A reply to Pr John Kleinig

12 Nov


australian lutheran college

Australian Lutheran College, Nth Adelaide

Pr John Kleinig, who is possibly the LCA’s key figure in opposing women’s ordination, has had a significant influence over Seminary (male) students, and therefore over the LCA.   His influence at ALC, along with that of Pr Andrew Pfeiffer, is highly strategic within the LCA, in the continued denial of women’s call to the ordained ministry.

While Kleinig is a highly respected theologian in traditional quarters, his loyalty to Luther’s courage of questioning Catholic status quo has no such credibility.   Kleinig has little enthusiasm for the Protestant tradition of grappling with continued revelation of Gospel truth.  Rather, his approach is one of elevating and delving deeper into tradition, focussing on fatherhood, and in doing so, hoping to find reason that contemporary Christians should forego modern means of worship and changing attitudes to groups in society.  Kleinig, not unlike the Amish, clings to traditions from ages past and gives them a status that Luther surely never intended.  Sadly, he has done a disservice to the LCA in its struggle to maintain relevance with contemporary society and its ever decreasing numbers in congregations and support for mission.

The following paper, Is the ordination of women church divisive? shows Kleinig’s approach to doctrinal matters and how he works for unity with Catholic tradition rather than honour those women who are called to serve as pastors within the LCA.

The reprinted paper below has my comments interspersed.


John W Kleinig (date unknown)

1.     Confessionally speaking, it is true that those who advocate the ordination of women are not heretics. They may teach false doctrine, but they do not deny the Triune God and so sever themselves from the body of Christ.

K+M: No, those advocating women’s ordination do not teach false doctrine. In 1999 the Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relationships (CTICR) found, with a 2/3 majority, after a decade of study, that there was no theological objections to the ordination of women.  Again in 2006, with a 2/3 majority they reached the same conclusion.

2.     They do not thereby deny the teaching of our Lutheran confessions, but they do reject the confessional basis of the LCA as contained in the TA. On this level such a move would be divisive, for it would separate those who are committed to this as the confessional and legal basis for the LCA and its ministry from those who had departed from it.

K+M: Each denomination which has ordained women has stories to tell of the threats of church division prior to the event.  The reality is, when women are ordained, that they become a blessing for the church, often in the context of male systemic and domestic violence, and opponents are mostly won over.

3.     Ecumenically, it would be divisive in two ways. It would separate the LCA from the church catholic and the orthodox tradition from the early church until modern times. We would therefore move away from those churches which adhered to that tradition and align ourselves with unorthodox Protestant groups. We would ourselves forfeit the right to be catholic and become a sect. We would, of course, thereby separate ourselves from those Lutheran and Protestant churches which continued to uphold the orthodox teaching on ministry and the catholic practice of it.

K+M: It seems to me that this is the crux of Kleinig’s objection.  It is his heart-felt conviction that the Catholic tradition is something that we need to return to.  The question for the rest of us is whether or not we wish to become Catholics or adhere to the tradition that Luther laid out before us.

4.     It would inevitably lead to divisions within each congregation of the LCA. Every call meeting would lead to a battle between those who wanted to call a woman and those who did not. If a congregation did appoint a woman as a pastor, those who conscientiously rejected her authority would either have to leave or stay away from any services led by her. Every woman pastor would constantly face theological challenges to her authority from her opponents and so need to justify her position in the congregation.

K+M: The experience of other churches is that initial reservations are mostly overcome in the first few years through the pastoral care that these women give in times of need.

She in turn would be unable to exercise proper pastoral authority to maintain the divine unity of the congregation.

K+M: Pastoral authority is not male authority.  It is that given by the crucified Jesus, based on love and forgiveness.  Gender logic is a strange thing.  It is exclusive language, deeming women to ‘otherness’ and thereby disallowing them any right of reply.  ‘Otherness’ can play no part in Christianity.  It may play a part in patriarchy, tradition and conservatism, and certainly does play a part in sexism, racism, and homophobia, but it can never play a part in Christianity, where Jesus lays his life down for each of us in order that we are all brought to the fullness of new life and empowerment in the risen Christ.

