Letter to the LCMS’s CTCR

Arnold Voigt

Editorial Note: Pastor Arnold Voigt served an Afro-American parish in Mobile, Alabama, and a suburban parish in Littleton, Colorado (where he ministered to those grieving and surviving the tragic school shooting there in April 1999). Having visited and worked in the Middle East ten times, he was recently co-leader of Sabeel-Colorado peace and justice team that visited Israel/Palestine. This team included twenty-five participants from the US, Canada, Spain, and South Africa. This group represented nine different faith traditions.

In response the Commission on Theology and Church Relation’s (CTCR) 1985 document on Women in the Church, he wrote a 170-page exegetical study of women’s participation in all roles of church ministry, including the ordination of women. Pr. Voigt’s document was submitted to the CTCR as his formal dissent from the LCMS’s position that prohibits women from serving as pastors. He has also written a Catechism on Women in the Church, a thirty-page summary of his larger study.

In April, 2007, he wrote the following letter to the CTCR.

 

To: Commission on Theology and Church Relations
Re: Consultation on Women in the Church
From: Pastor Arnold Voigt, Littleton, Colorado
Date: 2 April 2007

Dear Friends in Christ:

Several months ago I received a request for material I had written about women’s roles in church and ministry.  I responded and then received this email:

“You asked if I’m preparing for the ministry. Believe it or not, that’s a complicated question.  I am 40 years old and I am currently a seminary student at ——– Divinity School. I spent the first 32 years of my life in the LCMS. I was in the 10th grade when I sensed an undeniable call from God to the ministry. But what does that call mean for a woman in the LCMS? For 20 years, I struggled and grappled. I did various kinds of ministry over the years, but I always felt like I was being torn in two; a feeling that I was falling short of what God was asking of me. I didn’t want to leave the LCMS. God had other plans. Through some VERY DIFFICULT and unusual circumstances, He made it very clear to me that He was moving me out of the LCMS (I wrestled with him, and I still ‘limp’ because of it, so to speak). My new home is an Arminian-based church. I wrestle with some of the doctrine, but I’m no longer wrestling with God. I don’t know if a Masters of Divinity is where God will lead. Each day and each class seems to bring more clarity. I’m just trusting God with the results. I’m so thankful to be in seminary that I don’t seem to be able to see past one class at a time!”

“I struggled and grappled … I was being torn … God had other plans….”

How do we respond?  How do we in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod honor the God who calls and gifts women to pastoral ministry?

[1] Dismissal. “These women are deluded, weak-minded, victims of ungodly feminism.”

[2] Denial. “God doesn’t call women to pastoral ministry.”

[3] Rejection. “If this is what you think, go somewhere else. We don’t have room.”

[4] Self-examination. “Is there something we in LCMS aren’t hearing?”

[5] Rethinking. “Let’s listen again to what the Spirit is saying through the Scriptures.”

[6] Acceptance. “Let’s work toward honoring the God who gives the gifts and the call for various ministries regardless of gender.”

The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘culture’ as ‘the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought characteristic of a community or population” (CTCR, Racism and the Church, 1994, p. 12). We talk about the culture of society and nation.  Also a culture unto itself, a sub-culture of the Holy Christian Church, is The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod with its Germanic roots and theological history.

To quote again the CTCR’s document, Racism and the Church, “Peoples of different cultures not only ‘see’ and ‘inhabit’ different ‘worlds,’ but they also have dissimilar feelings about the same universe in which they live” (p. 12).  And, culture “is, so to speak, a blueprint within the mind by which people perceive the world, live within a particular group, and adapt to life on this planet” (p. 12).

An aspect of Missouri’s blueprint is how we “see” and “feel” and address the issue of the role of women in our church. This “blueprint” can be read in our theological statements with which we imprint each successive generation:

[1] “Since women’s suffrage in the state implies participation in the rule over men, it is contrary to the natural order which God has established to govern the relation between man and woman.  Just as invalid in this connection is the objection that women often are more prudent than men, more adroit at making election speeches, and more intelligent in the use of the ballot.  We are bound to the order which God has instituted, Gen. 2:18, 1 Tim. 2, 12.13; and whenever this order is perverted, His punishments are sure to follow” (Francis Pieper in 1913, quoted in Weis, The Springfielder, March, 1970, p. 39).[2] J. T. Mueller, a long time professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, argues: “…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” (Concordia Theological Monthly, August-September, 1923, p. 244).

[3] “Sex is an all-pervasive fact of human personality, affecting not only the outward, visible bodies of men and women but their whole make-up as well.  Apart from exceptions—for which in some cases we may be very thankful, like Helen Waddell, Dorothy Sayers, and Margaret Thatcher— women approach things in a very different way from men.  This distinction is illustrated in the first essay [in the book to which Hamann refers in this review]…. [That essay’s woman author’s]…passionate feeling and emotion, irrelevant combinations, and impossible logic contribute to a result which infuriates any man.  I have come across this type of thing in every woman I have ever met.  This is no matter of gender.  It is something far deeper.  And what has this distinction to do with authority?  We have to go right back to basic, primary facts.  Dr. Sasse used to say that female ordination is not only unbiblical, it is also unnatural.  The whole question of male-female relations, of authority and rule and the like, goes back to the basics of the normal sex act itself…”   (H.P. Hamann,Concordia Theological Quarterly 51 [1987], 211-12; the book reviewed is Women, Authority and the Bible, ed. A. Micklesen [Downers Grove: Inter Varsity, 1986]).

[4] “Where women serve as pastors, the doctrines of God and Christ are distorted, because women cannot represent God and Christ in His incarnation.  God is of such a nature that He could not have become incarnate in a woman and He could not have chosen women to represent Him as apostles and pastors” (David P. Scaer, “The Validity of the Churchly Acts of Ordained Women” (Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 53, #1-2, January-April, 1989).

[5] “Third, we must consider the Christological character of the Office of the Ministry itself.  The Scriptures describe Christ as being the Bridegroom and the Church as being His Bride.  Pastors stand ‘in the stead’ or in the place of Christ as His representative to the Church.  A female cannot, in a Christian congregation, play Bridegroom to the Church.  The Office is by nature masculine.  It is an Office of giving, of implanting the Seed of God’s Word, while the Church’s role is explicitly feminine, that of receiving the implanted Word and giving birth to and nourishing the faithful.  A woman in the role of Bridegroom is, simply put, a perversion of this relationship and a misrepresentation of Christ” (Pastor David Kind, recruitment letter of Concordia Seminary, Ft. Wayne, Vol. 2, #2, Summer, 1999).

This “blueprint within the mind” is the grid through which we male clergy approach Scripture and select our proof texts, and with this “blueprint” we in the LCMS train our clergy and build our theological and ministry houses.  The result is a culture of “patterned dominance” (CTCR, Racism and the Church, p. 14), male superordination and female subordination.

One example (among many) of the uses of this blueprint grid: In the document, CTCR Response to Expressions of Dissent (2004-2006) [December 2006], the order of creation teaching is supported by a reference to 1 Corinthians 11:7-9 (among others) [p. 24]. But the following verses, 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, are not included, verses which conclude Paul’s argument. Hierarchy determined by sequence is overturned, and one wonders why these two verses are omitted. The same document asserts “There is only one ‘rule and norm’ for the doctrinal position of the Synod on this (and every other issue): Scripture alone.” True; but that statement would imply the use of all of Scripture, not just selected parts manipulated to fit our blueprint. Scripture should critique our cultu ral blueprint; the blueprint should not limit what Scripture we use.

An emphasis: The 1 Corinthian and 1 Timothy passages are made normative and Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 5:21 and passages on gifts such as 1 Corinthians 12:11 are neglected; they don’t seem to fit the blueprint.

One result of doing exegesis out of this blueprint is absolutizing a first century patriarchal culture in which Scripture was written.  Essentially the same order of creation blueprint and reasoning was used to justify slavery movements and the Aryan race concept in pre-World War II Germany.  Some rationales are:

A view which ignores the culture in which Scripture is written:
Slavery: “Slaves, be obedient to your masters.”
Women: “Wives, be subject to your husbands.”

Divine mandate:
Slavery: Acts 17:26 decrees that different “colors” have certain boundaries
Women: “The particular position which, by the will of God, any created object occupies in relation to others.”

New Testament teaching:
Slavery: Galatians 3:28 abolishes only spiritual distinctions, not slavery
(Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon)
Women: Galatians 3:28 abolishes only spiritual distinctions, not male authority over women.

