Saturday, June 18, 2011

Further Comments on the Ordination of Women to the Pastoral Ministry

This week the Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (SELK) or Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Germany has been holding its synod-wide meeting in Berlin-Spandau. This church has a membership of around 36,000 in approximately 200 congregations. (To learn more about the SELK and its 12th synod-wide assembly, visit As a part of the synod's agenda this week, the delegates have received a report on the question of the ordination of women to the pastoral office. To read this report, see:

The synod also received a report by the SELK's Theological Commission on the principles of biblical interpretation (biblical hermeneutics). To read this document, see:

At present, the SELK restricts the office of pastor to men only. Unlike the Missouri Synod, however, whose current leaders are convinced that this question is a non-issue and a totally settled matter, the SELK, which is a partner church of the LCMS, has continued to allow the matter to be discussed in a variety of settings. If one reads the above reports, it is clear that there continues to be serious disagreement within the SELK on this theological matter. I have been informed that a significant majority of the SELK's theological experts (that is, its seminary professors and others with advanced theological degrees) favors women's ordination but a clear-cut majority of delegates, let alone a large consensus within the SELK, remains elusive.

I suspect that if one polled laity and pastors within the LCMS's urban congregations, especially including those pastors who have studied theology beyond the synod's M.Div. level and those laity who have received a university education, a significant majority would indicate their openness to the practice of women pastors. Certainly among the young LCMS people I encounter here at Valparaiso University, an overwhelming majority favors the ordination of women.

Sadly, the current climate within the synod is such that this issue cannot be discussed openly. Unlike the SELK, which does not threaten with expulsion those seminary and university professors who publicly favor the ordination women, the LCMS has any number of pastors who cannot tolerate within their midst anyone who might question the synod's position on this matter. Consequently, many pastors who might otherwise be open to the discussion of this issue keep quiet. They are rightfully fearful that if they would "come out" in favor of this practice, they could be subject to formal proceedings to remove them from their pastoral office.

Below are some comments that have been shared with yours truly in the wake of my recent post, "Imagine That," and a few others. For the sake of protecting the authors from reprisal, I have kept their names confidential (all have given me permission to quote them here):

From an LCMS-trained university professor (retired from a public university):
"A simply wonderful commentary! Examples of Strongly Held Supposedly Bible Based LCMS Beliefs That Have Changed During My Lifetime:
Women should not participate in Voters Meetings
Women should not serve as chairmen of parish boards that have male members
Social dancing is sinful because it causes lustful thoughts in males (seemingly no concern about the female perspective)
Having insurance is an example of a lack of faith in God's protecting arms
Church workers should not participate in Social Security because it mixes church and state
Racial intermarriage is theologically wrong (the view of a clear majority of LCMS members as late as 1967)
And going back another generation:  CFW Walther once wrote before the Civil War that the Bible would condone slavery in the US"

From a pastor who has served more than 35 years within the LCMS:
"Matt, Just want to let you know that your witness is appreciated and the way in which you carry out your ministry is respected by many.  Hang in there and keep the faith!"

From an LCMS pastor who has served for more than fifty years:
"This was a moving account. Thank you. Contrary to what I was taught in most religion courses at synodical colleges,  the Bible needs to understood in the context of its times. My literalist mind was changed when taking Al Glock's History of Israel at RF."

The same pastor sent me a follow-up note:
"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."

From a LCMS-trained pastor/professor who is now in the ELCA and who taught church history at one of the premiere private universities in the U.S.:
"This one is your most powerful and passionate and clarifying yet. You will get vehement reactions, and they'll be testimony to the fact that this scores!"