5.     It would be liturgically and sacramentally divisive. Those who rejected the ordination of women would not in good conscience receive the sacrament from a woman pastor. They would therefore be excluded by the church from the sacrament and the fellowship created by participation in it. If they did receive the sacrament from her, they would do so with a bad or uneasy conscience, for they could not be sure that the sacrament was valid, since, for them, it had not been administered as Christ had commanded. They would therefore be deprived of its comfort and subject to the accusation and condemnation of the evil one.

K+M: Once again other churches would beg to differ. In the end the issue is not a liturgical or sacramental division but one of culture and tradition.  There are endless stories from those who can attest to the comfort received and the grace conveyed through women clergy.  The matter is an experiential one, where one at a time we experience Christ through the witness of a woman in a pastoral position, and one at a time are convinced of God’s calling to women.

6.     It would be synodically divisive. If a woman became a president, all the pastors who opposed the ordination of women would either refuse to recognise her or leave that district. People who rejected the ordination of women could not participate in any synodical service where a woman was giving the absolution, preaching, or presiding at communion. It would lead to the withdrawal of congregations from synod and the establishment of independent congregations – perhaps even districts- opposed to this doctrine and practice.

K+M: While there are many clergy who oppose women’s ordination, this is in no small way due to the influence that Kleinig and Pfeiffer have had at ALC over many years.  I understand that Kleinig has considerable charisma and influence, which would make it challenging for any student to resist his influence over years. It is interesting to note that Pfeiffer was theologically progressive before studying at Fort Wayne Lutheran Seminary, Missouri Synod, in the USA.  On his return to Australia, his theology was that of the conservative Missouri Synod.

Kleinig was also ‘outed’ on the anti-women strategies used when one of his letters to a Missouri Synod group was published on the internet, revealing the manipulation that had occurred at Pastor’s Conference in 2006.

It is not surprising that there may be synodical division, but Kleinig and Pfeiffer will need to take some responsibility for that.  Congregational withdrawals from the LCA may be inevitable.  If we ordain women some congregations may withdraw, and if we refuse to ordain women some congregations may withdraw.  We will need to deal with that, but as the years pass members will find the grace of God is conveyed as efficaciously as before and perhaps, even more so because the majority of our membership are women, who often communicate more deeply with another woman.

There should be no compromise on women as presidents or bishops.  To do so is having a bet each way on God’s grace.  If there is no objection to female clergy there can be no objection to female presidents.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome.  We’d love to get your comment.

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Posted by on November 12, 2010 in sociology, theology


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5 responses to “A reply to Pr John Kleinig

  1. James

    February 4, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    I believe when someone talks of the church catholic, they are talking about the Christian church through out all time and all nations. When we confess our faith using the words of the apostles creed we confess our faith in the “holy catholic/Christian church. This is not confessing our faith in the Roman Catholic Church.
    Hope this hopes to clear some of your fears in what the paper actually states.

  2. Katie and Martin

    July 3, 2011 at 6:44 am

    Kleinig is suggesting that by ordaining women the LCA will separate itself from the church catholic. He aligns such theology with ‘unorthodox protestant’ churches and sects (paragraph 3). Kleinig’s approach seems to be about staying close to Catholic tradition. We don’t hear him describing the Australian Anglican Church as unorthodox protestant or as a sect but it is an implication of his argument, as women are ordained in most of their dioceses.

  3. Barney & Co

    November 14, 2011 at 5:25 am

    A reply to Katie and Martin’s reply to Rev. Dr. John W. Kleinig.

