Affirming the Ministry of Women in the Lutheran Church of Australia

DO THE CONFESSIONS PROHIBIT THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN?

1. The gospel – Word and Sacrament – are the focus for the church

The writers of the Augsburg Confession and Apology of the Augsburg Confession1 strongly articulated the view that all church practice should be normed, measured ‘in harmony with the Gospel of Christ’ (Apology vii,viii:5). If any tradition, ritual or practice was inconsistent with the gospel message, it could not be demanded as essential for Christians as church, the body of Christ; instead, Christians were urged to disobey human rules, demands ‘contrary to the God’ (AC xxviii:34) rather than diminish the Gospel by continuing the practice (Apology xxviii:23).

Melanchthon strongly makes the point that there are only two criterion for true church: proclaiming the gospel of the crucified and risen Christ and administration of the sacraments according to the gospel.

‘If human traditions are not acts of worship necessary for righteousness before God, it follows that people can be righteous and children of God even if they do not observe traditions that have been maintained elsewhere’(Apology vii,viii:34).

2. Church leaders have no right to make rules for the church that contradict the gospel

In the Augsburg Confession, Melanchthon also commented on leaders in the church who were attempting, at the time of the Reformation, to make practices and rules not consistent with the Gospel essential for membership in the church. In a section dealing with ecclesiastical power, he makes the following observations:

‘According to the Gospel…no jurisdiction belongs to the bishops as bishops…except to forgive sins, to reject doctrine which is contrary to the Gospel, and to exclude from the fellowship of the church ungodly persons whose wickedness is known, doing all this without human power, simply by the Word’ (AC xxviii:21).

He speaks very strongly against any practice that is inconsistent with the Gospel and the Christian liberty the Gospel asserts:

‘If bishops have the right to burden consciences with such traditions, why does Scripture so often prohibit the making of traditions? …Inasmuch as ordinances which have been instituted as necessary or instituted with the intention of meriting justification are in conflict with the Gospel, it follows that it is not lawful for bishops to institute such services or require them as necessary. It is necessary to preserve the doctrine of Christian liberty in the churches, namely, that bondage to the law is not necessary for justification’ (AC xxviii:49,50,51).

He makes the following assertion, focussing on the chief article of the Gospel and the Christian obligation to preserve this Gospel centre and all that follows from it:

‘It is necessary to preserve the chief article of the Gospel, namely, that we obtain grace through faith in Christ and not through certain observances or acts of worship instituted by humans (AC xxviii:52).

3. Sometimes there is need to make allowances because of human weakness, but these are always subordinate to the gospel.

Melanchthon makes the point that some things may be done in the interests of good order – but this human need for order is always secondary to the demands of the Gospel focus and its life-and-death implications for all Christians:

‘It is lawful for bishops or pastors to make regulations so that things in the church may be done in good order, but not that by means of these we make satisfaction for sins, nor that consciences are bound so as to regard these as necessary services. So Paul ordained that women should cover their heads in the assembly and that interpreters in the church should be heard one after the other…Consciences should not be burdened by suggesting that they are necessary for salvation or by judging that those who omit them without offense to others commit a sin’ (AC xxviii:53,54,56).

4. Customs and regulations of the church change

Faced with the constantly changing nature of human history and human customs and attitudes, Melanchthon also makes the following observations:
‘Many [canons] become obsolete from day to day even among those who favour traditions…Perhaps there were acceptable reasons for these ordinances when they were introduced, but they are not adapted to later times’ (AC xxviii:67,73).

Although Melanchthon is not focussing on women’s ministry in this section of the confessions, he is talking about rules and practices, instituted by church leaders, that are contrary to the Gospel.

5. Conclusion

In earlier periods of church history, it may have been necessary ‘for good order’ to restrict women’s participation in the public ministry of word and sacraments. In the late twentieth century, in Australia where gender equity is demanded by the law of the land, where diverse segments of our community are recognising and affirming the equality, services and abilities of women, it causes offence to many people, both inside and outside the church, to restrict women’s service in the church.

Discrimination on the basis of sex does not enhance the Gospel or commend it as good news for our community today. Therefore it does not honour the head of the church, Jesus Christ. It is rather a stumbling block, a scandal made by human hands, not God’s.

Shirley Wurst, 18/3/94
This article was originally published as
‘The Gospel as Focus for Church’
in Lutheran Theological Journal 28, December 1994, pages 129 – 134
and has been adapted with permission.

Footnotes

  1. referred to as AC, Apology in this text [return top ↩]

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