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

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"Yes, times have changed and your outdated view is harming the mission of Christ's church in our western society.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,

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,

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,

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.

Friday, May 13, 2011

2011 Confirmands at Immanuel

Ms Barb, Jordan, Jacob, Nate, Grant, and me
This week is busier than usual. Not only is this the end of our university's spring semester (graduation is this Sunday), but Sunday also marks the end of the four-year process of confirmation instruction for four eighth-graders at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Michigan City.

Because of the sudden, tragic death of Immanuel's pastor last October (Pr. Kevin Palmer), I was invited to serve as fill-in pastor until the congregation can form a committee to call another pastor. Since the congregation has decided to take some time for reflection and self-study before starting the call process, I will likely continue in this role for the next year or so. I am pleased to do so, for a whole host of reasons.

One of those reasons is the joy that one experiences from participating in the confirmation instruction on Monday evenings. Ms. Barb Herzinger, Immanuel's deaconess, has been the principal instructor for our seventh- and eighth-graders, and I have served as commentator and occasional resource person. Since I usually engage university students and faculty in issues of faith and theology, interacting with middle-schoolers has been a nice addition to my academic world. We've really had some great discussions over the past seven months--and I'm grateful for Ms. Barb's leadership and patience in this regard. With these students there's never a dull moment!

Immanuel still follows the older Lutheran custom of having a "public examination" of the confirmands. This took place last night. The 90-minute event allowed the students to share with the congregation what they have learned about the Christian faith and how it has become a more vibrant part of their own lives. While we are not saved by our religious knowledge--only God can do this through his grace that we receive by trusting in Christ alone--this public event gives these students an opportunity to express their faith, begun in their baptisms (all were able to tell us the date on which they were baptized!), and to articulate the essential elements in that faith as these are explained in Dr. Luther's smaller catechism.

I must say that the young men did a great job of taking us through "the six chief parts" of Dr. Luther's classic intro to the faith (the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, Baptism, Office of the Keys, and Lord's Supper). There were a total of 95 questions that yours truly asked. All got answered, even if the deaconess and I had to assist occasionally with a few clues and hints.

I suppose one could liken Confirmation to the Jewish ritual of the "bar mitzvah," since the Lutheran rite of Confirmation is the formal way in which eighth-graders become adult members of the congregation. They will now be full communicant members of the "new covenant" that has been established through Christ's death and resurrection. While we Lutherans do not consider Confirmation a sacrament, as some other Christians do, we think that this rite is an important step in the process of becoming a more mature disciple of Jesus.

The challenge now is to encourage these young men--and the other young women and men in our confirmation program--to stay active within the congregation. Confirmation is not "graduation" from church, but a milestone that is marked by a deeper commitment to the Christian faith and Christian discipleship.As such, it is indeed an important "transverse marking" in the lives of these young adults.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Bach's Jesu, meine Seelen Wonne on Wood

If you are a lover of all things J. S. Bach, check out this link:

Bach used this chorale to end each part of Cantata 174, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben. The English title of the 1926 transcription of Martin Jahn's (c. 1620-1682) hymn text, Jesu, meine Seelen Wonne, which was done by English pianist Myra Hess (1890-1965), is Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. This was sung at the wedding of my parents--and also at my own.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pericopes for the Week: Christ's Love and Our Enemies

On January 23, 1938, at the secret and illegal seminary in Gross-Schlonwitz, Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), who would later be executed by the Hitler regime for his involvement in the plot to assassinate the German dictator, delivered a sermon on "Christ's Love and Our Enemies." The biblical text that served as the basis for this message was Romans 12:17-21.

I was thinking about this sermon in light of the euphoria that some have been expressing since Sunday's announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a U. S. commando unit on the orders of the President. Like many others, I have been troubled by this assassination and the subsequent dancing, not because bid Laden was a good person--he wasn't--but because I don't think God wants us to gloat over the deaths of any human being, however justified those deaths might be "in the civil realm."

When Bonhoeffer himself participated in the conspiracy to murder Hitler, he knew that he was sinning. He followed the Luther-an dictim, "sometimes it becomes necessary to sin boldly--that any course of action or inaction in a given situation is marked by sin--so one must sometimes 'sin boldly' but believe in the grace of God more boldly still." If Hitler had been killed, I cannot imagine that Bonhoeffer and his sober associates would have been dancing in the streets and shouting prideful slogans. He hints at this in his letter to his friend, Eberhard Bethge, on the day after the July 20 plot failed: "...By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world--watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes human and a Christian (cf. Jer. 45!). How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God's sufferings through a life of this kind?..." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Eberhard Bethge, July 21, 1944, in A Testament to Freedom, ed. Geffrey Kelly and F. Burton Nelson [HarperCollins, 1995], 510)

And from the 1938 sermon:

"'Never be conceited'--lest you become murderers of your brothers. Don't believe that you know on your own how to get along with other people, or how to deal with enemies, or what good and evil are, lest humankind devour itself completely. 'Never be conceited'--rather look to God's way with us, with our enemies, that way, which Scripture itself calls foolish, the way of God's love for our enemies, which God demonstrates to us by sending God's Son all the way to the cross. The best wisdom is recognizing the cross of Jesus Christ as the insuperable love of God for all people, for us as well as for our enemies. Or are we of the opinion that God loves us more than God loves our enemies: Would we believe that we are God's favorite children? Were we to think that, we would show ourselves to be of like mind with the Pharisees, we would have stopped being Christians. Is God's love any less for our enemies, for whom God just as much came, suffered, and died, as God did for us? The cross is nobody's private property, but belongs to all; it is intended for all mankind. God loves our enemies--the cross tells us that. God suffers on their account, feels anguish and sorrow because of them. God gave the beloved Son for them. That is the whole point every time we encounter enemies we remember at once: God loves them, God gave everything for them. Therefore, never be conceited" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Christ's Love and Our Enemies," A Testament to Freedom, 285).