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“Section II: Historical Studies” in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I continue my review of Women Pastors? edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless here with a few brief comments on the introduction to Section II: Historical Studies. I thought it was worth commenting on due to the way it sets the table for the upcoming chapters.

Section II: Historical Studies Introduction

There are several claims made within this three paragraph introduction to the Historical Studies section. We will outline those claims, make a few comments, and then use this post to see whether these claims are supported and sustained by the arguments in the chapters that follow.

Claim 1: “The practice of ordaining women to the pastoral office is a novelty in the history of the church.” (107)

This claim is fairly straightforward, and the editors go on to clarify, noting that the first woman ordained in the United States was ordained in 1853. The implication seems to be that this was around the first time women were ordained into the pastoral office. This is a positive claim about a universal negative: to sustain the claim, the authors must demonstrate no women ever was ordained as a pastor in the history of the church before a time that could be called a “novelty.” We have already seen issues with this. One problem is the definition of the “pastoral office,” something the editors clearly struggled with. Some authors have simply not defined the pastoral office, assuming readers would fill in the gaps. Others have defined it in such a way that there is not a single example of anyone holding such an office anywhere in the New Testament. So the first step of a defense of this claim is to establish what the pastoral office is, and demonstrate it in the New Testament itself. The second step is to show the universal negative is true; something nearly impossible. Moreover, given that another author has granted some sects did ordain women (though they were, he claims, entirely Gnostic ones), one would have to demonstrate those were not examples of the early church whatsoever. Additionally, the examples in the New Testament of women leading (eg Phoebe, Prisca/Priscilla, Junia) have to be shown to clearly not be functioning as the pastoral office, however defined. Will these authors manage to show these to be true? If they do not, this claim is false.

Claim 2: “Fueled by theological movements that set the charismatic distribution of the Spirit in opposition to an established office, the emerging equalitarianism of the feminist movement, historical criticism’s distrust of the biblical text, and in some cases a pragmatism that saw the ordination of women as a way to alleviate the clergy shortage… many Protestant denominations took steps to ordain women.” (ibid)

The authors in the following section must show that these different influences are demonstrably what made churches ordain women rather than anything else, like a re-exploration of church history or the Bible’s teaching on women. We should see in-depth sociology happening here, done by authors with expertise in the history of ideas and social development of thought. They must outline the movement of theology from point A to point B by means of these various movements said to be the instrument thereby people ordained women. If not, this claim is falsified.

Claim 3: The women who are noted in the history of the church “were holy and learned but never pastors” (referencing an upcoming chapter’s claims).

I find this claim very important, but also very slippery. After all, we’ve already seen (links above) that the definition of “pastor” is unclear throughout this book. The authors must provide a very clear, textually sound definition of pastor. If not, how can they even claim that any one group of people were “never pastors”? So, again, we must see a clear definition of what a pastor is. Then, we should see the authors surveying many, many women throughout church history and showing how they do not meet that definition. The definition must not be tailored to make it beg the question against women pastors (eg. by saying “pastors are men who lead worship”). Instead, it must be a definition that can be used to show one person is a pastor, and another is not by virtue of the roles of the pastor. The author of whatever chapters involved in this should have expertise in church history.

Claim 4: “Ordination of women is a monumental turn in the history of the Church.” (107)

This claim is tied closely in with claims 1 and 3 and faces the same issues.

Claim 5: “[Ordination of women] puts those church bodies that practice it on dangerous ground, for it indicates that they are out of step not only with two thousand years of Christian history but with the will of the Lord of the Church.” (Ibid)

The first problem here is the editors already falsified this claim. 2000 years is a set period of time. Jesus died sometime around AD 33-35, though there are a few who move it a few years outside that range. Thus, 2000 years from AD 33 would be 2033. We have not yet reached that year, so people ordaining women are not outside of 2000 years of Christian history. The editors themselves note a woman ordained in 1853, which would be 1820 years of history, if it were the first ordination of any woman anywhere. One may object and say this is a petty complaint. But this section is the “historical studies” section. We should expect historical precision here, of all places. But “two thousand years” has better rhetorical value, so that’s what the editors used rather than an actual number corresponding to reality. The authors then have an impossible task: showing the history of the church is different from what it is. Moreover, they must demonstrate that the ordination of women goes specifically against the will of the Lord of the Church.

