Letter from Pr Neal Nuske to LCA governing committees

11 Jan
Pr Neil Nuske

Pr Neil Nuske – Time to Soar conference, ALC, July 2012

Dear WO supporter,

Following the All Saints conference in November 2012, a steering group was formed to advocate women’s ordination in the LCA.

One of the steering group members, Neal Nuske, sent an open letter (below) to the GCC, ALC, COPs and BLEA expressing his personal concerns over the theological direction of some sections of the LCA. His letter is attached.

Neal has given his permission for the letter to be openly discussed amongst all members and forums of the LCA.

KInd regards

Carole Haeusler
All Saints steering group, Queensland

Dear Presidents, Members of the General Church Council and Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relationships,

I support the ordination of men and women and I concur with that view expressed in CTICR Final Report 2000 which sees no scriptural or theological reason prohibiting the ordination of both men and women. For that reason I spoke at Time to Soar in Adelaide. I have also joined a Steering Committee formed in connection with All Saints, St Peters Congregation Indooroopilly. I mention this in order to be open and transparent about my personal perspective. I am an advocate for public debate on this issue and regret that the ORDINATION TASK FORCE REPORT 2009Agenda Documents SECTION 3 TOR 3#Consider the open nature of the question in the Church (page 262) referred to discussion and involvement amongst pastors and laypersons in the public domain using the phrase ‘open season’, a phrase the Victorian Department of Primary Industry uses in reference to the Duck Hunting Season.

I draw your attention to ORDINATION TASK FORCE REPORT 2009Agenda Documents SECTION 5 Recommendation 9 c. (page 264) where it is suggested many topics need to be researched and investigated. Topic No. 4 recommends researching and investigating:

  • The validity of a believer’s faith when nurtured by female clergy

I have noted a related issue with reference to female clergy in a document posted on the website of Bethlehem Lutheran Church. This questions the validity of the consecration of the elements by a female pastor on two grounds, and I cite the document itself:

  1. Many of us who oppose the ordination of women because we believe that it is contrary to Christ’s command which makes them ineligible for the office hold that the consecration of the Lord’s Supper would be invalid if it were performed by a woman.
  2. We could not therefore in good conscience receive the sacrament from a woman pastor, for that would implicate us in an act of disobedience to Christ and the possible desecration of the sacrament. (THE VALIDITY OF CONSECRATION BY A FEMALE PASTOR SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE PAPER BY H.F.W. PROEVE, J.  Kleinig 1998)

Such views are in the public domain and many who are becoming aware of these views are concluding that this is the official position of the LCA given Theses VI par. 11 prohibits the ordination of women.

My personal concern is that the focus upon the gender of an ordained person is now threatening a distinctive accent in Lutheran theology which locates the work of the Holy Spirit at the centre of our theology of Word and Sacrament, our theology of justification by faith alone. In focussing upon gender, the key concepts of sola gratia, sola fide and solus Christus are being marginalised and displaced from the centre of the debate. I cite a passage from the Augsburg Confession which clearly highlights the centrality of the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacrament rather than through the gender of a pastor as implied in Topic 4.

For the Holy Spirit works through the Word and Sacrament (Sacrifice and the use of the Sacrament: Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV The Mass)

 I note that while Theses VI par. 8 does not regard the laying on of hands as essential for the validity and efficacy of the office, nevertheless gender is now becoming indispensible for the validity and efficacy of the sacrament as well as the nurturing of faith. It follows from this view that a male pastor must always consecrate the elements. The accent on the critical importance of gender in the Bethlehem document (1998 a and b) places gender as an essential prerequisite alongside of the work of the Holy Spirit. It now appears that both Christ and the Holy Spirit can only work pro nobis ‘for us and for our salvation’ in the Office of the Ministry through a male pastor. Within this theological framework it naturally follows that a female pastor would not only desecrate the bread and wine but also cannot nurture the faith of a parishioner because her ministry of Word and Sacrament would call into question the validity of her parishioner’s faith. Her ministry would tempt parishioners to disobey Christ, as she herself has done by being ordained (Topic No 4.). The connection here between gender, efficacy, validity and nurturing is quite clear and disturbing.

In my view, this represents a significant movement away from a Lutheran understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. My questions 1-8 (page 3) seek clarification on this matter.

