Guest Post: Lutheran Church of Australia: Church or Cult?

31 Oct

Although we subscribe to Neil Hart’s blog, sometimes there’s just too much happening and posts slip under the radar.  Neil’s post (below) is worth the read.  It gives a couple of examples of Pr Semmler imposing his style of hermeneutics and his interpretation of Scripture on delegates to a General Convention (also referred to as Synod) and the general LCA.

September 25, 2012

The issue of women’s ordination has been bubbling away in the Lutheran Church of Australia for a few decades now. After much theological soul searching the Church’s theological think tanks finally concluded that there is no theological impediment to the ordination of women. Despite this a vote for the ordination of women at the 2006 General Synod, although obtaining a narrow margin in favour of the proposal, did not reach the required 2/3 majority to effect the necessary change.

I was on the floor of Synod on that sad and confusing day. It seemed that we were in a bit of a bind. I remember one pastor giving voice to the problem. He asked the President what should happen now that slightly more than half of the pastors of the church had, by their vote, expressed their disagreement with the public teaching of the Church. I remember that his response went something along the lines of…

The pastors have all sworn to uphold the public teachings of the church! 

PHEW! That was a close one. Division in the church narrowly averted.

Problem is… some pesky pastors and lay people were less than convinced by the President’s weighty argument and have continued to campaign against what they see as an anachronistic and unjust stand against women. They met recently to encourage one another and to remind the Church that they and the issue have not gone away.

So the President saw fit to send out a letter of reprimand.

Allow me, reader, to draw your attention to one telling sentence in that recent letter.

The disappointing issue of those wishing to bypass studies of scripture in discussions and who use human understanding, logic, social justice, equal rights and such cultural contexts to  further a cause is to be lamented and discouraged

OK.  3 things

1. I’m not sure if that is actually a sentence. (But who am I to criticise anyone else’s grammar. Pots and kettles.)

2.  I have been involved in the debate on Women’s Ordination in the LCA for nearly 30 years. In that time I have heard no-one in the LCA ever mention, advocated or even hint at bypassing scripture.  The place of scripture is not and has never been in question on the matter of women’s ordination just as it has not been in question in our debate on the church’s statement on homosexuality.

3. What the President is doing here is outlining HIS understanding of how one is to interpret scripture. According to the President,  human understanding, logic, social justice, equal rights and cultural contexts are to be absent from our study of scripture. More than that, according to the President, the use of these things is to be “lamented and discouraged”.

Correct me if I am wrong but… hasn’t our President just outlined the recipe for the birth of a cult?

On Thursday night I listened to an interview on Radio National with a Western Australian woman who spent a couple of decades as a blindly faithful follower of the Bhagwan Rajneesh. Her uncritical devotion to the master, the absence of human understanding and logic, her complete withdrawal from the cultural context that had previously helped to ground her, her willingness to abandoned her common sense of justice and rights and wrongs left her vulnerable to the will of a narcissistic madman until she was finally ready to kill for him.

Ok Mr President, my logic and human understanding are now disengaged. My sense of justice and my concern for the rights of others has been suppressed. My attempts to apply scripture to our present cultural context have been abandoned…

Is this really the attitude you want us to adopt in interpreting the Bible?

Is this really what you want?

Maybe it IS what the President wants. It is certainly ONE way to maintain unity in the Church.


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36 responses to “Guest Post: Lutheran Church of Australia: Church or Cult?

  1. Wally

    October 31, 2012 at 2:40 am

    “imposing his style of hermeneutics and his interpretation of Scripture on delegates”
    Oh, please! This is just so full of subjective emotionalism and so far removed from the truth that it should be an embarrassment to post it. Nothing of the sort was even hinted at, let alone spoken at that Synod. It is only now being used by your guest poster in a vain attempt to bolster the ill-conceived bandwagon that he has jumped on in the last twelve months. The suggestion that the cult concept applies to our President is slanderous. It appears you and your blogger have a common interest: the destruction of the integrity of the leader of our Church. It makes me sick in the stomach to see this happening.

