Among the many controversies which raged within Lutheranism in the 20th century, and which are sure to continue, the disagreements over the station of women in the church and in society, and the doctrine of Office of the Holy Ministry (hence OHM) were certainly at the forefront. These two issues have become almost inseparably interconnected, only further complicating matters. The debate is far ranging. Among other things it involves the ordination of women, the old Missouri/Wisconsin disagreement on church and ministry, suffrage in church assemblies, woman's role in society, lay-led Bible studies (by both men and women), and the expanding role of the laity in parish life. While Missouri and Wisconsin have held the line against woman's ordination, most other Protestants have surrendered to the feminists. The stand taken by the former Synodical Conference partners makes them strange bedfellows with the Vatican and the sees of the East, at least on this point. However, fissures have begun to appear on the face of the superstructure. Lady lectors, communion assistants, and Bible teachers have begun to appear in certain parishes, though more so in Missouri than in Wisconsin. Women's retreats have provided a stage for women leading worship. Some time ago Missouri granted voters' assembly suffrage to women, and one wonders if this is in the offing for Wisconsin, though this author still hasn't understood the attraction of a voters' meeting.
Our Own Worst Enemy
Conservative Lutherans have further complicated matters for themselves by not always handling these issues in a credible way. For example, one wonders if the prohibition against suffrage can really stand the test of Scripture. However, it would first be helpful if our congregational polity would undergo restructuring.1 Some outlandish statements have been made about a Christian woman's role in society. One can only wince at the assertion that Christian women may serve in positions of leadership in society as long as they lead with a spirit of submissiveness, whatever that means. Wisconsin, with its expansive position on the OHM, ordained male day school teachers in 1991, only to rescind the action a decade later. (Is there a rite of de-ordination?)
Also, Lutherans have not helped themselves when it comes to the use of the terminology applied to the OHM. The oxymoronic term lay minister is one example. One only needs to look at the annuals of Lutheran church bodies to see how Lutherans struggle to deal with the issue semantically. Are terms such as full time and part time ministry really helpful? Since there are differing theologies within Lutheranism when it comes to the OHM, standardizing semantics on the matter will be of little help. Just the same there is one term which is especially troublesome. This is the term public ministry. It is a term which does not enjoy widespread use in our confessions, not to mention Scripture, and it doesn't adequately describe the gift which the Lord has given to the church. When Lutheran pastors and theologians are asked if a woman can be in the OHM (not just the public ministry), they generally become uncomfortable. Since Lutherans have traditionally reserved the term for those who are in "the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments" (AC V), joining the words woman and the Office of the Holy Ministry in one sentence congers up visions of chasubled Episcopalian priestesses. In contrast, the generic nature of the term public ministry seems to quiet this unease. The broadness of the term serves as an umbrella which covers the growing cadre of "ministers" and "ministries" within Lutheranism, many which have only tenuous connections to the Gospel, if at all. This is particularly important to the Wisconsin Synod with its broad view of the OHM. In the early part of the 20th century Wisconsin pulled the day school teacher under the OHM umbrella. Though a novelty, this didn't create a huge stir because most day school teachers were male. The acceptance of women as teachers meant that they too were pulled under the umbrella. Most jittery nerves were calmed when it was assured that the pastoral office was still seen as the most comprehensive form of the public ministry, again, whatever that means. One wonders if confessional Lutherans would be better off abandoning the term public ministry in favor of terms such as The Office of the Holy Ministry, or The Office of Preaching and Administering the Sacraments.
In a book entitled, Church-Mission-Ministry, The Family of God, Professor Armin Schuetze attempts to illustrate the Wisconsin Synod position on the OHM by means of a diagram. 2 In this diagram "pastors in parish ministries" and "pastors in other ministries" are the terminus of a downward flow chart which includes (in reverse order up the chart): "pastoral ministry", which is set next to "teacher ministry" and "staff ministry", which form a triad that flows from "offices of ministry (usually fulltime)". These fulltime offices are set side-by-side with "Member ministry (Sunday school teachers, etc.)" and both flow from what is termed "public ministry", which originates from a box at the top of the chart in which we read "All Christians have the ministry of the keys (personal ministry)". Damage can only result when the OHM and the church are reduced to something like an electrical schematic. In view of such attempts to illustrate Wisconsin's doctrine one can hardly protest too much when she is accused of teaching that everyone is in the Ministry, in spite of its disclaimers. Especially in view of the fact that the synod's first vice president has stated in print that the Vacation Bible School teacher is in the office of the public ministry. Also, Wisconsin can only mildly protest the accusation that it has reduced the OHM to mere functionalism. Just consider its standard treatment of AC, Article V.
