Saturday, October 24, 2009

Girls Gone Wild, WELS Edition

In spite of the Wisconsin Synod's reputation for "conservative" rigor, WELS has a rather "liberal" view when it comes to women officiating at the Eucharist.

According to this Q&A from the WELS's own website, there have been at least two instances where laywomen in the WELS have said the Lord' Words of Institution over bread and wine and served it, claiming that it was the body and blood of the Lord. The practice was in no way condemned by the WELS hierarchy, but rather, the practice is current under a "moratorium" in order to "keep from offending our brothers."

This error has come about by the intersection of an error on the doctrine of the ministry combined with a legalistic view of the role of women.

First, WELS does not believe the pastoral office has been divinely established, and further teaches that "The Bible establishes all of public gospel ministry but does not establish a pastoral office as such or vest certain duties exclusive to that office" (Emphasis added).

From this starting point, WELS adds the next premise that the differences between male and female are limited to a legalistic "thou shalt not," as the article puts it:
"Since the Bible does not assign specific duties to the pastor, WELS approaches the matter of women communing women from Scripture's man and women role relationship principle. WELS doctrinal statements on the role of man and woman say that a woman may have any part in public ministry that does not assume teaching authority over a man. That, of course, would include women communing women" (emphasis added).
And this has moved beyond the theoretical into the practical:
"WELS has had only two instances of women communing women, and our Conference of Presidents has since issued an indefinite moratorium on such practice to keep from offending our brothers until the matter is mutually resolved" (emphasis added).
The "it's only happened twice" defense reminds me of the Monty Python sketch claiming that the British Navy now has cannibalism "relatively under control."

In other words, the theology of male and female boils down to an oversimplified and law-based overarching principle that women are free to do anything and everything in the Lord's economy so long as she does not exercise authority over a man in doing so - when in fact, the role of women is much richer than the "anything other than..." approach of the WELS. Accepting these two premises and following them to their logical end yields the result of women saying the Words of Institution over bread and wine, and distributing the elements to each other as if they were the true body and blood.

This is roughly the equivalent of my asserting that since I'm an American citizen, I can sign my name on a bill and make it a law, or that I can authorize people to go up into the Statue of Liberty's crown, or may indeed put stars on my lapels and order military personnel about. I can do no such thing. It is a matter of authority. Pastors are ambassadors of Christ, and speak by His authority, standing in His stead and by His command. The American ambassador to Canada speaks with the authority of the government of the United States. Of course, I am free to visit the Parliament in Ottawa, but unlike the word of the ambassador, my word bears no authority. Any statements I make have no force behind them, as I have not been placed into any such office by those who have such authority to delegate.

This is quite different than the Roman Catholic assertion that at a man's ordination, a metaphysical change in his person has happened. But this is also quite different than the Protestant assertion that ordination is nothing more than a quaint ceremony. Sometimes the president of the United States is called "the most powerful man in the world." Not so. I'd be willing to wager than any middle linebacker in the NFL could take out President Obama in any kind of a strength competition or fight. What the president has is not personal "power," but rather delegated personal "authority" that he exercises "by virtue of his office." Not even someone more "powerful" than the president can make laws and issue commands to the military. If someone were to attempt to do so lacking authority, it would be a mutiny and a rebellion.

The examples in Scripture of those who assumed and usurped authority not given by the Lord do not end well. Korah's rebellion comes to mind.

And lest we become too smug in the LCMS, I think we should be on guard. We do have deaconesses who are described as "ministers," some even serving in institutional chaplaincies, providing spiritual care to both men and women. I have even seen this work described as being "pastoral" - though there is great care not to turn this adjective into a noun. At some point, the earlier understanding that deaconesses would only teach women and children has been superseded in the LCMS, as deaconesses are now permitted to teach men as well as women and children. What authority they have and do not have seems to be on a sliding scale of gray, and varies with whomever is asked.

But the problem goes well beyond the malleable role of the deaconess. I recently heard firsthand of a "laying on of hands" in the LCMS that involved not only clergy, but the congregational elders (after all, see 1 Tim 4:4...) and the female congregational president as well. I know that sometimes clergy wives are even involved in these ceremonials.

We also have an oxymoronic "office" in the LCMS called "lay minister." Male "lay ministers" have been given "license" for "Word and Sacrament ministry" by district presidents. Female "lay ministers" take the same classes and hold the same synodical designation, yet (to my knowledge) there have not been instances of female "lay ministers" either preaching or presiding over an alleged Sacrament of the Altar. But I do think this toe-to-the-line of the Wisconsonian view of the office of the ministry and the roles of the sexes leaves the possibility open.

One of the most foolish things anyone can ever say is: "It can't happen here."

We in the LCMS have a similar rather limited theology of the sexes as the WELS. We tend to focus on the narrow and myopic legalistic issue of "what women are allowed, and are not allowed, to do" (functionalism) rather than the deeper and eternal issue of what men and women were created to do (ontology). Function ought to flow from ontology rather than trying to reverse-engineer the situation in the opposite direction.

I suspect there are some in our midst who indeed would make the argument that women have the divine authority to bless bread and wine (even as they have the power to physically say the words), that they can indeed also have the churchly permission ("call") to do so as long as no men take the "sacrament" from her hand, and so long as she does not lay claim to the title of "pastor." And there are some that will, no doubt, make a couple arguments in favor of women consecrating based on:

1) The charge of "Donatism." This is the ancient heresy that the validity of the sacrament is based on the moral standing of the officiant. However, sex has nothing to do with moral fitness. It is rather an ontological distinction. For example, men are not denied the privilege of carrying a child in the womb based on a moral reason, it's rather a question of reality and vocation. Just as a good and righteous American citizen can write his name at the end of a bill passed by Congress, the fact is that his righteous signature is not effective whereas that of even a wicked president is - by virtue of authority. A person's sex has nothing at all to do with Donatism.

In fact, the Donatism charge can even go the other way. For example, a very pious and morally upright lay woman can say all the right words over bread and wine without having any authority from God, neither from Scripture nor from the Church, and yet a wicked ordained male pastor with a valid call can do the same thing - and there is no doubt whatsoever of the validity of the sacraments he officiates over.

This is because the issue is authority, not moral fitness.

In fact, there was an interesting conversation between some LCMS seminary professors over this very issue. You can read the initial article about the "validity of churchly acts of ordained [sic] women" here and the rebuttal against the charge of "Neo-Donatism" here.

2) Emergency baptism. The argument goes that if women can "confect the sacrament," so to speak, regarding an emergency baptism, then it follows that she can similarly officiate over celebrations of the Holy Eucharist. But this is a leap of logic that presumes that all sacraments are equal and that we are not bound to any authority in these matters apart from our own modern whims. The crux of the matter is that emergency baptism is just that - a life and death situation. The Church has long established this form of Holy Baptism, and has never denied the fairer sex the extraordinary authority to administer the Holy Sacrament in matters of extremity. However, the same cannot be said for other sacramental and churchly acts. For there are no emergency marriages or confirmations or communions. Our confessions cite the scenario attributed to St. Augustine in which one dying man baptizes the other, and the newly-baptized administers the Sacrament of Holy Absolution to his fellow. There is no mention of any other sacrament or church rite. Most certainly there is no precedent for emergency lay Communion.

Just as female ordination inevitably leads to the blessing of same-sex marriages, I also believe that a functional view of the ministry inexorably leads to women functioning (if not outright claiming to be) pastors. Until we in the LCMS come to grips with the idea of ontology (both of ministers and of the sexes), we will continue to follow in the train of our conservative brethren, even though the tracks have taken a radical turn to the left.

HT: Dr. William J. Tighe

13 comments:

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

What would you say is the connection between "Authority" and Ontology? When I think of these issues, I tend to think of authority first (rather than ontology), but I would wager that there is a fine and strong connection. How might you describe it though?

Past Elder said...
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Past Elder said...

Interesting that when I was in WELS, it maintained the view of the OHM just as you describe, and saw LCMS as waffling on the authority thing by allowing women voters in congregations, which as far as I know are still not allowed in WELS.

As I read and learned more, it was the view of the OHM that was one of three factors that led me to change synods, because, as you point out, without the OHM the rest of it surely follows at some point.

(The other two factors, for anyone curious, were local matters and it seeming that almost every blogger I found who understood Lutheranism as I do was LCMS, including our host, though we may part ways re secular music and church polity.)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

I think authority flows from ontology.

For example, the husband has authority in the family because of who he is ontologically - a man. The Lord orders authority in the family not in a functional way (the head of the household being determined by who happens to be functioning as the head on a particular day), but in an ontological way (by virtue of the husband's maleness).

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

I think the female suffrage was a case of the church imitating the world. I think it is an example of viewing the Kingdom of God in terms of "rights" instead of seeking ways to serve. This same impetus is what led to women's "ordination" among our former brethren. Sometimes I think the modern Church is embarrassed by looking different than the world.

Thomas Pietsch said...
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Past Elder said...