I refer to the Apology of the Augsburg Confession which also focuses upon the work of God through the sacraments:                                                                                            

A sacrament is a ceremony or act in which God offers us the content of the promise joined to the ceremony; thus Baptism is not an act which we offer to God but one in which God baptises us through a minister functioning in his place. Here God offers and presents the forgiveness of sins according to the promise (Mark 16:16). “He who believes and is baptised will be saved.” (The Mass: Sacrifice, Its Nature and Types: Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV, Tappert 1959 p 252)

Throughout Article XXIV reference is made to the proper use of the sacraments. The phrase proper use refers to the importance of faith and does not refer to an ecclesiastical organisation making sure, through a rite of ordination, that only a male pastor baptises or consecrates the elements. Proper use is a pastoral extension and elaboration of the central theological matter outlined in Article XIII: The Use of the Sacraments.

I appreciate how the writers of the Confessions reflect upon the centre of their theology of the Word and Sacraments. This informs all their exegesis and interpretation of the scriptures. There is a Lutheran hermeneutic which guides us in the way we understand and apply the literal meaning of a text in the best manner so that our teaching about justification by faith alone and the forgiveness of sins is preserved as the centre of the apostolic gospel, and faith in God’s grace is strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit quite apart from the gender of any priest or pastor.

It is taught among us that the sacraments were instituted not only to be signs by which people might be identified outwardly as Christians, but that they are signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us for the purpose of awakening and strengthening our faith.

Our churches teach that the sacraments were instituted not merely to be marks of a profession among men but especially to be signs and testimonies of the will of God toward us, indeed to awaken and confirm faith in those who use them. Consequently, the sacraments should be so used that faith, which believes the promises that are set forth and offered, is added. For this reason they require faith, and they are rightly used when they are received in faith and for the purpose of strengthening faith. (The Augsburg Confession Article XIII p 35 The Use of the Sacraments)

Here there is no mention of the importance of gender either for the validity and efficacy of the Word and Sacraments or for the right use of the sacraments. The consistent accent upon the redemptive work of God through Word and Sacrament convinces me that this is where our unity is to be rediscovered. Exegetical issues, hermeneutical issues, theological issues, historical issues, and practical issues will find their proper function in the life of the church only in the light of the redemptive work of God through Word and Sacrament which is the centre of Lutheran theology.

We desire such harmony as will not violate God’s honour, that will not detract anything from the divine truth of the holy Gospel, that will not give place to the smallest error but will lead the poor sinner to true and sincere repentance, raise him up through faith, strengthen him in his new obedience, and thus justify and save him through the sole merit of Christ. (Formula of Concord p 632)

Most important are the following questions and I welcome your response:

  1. With reference to researching and investigating Topic 4:
    How will this be accomplished?
    What research methodology will be used?
    What criteria will be utilised to determine the validity of a person’s faith when nurtured by female clergy?
    In what context will the research be conducted?
  2. Is it necessary not only for the proclamation of the gospel and administration of the sacraments but also the validity of Word and Sacrament ministry in the LCA that males only must be ordained to the Office of the Ministry?
  3. If so, what does gender add to the efficacy of the Word and Sacrament ministry?
  4. If women are prohibited, then what exactly does female gender do that invalidates a parishioner’s faith in God’s gift of forgiveness and calls into doubt the work of the Holy Spirit, as is implied in Topic No 4?
  5. Is it now a teaching of the LCA that: the ordination of men only is necessary for the purpose of propitiating God and securing grace through the Office of the Ministry, as well as nurturing the faith and trust a parishioner has in God’s word of forgiveness, as is implied in Topic No 4?
  6. Is it a teaching of the LCA that a female clergy person cannot properly nurture the faith of our parishioners, but will instead desecrate the body and blood of Christ, and in so doing lead the parishioners astray, corrupt their faith and trust in Christ thus rendering this faith invalid through disobedience?
  7. How does the gender of a pastor compliment and strengthen the seal of the free forgiveness of sins?
  8. Or, conversely, how does the gender of a pastor desecrate and destroy the seal of the free forgiveness of sins?

