I have noticed that some Lutheran churches refer to their ministers as "priests" while others refer to their ministers as "pastors."

When did some Lutheran churches cease using "priest" in favor of "pastor"?

What is the foremost reason for this change in terminology?

Conversely, why did some Lutheran churches continue using the word "priest"?

  • 1
    It's probably similar to Anglicanism, where they are called priests, pastors, ministers, etc. Some kept with the RCC way of translating presbuteros as 'priest', others want to remove the confusion with the OT Levitical priest and so call the role a pastor or minister.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 0:37
  • 1
    I would be interested in a solid, well-referenced answer to this question. Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 3:05
  • @KorvinStarmast Thank you for linking to a related question. The linked to question is interesting but unfortunately yielded little to answer my question with. Since Lutherans are Protestants the awkward pitting of Catholic "priest" against Protestant "pastor" was less than helpful.
    – JRystedt
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 18:26
  • @KorvinStarmast I really do appreciate the assistance though. I am actually wondering if the answer lies in whether a Lutheran Church has an Episcopal governance structure or not... Those churches that retained the traditional Deacon, Priest, and Bishop hierarchy kept the word "priest" while those that did away with Bishops changed terminology to be more in line with the rest of Protestantism. Any thoughts?
    – JRystedt
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 18:32
  • 3
    I think church bodies which were influenced by the "high church" movement tend to use "priest" as opposed to "pastor." For instance, the Scandinavian church bodies use priest, whereas in the US the Lutheran church bodies use "pastor." Even the ELCA, which has bishops, uses "pastor," rather than "priest." The LCMS (of which I am a part) does not have bishops, instead we have District Presidents, pastors, and deacons. Commented Dec 18, 2016 at 18:46

1 Answer 1


While there are a few exceptions specifically within the Lutheran Circle - Pastor - is used to show the role as a shepherd however it is an exact replacement/translation depending if used in another language other than English for the word Priest.

It is important however to understand that Lutherans for the most part do believe that each Christian has the authority to preach and teach, read and interpret the Bible, and confess their own sins directly to Jesus. (Universal Priesthood)

Is Universal Priesthood Biblical?

The Bible teaches that all believers have priesthood authority (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).

Even in the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:5-6). However, Jesus is the unique High Priest (Heb. 7:23-8:13).

Lutherans hold this to be true - that each believer has the authority to preach the Gospel. Of course Lutherans still have professional clergy and therefore most often are called Pastors.

If you were to visit http://arc.episcopalchurch.org/ministry/oepp/oepp.html you would see that the Episcopal church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America see both as the same as they now have agreed to allow "pastors or priests" to exchange (ie borrow from one church to be used in another) between the denominations.

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