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What good ole days?

While conservatives insist that the Bible would have women remain silent, (except for Sunday School and serving men), we suggest that the origins of that notion may be a little less clear.

At the same time as the following two newspapers clips (1950s) two Australian synods were negotiating very slowly towards union.   Is it surprising that the two synods did not include in their discussion the possibility of women’s ordination?  The clips demonstrate how women were treated as children at best.

The New York Mirror from the 1950s

The New York Mirror from the 1950s

The politics of the oppression of the female gender are vast and insidious.  In the first centuries after Christ women had a seat at the table of church leadership.  Christians remembered the relationships that Jesus had with women and they knew that it was not for them to keep women from pastoral leadership. 

Ah, but with the passage of time, time-worn traditions kicked in and women were once again relegated to lower status, and in some cases a status even lower than animals.

Thankfully in recent decades there is a new awareness about bullying in schools and workplace.  There is a new awareness of domestic violence, but it would be naive to say that women are given equal respect and access to power in our society.  Julia Gillard can vouch for that. 

Some time ago, at a domestic violence workshop an older man related the advice that was given to him on the day of his first marriage.  He was told by a respected elder that early in the marriage he was to give his wife a good thrashing.  When she asked what it was for he was to say, “Just so you know”.   Blood runs deep. It’s the stuff of tradition, power and even culture.  It’s the stuff of gender oppression. It is passed on easily from generation to generation.

That was just how it happened in those days.  Don’t believe it?  Talk to your elders and hear how people knew who were the wife beaters in their churches and social groups, how they didn’t talk about such things, how they couldn’t report it to the police because nothing would happen, how they thought it was somehow the woman’s fault and how “That was how it was in those days”.

Of course, misogyny is much more than wife beating – libraries have been written about the politics of gender oppression.The physical violence that was meted out towards women is for some only a few decades ago and for others it has never stopped. 

Violence against women persists today in many forms.  In our church, the Lutheran Church of Australia, misogyny is still observed in how men meet together in groups called Pastors’ Conferences, with many not even stopping to think that something is awry.  It persists in how Pastors’ Conferences will discuss women’s ordination in this current Synodical term without women even being present to provide some sort of accountability. It persists in those clergy and laity who can only read the Bible through the eyes of Law rather than Grace. It persists in how women don’t qualify for the same education at our Australian Lutheran College. It persists in how women cannot be pastors in an ailing church. It persists despite women being the backbone of our Lutheran Education system. 

It is shameful that our institutional Church, so proudly proclaiming grace as central to its creed and doctrines, manages to shield God’s grace from women when it comes to pastoral leadership.  

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in history, sociology, women's ordination

 

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“Should the Bible be interpreted literally?”

Fundamentalism

Image from Resurgence: A Ministry of Mars Hill Church

We confess that we are driven to distraction when engaging in conversation with those who claim that they interpret Scripture literally.  A literal interpretation of Scripture demands that every text is interpreted in the same manner.  The following quote highlights the difficulties of this approach:

Over the last several years I have wrestled extensively with what Phyllis Trible memorably called the “texts of terror” in the Bible. Texts that narrate slavery, genocide, assassination, beheading, cannibalism, rape, and many other heinous acts. Some of these texts depict Yahweh commanding, commending, or himself committing violent acts. In other texts the actions are of humans alone but the narrator develops an infuriating neutrality in his narration of them. (Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter [Judges 11:32, 34-40]  is perhaps the paradigm case of problematic narratival neutrality.)

People should be allowed to believe what they wish, however, there’s a certain piety of fundamentalism that’s hard to live with.  It’s a piety that insists we all should all hold the same simple, folksy interpretations that refute scholarly research and confirm church beliefs and customs.  I understand that fundamentalists feel the same frustrations with those of us who long for reform, but the difference is that we are calling for our Church to live with diversity of theology.

This post is largely a re-post of an excerpt of a webpage on the history of how Scripture has been interpreted. We found the origins of Fundamentalism interesting.  Certainly the Copernican theory of the planets orbiting the Sun (which Luther considered idiocy), Darwin’s theory of evolution and Higher Criticism presented major hurdles for the church. It looks like the ripples from these understandings are still impacting us today.

Should the Bible be interpreted literally?

Historical Background

The Middle Ages and earlier
Throughout most of the Christian era, Bible reading and Bible interpretation were confined to religious professionals. Until the fifteenth century, the Bible was available only in Latin. Even when the Bible was translated into other languages, the scarcity and high cost of Bibles kept them out of the hands of ordinary people. Availability of Bibles was also restricted by church officials1.

During this era, the Bible was interpreted according to church beliefs and traditions. There was little or no attempt made to determine the original meanings of the Scripture. Difficult passages “were interpreted as having a figurative meaning, so that they convey, through a kind of code, deeper truths about God, the spiritual life, or the church2.”

Sixteenth to eighteenth centuries
Galileo.
Christians have always believed the Bible is inspired by God and is authoritative on spiritual, moral and ethical matters. It wasn’t until science began to develop in the 16th century that questions and arguments arose about whether the Bible is also authoritative on scientific and historical matters.

The first major conflict was between the ancient view of the earth, as reflected in the Bible, and the Copernican theory, which held that the earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. The astronomer Galileo, using his telescope, found evidence to support the Copernican theory and began publishing his results in 1611. Church officials were alarmed because the Copernican theory seemed to contradict the Bible, and in 1616 Pope Paul V ordered Galileo to abandon the Copernican theory3.