I also draw your attention to the profound insights which Lutheran theologians had about the sacraments and faith:

They are instructed about the proper use of the sacraments as a seal and witness of the free forgiveness of sins and as an admonition to timid consciences really to trust and believe that their sins are forgiven (Article XIII:49)

From this I conclude that gender neither effects the forgiveness of sins nor legitimises and validates the words of institution. An ordained female celebrant who is faithful to Word and Sacrament ministry cannot desecrate Christ’s body and blood. Timid consciences can be assured of this because the work of the Holy Spirit is neither conditional upon, nor limited by, nor made effectual by, nor validated by the gender of a pastor. Luther could conclude that the consecration of the sacrament is valid even when the morality of the priest is questionable. He is able to draw such a conclusion precisely because he clearly distinguishes between the work of God in the Office of the Ministry and the person who has been called and ordained into the Office of the Ministry. I consider this is an important distinction which also applies to the gender of the pastor.

There are only two parts to a sacrament, the sign and the Word. We cannot add gender as an additional sign, guarantee or security for our parishioners that both the words of institution and consecration of the elements are valid and that a person’s faith is being nurtured properly and validly. Should we move in that direction as a church then, in my view, it is an indication of how much we are losing sight of the centrality of justification by faith alone which teaches that by faith, for Christ’s sake, we freely receive the forgiveness of sins and are reconciled to God by the Holy Spirit who works through Word and Sacrament. These blessings are not mediated to us through the gender of the pastor. The more the gender moves to the centre of the debate and becomes the critical issue determining who will be ordained, then the more Christ is in danger of being robbed of his honour as our mediator –sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus.

Our Confessions tell us that the promise of grace by the power and working of the Holy Spirit is added to the Words of Institution. The promise of the New Testament is the promise of the forgiveness of sins as the text says ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’. This promise is neither consecrated nor desecrated on account of the gender of a pastor. This promise is not rendered useless when a female pastor consecrates the elements.

But the sacraments are useless without the faith which really believes that the forgiveness of sins is being offered here. We ought not to add gender as an indispensible necessity for such faith. As the Word was given to arouse this faith, so the sacrament was instituted to move the heart to believe through what it presents to the eyes, namely the real presence of the Lord of Heaven and Earth, crucified and risen for us and for our salvation, in the humble elements of bread and wine. A faith that acknowledges God’s mercy is alive and well. Such faith will be preserved and nurtured by the Holy Spirit. The gender of the pastor does not make such a faith which is created, nourished and sustained through life and death by the Holy Spirit, any more secure or alive. Neither does the gender of a pastor threaten such faith because the source of such faith is the Holy Spirit and its object is Christ.

The principal use of the sacrament is to make clear that terrified consciences are the very ones worthy of it, and how they ought to use it. Once faith has strengthened a conscience to see its liberation from terror, then it really gives thanks for the blessing of Christ’s suffering. It uses the ceremony itself as praise to god, as a demonstration of its gratitude, and as a witness of its high esteem for God’s gifts. The gender of the celebrant adds nothing to the validity of the work of Christ, nor does it detract anything from the work of the Holy Spirit.

Are we now moving towards modifying our theology of the Word and Sacrament in such a way that we are introducing a teaching, or an understanding, or a proviso, however miniscule or implied that the sacraments can only be efficacious and valid when a male consecrates the elements and when a male nurtures the faith? Our Confessions are quite clear that the ministry is not valid because of any individual’s authority but because of the Word given by Christ. Ministry is valid not on account of gender but is valid solely because of the Word given by Christ.

You will understand my concern given the documents that are already in the public domain representing a male only view of ordination.

Finally, I commend to you this insight from the Formula of Concord:

Affirmative Theses

Confession of the Pure Doctrine of the Holy Supper against the Sacramentarians

3. Concerning the consecration we believe, teach, and confess that no man’s work nor the recitation of the minister effect this presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Supper, but that it is to be ascribed solely and alone to the almighty power of Jesus Christ.

The phrase solely and alone is significant. Christ effects this Himself through the spoken word, and not through the gender of the pastor. I would see this conclusion as being entirely consistent with our Lutheran theology of Word and Sacrament, and it is these words which have convinced me the theology of our Confessions and scripture itself do not prohibit the ordination of women.

I do believe scripture interprets scripture. Given our theology of the Word and Sacraments, I believe I Cor. 14:24, 35 and I Tim 2:11-14 need to be interpreted within the framework of that same theology of the Word which is the centre of, and informs our hermeneutical approach in every instance. This preserves us from a literalistic application of texts while at the same time reminding us when and where to take seriously the literal meaning of the text itself, as we do when we confess the real presence.

