“…because it is a woman….”
The order of creation is the keystone argument used in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) for understanding the relationship of men and women as well as denying women opportunity for ordination to the pastoral ministry. The seeds of this argument and its application go back in the history of Missouri, coming out of and reflecting a Germanic “male patterned dominance”1 deep within the Missouri’s soul. What before the 1950s in LCMS literature were simple references to certain biblical passages (notably 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 1 Corinthians 14:33-38; and 1 Timothy 2:9-15) developed in the late ‘50s and subsequently into a more detailed exposition around which those who oppose women’s ordination gather.2
The purpose of this article is to examine briefly how the order of creation argument is used to say no to the ordination of women. We won’t address specific exegetical questions which are covered in many places but the ethical and theological logic used to deny the office of the public ministry to women. We ask the question, among others, “Is a woman equal before God if she is not equal in function?”
How is the order of creation defined in Missouri?
The 1956 Proceedings of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod uses the term “order of creation” and defines this as “… the particular position which by the will of the Creator any created object occupies in relation to others.”3 In 1969 Missouri in convention resolved that those
statements of Scripture which direct women to keep silent in the church and which prohibit them to teach and to exercise authority over men, we understand to mean that women ought not to hold the pastoral office or serve in any other capacity involving the distinctive function of this office.
The same resolution added that
the principles set forth in such passages, we believe, prohibit holding any other kind of office or membership on boards or committees in the institutional structures of a congregation, only if this involves women in a violation of the order of creation.4
In 1986 this resolution was reaffirmed in convention.5
Also in 1986 the synod resolved to “commend to its congregations for continued study and discussion” the CTCR document Women in the Church. This document enlarges on this concept. It begins by saying,
there are two themes clearly present in the Word of God: 1) the positive and glad affirmation of woman as a person completely equal to man in the enjoyment of God’s unmerited grace in Jesus Christ and as a member of His Body, the church; and 2) the inclusion of women (as well as man) in a divinely mandated order which is to be reflected in the work and worship life of the church. The proper correlation of these two Biblical teachings is crucial if the church’s thinking on this topic is to be determined by Holy Scripture and not by the dictates of cultural demands (John 8:31).6
What is entailed in this line of reasoning? The detailed exposition found in the 1985 document can be outlined as follows (the numbers are page references to the 1985 document):
(1) God wants orderliness and unity between his created objects.
32: “Subordination is for the sake of orderliness and unity.”
(2) To meet this need God mandated certain hierarchical relational structures.
21: “… the particular position … any created object occupies in relation to others.”
(3) For man and woman this is the headship/subordination principle.
27: “The idea that God desires man to be the head of woman and woman to be subordinate to man is rooted deeply in the Old and New Testaments … this biblical truth …”
(4) This begins with our first parents prior to the Fall
24: “When the New Testament talks about the origin [sic] of the subordination of women to man, it does so on the basis of Genesis 2 and not on the basis of Genesis 3. The foundation for this teaching is not the ‘curse’ of the fall but the original purpose of God in creation.”
31: “… she has been subordinated to man by the Creator …”
(5) God does not want this order changed.
21: “… by the will of God … a certain definite order … the expression of His immutable will…. The obligatory character of these orders of things derives from the Creator Himself.”
(6) The argument assures us that before God male and female are on the same footing:
5: “… stand before God side by side with men as recipients of His gifts of grace.”
18: “…both men and women have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1-2).”
18: “Women and men are equally members of the priesthood of all believers by faith in Jesus Christ.”
19: “There is no basis here for suggesting a superiority-inferiority relationship.”
20: “She is not under his domination, but she stands alongside him in exercising that dominion which God has given to both.”
(7) The reasoning then continues that the Church in its corporate life must maintain this order.7
27: “Distinctive identities for man and woman in their relation to each other were assigned by God at creation. These identities are not nullified by Christ’s redemption, and they should be reflected in the church.”
36: “The theological matrix for the apostle’s inspired teaching on the silence of women in the church and the exercise of authority is, again, the order of creation.”
