Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why Women's Ordination is still an Issue for those who want to Break with the ELCA.

A friend of mine alerted me to a “Bible Study” on the role of women as pastors published on the Institute for Lutheran Theology. A put Bible study in quotes, because it is not much of a Bible Study as much as it is an article that rehashes old outdated arguments for women’s ordination that pit scripture against scripture, and otherwise reads bias into scripture. This is distressing as the Institute for Lutheran Theology is a website that seeks to teach historical Lutheranism, and understand where the ELCA has gone wrong. Those who post there are distressed with current events in the ELCA.
I think we in the Missouri Synod can understand and share that distress. Maybe, some of us have started playing the “I told you so,” banjo. True enough, we did tell them so, but this is not time for Schadenfreude. Current events in the ELCA have woken many up to the fact that there is something rotten in Minneapolis. However, these things have not happened in a vacuum. My hope is that these events call for some honest soul searching, to understand where they began to go down this road. Many know that they are lost, they are not sure where they made the wrong turn. Without understanding where the wrong turn was made, they are susceptible to making the same wrong turn, and becoming even more lost as time goes on.
Perhaps, the biggest wrong turn was in the decision to ordain women, and adopt a Biblical Hermeneutic that allowed for that. That is what is distressing about the above article. It makes the same turn, a turn that leads to where they are currently. Some of us in the Missouri Synod, therefore are not seeing the repentance of many in the ELCA, such as the LCMC (Lutheran church in Mission for Christ) , and Word Alone, as a desire to take scripture seriously again, but as a mere homophobic knee jerk reaction. Not that their homophobia ( I use this word for lack of a better term) is not a well grounded fear, and does not have Biblical reason, but the hermeneutic they have adopted to justify women’s ordination, cannot help but also skirt the Biblical issues concerning the ordination of actively gay men and women. If this sort of reasoning is going to be used on behalf of women, it must be also applied to others. So, I sincerely hope that many as they are studying where they went wrong, will examine the issue of Women’s Ordination once again, and not just accept the same illogical conclusions they have before.
Kip Allen Tyler begins his argument for women’s ordination saying: “Throughout the history of God’s people men and women have been called by God to serve God and His people faithfully. This has happened in various ways as demonstrated in Holy Scripture. We are going to take a journey through God’s Word, so please take out your Greek New Testaments.
First of all we need to understand, the term ‘pastor’ does not appear in the Bible. The etymology of this word is traced through Latin and not Greek. The Latin word for “pastor” means a herder of a flock and the verb pascere means “to feed.”
O.K. True enough, God uses people men and women to serve his church. He doesn’t call them all to be pastors. God uses each and every Christian in different ways. However, he has set aside a specific office for the forgiving of sins in the church, that office which we in English call the Pastoral office. It matters not where the term came from. There are two questions that need to be answered. is there a divinely instituted office that the pastor fills? And, who is qualified for this office?
The first answer is yes, there is a divinely instituted office that the pastor fills. The Bible uses many terms interchangeably for this office, sometimes Presbyter, as Kip Allen Turner has pointed out, who are admonished to “shepherd” or pastor the flock in 1 Peter 5. Other terms used are steward’s of God, Bishop, or overseer, in Titus chapter 1, and 1 Timothy 3, and stewards of the mysteries of God in 1 Cor. 4:1. Historically, Lutherans, no matter what they have called their pastor, and there is diversity in the terms used for that office amongst Lutherans in the world, have held that this is the office that he is holding. The primary purpose of this office is teaching and preaching, as is spelled out in both Titus and Timothy, teaching sound doctrine, and rebuking those who contradict it. Perhaps the most important qualification for the pastoral office is the ability to teach sound doctrine. However it is not the first requirement listed. The first requirement listed in these passages is that he be a man. Often the verse is translated Husband of one wife, but the Greek actually reads “man of one woman.” It is however hard to be a husband of one wife, without also being a man. Paul goes on in these letters to describe the qualifications for two other offices, that of being a deacon, and that of being a Deaconess. Yes, you can serve the church and even be employed by the church without being a pastor. God is not barring the service of women from the church by limiting the pastoral office to men. On the contrary, as Kip has noted women have always served the church, and there are even many Biblical examples of this that he has shown. The question isn’t have they ever served the church, but in what office did they serve. One is not being a pastor or usurping the role of pastor every time they do some good for the church, or tell a friend about Christ, or even instruct a fellow Christian in theology. Kip, though, does not deal with 1 Timothy 3: 1-7, or Titus 1, but skirts these to deal with the office of Deacon dealt with in 1 Timothy 3:8—13. It has been noted that deacons have a counterpart in the deaconate with deaconesses. Being a Deacon is not synonymous with being a pastor. Titus and Timothy are both clear in separating the office of deacon from that of presbyter or bishop, (overseer).
Kip though turns his attention to two verses that limit the activity of women in the church 1 Timothy 2:12, and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, and then with very little attention given to the context and meaning of these verses, shows how women in the Bible have served the church despite what these verses have to say.
It is interesting that the verses in question both occur in chapters concerning the Divine Service, or as some like to call it, the worship service. These are not admonitions for women for every aspect of their lives, but how they are to conduct themselves in the context of the Divine Service. Paul is not addressing the issue of whether or not it was proper for Margaret Thatcher to be Prime Minister of England. He is discussing what should and should not be happening during worship. Kip makes no mention of this at all. Though this explains why Priscilla and Aquilla waited until Apollos was done preaching, to take him and instruct him in the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26). They did so privately, and not publicly, nor did Priscilla do so in a way that was unbecoming of a believing woman, that is she did not do so in a way that exercised authority over Apollos. Kip cites many verses such as Acts 18 that highlight the work of women in the church. Yet he never once pauses to ask if in doing this they are filling that New Testament office of Presbyter, or Overseer, from which women are excluded in the Old Testament, or whether or not they are teaching and preaching in the Divine Service, or merely sharing the gospel with a friend in a private manner. It is not only Pastors who are called to evangelize, though it is only pastors who are called to preach publically in the Divine Service, where they also stand in the stead of Christ forgiving and retaining sins, as well has handling the mysteries of God as his stewards. Hosting a church in your home is not being a pastor. Proclaiming the good news to friends is not preaching in the divine service. Praying is not the job of Pastors alone, of course women pray in church, head covered or not. As far as I know, the gift of prophecy in the sense of direct revelation from God, is not with us anymore, nor needed as we have the works of the Apostles to guide us. So referencing women doing these things is really not helpful in the whole debate over whether or not they should be pastors.
However, Pastors are to preach, teach and have authority over men, especially during the Divine Service. Therefore, women are not to be pastors, since they are told not to do these things during the Divine Service. Many like to invoke the cultural argument here believing that what Paul is saying about women remaining silent and learning from their husbands at home, etc. Is nothing more than a concession to a male dominated culture that would be offended by women doing these things. This displays some ignorance regarding the pagan culture of Greece and Rome which Paul is addressing. People reading Acts should be very well aware that women, though not always, could be very influential in Greek and Roman society, and were often spiritual leaders in the pagan cults. One only has to notice that Nymphas hosted a Church in her home, to realize that she was a very wealthy and influential women having a home that could accommodate such an animal. Also are the accounts of women of high standing in Acts 17 where Paul started the Church in Thessalonica, and Lydia of Acts Chapter 16 who sold purple goods. This was not a concession to culture, but an admonition to a congregation, that Paul makes clear goes for all churches, “As in all the churches of the saints”. (1 Corinthians 14:33)
Far from the ALC’s claim that there is nothing in scripture to inform them concerning women being pastors or not, there is overwhelming evidence that woman are not to be pastors. When you make a wrong turn and end up at a dead end, realize that dead end will be there the next time you make the same wrong turn. We as Christians cannot afford to treat God’s word, as given to us through Jesus, and the apostles with such flippancy as to disregard what Paul says because we don’t like it, or it seems politically incorrect. We should not attempt to pit scripture against scripture in such a way that says Paul did not permit women to teach, but others did. The key is to understand the contexts of what Paul is saying where, and to what it applies. When we seek to harmonize scripture, that may seem to contradict each other on the surface we come to greater understanding and are better edified.