Nineteenth and twentieth centuries
Darwin.
By the nineteenth century, most Christians had come to accept the Copernican theory of the universe because of overwhelming scientific evidence. But a new crisis arose with the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin proposed that species of plants and animals evolved through a process of natural selection. Darwin observed that there were variations among individual plants and animals. He proposed that, in the struggle to survive, the better adapted individuals would be more likely to survive and reproduce their characteristics in succeeding generations. Thus, over many generations, species would change by a process of evolution. Further, the process was said to work automatically, seemingly leaving little room for Divine guidance or design.

Darwin’s theory was seen by some Christians as a direct attack on the story of creation in the Bible book of Genesis (Genesis 1:1-31). It also spawned a number of atheistic movements both within the natural sciences and the social sciences that saw the universe as created and ruled simply by the impersonal forces of nature. “Darwinism” became associated with atheism in the minds of many Christians, and rejection of all of Darwin’s theories became almost a creed for some Christians.

Higher Criticism. In the late eighteenth century, scholars began studying the Bible as literature rather than as divine revelation. New techniques of literary analysis, archaeology and linguistics were used to study the Bible. Some in this “Higher Criticism” movement asserted that the Bible stories were little more than mythology, and by the end of the nineteenth century these ideas had become quite popular4.

Fundamentalism. In 1910, in reaction to Higher Criticism and Darwinism, a group of Presbyterian theologians proposed five essential beliefs of Christianity:

  1. the inerrancy of Scripture,
  2. the virgin birth of Christ,
  3. Christ’s atonement for our sins on the cross,
  4. His bodily resurrection,
  5. the objective reality of His miracles.

These became known as the The Fundamentals. They were widely distributed and formed the basis of the Fundamentalist movement within Christianity5.Literal Bible interpretation. Many fundamentalists believed the Holy Spirit dictated the Bible to its human authors word-for-word. They reasoned that “inerrancy of Scripture” meant that everything in the Bible must be absolutely, literally, scientifically and historically true. Anything less would be unworthy of God. According to this view, the Bible, in all its detail, is inerrant on matters of history and science, as well as doctrine. Any apparent conflict between the Bible and another source (science, history, etc.) should be resolved in favor of the Bible because of its Divine origin.

Bible verses such as these are often quoted to support the literal view:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (KJV, 2nd Timothy 3:16)

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (NAS, 2nd Peter 1:20-21)

However, interpreting the entire Bible as literal divine revelation poses severe problems for serious Bible study. Besides the apparent conflicts with science and history, there is evidence within the Bible itself that it has both human and divine origins. Luke attributed his Gospel to his own research:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (NIV, Luke 1:1-4)

Paul’s letters (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, etc.) were originally written as letters to churches he had founded, not as part of Scripture. They dealt not only with divine revelation but also with many mundane matters like disputes among church factions. Paul often stated his own personal opinions:

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. (NIV, 1 Corinthians 7:12)

There is also evidence within the Bible that portions of it are intended to be interpreted figuratively rather than literally (John 16:25, Galatians 4:24, Revelation 1:20, 17:18, etc.)

References
1Herbert Lockyer, Sr., ed., Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986, pp. 166-176.
2James L. Mays, ed., Harper’s Bible Commentary, Harper, 1988, pp. 8-9.
3Encyclopedia Americana, Americana Corporation, 1971, vol. 12, pp. 240-244
4Karen Armstrong, The Battle of God, Ballantine, 2000, pp. 95, 140.
5ibid., p. 171.               Source

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Hermeneutics, theology

 

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An essay by Neal Nuske

The following letter from Neal Nuske was distributed to All Saints and Time to Soar participants.  Bruce Lockwood suggests that it is the most important document to come from All Saints. “It goes to the heart of the reason why there are two different interpretations of the same texts within the LCA.”

While it’s not short it’s worth the read.

Neal Nuske at the Time to Soar conference, ALC, Nth Adelaide

The distinction between Law and Gospel: the hermeneutical touchstone and theological compass for the church

The distinction between Law and Gospel is not only the hermeneutical touchstone for Lutheran theology but also the theological compass for guiding the LCA in the future. Those who wrote our Lutheran confessions made theological and pastoral judgements about all the teachings and practices of the late medieval church by evaluating them in the light of the doctrine of justification by faith alone (Augsburg Confession Article IV). Justification by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (solus Christus) was later referred to as the material principle. It crystallises the entire Christian truth. The authoritative source for this theology was Scripture (sola scriptura) which was later referred to as the formal principle. [1]

The mission of the church is clear: (i) preach the gospel (ii) baptise people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:18-19 and Mark 16:15-16) and, (iii) Do this in remembrance of me – celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Matt 25: 26-30, Mark14: 22-26, Luke 22:14-21, 1 Cor 11:23-26). These commands are essential for the Office of the Holy Ministry because through these means of grace, that is, the Word and sacraments, God gives the Holy Spirit who works the gift of saving faith when and where he pleases in those who hear the Gospel (Augsburg Confession Articles IV and V). From this source springs the life of faith, hope and love, the new obedience, the life of the church (Article VI). The focus in Articles IV, V and VI is the salvific work of the Holy Trinity who chooses to work in Word and sacraments ministry.

