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A reply to Pr John Kleinig

 

australian lutheran college

Australian Lutheran College, Nth Adelaide

Pr John Kleinig, who is possibly the LCA’s key figure in opposing women’s ordination, has had a significant influence over Seminary (male) students, and therefore over the LCA.   His influence at ALC, along with that of Pr Andrew Pfeiffer, is highly strategic within the LCA, in the continued denial of women’s call to the ordained ministry.

While Kleinig is a highly respected theologian in traditional quarters, his loyalty to Luther’s courage of questioning Catholic status quo has no such credibility.   Kleinig has little enthusiasm for the Protestant tradition of grappling with continued revelation of Gospel truth.  Rather, his approach is one of elevating and delving deeper into tradition, focussing on fatherhood, and in doing so, hoping to find reason that contemporary Christians should forego modern means of worship and changing attitudes to groups in society.  Kleinig, not unlike the Amish, clings to traditions from ages past and gives them a status that Luther surely never intended.  Sadly, he has done a disservice to the LCA in its struggle to maintain relevance with contemporary society and its ever decreasing numbers in congregations and support for mission.

The following paper, Is the ordination of women church divisive? shows Kleinig’s approach to doctrinal matters and how he works for unity with Catholic tradition rather than honour those women who are called to serve as pastors within the LCA.

The reprinted paper below has my comments interspersed.

IS THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN CHURCH DIVISIVE?

John W Kleinig (date unknown)

1.     Confessionally speaking, it is true that those who advocate the ordination of women are not heretics. They may teach false doctrine, but they do not deny the Triune God and so sever themselves from the body of Christ.

K+M: No, those advocating women’s ordination do not teach false doctrine. In 1999 the Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relationships (CTICR) found, with a 2/3 majority, after a decade of study, that there was no theological objections to the ordination of women.  Again in 2006, with a 2/3 majority they reached the same conclusion.

2.     They do not thereby deny the teaching of our Lutheran confessions, but they do reject the confessional basis of the LCA as contained in the TA. On this level such a move would be divisive, for it would separate those who are committed to this as the confessional and legal basis for the LCA and its ministry from those who had departed from it.

K+M: Each denomination which has ordained women has stories to tell of the threats of church division prior to the event.  The reality is, when women are ordained, that they become a blessing for the church, often in the context of male systemic and domestic violence, and opponents are mostly won over.

3.     Ecumenically, it would be divisive in two ways. It would separate the LCA from the church catholic and the orthodox tradition from the early church until modern times. We would therefore move away from those churches which adhered to that tradition and align ourselves with unorthodox Protestant groups. We would ourselves forfeit the right to be catholic and become a sect. We would, of course, thereby separate ourselves from those Lutheran and Protestant churches which continued to uphold the orthodox teaching on ministry and the catholic practice of it.

K+M: It seems to me that this is the crux of Kleinig’s objection.  It is his heart-felt conviction that the Catholic tradition is something that we need to return to.  The question for the rest of us is whether or not we wish to become Catholics or adhere to the tradition that Luther laid out before us.

4.     It would inevitably lead to divisions within each congregation of the LCA. Every call meeting would lead to a battle between those who wanted to call a woman and those who did not. If a congregation did appoint a woman as a pastor, those who conscientiously rejected her authority would either have to leave or stay away from any services led by her. Every woman pastor would constantly face theological challenges to her authority from her opponents and so need to justify her position in the congregation.

K+M: The experience of other churches is that initial reservations are mostly overcome in the first few years through the pastoral care that these women give in times of need.

She in turn would be unable to exercise proper pastoral authority to maintain the divine unity of the congregation.

K+M: Pastoral authority is not male authority.  It is that given by the crucified Jesus, based on love and forgiveness.  Gender logic is a strange thing.  It is exclusive language, deeming women to ‘otherness’ and thereby disallowing them any right of reply.  ‘Otherness’ can play no part in Christianity.  It may play a part in patriarchy, tradition and conservatism, and certainly does play a part in sexism, racism, and homophobia, but it can never play a part in Christianity, where Jesus lays his life down for each of us in order that we are all brought to the fullness of new life and empowerment in the risen Christ.

5.     It would be liturgically and sacramentally divisive. Those who rejected the ordination of women would not in good conscience receive the sacrament from a woman pastor. They would therefore be excluded by the church from the sacrament and the fellowship created by participation in it. If they did receive the sacrament from her, they would do so with a bad or uneasy conscience, for they could not be sure that the sacrament was valid, since, for them, it had not been administered as Christ had commanded. They would therefore be deprived of its comfort and subject to the accusation and condemnation of the evil one.

K+M: Once again other churches would beg to differ. In the end the issue is not a liturgical or sacramental division but one of culture and tradition.  There are endless stories from those who can attest to the comfort received and the grace conveyed through women clergy.  The matter is an experiential one, where one at a time we experience Christ through the witness of a woman in a pastoral position, and one at a time are convinced of God’s calling to women.

6.     It would be synodically divisive. If a woman became a president, all the pastors who opposed the ordination of women would either refuse to recognise her or leave that district. People who rejected the ordination of women could not participate in any synodical service where a woman was giving the absolution, preaching, or presiding at communion. It would lead to the withdrawal of congregations from synod and the establishment of independent congregations – perhaps even districts- opposed to this doctrine and practice.

K+M: While there are many clergy who oppose women’s ordination, this is in no small way due to the influence that Kleinig and Pfeiffer have had at ALC over many years.  I understand that Kleinig has considerable charisma and influence, which would make it challenging for any student to resist his influence over years. It is interesting to note that Pfeiffer was theologically progressive before studying at Fort Wayne Lutheran Seminary, Missouri Synod, in the USA.  On his return to Australia, his theology was that of the conservative Missouri Synod.

Kleinig was also ‘outed’ on the anti-women strategies used when one of his letters to a Missouri Synod group was published on the internet, revealing the manipulation that had occurred at Pastor’s Conference in 2006.

It is not surprising that there may be synodical division, but Kleinig and Pfeiffer will need to take some responsibility for that.  Congregational withdrawals from the LCA may be inevitable.  If we ordain women some congregations may withdraw, and if we refuse to ordain women some congregations may withdraw.  We will need to deal with that, but as the years pass members will find the grace of God is conveyed as efficaciously as before and perhaps, even more so because the majority of our membership are women, who often communicate more deeply with another woman.

There should be no compromise on women as presidents or bishops.  To do so is having a bet each way on God’s grace.  If there is no objection to female clergy there can be no objection to female presidents.

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Posted by on November 12, 2010 in sociology, theology

 

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