If hermeneutical work is not cognisant of how the centre of Lutheran theology helps us to be literal when we need to be, yet resist Literalism when it creates doubt about the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, then we can easily burden consciences and turn gospel into law. We can even turn the words of Christ into a new lex by insisting on applications which are not necessary for salvation. I am reasonably confident in saying that Christ would not wish to become a new lawgiver. For that reason, when I discern how I Cor. 14:24, 35 and I Tim 2:11-14 are to be applied in the life of the church, I do so, not by determining their literal meaning only, which is quite clear; Rather, I shed upon them the light of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, the centre of Lutheran theology. In that light I see Paul’s words and reference to Christ’s command as entirely appropriate for a particular context and pastoral situation. These texts are not meant to be applied universally. I do understand that other readers of the very same texts will disagree with me.

The two texts cited in Theses VI par.11 do not suggest it is the gender of a pastor which effects the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Supper; ergo a male pastor is indispensible for the proper nurturing of faith in the members of the LCA. If we fall into that trap we are setting these two verses of scripture in tension with our theology of the Word, the centre of which is the doctrine of justification by faith alone in God’s grace. These texts do not suggest or teach that the gender of a pastor is so absolutely essential to our theology of salvation that we believe a female pastor will desecrate the body and blood of Christ when she speaks the words of institution, consecrates the bread and wine, and proclaims the assurance of forgiveness to her parishioners.

In this light, Theses VI par. 11 cannot be regarded as necessary for the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Certainly, it has been a long held teaching in the church that men only can be ordained, but if this teaching is now regarded as necessary for the validity and efficacy of the gift of forgiveness and the nurturing of faith, then what was needed for good order and to facilitate the unity of the LCA, has now become a snare for consciences.

While laying on of hands is not regarded as essential for the validity and efficacy of the Office of the Ministry (Theses VI par. 8) nevertheless it would appear from the public documents cited above (Topic 4, and a. and b.) that the gender of the ordained person is becoming an essential criteria and requirement, a mark for establishing the validity and efficacy of Word and Sacrament ministry, and an essential factor to be considered when researching and investigating the proper nurturing of faith, hope and love in LCA parishioners by female clergy.

According to Luther’s Small Catechism, there are two marks of the church, The Word and The Sacraments. The Office of the Ministry is a gift from God which serves The Word and The Sacraments. The gender of the pastor ought not to become a Third Mark which identifies the presence of the true church in the world, or the true Lutheran church within the worldwide community of Lutherans.

If the LCA, when considering variation in beliefs about the impact on church unity of difference over women’s ordination, reaches a point where it acknowledges this matter can become in statu confessionis, then, in my view, it would mean we will have invented a Third Mark identifying the presence of the true church in the world, and the true Lutheran church amongst the worldwide Lutheran community, namely, the gender of the pastor.

The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration Article XII, p 632 comments:
But it is certain any interpretation of the Scriptures which weakens or even removes this comfort and hope (i.e. the seal of free forgiveness of sins –my insertion) is contrary to the Holy Spirit’s will and intent.

I have become convinced that the ordination of both men and women to the Office of the Ministry can neither weaken nor remove the comfort and hope which the Holy Spirit both gives and nourishes through the seal of free forgiveness of sins. This is the reason why God has given the church the gift of the Office of the Ministry which proclaims Word and Sacrament.  Disagreement about gender should not destroy agreement in faith.

I trust this provides you with some food for thought, and I wish you wisdom.

Neal Nuske

It is our understanding that, to date, one reply has been received from the LCA governing committees and that was from the CTICR.


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7 responses to “Letter from Pr Neal Nuske to LCA governing committees

  1. Sandra

    January 14, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Talk about exposing the horror! That such monsters could emerge from the basement defies belief! Certainly a call to prayer.

  2. Neal Nuske

    January 15, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Hello Katie and Martin,
    An editoral comment: I served as an LCA pastor for 25 years then resigned from public ministry to take up full-time teaching position at St Peters Lutheran College. I am now a former pastor of the LCA. Would you kindly make that correction to the details on the website. While I did resign from public ministry, I did not resign from theology and retain an abiding interest in hermeneutics and theology.


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