RSS

Tag Archives: theology

In response to Doug

Tanya and others at Synod 2013

Tanya Wittwer (fourth from the left)

Tanya Wittwer writes in reply to Doug, in the last post.

In a comment on a previous posting, Doug asked Karin, “Karen what do you mean God Him/Herself . Where do you get that idea from God is a she (sic). Yes you would like that wouldn’t you.”

None of the names and words we have for God can describe the totality of God, and perhaps none accurately describe any of the characteristics of God. The love of God is surely of a totally different dimension than love we can know as human beings.  The strength of God bears no relation to human strength. So all we have are metaphors.

Just a week or two back, the lectionary Gospel for the day included one of Jesus’ images for a searching God: the woman searching for the lost coin.  The church has had no difficulty in the images either side of this one (Luke 15:3-10 the caring shepherd, Luke 15:11-23 the waiting father), but the image of Luke 15:8-10 is rarely found in artwork, prayer or language for God.

The Hebrew Scripture reinforces the idea that God is beyond gender, with the words for the Holy Spirit (Ruach Hakodesh) and for God’s visible presence (Shekinah) being feminine terms. It is unfortunate that the English language does not make it easy for us to talk about God in language that avoids gendering.

One strong biblical feminine image is that of God the birthing creator.  In Isaiah 42:14, God says, “like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant,” and in Deuteronomy 32:18b “You forgot the God who gave you birth.” Often feminine and masculine images of God are found side by side, as in Job 38:28,29. Other passages portray God as the mother feeding her young, caring for her young children, cleaning us, clothing us, wiping away our tears (Isaiah 66:13). Matthew and Luke report Jesus’ longing to gather God’s people, as a hen gathering her chickens under her wings.

The incarnation was into a male body. But Jesus’ gender does not limit the Word to male embodiment.  The Word became human to save all humanity, and call all humanity into the reality of God’s reign, where we are united as one in Christ regardless of gender (Galatians 3:28).

One of the difficulties of the church having used only male language for God is that it seems many forget that our words reflect only images of God, and instead fall into the idolatry of creating God in the image of man.  Male naming and identification becomes part of legitimating the oppression of women.  Scripture tells us that “God created the earth creature [adam] in God’s own image, in the image of God they were created: male and female God created them.” (Genesis 1:27 – my translation). An important aspect of my pastoral work is inviting women to know clearly that they, too, are created in God’s image.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Hermeneutics, theology, women's ordination

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The bitter truth

Just as in the case of slavery, women’s suffrage or anti-Semitism, those people currently blocking women in the LCA from ordination (or perhaps their descendants) will one day claim that they weren’t to know any better.  They will assert, just as those who apologise for the torture of Galileo in his support for the Copernican understanding of the Solar System, that the level of knowledge in society was insufficient for them to understand how much they had erred.

It seems to us that no-one can know all things and so ignorance should not be condemned.  However, in Jesus we have the principle of love, which guides who we are, what we say and how we act.  This principle guides us in how we interact with our loved ones and adversaries.  It is a principle that would have us embracing each other in our hurts and disagreements.  It is a principle that would have us working to respect and build up our adversaries, while clinging to our own beliefs.  If we cannot do this what can we take from Jesus, apart from personal piety?  If that’s what it is to be Christian, we shall be called shallow indeed.

The small clip from Intelligence Squared makes the point succinctly.

Here is the full debate on whether the Catholic Church is a force for good.  Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry argue passionately that the Catholic Church is not a force for good.  They are both atheists and argue convincingly that the Catholic Church has much to answer for.  We’ll leave it to the reader to find relevance for the LCA

If the Church is to be a force for good it needs to be leading the way, reconciling adversaries, living with difference, living with tension, accepting contradictions, embracing multiculturalism, embracing different metaphors for the Creator God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and living with different perspectives on the place of women within the LCA.

We cannot hope that this issue will disappear.  It’s not going to happen.  Would Jesus tell his sisters to be silent?  There is only one option.

Equality will continue to be an issue until it is so complete that it ceases to be an issue.

 
20 Comments

Posted by on September 17, 2013 in politics, sociology, women's ordination

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Choosing hell over a misogynist heaven

sense

We would not worship a God who is misogynist.  It doesn’t make sense.  It doesn’t matter what verses anyone may provide as proof – it just doesn’t make sense that God is misogynist.

We are not interested in arriving in heaven to find that women somehow have a different role. We would refuse to participate with cliques, patriarchs, theocracies, boys’ or girls’ clubs or tradition.

We are interested in equality before God.

But, you insist, the Bible doesn’t allow leadership from women.  While we disagree, we do concede that there are verses that can be used to sustain an argument to support your thesis. So, how do we arrive at consensus on this divisive issue?  We don’t, for the time being – we should just live with each other, despite the tension. Agree to disagree. Grow together, over the generations.

