Draudzīga un atklāta diskusija par sieviešu ordināciju

17. Nov, 2013

     Ceturtdien, 14.novembrī, Lutera Tindeila baznīcā (Londonā) notika gadskārtējā konference, kur piedalījās Luterāņu baznīcas Lielbritānijā (LBL) un Evanģēliski-luteriskās Anglijas baznīcas (ELAB) mācītāji un mācītājas. LBL ir Pasaules Luterāņu federācijas locekle, ELAB – Starptautiskās luterāņu padomes dalībniece. LBL jau kopš 1988.g. ordinē sievietes mācītājas amatā, ELAB to nedara.

      2013.g. konferencē Lielbritānijas Luterāņu baznīcas bīskape Jāna Jēruma-Grīnberga sniedza priekšlasījumu par sieviešu ordināciju, kas arī ievadīja abu baznīcu pārstāvju diskusijas par šo tematu. Atbildi sniedza arī Vestfīldas koledžas Kembridžā mācību spēks, mācītājs Dr. Džoels Humans; diskusijas izvērtās draudzīgas un atklātas.

 Novēlu priecīgus un Dieva svētītus Valsts svētkus!

Jāna Jēruma – Grīnberga

Bīskapes Jānas Jērumas-Grīnbergas priekšlasījums nav oficiāli apstiprināts LBL dokuments, tomēr tas atspoguļo vairuma mācītāju uzskatus.

Zemāk piedāvājam iepazīties ar Jānas priekšlasījuma saturu angļu valodā:

Short presentation for ELCE/LCiGB Joint Conference November 2013



This paper is very short, aiming to be a stimulus for response and discussion, and therefore cannot hope to examine all the arguments for and against the ordination of women to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. However, a short bibliography will be given at the end, so that anyone who wishes to can explore the theme further.

What the argument is not, or should not be, about

The discussion on whether women should or should not be ordained has a tendency to descend into tropes and clichés. Since the subject under discussion is often a matter of personal importance, it can become both unkind and vituperative. Those for the ordination of women sometimes assume that those who oppose it are necessarily misogynistic, male chauvinists or theological dinosaurs, and that the move towards the ordination of women is progressive and inevitable; while those who cannot accept the ordination of women sometimes see the proponents as liberal, left-leaning feminist radicals, who put questions of human rights above the primacy of scripture. For some Confessional Lutherans, the ordination of women is either explicitly or implicitly seen as heretical, and therefore there is no discussion to be had. So Armin Wenz of SELK, the Independent Lutheran Church in Germany writes:

“That this [situation of crisis in relation to the dispute over the ordination of women] really takes place becomes apparent when we first shed light on the material dogmatic dimension of the conflict regarding women’s ordination in order to ask how it is possible to reach such diametrically opposed positions within the Lutheran church. For the material dogmatic decisions each presuppose fundamental theological premises in hermeneutics and the understanding of Scripture that have ecclesiological-eschatological consequences when they lead to the exclusion of differing positions.”[1]

Sometimes (rarely) both these caricatures are true, but mostly the men and women on both sides of this discussion are trying their best to read the Bible faithfully, interpret it for their situation and context without doing violence to the text,  and to resolve the issues as is best for the Church, the Gospel and the witness of faithful Christians. A good counter to the entrenched views of one side and the other is provided by the Lutheran Church of Australia’s Commission on Theology and Inter-church Relations (CTICR), which in 2006 produced two parallel papers, both clearly, dispassionately and biblically argued; one supporting the introduction of ordained ministry for women in the LCA, and the other opposing the move.[2]

What the argument is about

a. Questions of Interpretation and Hermeneutics

There is no question that the Bible contains some passages which address the situation of women in the early days of the Church. The two that are most often quoted against allowing women’s ordination are 1Cor 14: 34-35 and 1Timothy 2:11-15. It is worth noting in passing that the 1Cor 14:34-36 passage appears to be a later insertion; 1Cor 14 reads smoothly from v33 to v37, and some ancient versions of the text place it after v40 instead.

What we need to ask ourselves, however, is: are these passages intended to silence women in church forever (as in the interpretation that some put on the Corinthians passage), or was this an instruction that addressed a particular situation, at a particular time and in a particular place? If the former is true, this is a much larger issue than simply women’s ordination. It would mean that churches which do not permit women to read or lead prayers in church are right; and the implication of 1Tim 2, that women are not to teach or to have authority over a man has, of course, led churches to ban women from teaching posts in theological colleges, leading Bible studies (except for women’s groups) and so on. Indeed, ecclesial bodies such as the Exclusive Brethren go further, and take injunctions such as 1Tim 2:9-11 and 1Peter 3:1-6 seriously, so that their women do not cut their hair, always wear it loose,  do not wear jewellery, always wear head-coverings and do not read the Bible except as guided by their men-folk and so on.

