Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Women Pastors in the LCMS?

Probably not that far off thanks to renewed publicity from the far left in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. While the convention this time around did not take on the issue of women in the church (as it did famously in '04 by opening all church offices except the pastoral office to women), a recent article in the online DayStar Journal indicates that the time is right to bring the topic back to the forefront of synodical discussion.

In "Let's Include Women in the Pastoral Office," Pastor Karl Wyneken represents a paper originally written for the group Voices/Vision in the 90's in which he defends the practice of women in the pastoral office. According to the editor/author: "When this article was published previously in Voices/Vision, a complaint was filed against him; he received a visit from high officials in the synod and was virtually told to be silent on the matter." Now that the synodical leadership has been substantially changed over the last three years, it appears that there is a new openness to seeing this topic resurrected for official consideration.

In prelude comments to the article the author begins: "Can we talk? Can we talk about how the Bible is to be interpreted with regard to women’s ordination? In Germany the Selbst√§ndige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (SELK) has had a vigorous open discussion of the issue, as has the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA)."

Wyneken appears to be simply requesting the opportunity for open discussion on the issue. I say "appears" because the expressed goal of many within Voices/Vision has been not merely discussion, but eventual inclusion of women within the pastoral office. Thus, the intent is clear that through "vigorous open discussion of the issue" DayStar and others are looking to see the collective opinion of Synod change so that this practice can eventually be adopted in a future convention.

His paper, which I encourage you to read, is a classic apology for women's ordination. We will hear and see similar appeals and defenses in the coming years. But how does someone defend a practice that was consistently avoided by the church for generations and has only become mainstream in the latter half of the last century? Have we not heeded the clear word of Scripture to guide us in this issue?

That last point is where Wyneken finds the rip in the barrier. As previous denominations did in justifying women in the ministry, he knows that the only way is to call the prohibitions into question by insisting that the scriptures speaking to these issues are culturally bound and do not speak to our time. He cannot deny that there are words from Paul forbidding women to publicly proclaim the word in the worship assembly, or to not be in positions of authority over men. Therefore, he must argue that they are: 1.) culturally conditioned and not applicable to the current era, and 2.) some of them are simply not clear enough on which to base a doctrine of the church.

One can detect a sort of "Gospel Reductionism" of a previous time in his argumentation. As he states early on:
"One such assumption would be that the Bible was ever intended to provide us with direct and absolute answers to questions such as this. The Bible’s all-important purpose is clear—to lead us in faith to a right and saving relationship with God in Christ. But the Bible is not a kind of “manual of operation” that settles firmly and completely such matters as how we are to organize and govern the church, what offices are necessary, or how leadership positions are to be filled."

Do you hear how he is framing the question? The Gospel is the issue, he insists, and that is all that counts. All the rest of this incidental. The same argumentation, by the way, is used to justify using the belief in Evolution within the church. The Bible, it is said there too, is not a kind of "manual" for science, but a declaration of the Gospel.

The problem with this argumentation is that is fails (or refuses) to acknowledge that even in such instances as church offices and the role of men and women the Gospel is being proclaimed. How? Consider Paul's words in Ephesians 5 regarding marriage. Here he states that the man is to the woman as Christ is to the church. This is where the image of the church as the Bride of Christ shines most clearly. Yet if we mix the genders with the very one who stands "in the stead and by the command of the Lord Jesus Christ," how do we effectively communicate this image? We don't. We rather confuse. And that is abundantly evident in the current church culture that shuns such issues as "obedience" as being restrictive and counterproductive to the freedom of the Gospel.

Still, the church is the obedient bride of Christ. He is the head of the church. And as the pastor stands before his flock he is a living reminder of this Christ who feeds his sheep and leads them beside the still waters of divine forgiveness. No - the pastor is not Christ! (I hear people complain that pastors insist on this, although I have yet to find one!) But by the very words of the absolution he stands "in the stead" of his Lord and as an official ambassador of the Gospel he speaks with the very authority of the One who sent him.

And considering the fact that the church has offices at all, again we must once more recognize the Gospel purpose behind this instead of pushing it to the side as cultural refuse to be abandoned. In addressing many issues, especially of worship, Paul indicated that God is not a God of disorder, but of order. Notice how this also plays right into how the scriptures begin? (Creation is not a random accident, but a planned and ordered event.) The need for organization within the church, as it was in Israel itself, is to serve the church's calling to effectively and efficiently proclaim this saving Gospel, and thus to present Christ to the world.

Wyneken's arguments against the certainly and purpose of the scriptures are not new, and any who have studied the debate will recognize them immediately. So why not just ignore them as the comments of someone on the 'fringe'? For the simple reason that in our Biblically illiterate climate people will accept anything that sounds convincing. In a culture that is increasingly a-historical, they will willingly ignore 2,000 years of church practice as irrelevant. There is often precious little humility today when one considers the Fathers of the past. We are always reinventing, always rediscovering, always calling in question. This is the post-modern era where all truth is relative and open to question.

So, will there be women pastors in the LCMS? Not for the immediate future, perhaps. But I fear the potential closer than ever. But first we have to change the constitution itself. I'll get back to you in 2009 and 2010.....

Side note: Pr. Wyneken begins by asking "Can we talk?" indicating that we need to openly discuss this issue again. I appreciate the need and value of discussing theology and whereby we sharpen our understanding of divine matters. However, the idea here is not merely to discuss, but to call into serious question the biblical legitimacy of the former practice, and eventually to move matters to a conclusive change. A time comes, I believe, that you stop trying to change the beliefs and practices of a church and work instead to find a new one or create a denomination yourself that supports your convictions.


Presbytera said...

First talk, then toleration, then change. There is nothing new under the sun.

If we peek under the tent of cultural prohibition for women, homosexuals are under the same tent. This is an assault upon the authority of Scripture and we have the prohibition that Scripture cannot be broken.

We have elderly women in our congregation who have supported Lutheran Chaplaincy Service since it had 3 retired pastors visiting the nursing homes back in the 50's. Now it has evolved into a real force employed scores of chaplains -- most are not Lutheran and many are women. When these women were approached with the thought that maybe we shouldn't be supporting this organization because it certainly isn't Lutheran anymore if it is employing Methodist women, their answer was "If there aren't enough men who will do it, what's wrong with women being pastors".

This from lifelong LCMS members. Shudder. Shudder.

Christine said...

presbytera, your observation is interesting. Back when I was a member of an ELCA congregation I saw our local Lutheran chaplaincy evolve along the same lines.

There are now many female chaplains from various denominations. This is of course a logical outcome of the ECLA's across-the-board ecumenical partnerships.

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