Tag Archives: Martin Luther

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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Pr Maurice Schild writes to President Semmler

Pr Maurice Schild - ALC lecturer, 1970-2000

Pr Maurice Schild – ALC lecturer, 1970-2000

The following is a shared letter from Pr Maurice Schild to the President of the LCA.   It reacts to the increasingly hard edge against women’s ordination, which has come in the last generation or so.

President of the Church
Rev Dr Michael Semmler
197 Archer St, North Adelaide
SA  5006

Dear President Michael, and dear honoured members of the College of Presidents,

Many thanks, brother Michael, for your regular communication on synodical and other important church matters, also for your most recent epistle.  Thus you remind us again of the ordination issue and ‘the teaching of the church’.

In view of the long-lasting LCA stalemate on the question at issue, it is, in my opinion, ‘the ethics of the church’ that call for equal urgent attention.  People of good will are hurting very badly and are trying to keep faith.  Our church is suffering and is in danger of letting something become entrenched and endemic that has a perceived sharp edge of cruelty about it.  The fact that male forums and Pastors’ Conference decide whether their opinions are to be reviewed at synod and even voted on leaves one feeling that many voices cannot be heard, precisely because of the gender line – which is the very matter under question.  From outside this may well look like male structural buttressing to support male vested interests.  The problem has to this extent become ‘system immanent’, built in.  It will require bold leadership to break this open.  In this situation Luther’s word on the Galatians text deserves careful mulling over:

There we have the same faith, the same possessions, the same inheritance – everything is equal.  One could even say: He who is called as a man is a woman before God.  And she who is called as a woman is a man before God.  (LW 28,44)

As for Galatians 3, it took the church 18 centuries to see the radical earthly human rights implication of ‘neither slave nor free’, and that it wouldn’t and won’t do to simply go on quoting Ephesians 6:5 (‘Slaves obey your masters with fear and trembling’) at those who were/are deprived of rights and cruelly treated by the powerful. The very context thus suggests that ‘neither male nor female’ also implies more than spiritual sameness and unity.  Certainly, the real and down to earth implication of ‘neither Jew nor Greek’ is what the whole of Galatians is so polemically all about.  (If only the church had been alert and bold when they started applying the infamous ‘Arian paragraph’ in its very midst in our time.  No Jewish person could then be considered for ordination!  The disasters of going back to pure literalism for whatever reason, when the relevant vital implications of the Gospel have once been realised (as with Peter, Wilberforce, historical exegesis and church order), are enough to haunt the mind).

At this late stage, when a convincing, clear and compelling case against the ordination of women has not been made, an air of unreality has come up on the one hand; and among those still concerned, who haven’t lost interest, the matter is seen very much as an un/fairness issue.  Ordination of women takes nothing away from us males, nor from anyone; but it gives, and is additive to the cause of communicating the Gospel, it is explication of the fundamental ecclesial fact that women too are fully members of the priesthood of believers.  In the community of Jesus it can never be beneath the dignity of office or of high doctrine (if it were this) to attend to these matters of ethics, humanity and the ecclesiality of the baptised (this may be vastly different in other faiths, or even in papism). But we appear to be acting as if things were QED (Ed: “quod erat demonstrandum” – meaning ‘the matter has been proven’) when they are not.  In my opinion, we tend to act and speak – and need to stop acting and speaking – as if …

As if the exegesis of Scripture allowing for ordination of women has to be wrong;

As if the historical record were completely black on white over ‘200 years’ (as if nothing were known of Junia and Romans 16, leave alone a lot of later evidence);

As if the matter can be overcome by delay, and by discouraging open discussion as in The Lutheran (where, among the last letters permitted on the issue, one by your truly (but authors’ names were suddenly not printed!) very briefly indicates something of full female church involvement in early times);

As if the considered and reconsidered majority opinion of the LCA’s CTICR can simply be set aside.

