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
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)