    In the first place Dr. Kleinig holds the following qualifications: BA Hons., MPh., PhD., DD., and Dr Andrew Pfeifer is no intellectual slough either holding BA., BTh., STM and PhD., and their loyalty to Lutheran doctrine is NOT under dispute!! Having clarified that, lets us have a look at our Constitutional statement, our Lutheran doctrine if you will: “The LCA has always maintained that the sole rule and standard by which all dogma and teachers should be estimated and judged in the church are the prophetic and apostolic scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments alone.” Compare the Formula of Concord, Epitome I.
    Secondly there is a world of difference between the “church catholic” and the “Catholic Church of the Bishop of Rome” commonly known as the “Catholic Church” but better described as the “Roman Catholic Church”. The true remnant in the LCA is and remains a part of what Dr. J.T.E. Renner calls the “Catholic-orthodox” cluster of churches, with which the LCA traditionally and doctrinally identifies closer than with any of the Reformed churches in the West.
    Re: Is the ordination of women church divisive?
    1. Yes, those advocating women’s ordination (WO) DO teach false doctrine, it is impossible to lead a congregation in Divine Service without breaking Scripture. The key texts – 1 Cor. 14: 34ff, 1 Tim 2:10-12, and having only one wife.
    2. Each domination which has ordained women … . As an example we can look at the Lutheran Church in the Netherlands; they ordained women, where are they now? Another example the ELCA in the USA, ordained women and now has degraded itself to ordain people we should not even eat with. 1 Cor. 5:9-11. This does not say much for the ordination of women!
    3. Dr. Kleinig’s desire may be to return to the “catholic” roots of the Lutheran Church. To me that is better than breaking Scripture by gross disobedience.
    4. Divisions in the LCA. Who is divisive? Those loyal to our doctrine or those who wish to introduce non-scriptural practices and rules? If a congregation wishes to call a female as their Pastor, are they really LUTHERAN? I think not.
    5. Those loyal to Lutheran doctrine could in good conscience reject the preaching of a female, or the administration of the Sacrament of the Altar by a female. A loyal Lutheran would quit rightly absent her/himself from the body of the congregation if a female were to break the “commandments of our Lord” cf. 1 Cor. 14:33-37.
    6. The responsibility for any synodical divisions must squarely be borne by those who cause the divisions. Those who oppose the ordination of women should NOT leave the LCA, those who propose that divisive measure should. The Absolution, Preaching at, and Presiding over Divine Service by females is NOT Lutheran and those who are proponents of that heterodox scheme are the ones who should repent or resign their membership of the LCA.
    The ordination of females in the LCA should not be addressed on sociological tenets, but on solidly based Scriptural teachings and on the doctrines of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as exemplified in our Doctrinal work “The Book of Concord”. Any proposal outside of this is heterodox and may even be heretical. (Heresy – public dissent from the officially accepted dogma of the Church).

    GradDipMaintEng., GradCertMgmt., MACS
    GradDipTh., MTh., PhD(Biblical Studies)

  4. John Chrysostom

    April 20, 2020 at 5:31 am

    I think the problem with your arguments here is that you’re missing what Kleinig is trying to say.

    It is the Lutheran confessions and not Rev. John who makes the case for Catholicity:
    “ Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches.”
    ~~ Conclusion to the Augsburg confession

    The understanding throughout this “scriptural and Catholic tradition“ — starting with St. Paul forbidding women to preach and continuing in the early and medieval church — is this understanding of the ministry as being sacramental. As being the office of Christ.
    It is no accident the Christ is a male, He is the new Adam, the new head of the human race. This gets into the issue of the ‘order of creation’. Through one man (Adam) did sin enter the world, thus through one man (Jesus) redemption and life.

    The office of the holy ministry that the Lutheran Church in her confessions claims to have received from the Catholic tradition — and did not seek to change (an idea you scoff at in the spirit of modernity and progress) — is an office that is ‘in persona Christi’, in the person of Christ. The pastor has to be male (just as all of the apostles that were chosen by Jesus were male) because they are Christ’s representatives in the congregation.
    The church, the bride of Christ, our mother, the congregation is understood in female terms. Explicitly female terms. But the ministry is Christological and therefore masculine. The grace that the congregation receives from the office through preaching and the administration of the sacraments as from Christ himself is the receiving of life and the creation and birth of new life in the spiritual dimension that happens in the union of husband and wife in the propagation of children which is a picture of the marriage of Christ and his church.
    The grace that the congregation receives from the office through preaching and the administration of the sacraments (as from Christ himself) is the receiving of life and the creation and birth of new life through the Holy Spirit in the believer’s heart, analogous to the union of husband and wife in the propagation of children — a picture of the marriage of Christ and His Church.

    To take out this vital element removes our understanding of God as Father (patriarchy), Christ as the head of the human race (institutional hierarchy) and the church as mother (submission). It is no surprise to me that in your entry you likewise criticized ‘homophobia.’ The issue here is not that you reject John Kleinig’s interpretation of confessional faithfulness. You simply reject the order of creation as it is (assumed and) defended in the confessions.


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