Our context, I have no doubt you agree, demands anything but indifference.  We live in a land that is apparently largely deaf to the Word of God, a land that has been termed ‘the most godless place under the sun’ (Breward). The LCA needs to focus its efforts accordingly and to use all the people God gives us.  This religious situation could well constitute the precise context for the bold application of Luther’s other pertinent statement:

If the Lord were to raise up a woman for us to listen to, we would allow her to rule, like Hulda.

He has raised quite a few, and it is  hurting the Body to have them held silent.

The late moment, our mission in situ, and the hermeneutic embedded in Luther’s understanding of the Word of God in Scripture together represent what must be a pretty urgent call for the relevant change and the exercise of a good conscience in promoting it.  My reference to Luther refers especially to his Prefaces to the writings of the Bible, as well as a piece like How Christians should regard Moses (LW 35).  One difficulty we face is a kind of patterning which emerged with Kavel and Fritzsche, i.e. being divided or in tension over problems that had already been dealt with elsewhere (rightly so.  Who is concerned among us today as to what they even were, yet issues of chiliasm and scriptural- ‘apostolic’ legalism in matters of church order kept Lutherans in our land divided for so many decades); it seems that ordination of women may be another such matter.  Our Augsburg Confession should protect us: it’s great ‘satis est’ (Ed: ‘it is enough) makes clear what the determinative marks of the church are.  Others are not to be added thereto – for the sake of the Gospel and church unity.

I humbly submit these thoughts for your kind consideration and wish you well, in all ways, in your calling and work of leadership and guidance in the Church of God.

Yours sincerely and fraternally,

Maurice Schild     (7th October 2012)

(Ed: Emeritus Lecturer, ALC, 1970-2000)


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Four factors behind opposition to women’s ordination

Karen Bloomquist has served until recently as Director for Theology and Studies of the Lutheran World Federation.

Further to our thoughts on how context and history influence the way we interpret Scripture, (most recent post – Patriarchy in colonial Lutheran schooling) the following more scholarly synopsis is taken from Karen L. Bloomquist‘s article on women’s ordination in the ELCA.  She speaks of four factors leading to the opposition of women’s ordination.

[3] Where there is hesitation or opposition to ordaining women, four factors typically are involved:

1. HISTORICAL LEGACIES from churches and mission societies that first established and continue to support churches here in Africa. This especially includes interpretations of the Bible and ways of being church that they have passed on, sometimes in opposition to positions of their own churches. Such interpretations deeply affect how we read Scripture to legitimize positions that may have been arrived on other grounds. As Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro has written:Whether or not to ordain woman has depended largely on the practices, visions and wish of the ‘mother church,’ as well as the local perception of leadership in society, access to theological education, and interpretation of received traditions.

2. TRADITION – what is customary in a society or a church, which of course for much of church history has not included women as pastors. Theological or biblical arguments against the ordination of women typically are lodged here. However, in the New Testament, there are many accounts in which Jesus over-turned traditions and practices of his time, especially in how he an observant Jew related to women. Similarly, Martin Luther freed people from being bound to tradition, as represented by the Catholic Church of the time, especially when tradition hindered being faithful to God’s freeing Word of the gospel. Since the Reformation, basing something on “tradition” has been theologically suspect for Lutherans.

3. CULTURE is often set forth as a reason for not ordaining women. Certainly it is important that the gospel be inculturated or contextualized in a given culture. A culture sustains a people and therefore is good, but it also can protect or legitimize sinful practices, such as excluding or abusing those who are female. Those who are abused by cultural assumptions and practices usually are not those who defend the factor of “culture.” For Christian, culture can never be the last word, but is continually being transformed in light of the gospel.

4. GENDER refers to expected roles for women and men that are constructed and reinforced through culture. This is also reflected in many passages of Scripture, in which male-dominant gender understandings prevailed in patriarchal cultures that were the context when these passages were written. The problem is that these assumptions about the relationships and appropriate roles between males and females — which are human constructions — often are mistaken as being the will of God for all time.

via Ordaining Women Goes to the Heart of the Gospel – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

 Karen Bloomquist’s four factors could be used to explain why some Australian immigrants return to live in their country of origin, but then discover that it is not the same place and often fail to make the transition successfully.  Many of them reverse their decision and return to Australia, deciding finally to be one with Australia.

