Possible questions for FAQ on Truth-in-love website
GENERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT WEBSITE ITSELF
Q: What’s this website all about?
A: At the 2013 Synodical Convention of the Lutheran Church of Australia, Synod resolved that the issue of the ordination of women be openly discussed over the next Synodical term. This website has been developed by a group of LCA laypeople and pastors who want to support the Church’s current teaching on this issue that Scripture does not permit women to be ordained as pastors. Our consciences are bound to the clear Scriptural teaching on this issue and so we humbly offer this site as a means of promoting the teaching of the church.
Q: What’s with the name?
A: We’re so glad you asked! That phrase, ‘truth in love’, is from Ephesians chapter 4. There Paul is talking about life in the Church and he uses this phrase as an encouragement to Christians in how they are to talk with one another, that they are to speak the truth, and they are to do it in love.
Those who have been involved in this discussion about ordination over many years in our Church know that we’ve all failed to live up to this Scriptural command. We haven’t always spoken to each other in love and there’s been a lot of pain on both sides because of this. So while our conviction is that there is a clear Biblical truth on this matter and that we need to speak that truth to the Church and the world, we also want to make every effort to speak that truth in love to our brothers and sisters who may disagree with us.
Q: What sorts of things will I find on the site?
A: We’ve provided resources which help people understand the Biblical teaching on these issues, resources which address some of the common objections, and also some personal stories people have about their journey in thinking all this through. We’ve used a variety of formats including videos, written articles, Bible studies, and others too. We also want this site to be an encouragement for both men and women in the church in all the various ways in which they serve.
Q: Is this site exclusively about the issue of the ordination of women or does it touch on other issues as well?
A: Certainly our main focus is the ordination issue. But anyone who has been involved in the discussions over the years would know that this issue is intimately connected to so many others. A really simple example is that it’s no use talking much about whether women can be pastors if we don’t first talk about what a pastor actually is. So in that sense the site does go into other topics also.
Q: Is this a site just for pastors and scholars? Will it all be over my head?
A: No not at all. What we’ve tried to do is provide a site with several levels or layers so that there’s something for everyone. At the first level we’ve tried to keep things short and sweet, a bit more accessible you could say. Then there’s a next level of material that goes a bit deeper. Then finally there is also that more scholarly level which does go really in depth.
It’s true the whole issue can be overwhelming at times when you hear endless arguments back and forth. But what we’d really like to encourage with all of this material is to get people back into the Scriptures for themselves and studying the relevant passages with these resources as something to help in that process.
THEOLOGY 101 QUESTIONS
Q: What is a Pastor?
A: A pastor is a man called by Jesus Christ through His Church into the office of the ministry, in order to publicly proclaim God’s Word and administer His Sacraments.
Q: What is the difference between Pastors and lay people?
A: In terms of their status as Christian people and their standing before God there is no difference. However there is a difference in the callings they have in the church. Pastors are called to publicly proclaim God’s word, to baptise, to forgive sins, and to distribute Christ’s body and blood. Lay people are not called to do these things. Rather they are called to exercise their ‘royal priesthood’ with their fellow Christians by serving, praying for and bearing witness to their neighbour wherever God has placed them in life.
Q: What does the Lutheran Church Australia believe about the Bible?
A: The constitution of the LCA puts it this way:
‘The Church accepts without reservation the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as a whole and in all their parts, as the divinely inspired, written and inerrant Word of God, and as the only infallible source and norm for all our matters of faith, doctrine and life’.
SOME MORE SPECIFIC THEOLOGICAL QUESTIONS
Q: What does it mean for the Bible to be ‘inerrant’ as it is referred to in the LCA documents?
A: The inerrancy of the Scriptures in its basic sense is to say that the Bible is free from all error and contradiction in both facts and theology. The LCA’s foundational documents however also want to be clear that this inerrancy ‘cannot be seen with human eyes nor can it be proved to human reason; it is an article of faith, a belief in something which is hidden and not obvious’ (TA VIII.10).
Q: How did we get our canon of Scripture?
A: It’s common today for people to think the Bible was put together after hundreds of years by a bunch of guys just trying to hold onto power or push a particular agenda. However the truth is far different. It is quite a complex story which is difficult to summarise, but here are some of the significant points:
- The majority of scholars agree no book of the Bible was written later than 100 AD, which is far earlier than claimed by fanciful Hollywood producers
- Many of the New Testament books were written within a generation of the death and resurrection of Jesus
- The culture of the time was a strongly oral culture and so people were used to faithfully transmitting information orally
- The books which came to be in the Bible were not so much chosen ‘from above’, ie. by a King or leader, but they were the books which had been faithfully read in public worship by Christians from the earliest days. In other words the people of God recognized the voice of the shepherd in these writings and so a functioning canon of Scripture was well and truly in place long before it was made ‘official’
- One of the main criteria for judging books as to their legitimacy or not to be read in worship was the book’s connection to one of the Apostles (Jesus’ authorised representatives)
Q: What is ‘Gospel reductionism’ and how is it relevant to this discussion?