How is this made to work?
The argument posits a necessary hierarchy and attendant authority to sustain “permanence”8 and “orderliness and unity”9 in both the home and the church. Because subordination is needed to facilitate this order, God assigns male and female “distinctive identities”:10
20: “She is in every way his equal before the Creator…. To be sure, this spiritual equality does not preclude a distinction in identities between man and woman.”
21: “Husband and wife…have their respective positions…”
22: “According to the order of creation, God has assigned individual identities to each sex. He ‘from the beginning made them male and female ‘ (Matt. 19:4). The identities and functions of each are not interchangeable; they must remain distinct.”
The most explicit statement regarding what the identity of each entails speaks of how the man and woman function:
24: “She was created to be a complement to him, making a household and children possible. He in turn protected her, provided for her, and considered her part of himself, a partner in life. He was the head of the relationship, head of a relationship that was ‘one flesh’.”11
Then, because this order needs to be reflected in the church, where “one must lead and one must follow,”12 a final qualifier:
36: “Assumption of that [pastoral] office by a woman is out of place because it is a woman[emphasis added] who assumes it, not because women do it in the wrong way or have inferior gifts or abilities.”
Then, in summary, the hierarchical/subordinationist position begins with saying “God wants order” and then “God structures order into a hierarchy, even in the church.” It says regarding men and women that “[i]n their relationship to one another as followers of Jesus and members of his family, all questions of rank or authority and the insistence on individual ‘rights’ must be set aside”13 while at the same time saying that the man has a superordinate role and woman has a subordinate identity as woman and wife and that the pastoral office is closed to a woman “because it is a woman.”
How is subordination justified?
Yet once we say “she is in every way equal before the Creator” and then qualify that statement by denying the office of ministry “not because women do it in the wrong way or have inferior gifts or abilities” but “because it is a woman,” we have two problems to address: we have to (1) integrate a concept of subordination into a concept of equality and then (2) justify subordination based on gender alone. If woman is equal to man before the Creator yet is assigned subordination without taking into account her gifts and perhaps the call of God to public ministry and because of an irreversible factor in her identity is refused the office of ministry, is there really equality and have “all questions of rank or authority” really been set aside?
Yes, say ones who hold to order of creation logic. The approach to saying that subordination does not imply women are “less equal” or “inferior” is to explain that subordination is simply a matter of function.
The CTCR develops this argument by using “hierarchies of function” and “hierarchies of merit.”14
A hierarchy of function occurs in “an organic unity which is more than a contractual association,” and the example used is the relationship between a parent and a child. Here hierarchy (and also, then, authority) is not based on knowledge or experience but “on the different roles [which one is ] to play in the life of the whole,” one the parent, the other the child. The “house-codes” of Ephesians 6:1–4 and 1 Peter 3:1–7 are cited to back this up. “Considerations of merit and value are specifically excluded in hierarchies of function.”
An “inequality of authority exists” here not because “one member of the union (the parent) was of greater value or worth,” but because “in their common life together some must lead and others follow if the character of the union is to be maintained and their common life sustained.” Hence, the conclusion by analogy is that women, like the child in the example, though subordinate, are not of less value or worth nor are they inferior in any way. They have simply been chosen to be the followers.
A hierarchy of merit is different, the CTCR suggests. This hierarchy is based on knowledge or skill. A teacher has authority in the classroom because of skill which she imparts, but in the parking lot her car doesn’t start and one of her students with mechanical aptitude walks by and starts it for her. The student here is the superior.
There are differences according to the CTCR. In hierarchies of function the roles of super- and subordination do not change. In those of merit the roles constantly change, as in the illustration above of the teacher and student; those of merit “are fluid and in a constant state of change precisely because no one merits superordination in all aspects of life … no one is always in authority.”
For the CTCR the hierarchy of function is the one which by analogy says that women’s subordination does not mean they have lesser value, worth or inferiority, nor lesser knowledge or experience, but simply were assigned a different role within the order of creation.
