Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Concern over the Ordination of Women to the Pastoral Ministry in the LCMS

Last December I was copied on the following email from a Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod pastor to his district president.

Dear Reverend Father....,

I am writing to request that Rev. Dr. Matthew Becker of the Northwest District, currently serving outside the LC-MS at Valparasio University, be called to repentance for his insistent, public teaching that women be ordained in the Office of the Holy Ministry. If he will not repent and recant he must be removed from our roster lest this teaching mislead the people of God.

There is a lot to read through. Dr. Becker seems to lack the ability to simply come right and say: "I believe women should be ordained." But his meaning is clear. That is what he believes. He has also demonstrated beyond a doubt that he knows the contrary position of the LC-MS. He is not holding to women's ordination in ignorance.

I did not go looking for Dr. Becker. He came to the Gottesdienst blog, of which I am an contributor, and posted his opinion there. s. From there I was led to his blog and if you'd like a link to it, I can find it for you. I think some of this is on there. He has also said that this will be coming out in a soon-to-be-published book from Daystar, which seems to be some sort of political action group outside of the LC-MS, but I haven't seen the book myself.

In any case, Dr. Becker has stated his position publicly at

http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2010/12/selk-reports-of-our-demise-have-been.html


There he also written that he teaches this in the classroom and also preaches it. He is currently serving an LC-MS Indiana district vacancy.

Here is an example of his confession from the Gottesdienst Online website that should be sufficient:

"Yes, times have changed and your outdated view is harming the mission of Christ's church in our western society. I would encourage you to take to heart the words of the Apostle Paul about Christian freedom: "To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law... I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I might share in its blessings." How many women have left the LCMS because they could not fulfill God's call to ministry? How many women have given up on Christianity altogether because they equate it with a male-only club? Does the spirit of the Apostle Paul in First Cor. 9 (a spirit found also in all of his--and St. John's--other anti-legal statements) really fit with the legalistic insistence that only men may serve as pastors in Christ's church? Well, you know my answer to that rhetorical question."

At face value, Dr. Becker's position violates 1 Cor 14:33, 37; 1 Tim 2:11-12; 1 Tim 3:1-2; and Titus 1:5-6. In fact, his position is worse than that. It violates the authority of the Word of God and the order of creation. Hidden in this are a host of errors like unto which we now see being active in the ELCA.

Dr. Becker and I cannot remain in the same synod. He seems to me to be mostly in agreement with this, for he has stated on the Gottesdienst Online website that those who hold that only men should be ordained
need to repent. Please advise me on how to proceed.

As always, yours in Christ,
So-and-so


cc: Rev. Matthew Becker
[circuit counselor]
Rev. Matthew Harrison, president LCMS


Since the email wasn't addressed to me, I filed it in my "heresy charges" file and didn't give it a second thought. I was pretty busy back in mid-December, what with the end of semester tests and papers, Advent, midweek services, confirmation, pastoral calling, and Christmas planning.

Then today I received an email from the guy, this time addressed to me and copied to his dp, his circuit counselor, and the synod president. Here's what he wrote:

Dear Rev. Becker,

I have been waiting to be reconciled to you since Dec 13. I trust that by now you've had plenty of opportunity to study the passages in questions, re-read the CTCR documents, and pray. Yet there has been no attempt at reconciliation and you have done nothing to undo the harm you caused by your public statement on Gottesdienst On-line regarding the ordination of women. I understand you are filling a vacancy in the Indiana District even though you are on the roster in the Northwest District.

Even if Valparaiso University believes that God wants us to ordain women as pastors, you are on the roster of the Missouri Synod and cannot abide by their position but must be faithful to your vows or renounce them. You are in violation of clear passages of Holy Scripture and impenitent. Your soul is in danger. Your flock is in danger. You need to have the courage of your convictions - one way or the other.

Please let me know how to proceed to help you or leave the roster. If you will not do either, I will ask President [So-and-so] to pursue removing you from the roster against your will. Whatever happens, I
hope you will not again dishonor the saints of old who suffered greatly, bled, and died for the faith by claiming to be a martyr while the students applaud and you continue to draw full salary and benefits. Perhaps you imagine yourself a hero but even you can't think this makes you a martyr, and even the most notorious despiser of Scripture must surely understand that man is honor bound to keep his vows and to admit when he can no longer keep them. No one likes a liar and a fake or grandstanding.

