Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Considering Women's Ordination and the ELCA

Across mainline church bodies the advent of woman Pastors has well begun. The idea that the Pastoral office is given for men only is already commonly understood as an old fashioned antiquated idea of times past; back when folks were less enlightened, progressive, and learned. Resistance to women Pastors will continue to decrease into the future and toleration for dissent will eventually be stamped out completely.

There are some key realities about the ordination of women that we must consider. The Scriptures clearly teach that our Lord’s command prohibits the ordination of women. We are conscience bound to uphold this command and this great gift of Christ’s Holy Office. It is well understood that the Lutheran Church Missouri synod steadfastly opposes the ordination of women. It has nothing to do about the capability of women, their gifts and talents. It had only to do with what God has given, in his creation, in his incarnation, and in his mandate and institution to the apostles of the church.

In our Christian faith we cherish this Holy Ministry, this heavenly office which delivers to the church the means of grace. No one should administer the means of grace without being called and ordained, and there are very serious reasons for warning against women’s ordination and the sacramental acts which are carried out in ELCA congregations. Lutheran Christians in church bodies that have established women pastors are living in the midst of dangers that are involved in disobedience to God’s Word. They have serious decisions to make about testifying to the truth.

There are some who hold that a baptism performed by a woman is not a valid sacrament – and that it ought to be performed again under more sanctified circumstances. This perpetuates the old pneumatic tradition - that only valid incumbents are those who possess the gifts of the spirit. Those baptized by an unworthy and heretical bishop do not have the gifts of the spirit and that nothing happens.

This is an error that makes the validity of a sacrament and absolution dependent solely upon the administrator’s status of being ordained. Nowhere in the Holy Scriptures is this taught. I have scoured the Book of Concord and find nothing to indicate that a baptism performed by a woman or any layperson is invalid – this simply is not Lutheran and may be more reminiscent of the Council of Trent or Council of Florence.

Baptism is not about a spirit filled episcopacy – the act of baptism, is in itself a sacred act – not dependent upon the holiness or ordination of the clergy. Baptism is given to the church and man belongs to Christ in the act. A LCMS pastor should never rebaptize a parishioner from an ELCA congregation but rather confirm the baptism and comfort the baptized saint in complete sincerity and truth.

It is commonly understood that Lutherans live in their Christian faith with three essential books: The Holy Scriptures, the Catechism, and hymnal. Two of these books directly discuss lay baptism. In question 243 in the Small Catechism we read, “Who is to baptize? Normally the called ministers of Christ are to baptize, but in cases of emergency and when no pastor is available, any Christian should baptize.” This is echoed in the hymnals of the Missouri Synod (TLH, LW, and LSB) which all state that “any Christian may administer” baptism with the absence of the Pastor.

For synodical catechisms and synodical hymnals, a person can baptize if he or she is a Christian. Francis Pieper in the third volume of Christian Dogmatics writes,”Like all spiritual gifts the means of grace, including Baptism, are given by God directly to the believer, all Christians. The believer does not get them from the pastors, but vice versa. Pastors administer Baptism in their public office only as the called servants of the believers. If the public servants are not available, every Christian has the right, yes, is in duty bound, to administer Baptism.”

The position of the Missouri Synod mirrors the Roman Catholic Church whose catechism states in para. 1256, “In case of necessity, anyone, even a nonbaptized person, with the required intention, can baptize, by using the Trinitarian baptismal formula…The Church finds the reason for this possibility in the universal saving will of God and the necessity of Baptism for salvation.”
Lutheran practice as represented by Pieper therefore contends that any Christian is a valid agent of baptism. Rome goes even a step further, contending that any human being may be a valid agent for baptism. Yet, lay baptism does not begin with Lutherans but goes back well into the early church. The first mention of lay baptism is from Tertullian in the year 198 where he writes that, “a baptized person can baptize by virtue of the fact that they have received baptism.” He asserts the laity may baptize when a priest is absent for the “sake of peace in the church.”

The Reformed however, that of Calvin and Bucer opposed lay baptisms at every turn. John Calvin writes in his Institutes “Christ never commanded women, or men in general, to baptize; He gave this charge to those whom He had appointed to be Apostles.” And in the Second Helvetic Confession quote, “We teach that Baptism should not be administered in the Church by women or by midwives. For Paul separates women from the ecclesiastical offices. But Baptism belongs to the ecclesiological offices.” Furthermore, in the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646, “There are only two Sacraments ordained by Christ…neither of which may be dispensed by any but a minister of the Word, lawfully ordained.”

If you are Reformed it is easy to dispense with thousands of baptisms, essentially because baptism means nothing. It only comes by way of law, of precise mandate, by a proper agent, with proper discipline and execution. Reformed ecclesiologies, following Calvin and Bucer, historically, are eager to delineate and draw lines in the sand, discounting so-called heretical baptisms, in order to more tightly define and control what constitutes true church, the true Christian, and true and valid baptism.

Luther writes in his Genesis Lectures, “Wherever the Word is heard, where baptism and absolution are administered, there you must determine and conclude with certainty, “This is surely God’s House, here heaven has been opened.”[1] We ought therefore hold that the church, the body of Christ is holy and perfect, though in Luther’s words, is also filled with “filth, matter, ulcers, spittle, and excrement.”

