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The Gospel Principle and Women’s Ordination – Dr Norm Habel

16 Jan

Norm Habel - Professorial Fellow at Flinders University in Adelaide, and a pastor of The Lutheran Church.

We are Lutheran!   Our church and church leaders are Lutheran, a tradition of which we can be proud.  We are not Roman Catholic, Reformed or Fundamentalists.  We are Lutheran and that means we are guided by the Gospel principle.

The Gospel principle is that criterion by which we discern whether a teaching, a tradition, an interpretation, a course of action or a form of ministry is consistent with the message of the Gospel, the message that by the grace of God and faith in Christ, not obedience to the law or human works, we are liberated from our sins and born anew as children of God.

In popular terms the Gospel principle is encapsulated in the idiom, ‘Was Christum treibet!’  Whatever directs us to Christ, the message of Christ and the way of Christ, is to be our guiding principle.  Christ is our compass not Moses.  The Gospel is our guide not the law.

The Gospel announces the revelation that all human beings, both men and women, have been liberated from sin, from death and from the law as a way of salvation or of bonding with God. Both men and women are free from obedience to the law as a way of salvation and a binding relationship with God. To introduce a ‘law’ limiting the role of women in the church, is to limit the freedom they know in the Gospel and is a violation of the Gospel principle.

The Gospel embraces the call of Christ that all children of God, both men and women, are commissioned to proclaim the message of the Gospel in both word and sacrament.  Any human ‘law’ which prevents women from proclaiming the Gospel, in whatever form, is a violation of the Gospel principle!  Women, like men, have experienced the call of Christ to serve as his ministers. Preventing women from serving in the ordained ministry is a denial of a role to which Christ calls them.

The Gospel affirms the truth that Christ supersedes Moses, the Gospel supersedes the law.  Any human institution that reverts back to those Mosaic laws which limit the ministry of women is not only regressive but also violates an essential dimension of the Gospel principle. Through Christ, women like men, have received the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit but are prevented from celebrating these gifts to the full by being denied, as were the women under Mosaic law,  from celebrating the sacraments and preaching the Gospel as ordained women.

It is therefore appropriate that the church authorities apologise to those women who have been wounded by the practice of denying them ordination as servants of Christ through an ecclesiastical ‘law’ that is in conflict with the very Gospel principle we celebrate as Lutherans.

In 1955, when I graduated from Concordia Seminary and planned to study in America, I asked Henry Hamann senior whether I could be ordained even though I had no parish.  ‘Yes, indeed!’ he said.  ‘The rite of ordination as such’ he continued, ‘is a human institution.’

If ordination is not a rite specified by Christ but only a human institution, how can we possibly persist in denying women the privilege of ordination, an institution that violates the Gospel principle we uphold as Lutherans,  and still call ourselves Lutheran?

Norman Habel

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9 responses to “The Gospel Principle and Women’s Ordination – Dr Norm Habel

  1. Christian P.J. Bahnerth PhD

    January 17, 2012 at 5:01 am

    How do you resonate:
    The Gospel principle is that criterion by which we discern whether a teaching, a tradition, an interpretation, a course of action or a form of ministry is consistent with the message of the Gospel, the message that by the grace of God and faith in Christ, not obedience to the law or human works, we are liberated from our sins and born anew as children of God.
    With:
    Other writings of ancient and modern teachers, whatever their names, should not be put on a par with the Holy Scriptures. Every one of them should be subordinated to the Scriptures and should be received in no other way and no further than as witnesses in the fashion in which the doctrine of the prophets and the apostles was preserved in post-apostolic times. Book of Concord pg. 464-465.

    Barney.

     
  2. Katie and Martin

    January 17, 2012 at 5:41 am

    We can’t respond on Norm’s behalf, but it seems to us that the third paragraph encapsulates the Gospel principle.

    “In popular terms the Gospel principle is encapsulated in the idiom, ‘Was Christum treibet!’ Whatever directs us to Christ, the message of Christ and the way of Christ, is to be our guiding principle. Christ is our compass not Moses. The Gospel is our guide not the law.”

    It’s not enough that it’s in the Scriptures. If it’s contrary to the person of Jesus we have to rethink its meaning for us. Cases in point include slavery and wholesale destruction of non-Jewish communities.

     
  3. Katie and Martin

    January 17, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Norm’s response is brief (via Katie and Martin):

    Lutherans read the Scriptures from the perspective of the Gospel (principle) not the other way round!

     
  4. Angela Drylie

    January 18, 2012 at 9:13 am

    I like this post muchly! For me, it sums up a lot of long held thoughts about women’s ordination, but in a much more eloquent and articulate manner. It makes me hopeful when we have places like this blog, and people like Norm Habel. I hope that grace and the gospel overcome our current human laws prohibiting the ordination of women and soon….

     
    • Katie and Martin

      January 18, 2012 at 10:29 am

      Thanks Angela. It is sad that women’s ordination has been postponed so long. It is difficult to see how the LCA can maintain credibility with the world it wishes to evangelise when it is stuck in the age-old paradigm of patriarchy. In the mean time each of us can respond in whatever way is open to us, for if we are silent we have already sided with the silencing of women.

       
  5. David

    January 18, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    I’m glad to read this. I am a Uniting Church minister and have many women as colleagues. Their ministry is creative, affirming and vital. I work in an ecumenical context alongside Lutherans and Catholics and see many gifted women. I’m saddened that they are unable to participate fully in the minitry og their church especially standing behind the communion table. May the day come soon when that can happen.

     
    • Katie and Martin

      January 19, 2012 at 12:01 am

      Thanks for your affirmation of women’s ministry across the churches. The biggest factor is probably fear of the unknown. There are endless stories of parishioners who were antagonistic to women’s ministry but became supporters when women clergy ministered to them in times of crisis. Thanks for your support.

       
  6. Norman Habel

    January 21, 2012 at 1:34 am

    The writers of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology strongly support the view that all church practice should be normed and measured ‘in harmony with the Gospel of Christ’ (Apology vii, viii:5) If any tradition, ritual or practice was inconsistent with the Gospel message, it could not be demanded as essential for Christians as church, the body of Christ; instead; Christians were urged to disobey human rules and coommands ‘contrary to God’ (AC xxviii:34) rather than diminish the Gospel by continuing the practice (Apology xxviii:23),. Norman Habel

     

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