An evolving culture will not always be comfortable for everybody, but it is, at least temporarily, a fact of life.  In Christian faith, our challenge (like Australian immigrants) is to find roots in that evolving culture or fade away in despair through lack of connection.  It is always our choice.

What culture have you found yourself adapting to? What has been challenging and what has been liberating?

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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in history, politics, sociology, women's ordination


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Speaking from experience

Sophia escapes – by the naked pastor

We quote a senior pastor of the church.  He responds to a number of issues raised.

Those supporting women’s ordination have been accused of impatience, that their protests have been untimely and that they should wait for the process to play itself out.  Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebhuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that equality is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in any action that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from lack of equality. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of women with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see,  that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

I had also hoped that those between the poles of the debate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for women’s ordination. I have just received a letter saying, “All Lutherans know that the Church will ordain women eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.  Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of people willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of equality and transform our pending LCA elegy into a creative psalm of gender equality. Now is the time to lift our Church policy from the quicksand of gender injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

I have talked to several people who have said that they believe women should be ordained. However, they don’t want to fight the issue because it’s merely a distraction and there are more pressing matters such as saving the lost. Others say they don’t want to risk offending Lutherans in other parts of the world. Even others add that we should let the consensus process play itself out. They always end with their belief that the church will eventually ordain women so let’s just not worry about it now.

You will see certain church leaders trying to paint those, who wish for women’s ordination to happen now, as taking an extreme position that is out of harmony with the rest of Lutheranism. However, though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?  Perhaps the LCA is in dire need of creative extremists.

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of many, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for this century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than equality, I beg God to forgive me.

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Celebrate our 487th Wedding Anniversary – 13th June 1525

When we were young

We would like to invite our friends to join us in celebrating our 487th wedding anniversary, 13th June 1525.

According to Wikipedia, on 13 June 1525, we were engaged, with Johannes Bugenhagen, Justus Jonas, Johannes Apel, Philipp Melanchthon and Lucas Cranach the Elder and his wife as witnesses. On the evening of the same day, we were married by Bugenhagen. The ceremonial walk to the church and the wedding banquet were left out, and were made up two weeks later on 27 June.

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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in women's ordination


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When should congregations refuse to play the conservative game? Reflections on Gen.Synod 2006

Martin Luther

Luther worked within the structures of the Catholic Church to convey his understanding of Scriptures, but when continually hitting immovable walls conscience dictated his actions. Perhaps the LCA has operated from fear that conservative congregations would break from the LCA if women’s ordination was approved.  Little thought, however, has been given to the possibility that moderate congregations would break away after suffering the closing down of the discussion.

When is it time to step away from an abusive Church?  How long should congregations suffer the manipulation of democratic processes?

The following is Tanya Wittwer’s reflection after General Synod in 2006.  The despair she expresses from that time is evident again in our Church as we lead up to General Synod in April of 2013.  There is significant expectation of change.  Members and congregations of this Church are not content to forever suffer diversions and stalling.

From the beginning of the proceedings it was apparent that the leadership had decided to keep a tight lid on Synod.  The first woman to speak asked that one of the two nominees for the position of President share his vision for the church, prior to the election; the incumbent had just delivered his report and it seemed reasonable to be able to at least have heard from each of them.  This request (repeated by another woman the following day) was immediately denied.

The ordination question was clearly established as something to be debated from opposing sides, rather than an issue that could be discussed collegially.  On the Monday evening of Synod there was an “information evening” at which two seminary professors had been chosen to speak for 25 minutes – one presenting the position that only men could be ordained, and the other responding.  Unfortunately it was the No position that established the parameters of the “information” presented.  In the format chosen and the time limit given there was no opportunity to address bigger questions of Biblical interpretation, or faithful decision-making.  The chair contributed negatively to the debate, with a long, heavy-handed introduction, and unhelpful remarks.