This loose approach to the OHM has practical affects. In a recent WELS Connection video segment a Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary student was interviewed about his work with the youth in the parish to which he was assigned a vicarage. He related the answer given to him by the youth when he asked about the activities they might enjoy. Among other things they told him that they wanted to do a youth service. Their resultant efforts, as shown in the video, were hardly surprising: a worship service indistinguishable from any ordinary Evangelical fellowship. When shepherds start asking the sheep to do their work, then something's amiss. Make-work projects at church are not a fulfillment of the priesthood of all believers. We have lost a sense of Luther's teaching on Christian vocation, with the result that everyone is doing everyone else's job. Is all of this an effort to build the self-esteem of our people by having them do what they shouldn't do, and by labeling their godly service what it shouldn't be labeled (viz Ministry)? Let's trust God's people to serve Him simply out of love, not for a title.
Those who take a functional approach to the OHM need to find biblical support for the growing chorus of ministers, since getting folks involved "in ministry" is more important than the office. The more titles the more church jobs. This means scouring the New Testament record for forms of ministry which will lend some legitimacy to the "Gospel freedom" to create ex nihil. The New Testament does afford many ministerial titles. However, an honest word study reveals the interchangeableness of the titles and that they are also unified in the one person of Christ, for almost all these ministerial titles are applied to Him. Indeed, He is the true poimevna and ejpivskopo" of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). It is also worth noting the significant juxtaposition of the office of the overseer (read "OHM") to that of the office of the deacon. (1 Tim. 3) The latter (helping one's neighbor in every bodily need) allows the former to dispense the mysteries of God, for true oversight is granting the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 6) The first office is divinely ordained (John 20) and consumes itself in God's proprium, for the OHM is about absolution, period. The second is an office which the church devised for the temporal well being of the church, later liturgical functions granted the deaconate notwithstanding. If Paul's directives in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are about the OHM, and not just one of many first century forms of ministry (what else could they be about, otherwise they have no practical function for the church), then their gender specificity leads us to the conclusion that the OHM in all its manifestations is male. Therefore, the directive "husband of one wife" cannot mean, as one of my conference mates once asserted in defense of the public ministry of women, "one spouse at a time." It means what it says.
If we learn to speak like the New Testament when talking about the OHM, one finds that the grammar is very pastoral and male. Consider this catena: The gospels tell us that Jesus selected men to serve as His apostles. They are listed as the witnesses to His resurrection, though the women were first to the tomb. They are precisely numbered whether they are the Twelve or the Eleven. There are other groupings, also precisely numbered: 70, 120, 500, and are most often referred to as "brothers". From among their number the writers of the NT were drawn. As Dr. Luther reminds us, the Blessed Virgin Mary wrote no books; though Theotokos, she is not a teacher of the Church. Others were sent out by the apostolic church. These go by various titles, but there is a mutuality between these titles. These ministers have responsibility for "all the flock" over which the Spirit made them "overseers." (Acts 20:28) The qualifications for this ministry are duly noted twice in the New Testament and are gender-specific. (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1) These men are to speak in the public assemblies of the church, not women. This ministry is set next to, but differentiated from that of the deaconate, an office also occupied by males.(Acts 6; 1 Tim. 3) Those who hold this office handle the μυστηριων of God: Christ, Baptism, Absolution, Preaching, and the Eucharist. At times they are to exclude the impenitent from the assembly of believers. These men are servants who are to be obeyed unless they teach falsely. (Heb. 13:17) They tremble before their Lord, for they must give an account of their stewardship of the "secret things of God" and their ministry to the saints. (Heb. 13:17; 1 Cor. 4:1) On account of this, not many among the brotherhood "should presume to be teachers" for a stricter standard is set for those in the OHM. (Jas 3:1) Therefore, Paul admonishes Timothy to entrust the things of God to "reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." (2 Tim. 2:2) This is necessary because a church without a minister is unfinished business. (Titus 1:5) Thus the New Testament speaks about the OHM. It knows of no other ministry.
In view of the foregoing one can only view the advent of lady lectors, kantors, and communion assistants in Lutheran parishes as ominous.3 Equally ominous is the contention of a leading Wisconsin Synod theologian that the only argument against such things is that it might be offensive to some. He "bolstered" his point by noting that little girls are allowed to speak from the chancel in the annual Christmas Eve pageant. (Now that's doing theology!) Even if we never officially ordain a woman in the OHM, the expanding chancel service of women may eventually make the point moot. Slippery slopes are still slippery slopes and to be avoided as such. Of course, it can be argued, St. Paul will come to the rescue when it comes to the matter of ordination. Indeed, the Pauline prohibitions in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 do settle the matter for confessional Lutherans. And yet, if the Pauline prohibitions are foundational, shouldn't it strike Evangelical-Lutherans as a bit strange that the Gospel Ministry is then formed by Law directives? Nor should we be too confident that these injunctions will save the day, for the exegetes have a way of getting around just about anything.
A More Excellent Way
Permit another approach and one not original with this author. Could it be that the Pauline prohibitions are not mere arbitrary rules, but rather an expression of a deeper reality? In the discussion at hand most Lutheran theologians make note of the order of creation. The priority of Adam's creation does point us in the right direction, but this is more than mere taxonomy. Could this deeper reality be the Holy Trinity, particularly as the Godhead carries out the works of creation and salvation? David Scaer writes,
The biblical and confessional principle that behind the divine word and revelation there exists an even greater divine reality which supports the divine word must prevail. This greater reality is the incarnation. This view must prevail over a fundamentalist type of Barthianism which refuses to go behind the word of revelation to the reality of the incarnation..... Even the quite valid argument that women may not be pastors because Christ chose only men as apostles rests on the prior more fundamental reality of the incarnation. God did not choose to become incarnate as a male, as if He had a choice between male and female, but rather because He was the Son of the Father..... God is of such a nature that He could not have become incarnate in a woman and He could not have chosen women to represent Him as apostles and pastors. We were all condemned in Adam's sin and not Eve's, though she sinned first. All are justified in Christ, who is the new Adam and not the new Eve. Women do not have the constituted nature to be icons of God in His creative relationship to the world or of Christ in His pastoral and redemptive relationship to the church. Paul's order of man being God's glory and the woman being man's glory cannot be contravened without losing the claim to be apostolic (1 Cor. 11:7). 4
John Kleinig writes in a similar vein,
Christ, then, did not become incarnate as a male human, nor did He confer the Holy Ministry on certain chosen members of the male sex, in order to indicate that God the Father was a male person, but to fulfill the role of Adam as a type of Christ and of God the Father. If we grant that this is so, then it follows that the ordination of women contradicts the spiritual vocation of men as husbands and fathers and empties marriage and family life of much of their spiritual significance. It also obscures the mystery of Christ and His work of redemption. It obscures the role of Christ as the head of the church as well as the nature of the church as His holy bride. Most of all, it obscures the fatherhood of God and the role of pastors as spiritual fathers. The ordination of women creates symbolic confusion in both the order of creation and the order of redemption.5
Kleinig also observes,
To put it quite simply, Adam, the first human father and husband, is a type of God the Father and of Jesus the heavenly bridegroom, as well as a type of the pastor, who represents both of them.6
Consider Dr. Luther's view of the acts of Christian ministers,
“Today I beheld God's Word and work. Yes, I saw and heard God Himself preaching and baptizing.” To be sure, the tongue, the voice, the hands, etc. are those of a human being, but the Word and the ministry are really those of the Divine Majesty.7
No finer commentary can be found on the words of the Savior, "He who hears you, hears Me...." (Luke 10:16) Christ is truly present with His Church. He betroths Himself to His Church through his ministers, who stand in His stead, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." (1 Cor. 11:2b) They impart the Seed, the Word made flesh, to the Holy Bride, and faith, hope, and charity are conceived (Eph. 5:22f). 8
As I noted in an article entitled lutheran lady lectors (MM, Issue 3), the ordination of women by the ELCA amounted to ecclesiastical lesbianism. It's not just that the ELCA disobeyed a rule, but that it went counter to that which is fundamentally constituent to God's created order of gender, the incarnation, the work of redemption, and the Holy Ministry.
Much more can be written on the subject of the OHM, but the truths briefly presented above must be the starting point for all discussions on the subject. I have personally found that when this subject is approached from the starting point of these deeper, prior realities, then rancor is removed from the discussion, and the catechumens see the larger picture of God's economy. We are no longer dealing with the issue in terms of competency and fairness, but rather in the reflective light of the Holy Trinity. This is the office which the New Testament sets before us and which our confessions speak about in simple and straightforward terms. A woman can never be in the office presented to us in the New Testament and in our symbols. This is not on account of an arbitrary rule but due to the very nature of divine things. Whatever label we give to the godly and valuable service of women, public or otherwise, it is not that of the OHM. Rather they serve their Lord in the priesthood of all believers, showing forth His praises to their children and to the world. 9
This author does not hold out much hope that this approach will gain currency in the Wisconsin Synod. This will not bode well as it struggles with the important issues at hand. It will be further hampered in this due to its non-sacramental bent, and this will prove to be as significant as the matters discussed above. 10 As long as the synod continues to view preaching and the sacraments as interchangeable parts, failing to see the uniqueness of each; as long as it fails to see the interdependence and interrelationship between these means; as long as it fails to see the Supper as the intersection of heaven and earth, and that our preaching is preaching to this heaven; and as long as it holds on to its pietistic roots, then it will not have the OHM in proper focus. One wonders if the bizarre resistance to the reestablishment of an every Sunday celebration of the Sacrament is the realization that this would be an admission that the OHM is overtly sacramental as well as being overtly kerygmatic.11 Such an admission would only further reveal the novelty of Wisconsin's current teaching and practice, which is not much more than a century old.
The Lutheran Church has become two churches. Which will it be? The choice will determine the shape of the Ministry. If the church is about "spiritual growth" and "therapeutic and managerial concerns", then motivators, counselors, and managers (whatever their gender) will serve better than called and ordained absolvers, preachers, and celebrants (Ah, forms! And formed by the Gospel, not by the will of men.). If the church is about the imparting of divine information for "victorious living," then the Ministry will be seen as educative rather than absolutory. But that is not the purpose of the Church and its Ministry. We have not been called to the ministry of the foolishness of lay-led Bible study, but to the Ministry of the foolishness of preaching. We have not been called to the ministry of soup kitchens (though Christians are known for their charity), but to the Ministry of the Lord's Table. We have not been called to set our people a-wondering about what would Jesus do if He busted His knuckle changing a tire, but to absolve our people of their sins and their righteousnesses. We have become two churches. One church is where the Gospel is preached, better living is preached in the other. There are terrible pressures in this second church, more than anyone can bear. Kyrie, eleison! §
The Reverend Peter M. Berg is currently enrolled in the colloquy program of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
1 Voting on issues such as the color of the paint for the church kitchen or whether or not to start a Lutheran elementary school should be open to all. However, when voter's assemblies vote to jettison the liturgy in favor of the latest fad, then they have entered an area outside their charge and competence.
2 Armin W. Schuetze, Church-Mission-Ministry, Northwestern Publishing House (Milwaukee) page 125.
3 Those who have this practice should be shown this article. If they persist, they should be disciplined, though sending the announcement of suspension via e-mail is a little more than tacky.
4 Concordia Theological Quarterly. Volume 53, Numbers 1-2, January-April 1989, pages 9-10. Though the image of God is restored in all the redeemed, a woman cannot be a pastor, not even to other women, because she is the glory of man, while man is the glory of God. (1 Co 11:7) Therefore men are the reflection of God in a way which women are not. Men are a reflection of the fatherhood of the Father and the role of the Heavenly Bridegroom. (Eph 5:22f) Therefore only men can represent Christ in the OHM.
5 Lutheran Theological Review. Volume 10, 1997-98, page 53. Headship is not only a relational matter, but also an essential one. Christ is the Head according to His essence. The headship of man is essential to his nature, and not just in relationship to women. A woman is never a head, even if men are not present. Therefore a woman can never be in the OHM, because headship is essential to this office. Further, since all in the OHM share equally in its duties and privileges, and since there are no ranks in the OHM, then women are exempt due to the rank divinely given to man. (see Treatise 11-12)
6 ibid, page 51. Christ reflects the fatherhood of God to His people (Is 9:6; Jn. 14:9f). In turn, Christ's ministers are described as fathers to the people in their charge. (1 Co 4:14-17; 1 Thess. 2:11-12)
7 AE 24:66, 67.
8 Paul's injunctions about the silence of women are set in the context of the liturgical assembly of the church. (1 Co 10-14; 1 Tm 2) See 1 Tm 4:11-14 where the public reading of the scriptures is linked to ordination into the OHM.