    • Katie and Martin

      October 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      We understand that people have a range of opinions about women’s ordination, and that a major change to men-only ordination will cause some grief for many. However, some things are facts. Pr Semmler’s hermeneutic is that of focusing only on Scripture, explicitly wanting to ignore “human understanding, logic, social justice, equal rights and such cultural contexts” (a direct quote from his latest letter to delegates and congregations.
      Dr Jeff Silcock (ALC Associate Dean [Research] and chair of CTICR) reflects on this type of language: “At the beginning of the CTICR’s deliberations (approx mid 1980′s) it was decided that any decision by the church would be taken solely on the basis of scripture and theology. Looking back, perhaps this was a bit naive. How can you grapple with scripture and theology without taking into account the experiences of people and of culture? You can’t abstract cultural, experiential and hermeneutical issues from the texts. These things play a part in determining the position we adopt – at least initially.”
      Wally, it is fact that Pr Semmler wishes the Church to follow his hermeneutic of only looking to Scripture. This, of course, suits a conservative reading of Scripture and its logic appeals to a certain piety amongst some delegates. However, under such a hermeneutic it is unlikely that we would have ever escaped from the cultural milieu of the Middle East, where today woman are still second class.
      No, I guess it wasn’t spoken about at Synod, but does that mean Pr Semmler didn’t insist on delegates referring to Scripture only? That’s his hermeneutic. It’s not the hermeneutic taught at ALC, it’s not the hermeneutic of most scholars, but that’s the way he imposes, rather than facilitates.

      • Wally

        October 31, 2012 at 1:30 pm

        If you wish to take issue with that hermeneutic – fine! But to attack him personally for it is both wrong and evil. It is not his in the sense of identification – it is the position of the Church, and has been for a long time. I believe the large majority agree with it. So much of what you say is personal, as if it is he alone. That’s just wrong! You need to stop this personal attack. It is not Christian. Your statement: “Wally, it is fact that Pr Semmler wishes the Church to follow his hermeneutic of only looking to Scripture.” is not talking to the issue, but attacking him. When we turn issues such as this, or any for that matter, into personal attacks, we lose the plot and sink into the gutter of political process. We need to get right away from that direction.
        As for the quote from Dr Silcock, well, that wasn’t what he was taught, and I believe it wasn’t what he used to hold to. I was quite stunned to read that when it was printed some months ago. I suggest he has changed his tune because he can’t see any other way of achieving the desired end other than discarding the authority of Scripture – that’s what the “hindsight” is all about. And, do it here, and you will be forced to do it in the future – slippery slide! Your references such as “conservative reading of Scripture” and “a certain piety amongst some delegates” are entirely disparaging ways to refer to the commitment of people to the Word of God. Finally, your last sentence in that paragraph is indeed sad, subjective and ridiculously alarmist – and as such, again, a smack at the faith of ordinary people.

        • janine

          October 31, 2012 at 11:01 pm

          and by ordinary you mean people who agree with you.

          • Wally

            October 31, 2012 at 11:03 pm


  2. Katie and Martin

    November 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Thanks Wally for your reply. There is no satisfaction in knowing that we have distressed someone, but there needs to be clarity around the issues.
    Your response to Jeff Silcock’s statement reflects your hermeneutic. No problem there. We don’t have to think the same. We can live together despite different approaches. But, under what circumstances will we live together? Will some of us be bullied into silence, which presumably will lead to schism, or will we be able to embrace diversity under the Confessions. We prefer the latter and believe that it is the only way forward.
    Church politics gets played out every day around the world, and in the LCA. That’s just the way it is. Issues of justice, women’s ordination, gay leadership, bullying within congregations, deciding whether to renovate a church or invest the money in mission are all political. In itself there is nothing wrong with politics, for that is how civilisations organise and build a better future.
    Pr Semmler in his approach has been wanting the debate (stiffled and restricted tho’ it be) to remain on Scripture. That’s political. Others with a different hermeneutic wish to consider a range of other factors. That’s political. The theology of the matter has been under consideration for generations. Bible studies, Church Committees, votes at Synod, CTICR resolutions, a symposium on hermeneutics have all occurred. The debate is no longer about theology, it’s about the sociology of change. It’s about politics.
    Many people have left the LCA – families, gen X’s, gen Y’s, women and others frustrated at the lack of due facilitation towards women’s ordination (given that there is clearly a majority of delegates in favour of women’s ordination). This is political. What are we to do? There is no other choice but to move towards women’s ordination. I should say, there is no other choice but schism.
    The LCA is already divided, and attempts to stifle the debate will only increase frustration and alienation. Frustration and alienation is where we are coming from. Membership is educated about women’s position in society, women’s giftedness and the empowered position of women in many other world Lutheran Synods. Perhaps the rapidity of this change has been threatening for some, but there is no turning back.
    While Pr Semmler continues his ‘command and control’ approach, by stonewalling the debate, defying the majority of delegates who voted for women’s ordination, and criticising supporters of women’s ordination, he is going to provoke criticism.
    While we understand Pr Semmler to be a compassionate pastor in the congregation, that does not necessarily make him the best fit for national leadership. For the sake of the LCA, some things (the elephant in the room) need to be named.

    • Wally

      November 1, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      That the debate remain on Scripture is NOT political – it is the only way, otherwise, we put Scripture aside. That such sociological issues should control what is taught by the Word of God is not right. To blame adherence to the Word of God for people leaving the LCA is not right either. Take a look at the many other churches that have already embraced some of these issues – it hasn’t stemmed the tide. I am sorry that you continue to want to blame all on the President – that is wrong too.

