For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. [Ephesians 3:14-19]
Dear members of the LCA/NZ,
Just over a month has passed since our Sydney Convention. Across the LCA/NZ and elsewhere in the Lutheran world people have been talking about what happened. The Convention handled many topics, but the vote not to allow women pastors has attracted the most attention.
We now know that, while we are holding together, we are nevertheless a divided church. That is our reality. Bishop David Altus reflectively summarised what he heard during the table conversations during Convention as the LCA/NZ ‘hurting’.
Some of us were relieved at the decision but can still empathise with those who feel differently. Others express impatience with any talk of empathy or pain; after four votes they don’t want any further discussion.
Some of us who hold passionately to a male-only pastorate now believe that the LCA needs to learn how to think rightly. They are tempted to include things the LCA does not teach, such as male headship and subordination based on orders of creation. Some of us have personal views on these matters, but pastors and teachers must not burden consciences by giving the impression that our church teaches them. What we do teach is that in Christ there is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) in which all are equal in him (Galatians 3:28). We teach that God has given us the ministry so that we can hear the gospel and receive the sacraments. The Holy Spirit uses these means to work to faith in those who hear the gospel. ‘And the gospel teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this’ (Augsburg Confession Article V. The Ministry)
You can read the teaching on the ministry adopted by the LCA in 1966 by going to www.lca.org.au/cticr/. Scroll down to Doctrinal Statements and Theological Opinions, Volume 1, A. Theses of Agreement, click on VI. Office of the Ministry.
After the vote at Convention some of us, deeply saddened and struggling with the decision, immediately resigned from all responsibilities in the church, and a few, heartbreakingly, from the LCA/NZ itself. Others may feel like doing so, but are holding back out of concern for partners, families, congregations and the people in the ministries in which they serve. Some people who initially felt pain and anger at the decision have moved on to a reluctant acceptance. A few though, determined to bring about change, now talk of ‘civil disobedience’ as a means of bringing things to a head.
And, of course, many of you faithful, committed Christians aren’t involved in these disturbances. For your sake, I have hesitated to write about these things. You show us that, no matter what, God’s work goes on. The church continues in its baptismal grace, practising mutual forgiveness, demonstrating the love of Christ, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, and committing those who have died to the eternal care of their Lord. Let’s not ever lose sight of that. It’s why God has put us here, for the sake of the gospel.
I don’t believe that the ordination of women, of itself, is our main issue. It’s a ‘presenting issue’ that springs from somewhere deeper down. We must now explore what that is. For decades we have prepared carefully formulated theological statements and tried not to rock the boat by moving too far to one side or the other. Now there is a sense that we need something more, something to tell us clearly who we are and how we will work together for the Kingdom even though there are, and it seems will remain, some things on which we cannot agree.
This situation is a serious challenge to the LCA/NZ’s usual methodology of argument and counter-argument, conferences and conventions, constitutions and votes. Twenty-plus years of doing those things has not brought us together on this issue. Along the way, of course, we have learned some good things, such as mutual respect, calling out bad behaviour, and acknowledging that both sides of the debate take Scripture and Confession seriously. We have also learned many new things from Scripture. Since this Convention, however, members want more. They are asking their leaders and each other for a new way of resolving our difference, a third way, one that holds Christ at the centre of our faith, honours all participants, and keeps the LCA/NZ together.
So there’s work to do. To do it well we need to do it together. Right now some of us feel we don’t have the energy. That’s okay. I have certainly felt that way. But, given space and grace, at the right time God will give us what we need. I believe that most Lutherans in Australia and New Zealand do not want to divide but to continue as one church. I pray that we can find that commitment in our hearts. As we recommit to staying together, as we weekly gather around Christ’s table, and as we daily share in his Word, let’s resolve to honour God and one another, and explore fresh, life-giving ways of tangibly expressing our fellowship in him, to the glory of God. It’s my hope that, early in 2019, I will be in a position to share with you ways in which we might do that, as we begin to explore a new way of living together.
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand
Adelaide, 13th November 2018
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. [Ephesians 3:20-21)