We ought to be sure that women’s ordination is clearly contrary to the scriptural witness and God’s divine order. The latter attributes of the church, that of filth and ulcers are present with the advent of women’s ordination – yet they do not cause the church to cease to be church. For even the most militant clipped haired pastorette will be made into an agent of baptism when God’s promise in water is given to a child in holy baptism. A child is certainly not robbed of God’s Holy Word in baptism because it is spoken and applied by a woman. Even by a woman serving as Pastor, the heavens are opened in baptism and a child receives all the blessings of baptism in there fullness.

Because a woman has stepped into the role of pastor, it does not mean that God has withheld his speaking, His Word of Absolution, and baptism. The congregation has not become deaf to the purity of God’s word. The congregation has heard God’s word. They sings the psalms and hymns. They read and hear the scriptures and confess the historic creeds of the church.
Luther understood this in his ecclesiological understand of what constitutes “church.” In his writing on the Private Mass in 1533 he writes, “The remission of guilt does not depend on the contrition of the sinner, nor on the office or power of the priest. Our faith and the sacrament must not rest upon the person, be he pious or evil, ordained or not, called or crept in, the devil or his mother, but on Christ, on His Word.” And in a sermon of 1529 Luther writes, “Each individual Christian can say to you, “God forgives you your sins, in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and if you accept that word with a confident faith, as though God were saying it to you, then in that same faith you are surely absolved. So completely does everything depend on faith in God’s word. No pope, bishop, or priest can do anything to your faith” (LW 35:12-13).

Hermann Sasse writes, “Hundreds of women are now officiating in Germany as “Pastorates.” They are, for us now pastors at all. One must pity these poor girls who have been misled by false teachers. We do not deny that God in His inscrutable mercy can give His blessing to ministerial acts unlawfully performed.” Great theologians of the Western Church has long argued for the validity of such baptisms. Therefore, the water used in a heretical baptism is not adulterated; for God’s creation is not in itself evil, and the Gospel’s Word ought not be faulted by any false teacher.

Luther writes in LW 41 "The holiness of the word and the purity of doctrine are powerful and sure, so that even if Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate, the pope, Harry, or the devil himself preached it, or baptized truly (purely, without addition), they would still receive the true, pure word and the true, holy baptism, for there must always be hypocrites and false Christians in the church and a Judas among the apostles." Luther seems to allow that the false confession of the baptizer (who claims to be in theChristian church) does not negate the administered baptism, because the Word ofGod is still spoken and still stands true even if the one who speaks it in some other waydenies it. Lutheran theology does not encourage the drawing of boundaries in the church: as to what is true church and false church: true baptism and false baptism. If we take Lutheran theology seriously, we ought to know that drawing an identifiable line around the community of faith is a questionable proceeding, wrought with danger.

Our theology ought to be focused first and foremost on the center of what marks the Christian life which is of course baptismal theology and the Word and promises of God, and slow patient, and discerning to route out its circumference and point of delineation. The ELCA Christian community is one of wheat and tares. Just as the LCMS is a Christian community of wheat and tares. The most precious jewel that binds us and them and gives us the voice to speak to one another is holy baptism, with does not rest solely on a male agent.

And the voice that we have with the ELCA church body we need use to hold them accountable in witnessing to Christ’s Gospel, the Holy Scriptures, and the symbolical books of the Lutheran Confessions. We should continue to speak the truth in patience and love to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, particularly about women’s ordination and our confessions. We must also acknowledge that there is much that is good and Christian, even with this heterodox church body. There is Holy Scriptures, forgiveness of sins, the catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commands, the articles of the Creed, and most importantly baptism

Though women’s ordination is a serious error, if we may say one excellent thing about parishioners from the ELCA church we may say that they are baptized. Christ preserves His Christendom even in the midst of such destruction. If we are to prayerfully speak the truth to the ELCA and lovingly encounter their parishioners we ought not to deny their identity as Christians and their birth from whence Christ put them into the church.

This would be dangerously counterproductive: for instead of aiming at the Anti-Christ sitting in the church, we will have speared the poor Christian, robbed him of the baptism which he had faithfully trusted in, in turn afflicting him with doubt about the efficacy of God’s Word for the rest of his life. This is not pastoral theology which seeks to be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove. The faith of Christian saints is on the line, and we ought to confirm their baptisms and the Christian life in which they have suffered up to this day – rather than snuff it from them.

Pastors in the LCMS need a cautious and discerning pastoral care that has the courage to identify heretical and poor teaching while simultaneously feeding and strengthening the church. In Luther’s words we need to attack the ulcers which threaten the temple without destroying the temple of God itself. We should remain ever vigilant in attacking the abuses of the Pastoral Office and the erroneous views about Christ’s ministry.

We must not however attack baptism and rip it out from underneath a great expanse of the Christian church. The fallout would be devastating for our own church body. By doing this we would be taking the initiative of cutting ourselves off and cutting out a great community of saints in Christendom.

[1] LW: 5, 244.

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