There is a Hermeneutics Symposium to be held this weekend in Tanunda, South Australia. It is by invitation only and those not invited will not necessarily have heard about it. It has been initiated by Pastor Semmler (LCA President) in response to the ongoing call for the ordination of women, but we understand that it is to assist the LCA in thinking clearly about how it interprets Scripture for other imminent issues.
The initiation of this Symposium ignores the fact that the CTICR (Commision on Theology and Inter-Church Relationships) has twice found no impediments to women’s ordination. It undermines the CTICR’s theological work within the LCA.
It seems that Pastor Semmler is somewhat hesitant about what some of the speakers might have to say, with dire warnings about placing Gospel above Scripture.
Pastor Semmler’s letter is included below. We have taken the liberty of inserting some of our responses and would appreciate it if you would share yours.
Sent:Thu, 6 Oct 2011 17:10:55 +1030
Subject:LCA Hermeneutics Symposium
Dear LCA Participants and Observers in the Symposium at Tanunda,
I trust that you are looking forward to this event. It is not expected to provide answers for our Church in the many issues, which will confront us in the future, particularly in the field of bioethics. It is however designed to assist us in thinking clearly about our approach to Scripture. That is, “How are we listening to Scripture?
The framework through which Scripture is viewed by some of the presenters will not be our understanding, but will give us an insight into why there are variant views on teaching even across the Lutheran world.
Members of the Consensus Task Force on the ordination question as requested by the last convention of Synod will be in attendance and will meet briefly face to face. We have, however, had a late setback with Matthew Thomas unable to continue. We may have a replacement after this week’s College of Presidents meeting, but realistically we may have to wait for a suitable replacement.
Remember, we have a strong preference for the next generation of budding theologians to take the matter up. K+M: Synod wished for a process of consensus to occur. It is unlikely delegates will be satisfied to have the motion enacted in the form of five younger clergy attempting to find consensus amongst themselves. The fact that two of the proposed five (Pastors Frazer Pearce and Tom Pietsch) long to reconnect to the Catholic tradition suggests that the ‘Task Force’ has been set up to fail. This is part of our emphasis as a Church in developing leadership and it also breaks the impasse of those who have been around and stated their views strongly (with no apparent change) in two discussions of Synod in the past decade or so. K+M: This group of five is unrepresentative, wholly male, clergy and undemocratic. It does not represent groups within the Church and cannot hope to bring consensus to the floor of General Synod. Processes thus far have not included consensus methods.
If it helps, as you listen to the presentations (and I have not seen the papers at this stage) there may well be an approach, which places the Gospel above the Scripture. In the LCA we do not play the Gospel against the Scriptures. There is no Gospel without the Scriptures. The Gospel is embedded in the Scriptures. K+M: Note the framing of the issue as gospel reductionism (the tendency to reduce the Bible to the gospel). The use of this warning, an old LCMS chestnut, carries with it a contrast to Gospel-centred theology and a threat to the biblical gospel. (Ref: Greg Lockwood on CyberBrethren)
Ours is a confessional Church and accepts the Scriptures and Confessions as in the Book of Concord. We amalgamated in 1966 from two former synods on the basis of the Thesis of Agreement. Pastors and congregations place themselves under the teachings espoused in this Agreement. K+M: Yes, and it is time for the LCA to come of age in making its own theological decisions that reflect sound hermeneutics.
Spiritual oversight is carried out by the Presidents under the same norm, that is, the Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions and the Thesis of Agreement.
In our context and culture, absolute truth is often under question and that should not surprise us as sinners refuse to submit to authority. K+M: Is the President holding onto the notion that Scripture portrays absolute truth on all matters? It is just not possible that the writers of Scripture could have foreseen all important matters for all time – slavery, war, gender, sexuality, citizen participation in governance, ‘demons’ of poor health, cosmology etc. There would be no need for hermeneutics if we could simply rely on ‘absolute truth’ on every matter.
You may hear that for some, priority is given to human experience as a way of interpreting Scripture. There are some who see a “living word” going beyond the written word.
Absolute truth and the authority of Scripture are issues. Is it enough to agree on the Gospel and disagree on matters moral and ethical? K+M: We repeat, CTICR has twice found that there is no problem with women’s ordination. Is he suggesting that CTICR has not paid attention to the authority of Scripture? We will always disagree on things. The issue that the LCA has not begun to face is, “How might we live with diversity?”
How does Law and Gospel play out?
Expressions like “bound conscience” (I doubt you will hear that) as distinct from being in a “state of confession” on a teaching of Scripture, can easily assume authority over Scripture and become a governing factor in interpretation. K+M: This reads as if someone has suggested a list of topics for him to cover in his letter.
The term “bound conscience” for some has the implication that tolerance of all views (right or wrong) becomes the new norm for Biblical interpretation. Ref
However, the term has its origins in Romans and 1st Corinthians and is clearly represented in Acts and other New Testament writings (ref). Luther used it the famous “Here I stand speech”:
I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God (emphasis mine). I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. (LW 36: 112) Ref
In simple terms (or is it simplistic) we ask the question whether we are wiser than God.
What lies in front of our Church will test our submission to the authority of the Scriptures and the Confessions and our decisions on matters of teaching and theology will have to do with how we listen to God’s Word. K+M: Such clanging of alarms makes it sound as if the Hermeneutics Symposium will be a threat to LCA theology. The only conclusion we can make is that Pastor Semmler is concerned that the discussion will take the same course as CTICR.
Pray that this event will be of value to our Church and to those who will join us from overseas, particularly our partners in mission throughout Papua New Guinea and South East Asia.
The Church accepts without reservation the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as a whole and in all their parts, as the divinely inspired, written and inerrant Word of God, and as the only infallible source and norm for all matters of faith, doctrine and life (Article II. Confession Constitution of the Lutheran Church of Australia).
AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND LIVED AMONG US, AND WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY, THE GLORY AS OF A FATHER’S ONLY SON, FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH. (John 1:14)
The Lord be with you as you travel.
REV’D DR MICHAEL P SEMMLER
LUTHERAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA