Monday, January 2, 2012
It all started with the ordination of women...
Let me begin by saying I do not favor the ordination of women. In fact, I do not believe the the Church could ordain women if it wanted to! It goes beyond the authority of the Church to choose this path. We cannot vote to overturn the inherent Scriptural problems and the unbroken tradition of the Church anymore than we can change Holy Communion into pizza and beer. We cannot do this because we lack the authority. Period. I think it is a fool's exercise to try and argue that women may not be ordained from Scripture alone or appeals to the order of creation and such. It is not that I do not find these convincing. I do. But even if we do not find these arguments convincing, we simply have no authority to displace the universal tradition of the Church and the Scriptural impediments to such a change in thinking. The same can be said about changing marriage. It it not that we could but shouldn't but that we can't even if we wanted to. What does happen, however, is that when we depart from Scripture and tradition in this circumstance, it is not only about this issue. In fact, it is almost never only about this issue (women's ordination). It becomes the license and legitimacy for the Church to ignore what Scripture say about others things and to listen instead to the heart or to the culture or to the idea that God is doing a new thing and changing His mind.
Even those in favor of the ordination of women recognize that this represents a mighty departure from the way Scripture has been read by the Church in the past and by the unbroken chain of orthodox and catholic tradition and practice. The honest ones, to their credit, insist that this is precisely why they are in favor of breaking with Scripture and tradition. This new thing completes what we have seen begun in Scripture and the ongoing revelation of the Lord will continue to close old doors and open new ones. But this is precisely the problem. To his credit, Luther did not believe that justification by grace through faith was a new thing God was doing. He insisted that it was THE old thing that was always believed, confessed, and taught. It was the catholic position to which Rome was departing and this was the whole need to correct the rudder and return the ship of the Church to the proper course consistent with Scripture and the voice of the fathers. No one suggests this about women's ordination or about any other changes in marriage definition or gender issues. Everyone knows and everyone believes that this is a new thing which the Gospel compels us to hear and heed -- even though it means breaking with the Scriptures and tradition. And this is exactly the point. There is no end to the breaks with Scripture and tradition when you begin disregarding what the Church has always believed, confessed, and taught. Those who like to create a link from the ordination of women to every theological heresy or distortion are simply wrong. But there is a sense in which there is some truth to what they say. The churches that have chosen to ignore Scripture and tradition and ordain women have also chosen to leave behind what the Scriptures teach about such diverse and disparate subjects as evolution and creation, same sex marriage, gay and lesbian ordination, etc. It is not that one causes the other but both proceed from the same poisoned well.
Finally, those who have chosen to ordain women and have entered into radical departures from established teaching on marriage, family, gender, etc., have also chosen to give to social justice movements a prophetic identity which is not theirs to give. The truth is that when we listen to prophets of social justice and this requires us to abandon our identity with the teaching of Scripture (the unchanging truth of God's Word) and the unbroken catholic practice of the Church from the earliest of ages, we have set up a house of cards in which every doctrine and every truth is one second guess away from being likewise abandoned. Creeds and confessions do not in and of themselves make us orthodox but they do scream out at us when we are tempted to listen to the voices within us or outside the Church to change the meaning of their words or relegate them to the passive status as historical documents. Protestantism has found it easier and easier to drift hopelessly and helplessly away from the moorings of Scripture and tradition -- in large measure because most of Protestantism is no longer creedal or confessional. You can read D. G. Hart in his The Lost Soul of American Protestantism for a more chronicled and detailed outline of this point of view. Lutheranism has been slower to lurch into the free fall of feeling and ongoing revelation and social justice -- but not by much.
Once some Lutherans have effectively disregarded their own Confessions, either by reinterpreting them or by isolating them to a historical period or perspective, there is little that will keep this group from the great abyss relativism. Missouri has so far kept from this largely for a couple of reasons -- we are much more homogenous, we have a clergy taught by relatively few and mostly "insiders," and our liturgical identity and catholic confession were two sides of the same coin. Our danger is that our loss of liturgical identity will be accompanied by a more evangelical theology whose perimeters are no longer kept in place by a living document like our Confessions. What is absent from worship will soon be absent from belief. It is no secret that those most in favor of Missouri ordaining women are those who are most free with the definition of Lutheran worship, the most accepting of creative ways of doing parish ministry, and the most adept at borrowing from non-Lutherans to fix what they believe is broken among us.
So... does everything that is wrong with Lutheranism go back to the ordination of women? Well, yes and no... No, because the ordination of women did not cause every aberration but yes, because the same treacherous road used to approve the break with Scripture and tradition to ordain women will come home to roost in other areas and for other doctrines and theological positions. One can see it in the extremely small minority who rant and rave under the acronym OWN -- Ordain Women Now. This old coalition of more liberal Missourians has found a strange and pleasant ally among those who desire to see us liberated from our liturgical tradition as well. We all know that the refusal to ordain women has nothing to do with superiority of male intellect, strength, or other trait. We all know that the refusal to ordain women has nothing to do with the denigration of women or their place and role within the Church. We all know that the refusal to ordain women is not about simply having male genitalia. Since the Scriptures do not speak with kind of clarity that will shut up those in favor of women's ordination (any more than the clear Scriptures stopped homosexual marriage from being the default position of some Lutheran churches), I prefer that we stop fighting about the nuance of Biblical interpretation and affirm that Scripture is upheld by unbroken tradition and that the core issue here is not should we ordain them but can we. It is my position that we can no more ordain women than we can change the doctrinal truth of Jesus humanity and divinity. It is above our pay grade to presume to make these changes. It is only our place to believe them [the doctrines revealed in Scripture], to confess them, to teach them...