

    • forestboar Says:

      But in the Divine Service, the minister says, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ“. But if the authority first flows to the congregation, and then through them to the pastor, it is the pastor doing it in their stead, not Christ’s. Which would make our hymnal wrong for the last 60 years.

      • Thomas Christopher Says:

        The Pastor IS speaking in the stead and by the command of Christ, just as any Christian does when he or she speaks Absolution over a sinner. The Pastor, however, also speaks in the name of the congregation as the one who has been called to publicly administer that which the entire congregation (meaning every Christian) has been given the authority to do, namely, to forgive sins. Any Christian can forgive sins privately in the name of Christ. Normally, only the Pastor may do it publicly.

      • forestboar Says:

        For reasons I will make clear in another post, I almost entirely reject the “transference theory” of the OHM. (I won’t say I totally reject it, because that would open me to charges of rejecting a very firmly held tradition in our synod. Far be it from me to do that.)

  3. The Synod Catechism (didn’t know such a thing existed) references excommunication. Withholding communion as I’ve had it explained is the lesser ban. I’m getting the sense that the VA’s role is being applied equally in both cases which I don’t think is necessary. I’m certainly open for correction as I’d never heard of SynCat and last week’s Bible study was the first time I’ve been in a discussion on the topic.

    • Thomas Christopher Says:

      I’m not sold on the whole greater/lesser ban distinction. The pastor I referenced in a previous posting cited the lesser ban as justification for his banning the family from Holy Communion. As far as I know, the Confessions only reference the “greater/lesser” ban in SA IX and there reject the greater ban as not concerning the ministers of the Church. In Lutheran circles the lesser ban is what many claim when saying the Pastor has authority to withhold Communion from someone for whatever reason. The greater ban is when the congregation itself imposes excommunication. But, a ban is a ban is a ban. No matter who does it, the end result is always the same — excommunication. No one man, even if he is the pastor, may take the authority upon himself to excommunicate. That authority belongs only to the Church (Matthew 18). What, then, is the relationship of the pastor to the Church? I’ll probably post more on this later for I, too, must attend to the preaching of the Word here.

      By the way, thank you, Wild Boar, for these questions. I am enjoying thinking through this topic again. I am a regular reader of your blog and enjoy your sense of humor. I must take issue with one thing you said on a previous post, however. Lego Star Wars is much more enjoyable on XBOX than WII. WII is too much work. I like to put my feet up while I save the princess!

  4. The only reason for a pastor to withhold communion, that I’m aware of, is for public unrepentant sin.

    If a pastor is properly catechizing his congregation, then the individuals of his congregation will approach anyone who sins against them or who is living in sin. If that fails, they will go along with another brother. If that fails, they will bring it before the congregation (I believe this part should happen through the means and supervision of the pastor).

    If a pastor is aware of unrepentant sin against him, is he not to do the same? Or is he a lone ranger?

    In regards to advising someone not to receive communion, this is very dangerous, imo. In fact, everything I write next is my opinion as I try to think this out. If a person is confessing the desire to sin, I believe it is the pastor’s duty at that very moment to speak the law in all it’s terror, NOT to threaten them of the withholding of God’s grace in the future. If a pastor does this, they are the one putting themselves in a tight spot.

    The only way I would touch upon the idea of communion in this instance is to teach about preparation for the Lord’s Supper and also the benefits of the Lord’s Supper. In other words, A pastor who has properly catechized his congregation should be confident that any communicant that approaches his altar is repentant and recognizes their need for forgiveness–not for permission. In this way, a pastor knows ANYBODY who approaches the altar IS repentant of their sins. However a pastor may feel about it, he cannot deny this confession of the communicants unless he is able to peer into their hearts. To do so would be tantamount to denying the forgiveness of sins to a congregant who, in private confession, repents in words because the pastor has personal reservations about their confession. Thank God that He does the judging!

    I’ll leave the discussion of what a pastor should do with one who, in private confession, divulges they are unrepentant and will not repent up to you educated folk. I’m just someone capable of sitting on a piddly “VA”.

  5. I commented mostly on the comments last time, but I just re-read your post. You ask about the pastor in terms of being a judge, especially on the part of not forgiving, but retaining sin.

    I consider the pastor’s role in the retention of sin to be this: the pastor judges whether a thing is sin or not. Also, a pastor should judge whether a congregation has rightly forgiven sin, that is to say, that a congregation has not simply dismissed a sin because they happen to be doing it themselves, etc. Has not the congregation submitted themselves to the pastor in regards to theology? Are they not to accept a pastor’s theological judgment unless it is un-Scriptural? At the same time, we can see here that the pastor is not doing anything in the dark, nor is he acting apart from the knowledge of his congregation.

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