A: Basically this is a phrase used to describe the tendency to reduce the Bible to the gospel. Gospel reductionism tends to allow the Bible authority only in matters which are explicitly part of the gospel or may be developed from the gospel. This is something different from seeing the Gospel as the heart and centre of the Christian faith which we would certainly want to affirm. But to have the Gospel at the heart and centre does not mean all other Biblical teaching is ‘up for grabs’. Exponents of gospel reductionism tend to believe that considerable freedom should be allowed within the church in matters which are not an explicit part of the gospel. We fear that at times this error of Gospel reductionism has been used to promote the ordination of women in our church over against the clear teaching of God’s Word.
SOME COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT WOMEN’S ORDINATION
Q: Where in the Bible is it taught that women are not to be ordained as pastors?
A: There are generally considered to be two foundational texts as well as a number of other supporting texts. The first foundational text is 1 Corinthians 14:33-38 which includes: ‘the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says’ (v 34). It also includes: ‘this is the Lord’s command’ (v 37). The other foundational text is 1 Timothy 2:11-15 which includes: ‘I do no permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet’. On other sections of this website you can find much more in-depth treatments of these passages. Some other supporting texts are ones like 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 where it is stated that a pastor should be ‘the husband of one wife’.
Q. If women feel called by God to be pastors, doesn’t that show us they should be ordained?
A. The call to ministry is not only something internal, but primarily something external. In other words God calls men to be pastors through the church. In addition to this, what a person thinks God is saying directly to his or her heart does not trump what God has said to us all through his written word.
Q. Didn’t the majority of people on the LCA’s Commission on Theology and Interchurch relations (CTICR) in 2000 vote that Scripture permits us to ordain women? Don’t the majority of Lutherans in the world today belong to churches that ordain women?
A. Yes that is true. However we should be careful about this as the majority does not decide matters in the church, but the Word of God. Also while it may be true for Lutherans, the vast majority of Christians in the world today belong to churches that do not ordain women. Then, if we look back through history, we find an even greater majority that affirms this. The ‘majority’ argument can work both ways.
Q. Since in our culture today women have equal status in so many areas, maintaining the practice of only ordaining men is offensive to modern people. Isn’t this a good enough reason to ordain women?
A. We aren’t so sure. As Christians we are called to heed God’s word, which is always out-of-step with the culture in one way or another. We do not have the right to overturn God’s word to suit what the world tells us we should do.
Q: But what about the fact that this offence to people in our society will hamper our mission efforts as a church?
A: This has not been borne out in the experience of those churches that have ordained women. In most cases in the western world the ordination of women has been followed by a swift and steady decline in numbers. In fact, leading sociologists of religion have observed throughout the world that churches which refuse to compromise their message to bring it into line with the thinking of the modern secular world fare significantly better in terms of retaining and gaining members than churches which are happy to accommodate their message.
Q. But what about all the examples in the Bible of God using women to do many great things? What about the female prophets and the various active women of the New Testament church? Surely this shows us God permits women pastors?
A. Indeed God does use many wonderful women through the Biblical story in many marvelous ways. However this does not mean those women were pastors or that they are automatically permitted to be pastors. In fact this sort of argument actually devalues the work of lay people. It implies that God only works through pastors! Yes, laywomen are called by God to evangelise and to teach in certain contexts, just as laymen are, and both laymen and laywomen can be given the gift of prophecy. It does not follow from this that women should be ordained.
Q. But isn’t Christianity about the Gospel, not the law? Since we are saved by grace and not by works, and live in the freedom of the gospel, how can we be restricted by a command like the one not to ordain women?
A. The Scriptures consistently teach that as people who have been saved by grace through faith we should now strive to do the will of God and keep his commandments.
Q. But why does the Apostle Paul have so much of a say? As a church shouldn’t we stand on Christ alone?
A. The Apostles are Christ’s authorised representatives that he sends out saying ‘He who hears you, hears me’. If we are to divorce Paul from Christ we would have to abandon much of the teaching of the Christian faith, as it was Paul who most powerfully articulated it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Q. But isn’t the gospel a message of acceptance and inclusion for all people? How then can we say women are excluded from being pastors?