Steve said...

Thanks, Bror.

When we get "up" there, I am going to ask on what grounds so many good and faithful pastors (some not so much) allowed for women pastors.

Jonathan said...

And, for as much as I have to accept, trust in, and be bound by God's clear Word in this matter, I, in my human limitation, will nevertheless also want to ask the question, "Why not?"

For me, even despite all the ontological arguments, etc., the "why not" remains truly a mystery, even as St. Paul also recognized it to be. Although I find the human arguments that try to explain the "why not?" to be sound, I don't really prefer to stand on them, but just go instead with the clear word and leave it at that. At their heart, I think the human explanations against it all sound chauvanistic, which is an attribute I would rather not ascribe to our Creator. So, I'm sure there must be some reason for the "why not", but we men (that is, "males") haven't explained it yet. Well, hopefully, I won't have to be so bold as to need to ask the question when I get there; hopefully I will just finally "get it."

At the heart of the matter with ELCA's latest development really is the authority of God's Word. To paraphrase Soren Kirkegaard, the Bible is really not that hard to understand; but, we fool ourselves into thinking that it is hard to understand because the minute we "get it" we are then duty-bound to live by it or else stand condemned.

Bror Erickson said...

I tend to agree with you whole heartedly Jonathan. We could explain it, try answer the why not, but the answers tend to be chauvinist. On the other hand, being a bit of a chauvinist myself, I do see some great logic in the word of God.
One of the more popular questions that gets bantied about these days is "Why don't men go to church?" One of my more snarky answers is, they have to listen to women all week these days, at work, at home etc. The last thing a man wants to do is go and listen to another one lecture him for an hour.
I know of a sainted pastor prof. Who in the same vain used to tell sem students, God ordains men to the pastoral ministry, so be a man.