It is widely acknowledged that the Bible and Lutheran theology stand firmly on the side of women’s ordination. The LCA’s theology commission has twice voted in favour of women’s ordination by a two thirds majority. However, long-standing church tradition, notions of male headship, and two texts (1 Cor 14:34,35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15), read without regard to context, have persuaded many that women’s ordination is contrary to the will of God. Others are opposed for fear that the move to ordaining women may unsettle the church, or even split it. Of the many arguments that may be summoned in favour of women’s ordination, seven are given here that could be regarded as uppermost, one for each day of the week.
1. Creation. Men and women are created with equal status and dignity before God, as creatures made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28). They are made as helpers to each other, as complementary partners (Gen 2:18-25), equally tasked with the responsibilities of dominion within creation and the perpetuation of the human race (1:26-28). No differentiation in the standing of women and men before God arises from the doctrine of creation.
2. New creation. Included among the systemic evils that comprise the fallen human condition are racial prejudice, slavery, and the power that men have wielded over women from time immemorial. By baptism into Christ the harmony of creation has been restored for Christians, and thereby the divisions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, and male and female, have been dismantled (Gal 3:27-29). The upheaval in the life of the church has been slow and painful as the Spirit leads people ‘into all the truth’ concerning the renewal of creation through Christ (2 Cor 5:17; John 16:13). The movement for the ordination of women belongs to a long historical trajectory with roots deeply embedded in the New Testament era.
3. Ministry. Lutherans teach that God established the public ministry for no other purpose than to proclaim the gospel purely and celebrate the sacraments according to Christ’s institution, so that people may come to and be nurtured in the saving faith (Augsburg Confession 5). Among the impediments to that purpose in more recent times is the church’s withholding ordination from women, a stumbling block to the faith of countless men and women, young and old alike. Jesus announces dire consequences for those who create scandals of such proportions (Matt 18:6-9). In the same vein, St Paul speaks of his own willingness to do whatever is needed so that the gospel may continue on its course unhindered (1 Cor 9:19-23).
4. Women as models of discipleship. In Mark’s gospel only women are shown fulfilling the roles to which Jesus called his disciples. The others failed to understand that discipleship means taking up the cross, following in Jesus’ steps, and losing one’s life (Mark 8:34-38). The widow in the temple, on the other hand, gave her last mite, which Jesus describes as ‘her whole life’ (Mark 12:44), usually translated as ‘all she had to live on’. Again, unlike the men, the woman who anointed Jesus on the head understood that his ministry led to death and burial for the sins of the world (14:3-9). In Reformation terms, this unnamed woman was immersed in the theology of the cross. Also, she was the only person who stood by Jesus in his hour of deepest need, with physical, emotional and spiritual support. The men’s eyes were fixed solely on the glory they hoped was coming their way as Jesus’ followers (8:32; 9:34; 10:35-37).
After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, angels came and ministered to (served) him, preparing him for his life of sacrificial service (Mark 1:13). Jesus’ ministry (service) culminated as he gave his life for the world (10:45). Again, in Mark only women are shown exercising a ministry that reflects Jesus’ ministry (1:31; 15:41). The word used for the ministry of angels and of Jesus is applied only to women in Mark, not to the 12 disciples.
5. The highest offices in the New Testament church are assigned to women.
(a) Apostles. The highest office in the NT church is that of an apostle (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 2:20), one who has seen the risen Lord and been called and sent to proclaim the resurrection (1 Cor 9:1). Mary Magdalene fits the description better than anyone (John 20:18). And St Paul describes Junia as ‘pre-eminent among the apostles’ (Rom 16:7).
(b) Prophets. The second highest office is that of prophet, and as in the OT era women prophesied in the early church (1 Cor 11:5; see Acts 2:16-21; 2 Kgs 22:14; Isa 8:3).
(c) Deacons. Phoebe was a deacon of the church (Rom 16:1), the word ‘deacon’ reflecting the term used for Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice on the cross (Mk 10:45). We also learn that Prisca was Paul’s co-worker (Rom 16:3; see Acts 18:26), the term indicating that she shared in his ministry equally, in terms of status and role. At Acts 18:26, where she is called Priscialla, it is apparent that she led her husband Aquila in taking Apollos aside and explaining ‘the Way of God to him more accurately’. The names of other female co-ministers of Paul are given at Romans 16:12 (Tryphaena and Tryphosa) and Romans 16:15 (Julia and the unnamed sister of Nereus).
(d) Presbyters (elders, pastors). The two texts in the New Testament that could be said to describe most accurately the role of today’s LCA pastors are Acts 20:28 and Hebrews 13:7. Pastors are called to keep watch over themselves and their flock by proclaiming the gospel and protecting their people from ravenous wolves. Among their tasks, presbyters, a synonym for pastors and elders, are called by God to offer the holy things of God to God’s holy people. The Angel Gabriel called Mary to bear in her womb and give birth to the holiest of all things, our Lord Jesus Christ. The so-called Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) has the hallmarks of a traditional call narrative. Nobody has been called to celebrate the mysteries of God in such a complete and intimate manner as Mary, the mother of God, and then offer them–Jesus’ body and blood–to the world for the life of the world. The central function of the Church’s eucharistic ministry derives its precedence from the central role played by Mary in the history of salvation. Those who serve as pastors and priests in the church draw inspiration from none other than the Lord’s mother.
6. Folly. One cannot help but cringe at the folly of the church in failing to draw fully on the ministry gifts of women. It is unnecessary to enumerate the many ways that women’s gifts for ministry have been seen to complement those of men. Some gifts are found more frequently in women than in men, and it goes without saying that some are found more frequently in men than in women. Wherever the pastoral office is closed to women, there God’s people are being denied the rich interplay of all God’s gifts for ministry, and the church is the poorer for it.
7. Cruelty. Countless women in our church have received the inner call to serve as pastors. Who but they can tell what cruel injustice is felt when they are told that they must be mistaken? ‘God does not call women to the office of the ministry’.
Can the LCA in good conscience continue to be so hard-hearted in its dealings with such women? Admittedly, together with many family members and friends, most have left our ranks and sought refuge in safer havens. But a faithful remnant remains, unwilling to see the church hijacked by fear, literal readings of two biblical texts and a tradition that has long passed its use-by date? Surely, the time has come for the church to make a stand and vote for the ordination of women.
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