A. Yes, the gospel is a message that goes out to all the world, inviting all people to come into God’s kingdom through repentance and faith in Christ. Yet the gospel is a message of acceptance for sinners, not acceptance of sin. It does not invite anyone to deliberately sin by setting aside God’s word.
Q. What does it matter who speaks God’s word? Isn’t the power that is effective for salvation in God’s word and not in the person who speaks it?
A. Yes the power is in God’s word and not in the one who speaks it. But this does not mean we can overturn what the word has to say about who can and can not be pastors. We can’t take our stand on the power of the word while at the same time ignoring what it has to say.
In addition to this, there’s an old distinction in theology between validity and efficacy. Just because something is effective doesn’t necessarily mean that it is valid. To give an extreme example: just because the rape of a woman by a man can be effective in producing the wonderful gift of a child does not make this act legally, morally, or theologically valid. An act can be effective, yet still contrary to God’s good order.
Q. But what about Galatians 3:28 where it says that “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Since there is “no male and female,” doesn’t that mean women can be ordained?
A: This really doesn’t look at the context of the passage. The passage is talking about our status before God, and asserting that we are all equally heirs of salvation. It is not addressing the question of what callings God might give us here in the world. Therefore it does not overturn what Scripture says in other places about these various callings. To use this passage to say that women can be ordained, despite what Scripture says when it talks specifically about the public ministry, is an abuse of this passage. It is logically equivalent to saying that since “there is no male and female” two men or two women could get married, despite what Scripture says when it specifically addresses the question of marriage.
Q: Don’t we have a shortage of pastors in our church? Shouldn’t we ordain women so that we will have twice as many people to choose from and this will help to fix the pastor shortage?
A: Churches that have ordained women have found it doesn’t necessarily work like this. For instance, the Uniting Church of Australia, despite the fact that it ordains women, has a greater pastor shortage than we do. Evidently when a church ordains women it ends up with less men to choose from. One can only speculate as to all the reasons for this. Yet one reason is obvious: when a church ordains women, men who object to this stance will gradually be forced out of the ministry. No church can tolerate for long a situation in which one group of its pastors refuses to acknowledge that another group of its pastors is validly ordained.
Q: Doesn’t all this discussion about this issue show that the key texts are unclear and so we can’t rely on them?
A: There is nothing difficult about the grammar or the vocabulary or the context of these key passages. The reason why there is disagreement over their interpretation is because they are offensive to modern sensibilities, not because they are unclear. When theologians say that Scripture permits the ordination of women, what they mean is that they think they can find a way to get around these passages. The main way they do this is by taking an historical-critical approach to them. That is, they speculate about the history behind the text, and use this to critique the text and its relevance for today. So for instance, they say things like, “Paul was still blinkered by the cultural assumptions of his day,” or “Paul was trying not to cause offense in his patriarchal culture,” or “Paul was only trying to deal with a local situation where the women were disrupting the service.” They then use these speculations to trump the actual arguments that Paul uses in the text, namely, that the prohibition on women teaching in the public worship service is not merely a matter of the culture of the day but is grounded in God’s plan in creation, the consequences of the fall, and a command of the Lord that applies to all churches and not merely to one local situation. When our historical speculations can be used in this way to trump what the text of Scripture actually says, then we are not abiding by our public confession that Scripture “as a whole and in all its parts” is the “divinely inspired, written and inerrant word of God.”
Q: Doesn’t the Bible contain many commands that we no longer obey? So why do we need to obey these prohibitions in 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2?
A: This argument fails to acknowledge the Old Testament/New Testament distinction. As Christians we are people of the new covenant, not the old covenant. The New Testament tells us that the Law of Moses, which stands at the heart of the Old Testament, is now obsolete, since it has been fulfilled by Christ and superseded by God’s new covenant with us through Christ. Therefore we are no longer bound to keep the Law of Moses, except to the extent that portions of it are reiterated in the New Testament. The same is not true for the commands in 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2. These are both New Testament texts, and therefore part of the new covenant.
Q: But since the Bible is full of parables, images, poetry and other things, surely we can’t read Scripture literally can we?
A: The issue is not so much literal versus non-literal, but reading each particular part of Scripture according to its genre. The natural way to read any text is to read poetry as poetry, metaphors as metaphors, hyperbole as hyperbole, parables as parables, and prose as prose. Since the key passages in this debate are prose, and contain no obvious figures of speech, the natural way to read them is literally.