Your position, as stated publicly, and unsolicited, on Gottesdienst On-line, violates 1 Cor 14:33, 37; 1 Tim 2:11-12; 1 Tim 3:1-2; and Titus 1:5-6. It is directly contrary, as well, to numerous synodical resolutions, CCM rulings, and CTCR documents, and has no weight or merit at all in the early church or Lutheran fathers. For the sake of your soul and your flock, repent.

I remain hopeful that God will open your eyes to the constant witness of the Church in history and the clear passages of His Holy Word and bring us restore us again in His fellowship.

Yours in Christ,
So-and-so

Here's what I sent him today:

Dear Pr. So-and-so,

The biblical procedure is for you to come to me ("...Go to your brother..."), if you truly think I have sinned against you or have committed some public sin. I would welcome such a visit.

Warm regards,
Matthew Becker

He then sent me this:
Dear Rev. Becker,

I don't know why you would doubt that I think you have sinned against me and have committed a public sin. Was there something in my email that led you to believe I was uncertain?

I had thought this need not turn into a contest centered on keeping the by laws and looking for loopholes. Name the time next week and I will come to Valpo and meet with you. I will bring a bible so that I can show what it says.

Of course, Matthew 18 doesn't require this. It is not morally required. But I will do it in the hopes that your eyes are opened.

Yours in Christ,
So-and-so

And then I sent him this:
Dear Pr. So-and-so,

I am free on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday of next week. My office is located in Huegli Hall, room 338. Huegli Hall is across from VU's chapel and library. Perhaps we could work through one of my essays and study the Scriptures in tandem with that.

BTW, Jesus says, "If your brother sins against you GO..." Our Lord doesn't say, "WAIT for your brother to come to you..."

My views on this topic are well-known and quite public. One can visit the online journal, The Daystar Journal, and find materials about this matter there by yours truly and others.

17 comments:

  1. WOW, Dr. Becker - I am proud to be in your class!

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  2. As a woman who has long ago left the LCMS, I can only wonder what motivates certain LCMS leaders to hate us so much. Why cling so stubbornly to misogyny when LCMS leaders are more than happy to abandon, for example, once-cherished biblical interpretations that endorsed slavery? Pastor Becker has sinned against no one; he is merely in line with the past four DECADES, in which other Lutheran bodies have been ordaining women. More than that, he is speaking in the example of Jesus, who never endorsed women's subordination and treated men and women with respect.

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  3. Apart from the question of whether or not women's ordination is Biblical, it seems that the accusations brought against you, Dr. Becker, also concern whether or not your teaching on women's ordination coincides with the teaching of the LCMS. Your blog post didn't comment on this -- is it true? Are you openly advocating something which the LCMS expressly prohibits?

    I imagine you can justify your persistence in the LCMS even if the above is true, but what was the substance of your ordination vows? I'm going to have to take a look -- to me it seems that there's probably something in there which pertains to this situation. In any case, if my pastor said, "Yes...our church body teaches so-and-so, but it is wrong," I think I would have serious grounds to doubt his integrity and his faithfulness to the office he was called to fulfill. Wouldn't I?

    I also can't help but reply to the second Anonymous. The accusation of misogyny is serious and should not be leveled so lightly. It is wrong, just as it would be wrong for me to call you a radical feminist simply because you endorse women's ordination. The question at hand is quite earnest and has been handled by the LCMS with all of the respect and love befitting the Church. Indeed, the notion of denying women's ordination is scandalous, especially today. It scandalizes me. But, we are not justified on the basis of my sentiments.

    I need to take a look at Dr. Becker's papers...I don't fully understand all the exegetical arguments which are on the table. Nevertheless, I'm anxious to hear your response, Dr. Becker. Also, I'm anxious to hear the outcome of the meeting of which you informed us above.

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  4. Dear Mr. Buchs,

    My position on the ordination of women to the pastoral office dissents from the position that the LCMS has taken in its conventions. The LCMS allows for dissent.

    Moreover, my ordination vow is to teach in accordance with the doctrinal content of the Holy Scriptures and with the doctrinal content of the Lutheran Confessions, which are a faithful exposition of the doctrinal content of the Holy Scriptures. When I was ordained in July 1989 I did not make any vow to the human organization that is the LCMS. In fact, the synod itself has often changed its doctrinal positions because of dissent and ongoing investigation of what the Scriptures in fact teach and allow (e.g., life insurance, women in all sorts of church offices, women voting in congregations, prayer fellowship, and so on).