As we reflect on the development and formulation of the Confessions it becomes clear everything previously known and experienced in the spiritual and social life of the late medieval church was consistently drawn and coherently evaluated in the light of what we now call the material principle and the formal principle. These principles are not doctrines per se. They are theological means, or auxiliary theological tools, a theological compass which enables exegetes to distinguish between Law and Gospel and rightly apply the meaning of a text to the life of the church.

 The revolution in church life

With this theological compass the reformers made radical pastoral decisions. Seven sacraments were reduced to two: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The notion of theocracy, that is, the inseparable unity of church and state as was expressed in the Holy Roman Empire was rejected, leaving us with the legacy of the doctrine of the two-kingdoms which differentiates the way God works through the state and the church. Hierarchical distinctions between clergy and laity disappeared. Distinctions which formed the very foundations for the structure and wealth distribution in late medieval society were rejected. Fasting, liturgical practices, images in church buildings, marriage of the clergy, the question whether nuns could marry, plus other long established traditions were evaluated by drawing them (ducere – Latin: to lead or guide) under the guiding light of the distinction between Law and Gospel. The doctrine of justification by grace though faith in Christ was the hermeneutical touchstone, the theological compass which gave the reformers such clarity of insight, that it enabled them to make discerning judgements about the very words of Scripture. They were able to exercise pastoral judgments which shaped the future life of the church. When examining any issue they could conclude: this is necessary for salvation while this is not necessary for salvation. The process finally gave us our Confessions.

The importance of Scripture

The late medieval church read, studied, interpreted and meditated upon the Scriptures as did Luther and his fellow Augustinian monks. Scripture was regarded as the inspired Word of God. Yet Luther was terrified because in the inspired Word of God he encountered a God of judgement who caused him to despair. Luther’s view of the Scriptures was radically changed through the inner work of the Holy Spirit. He was led to see, with joyful certainty, that in the same divinely inspired text there was what he called the heart of Scripture, the doctrine of justification, the cross of Christ, the heart of God. This gave Scripture its authority. In his Bondage of the Will Luther would say: “Take Christ from the Scriptures and what more will you find in them?” In 1534 Luther audaciously said: “If our adversaries argue the Scriptures against Christ, then we will argue Christ against the Scriptures.”

The importance of the work of the Holy Trinity

In his Large Catechism Luther outlined the true purpose of the salvific work of the Holy Trinity in the Creeds:

In these three articles God himself has revealed and opened to us the utmost profound depths of his fatherly heart, his sheer, unutterable love. He has created us for this very purpose, to redeem and sanctify us. Moreover, having bestowed upon us everything in heaven and on earth, he has given us his Son and his Holy Spirit, through whom he brings us to himself. As we explained before, we could never come to recognise the Father’s favour and grace were it not for the Lord Jesus Christ, who is a mirror of the Father’s heart. Apart from him we see nothing but an angry and terrible judge. But neither could we know anything of Christ, had it not been revealed by the Holy Spirit. (The Large Catechism: Creed Book of Concord {Tappert} 419: 63-65)

The primary purpose of including the three articles of the Creed is to establish a theological connection between the doctrine of justification by faith alone (Article IV) and the way God himself has revealed and opened to us the utmost profound depths of his fatherly heart, his sheer, unutterable love, thereby establishing a further connection between redemption and sanctification, based upon the Father’s favour and grace in Christ who is a mirror of the Father’s heart. There is a theological coherence in the way the reformers have organised the structure of The Augsburg Confession around this theological compass, namely, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  It can be anticipated that this theme will also be the central focus of Article V.

The importance of the office of the ministry

All throughout the Confessions we see how reliant and respectful the reformers were towards the Scriptures. In their theological perspective the Holy Trinity works through the means of grace, that is, the Word and sacraments in order to create saving faith.

To obtain such saving faith God instituted the office of the ministry that is, provided the Gospel and sacraments. Through these, as through means, God gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.  And the Gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merits of Christ, when we believe this. (Augsburg Confession Article V)

The wisdom required in knowing what is essential for salvation

Thereafter the Reformers were confident in evaluating the inspired text by examining the meaning of various scriptural passages (formal principle) in the light of the gospel (material principle). The Scriptures must not be interpreted in ways which disregard the gospel thereby burdening consciences, and the gospel must not be understood and used to divorce the work of the Holy Trinity from the Scriptures. This enabled them to conclude: this is necessary for salvation because it is necessary for the proclamation of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone, while this church tradition is not necessary for salvation and remains in the arena of the freedom of the gospel.  A careful distinction had to be made between doing those things which were essential for the proclamation of the gospel, namely, preaching the Word and administering the sacraments, and those things which lay in the arena of the freedom of the gospel, namely human traditions (Apology Article XIV). It naturally follows that the doctrine of justification by faith must become the centre of gravity for church unity.

For the true unity of the church it is enough to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies, instituted by men, should be alike everywhere (The Augsburg Confession Article VII).