From someone who has served as an LCMS pastor for 50+ years:
"I passed your 'Yesterday's Meeting' on to the daughter who is professor of Biophysical Chemistry at UNC Charlotte.    Her Research Focus:  'Structural information on biomolecular associations using the techniques of small-angle X-ray and neutron scattering, chemical cross-linking with peptide analysis by MS, selected-site mutagenesis and spectroscopy (FTIR, CD, UV-VIS); and visualized through the use of molecular modeling.'   I don't understand what she is doing although she usually puts a sentence or two in her publications for "my Dad."  
I wrote:  'Thought this report might be of interest to you....   maybe you can assign a student to look into how long it took God to make a man out of dust... '
Her reply:  Yikes. The LCMS is on a mission to peter out and die apparently. Poor Mr. Becker, he should reply with I’m not leaving the LCMS because it NEEDS me.  As for student assignments, I usually like to find projects for my students that have some level of hope for success.'"

From a long-time LCMS pastor:
"The group in Synod, reactionary to any change in the human world, continually reminds me of Jesus' comment about the similar group of that period:  'To what can I compare this generation?  They are like children sitting in the market places and calling out to others, 'We played our flutes to you, but you didn't dance.  We sang our dirges, but you didn't join our mourning.'

We're supposed to accept the description of theology created by their world-view, instead of following the Lord of the Dance and receiving His new life. You are in my continuing prayers!"

From a retired LCMS parochial school teacher:
"Wanted you to know this morning that we stand beside you and your family in prayer and encouragement."

From a recently-retired LCMS pastor:
"All I can give to your 'Imagine That' sermon is one word:  Wow!!!"

From a long-time LCMS pastor, who had forwarded my "Imagine That" post to his daughter. She had attended LCMS parochial schools, was raised by her LCMS pastor father and mother, is now an ELCA layperson. This is what she wrote to her dad:

"You just had to make me cry this morning, didn't you? 
Or:  You are the daughter of a LCMS Lutheran pastor and you can't imagine that all that discussion of worthiness can be wrong - worthy of going to the altar, or being behind it, and you listen to the very loud voices of fundamentalism tell you that many are called, but few are chosen, and you decide ahah! that explains everything - if Christianity is true, you simply aren't chosen.  And you don't only walk away from LCMS but from the narrowly interpreted Biblical God who, along with some of the world, seems to deem you, as a woman, worth less, or, worthless.   You find the agnostic world to be far more humble and therefore, more compassionate. 

Thank the true God for the twisted path that 20 years later allowed me to experience and see women valued at least by their professional Lutheran clergy colleagues (lets not kid ourselves about all the members of congregations), as equally valued and accepted at the altar.  How can you receive the wafer on one side of the rail and feel fully accepted into the full communion and grace of God, if you are congenitally not welcome on the other side of that rail?  One bread, one body?   

Perhaps when or as 'thy kingdom comes,' not only Lutherans, and ethnicities & races now at war, but women and men, will reconcile.  Could we get a head start and maybe cease now all the cutting down and whatever that battle of the sexes is supposed to be about, and appreciate each other in diversity and individual giftedness?"


  1. Hey Matt, i notice that the guys you quote are of a certain "counter-cultural" age. Soon they'll be gone. The Word of the Lord endures forever. Unfortunate for those who like to change the Word. And again, your snideness: "I have been informed that a significant majority of the SELK's theological experts (that is, its seminary professors and others with advanced theological degrees) favors women's ordination but a clear-cut majority of delegates, let alone a large consensus within the SELK, remains elusive." You got an "advanced" "theological" degree, right? In what? Historical theology? Does this mean you shouldn't be listened to in exegetical matters, or no more so than an average parish pastor with a poor M.Div? Your constant sophomoric reasoning in this area exposes you. Jesus should have said, "Blessed is the church that has theological experts with advanced degrees, for they shall believe what the theological experts tell them." As for me and my house.... (you fill in the blank). If you had misunderstandings about women when you were younger (before your advanced theological degree), doesn't mean you should go the opposite direction. Quit the hating of the LCMS.

  2. Dear anonymous,

    My doctorate is in systematic theology. I taught Greek (both Attic and Koine) and New Testament exegesis every semester for ten years at Concordia, Portland, before joining the faculty of Valparaiso.

    I continue to preach, administer the sacraments, and teach every week in a congregation of the LCMS.

    May I encourage you to read what Dr. Luther wrote about his doctorate in theology, against those traditionalists who attacked him for teaching and preaching "false doctrine?"