    The substance of my ordination vow is to teach the doctrine of the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures, not LCMS convention resolutions and statements, however good, right, and salutary they might be. The latter are always to be tested and evaluated according to whether or not they agree with Scriptural doctrine.

    So no, you should not doubt your pastor's integrity or his faithfulness to his office, if he should publicly criticize his church body with respect to its public teaching, if that teaching is in fact contrary to the prophetic and apostolic teaching. If the synod is wrong, then your pastor has an obligation to maintain his ordination vow, his integrity, and faithfulness to God's word by showing how his church body has erred in its public position.

    The anonymous writer who leveled the accusation of misogyny makes a good point, it seems to me. She is living proof of how our church body's position has needlessly forced many, many people to leave for other church bodies, all because of the synod's sexist position (not at all different from the racist, Jim-Crow position many in our synod took with regard to slavery, Jim-Crow laws, African men in the pastoral office).

    Please examine my papers, especially the one on "What Good Is Theology?"

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to these posts.

    Lutheran Christians acknowledge that synods, bishops, popes, councils, and theologians have erred. The only norm of Christian doctrine is the prophetic and apostolic witness, not the human organization that is the fickle and errant LCMS.

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  5. Of course, what Beker failed to mention is that on the same web site where he very openly advocated for the ordination of women, he also very openly expressed his support for the ordination of actively homosexual persons.

    I do not understand why Becker doesn't join the ELCA.

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  6. Anonymous wrote, "I do not understand why Becker doesn't join the ELCA."

    Let me give you some reasons:

    I was baptized on 30 Sep 1962, by my grandfather at St. John Lutheran Church,
    Salem, Oregon.

    My parents faithfully took me to the divine services. There I first heard the gospel. There I was instructed in the faith. There I first received the Lord's body and blood for the forgiveness of my sins.

    My pastor, Dr. Hempelmann, selected Second Peter 3:18 as my confirmation verse. Through my grandfather and Dr. Hempelmann I was encouraged to prepare for the pastoral ministry in the LCMS.

    St. John provided me with both financial and evangelical support to attend Concordia College, Portland. There I encountered perhaps the best cohort of professors the LCMS has ever assembled at the undergraduate level. For other
    historic examples of scholarly, critical, and evangelical individuals in the synod's history, see "About Daystar" at http://www.thedaystarjournal.com/

    These have been my role models.

    When I studied for four years at Concordia Seminary, at no point was I ever approached to stop my studies or remove myself from consideration for ordination. In fact, I was encouraged to pursue graduate theological work by several sem professors, notably Dr. Norman Nagel.

    St. John also supported me during my years at the University of Chicago. During summers I returned to Salem and served as a summer vicar. The pastors, Dr. Frederick Niedner and Pr. Dale Koehneke, both from families with long histories
    in the LCMS, were very helpful to me in my preparations.

    When I was ordained in July 1989, I freely, willingly, and publicly vowed to teach in accord with the doctrinal content of the holy Scriptures and in accord with the Lutheran Confessions as a faithful exhibition of the doctrinal content of the holy Scriptures. I have sought to fulfill this vow to the present day. On that hot July day I did not make any vows with regard to the LCMS.

    When I was installed as pastor at Bethlehem, Dundee, Ill, I made the same vows. At that time I signed the Constitution of the LCMS. I was especially pleased to do this because of the crucial importance of Article II.

    The Synod, as a human institution, remains subordinate to and normed by the doctrinal content of the Holy Scriptures and the witness to that doctrinal content by the Lutheran Confessions. Semper ecclesia reformanda.

    As a human institution, the LCMS has changed its practices and understandings and applications of Scripture over time. Sometimes these changes have been for the better--that is, in accord with the gospel and Christian love--and other times, for the worse--that is, legalistically, unevangelically, with evident
    short-sightedness and a lack of Christian love.

    As an errant, sinful theologian who continues nevertheless to try to live out his calling faithfully within the LCMS (the Board of the NW District of the LCMS, on which I served for many years, has labeled me "the NW District's LCMS missionary to Valparaiso University"), I will continue to study the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions to discern how the Spirit might be leading us to continue to reform the LCMS as one small part of the much larger Ecumene.

    So far I have not been given any clear indication from the Lord that I should
    remove myself from the LCMS clergy roster.

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  7. Pr/ Prof Becker should be lauded, not castigated, for having the courage to speak, from his conscience, from within the LCMS when it is unpopular and risky for him to do so.