 

The connection between the hermeneutical touchstone and preaching

For these reformers it was a matter of seeing clearly how a God of judgement and grace revealed himself and spoke a Word of Law and Gospel. The Holy Spirit is not only the author of the Word, the divinely inspired, inerrant sacred text (formal principle), but is also the witness to the cross of Christ in the Word (material principle). When the doctrine of justification for Christ’s sake through faith resonated in the proclamation of those ordained into the office of the ministry, when a clear distinction was made between Law and Gospel, then this indicated that God was at work in Christ through the Holy Spirit creating saving faith and producing good fruit and good works. When the distinction between Law and Gospel did not resonate in the proclamation of those ordained into the office of the ministry, then no matter how much reference was made to God and the inspired word, the end result was: another Christ was being preached. (2 Cor 11. 14)[2]

The hermeneutical compass

The reformer Melanchthon would show how the doctrine of justification worked as a theological compass for the reform movement in The Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article IV Justification. On that basis he writes:

All Scripture should be divided into these two chief doctrines, the law and the promises. In some places it presents the law. In others it presents the gospel of Christ: this it does either when it promises that the Messiah will come and promises forgiveness of sins, justification, and eternal life for his sake, or when in the New Testament, the Christ who came promises forgiveness of sins, justification, and eternal life. By Law, in this discussion we mean the commandments of the Decalogue.  (Apology IV 5, 6)

The two schools of thought in the LCA regarding ordination: the male-only interpretation of Article V; and, the gender inclusive interpretation of Article V

Diverse ways of interpreting and applying the same texts can result from a common affirmation that Scripture is the ‘divinely inspired, written and inerrant Word of God and the only infallible source and norm for all matters of faith, doctrine and life’ (Article II, LCA Constitution). Clearly, affirming the formal principle, does not guarantee consensus, as is all too clear in our LCA when we think of the two schools of thought regarding the ordination of women.

These two schools of thought do not result from a fundamental difference about the divine inspiration of the written and inerrant Word of God as the only infallible source and norm for all matters of faith, doctrine and life. This is evidenced in all the written material produced over the past thirty years. We can see a mutual and abiding love and a deep respect for the Word. The diligence and humility that has marked our exegetical journey through the Word examining this matter has been extraordinary in its depth, detail and scope.

Inseparable from the formal principle, yet in clear distinction from it, is the central message of the gospel, the forgiveness of sins, the cross of Christ, the joyful certainty of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone. Later Lutheran theologians would refer to it as the material principle. The Augsburg Confession Article V tells us God instituted the Office of the Ministry thereby providing the gospel and the sacraments in order that we may obtain this saving faith. At this point we do not find any difference in the two schools of thought in our LCA. Both agree that the Office of the Ministry is a gift from God for the purpose of proclaiming the Word and administering the sacraments in order to obtain justifying faith. There is mutual consensus about the centrality of the cross in the two schools of thought.

The Augsburg Confession Article V and Thesis VI paragraph 11

In addition to Augsburg Confession Article V Office of the Ministry, the Theses of Agreement VI par 11 utilises two texts 1 Cor 14:33b-38 and 1 Tim 2: 11-14 to support a male-only view on ordination. These texts are not referred to by the reformers throughout the Lutheran Confessions: The Augsburg Confession (1530) The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531) The Smaldcald Articles (1537) The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537) The Small Catechism (1529) The Large Catechism (1529) The Formula of Concord 1577). This is significant. Their central concern was not a gender issue in relation to the office of the ministry [3] but a pastoral theological issue: how does a person obtain this justifying faith they so eloquently described in Article IV, the kind of faith which brings forth the good fruit and good works they so eloquently praised in Article VI. Their answer is: Article V. The focus of Article V is the salvific work of the Holy Trinity, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit through the Word and sacraments.

In referring to two texts (1 Cor 14:33b-38 and 1 Tim 2: 11-14), Thesis VI par 11 is pointing to a scriptural foundation for the historic practice of male-only ordination by tracing it back to St Paul and Christ: in prohibiting the ordination of women the church is understood to obey a command of Christ. In the view of the male-only ordination school of thought, these two texts are to be interpreted as necessary theological additions to Article V. In this view, these texts are utilised to determine how Article V is to be understood and interpreted throughout the whole of Christendom. The formal principle is deeply respected in the way these texts, along with other passages, are quoted (Summary of arguments for the ordination of men only CTICR Final Report 2000).

Implications for the parish life of the LCA: the male-only school of thought

Thesis VI Par 11 is necessary for the ordination of male-only school of thought. It is a sine qua non, an indispensible and essential ingredient. There cannot be any compromise on this theological issue because: if a female is ordained then the Church has acted in disobedience to Christ. Furthermore, in this view a female pastor will desecrate the body and blood of Christ when she attempts to consecrate the bread and wine. In this view, a female pastor cannot properly or validly nurture the faith of the faithful because her ministry is invalid due to her disobedience to Christ’s command.  Indeed, in ordaining a woman, the church itself is acting in a way that is disobedient to Christ’s command.

For this reason the LCA Ordination Consensus Task Force Report 2009 was asked to research and investigate the validity of a believer’s faith if it is nurtured by female clergy (Recommendation 9c. 4). That such a question should be asked indicates that, in the male-only school of thought, the Holy Trinity cannot condone the ordination of a female pastor and will not work in a salvific manner through her ministry of Word and sacrament.

It follows from this approach that the good fruit and good works so eloquently described in Article VI cannot be nurtured by the Spirit of God because the Spirit of God cannot act in disobedience to the command of Christ. Therefore the fundamental importance of ordaining males only for this school of thought cannot be underestimated because the office of the ministry loses its validity when a female is ordained.

Furthermore, in this view the parishioners of a female pastor do not obtain the faith so eloquently described in Article V. They are not freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith. They are not received into favour with God. Their sins are not forgiven on account of Christ and their faith in Christ is not imputed as righteousness in the sight of God. God does not give her parishioners the gift of the Holy Spirit through the gospel and the sacraments. In this view, if an ordained female pastor baptises a child, then the baptism of that child is invalid because her Word and sacrament ministry are invalid on account of her disobedience to Christ and the Holy Spirit cannot disobey a command of Christ.

