‘Scripture and theology permit the ordination of women in the LCA’. This proposition, formulated by the Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations in 2000, took centre stage in two proposals presented to the LCA’s Regular Convention in April 2013.
Like any policy statement listed for debate in a secular assembly, this proposal to the Church may rightly be subjected to the same scrutiny as we see in our parliaments. In this appraisal I will argue that the proposition is misleading.
The CTICR’s composition varies from triennium to triennium; what the Commission said 13 years ago may no longer be what it says today. We could also underline, as the proposals acknowledge, that the 2000 decision was not unanimous but ‘by majority’. The vote was 10-5. But these considerations are largely irrelevant. Far more important is the nature of the proposition itself. It is misleading for two reasons:
(1) Nowhere does Scripture say women’s ordination is permissible. On the contrary, we read in two places that Jesus’ ambassador, the apostle Paul, makes it perfectly clear that it is not permitted for a woman to teach God’s Word in the divine service:
(a) As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the Law also says (1 Corinthians 14:33b,34).
(b) I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man (1 Timothy 2:12).
These are not absolute commands for silence, as if a woman may not join in prayers, psalms, hymns and songs, confessions, creeds and Amens, or read the lessons or teach the faith to anyone at all. That would be a reductio ad absurdum (reducing an argument until it looks absurd). 1 Tim 2:12 makes it clear the restriction applies to the public proclamation of the Word when all God’s people – men, women and children – gather for worship.
How then could the CTICR majority in 2000 claim Scripture permits the ordination of women? How can advocates of women’s ordination today perpetuate this claim? On what grounds is 1 Timothy ruled out when the opening words announce that it a letter from ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim 1:1)? Do they overlook this letter because some scholars judge it to be ‘deutero-Pauline’ or ‘secondary’ or ‘pseudonymous’ (in plain English, a forgery)? But if so, why go on to exclude 1 Corinthians, a letter whose Pauline authorship has never been seriously challenged? Was that because of conjectures that the unpopular passage, 1 Cor 14:34-36, is a later insertion by a non-Pauline hand? Or were there other considerations behind their assessment of the scriptural data? Whatever the reasons, why not state them openly among the many ‘whereas’s in the proposals presented to the 2013 General Synod?
(2) Aware, no doubt, that many church members, especially those who know their Bibles, would be puzzled by this assertion about Scripture, the CTICR majority sought a way forward by adding the words, ‘and theology’: ‘Scripture and theology permit the ordination of women’. How then would one describe this ‘theology’ to synod delegates? What are its features, its main components, its sources? What extra insights and benefits does this shadowy entity bring to the case for women’s ordination that cannot be so easily found in Scripture? And, most importantly, isn’t the Lutheran church the church of Scripture alone (sola scriptura)?
Without a full disclosure, the proposition that ‘Scripture and theology permit the ordination of women’ can only be seen as misleading.
Dr Greg Lockwood
6 August 2013