Friday, April 26, 2013

2013 LCMS Convention Workbook and My Dissent

I learned today that the 2013 Convention Workbook of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod is now available online. You can download all 478 pages of that document here.

I couldn't help but notice that the LCMS' Commission on Theology and Church Relations has included its seven-page response to my dissent as one of its official theological documents in the Workbook. You can find that response on pages 399 and 400.

Since convention delegates and others might like to read my own response to this CTCR document, I posted it on my blog, back on Monday, February 13, 2012 ("Dissent in the LCMS").

Perhaps you will not mind if I repeat some of my basic concerns again.

My dissent is two-fold.

(1) I am convinced that the LCMS' practice of restricting the office of pastor only to men is wrong. The synod's defense of such a restriction runs contrary to biblical and confessional evidence, does harm to individual consciences (especially to those LC-MS women who have been called by God to serve as pastor but cannot do so within their own church body), runs contrary to Christian freedom, and needlessly frustrates the work of the Holy Spirit in the church's mission within our western, egalitarian society. For my dissent to this position of the synod, one can read my online essay, "An Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians,"

(2) I am also convinced that the synod's position of interpreting the first two chapters of Genesis to mean that God created the universe over the course of six twenty-four-hour days, and that the general theory of evolution must be rejected, is wrong. The synod's defense of such a literalistic interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis ignores the problems and contradictions that are involved in such a literalistic interpretation of these chapters, runs contrary to physical evidence in nature, does harm to individual consciences (especially to those educated Christians who know the biblical and physical evidence that contradicts such an interpretation), and needlessly frustrates the work of the Holy Spirit in the church's mission within our western, scientifically-informed society. For my dissent to the synod's position on the interpretation of the first chapters in Genesis, see my essay, "The Scandal of the LCMS Mind" (also available online at
The CTCR's response to these essays is inadequate and faulty.
I. With respect to the issue of the ordination of women, the CTCR states that my essay on this topic "does not reference or quote a single resolution or doctrinal statement of the Synod regarding the service of women in the church." While this is technically true, the essay does in fact accurately describe the position that the Synod has taken on this topic, both in its resolutions and in several CTCR documents. The "order of creation" argument has often been made within the LCMS to support a male-only pastorate and it has been made in the way I describe it.
            a) One of the two guiding principles adopted in 1969 Resolution 2-17 is that women should not "violate the order of creation." While that resolution does not define what this expression means, it is clear from subsequent synodical materials that the "order of creation" notion means that women are subordinate to men within creation and cannot exercise authority over them. A 1970 decision from the CCM ruled that women may serve as officers and members of board and committees "as long as these positions are not directly involved in the specific functions of the pastoral office… and as long as this service does not violate the order of creation (usurping authority over men)" (emphasis added). In the 1985 CTCR Report, "Women in the Church," the CTCR wrote, "The Order of Creation. This refers to the particular position which, by the will of God, any created object occupies in relation to others. God has given to that which has been created a certain definite order which, because it has been created by Him, is the expression of His immutable will. These relationships belong to the very structure of created existence" (p. 21). The relationship of male to female is further clarified on p. 27: "The idea that God desires man to be the head of woman and woman to be subordinate to man is rooted deeply in the Old and New Testaments." This "order of creation" principle has been repeatedly affirmed in synodical convention resolutions (e.g., 1981, 1986).

            b) While my dissent in no way describes "the order of creation" argument as "having primarily to do with the 'order' (the 'chronological sequence') in which God created Adam and Eve," as the CTCR incorrectly describes my criticism (my dissent never states that the Synod has presented the order of creation argument "as a mere matter of 'chronological sequence'"), the CTCR itself in its 1985 report stated that the "order of creation" also involves "the headship" of the man over the woman and that this headship is based on the chronological order of woman coming from man: "[The apostle Paul] argues for male 'headship' on the basis of Genesis 2:18-25, which teaches that the man did not come from the woman but the woman from the man and that the woman was created for the sake of the man… [In First Timothy 2:13-14] Paul appeals to the temporal priority of Adam's creation ('Adam was formed first'; cf. Gen. 2:20-22), as well as to Eve's having been deceived in the fall (Gen. 3:6), to show that women should not teach or exercise authority over men in the church" (p. 22; emphasis added). The current CTCR has evidently overlooked this chronological aspect of "the order of creation" argument as it has been set forth within the CTCR's own earlier report.