This issue need not divide us, like the many other issues that we rarely highlight, but on which we disagree.  For instance, we rarely talk about or expect miracle healing, speaking in tongues, the handling of scorpions (Luke.10.19), the drinking of poison and the handling of snakes (Mark 16:18)… and so on.  They are contentious and too strange, too divisive or too confusing.

Then there’s the ‘texts of terror’ in the Old Testament that we can’t attribute to the will of God. We just don’t believe that God condoned the terror in the Old Testament: the slavery, the abuse, the rape, the murder, the racism …  We don’t name the violence for what it is.  We avoid the issue.  It need not divide us.

We have a God who is much larger than we imagine: more loving, more compassionate, more gifting, more affirming, more justice-centred than we might ever imagine.  Let’s not bicker on our understanding, for, by any measure, our understanding will presumably be sadly incomplete.

Whatever the reason, the LCA, in its youthful almost adolescent years, has clung to simplistic Biblical understandings and literal translations.  Increasingly over the years, many of us have confessed certain things but experienced a growing unease with the position of the Church. It is time to bring our beliefs and theology into harmony.  It is time to embrace a larger theology, a larger view of God and a larger view of each other.

It is with thanks that we celebrate the installation of Bishop John Henderson, who has declared that his ministry will be one of listening. Only in allowing space for voices to be heard is there any possibility that the LCA will be able to respond faithfully to the issues of today, and the concerns of those who come its doors.

Reference and inspiration    Bishop Desmond Tutu

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“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

 
4 Comments

Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Hermeneutics, theology

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

God talks through a burning bush and a donkey

donkey

God speaks through a donkey

It still astonishes me that people who believe that God can speak through a burning bush or a donkey insist he can’t speak through an educated, articulate passionate woman. —Michael Frost

We are astonished that some thinking people insist that a book, or text, written thousands of years ago must be literally true in every phrase and word.

Regardless of divine inspiration, every phrase and word had to be ‘heard’ by humans, interpreted by humans and written on paper by humans.  These were sinful humans, like you and us, who lived in a certain culture, at a certain time, and who had a certain purpose in writing those words down.

Perhaps it would be useful to look into what some of those purposes may have been.  Perhaps we might get an insight into the intent and meaning of the author by understanding who the author was and what the social and political context was.  What were the threats to society?  Who had the power?  What authority did the religious leaders have?  Were there people who were stepping out of line?  Were there people who needed convincing of orthodoxy?  What did the authors have to gain if people accepted the text?   Who stood to win power, and who stood to lose power? Who stood to gain prestige? Answers to everyone one of these might give us insight into the text.

For us, we don’t think that the donkey story holds water. However, we trust that the story underneath does, because it is a part of Scripture.  What is the story underneath?  Let’s look at all those questions and then let’s talk about it.

Now, in regards to women, let’s trust that God is big enough to get past our simple understandings, and lets share God’s word in whatever ways the Spirit moves.

Final word for today in response to the opening quote:

What scares me even more is that they will allow these articulate, passionate, educated women (to) teach little children with innocent impressionable minds but will not engage with them themselves
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The President disallows debate on women’s ordination

Yesterday, at General Synod, the President again imposed his will on the LCA.  He has been true to his word that women’s ordination would not occur on his shift.

After the recommendation coming from General Pastors’ Conference that women’s ordination should be discussed at General Convention, that is exactly what occurred.  Pr Semmler had to allow discussion because of this resolution, but that’s all it was – a discussion.

To begin with, he gave the floor to a couple of men from the Dialogue Group on forming consensus to report on their progress, but they offered nothing to help delegates in their deliberations.  The main thing they reported was that they had to learn to listen to each other.

In the ‘discussion’ conservative pastors knew that they didn’t need to speak. This is also attested to by the fact that a conservative pastor commented to a youth on Sunday at NOVO (youth camp) that they (conservative pastors) had figured out a way to get around the women’s ordination issue.  Around 18 people spoke in favour and 3 or 4 spoke against.

After Pr Semmler distributed one of his epistles to the Church against women’s ordination, the ‘discussion’ was brought to an end with the declaration that Pr John Henderson was the successful candidate for the position of bishop (nomenclature voted on earlier in the afternoon).   (Tues morning, Greg Pietsch was announced as the new Assistant Bishop.)

The following now need to be considered as we discern how the Holy Spirit would have us act:

  • the disregard for laity,
  • the lack of transparency,
  • the refusal to debate St Stephen’s motion,
  • the refusal to allow a vote,
  • the refusal to facilitate the will of delegates,
  • the dishonest claim that “in effect it is the people in the pews, rather than church leaders, who determine the direction of our church”,
  • the duplicitous communication from Pr Semmler,
  • the sly sidelining of an issue that is important to the vast majority of members (not just delegates), and
  • the hypocritical use of Where Love Comes to Life as a General Convention theme.