9 The question as to whether or not the schoolteacher was a part of the OHM was a non-issue until Wisconsin introduced this anomaly, a thing exacerbated by the advent of female teachers. Luther is sometimes cited favorably, for he does include schoolteachers in lists of servants of the church. (cf. AE 46:220; Lenker, Sermons of Martin Luther, Volume V, page 392) However, also included in these lists are sacristans and sextons, hardly members of the OHM. The OHM for Luther and the confessors is pastoral in nature. These lists deal with the clerical caste of his day, which also included positions auxiliary to the Office. See AE 25:234-235 where Luther calls the ministerial acts of uncalled laymen and women farcical. Yes, "early Luther", but a position which he never recants. See also Large Catechism 1, 141 where Luther sees the school teacher in loco parentis. Also, the classroom lectern and the pulpit are not exact equivalents. The lectern, without apology, must deal with Kingdom of the Left Hand matters, not so the pulpit.
10 How can the Wisconsin Synod, which has hardly come to grips with the loss of private confession and absolution, let alone its reestablishment and administration by competent father confessors, even begin to presume that it can define the OHM?
11 Dr. John Stephenson contrasts the view of F. Pieper and C.P. Krauth, noting that the Supper for Pieper was "merely a means to an end" while for Krauth it was the End. The Lord's Supper, Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Vol. XII, page 206.
The following was sent to editor John Berg, the younger brother of the author of the above article. The letter writer declined the invitation to write to the author of the article and/or to have his response printed, unedited, in our journal but he rather insisted that Fr. John - at the time a member of the Wisconsin Synod - disavow the contents of the above article. Young Berg declined and was dismissed..
Paul Janke (a Wisconsin Synod district president), among other things, wrote:
I note that Peter [editor note, Fr. Peter Berg in “That Jesus Christ was Born a Man,” Vol. II, 1] characterizes the WELS as having a “non-sacramental bent,” charges the WELS with “hold(ing) on to its pietistic roots,” accuses WELS of “bizarre resistance to the reestablishment of an every Sunday celebration of the Sacrament.” Finally, he describes the WELS “current teaching and practice” (on the doctrine of the ministry, I assume) as a “novelty.”
8MM Uh...yup, he did, and he knew whereof he spoke, for he served longer in its ministerium than you and for a good share of it with the blinders off. (Now, I could stop here, but, hey, why start now?) If this resistance, amply chronicled in this journal, is not “bizarre” then what is it? Scriptural? Lutheran? Evangelical? Showing a concern for burdened souls? Funny how what Brother Peter writes bears a bizarrely similar resemblance to this “accusation”
The deplorable fact that [the Wisconsin Synod] has not succeeded in raising its average communion attendance to more than slightly over twice annually per communicant is a definite throwback to Pietism, and a far cry from that which Luther preached. A further study will show that many of [the] customs regarding the sacrament which serve to discourage rather than encourage frequent communion attendance are of pietistic, rather than Reformation origin.
Of course, when a Wisconsin Synod professor so holds forth then it is good enough to be published in your “Our Great Heritage” as this was and receive, unlike the ‘Pie, a Nihil Obstat. It is an “accusation” to say that you are clinging to your pietistic roots? In your synod’s pop theology magazine, Forward in Christ (Vol. 92, 5), we read this “conversation” included in a recent article by one John Parlow entitled “Skepticism,”
“I really appreciate the work Pastor Steve puts into his message,” Stone said to the Klugs. “He’s the first guy I can listen to for more than three minutes. As a kid all I remember was hearing the preacher say over and over again, ‘You are sinners who don’t deserve anything, but…Jesus died for you.’ Okay, but so what? What does that look like for me on Monday in my cubicle or Thursday night on the town?”
“Clinging to Pietistic roots?” Nooooo! (note to our readers, to be read ooooozing with sarcasm). Of course, calling this flippant, blasphemous dismal of the Gospel (“So what?”) “pietistic” is to insult the pious Pietists who at least preached the Gospel, before getting down to straitening out people lives in the cubicle and conventicle - something also highly promoted in your synod.
You bristle at the word “novelty?” You know well I apprised you of these things from your Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly and your “Church-Mission-Ministry” booklet. It is not a novelty to say that the custodian (however God pleasing that vocation is) is said to be in the Holy Ministry? It is not a novelty to say that the 8th grade girl helping out with the projects at the VBS is in the Office of the Holy Ministry subject to 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1 and the stern judgment hanging over that office? It is not a novelty to say, as did you and your Olympian mates on the COP, that distributing the sacrament by a woman is not an exercise of pastoral care? It is not a novelty to have women lectors, women celebrants, women pastors? You take umbrage at the characterization, “novelty?” I suppose that if church history begins and ends with the Wisconsin Synod and its practice, then I would agree that that jerk was way out of line, if not, that jerk was right on. I know my jerks. Right on, brother! (JWB) §