  3. Katie and Martin

    November 1, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Let me say again. A certain piety claims that one can focus on Scripture alone and that culture and justice play no part in how to interpret Scripture. This also seems to be your view. This view chooses Scriptural passages to adhere to or to ignore. The inconsistency of this hermeneutical method is shown here, “Dear Dr Laura”:

    Another piety claims that one needs to take into account the experiences of people and of culture. As Jeff Silcock says, “You can’t abstract cultural, experiential and hermeneutical issues from the texts.” Luther himself did not exclude the legitimate use of reason and experience in interpreting the Scriptures. “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 you’ll find most Biblical scholars are in this camp. Under this hermeneutic, Scripture is interpreted using all the tools that we have available to us, including reason, archeology, anthropology and science. God gave us many gifts and disciplines. They are to be used to God’s glory.

    These references reflect more of our thinking:
    Fundamentalism offers us a certainty that I cannot find as a Lutheran –
    The Authority of Scripture, Women’s Ordination and the LCA –

    • Wally

      November 1, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      You continue to misinterpret what I have written – and it appears that there is little I can say without that happening – so be it.

      • Katie and Martin

        November 1, 2012 at 4:54 pm

        As we understand it, you want to focus on Scripture alone, with any other method of hermeneutics being under suspicion. Is that correct?

  4. firstkitten

    November 1, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Wally :

    actually yes. on this blog and others you have repeatedly made it clear that the real, ordinary lutheran folk are the ones who agree with your interpretation of the bible and your idea of God.

    • Wally

      November 1, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Your interpretation – wrongly so – not mine.

      • janine

        November 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm

        aah, the classic wally response to argument -you’ve misinterpreted me!

        • Wally

          November 1, 2012 at 8:57 pm

          Thanks, but no thanks! The classic “wally response to argument”? Come on – it wasn’t argument I was responding to! It was smear! And all you can do is come back with more smear!
          You can lambast me as much as you like, but it doesn’t change the position. The fact that a position is “my position” does not identify it uniquely as mine, just in the same way as the President of the Church’s position cannot be described as such either. If you want to take issue with the position, do so on solid evidence, not on spurious assumption and smear. A position stands on its own quite apart from the individual. But you want to make it personal! Well, I am not going to join that level of exchange. So, throw it at me as much as you like, but don’t expect me to join you on the same level. I attempted to correct that very issue on this blog: that of personal attack! It is clear to me that I am not going to achieve anything by it because some are not wanting to give up the option of using personal attack in order to win an argument.

          • janine

            November 1, 2012 at 10:15 pm

            smear? is that when people disagree and point out the weakness of your arguments?

          • Wally

            November 1, 2012 at 10:20 pm

            No. This is smear: “aah, the classic wally response to argument -you’ve misinterpreted me!”

          • janine

            November 1, 2012 at 10:29 pm

            no, it’s my observation and experience of your arguing style. when you can’t respond to criticism you fall back on claiming you have been misinterpreted. and then you quite often say you are leaving the discussion.

          • Wally

            November 1, 2012 at 10:37 pm

            So, I have to accept the misinterpretation? Well, misinterpretation is not an argument, so why hang around?

  5. aussietap

    November 7, 2012 at 4:30 am

    I am sure the president meant well but he certainly has a way with words that inflames an argument. Rather than achieving unity he cements the divisions. The only thing I could focus on after reading was what I seen as a blatant accusation that people with an alternative view wanted to bypass scripture. It is a disheartening statement to make, how can you contemplate a discussion with someone who thinks you are an anti-christ, by-passing God’s Word.

    • Katie and Martin

      November 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      It’s certainly distressing. As we have been forced to respond politically there will, presumably, be various outbreaks of congregations ignoring Presidential decree. It won’t be useful in the long term to break from the LCA because that would leave an even more conservative Church, perhaps akin to LCMS, but we can use civil disobedience (should that be ecclesial disobedience?) We are obliged to stay and sensitise the rest of the Church to what can be done.

    • Wally

      November 7, 2012 at 1:37 pm

      Your assertion that the President “inflames argument” and “cements the divisions” is subjective. I have found him to be most accommodating and deeply faithful to the Word of God. His continued assertion of the need to be faithful to Scripture is not based on “a blatant accusation that people with an alternative view wanted to bypass scripture”. It is entirely an objective call. Now, you can no doubt say that my view is subjective – I accept that. But, I will add that it is not based on “corridor talk”.

      • Katie and Martin

        November 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

        Wally, Pr Semmler’s words are, “The disappointing issue of those wishing to bypass studies of Scripture in discussions and who use human understandings, logic, social justice, equal rights and such cultural contexts to further a cause is to be lamented and discouraged.?

        • Wally

          November 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm

          So, tell me what the problem is with that statement. That’s what has not been done with the use of “inflames argument” and “cements division”.

          • Katie and Martin

            November 7, 2012 at 2:28 pm

            Simply that at no stage has Scripture been bypassed. CTICR worked on this for years from 1988 to 2000 and 2006, both times coming up with a majority report that Scripture provided no impediment to women’s ordination. Scripture has been central on the whole journey. However, as we don’t proof-text, we look within and beyond Scripture for exegetical tools.

          • Wally

            November 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm

            I don’t understand your last sentence.

    • Wally

      November 7, 2012 at 1:48 pm

      Forced to respond politically? Seems to me that this is a choice – just as it is a choice to incite “ignoring Presidential decree” and “use civil disobedience”. I do hope you will re-think your outlook. In any event, use of the term “Presidential decree” is both wrong and unhelpful. What the President asserts is the Lutheran view, the view that the LCA has accepted, so it is not right to tag it as his by way of identity. And by Lutheran view, I don’t mean the last few decades Lutheran view of some pockets of the Church – we need to look back much further.

      Finally, I find a couple of things somewhat disconcerting: the use of anonymity by many and the very accusatory and judgmental statements so often made. It is doubly worse when the two come together. Unfortunately, blogs seem to foster and fester both of these.

      • Katie and Martin

        November 7, 2012 at 8:47 pm

        Yes, it’s a choice not to continue to be discounted. There comes a time when action is needed to change oppressive structures.
        Wally, there is more than one Lutheran view. Take LCMS and ELCA – are they the same? You and Pr Semmler stand closer to LCMS, that is your choice. We stand closer to ELCA, that is our choice. It is patronising to insist that there is one ‘Lutheran view’.

        • Wally

          November 7, 2012 at 9:08 pm

          You may suggest to define “you and Pr Semmler” as standing closer to LCMS – that is fine, but I am not really too concerned about tags. I am more concerned that you narrow this down to the two of us. I am more interested in the Church than in myself. We have a position as a Church, and yes, it may be more aligned with LCMS than with ELCA. But, again, that is not the issue. Faithfulness to the Word is my greater concern.

          And the second para of 26?

          • Katie and Martin

            November 7, 2012 at 9:40 pm

            So, what happens when we don’t use the same hermeneutic? Are we to deny scholarly tools? Are we to revert to selected simplistic translations. Wally, allow a diversity of interpretation.
            Whistle blowers sometimes need anonymity.

          • Wally

            November 7, 2012 at 9:55 pm

            Diversity is one thing – contradiction is another matter.

            Anonymity is too often a cover for abuse – and also a reason not to take too much notice of it.

          • Katie and Martin

            November 8, 2012 at 1:56 am

            Thanks for the intellectually stimulating conversation.

  6. Katie and Martin

    November 7, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Wally :

    I don’t understand your last sentence.

    Sorry, some things go amiss when typing. Let me try again.
    As proof-texting is not a useful or mature way of understanding Scripture, we need to use the full range of tools available to us when interpreting Scripture. This includes trying to understand the author’s mindset and influences, who he was writing to, what was unwritten but understood by the audience, etc. Therefore we need to get a good understanding of the culture of day in order to understand how it applies to us in this 21st Century Western culture. Scholarship on history and archeology continue to give insight into first century Middle Eastern culture to this day.
    Our concern is that Pr Semmler wants to ignore the wisdom achieved through fine Biblical scholarship and impose a literal understanding that is just not helpful today.

    • Wally

      November 7, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      Proof-texting has unfortunately become a derogatory term. I sense it is used when someone no longer wishes to accept what Scripture says and this term is then used to decry someone who does. If that is the case, we are singing from a different songsheet. That you should then conclude that “Pr Semmler wants to ignore the wisdom achieved through fine Biblical scholarship and impose a literal understanding” is judgmental and wrong.

      Secondly, I find it interesting that when one is pushed to give a response on a contentious issue, the moment one makes reference to a Scripture verse, it is called proof-texting – it then becomes a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. I have had to face that dilemma on more than a few occasions. It is time for that insidious practice to stop. We should all instead be glad that Scripture is given its rightful place – we need more of that.

      I note that you have chosen not to respond to my earlier response 26 above.

      • Katie and Martin

        November 7, 2012 at 7:13 pm

        Okay, let’s not use the word. The point is that taking one Scriptural verse or even a few Scriptural verses is not the only way to ‘do’ our exegesis. There is a range of useful tools that should not lie in the rain getting rusty.
        There is too much to respond to in any comment. What point would you like a response on?

  7. Wally

    November 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    All of it.


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