For this school of thought it is a matter of conscience and obedience to the command of Christ (Recommendation 6 SECTION 4 E). Consequently, male-only ordination is necessary for the ministry of salvation, the office of the ministry, because the efficacy of Word and sacrament ministry is annulled by disobedience to Christ’s command. In this view the material principle is not distinct from, but dependent upon the formal principle, that is, obedience to the written Word of God as recorded in the two texts cited in Thesis VI par 11 is required. In summary, the work of Christ is conditional upon obedience to the word of Christ as understood by this school of thought. A specific way of interpreting 1 Cor 14:33b-38 and 1 Tim 2: 11-14 defines what it is that must be obeyed.

At this point in time, it is not a matter of in statu confessionis for those who belong to the school of thought which advocates the ordination of women because the ordination of women is regarded as a matter of church practice and belongs to adiaphora. In this school of thought the validity and efficacy of the office of the ministry are dependent solely upon the work of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit alone through the Word and the sacraments.

However, if it is maintained that Thesis VI par 11 must be regarded as having the same status as the Creeds and Confessions for the future of the LCA, in other words as an article of faith by which the church will stand or fall (in statu confessionis), then we have entered new territory because, in the view of the male-only school of thought, Thesis VI par 11 is essential for both the validity and the efficacy of the office of the ministry. The ordination of males-only thereby becomes a third mark of the presence of the true church in the world.

The matter would certainly need re-examination because it discloses a fundamental difference between the two schools of thought which the search for consensus could never overcome or ignore as a core issue. The CTICR certainly would need to discuss such a theological development. The key question for the LCA is: Is Thesis VI par 11 necessary for the ministry of salvation, that is, for obtaining the faith and good works so eloquently referred to in Article V?

Implications for the parish life of the LCA: the gender inclusive school of thought

The formal principle is also significant for that school of thought in our LCA which supports the ordination of both men and women. The same respect, diligence and care for the meaning of the Scriptures are evident. (Summary of arguments for the ordination of women CTICR Final Report 2000 and, The Case for the Ordination of women – A Summary adopted by CTICR 26 May 2006.  In this 2006 document, Paragraphs 4-7 specifically deal with the foundational texts referred to in Thesis VI par 11. )

While it is clear that the two schools of thought both confess the ‘divinely inspired, written and inerrant Word of God … as the only infallible source and norm for all matters of faith, doctrine and life’ (Article II, LCA Constitution) nevertheless, the difference between the two schools of thought can be seen in their respective exegetical conclusions and their application for the life of the LCA.

These two texts are to be interpreted in the light of the whole Scripture, which is the inspired Word of God. Christ and the gospel he proclaimed are the heart and centre of the Scriptures. Their purpose and goal is that sinners be justified. For that reason Christ instituted the office of the ministry and calls people to serve as pastors in the church. To argue in this way is not to reduce Scripture to gospel alone, but to make the gospel and its proclamation the basis for the church’s practice (CTICR 2006 par 7).

In this school of thought St Paul’s statements are interpreted as pastoral statements for a particular context. They are not understood as a command of Christ for all times and places (CTICR2006 par5). Consequently, the validity and efficacy of the ministry of Word and sacrament are not dependent upon the ordination of men only, that is, dependent upon the gender of the ordained pastor, but solely dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit who works where and when he wills in those who hear the Law and the Gospel proclaimed, the message of justification by grace through faith in Christ.  The salvific work of the Holy Trinity is not conditional upon the specific interpretation of what it means to obey this command of Christ held by the male-only school of thought (1 Cor 14:33b-38 and 1 Tim 2: 11-14).

When all Scripture is interpreted within the compass of the formal principle and the material principle, it is seen that the salvific work of the Holy Trinity is conditional only upon: (i) preaching the gospel (ii) baptising people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and, (iii) celebrating the Lord’s Supper – “Do this in remembrance of me”. In this school of thought the weight falls on these commands which are essential to the Office of the Holy Ministry because through these means of grace, the Word and sacraments, God gives the Holy Spirit who works the gift of saving faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel (Augsburg Confession Article IV and V).

Thesis VI Par 11 is not necessary for the ministry of salvation in this school of thought. It is not an indispensible and essential ingredient for the office of the ministry. If a female is ordained then the Church remains faithful to its Lord. In this view a female pastor will not desecrate the body and blood of Christ when she consecrates the bread and wine. In this view, a female pastor properly and validly nurtures the faith of the faithful.  The good fruit and good works so eloquently described by the reformers in Article VI will be nurtured by the Spirit of God because the Spirit of God acts in conformity to the command of Christ to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. The office of the ministry of an ordained woman does not lose its validity and efficacy.

Furthermore, in this view the parishioners of a female pastor obtain the faith the reformers so eloquently describe in Article IV. They are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith. They are received into favour with God. Their sins are forgiven on account of Christ and their faith in Christ is imputed as righteousness in the sight of God. God gives her parishioners the gift of the Holy Spirit through the gospel and the sacraments. In this view, if an ordained female pastor baptises a child, then the baptism of that child is valid because her Word and sacrament ministry is validated by Christ, and the Holy Spirit works through the command of Christ to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.