Inevitably, we all do interpret passages such as these, and it is an illusion to say that we don’t. Martin Luther, in his commentary on Isaiah, uttered these words: ‘Non possunt autem haec intelligi sine experientia, quae sola facit theologum’[3] – They cannot understand that without experience, for that alone makes a theologian. And as the South African theologian Gerald West says, ‘ [W]estern forms of biblical interpretation have been reluctant, until recently, to acknowledge that text and context are always, at least implicitly, in conversation, [while] the dialogical dimension of biblical interpretation has always been an explicit feature of African biblical hermeneutics’[4]. In other words, it is the case that the Bible is read differently in each age, society, context or culture; and it is in the dialogue between text and experience that we discover, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, how the Living Word speaks to our lives and contexts.

As Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin (Church of Ireland) has written in a soon-to-be-published volume of Porvoo documents: 

            Any one of us who reads Holy Scripture with our eyes open and anyone who has indulged in some Biblical criticism will be well aware that the opening chapters of Genesis present us with two types of understanding of creation. To have such a level of diversity right at the outset of the Bible and at the part of the Bible which is shared by a number of world Faith Traditions, even if their interpretation is perforce quite different from one another as also is their application, is surely exciting and illuminating. This takes us into a genuine need within our churches to disseminate an understanding of Bible as Bible being a drawing together of writings in a variety of literary idiomata – poetic, prophetic, prosaic and most of all metaphorical. If we continue to seek but one meaning in the Scriptural texts, then we find ourselves short-changed on the richness of response to the presence of God in the world. This freeing of our intellect and our imagination from encrusted presupposition allows us to speak and God to speak.[5]

The important principle that must be applied is that “Scripture Interprets Scripture”. Throughout the Bible, we will find individual scripture passages that are difficult and even contradictory. It is crucially important that we interpret these in the light of the central messages and themes of the entire Bible, and more specifically, in the light of the centrality of the Gospel. It follows that we should not use isolated passages as narrow proof texts.

So the LCA CTICR says this:

“The foundational texts (1 Cor 14:33b-38 and 1 Tim 2:11-14), on which the church has previously based its position, do not warrant the conclusions drawn from them. The point of these texts is as binding now as it was then, that is, that worship must be orderly. There is no clear indication that the ways in which order is to be maintained are binding on the church beyond the congregations of that time. We no longer require that women wear head coverings or that men have short hair. In the same way Paul’s statements in these texts are his pastoral response to the cultural situation in the 1st century and do not become laws for all times and places. In those days the behaviour of some women in worship caused offence and was a barrier to the proclamation of the gospel. Today our refusal to ordain women gives offence and is a barrier to that proclamation.”

In other words, if we believe that the Corinthians passage is essentially about good order, then denying ordination to women might actually rather go against the spirit of the passage, while appearing to adhere to its literal interpretation.

And Rev’d Dr Karen Bloomquist, formerly Director of the Department for Theology and Studies at the Lutheran World Federation, says in an (unpublished) paper:

            It is possible to accept these texts as authoritative but still read them as being in favour of the ordination of women.  The context of I Cor 14 is that worship in the early church probably had become disorderly and was bringing the new faith into disrepute. Paul, who in many other passages accepted the equality and participation of women, here falls back on his patriarchal biases, and calls for silencing the women as a way of solving the problem in that particular situation. Paul called for women to keep quiet for the sake of orderliness and cultural appropriateness, so that the gospel could be heard and not publicly discredited.  In most societies today, public speaking by women is neither culturally offensive nor does it lead to disorder.  […] Further, in contexts today, prohibiting women from preaching is more likely to discredit the church and the gospel.  In other words, the intent of I Cor 14 is likely to be more effectively achieved today by doing the very opposite of what Paul was calling for then!

b. Dealing with apparent contradictions

It is fairly obviously the case that the New Testament contains contradictions in relation to the role of women. While the Pauline and Pastoral Epistles enjoin silence and subservience on women, Paul also commends Junia; “Greet Andronicus and Junia, – my relatives –  who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” (Romans 16:7).

1 Timothy 2:12 says: I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. At the same time, ‘Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.’ (Acts 18:24-26) In other words, Priscilla (or Prisca, as she is also called) teaches a man. At each point where the couple is mentioned, it appears that Priscilla and Aquila are spoken of with complete equivalence. It is well known, of course, that there are women mentioned in the New Testament besides these two – Phoebe, a deacon/deaconess/deacon’s wife, according to different interpretations; Lydia, clearly a woman of authority and one or two others.