But do these examples work?
The difference between apples and oranges
To begin, let me suggest that what are termed hierarchy of function and hierarchy of merit are essentially the same, a comparison of apples with apples.
Hierarchy of merit, the CTCR says, does change. Agreed. But so does what is termed the hierarchy of function. True, some at times are called to functions such as parenting and childhood. And, true, the hierarchy that this entails is not “based on knowledge or experience.” However, these are not roles which one necessarily plays for the whole of life; these functions do change in the course of time. A child grows, matures, moves out, makes decisions without parental input or consent; later he or she comes back to take care of a parent who is now in diminished health or makes decisions for a parent who has descended into deep dementia. Mutual respect and love remain—one is still parent and the other child—but the “content” of the relationship has changed; the relationship has moved into a different arena because the two have changed in ability and station. The hierarchy entailed by the fluid nature of the relationship is altered. The one who has the authority in the relationship has changed. One who has been subordinate is now in charge, and the one who is parent now is in the role of care receiver. Function has changed.15 Even here, “no one is always in authority.”
In a hierarchy of function, just as in the hierarchy of merit, one is subordinate (and inferior) and one is superordinate (and superior) for (1) a duration (a specified time) and (2) a scope (in specific area of life), and for (3) a particular task (to accomplish an end).16 Abilities, skill, talents, gifts do play a part. The needs of the situation determine who is superordinate and who is subordinate in that situation. In a hierarchy of merit, the same applies: the hierarchy is for a specified time, a specific area of life, a particular task. Neither hierarchy and authority nor subordination is continual; both function and merit—a better term would be gifts or skills—are for that time and that place. People move in and out of roles during life’s course.17 “Merit” and “function” are both apples.
Just as there are differences between apples and oranges, so there are differences between the “merit”/ “function” hierarchies and the hierarchy established in order of creation thinking.
The hierarchies of function and merit are based on skills, gifts and relationships that are in place for the needs of that time and place, and they shift as new needs and situations arise. On the other hand, assigning a subordinate role “because it is a woman” is an ontological issue. Subordination here is simply “because it is a woman.” This is an orange, not an apple. Subordination is not simply a matter of function.
Yes, there is “equal standing in the grace of God,” but why doesn’t this translate into equality between men and women, both created in the image of God, in the practical life of the community of faith? Here are some considerations.
In the order of creation what subordinates her is an irreversible core essence. She is subordinated because of gender. Gender is an accident of birth over which one has no control. The scope of subordination is neither limited to a fluid and changeable aspect of her being such as teacher’s skill or student’s mechanical ability nor to a role like a grown child becoming superordinate for a parent in declining health. Order of creation subordination is not just for the accomplishment of a task. The duration is for life. It is “because she is a woman.” “If you cannot help but be what you are, and if inferiority in function follows from what you are, then you are inferior in your essential being.”18
If one’s innate and unchangeable essence does not affect performance and ability, and one is still subordinated with regard to performance and abilities because of that core essence, then the person is considered inferior and lesser. She is ontologically inferior.
If one is assigned a subordinate role based on accident of birth such as skin color or ethnic background, something over which one has no choice, then in today’s society we easily see that one is not essentially equal. We’ve become aware of this as racism through the civil rights struggles. To bind a woman into a sexual hierarchy “because it is a woman” is equally problematic and equally unjustifiable.
Male and female were created both in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). In the Athanasian Creed we affirm of the persons of the Holy Trinity that “no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal.” That is the nature of God. And if male and female are created in the image of God, then they, though different—as are Father, Son and Spirit—are even in their different genders such that “no one is before or after, greater or less than the other” in any dimension.
Neither the hierarchy of function nor of merit are analogous to the hierarchy and subordination demanded in order of creation thinking. Subordination here is not just a matter of function. It is an issue of ontology. What we are comparing is apples and oranges.
Is not one more than one’s gender?
Closely related is the question, Is not a person much more than one’s gender? Isn’t the compass of “who I am” much more inclusive and complex? One’s existence is composed of many facets: one’s history, race and ethnic background, family and family position, baptism, faith, religious insight, opportunities which have enabled the person to develop and employ one’s gifts, life experiences, maturity, intelligence, marketplace skills, interests, decisions made, community standing, etc. There are many areas of a person’s life and existence besides sexuality.
If a choice is made for a woman based on one unchangeable factor, her sexuality, without consideration of who in her totality she is, and she is limited in the expression of her gifts because of this one factor, is she really equal? The general characteristics of a group—female sexuality—should not be the determinative factor for what an individual is capable of doing or where she is capable of serving. We can easily fall into stereotyping.
This is not to deny the many differences between individuals or the sexual differences between women and men. It merely claims that generalized or stereotyped differences between groups of people should not be seen as a reasonable cause to deny opportunities to members of some groups and grant these opportunities to members of other groups.”19
C. S. Lewis is quoted favorably by the CTCR when he says, “‘The point is that unless “equal” means “interchangeable,” equability means nothing for the priesthood of women’ (that is, for women in the pastoral office).”20
This is true if we define a person solely by one’s gender and biological functions. These certainly are not interchangeable; they are innate and irreversible. But Lewis is wrong if we take into account the totality of what makes up a person, either male or female. Both can possess what is necessary for pastoral ministry, the gift of teaching and proclaiming, of leadership and administration, vision, wisdom, any and all of the gifts of the Spirit, life experiences, etc. The CTCR admits the issue is “not because women do it in the wrong way or have inferior gifts and abilities”—thus in effect affirming that women do have the gifts—but still “[an] assumption of that office by a woman is out of place because it is a woman who assumes it.”21
Sexually interchangeable, no! But certainly in roles within church and community and even home. A parish pastor who knows his people will tell us that some couples are “led” by the husband and some are “led” by the wife, and that these relationships either way can be and are mutually satisfying. Some families do fine with Mrs. Business Person and Mr. Mom. Or take a marriage in which the husband is an invalid and the wife assumes the lead role. What each of the two recognize and honor are the gifts of the Spirit given to the other and the other’s life experiences. The same can apply to the church. Any pastor knows that given the circumstances, gender does not determine leadership skills. Much has to do with experience. Some men on church councils are strong leaders, others “warm bodies.” Many women have gifts for ministry that surpass those of the congregation’s men. And if the whole point is “one must lead and one must follow” and the one who must follow is “because it is a woman,” then we are into the superior and inferior game.
Matthew 19:4 is cited with reference to the “distinctive identities” God gave in creation.22 Yes, God “created them male and female.” The question in Matthew 19, however, is not the order of creation; the subject is divorce. The context in Genesis 2 is also marriage (2:22–24). Jesus is talking about one aspect of a person, the person’s relationship to another in a marriage commitment. But that’s not the whole of who a person is. One’s identity is always more than one’s gender and the implications of gender.
And how do we use words?
Then there is the simple level of the definition of words themselves. “Subordination” in any standard English dictionary means “to make subject or subservient” or “to treat as of less value or importance” or “placed in or occupying a lower class, rank or position” and then a referral to “inferior.”23 We can’t wiggle out of that simply by saying, “No, women aren’t inferior, just subordinate.” We cannot with integrity change the meaning of words used in common discourse.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”24
What bears much of this out is our history. Study the history of how women have been defined by theologians and treated in the church over the centuries, and you come to the understanding that, yes, historically and theologically and ecclesiastically women are believed inferior. Start with Thomas Aquinas’s comment that “the female is a misbegotten male” and move on into LCMS history and go to J. T. Mueller who asserts that
women, when speaking in the congregation, not only revolts against the clear command of God, but also usurps authority over man, subverts the divine rule of order, and entails upon the Church the perils of false doctrine, and general disorder and confusion, through her amenability to fraud and deception.25
The question must not be “Who fits where in a hierarchical structure?” but “How do we best honor our God who has created both female and male in his image?” How do we best honor our God who is ordering the church through the gifts he gives to females as well as males? How do we honor our God who calls women into pastoral ministry? How do we reframe the ordination debate instead of scrambling around doing theology to defend a dysfunctional tradition?
