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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Pastor John Kleinig’s letter to America – Toowoomba Synod 2006

Pr John Kleinig – emeriti Luther Seminary (ALC), North Adelaide

This letter from Pastor John Kleinig (emeriti – Luther Seminary, North Adelaide) was originally posted by cyberbrethren.  It was taken down when it distressed members of the LCA. To our knowledge it hasn’t been readily available on the web for some time.  We post it here to relate how the ‘men-only’ pastors work in the LCA.

More on Australian Lutheran Vote on Women’s Ordination

Here is more detail on the action of the recent convention of the Lutheran church of Australia.  It is even more remarkable that this not only did not pass, but was actually pushed back even more firmly this time than last time it came up for a vote.  There is much instruction in this account for all of us who are, in our respective churches, resisting those who would wish to undermine and change the historic Biblical and Confessional position of our church bodies.  Their tactics are always the same. They attempt to deflect attention from their true agenda, and to keep it hidden.  They will be heard to protest that in fact “they take no position” on issues like this.  There is no Biblical rationale for ordaining women to the pastoral office.  It is a false doctrine.  The one thing you can say about those in favor of the practice in Australia: at least they have the integrity to stand up for their position boldly and openly and not try to hide it or cover it up.

We can also learn quite a lot from how the faithful there have handled this matter: with courtesy, tact, manners, integrity, etc.  There are earnest and sincere brethren in our Synod who do have a tendency to behave in a boorish manner. Enough of that!

Dear Brothers

Apologies for not getting to you sooner on the results from the vote on the ordination of women at our convention!  I know how anxious you all have been on this and how much we have been in your thoughts and prayers.  But I was computerless up there in the deep north.  And I was too tired yesterday to do anything coherent.

The Pastors’ Conference ran from Tuesday to Friday last week.  One of our younger pastors, Fraser Pearce, put the case against WO most winsomely, with a deep appeal to conscience that did much to commend the case to waverers in the middle.  The actual vote was 50.91 for WO and 49.09 against.  This was a slight swing in favour of WO since 2000 but that is rather deceptive for two reasons.  First, in our polity, all pastors who are present have a vote at Pastors Conference, even if they are not pastor delegates at the convention.

The conference was held at Toowoomba in south east Queensland where most pastors are in favour of WO, whereas in Adelaide in 2000 we had the votes of many retired pastors.  So confident was one of the leaders in Qld that he publically trumpeted his judgement that the vote would be at least 80% in favour.  Second, there was some stacking of the deck, so that the much maligned local confessional pastors, most of whom work far from this corner of the state, were underrepresented. But some of them countered this by attending in any case at their own expense.  Thank God for these fine men, unsung heroes, many of whom have suffered much for their convictions! The tone of the debate was good.  It was calm and reasoned.  Unlike 2000, there was not a single case of personal ad hominem attack apart from the occasional imputation of fear.

Our president Mike Semmler helped in this by insisting that the debate had to be scriptural.  On the whole those who advocated WO appealed either to reason or to emotion, while we made an effort to appeal to the conscience.

The vote to ordain women was taken on Tuesday 2 October at 12:30.  It was as follows:

Yes 194  50.39%
No 169  43.9%
Abstentions  20  5.19%
Informal  1
Non-voting  1

The last three categories count as voters against. So practically it was 111 for and 107 against.  What a miracle!  The yes vote percentage was slightly less than that at the 2000 Conventions (1.13%).  This too is deceptive not just from the location of the synod but also because there was some stacking with delegates in favour of WO who represented parishes to which they did not belong.

The issue was introduced in a briefing session on Monday night by two speakers:  Andrew Pfeiffer (for the church’s teaching); and Peter Lockwood (against the church’s teaching).  They were backed up by a small panel.  Andrew was supported by Greg Lockwood and me.  The debate at the convention was outstanding in that people stuck to the issues without resorting to any ad hominem rhetoric. The tone was good as people made an effort to reach to each other across the great divide.  I was impressed by the presence  and conduct of our younger pastors.  They spoke winsomely and well,  scripturally and theologically.  In fact, our side of the argument was put so well by the laity and the other pastors that Andrew Pfeiffer, Greg Lockwood and I did not need to speak at all.  As you may imagine, that required some effort from me.  We made a determined effort not to play the political game on CTICR where we, quite deliberately, did not press our advantage by taking a vote on the issue when we had a narrow majority, at Pastors’ Conference where we could have quite legitimately tried to prevent the issue from going to the Convention since it did not have the support of the 2/3 of the pastors, and at the Convention by not playing that card.  That helped, in part, to get us across the line.  But the most significant thing was the prayers of the whole church and many faithful little people.  Thank you too for yours!

Another observation!  We had a simple clear story to tell, an agreed rationale that focused on the fact that the prohibition was the Lord’s command.

Initially their tactic was one of attack on the traditional case, as if the case would be won, by default, merely by calling the traditional case into question with the exercise of an hermeneutic of suspicion.  The assumption was that anything and everything that was not forbidden was permitted.  The result of that was that they helped us to sharpen and strengthen our case, while they kept theirs in reserve, since it was difficult for them to agree on why women should be ordained even though they are agreed they should.  They therefore had no single story to tell, no agreed scriptural rationale. Instead they came up with a grab bag of arguments, which was most evident  in their presentation to the convention in a briefing session on Monday night.

To the very end their case was a work in process.  In looking back on the 15 years that I have been part of this debate, it strikes me that as soon as we knocked down on argument they came up with a new one and so on.  We were always dealing with a moving target.  They still do not have an agreed scriptural theological rationale.  I wonder whether it is possible to mount one.

Just before the close of the convention the General Church Council put forward a resolution that the matter could only be put back on the agenda by synod itself.  This means that we would have respite at least until 2012.  This brought on a desperate rear guard attack from the opposition.  They were simply unwilling to submit to the decision of convention.  They talked of hurt (as if they had a monopoly on that!) and openness to the Spiriti’s leading in the future (as if we had not invoked his guidance repeatedly at the convention), but it was evident to many that they were playing church politics.  It won them little sympathy and disgusted some of their much more moderate and churchly supporters.  Thankfully a referral motion was passed for the GCC to have another look at its resolution!

We thank God for your prayers.  The result was beyond our expectations (we all thought that it would be much closer). Has anything like this ever happened before in our Lutheran churches?  Surely God was merciful to us.  Nevertheless we, sadly, are still a house divided.  It seems to me that God has given us this narrow margin to keep us from becoming triumphalist, political and complacent, for the issue of the ordination of women masks far deeper and much more important issues, such as our acceptance of the scriptural authority, the doctrine of ministry, the doctrine of the relationship of the Son to the Father, the doctrine of creation, the third use of the law, and sanctification, all of which is a symptom of the rampant gnosticism that we have inherited from the Enlightenment. Yet, I think, we are in much better shape synodically.  Theology is back on the agenda.  We, and especially a whole generation of young confessional pastors, have learned to speak the truth in love, without rancour and apparent self-righteousness.  Nothing has been resolved, but we have been given some breathing space.  The battle goes on!

The old gospel reductionists, who interpret all talk about mandate and commandment as loveless legalism, are utterly bewildered by the change of climate. New alliances have been forged.  Best of all, for the first time in my ministry, most pastors and lay people have openly acknowledged and accepted importance of a good conscience under the word of God, the reality of spiritual warfare, and the power of prayer.  I now feel that I have done my bit in these and many other issues.  It’s now up to the young fogies to carry on the cause, which they can do much more disarmingly than I have been able to do so.

Four other reasons to rejoice!  Mike Semmler was re-elected by a clear majority.  The Church Council is much the same as it was; the two main vacancies were filled by a fine confessional pastor in Stephen Schulz and a sound lay woman, Jillian Heintze.  In the CTICR Peter Kriewaldt, an unsung hero in the battle, was replaced by Dr Adam Cooper, a fine young confessional scholar.  Best of all, we have been driven away from politicking and argument to repentance and prayer.

I am, as you may well imagine, exhausted and yet deeply relieved.

Please share this with whoever else may be interested.

Thank you, most of all, for your intercessions for us in the battle.

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What then must we do?

Portrait of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Oil on c...

Portrait of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy.

We start with a quote.

‘What then must we do?’ That is the question that Leo Tolstoy, having surveyed the misery of the ordinary Russian people, tried to answer in 1886. It is also the question that people pose – often somewhat resentfully – when confronted by the … social and psychological status quo … ‘It’s all very well to criticize, but have you got any better ideas…?’