On a personal level, I would say that there is no point trying to explain away apparent contradictions and inconsistencies in Scripture, or to pretend that they are not there. Indeed, it is in the struggle to understand them, and in our prayerful attempts to understand what the Word of God is saying to us, that we are challenged but also strengthened in faith and understanding. There is no substitute for careful reading, thought, discussion and dialogue, which can lead to illumination and a greater depth of relationship with the Word, both scriptural and incarnate.

c. In the light of the Gospel

It is, therefore, up to us to interpret these passages and to try and understand what they are saying to us in the light of the central Gospel message. It has become almost a cliché to say that Jesus’ attitude to women was radical for his time and setting, as indeed was his acceptance of Gentiles, his willingness to become ritually unclean by touching lepers and the dead, and his refusal to condemn the menstruating woman for touching him, and thereby once again rendering him unclean. Undoubtedly his twelve closest followers and friends, the apostles, were men; but there were women in his wider following, some of whom were instrumental in the early proclamation of the Good News. The unnamed Samaritan woman in John 4: 27-30, 39: ‘Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ 30They left the city and were on their way to him. 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ ‘ The first person to see the risen Christ is, according to John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene, who is told by Jesus to go and tell his brothers and tell them of his resurrection. For this reason, some church traditions call Mary of Magdala ‘Apostle to the Apostles’.

In essence, we can infer from this that Jesus placed no prohibition on women witnessing to him to both men and women. Nowhere does he give clear instructions about ordination in the future church; and the remainder of the New Testament is equivocal in its witness. The question that we then have to ask ourselves is: who is the pastor/priest/minister today? Do we see the calling of the twelve, all men, as prescriptive for the ordained ministry for all time? In other words, is this an ordinance of God, made for all time, that all ministers of Word and Sacrament reflect the masculine incarnation of the Word, or should the ministry reflect the humanity of Jesus Christ in the wholeness of the human being, made – both male and female – in the image of our Creator?

d. Conclusion and Questions

The German and Latin versions of the Augsburg Confession differ in the text for Article V: “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel (German)”[6];   or “1] That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2] the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3] the Gospel (Latin)”[7].

It is clear, either way, that the office of ministry has existed in the Church Universal at all times. The precise shape and definition of that office has changed over the years, and it is probably now impossible to clarify without fear of contradiction what the orders of ministry were in the early church, whether we understand ‘ordination’ in quite the same way as the early Christians to whom the pastoral epistles were written. There have been many discussions about whether women were or were not part of the early ministry of the church; how, for instance, we are to read the references to Phoebe, the deacon (διάκονή)?[8]

Martin Luther, as one might expect, was not a keen advocate of women’s ordination.  However, it is not at all unexpected that, as Karant-Nunn and Wiesner- Hanks state, ‘His strongest statements for and against women’s preaching or other public religious actions emerge in the middle of polemics directed against those with whom he disagreed.’[9] They go on to say that “he generally asserts that though such actions are normally prohibited to women both by the words of Paul and by other restrictions normally imposed on women, such as God’s words to Eve, in certain circumstances they are allowed or even praiseworthy. Four factors could justify a woman’s preaching or leadership: she was called by God, often as a rebuke to men, and thus had a special gift; she was widowed or unmarried, so that the issue of wifely obedience did not apply to her; she was advised by men, or her authority was given to her by a man; no men were present or no men who were qualified were present.”[10]

The question for Christians today is as it always has been: how do we ensure that the office of ministry in our churches enables the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments so that the Holy Spirit can work faith among us? In breaking with church tradition in ordaining women, are we remaining faithful to the Gospel?

The answer of the vast majority of Lutheran World Federation member churches is that the ordination of women, and indeed their participation in church life at all levels, is to be encouraged as a reflection of Biblical justice. In its Statement on Episcopacy in 2002, the LWF says this about the Ordained Ministry of Women and Men:

“1.        For centuries Lutheran churches, like other churches, restricted ordination to men.  Today the great majority of Lutherans belong to churches that ordain both women and men.  This practice is an expression of the conviction that the mission of the church requires the gifts of both men and women in the ordained ministry and that limiting the ordained ministry to men obscures the nature of the church as a sign of God’s reconciled Kingdom (Gal. 3:27-28).

