Norm Habel - Professorial Fellow at Flinders University in Adelaide, and a pastor of The Lutheran Church.
We are Lutheran! Our church and church leaders are Lutheran, a tradition of which we can be proud. We are not Roman Catholic, Reformed or Fundamentalists. We are Lutheran and that means we are guided by the Gospel principle.
The Gospel principle is that criterion by which we discern whether a teaching, a tradition, an interpretation, a course of action or a form of ministry is consistent with the message of the Gospel, the message that by the grace of God and faith in Christ, not obedience to the law or human works, we are liberated from our sins and born anew as children of God.
In popular terms the Gospel principle is encapsulated in the idiom, ‘Was Christum treibet!’ Whatever directs us to Christ, the message of Christ and the way of Christ, is to be our guiding principle. Christ is our compass not Moses. The Gospel is our guide not the law.
The Gospel announces the revelation that all human beings, both men and women, have been liberated from sin, from death and from the law as a way of salvation or of bonding with God. Both men and women are free from obedience to the law as a way of salvation and a binding relationship with God. To introduce a ‘law’ limiting the role of women in the church, is to limit the freedom they know in the Gospel and is a violation of the Gospel principle.
The Gospel embraces the call of Christ that all children of God, both men and women, are commissioned to proclaim the message of the Gospel in both word and sacrament. Any human ‘law’ which prevents women from proclaiming the Gospel, in whatever form, is a violation of the Gospel principle! Women, like men, have experienced the call of Christ to serve as his ministers. Preventing women from serving in the ordained ministry is a denial of a role to which Christ calls them.
The Gospel affirms the truth that Christ supersedes Moses, the Gospel supersedes the law. Any human institution that reverts back to those Mosaic laws which limit the ministry of women is not only regressive but also violates an essential dimension of the Gospel principle. Through Christ, women like men, have received the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit but are prevented from celebrating these gifts to the full by being denied, as were the women under Mosaic law, from celebrating the sacraments and preaching the Gospel as ordained women.
It is therefore appropriate that the church authorities apologise to those women who have been wounded by the practice of denying them ordination as servants of Christ through an ecclesiastical ‘law’ that is in conflict with the very Gospel principle we celebrate as Lutherans.
In 1955, when I graduated from Concordia Seminary and planned to study in America, I asked Henry Hamann senior whether I could be ordained even though I had no parish. ‘Yes, indeed!’ he said. ‘The rite of ordination as such’ he continued, ‘is a human institution.’
If ordination is not a rite specified by Christ but only a human institution, how can we possibly persist in denying women the privilege of ordination, an institution that violates the Gospel principle we uphold as Lutherans, and still call ourselves Lutheran?