Whoops! If you haven’t fallen asleep by this point, have you been caught up in the trap into which this paper has fallen? What game have we been playing? How have we been reasoning?
“God wants orderliness and unity between his created objects.” We have been caught up in reasoning from “what is” (Adam’s logic: “who’s in charge here?”) rather than from “what is revealed” (the Spirit’s logic: “How can we best serve the Gospel?”). Is this really the point from which to begin? By beginning here we in a sense have bought into a new commandment: there must be male superordination and female subordination to have order, and all flows from that. Where we start says something about where we will end up.
“God wants orderliness and unity between his created objects.” Yes, where two or three are gathered together, some sort of arrangements need to be in place.
“God wants orderliness and unity between his created objects.” Yes, but first of all, what God desires first and foremost is “everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3–4). Perhaps here we are starting with the proper categories.
After all, what is it finally that equalizes us? The equalizer is sin. “Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written, ‘There is no one who is righteous, not even one…. All have turned aside” (Romans 5). Sin is the common ground on which we all stand before God. No hierarchy there.
What is it that makes us equal? Grace. “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 5). Grace is the common ground on which we stand before God. No merit or function or hierarchy or superordination or subordination endears us to God. That relationship is by grace alone, not grace plus works, not grace plus position, not grace plus gender.
Good and bad, superior and inferior, superordination and subordination are moral and ethical categories. Paul recognizes that we can argue about hierarchy, about who is the head of whom, who came first and who comes first, and what symbols one should wear to demonstrate whatever. Paul struggles with pastoral advice, and it finally comes down to a “nevertheless”: the bottom line becomes “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11–12). “In the Lord” we live by grace; the divisions and struggle for position caused when we elevate one distinction over another wash out:
“In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. [So] judge for yourselves” (1 Corinthians 11:11–13a).”
The categories for communities of faith are not superior or inferior, superordinate or subordinate, “good” and “bad. The category is simply “forgiven.” That’s where we start.
Do not the Spirit’s gifts count?
Then we move to gifts.
Order of creation theology minimizes the gifts of the Spirit. Insisting on a lens of “order” through which to understand relationships and ministries instead of a lens of God’s ongoing creation and “ordering” with gifts, we skew much of our response to God’s calling. To enable the church for this ministry of forgiveness, the Spirit gives gifts to whom the Spirit wills (1 Corinthians 12:11).
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12).
Wherever the New Testament talks of “the same Spirit who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (1 Corinthians 12:11), no mention is ever made of the Spirit having a gift list for women and a separate list for men. And in discerning the gifts we discover which priests (1 Peter 2:9) out of all the priests, male and female, in the Body of Christ God is calling into the public ministry of the Church Catholic, one segment of which is The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
To deny a person’s Spirit-given gifts in the name of gender is to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The church’s refusal to use the Spirit’s gifts amounts to quenching the Spirit. To say that ordination to public ministry is denied “not because women do it in the wrong way or have inferior gifts and abilities” but “because it is a woman” who would assume the office is to ignore the working of the Spirit who “gives gifts as he wills.”
Can we move on?
Baptism is the sacrament of new life, changed life, life lived in repentance even of our “patterned dominations,” our systemic patriarchal behavior, our quenching of God’s call to women to public ministry to whom he has given the gifts. So, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” (Colossians 2:20). Our focus is not with status, position, authority (Mark 10:42–45; John 13:12–16; Philippians 2:1–8). God calls us not to engage in preferential treatment (James 2:8–9).
What kind of ordering is God seen to be doing?
One clue: There are many biblical examples of women who have served faithfully in teaching and leadership positions in the early church. We would not find those examples if such roles were inherently and intrinsically masculine. Whenever, then, a person is called by God to pastoral ministry, we honor God by honoring that gift. To be subordinated because of an accident of birth such as gender, or even skin color, is to be unfairly and un-Christlike determined to be inferior.