            c) The CTCR's response does not acknowledge that indeed 1969 Resolution 2-17 makes explicit reference to "the order of creation." Apparently the current CTCR has overlooked that important second paragraph in the resolution: "The principles set forth in such passages, we believe, prohibit holding any other kind of office or membership on boards or committees in the institutional structures of a congregation, only if this involves women in violation of the order of creation." Clearly, this expression serves as "code language" for the kind of argumentation set forth in the 1985 CTCR report regarding the subordination of women to men in the created order of the Creator and the prohibition against women exercising authority over men. That same 1969 resolution uses the expression "the order of creation" synonymously for "the principles set forth in [those] passages" "which direct women to keep silent in the church and which prohibit them to teach and to exercise authority over men." It was this argumentation, which is not argued at length in the 1969 resolution but which is behind the expression "order of creation" within that resolution, to which I was primarily responding in my essays.

            d) I am troubled that the CTCR could not take more time to respond directly and concretely to my specific arguments and evidence against the ideological construct of the "order of creation" within the 1969 resolution and the 1985 CTCR report, let alone the other specific arguments I present against limiting the pastoral office only to men.

II. The CTCR response states that my "dissent regarding creation and evolution also suffers from a lack of specificity and focus." But I think anyone familiar with the Brief Statement, Dr. Pieper's dogmatics, and the history of LCMS resolutions on evolution, will agree that my description of the Synod's position on creation and evolution is accurate.
            a) The Brief Statement, authored principally by Dr. Pieper (who also rejected the Copernican Theory), asserts: "We teach that God has created the heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty Word, and in six days." The 1967 Resolution 2-31 uses the same language: "…Scripture teaches and the Lutheran Confessions affirm that God by the almighty power of His Word created all things in 6 days by a series of creative acts." How is this language, adopted by the Synod when it adopted the Brief Statement and then when it reaffirmed that same language in the 1967 resolution, any different in actual content from the language in my June 29th letter, namely, that "the synod's position of interpreting the first two chapters of Genesis to mean that God created the universe over the course of six twenty-four-hour days"? Is the CTCR suggesting that it is acceptable doctrinally to interpret the "six days" as being different from "six actual, twenty-four-hour days?" I understand the history of such a reinterpretation of "day" (YoM) in this context, but such an interpretation has not been widespread within the history of our Synod and has never been officially adopted by synodical resolution. In point of fact, the position of the Synod on the interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis and the Synod's corresponding rejection of the modern scientific theory of evolution is reflected in Dr. Kieschnick's words from his 2001 presidential acceptance speech: "I believe the world was created in six 24-hour days…" After this one sentence he was given a lengthy standing ovation by nearly all the convention delegates. Based on that action alone, I think my description of the Synod's position is quite accurate.

            b) To put the matter as clearly as I can, I am opposing the Synod's opposition to the well-established physical facts of evolution. The Synod should adopt a more cautious approach about condemning scientific theories and should allow for modern natural knowledge of God's creation to shed light on how one is to understand the language and genres in the first chapters of Genesis. We should learn from our forebears who were forced to adjust their interpretations of cosmological passages in Scripture to accord with modern cosmology, as has happened with respect to the acceptance of the Copernican Theory (Dr. Pieper's rejection of that theory, notwithstanding).
            c) In my dissent I did not confuse A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles with its study version. While I quote from the study version that was distributed after the 1972 original document, the sections from which I quote are direct quotations from earlier synodical statements and resolutions (e.g., the 1959 Statement on Scripture, the Brief Statement) or from the 1972 document itself (e.g., the sections on "The Gospel and Holy Scripture" and "Original Sin"). All material I quote is from synodically-adopted documents.
            d) Whereas I have concerns about some of the phrasing and emphases within 1967 Resolution 2-31, I agree with the basic doctrinal content presented there.

