Affirming the Ministry of Women in the Lutheran Church of Australia

Ecumenical Implications and Considerations on the Subject of the Ordination of Women

Dr J. T. E. Renner, North Adelaide, SA

In seeking to come to a satisfactory conclusion on the ordination of women in the church, the Lutheran Church of Australia has always maintained that the sole rule and standard by which all dogma and teachers should be estimated and judged in the church are the prophetic and apostolic scriptures of the Old and New Testaments alone. Whilst the subject being debated cannot be narrowly held to belong the public doctrine of the church, yet it does impinge on the doctrine of the Ministry and for that reason it was included under that caption ‘The Ministry of the Church’ amongst its Theses of Agreement [Section D] which helped to word the amalgamation of the two Lutheran churches which occurred in 1966.

The concentration of these lines will not be on the basis used in those theses which led to the conclusion that the ordination of women could not be entertained by the new church, but rather on the importance of tradition in the church and churches in relationship to the topic being ventilated. The Lutheran Church of Australia is also guided in a number of matters and issues by the traditions it has inherited and still holds today, among which is also the ordination of its clergy.

It was Bishop Dietzfelbinger of the Bavarian Lutheran Church [Germany] who, when giving consideration to the issue of ordination of women in his church, asked the further salient question concerning the position and responsibility of the Lutheran Church on the ecumenical scene today. He came to the conclusion when arguing against the ordination of women that nothing should be done to disturb the converging relationship with the Roman Catholic Church in particular. In this latter context it can be stated that Lutheran roots are to be found historically and ecclesiastically in the above church and that the break at the time of the Reformation with the Roman Catholics was not due to an issue concerning ordination but to the lack of gospel-centrality and Christ-orientatedness (based on the scripture alone), which was partly missing in the church of the time. It was maintained that everything that was biblically sound could be retained in the church and only the anti-biblical tenets should be rejected by the new church.

The Lutheran Church of Australia has, as is known taken up serious and profitable dialogue — with the Roman Catholic community and in a statement called Pastor and Priest has shown converging promise even though the Roman Catholic cannot recognize the L.C.A.’s ministry officially since it has a defect inasmuch as it lacks apostolic succession and is not a practice essentially eucharistic. It has been felt that nothing should be done to disturb this dialogue in its attempt to overcome differences with a church which together with the Orthodox churches, cannot ordain women ministers. For the above churches tradition is much more than an opinion or custom handed down from early times, but is understood as something sacred based on the words and institution of Christ himself when he instituted the eucharist. This tradition prevents those churches from ordaining women. Christ gave the ministry to the whole church through the apostles, therefore also those churches who tend towards ordination of women might indeed be mindful of other communities and their sacred tradition, which till now the Lutheran Church of this land has also held as its own.

It is then incumbent on Lutherans to avoid everything that might disrupt the conversations with other churches especially with those who, for want of a better word, belong to the ‘Catholic-orthodox’ cluster of churches to which the Lutheran Church also belongs. It is extremely difficult to develop profitable and convergent dialogues; it is relatively easy to bring about their demise by hasty un-ecumenical action.

For the above there is necessary a great delay of faith in the working of the Holy Spirit whose task is to lead members of the holy Catholic church into all truth. It was the great ministry to India, Sunda Singh, who spoke these wise words: The age of miracles has not disappeared, only the faith in miracles. To claim that dialogue with other churches who do not ordain women is an exercise in futility is ultimately a lack of faith in him who can raise up children from stones.

It should be remembered that the Lutheran Church of Australia is an altar and pulpit fellowship with the Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea and in a working relationship with a Canadian Lutheran Church and with Lutheran ecclesial communities on South East Asia, many of which do not ordain women. As an act of ecumenical intention and expression it would be wise to draw representatives of these churches into the discussions on the subject being debated. Especially constant and sympathetic understanding might be given to those with whom the L.C.A. has closest and most intimate ties and fellowship before what might be called a back-yard decision on a critical and division threatening is made.

The Biblical injunction is clearly given: ‘Keep the unity of the Spirit in the band of peace’. That means to give concrete expression to this oneness as a datum not only in the local church and congregation but also on the ecumenical scene. This signifies that the Lutheran Church of this land should continue to discuss the matter of the ordination of women (as far as it is possible), inclusive of its importance in the traditions of other churches and having due regard to the position and responsibility of the Lutheran Church, particularly on the ecumenical-Catholic seen today.

Ecumenical ethics would, it seems, expect discussionists and dialogians on this issue to bear with one another patiently (patience in the original Latin means suffering), remembering that while sectarianium can’t wait, the true church does, for its God waits. We should respect the consciences of others and be prepared to listen sympathetically to notions and ideas that may be contra to one’s own. In this all there should be a willingness to submit to the Word of God and the sacred traditions that may emanate from it, and an honest attempt to test the Zeitgeist prevalent in any age.

In this latter content a wise word was once stated: When the Bible disagrees with the spirit of our times, it is not always because the biblical authors are giving voice to a limited, out of date religious view, frequently it is because God’s ways are not our ways.

Presentation at the Symposium
“Ordination of women in the LCA – Yes or No?”
held at Luther Seminary, Adelaide, South Australia
July 24 and 25, 1998

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