The Augsburg Confession Articles IV, V and VI are understood to be theologically coherent and consonant not because of a teaching about ordination but because of the focus upon the salvific work of the Holy Trinity who chooses to work through the Word and sacraments freely justifying parishioners for Christ’s sake in those who hear the Gospel. What brings about the difference in the two schools of thought is the role which the formal principle and the material principle play in the formation of exegetical and pastoral conclusions. This is the issue that needs to be re-examined.

Some conclusions

This issue is of such significance that it should be a matter that is returned to the CTICR for examination. The work of the CTICR thus far has been helpful, enlightening as well as satisfactory because it has revealed to all of us how our theologians clearly respect the formal and material principle throughout their work, even though they arrive at different exegetical conclusions which have significantly different pastoral implications for the life of the LCA. It has made us aware of a critical matter for the whole church to prayerfully consider.

Those who have already worked so diligently and respectfully on behalf of the LCA must be given an opportunity to evaluate their work once more in view of the question:

Is the view of ordination expressed in Thesis VI par 11 necessary for the ministry of salvation, the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments?

It is clear Thesis VI par 11 expresses the historic tradition of the church in that it is utilised in support of the ordination of males only. It is also clear it was necessary for the union of the two Lutheran Churches in 1966. It now has become clear that the CTICR2000 Final Report and the subsequent Synods have revealed there are two schools of thought in the LCA which have arrived at different exegetical conclusions. These conclusions have significantly different pastoral implication for the life of the LCA. Our best theological minds from a cross-section of the membership of the LCA, both male and female, should be given this work to do. The CTICR not only fulfils those criteria because it has such a combination of theological expertise and a cross-section from the membership of the LCA. This is also a matter for consideration at all Pastors’ Conferences and District Synods because it concerns the future identity and direction of our LCA.

Finally, the supporters of the school of thought which advocates the ordination of men and women and who formulated the Resolutions put forward by St Peters believe that these Resolutions are consistent with making a distinction between the formal principle and the material principle for Lutheran hermeneutics. They are also consistent and in harmony with The Augsburg Confession Articles IV, V and VI. They emphasise the connection between the work of the Holy Trinity and the office of the ministry in Articles IV, V and VI. They distinguish between Law and Gospel when applying 1 Cor 14:33b-38 and 1 Tim 2: 11-14 to the life of the LCA and do so in the light of the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. They propose nothing at all that is contrary to the Lutheran Confessions. They are also respectful of LCA Constitutional processes which are synodical.

Consequently, it is not necessary for salvation that the LCA ordains males only for the office of the ministry. The validity and efficacy of the ministry of Word and sacrament in the LCA are not dependent upon the gender of the ordained pastor. Therefore a change can be implemented with regard to the practice of ordination in the LCA which is mindful and respectful of the importance 1 Cor 14: 33b-38 and I Tim 2: 11-14 have had for church order in the 1st century and throughout the history of the Christian Church including the various synods of the Lutheran Church which came to Australia. The resolutions are particularly mindful of the importance these texts had for those synodical discussions which led to the formation of the LCA in 1966.

These resolutions are not formulated on the basis of any feminist philosophy or sociological factors inherent in contemporary culture. They evidence no abandonment of scriptural authority. On the contrary a clear distinction is made between the formal principle which appreciates both the clarity and the complexity of the textual evidence, and the material principle. The resolutions also presuppose the centrality of the doctrine of justification for the life of the church which always requires us, as it did the reformers before us, to answer the fundamental question: What is necessary for salvation? In our time the same question appears in the form:

Is the view of ordination expressed in Thesis VI paragraph 11 necessary for the validity and efficacy of the ministry of salvation as formulated in The Augsburg Confession Article V?

How that question is answered will determine whether or not consensus is possible.

Neal Nuske


[1] Throughout this essay wherever the terms material principle and the formal principle are used, they will carry these meanings.

[2] The wisdom and capacity to make this distinction does not reside in the gender of the pastor.

[3] The gender issues confronting the reformers were significantly different and quite radical: celibacy in the priesthood and monastic orders, marriage and the priesthood, and, whether or not monks and nuns from the various monastic orders could marry.

 

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CTICR speaks – 2006

The Case for the Ordination of Women – A Summary

1 The Lutheran Church of Australia’s understanding of what Scripture has to say about the service of women in the church has changed over recent decades. A few years ago we thought that God’s will did not allow women to read lessons in church, to vote at congregational meetings and conventions, or to serve on the committees and councils of the church. Neither did we believe that God had given any women as gifts to serve the church by chairing congregations, being elders or assisting with the distribution of Communion. We did not accept God’s gift of women in these areas because we believed that this was required for us to be faithful to biblical truth.

2 The LCA no longer believes that women are excluded from these roles. Now we thank God for the women who serve in so many different roles in our congregations and church. After reexamining the scriptures we found that they did not support the positions we previously held. We submitted to the authority of Scripture and welcomed the service of women in new areas.
Faithfulness to God and his word demanded it.

3 If the LCA is going to remain faithful to God and his word in our time, we now need to take another step in this journey and recognise that, in spite of our previously held convictions, Scripture does allow the ordination of women. Those that support the ordination of women recognise that there is no biblical command to ordain women. In some eras and cultures the ordination of women would have been detrimental to the work of the gospel. But in our time and culture, faithfulness to Scripture leads us to support the ordination of women.

