Affirming the Ministry of Women in the Lutheran Church of Australia

ANCIENT, DECREPIT AND GREY

I am neither a theologian nor the son of a theologian, but I treasure the Holy Scripture. So much so, that before I became ancient, decrepit and grey, I learned the New Testament in the Authorised Version by heart, with the exception of the magnificent Revelation to John. I also learned the gospels in Greek by heart, but my problem is that I do not meet any ancient Greeks, so that exercise had little point.

I treasure also a united church, free from endless argument and the history of hot debate which often became hatred in years gone by. It is my hope that the debate on the ordination of women will be free from rancour and that the decision of the majority will not prove to be divisive.

I well remember the debate about women wearing hats in church, or having their heads otherwise covered. Did not Paul clearly say a great deal about this (1 Corinthians 11:3-161 Corinthians 11:3-16
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3 But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonors her head. For it is one and the same thing as if she were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, because he is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man; 9 for neither was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this cause the woman ought to have authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, neither is the woman independent of the man, nor the man independent of the woman, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, so a man also comes through a woman; but all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves. Is it appropriate that a woman pray to God unveiled? 14 Doesn’t even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her, for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither do God’s assemblies.

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)? Today this is not an issue. We are agreed that Paul speaks in the context of society in his day.

The same men who took seriously Paul’s words as a dictum for all time, nevertheless ignored our Lord’s direction in Luke 10:4Luke 10:4
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4 Carry no purse, nor wallet, nor sandals. Greet no one on the way.

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, ‘Carry neither purse, nor scrip,’ when taking the gospel to the community. I know that wallet and sometimes a packed lunch was taken as they went. Of course, this was local direction, intended for the seventy evangelists, or for the twelve, in Matthew 10. But can this interpretation be disputed? Were we being selective in what we believed was a direction for the first century of the church, and what we believed was intended for all time?

Again, Paul directs, ‘I suffer women to keep silent in church’ (1 Corinthians 14:341 Corinthians 14:34
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34 let your wives keep silent in the assemblies, for it has not been permitted for them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as the law also says.

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), or in TEV, ‘The women should keep silent in meetings. They are not allowed to speak’. Then comes a most unfortunate translation, ‘The Jewish law says they must not be in charge’. The correct translation is simply ‘law’and a study of other passages where ‘Jewish’ is inserted demonstrates a distortion of Scripture.

During early years of my ministry I was asked to explain how I could permit a female president of our church youth group to read a lesson during the annual youth service. The fathers of the church were quite sincere when raising their objection. How times have changed! [Yes, Paul was speaking in a particular social setting, so I am advised.]

Further, church custom did not permit me to pray with members of other churches. In our sincerity in observing Scripture as we understood it then, what blessings we denied ourselves.

The last bastion, as I see it, which is preventing the ordination of women is a theology developed around something we call ‘The Order of Creation’, again from I Corinthians (11:7-9). My library with only a little Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and certainly not the Erlangen edition of Luther’s Works, has not revealed that such a theology existed until more recent times. However, I stand ready to be corrected by theologians.

Thus I began to question what I believe evolved from local customs where, almost throughout civilisation, women were in some way subservient to men. I suggest again that we have been selective in our teaching. Let it be said that Paul wrote some of the finest words concerning women. What could be more gracious than, ‘Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it’(Ephesians 5:25Ephesians 5:25
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25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself up for it;

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)? He used his gifts in developing congregations. He wrote the finest words of all in this respect, ‘In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female’(Galatians 3:28Galatians 3:28
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28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

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).

About two years before that joyous day when the ELCA and UELCA became the LCA, a joint Pastors’ Conference was held at Gawler, S.A. I listened patiently to the learned debate on the ordination of women. Finally I sought an opportunity to speak. I said something like this, ‘I have listened with respect to the arguments against such ordination, which I believe have been sincerely presented. However, I state without any fear of being proved wrong, that during the lifetime of some of you here today, the Lutheran Church of Australia will be ordaining women. And immediately there was a majority cry of ‘NO!’from the gathering.

Please do not take time to write in censure of the above. Let us wait to debate it in glory.

Ivan Wittwer

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