Accidents of birth are determinative:
Slavery: “The negro [sic] slaves born in the south are the happiest…”
Women: “He is the ‘firstborn’ and hence would have a natural precedence by birth.”

Divine blessing:
Slavery: a merciful institution which provides for gospel influence on slaves.
Women: there is blessing in male headship in church and home.

What such argumentation does is absolutize the patriarchal culture in which Scripture was written. If we accept first century patriarchy (male superordination, female subordination) as normative, logically we must also accept the culture of slavery. The church has rethought its biblical support of a fallen culture, subjected to systemic racism, in part by understanding that Paul’s admonition was directed to a cultural issue of Paul’s day. If slavery is evil, an institution now abolished, and Jew and Gentile are one in Christ, now without hierarchy, then the same energy needs to be applied against women’s subordination as well.

In response to a dissent I presented to the CTCR, I received the following: “Moreover, these citations from secondary sources are overwhelmingly one-sided in their selection, with little if any reference to serious work presented by scholars holding divergent viewpoints…—and, for that matter, critical scholars who have drawn conclusions divergent from Christian feminist works.”

It seems the kettle calls the pot black. Missouri’s cultural blueprint chooses to ignore the larger world of scholarship and chooses instead studies [such as Clark’s Man and Woman in Christ, the well which supplies the water for the 1985 CTCR document on women’s roles] which simply reinforce rather than critique the LCMS cultural blueprint. Certainly no one approaches the Scriptures without a perspective. If feminist works present one side, Missouri’s blueprint presents another view, a view of “patterned dominance.” I suggest a perspective where neither feminist nor masculine blueprints dominate, but an approach which seeks to shape our understandings in the humility of Christ (Philippians 2). This is not to say there is no room for Christian submission and service; this is to suggest there is no room for gender-based categories which define female persons exclusively in terms of subordination.

What would this look like? What part of this would look like is inviting women to the table to hear their voices and experiences and understandings, honoring the fact that the Spirit works also within women to deepen our understandings of Scripture. What does the fact that there is only one woman on the CTCR say about Missouri doing theology on women’s issues and speaking out about women’s roles in the church?

There are scholarly, solid exegetical studies which demonstrate [1] that kephale can mean “source” (Cf. Kroeger, Priscilla Papers, Summer 2006); [2] that show Paul using exousia when speaking of positive use of authority and not choosing this word at 1 Timothy 2:12, but using authentein, not a positive term meaning “have authority” or “use authority,” but a sharp negative term, “usurp authority,” take by show,” “muscle in” [men can do this as well]; [3] that indicate “Adam first, and Eve second” in 1 Timothy 2:13 is not a directive for “chain of command,” but a chronological correction against Ephesian Artemisian theology which elevated Eve over Adam; [4] that argue that many of these passages are aimed at a local pastoral situation, not a “chain of command” directive down through the ages, admonitions by the Apostle to correct a situation in which the Gospel is given offense; [5] that indicate Genesis 3:16 (“Your desire shall be for him and he shall rule over you”) is not prescription of what God desires, but description of the consequences of each trying “to be like God,” to be God’s rival and equal, more an “order of the fall” than “order of creation”; and [6] studies which begin with Ephesians 5:21, instead of ignoring this verse and beginning studies with Ephesians 5:22.

“I was in the 10th grade when I sensed an undeniable call from God to the ministry. But what does that call mean for a woman in the LCMS?”

In our culture of corporate “good old boys clubs,” spousal and sexual abuse, rape, glass ceilings, 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 non-believers when shared through the grid of male superordination/female subordination? 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.

If the CTCR’s purpose in this consultation simply is to reiterate “what has been said” and not to rethink what the blueprint teaches about authority embodied in the male and submission embodied in the female, and if CTCR members are intentional about not rethinking such issues as man’s “natural precedence by birth,” then that needs to be said up front. Because to invite women to participate which no intention other than repeating “what has been said” and with no intention of listening closely to how the Spirit has led them is both patronizing and demeaning.

The theological grid with which to begin the discussion is God’s law to critique our blueprint, God’s Gospel to root us in Christ.  God gifts people regardless of gender. Gifts are God’s call, as he determines (1 Corinthians 12:11). If the blueprint continues to drive our exegesis, what makes us so sure, given diverse exegetical work, that we are not quenching the Spirit who assigns as he will?

May God bless the work of the consultation.

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