    - the first, not the second "anonymous"

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  8. Dr. Becker,

    I'm curious why you would bring this matter to the light of day here. I am sure you are aware of the synodical bylaw 1.10.18.1(d);

    "While the matter is still undecided or while an appeal is contemplated or pending, publicity shall not be given to the issues in the matter by any of the persons involved during any part fo the procedures outlined in this bylaw."

    Pastor so-and-so is clearly attempting to bring the matter through the synodical dispute resolution process, contacting you, his district president, the synodical president; so the matter is pending. So why bring it up here in violation of the bylaw?

    Pastor Benjamin Ball

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  9. Dear Pastor Benjamin Ball,

    I would simply direct you to read LCMS bylaw 1.10.1.1: "Parties are urged, in matters of a doctrinal nature, to follow the procedures as outlined in Bylaw section 1.8.1.8.1."

    Bylaw Section 1.8 states quite clearly:

    "Dissent from doctrinal resolutions and statements is to be expressed first within the fellowship of peers and then brought to the attention of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations before finding expression as an overture to the convention calling for revision or recision. While the conscience of the dissenter shall be respected, the consciences of others, as well as the collective will of the Synod, shall also be respected."

    My writings on women's ordination, to which pastor So&So is objecting, fall into the category of expressing doctrinal dissent within the synod. This is not a matter that fits under LCMS bylaw 1.10.18.1(d).

    More importantly, Pastor So&So has told me that his action does not fall under Bylaw 1.10, but Bylaw 2.14ff., since he is trying to expel me from the synod. Bylaw 2.14 puts such a matter squarely in the lap of a district president. To date, I have not been contacted by a district president, which action is necessary to initiate Bylaw 2.14ff.

    So, no, I'm not in violation of Bylaw 1.10.18.1.(d), since that bylaw doesn't apply to this situation.

    Thanks for your question.
    Matthew Becker

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  10. Dr Becker,
    As a women who belongs to an LCMS congregation, I appreciate your willingness to have thoughtful conversations related to the role of women in the church today, and, perhaps not knowing any better, I would expect and want our synod to allow and even encourage its members to continually enter into these types of theological discussions in a Christian manner. I would be disheartened to learn otherwise. You uphold the Lutheran Confessions and the LCMS Constitution. The issue of women in the church is obviously a touchy subject! Thanks for bringing it up. It is of significant interest to me.

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  11. Dr. Becker,

    I want to express my support for all that you have written on woman's ordination. As a bi-Lutheran worshiping in both Missouri and ELCA congregations and having had the blessing of being served by a women pastor in ELCA, I can attest to the value which such ministry brings to the church. By leaving women out of the picture, we are depriving ourselves of their many gifts. It is our loss. In my father's last year, Pastor--- ( a woman!) ministered to him so compassionately that I have become convinced that it is God's will that women should be part of that priesthood.

    Bill Oehlkers RF'59

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  12. As a woman who married into the ELCA and finally escaped to the LCMS, I find it distressing that Mr. Becker is still on the LCMS roster. I left the ELCA because as a mother I didn't want my children being misled by the apostate clergy in the ELCA which just follows the world and is therefore loved by the most evil folks in the world. I didn't really understand what the ELCA was for a long time but as soon as I did, I left. I am very sorry it took me so long to realize what the ELCA was because of all the harm that was done to people using our donations.

    If a denomination is going to ordain women it might as well be worshipping Vashti. I feel so badly for all the young people victimized by such as Mr. Becker. For the sake of these impressionable young people, I hope he repents, and at the very least is removed from the LCMS roster. As mothers there is only so much we can do. Men such as Becker think nothing of the hazards to our children. No love for our dear children. Only pandering to these ridiculous women who seek the pastoral office for their own selfish reasons caring nothing for the children in these congregations. Shameful.

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  13. "By leaving women out of the picture, we are depriving ourselves of their many gifts."

    No, we aren't.

    "It is our loss."

    No, it isn't.

    "In my father's last year, Pastor--- ( a woman!) ministered to him so compassionately that I have become convinced that it is God's will that women should be part of that priesthood."

    We already are the priesthood of all believers and she would have been just as compassionate as a lay person. No need for women to pretend to the office.

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  14. "Pr/ Prof Becker should be lauded, not castigated, for having the courage to speak, from his conscience, from within the LCMS when it is unpopular and risky for him to do so."

    What is so courageous about choosing the opinion that will make one popular with the coeds at Valpo?

    What risk? He is at Valpo. If anything, maintaining faithfulness to the Biblical requirements would put him more at risk of losing his position at Valpo.

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