III. With respect to my understanding of Scriptural authority and interpretation, I do not think the CTCR has been at all helpful by merely directing me to A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles. I am well aware of the contents of this document, one of the most controversial in the history of the Synod.[1] It has rightly been criticized for its failure to take seriously the historical character of the Scriptures and the temporal and cultural distance that exists between the biblical writings and modern western interpreters of those Scriptures who have, as a part of their mental framework, knowledge of facts that were unknown to the biblical authors. Our post-Copernican, post-Darwinian worldview is different from the cosmological views presented in the Scriptures. While I acknowledge that the historical approach to the Scriptures conflicts with modern ideas that Protestant Fundamentalists have set forth about Scripture, notions that are reflected in Dr. Pieper's Brief Statement and the Preus-authorized A Statement, I do not accept that this approach is "clearly incompatible with the Synod's doctrinal position on the authority and interpretation of Holy Scripture," a position which can only be the Scripture's own position on itself (which is not really possible). Of course the Lutheran Confessions do not refer to the inerrancy of Scripture either, as that concept developed after the 17th Century, or to post-Enlightenment methods and principles of biblical interpretation, but instead refer to the Scripture's teaching of law and gospel as the key that unlocks the meaning of the Scriptures.
               a) My approach to the interpretation of the Bible (and Genesis 1-11, in particular) is almost completely shaped by the 1967 CTCR report, A Lutheran Stance toward Contemporary Biblical Studies (commended by the 1967 Synod Convention [Res. 2-02]; see also 1969 Res. 2-04). That CTCR document affirms the use of modern biblical tools for the interpretation of Scripture and contains a summary statement of the basic and legitimate elements of the so-called historical-critical method. The 1967 CTCR Report and its 1969 Project in Biblical Hermeneutics have been very helpful to me over the years, especially as I have sought to understand how the Bible is to be understood and applied today with respect to scientific knowledge about creation and about the service of women in the contemporary church.
               b) In light of the synodically-commended hermeneutical principles in these CTCR documents, it is unclear to me why the current CTCR would conclude that my observation about the influence of Aristotle's social teaching on the New Testament is incompatible with the Synod's position on Scripture, since one of the hermeneutical principles is to understand a biblical passage "in the light of its total context and of the background out of which it emerged?" It is also unclear to me how modern scientific understandings of human origins are necessarily incompatible with the Christian understanding of the doctrinal content of Genesis 1-3 (and other Scripture texts that address matters about creation and theological anthropology), especially if one attends to the distinct genres present in the first chapters of the Bible and how these are not "scientific" but phenomenological and culturally-conditioned, as the CTCR has earlier acknowledged.
               c) I believe the Synod erred in 1973 when it adopted the resolution about A Statement, an outcome that was more the result of political maneuvering and making sure of convention votes than it was of careful theological argument and understanding. Hopefully, in the future, the Synod will once again commend the hermeneutical principles that it commended in 1967 and 1969.
               d) Finally, the distinction between a so-called "magisterial use" of "reason" and a "ministerial use" is a false one and merely a convenient way to discredit an interpretation of Scripture with which one disagrees without offering reasons for that disagreement. The same kind of distinction between "magisterial" and "ministerial" uses of reason was used at the time of Galileo to discredit his re-thinking of those Scriptural passages that clearly state the sun moves around the earth and that the earth does not move. In that context the defense of "a ministerial use" of reason, to serve "what Scripture clearly teaches," would necessitate the acceptance of a geocentric worldview and the rejection of the Copernican theory. In point of fact, the real issue, then as now, is not "the use of reason" at all, but what is the appropriate understanding of the Scriptural texts in light of the natural knowledge of God's creation, what is the genre of the Scriptural passages in question, what is the meaning of the biblical language "in that distant time and place," and how can one balance that historic meaning with contemporary understanding? The meaning of at least some biblical texts, such as the ones that deal with cosmology, may not be the same today as it was "back then." We certainly don't understand many cosmological passages in Scripture in the same way as did pre-Copernicans.
As I noted back in February 2012, the current CTCR, just like the Roman curia in Luther's day, is not interested in having a theological discussion about matters that are not as simple and clear-cut as the CTCR and other synod members seem to think they are. I'm not the only member of the synod who has questions about these issues. But how is real theological discussion possible in a church body where critical inquiry about the understanding and application of Scriptural teaching is dismissed with the words, "He has a different understanding of the authority of the Bible, so we don't have to pay any attention to his specific exegesis and theological analysis?" Just as in Luther's day, the appeal is to church authority (in this case, to synodical resolutions, statements, and synodical traditions, as defended by the CTCR), rather than to the Scriptures themselves and to questions about their contemporary meaning and application.

[1] One should note, in passing, that A Statement, adopted by the slimmest of majorities in a highly politicized and polemical context, has the same doctrinal status as any other doctrinal resolution adopted by the Synod.

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