Another clue: When we do ministry, we do it out of the Gospel. Our confessional core is justification by grace through faith because of Christ or, in short, the forgiveness of sins. The church’s ministry is the ministry of Christ’s forgiveness. And we understand with Luther that God is ordering the church for one purpose:
Therefore everything in the Christian church is so ordered that we may daily obtain full forgiveness of sins through the Word and sacraments appointed to comfort and revive our consciences as long as we live (Large Catechism, Creed, 55).
A third clue: We observe that the Gospel is not bound to “places and persons”:
Besides, the ministry of the New Testament is not bound to places and persons, as the Levitical priesthood [Note: which was gender and ethnic based] is, but is spread abroad through the whole world and exists wherever God gives his gifts, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers. Nor is this ministry valid because of any individual’s authority [emphasis added] but because of the Word given by Christ (Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 25 and 26).
That would assume that a male’s superordination and associated hierarchical authority is not what opens up the office of public ministry to him, and we suggest that the obverse also would be true, that a woman’s suggested “subordination” would not invalidate any public ministry on her part.
The German of the same text adds:
The person adds nothing to this Word and office commanded by Christ. No matter who it is who preaches and teaches the Word [emphasis added], if there are hearts that hear and adhere to it, something will happen to them according as they hear and believe because Christ commanded such preaching and demanded that his promises be believe.
When the sacraments are administered by unworthy men, this does not rob them of their efficacy [Note: our goodness or sinfulness, maleness or femaleness, have no bearing on Word and sacrament efficacy]. For they do not represent their own persons, but the person of Christ, because of the church’s call, as Christ testifies (Luke 10:16), “He who hears you hears me.” When they offer the Word of Christ or the sacraments, they do so in Christ’s place and stead. Christ’s statement teaches us this in order that we may not be offended by the unworthiness of ministers. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession [Articles VI and VII: The Church, 28]).
And the bottom line is that it is by “the mercies of God” that we make our covenant and organize any structure within the Body of Christ:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age; but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness (Romans 12:1–8).
Order of creation thinking is contrary to the core of our Confessions in that it insists that gender—an element of one’s own person—is a basis for getting out the news of the forgiveness of sins through the public ministry of the church. The order limits the “ordering of the church,” this ministry of getting out the forgiveness, by circumscribing the ministry because of gender and makes it an element of “worthiness”—“he is male.” If gender is a qualification, does the person really represent Christ, or oneself?
It is not “because it is a woman”
Perhaps in the past, in Paul’s day, “keeping silent in the church”—“not challenging males publicly”—was necessary pastoral advice to women in a culture of patriarchy and male domination where any other advice would give offense to the Gospel. In our culture of corporate “good old boys clubs,” spousal and sexual abuse, rape, glass ceilings, sexual slavery, etc., how does the language of “womanly submission” and “obedience” and “order of creation” theology affect the Gospel outreach? How is the Gospel heard by post-modern nonbelievers when shared through the grid of male superordination/female subordination? What offense is given today because a male hierarchical church circumscribes women’s functioning? To affirm that male and female are one in Christ and yet talk hierarchy is logically inconsistent no matter how hard we try to make it sound palatable.
“It will always be inappropriate to ask for some special reason why the man ought to exercise headship over the woman, other than the reasons that God ordained the hierarchy which exists in marriage.”26 No. What is inappropriate is not to question theological constructs which aver that persons are limited in the use of their gifts “because it is a woman.”