2.         The Lutheran World Federation as a global communion has a commitment pertaining to the ordination of women. The LWF Eighth Assembly [Budapest, 1984] stated: “We thank God for the great and enriching gift to the church discovered by many of our member churches in the ordination of women to the pastoral office, and we pray that all members of the LWF, as well as others throughout the ecumenical family, will come to recognize and embrace God’s gift of women in the ordained ministry and in other leadership responsibilities in Christ’s church.”

3.         In many member churches of the LWF today, and in the majority of the larger Lutheran churches, women not only can be ordained as pastors but can also be elected to the ministry of oversight. This is consistent with the Lutheran emphasis on the one office of ministry.”

At an LWF Pre-Assembly Meeting in 2009, one of our discussion groups said this: “Men and women are the whole representation of God. The recognition of men and women as leaders in the church displays the fullness of what God created humanity to be.”  It is also important to say that the question of gender roles in the church is not simply a ‘women’s issue’, any more than food justice or poverty eradication is simply an issue for the poor and hungry.

Jana Jeruma-Grinberga

October 2013


The LCiGB ordained Rev’d Barbara Mielaas-Swanson as its first female pastor – date to be confirmed. Since then four more women have been ordained in our church, several other ordained women have transferred to LCiGB from other churches,  and women play a full part in leadership in the church at all levels.

 Brief Bibliography

Beside the works already referenced above, these may be of interest:

For more about the role and status of women deacons in the early church, see the Roman Catholic author John Wijngaards – for instance, Women Deacons in the Early Church: Historical Texts and Contemporary Debates, Herder & Herder, 2002, 2006

Women Bishops in the Church of England? A report of the House of Bishops’ Working Party on Women in the Episcopate, Church House Publishing, 2004 (often known as the Rochester Report). This is also available online at http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1258758/gs1557.pdf

The LWF Lund Statement, Episcopal Ministry within the Apostolicity of the Church, contains an extended theological discussion of the basis of ordained ministry:  http://ecumenism.net/archive/docu/2007_lwf_lund


 Lavinia Byrne, Woman At The Altar: The Ordination of Women in the Roman Catholic Church, Bloomsbury, 1995

 Maggi Dawn, Like the Wideness of the Sea: Women Bishops and the Church of England,  Darton, Longman & Todd, 2013 (I haven’t yet read this, but it comes very highly recommended)

 An excellent article by Rev’d Dr Karen Bloomquist, Ordaining Women Goes to the Heart of the Gospel,  originally published in 2009 in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE), Volume 9, Issue 12, can also be found online at http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Journal-of-Lutheran-Ethics/Issues/December-2009/Ordaining-Women-Goes-to-the-Heart-of-the-Gospel.aspx

  http://www.ordainwomennow.com/, a website created by those campaigning for the ordination of women in LCMS. The home page contains a good analysis of the Creation narratives, often used to support the idea of women’s subordination to men.

[1] http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/wenzargumentoverwomensordination.pdf

[2] both can be found on http://www.lca.org.au/doctrine-and-theology-2.html

[3] WA 25:106, 27; quoted in Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way. Similar quotes appear in Luther’s Table Talks.

[4] Gerald West, Biblical Hermeneutics in Africa, p.22 in African Theology on the Way, SPCK London 2010.

[5] Bible Study The Genesis of Marriage,  Documents from Porvoo Communion Consultation on Marriage, 2011

[6] Der V. Artikel. Vom Predigtamt. Solchen Glauben zu erlangen, hat Gott das Predigtamt eingesetzt, Evangelium und Sakramente gegeben, dadurch er, als durch Mittel, den Heiligen Geist gibt, welcher den Glauben, wo und wann er will, in denen, so das Evangelium hoeren, wirkt, welches da lehrt, dass wir durch Christus’ Verdienst, nich durch unser Verdienst, einen gnaedigen Gott haben, so wir solches glauben.

[7] Art. V. De Ministerio Ecclesiastico.

1] Ut hanc fidem consequamur, institutum est ministerium docendi evangelii et porrigendi sacramenta. Nam per Verbum et sacramenta tamquam per instrumenta donatur Spiritus Sanctus, 2] qui fidem efficit, ubi et quando visum est Deo, in iis, qui audiunt evangelium, 3] scilicet quod Deus non propter nostra merita, sed propter Christum iustificet hos, qui credunt se propter Christum in gratiam recipi.

[8] See  Charlotte Methuen, Women with Oversight: Evidence from the Early Church in Women as Bishops, ed James Rigney, Mowbray, 2008

[9] Karant-Nunn, Susan C. and Wiesner-Hanks, Merry E, Luther on Women – A Sourcebook, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 58.

[10] ibid.