The chair had been clear in his direction that only Scriptural and theological issues were to be addressed, but this did not prevent some of the anti-lobby using manipulative anecdotes and sweeping statements to support their arguments.  The style of “debate” meant that there was no opportunity to respond to these.  When the chair declared that only those waiting to speak would be given an opportunity, and no more were to go to the microphones, the balance was such that the final five speakers were against the ordination of women.  The chair urged people to abstain from voting if they had any doubts at all, or if they thought the time was not yet right.  Then the votes were cast.

I felt surprisingly free.  I felt free to leave the LCA, and join another denomination.  The reaction surprised me, but it felt as if the part of the race I needed to run was complete, and it was time to hand the baton over.  I was overwhelmed by the people – many of them strangers – who thanked me for my words, and shared their sadness.

When I woke on Wednesday morning, I had moved to a position of feeling free … to stay, at least for a while. To stay and to support others in being the church we believed we needed to be, even if this meant pushing boundaries. The nice, polite, official way of doing things seemed unhelpful; maybe now is the time to forget being “good.” We need to name clearly the legalistic turn in our church. We need to work against the pressure being applied by Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the International Lutheran Council (ILC). We need to find ways to proclaim more loudly God’s inclusive grace.

via GENERAL LCA SYNOD 2006 — “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc 1:9) | Women’s Ministry Network – Tanya Wittwer (6 October 2006)


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The Radical Luther – Basil Schild

Pastor Basil Schild

“He who is called as a man is a woman before God. And she who was called as a woman is a man before God.”

So writes Luther in 1523, commenting on Galatians 3:28:

“For things will be as St. Paul says in Gal. 3:28:  ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ There we have the same faith, the same possessions, the same inheritance—everything is equal. One could even say: He who is called as a man is a woman before God. And she who was called as a woman is a man before God.”

In a time when some sections of medieval society were still debating whether women had souls, Luther’s understanding, that in Christ women and men were not only equal, but received from Christ the same possessions and the same inheritance, to the extent that before God it doesn’t matter if you are called a man or a woman, was a direct challenge to both the social and religious attitudes of his day. The resulting Lutheran Reformation had a direct impact on raising the status of women in medieval society.

In 1528, commenting on 1 Tim 2:15, Luther declares:

“If the Lord were to raise up a woman for us to listen to, we would allow her to rule, like Huldah”

10 years later, in 1537, commenting on Jesus love for the poor and outcast he notes:

“…He might even select poor harlot Mary Magdalene as a disciple”

And nearly 500 years before modern debates, as he wrestles with his understanding of the role of pastors, what they do,  who they are, and how they relate to his understanding that all believers are actually in reality priests; he speaks of women being able to baptize:

“So when women baptize, they exercise the function of the priesthood legitimately, and do it not as a private act, but as a part of the public ministry of the church..”

And he continues:

“…A woman can baptize and administer the Word of life, by which sin is taken away, eternal death abolished, the prince of the world cast out, heaven bestowed; in short by which the divine majesty pours itself forth through all the soul.”

Luther includes women in what he considers to be the Church’s greatest role:

“…To baptize is incomparably greater than to consecrate bread and wine, .. it is the greatest office in the church—the proclamation of the Word of God.”

It may be argued that Luther  did not campaign for women’s ordination and that he supported a male pastorate, but his passion, and his challenge of the cultural prejudice against women of medieval times ought to be noted and celebrated. Not only did Luther recognize the way God blesses the world through women, he was even prepared to speak of God with feminine imagery: In the year 1529 he talks of  “The breasts of the Holy Spirit”

Why?  Luther is reflecting on the beautiful imagery in Isaiah, of God as a mother, comforting her children.

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Posted by on January 19, 2012 in history, theology


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