Saturday, June 1, 2019

When no is the kinder word. . .

I reported some time ago that Pope Francis had decided to study the issue of women deacons.  It was for many an occasion of hope, those who felt that this was the time for a female diaconate and that Frank was the guy to make it all happen.  It was an occasion of angst for those who feared that the same pope was going to dismantle ages of tradition going back to the earliest days of the apostles.  It turned out worse than could be feared.  Frank did neither.  He held out an olive branch to those who wanted change and then, while the study was still going on, pulled the rug out from under it, leaving the study to continue under a somewhat dubious mandate.

Pope Francis said, “For example, the formulas of female deacon ‘ordination’ found until now, according to the commission, are not the same for the ordination of a male deacon and are more similar to what today would be the abbatial blessing of an abbess...”  In other words, different is not the same and certainly not the path to a female priesthood.  “For the female diaconate, there is a way to imagine it with a different view from the male diaconate,” Pope Francis said.  Again, go ahead and study but it will not come to a different conclusion than before (as recent as 2002, for example).

Now I have no skin in this game.  I am not Roman Catholic.  I would, however, hate to see Rome capitulate to the pressure of culture in this and abandon the theological reasons and Biblical cause for a male only office (remember Lutherans do not see a divine distinction between bishop and priest but merely a human one).  A female diaconate has the been the first opening of the door to a female priesthood and episcopate for every church that has gone there and it would make Missouri even more isolated (as it already is among Lutherans) for not ordaining women.  But I wonder if there is not a larger issue at work here.

When we study a question to which we already know the answer it does not help the church but wounds her.  I am not saying we should not restate our position over against new challenges but a study implies that we just might come to a different conclusion, that the question is a real question without a certain answer, and that there might be hope for those who disagree with tradition.  This is not merely foolish but dangerous.  It is a threat to the doctrinal unity and integrity of the church and, indeed, of the faith itself, to proceed with study after study as if there was no real answer or no abiding answer to the question.  It is a deception designed to placate those who want change but it will only alienate them and make it harder to convince them of the one and always answer.  Sometimes no is the kinder word than "let's see" -- children already know that so why don't the adults who are in charge of the structures of the church know that?  Finally, studies hang onto exception as evidence against the rule and presumption for changing the rule when everyone already knows that exceptions make terrible rules.  Exceptions are not analogies of how we might proceed but real exceptions.  We have had tons of them in Christian history and every time we presume to use those exceptions (to closed communion or regular ordination paths or liturgical order) we have ended up with chaos that had to be cleaned up by the next generation (hopefully it did not last any longer).

So if Frank were listening, I would say "let your no be no" (it sounds good and may even be Biblical).  And to those in my own church body I would say the same.  "Let your no be no."  Do not muddy the waters with endless studies on questions to which we already know the answers and do not give false hope to those who wish to come up with different answers than Scripture or tradition.  Yes, by all means, study how we can more effectively speak the answers to a new generation of ears unwilling to hear them but do not treat closed questions as open ones.  Tradition is not some burden of archaic or constrictive chain that we must cast off from time to time.  Tradition is the wise and practiced art of the saints who went before.  And, guess what, they learned much of it from what the Apostles said and did, and, they from the Lord Himself.  So when we dismiss something as merely apostolic custom or practice, we are being fools and opening up what should be received with joy and passed on faithfully.  We are inviting confusion and chaos.  That is what Frank did and what churches so often do. 

When the church begins a study, the most routine result is a departure from Scripture and Tradition.  And, if this is the goal, do everyone a favor by announcing that first.  Don't put on your pious face and head to the library as if somehow we were really looking for an answer to a question that does not have one.  No is the kinder word to those who advocate for such things as the ordination of women.  It is clear in a world filled with the fog of doubt and uncertainty.  The integrity of the Gospel is at stake under all our attempts to undermine what Scripture says and Tradition does as well as playing fast and loose with the hopes of those who have not been well catechized into what the Church believes, teaches, and confesses and why.  So, be kind.  Be clear.  Say no when no is the only answer that can be said and still be faithful to the doctrine of the apostles, the sacred deposit bequeathed to the saints, the Word of the Lord, and the Tradition handed down to us.

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

Rev. Peters: "... it would make Missouri even more isolated (as it already is among Lutherans) for not ordaining women."

Those lufauxran church bodies that ordain women are not Lutheran.

There are more lufauxrans than there are Lutherans.