Scripture, in helping us to understand the church, likens the church, which is of divine origin, to the body, which is also of divine origin, and not to any social or political organisation, all of which are of human origin.

The church always gets into serious trouble when it ignores this and begins to understand itself in terms of the man made rather than the divine.

It did so when it began to resemble the world in terms of its empires and kingdoms, and does so now as it begins to understand itself in terms of democracy and free or open society.

The RCC considers that Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders confer an indelible character -- technically a redundancy, since the Greek root of the word character means to engrave -- which is not erased however much a person falls from it morally.

Which turns the focus to who can impart that character. The RCC considers that anyone may baptise, whereas only those who are valid bishops (the highest of three degrees of Holy Orders) may confirm or ordain.

That is why when I became Lutheran I was not baptised, my RCC baptism being held valid, whereas if one of you blackbirds became RC, your Lutheran baptism would be valid but you would be confirmed, and if seeking blackbirditude even without the celibacy thing you would be ordained, neither sacrament having been administered before.

Ontology gone wild. Which is the point of bringing it up here. The specific formulation of these doctrines in the RCC is from Trent, which is post-Reformation, but are considered to be simply later formal declarations of long held truths, whereas the Reformation challenges what in fact are the long held truths and what later formulations serving the RCC.

Which is why as an RC I saw the OHM as what happens when you try to have priests without being priests, in the context of trying to be Catholic without being Catholic, but as having come to believe the BOC is a true and correct statement of the revealed truth of God in Scripture and joined WELS, I saw the OHM as something for which one changes synods.

We certainly have enough feet grumbling that they are not heads, and legs trying to act like arms, etc, these days.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear PE:

Just to clarify, Tritarian Christian clergy that were ordained in another communion are not "re-ordained" upon becoming Lutheran and being placed into ministerial service there.

We treat such ordinations in the same way that we do baptisms - as a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

You might appreciate this:

My congregation adopted women voters in 2001, just before I got here in 2004 (in fact, the final constitutional paperwork went through just after I got here). When my dad dropped off my stuff, he was asked by a member, "What do you think of women voters?"

My dad's reply - "I don't like any voters." >=o)

Past Elder said...

Yes, I understand. Beyond baptism, the reciprocity is not mutual, except Matrimony where the ministers of the sacrament are the couple.

That's what makes it such a hoot for me, having lived on both sides of the street and two different versions of the Lutheran side of the street.

TShinnick said...

Show me in the Bible where it says that it must be a pastor that offers the sacrament.
Show me in the Bible where women are commanded not to minister to each other in any way.

Thank you.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear TShinnick:

Matt 28:20 Jesus excludes all but the future pastors (exclusively men) from the initial Eucharist.

Luke 22:19 Jesus tells only the future pastors (exclusively men) "do this," and excludes both male and female laymen from this command, vocation, and authority.

John 20:22 Our Blessed Lord (the most sensitive Man in history who fears neither civil authority nor falling out of favor in terms of social mores) ordains His exclusively male disciples, deliberately excludes Mary Magdalene, the other female eyewitnesses of the resurrection, and even His own mother from the presbyterate.

1 Tim 3:1-7 St. Paul (as all the scriptures do) uses exclusively the masculine gender to describe the episcopal/presbyterial office, says they must have "wives" (not spouses).

All over the NT, the words "pastor," "elder," and "overseer" appear in their exclusively masculine gender.

In the entire history of the Lord's people, He made no provision for female priests or overseers. The OT Israelites were looked at askance by their contemporaries, as they worshiped a male God and had only male priests who stood in His stead.

The NT Church of Peter and Paul's day were equally weird for, unlike the pagans in the Greco-Roman world, they ordained exclusively men. That's because they knew both the Word and the word up close and personal.

The reason for this "weirdness" is because the Church, the people of God, are "holy" - they are not like the world. The world has a different view of the roles of men and women, but we, the peculiar holy ("separate") people, believe Holy Scripture, and did so exclusively until many years after the "enlightenment" - when people just decided to rewrite the Scriptures and do what they want.

To those who want women to be ordained and want laymen of both sexes to preach and administer sacraments, I would ask: "Show me in the Bible where laymen are given the authority to consecrate the Sacrament of the Altar," and "Show me in the Bible where women are ever, under any circumstances, consecrating the Sacrament of the Altar."

Thanks for writing!

SceleratissimusLutheranus said...

I am presently a member of WELS and am interested in studying more of the differences between the LCMS and WELS on the doctrine of ministry. Would you be able to recommend any good books or articles dealing with this?

Women should definitely NOT be administering the Eucharist under any circumstance!