The manipulation by Pr Semmler is so similar to that of Pres. Robert Preuss in the LCMS who took control of the St Louis seminary that used historical-biblical research to inform their thinking. (You can guess that the conservatives wanted to use Scriptural literalism as their only source of inspiration.)  That piece of history, which led to Seminex (seminary in exile) is reported in Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity by James Burkee.  The following is a review from Amazon.com

Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod follows the rise of two Lutheran clergymen – Herman Otten and J. A. O. Preus – who led different wings of a conservative movement that seized control of a theologically conservative but socially and politically moderate church denomination (LCMS) and drove “moderates” from the church in the 1970s. The schism within what was then one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States ultimately reshaped the landscape of American Lutheranism and fostered the polarization that characterizes today’s Lutheran churches.Burkee’s story, supported by personal interviews with key players and church archives sealed for over twenty years, is about more than Lutheranism. The remaking of this one Lutheran denomination reflects a broader movement toward theological and political conservatism in American churches – a movement that began in the 1970s and culminated in the formation of the “Religious Right.”

In closing we note how the resistance to women’s participation in the LCA is dominated by clergy.  The following comment from Burkee about the LCMS equally applies to the LCA, “Through (their) inability to draw lay support to the conservative movement’s delegate- and convention-focussed strategy, the movement’s Pyrrhic victory had little to do with lay support.”
 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Women’s Ordination to be debated at General Convention

For today just the bones.

General Pastors’ Conference last week discussed the topic of women’s ordination. There was a small majority vote that Pastors Conference recommends to General Convention that women’s ordination be discussed.

Today, Monday 22nd April, at approximately 3:30pm Adelaide time, women’s ordination will be discussed.

Your prayers are appreciated for a transparent and forward looking debate ‘where loves come to life’.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Women’s ordination resolution rewritten

Screen shot 2013-04-10 at 11.35.21 PM

Ah, don’t you love the intrigue!

The president’s newsletter just received advice that the GCC resolution on the ordination of women has been changed:

(from the President’s Page 10th April)
It has been noted that a draft proposal for Synod agenda item 2.4 Report from the Consensus on Women’s Ordination Dialogue Group was incorrectly printed on pg 28 of the Book of Reports. Please replace this with the correct proposal as follows:

2.4 BE IT RESOLVED that the Church:

  • receive the progress report of the Ordination Dialogue Group;
  • supports continued study of the matter of hermeneutics (the interpretation of scripture) arising from the October 2011 symposium on this topic;
  • supports study of what consensus means, for the sake of unity in the LCA as a confessional church
  • request GCC to ensure that a report with recommendations be presented to both GPC and the next Synod

Here is what the earlier version said:

2.4 BE IT RESOLVED that the church adopt the following approach to the question of the ordination of both genders:

  • Receive the interim report of the Dialogue Group studying consensus on this issue
  • Request the Dialogue Group continue their work
  • Address the hermeneutic question arising from the a symposium convened by the Church in October 2011
  • Study and present to the Church what ‘consensus’ means in our confessional church.
  • On completion of the above, place the matter before either the Commission on Theology and Inter-church Relations, or another group of theologians of the Church as appointed by the College of Presidents in agreement with the General Church Council, for study by the pastorate and the laity of the church and as per the Syndocal process place it back on the agenda of synod if that is the wish of the Church.

The revised motion seems to indicate, amongst other things, that the Dialogue Group is to be terminated and that the side-stepping of CTICR is to end. Note how the reference to CTICR or another group of theologians has been deleted.  Pr Mike Semmler for some years has side-lined CTICR when it does not bring down recommendations that he supports.  He has therefore done his best to minimise their impact.

It seems to us that the President’s advisors have pulled him into line.  Perhaps the time has come for them when enough is enough.   Who knows?

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Women of the Bible

Screen shot 2013-04-04 at 9.19.42 PM

The following brochure has been prepared by the All Saints group on behalf of the LCA clergy and laity who support the ordination of women in the LCA For further information on the theological arguments for women’s ordination and motions submitted by St Peters and St Andrew’s for the 2013 LCA General synod please go to www.wmn.org.au

The brochure is a summary of CTICR, 2005. ’A Case for the ordination of women and men’, Lutheran Journal of Theology, 39/1,37-56.

A4 Women of the Bible    Women of the Bible A3

As we seek the will of God for the role of women in the church, let us consider the witness of scripture as a whole. The sacred texts of the OT and NT record stories of many women who actively worked for the kingdom of God, who were given authority over men, and who proclaimed the gospel of Jesus. Here we highlight examples of women who acted confidently in particular situations and who fulfilled roles similar to those taken by men. 1.  More: Women of the Bible

A4 Women of the Bible    Women of the Bible A3

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: