René G. Castillero
14 December 2012
Two Views on Women’s Ordination
Within the last 50 years, confessional Lutheran theology has been increasing scrutinized by popular post-modern views. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) is being confronted with popular world-views that challenge the authority and validity of doctrine and scriptures. One of these provoking questions asks whether or not women are permitted to be ordained into the public ministry (pastors). This particular question has been debated over many years, and is likely not to go away. Our world today is moving farther away from God and instead turning to their own human logic to find answers in both the spiritual and secular realms. Post-modern culture demands the equality of mankind in politics, society, and economic and is unwilling to make any distinctions based on gender, which will only make the pressure to ordain women stronger.
Certain church bodies and theologians are also building their arguments on these pretenses. It is detrimental that the LCMS not only presents counter arguments, but also seeks to understand how these other church bodies are building their respected arguments if we are to make any ecclesiastical progress. Theologians need to be actively seeking how another theologian utilizes scripture, tradition, reason and experience to inform their theological deliberations. This paper will do two things: (1) provide a theological analysis of two differing documents presenting on women’s ordination and (2) provide a reaction to the texts in the form of personal reaction.
The first article to be analyzed was written by Matthew L. Becker. Becker served as a faculty member of Concordia University Portland. and is an associate professor of Theology at Valparaiso University. Becker’s article, An Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians, was submitted into the online and published academic journal, the Daystar Journal. Contributors to this journal explore theological topics and perspectives that they believe have been frequently ignored, criticized, or unfairly rejected by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod; the role of women in the church is among those topics.
The topic Becker presents is built off the LCMS’s rejection of women’s ordination and women’s role in teaching theology in a university or seminary. Becker believes that the LCMS rejects “the practice of women serving in the pastoral office is forbidden because it contradicts a few Scripture passages and violates the so-called ‘order of creation’ (Becker 1).” The major claim Becker makes is contrast the traditional LCMS understanding, “qualified women may serve as teachers of biblical doctrine in churches, high schools, universities, and seminaries, and [can serve] as pastors of congregations” (Becker 2).
Secondly, Becker desires to show that those who cite these biblical texts wrongfully assert that these passages are clear instructions of women’s role in the church. Becker begins his deliberation meeting previous LCMS theologians in the scriptures. Starting with scripture, Becker seeks to provide the reader with a better explication of God’s revelation in the New Testament. The reader is invited to think through the various scripture passages provided as though this is God’s intended revelation to His people.
Readers may find ease in reading Becker’s article due to the creative approach in presenting the material. Becker creatively utilizes sequential arguments when discussing scripture in the context of ambiguities in the traditional proof texts. However later when providing other scriptural texts that relate to the practice of women in the church, Becker utilizes a parallel synthetic mode of thinking, by providing numerous examples from scripture that inform how women are active in church leadership (Becker 9). Even within the parallel arguments in the article, each example is broken down sequentially providing maximum readability for both informed theologians and the common lay person.
Like many LCMS theologians, Becker relies heavily on scripture. One truth Becker claims is that many (if not all) of Scriptures that the LCMS proposes to be clearly against women’s ordination are actually ambiguous in nature. For example, Becker argues against the notion that 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 claims that women are to be silent. His argument is built on the fact Paul does not rebuke the women prophesying and praying but must do so with a covering (Becker 2). By creating a Scriptural contradiction between 1 Corinthians chapters 11 and 14, Becker claims that Paul could not have been talking about the public ministry. Based on this proposition, it leads to a new interpretation of 1 Cor 14 to only be speaking of disorderly worship and confusion of spiritual gifts – women who were causing disruption in worship were commanded to be silent (Becker 3). This reasoning also invites the reader to consider a new interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12 to be a historical position completely different to students’ experience being lead by a woman in a classroom at a university, school, seminary, or church today.
Becker’s critique of 1 Corinthians 11 leads the reader to believe that this is only a historical narrative without lasting restrictions for the post-modern day church. According to Becker’s reasoning, Paul was only trying to “curb ecstatic excesses and frenzy in Corinthian worship” thus commanding the women to keep their hair up (Becker 3). The cultural importance of women bounding their hair was to show propriety, for to let it down was a sign of promiscuity. The relation between “exousia” (‘authority’) to covering is to act as a “symbolic veil of woman dignity, especially befitting a Christian woman, and especially in the presence of holy angels (Becker 3).”
In the same manner, Becker argued against the traditional positions based on 1 Corinthians 14:33b -36 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14, and instead imposes a different examination. First, Becker admits that these passages were interpreted as “women could not utter any sound” and then immediately tags “but of course no one today thinks that this is what the passage is commanding” (Becker 7). Secondly, Becker explains that Paul was forbidding women from teaching when 1 Timothy 2 restricts women from teaching, but “Paul does not have in mind the kind of theological instruction which takes place in a university or seminary of the church.” This argument created on the foundation that there clearly women in the Bible that were teaching, for example Priscilla in Acts 18:26. The kind of teaching Paul was commanding women not to partake in was that which assumed authority.
Within the second portion of his essay, Becker provides normative examples that provide examples of Scriptural texts that either support or refer to the activity of women theologians. The examples included: (1) those that show women as a prominent figure in the ministry of Jesus (Mat 28:10; Lk 10:38-42; Jn 4:7-30; Matt 15:21-28), (2) Paul’s claim to involve a wife in the apostolic work (1 Cor 9:5). These passages served as biblical evidence that women taught in churches and evidence of neglected passages that the LCMS apparently left out of their theological deliberations.
Becker also used key Scriptures as invitations to a new life. This new life was expressed in Galatians 3:28, “in Christ there is neither male nor female.” According to Becker, this authorized a new spiritual equality that seems to imply social equality (Becker 10). By doing this , Becker makes Galatians 3:28 to be speaking of temporal things, and expresses that the old creation order, and its social constructs, were then nullified and gave way to a new creation. In the context of this new creation, Becker reads 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 to include both men and women as the “fellow workers” whose responsibility was “to lead in the Lord” and “to admonish” and finally “to teach” the Christian community. This new paradigm would serve as the foundation of shared apostolic authority between men and women.
There is presence of arguments based on traditions and doctrines of the LCMS. Although Becker has high regards for traditions of the church he does not read the same way; these documents have been taken out of their usual context and understanding and instead he read them in light of his relative anthropological view point. Becker does offer additional hermeneutical, dogmatic, and other sociological considerations, only one argument will be mentioned in this paper: the Donatist controversy of the early church.
The Donatist controversy of the early church informed Becker’s deliberation. From this controversy, Becker explains that the early church councils at Arles and Charthage affirmed the validity of the Word and sacraments are not dependent upon the moral character of the individual who is administering the sacraments proclaiming the word. In support of his claim, Becker also suggests formal statements of church doctrine as a means of authority. The Augsburg Confession VII and Apology VII/VIII were quotedto show how the doctrines of the Lutheran church speak the character of the one who teaches or preaches the Word or administers the sacraments has nothing to do with the validity of the grace offered. Therefore, Becker claims that “those who insist that women may not teach the Word to men or administer the sacraments and undertake the distinctive duties of the pastoral office are bound it to include as an element in their argument a contemporary form of Donatism, since the elements in their argument direct people to the inferior or at least subordinate, ‘being’ of women (Becker 14).” By holding this disposition, those theologians are found guilty of putting unnecessary restrictions on the power and efficacy of Christ’s living Word. Tradition, although systematically separated, was used hand in hand with scripture. The organization of the paper was numerical, by paragraphs. If one paragraph spoke of tradition, Becker was sure to make the next one about Scripture, almost always relating back to the previous point.
Reason was a major resource throughout the paper. After Becker’s work, he closed his paper providing fifteen thesis that are supported by the seventeen pages of text preceding and countless pages of footnotes that follow the deliberation. These theses are oddly similar to C.F.W Walther’s arrangement in his book Church and Ministry. The theses begin with agreeable statements of Christ being the only one Teach and Lord as the Scriptures preach, then presents the Gospel as a liberator of previous laws and a new beginning for sexuality in the church. The final four thesis are related to each other in the sense they speak directly to the LCMS confessions and practice. Becker proposes that it in order to remain in the authentic catholic tradition, the misuse of certain scriptures must be put aside based on the facts that the LCMS has changed their position on other church work professions and their lack of dogmatic rationale for the prohibition (Becker 18). These thesis were not only clear and coherent, but can be commended for ease of reading for any lay person.
Putting the theses aside the preceding pages were riddled with use of human reason. Many times reason was used to impose cultural understanding on certain texts. Becker made some of his arguments based on the fact it is unreasonable that the LCMS would hold Scripture that was intended to a certain people at a certain time would be used against gifted women in another time and place. Many individuals may find arguments such as these to be attractive and reasonable, but they question the validity and timelessness of Scripture. Nonetheless, reason always was put secondary to Scripture. Reason could best be understood as the mortar between the two bricks of Scripture and tradition.
Human experience was not explicitly present in the deliberation, however, implicitly, experience provided some experience. Experience led Becker to reconceive Paul’s epistles and Spirit-led imperatives. How could these Scriptures if human experience is not the same as it was back in apostolic times? This position allowed Becker to intrinsically review the materials gathered in other resources of theology and reshape them to fit the argument. Becker hoped that his presentation would be used to affect the whole LCMS and lead them into a new experience in the ministry.
The second article to be reviewed is written by Dr. David P. Scaer a professor of systematic theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Scaer’s essay, May Women Be Ordained as Pastors?” is one of many essays composed and compiled into one literary work, a book called Women Pastors?” This book was intended to strengthen Lutheran pastors and laity worldwide in their confession of the truth of the Holy Scriptures. These essays are responding to all sorts of arguments supporting women’s ordination, including exegetical, historical, systematic, and pastoral theology. Scaer’s article is composed in the section under systematic theology.
The essay structured in a parallel synthetic format. Like Becker’s essay, Scaer splits his essay into three sections. First, a historical analysis of the origins of women’s ordination, second, a Scriptural foundation, and finally a section that makes the final conclusion based on the previous two sections of the paper. It is hard to really pinpoint from where Scaer actually begins his theological deliberation, it isn’t until the second section does he start making any claims. When Scaer leaves the historical topics, his claims are based mostly on Scriptures, inviting readers to examine certain Biblical truths neither bound by time nor culture.
Instead of starting directly at Scripture, as many other theologians begin, Scaer seeks to begin by looking at human experience. Namely, how does history inform us on the nature of women’s ordination. Scaer wants us to understand that there has been many times in history that have lead women to believe that this is an argument of human “equality” and therefore women do not feel the need to argue from a Biblical stance (Scaer 227). We must also recognize, that Scaer creates his argument on the basis that worship procedures are based on principles not determined by humanity, but God who has revealed His will in the Scriptures. This kind of claim puts Scripture above human experience, above reason, and above historical data. Scripture is meant for all people, of all communities.
Tradition informs the argument in the second section of Scaer’s essay. This appears when Scaer begins to answer the question “what do we mean by ordination?” Here, Scaer leads the readers to examine the traditional practice of ordination as the LCMS has understood it. Although Scaer admits that the term ordination is a human term, he does not write that the public ministry is created by man, rather the opposite. According to Scaer, the LMCS understands the public ministry is not an adiaphoron, but is explicitly commanded by God (Scaer 232). Therefore, the LCMS hold that ordination to designate any service in which an individual is publicly recognized as having assigned or been called to any office in the church; this can include teachers, church officers, and vacation Bible school teachers. However, these positions are not traditionally recognized to be ordained are not pastors and serve only as long as the church needs them; these are not mandated by Scripture as clergy are.
Scaer uses very little tradition in the sense of doctrinal statements in the main body of the text. If one looks into the footnotes of the essay, one can find an array of doctrinal arsenal that Scaer is explicating and implementing (Augsburg Confession XIV, Apology XIII). Scaer also utilizes other church theologians in his text, this includes Bo Giertz and Fred W. Meuser. These theologians were found in the footnotes, with extra information from key documents that informed the deliberation. Tradition was used second to Scripture, seeing it takes up the most of the entire argument.
Scripture is the dominant sources of the theological method. Scaer’s essay includes key passages that speak of women’s role in the church, including (but not limited to): 1 Corinthians 14:33-38, Acts 18:26, 2 Timothy 2:12-14, and Galatians 3:28. These passages are used to answer the question, “does the New Testament permit women pastors?” and not the question “does the New Testament know of the ordination of women pastors?” Practically, every aspect of using Scritpure as a source is utilized.
Scaer proposes truth claims based on particular key terms and concepts by giving the reader an exegesis of 1 Corinthians 14:33-38. In this section Scaer explains what Paul meant by requiring the silence of women, the authority Paul uses to enforce his imperatives, and whether or not Paul’s prohibition is confined to time and culture. First, this passage addresses the silence of women to refer only in the context of a worship service, seeing that this passage appears between 11 and 16 that speak explicitly of regulations of the worship service (Scaer 234). This silence does not forbid women be silent at all times, as many opposing theologians believe, neither does it mean that women can not instruct outside of worship service. Scaer provides Priscilla and her husband as an example of proper instruction led by a woman outside the worship service; this instruction was conducted privately and had nothing to do with the public ministry (Scaer 234).
This misunderstanding is characterizes by a mistranslation of certain words. Examination of the Greek world lelao is an example of textual mistranslation pointed out by Scaer. Lelao is associated with religious speaking, or speaking religiously in a public manner. In this passage, Paul does not mean that women may not participate in public singing of congregations or spoke prayers, the command is quite clear that women are not to speak religiously in the church service context. It is important to recognize, that this key term referring to the public ministry and preaching is used throughout the essay.