As Christians we have compassion, that’s just the way it is.  Compassion, however, is not just a feeling – it is action.  Compassion is speaking for those who have no voice. Compassion is standing with those who are invisible. Compassion is taking on the structures of power in their systemic abuse of individuals and groups. Compassion is refusing to abide by unethical or alienating by-laws and governances. Compassion is being the Christ figure to those who society forgets.

What would happen if a thousand people wrote to the College of Presidents (email) this week to complain about the lack of due process in dealing with the call for women’s ordination?  What might happen if a thousand people stopped their subscription to “The Lutheran” (email), citing the President’s ban of the discussion of women’s ordination as the reason? Your voice is significant!

There is much that might be done. Alone you may be feeling fragile, so create a group and strengthen each other. You never know what might arise from your group.  Use Facebook, network with larger groups like Women’s Ministry Network and find out what’s happening on the national scene.   Share this blog and others that support women in any domain. Make a difference!

You are not alone in your hope for equality under God.  We thank God for the many who have contacted us from around the world offering encouragement.

How might your voice be heard this week?

Please share your ideas for bringing about change. What has worked for you in any cause that you are part of?

 
 

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Time to Soar Conference

Time to Soar conference in session

St Stephen’s Lutheran Church, Adelaide, sponsored a women’s ordination conference on July 13-14th, entitled “Time to Soar”.  While the President enacts a ban on the discussion of women’s ordination in “The Lutheran”, the Conference demonstrated that many people are wishing to talk about it. How can a church pretend to have a process discussing how to deal with women’s ordination without having a public discussion?

While there were approximately 120 from around Australia at the Conference, many others were unable to attend.  Dr Vic Pfitzner (emeriti – Luther Seminary Principal) and Dr Peter Lockwood (ALC lecturer) both were key speakers, but perhaps the most powerful presentation was by Sue Westhorp, who told the story of how she has lived with her call to ordained ministry since childhood.

Like many people my age I grew up in a post-feminist world.  There was nowhere else that told me that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do when I grew up – except the church.  I had that childhood sense of wanting to be a pastor that’s not really unique – practising at home, preaching to the toys or my younger siblings – and I thought, “I’d really like to be a pastor one day”. Then I realised that the church doesn’t actually allow women to be pastors. … But I’ve had encouragement from others and recognition of my gifts and abilities, the gifts and abilities that God has given me, plus a strong desire to serve in this way.

Readers are reminded that “The Lutheran” was barred from publishing paid advertisements for the Conference, leaving some church members feeling dis-empowered and angry that their Church decides for them what they can and can’t read.

It is something special to hear someone’s story.  One of those present expressed the thought that although they had theologically agreed for a long time with the ordination of women, they had never heard a women’s story before.  After hearing Sue’s story they understood something of her depth and giftedness, and were even more convinced that the church needs the ordination of women.

Readers may be interested to know what our Church holds dear as represented on the LCA homepage.

The LCA is (a) ‘synodical’ church, meaning that every congregation ‘walks together’ with every other congregation, every district with every other district, and every department or agency with every other one. We’re not isolationist; we support each other and grow together as one church. At the same time we recognise that every congregation is a unique expression of our church and we value and celebrate our diversity. So, while all congregations adhere to the LCA constitution, they are free to exercise their own interpretations of the LCA’s mission and ministry objectives.

Every three years representatives of the LCA’s congregations meet for the Convention of Synod, which is our church’s primary decision-making body. Pastors provide input regarding theological matters, but in effect it is the people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church.

Wow!  This could be an embracing, grace-filled church. “The people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of the church” – we assume that we’ll all be reminded of this at the next General Synod.

What is the message that you, in your congregation, hear from our Church? Is it grace, welcome, acceptance and tolerance or is it something else?

 

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Twitter Feed at Time to Soar Conference

The Time to Soar conference has begun.  We are working on getting the Twitter feed up and running.  We hope that you are able to monitor the feed and add your questions and comments.

If you are a Tweeter you can follow or contribute to conference happenings on Twitter via @TTSLCA  (hashtag #ttslca).  We will have some other social media opportunities up and running as well. More information coming.

 
 

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From the LCA Hermeneutics Symposium – an extract from Prof. Kit Kleinhans

Kit Kleinhans – professor of religion and department chair, Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa

Professor Kit Kleinhans, from the ELCA, was one of the guests invited to speak at the LCA Hermeneutics Symposium in the Barossa Valley, October 2011.  The following, with permission, is extracted from her presentation.  It was published in the Lutheran Theological Journal, May 2012.

