Why do I see and hear about lay preachers and teachers in the church when our Confessions agree with Scripture in stating that the practice is not correct? Why do laymen teach the Bible class on Sunday mornings? Who called them to do that? Why do students in high school through seminary teach and preach without a call and ordination? There are many situations that I could share, but allow me to share my own.
When I was a senior in high school at Luther Preparatory School (WELS' worker training prep school), the male, senior students could volunteer to preach during an evening chapel service in the Spring semester. We were given a Scripture text and assigned a tutor (dorm supervisors who were either ordained pastors or are just school teachers [perhaps more on that subject in a different post]). I chose a pastor to help me with mine rather than the school teacher on my floor. So we met with these tutors and they helped us figure out what to preach about concerning the text - then we would go write it. My text was Isaiah 52:7-9. After I brought my draft to the tutor, he said it was good to go (surprisingly, because I was expecting some revisions like everyone else). I went to the library and checked out a Prayers and Collects book so I could actually have a structured prayer rather than freestylin' it. The day I had to preach was very nerve racking; after that afternoon, it got even worse when I was told that I wouldn't just be preaching to the student body, but to a multitude of grade school students and their chaperones. I eventually preached it of course, a nervous wreck with my voice cracking and nailing the lectern microphone with my hand while making the sign of the cross in blessing over the congregation. I got compliments from some tutors and the dean (maybe out of pity haha) and all was well.* Overall, it was a great experience, especially having the chapel so filled. And the next day the sun did in fact rise, to my great surprise.
But if I admit that lay preaching is a fantastic experience for those considering or preparing for the ministry, then what's my beef with this type of stuff? After reading the Lutheran Confessions I was awakened to a lot of doctrine and practice that I was comfortable with, but which the Confessions indicate are not correct. What gave me the right to stand up there and preach? What gave me the right to make the sign of the cross and bless the congregation? Could the justification have been my "desire" to serve in the public ministry? I think that could be fitted to Martin Luther College (WELS' college level ministerial training school) and the Seminary even more so -- a desire and some training in theology. Or perhaps it's more that we are a royal priesthood: all believers are to share the Gospel with all nations, even in a pulpit without a call. But are these theologically correct and valid explanations? Allow me to conclude with a lengthy quote from Father Chemnitz who, aside from the Scriptures and Confessions, can help answer and explain some of these questions:
But they [C.S. - the Sacramentarians] object (1) that Paul in 1 Tim. 3:1 very strongly praises the man who desires the office of an overseer. The reply: To desire the office of overseer does not mean that one injects himself without a lawful call into ecclesiastical functions. But he who understands the fundamentals of heavenly doctrine and has been equipped with the gift for teaching well, when he offers his work to God and the church, seeks nothing else than that God through some lawful call would declare whether, when, and where God wills to use his service in His church...
They also object (2): But Christ has made all the faithful [to be] priests, Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 1 Peter 2:9. But the work of the priests, among other things was to teach the church, Lev. 10:10-11; Mal. 2:7. I reply: Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:7-9 and 29 expressly writes that God did not give to all the gifts of explaining the Scriptures, but He bestows the gifts of His Spirit variously for the benefit and upbuilding of the church (cf. Eph. 4:11-12). And Peter explains himself: All Christians are priests -- not that all should carry out the function of the ministry promiscuously without a particular call, but that they should "offer up spiritual sacrifices" [1 Peter 2:5], which are described in Rom. 12:1; He. 13:15-16.
They object (3): Peter says that all the faithful are priests because they are to "proclaim the virtues of God," 1 Peter 2:9. And the heads of households have the general charge to instruct the members of their families, Deut. 6:20ff.; 1 Cor. 14:35. I reply: This is indeed a general call, common to all Christians, to speak among themselves about the Word of God, Eph. 5:19, to comfort one another with the Word of God, 1 Thess. 4:18, and to confess the Gospel, Rom. 10:9, and this is enjoined on heads of households by individual command. But to administer those things which pertain to the public ministry of the Word and the sacraments is not commanded to all Christians in general, as the two passages from 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4, cited above, teach clearly enough. Nor does the general calling which all receive in Baptism suffice to give a person the office of the ministry, but there is required a special call, as has been shown in the preceding testimonies, cf. James 3:1. (Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, p. 1313-1314)
*Although when I re-read it a year or two later, I noticed that I was very heavy on the Law: "go evangelize, why aren't we evangelizing?"; "why aren't we going out there and converting people?"; etc., etc. I'm disappointed that I wasn't corrected on that.
This post deals specifically with the WELS because that has been my experience for the past 20 years. I have heard stories of the same sort of things happening in the LCMS, but haven't experienced it (they tend to have a much better grasp on the Ministry). I don't know about the ELS, but I'm pretty sure the pre-Sem students at Bethany Lutheran College (or any student) don't preach at chapel. I can't confirm though.