A comment by Paul Jewett is helpful here:
Social structures would disintegrate into anarchy and chaos were mankind to seek to live by a purely egalitarian model of communal life. To conceive the personal dimension as an I/thou fellowship does not imply an egalitarianism that knows no level of authority and obedience, no super- and subordination in society. In fact, in the concrete structures of life, women ought to be subordinate to men as the occasion demands. By the same token men ought to be subordinate to women as the occasion demands. It is not the subordination of some women to some men, but the subordination of all women to all men, because they are women, that constitutes the indefensible thesis, indeed the unscriptural thesis. When one grasps the basic contour of revelation, as it begins with the creation narratives and culminates in Jesus Christ, one cannot make a case for such ontological subordination of female to male…. Since men and women are equally in the image of God, what is true for one is true for the other…. Men and women are persons related as partners in life. Hence neither men nor women are born to command or to obey; both are born to command in some circumstances, to obey in others. And the more personal the relationship between them, the less there is of either; the less personal the relationship between them, the more there is of both [sic]. 27
In the workbook for Missouri’s 2007 convention we find this among the reports:
The Scriptures clearly teach that God has given the pastoral office and the exercise of pastoral authority to men and not to women. For over 19 centuries Christendom has recognized this truth. Only during the 20th century in the West have some Protestant church bodies contradicted this truth and ordained women. While the Scriptural restriction may contradict the prevailing winds of the egalitarian Zeitgeist, the church belongs to Jesus Christ and not to the world. Therefore The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod by the strength of God intends to remain faithful to God’s Holy Word even when it contradicts public opinion.28
“Why should we change? After all, we have been doing it this way 2000 years!” Who is the “we”? This was the question of an LCMS pastor, male to be sure. Perhaps the “problem” is not a problem of “how women fit in” but a problem with the “we,” a lens of masculinity and unexamined tradition through which male pastors and theologians seek to order the church.
“… we understand to mean …” the LCMS said in convention in 1969, wisely, having not all understanding and wisdom, knowing that understanding is bound by culture and times, yet that the Spirit still leads even today deeper into all truth. The church needed an ecumenical council to address the issue of Jew and Gentile (Acts 15), plus many of the New Testament letters. After Paul wrote Philemon it took the Spirit another 1,800 years of wrestling with the church for the church to be opened up regarding the issue of slave and free. Perhaps, hopefully, prayerfully, if we hoist our sail and observe closely enough, we will see that “the prevailing winds” are not those of “the egalitarian Zeitgeist” but of the Geist of God.
Must it be “because it is a woman,” or can it become simply because one is redeemed by Christ the Crucified?
1. The term is based on the use of “patterned dominance” in the Commission on Theology and Church Relations’ study, Racism in the Church (1994).
2. For an historical summary of the use of order of creation reasoning, see Mary Todd, Authority Vested (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 2000), 154ff. See also Edward H. Schroeder, “The Orders of Creation—Some Reflections on the History and Place of the Term in Systematic Theology,” Concordia Theological Monthly 43 (1972): 165-78.
3. Missouri Synod, 1956 Convention Proceedings, 555. This definition is used in Women in the Church: Scriptural Principles and Ecclesial Practice, Commission on Theology and Church Relations (September 1985), 21. Hereafter cited as CTCR-WIC.
4. Missouri Synod, 1969 Convention Proceedings, Resolution 2-17.
5. Missouri Synod, 1986 Convention Proceedings, Resolution 3-09.
6. CTCR-WIC, 4.
7. If the positions of superordination and subordination for male and female are assigned in creation, a logical conclusion would be that this hierarchy applies to all even outside communities of faith. What are the implications fo the order of creation for “secular” society? The CTCR avoids applying this doctrine to all of human kind: “Significantly, subordination is not applied by the apostolic writers to secular society. In this sphere—in the absence of Scriptural guidance—one must resist attempts to identify certain stances as the Christian or Biblical ones. The fact that a woman may be ‘over’ a man (such as a woman foreman on a construction crew or a woman judge in a legal proceeding) is not to be construed as a violation of the Scriptural concept of subordination” (CTCR-WIC,31–32). “The inspired writers of Scripture do not discuss the implications of the order of creation for the life of the civil estate. In Lutheran theology there is general agreement on the necessity of distinguishing carefully between that which happens in the civil sphere and that which takes place in the spiritual sphere” (CTCR-WIC, 38).