It is precisely in the process of interpreting and applying our Lutheran confessional heritage in new contexts that reason and experience play a role, not as external sources sitting in judgement over the Scriptures and the Confessions but as important resources for us in our theological work.  Luther himself did not exclude the legitimate use of reason and experience in interpreting the Scriptures.  Luther’s appeal at the Diet of Worms in 1521 to ‘scripture or clear reason’ is not an isolated instance but a recurring reference in his writings.  Luther does not acknowledge reason as an independent authority equal to the Scriptures.  Rather, his point is that Christian teaching need not be found verbatim in the Scriptures but can be arrived at by rational deduction from the Scriptures (homoousios being a case in point). I think this approach is appropriate for the Confessions as well.  Reason, while never in and of itself a warrant for doctrine, is useful – even essential – in the interpretation and application of the Scriptures and Confessions in new contexts.

Lutherans will not always agree with each other.  Thus one of the core points of the Confessions for the global Lutheran communion is the satis est of Augsburg Confession VII.  Except for those times when an issue rises to the level of status confessionis, different interpretations need not signify a loss of our heritage or a rejection or diminution of our commitments to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.  Rather, new interpretations and applications can be profound embodiments of the Lutheran heritage in new and changing contexts.

‘The law says “Do this,” and it is never done’. For the sinner, this is a word of judgement.  Let me suggest that for the church as an institution, as an ‘earthen vessel’, this may be understood as a word of encouragement.  The Lutheran church is not finished yet. God is not finished with the Lutheran church yet.  As American practical theologian Loren Mean puts it, ‘God is always calling us to be more than we have been’. The question is not “What would Jesus do?’  That we already know from the cross.  The question rather is ‘What would Jesus have us do in order that the good news be heard and that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven?’

I close with the words of the hymn writer Fred Pratt Green:

“The church of Christ in ev’ry age, beset by change but Spirit led,
“Must claim and test its heritage and keep on rising from the dead.

Reference: The complete presentation by Kit Klein .pdf

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2012 in Hermeneutics, theology

 

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When theology loses track of experience

We’re not convinced that the authority of Scripture is the sacred cow it is held up to be.

Lets just imagine that theologians and church hierarchy spoke with one voice around the globe, deciding that Scripture did not allow the ordination for women.  In the context of a world where women are in virtually all work places and are increasingly in leadership, the response from many would be to find that Scripture was simply inadequate to deal with our experience of God, or our experience of the world of today. On the other hand the response may simply be to walk away from the church.

Returning from the theoretical to the actual – the LCA – and assume the same conditions (universal agreement by theologians and Church hierarchy that women’s ordination is disallowed by Scripture) we would have two options, division or death. On the one hand (division), under intolerable conditions, individuals and congregations would be forced to form other communities, while on the other hand (death), people would walk away from the LCA and perhaps faith.  In either case, the Church as we know it would be gone, leaving it to another generation to attempt to rebuild a tradition from the ruins of a disconnected, inward-looking, pious Australian Lutheran Church.

For too long the church used the authority of Scripture in its support of slavery.  Human compassion decreed a higher standard and calling.

Today, any discussion on whether slavery should be tolerated would be abhorent.  Similarly, the time is past when there can be any consideration of that world view where women are somehow less than men in the sacred or secular context.

What about the potential for a split in the Church? Isn’t it right that unity should be preserved until a solution can be found? It is our view that through lack of pastoral leadership the damage has already been done.  Objective, careful leadership would have allowed the LCA to discuss and find its course towards women’s ordination.  As it stands today, however, the matter has been politicised, the discussion stymied, the debate manipulated, and women have been isolated and alienated.  Pr Semmler has distanced the national Church from St Stephens’ sponsored Time to Soar conference on women’s ordination and he continues to attempt to control the debate rather than to facilitate it.  Sad to say, but we don’t believe that continued unity is either possible or desirable.  It is not possible to expect congregations to continue to suppress their women at official levels when women are already providing significant leadership.  It is difficult to gauge but some would add that patience with poor national leadership is running low.  In addition, it is not desirable to maintain unity when that unity requires the continual abuse of women in the LCA.

For those who support women’s ordination the debate is over.  Scriptural passages supporting slavery or the subjugation of women are simply reverberations of history.  They offer nothing for our future. Our future is in an ever-adapting Church that responds to an ever-changing society.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2012 in theology

 

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