4 We begin with the current position of the church and say that the texts that have traditionally been used to exclude women from ever being pastors do not, on closer examination, say that. Secondly we need to recognise that Scripture as a whole allows women to be ordained.
In this brief paper we can only summarise the arguments without developing them in any detail. This has been done elsewhere.

5 The foundational texts (1 Cor 14:33b-38 and 1 Tim 2:11-14), on which the church has previously based its position, do not warrant the conclusions drawn from them. The point of these texts is as binding now as it was then, that is, that worship must be orderly. There is no clear indication that the ways in which order is to be maintained are binding on the church beyond the congregations of that time. We no longer require that women wear head coverings or that men have short hair. In the same way Paul’s statements in these texts are his pastoral response to the cultural situation in the 1st century and do not become laws for all times and places. In those days the behaviour of some women in worship caused offence and was a barrier to the proclamation of the gospel. Today our refusal to ordain women gives offence and is a barrier to that proclamation.

6 These two texts do not deal with the office of the ministry as it is understood today. They deal with the ordering of worship in the early church, which involved leadership by various people, including those directly inspired by the Holy Spirit, amongst whom were women. Thus women participated in leading worship. It was only later that essential functions of leading worship were confined to one office, an office that came to exclude women.

7 These two texts are to be interpreted in the light of the whole of the Scriptures, which is the inspired Word of God. Christ and the gospel he proclaimed are the heart and centre of the Scriptures. Their purpose and goal is that sinners be justified. For that reason Christ instituted the office of the ministry and calls people to serve as pastors in the church. To argue in this way is not to reduce Scripture to gospel alone, but to make the gospel and its proclamation
the basis of the church’s practice.

8 For the church to maintain its ban on the ordination of women in our day, it would need to clearly demonstrate that Scripture as a whole forbids women to be pastors. Anything less would not provide a sufficient basis for the church to refuse to receive suitably qualified women as gifts from God to serve as pastors of his church.

9 Christ chose twelve men to be apostles to testify to the resurrection and so represent the twelve tribes in the formation of the new Israel. But a precedent is not the same as a command. The rest of Scripture shows women functioning in many roles in the church. For example Deborah judged Israel, Junia is an apostle (but not one of the twelve), Priscilla took the lead in teaching Apollos, and the daughters of Philip (the evangelist) were prophets. Women pray and prophesy in the worship services of the New Testament church.

10 Both men and women are created in the image of God. It is no more logical to suggest that only the male gender can represent God the Father and Christ as pastors in the church, than it would be to say that only Jews can be pastors because Jesus and the twelve were all Jews.
Indeed, all such distinctions are irrelevant in the new creation, as Paul says,
for in Christ Jesus you are all the children [sons] of God through faith. As many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. [Gal 3:26-28]

11 The Church is a model of the new creation for the world, demonstrating to the world what God intends for his creation and what will finally be revealed when God unveils the new heavens and the new earth. The old order of creation is transformed ‘in the Lord’ (1 Cor 11:11). The church gradually abolished from its community the discrimination based on these distinctions. In New Testament times it resolved the Jew/Greek divide. Then Christians worked for the abolition of slavery. Finally, the church is tackling the exclusion of women from various roles in the church, including the office of pastor.

12 The Lutheran Confessions are clear that the validity and efficacy of the office of the ministry is dependent on the word of God alone; not, we conclude, on the qualities or gender of the pastor. Those who have been baptised by a woman are not re-baptised, nor do those, who in good conscience commune at an altar presided over by a woman pastor, eat and drink to their judgment.

13 The central concern, of both the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions, is that the good news of salvation be brought to all people in the most effective way possible. The church lives under the gospel in Christian freedom and is ‘gospel-centred’ not ‘law oriented’. That does not mean Christians are ‘free’ to disobey the law of God but that we are free to let our lives be shaped by the gospel and the missionary imperative so that all people may hear the good news.
Today the effectiveness of the church’s mission would be enhanced by having women serve as pastors. The LCA is therefore being urged to receive with thankfulness the gifted women that God is giving us to serve as pastors in our church.

14 The greatest concern is not that the LCA might cave in to the ‘spirit of the age’, but that we might allow non-essentials to stand in the way of the clear and effective communication of the gospel. Of course, we must be on our guard against the watering down of biblical doctrine through cultural pressure. The world does not define the gospel for the church. But it is also true that the church must be culturally sensitive and flexible in the way it communicates the gospel. Paul says
To the Jews I became a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law, so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel. [1 Cor 9:20-23]

15 The church is called to follow this example of Paul and be flexible in non-essentials for the sake of the gospel. The gender of the pastor is not essential to the message proclaimed, nor the validity and effectiveness of the ministry, and Scripture does not prohibit women from serving as pastors today. Our culture has moved on from the patriarchal societies of previous centuries to the extent that not having women pastors is now a barrier to mission.

16 In our time and in our society, faithfulness to Scripture requires the ordination of both women and men.
Adopted by CTICR 26 May 2006

 

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Allowing the LCA to repent

Edgar Mayer (from Facebook)

Edgar Mayer (from Facebook)

Dr Edgar Mayer shares his wisdom on the dilemma facing the LCA – women’s ordination in an paper entitled, Allowing the LCA to Repent (a doc).

He commences by quoting Dr Dean Zweck.