8. Commission on Theology and Church Relations, Human Sexuality: A Theological Perspective (September 1981), 34.
10. No precise definition of “identity” is given in the document. To discover what makes up identity beyond “male and female” one needs to read and add up what one finds. Webster defines identity as “sameness of essential or generic character in different instances … the distinguishing character or personality of an individual” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary , 597). Function, too, finds no definition, which Webster’s sees as “the action for which a person or thing is specially fitted or used or for which a thing exists” (ibid., 498).
11. This is a quotation from Stephen Clark, Man and Woman in Christ (Servant Books: Ann Arbor, 1980), 24.
12. CTCR, Human Sexuality, 34.
13. Commission on Theology and Church Relations, The Service of Women in Congregational and Synodical Offices (September 1994), 7.
14. CTCR, Human Sexuality, 32–35. Quotations in this section are from these pages in this document.
15. Luther understood the fluid nature of relationships. The CTCR says, “The obligatory character of these orders of things derives from the Creator Himself. Luther employed such terms as Stand (‘station’) and Beruf (‘calling’) to refer to the relationships in the order of creation” (CTCR-WIC, 21). To apply Luther’s terms to the CTCR’s static understanding of the order of creation is to describe oranges as apples. For Luther, “stations” and “callings” are where God places a person in life, and these places are often changing. At one point, God places me in relation to my parents as child; when they reach the point of inability or dementia, God places me in the position of caregiver and caretaker. At one pont I am a husband; my wife dies, and I am no longer in that role. My callings change as life changes. These are God’s orders [plural]—or better, orderings, part of God’s continuing work in the world today—not a static order [singular] of creation that once was and will be forever more.
16. Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, “Logical and Theological Problems with Gender Hierarchy,” Priscilla Papers 14:2 (Spring 2000), 3.
17. In the context of the discussion on hierarchies of function where authority “is not based on knowledge or experience” but on “the different roles” which one is to play in life, the CTCR quotes Ephesians 6:1–4, which addresses children and parents, and then stops at the end of verse 4. Why? Verse 5 is also part of the author’s house-codes discussion: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.” If verses 1 through 4 are supportive of an order of creation, why not continue the argument through verse 5? Is this a situation also where “considerations of merit and value are specifically excluded in hierarchies of function”? The roles of master and slave, we know, have changed, and where slavery has been abolished these roles are no longer. To wrap these relations in an eternal static order misses the point. The house-codes such as we find in Ephesians 6 or 1 Peter 3 are relationship instructions. “How does one’s acceptance of Christ as Lord affect relations between husband and wife, between slave and master, etc.” (Leslie Mitton, Ephesians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], 210). The purpose is to encourage persons to live in Christ-like manner in the roles in which they find themselves at that time, not to underscore permanent roles ordained at creation. Mitton’s comment regarding attention to slavery in the house-codes applies to the issue of women subordination: “We all accept customs and attitudes because we have grown up with them, even though later generations are shocked by them and condemn as hypocrites those who did not see the wrongness of them earlier. Older people today have long accepted a life-style in which women and coloured [sic] people labored under considerable handicaps, without being oppressed by the unfairness of it. But what the early Christians did was to revolutionize their own attitudes to slave within their households, and the change of heart would in time lead Christians to demand the abolition of slavery as an intolerable evil” (214).
18. Groothuis, “Logical and Theological Problems,” 3.
19. Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Good News for Women (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 47.
20. CTCR-WIC, 26, note 36.
21. CTCR-WIC, 36.
22. CTCR-WIC, 27.
23. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1989), 1175.
24. Lewis Carroll, Through a Looking Glass (London: Penguin, 1998 [first published in 1872]).
25. Concordia Theological Monthly, August-September 1923, 244.
26. CTCR, Human Sexuality, 34.
27. Paul K. Jewett, MAN as Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 130–31.
28. Missouri Synod, 2007 Convention Workbook, 67.