Second question answered by the use of Scripture is referring to the authority Paul has to speak on behalf of the whole church. According to Scaer, the text supplies a few answers to this question. The reference to “Law” is not necessarily to the Ten Commandments but is referring to the Torah as written revelation of God, the Scriptures. By referring back to the fall in Genesis, the rhetorical question “what, did the Word of God originate with you?” was to point back to the authority of what Paul has written in other epistles, as an apostolic authority. Paul also appeals to the Holy Spirit, “if anyone think that he is a prophet or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing is a command of the Lord.” Finally, by calling upon the name of the Lord, Paul calls upon Jesus as an authority; forbidding women to lead public worship is a “command of the Lord.” Christ himself stated that he did not come to abolish the Law, and Scaer claims that Paul places prohibition against women pastors on the same level as the Lord’s Supper and Resurrection, all three having Christ’s authority behind them. These examples of authority are one way how Scaer used Scripture to use Scriptures as divine truth.
The third question Scaer seeks to answer with Scripture, however, it is also closely related to the use of reason. To answer the question regarding the commands of Paul only to be understood in a cultural setting, Scaer uses reason to connect Scripture with reason. This is clear when Scaer explains how Paul was responding to Corinth when not letting women speak. The logic is that Corinthians was a Gentile congregation, it was the Jews that forbade women to participate in the worship services, not the Corinthians; the Corinthians actually encouraged women to participate in the leadership. Paul could hardly be pressing a custom that was localized, as though it had already existed, but instead imposed a new custom. Women have been priests in Hellenistic Corinth for some time; Paul was acting counter-cultural (Scaer 238). Reason in conjunction with Scripture also informed Scaer’s second objection, regarding that Paul is reflecting his own “hang ups” about women. Unlike many liberal theologians try to teach, Paul was unlikely anti-feminist, seeing that he was dependent on Lydia in Philippi and calls Priscilla and Phoebe his fellow workers.
Reason in this essay was always used in conjunction with Scripture. Although, as the previous paragraph explained, cultural arguments were refuted by Scaer by using information gathered sctrictly from the texts. Therefore, it took a well informed and thorough explanation in his essay if Scaer was going to make claims such as these. The high regards of Scripture, as traditionally held by LCMS theologians, assisted reason and kept personal experience out of the deliberation.
The general conclusion of Scaer’s essay was not as bold as Becker’s argument. This could be part of the fact that Scaer’s essay was in the context of a book of papers responding solely to the argument of women’s ordination. The need for extended thesis were not needed. The strengths of this essay was not found in the elaborate arrays of Lutheran dogmatics as Becker’s essay was, but instead simply focused on practical questions to Scripture. Though these two individuals were not responding to either’s articles, if Becker and Scaer would have compared each other’s deliberations, there would be a dramatic difference in the use of reason. Reason lead Becker to think through Scripture and Tradition as though it was bound in time, Scaer made a point of showing the how Scripture was not mandated only for culture of the time but for all recipients of the Gospel. Unlike Becker, Scaer could have spent more effort in looking toward the Lutheran Confessions, because Becker was able to use the Donatist controversy to express his disposition toward women’s ordination. This claim goes basically unchallenged in Scaer’s essay, which is dangerous because it could lead back to the ex opere operato heresy.
Since we are beings created by God, human life should be founded and centered on God instead of human experiences. The center of our heart on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must intentionally seek out the message of the meaning and be honest with what the Word says or demands. We misuse the Scriptures when we take individual statements out of their context or when we only apply certain passages which are in agreement with our own point of view. Since we are creatures dependent on God’s instructions and His regenerative Word, we should not change God’s commands as presented to us. Therefore, we should be on guard against those who isolate certain texts, take the liberty of changing its meaning, then teach it as truth in the church. The church simply cannot take the right to manipulate God’s Word or to take away from Biblical cannon, but instead we should submit ourselves to the Biblical teachings by investigating what God has to say on the matter. Bo Giertz once said “We can only answer the question, whether the Pastoral Office may be entrusted to women, after a conscientious examination of the Biblical material in its entirety.” By carefully examining the texts, can we find the Gospel’s concerns: man and woman and the Office of the Ministry. It is now during the end of the discussion of woman’s subordination is when we focus on what women are permitted to do. Even though the previously mention Biblical texts speak so very loudly prohibiting women, these Scriptures also show us what activities women are privileged to take part in. In reference to the I Timothy excerpt the Greek word used is didaskein which is again meaning only to the official and public proclamation of the Gospel, and has nothing to do with say, teaching is an classroom. Neither the I Corithians text nor the I Timothy texts, according to Scaer, condemns women who instruct children in the church, school, or home. In fact, the Old Testament praises husbands and wives to instruct their children (Proverbs 1:8). Teaching in the school and church are but extensions fulfilling that responsibility. God is pleased when women stand up and speak clear Christian word as the individual situations rise, whether in the home or in society, but there is still that line that cannot be crossed when it becomes the man’s responsibility.
Scaer, David P. “May Women Be Ordained as Pastors?,” In Women Pastors?, ed. Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2008.
Becker, M. (2012). An argument for women pastors and theologians. THe Daystar Journal,
Spring(2012), Retrieved from http://www.thedaystarjournal.com/