So what is the problem?  It’s a problem of great complexity, but the bottom line is that neither we ourselves, not anyone else, is going to hear the Word unless there is repentance. The first part of the Isaiah reading is actually a gracious invitation as well as stern reminder that it is time to repent. The time is now:

Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy upon them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

The history of the Christian movement shows that renewal always begins with repentance. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ cried John the Baptist in the wilderness (Matt 3:2). ‘Repent, and believe in the good news,’ are the first words on the lips of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. ‘When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent”, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance’—so states thesis one of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses.  We want our church to turn around, but nothing will change until we ourselves ‘turn around’—which is what the Hebrew word for repentance actually means. ‘Let them return to the Lord,’ says the prophet, ‘that he may have mercy upon them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.’

The following is Edgar’s summary of his paper.  The full paper can be found here.

  1. Nothing will change unless we repent.
  2. The LCA is built on the constitutional demand for unanimity in doctrine and uniformity in practice which leaves not much room for repentance because any repentance and ensuing change would threaten the LCA’s mandated unanimity and uniformity.
  3. In spite of our constitution and forty years of dedicated effort the LCA has not really achieved unanimity and uniformity in a whole range of theological matters, e.g.: creation issues, the role and authority of women in congregation and church both in terms of worship and leadership, the material and formal principles of Scripture, associate membership in the Lutheran World Federation and membership in the Australian Council of Churches …
  4. The General Synod in 2006 has brought us to a crisis point because even after two synodical votes (2000, 2006) our denomination remains split right down the middle when it comes to the question of women’s ordination which means that according to the LCA constitution we are now officially living in “sinful unionism” with ourselves.
  5. Since there is a growing awareness that another ten or twenty years of church debate would not help us to reach consensus in this matter, the way forward seems to be either to separate from each other or change our constitution to acknowledge and allow for the current diversity.
  6. Lutherans do not propose that there is a divinely mandated church structure. There can be varied denominational struc­tures depending on what serves congregations best. However, there can be no domineering leadership or coercion in faith matters because individual believers remain captive to the Word of God and for them “it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience”. Any leadership can only lead by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason and then pray that the Holy Spirit works his own conviction in the hearts of the hearers.
  7. The Theses of Agreement and the Document of Union themselves may be able to move the LCA forward forty years after her inception. There is an acknowledgement in these writings that according to Lutheran theology church unity is not based on oneness in doctrine and practice but oneness in Christ. First and foremost all Christians belong to the one church of Jesus Christ (una sancta) through their one faith in Christ. Then only as a secondary step Christians may consider forming denominations which in accordance with the basic oneness of Christians may accommodate some diversity within a given framework, i.e. the framework of the Lutheran Confessions, without creating the false impression of unanimous agreement in everything.
  8. We have to have a constitutional basis which allows for repentance and change. We have to have a constitutional structure which allows pastors and congregations to follow their conscience and obey the will of God. One option would be to organize ourselves as a Federation of Congregations or Federation of Districts which would then develop diverse streams of Lutheran expression within the one Federation. Other options can be considered.
  9. On our knees we will find unity.
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Karl Barth and literalism

Karl Barth

Karl Barth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Karl Barth said, “I take the Bible too seriously to read it literally.”

Proof-texting, literalism or fundamentalism, the same rose by different names, is not a helpful way to understand Scripture.   Clergy in the LCA, upon ordination, are forced to declare the Scripture as inerrant and infallible.  The alternative is exclusion from ordination, which is hardly an option after many  years of study. Those clergy who are uncomfortable with such narrow thinking are forced to metaphorically cross their fingers while the oath is taken.

About a third of the American populace takes everything the Bible says at face value, reading as they would a history or science textbook.  I don’t read the Bible this way, and can’t imagine doing so. Here are four reasons why: Ref  4 Good Reasons Not to Read the Bible Literally.  (David Lose from Huffington Post)

1) Nowhere does the Bible claim to be inerrant.   … (read more)

2) Reading the Bible literally distorts its witness. … (read more)

3) Most Christians across history have not read the Bible literally. … (read more)

4) Reading the Bible literally undermines a chief confession of the Bible about God.  … (read more)

Perhaps literalism is the biggest sin the LCA needs to confess.  Unless responded to with vigour it may mean that the Church will have virtually disappeared in 50 years time.   According to the current downturn in membership that is not such an absurd proposition.

Women’s ordination will arrive to the LCA.  The alternative is unthinkable. At that time members, leaders and congregations will discover the gentle joy of female pastoral care and begin to apologise for the way they kept women on the margins of the Church.

 

 

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Pr Mike Semmler announces his retirement

LCA-mike

President Rev Mike Semmler

Pr Mike Semmler has just announced that he will not stand again for the position of President of the LCA.

It is difficult to believe that this era of staunch resistance to women’s ordination may be over (2000-2013).  While there may always be people who are distressed by the idea of women’s ordination (though other churches’ experience is that concerns fade once people experience the pastoral care of women), there was no more an important position than that of President of the LCA in opposing women’s ordination.  The position was used to delay, stifle and ignore discussion in the CTICR and in the national journal, as well as cling to the Church’s ‘current position’, repressing further debate, thereby clinging to the current position.  How was change ever going to come unless there was open debate?

Of course, it remains to be seen who will stand for the position, but Synod delegates would presumably be twice shy about who it elects to this position, which, we have learnt, is an incredibly powerful one in guiding or sidelining issues within the Church.

Please include the election of our national president in your prayers.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in politics, women's ordination

 

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