In the coming posts, we will see whether the authors sustain these lofty claims.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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“1 Corinthians 14:33B-38, 1 Timothy 2:11-14, and the Ordination of Women” by Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North, Part 1, in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“1 Corinthians 14:33B-38, 1 Timothy 2:11-14, and the Ordination of Women” by Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North

Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North seek to demonstrate that the titular verses show women may not be pastors. While Jesus “elevated the status of women,” they say, it is nevertheless the case that “Jesus entrusted the oversight of the Church to men only…” (45).

The first thing that strikes me in this chapter are the verses selected. Why begin at 14:33and extend only to 38? Why do the authors cut verse 15 of 1 Timothy 2 out of its immediate context with the verses preceding it? Of course, the authors must limit the scope at some point. That’s not a question. But when there is a question of whether verse 33 is a continuous clause and when verse 15 is highly relevant to the interpretation of the rest of the passage, one must wonder why those verses were excised in this exegetical chapter. Readers can’t know. But especially with 1 Timothy 2:15, it is quite clear that it is a continuation of the previous thoughts and should not be cut off. From the outset, Kriewaldt and North miss out on key aspects of interpreting these texts.

1 Corinthians 14:33B-38

Kriewaldt and North acknowledge that we know “that Corinth had a number of cults that included priestesses…” (45). Thus, they argue, Paul’s silencing of women “runs counter to the pagan culture in Corinth. He is not culturally conditioned” (ibid).

Surprisingly, Kriewaldt and North feel confident enough to say “The integrity of this passage is certain. There is no manuscript evidence for the omission of these verses from chapter 14, though some manuscripts place them after v. 40” (46). In this, the authors are simply mistaken. Not only are they wrong to say that the textual integrity is “certain,” but also to say that there is no manuscript evidence for their omission. Certainty, as the word is typically understood, implies the kind of 100% clear textual integrity that rarely exists. But 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 does not have that integrity. Not only do the verses exist in different places (after 1 Corinthians 14:40) in some manuscripts–thus demonstrating that the passage does not have a “certain” place in the text–but as Philip B. Payne and others have demonstrated, there are some serious questions about the textual transmission of this text. As he notes, the fact of the movement of the passage itself is rather alarming for those who wish to claim textual certainty: “Similarly, it is highly unlikely that if the text were originally in Paul’s letter after v. 40, that any later scribe would move that text to follow v. 33. We know it is highly unlikely since no scribe of any surviving manuscript (and there are thousands) of any of Paul’s letters ever did anything like this in any other passage of Paul’s letters.” But apart from the movement in the text, there is the issue of textual markings that indicate textual variants “Codex Vaticanus’s evidence that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation is especially important for several reasons. Its distigme (mark of a textual variant) at the end of v. 33 with no corresponding distigme at the end of v. 40 is evidence of a textual variant that was not the Western displacement was written prior to Codex Vaticanus.” So how is it that Kriewaldt and North may claim that the passage is “certain” in its integrity? How may they say that there is “no manuscript evidence for the omission of these verses…”? Simply put, it must be due either to misleading the reader or ignorance of the fact that just such evidence does exist. And if these passages are an interpolation, there is no need to even continue to engage them. Those unconvinced by the textual evidence–which is, again, quite strong–will see below that even when we do take the passage as original to the letter, there is little reason to think it means women may not be pastors.

Kriewaldt and North claim that “Paul says that his commands are followed in all the churches” (46). Though it is true that the passage begins “As in all the congregations of the saints,” but this is not the same as saying his commands are followed in all churches. The language itself seems more passive than that, and some English translations do not have this clause as the beginning of a sentence but rather as the conclusion of 14:33 and the clause preceding it (see examples here). However, the authors of this essay do not make an argument for preferring to cut the verse in half where they do, even though it is clearly germane to their interpretation as follows.

One of the places Kriewaldt and North attempt to drive a point of division between women and authority in the text is by challenging what it means to prophesy. “Prophecy is not preaching; it is speech directly inspired by God… Although instruction and learning are connected with prophecy, it is not an institution that is constantly ready for action…. It is quite different from preaching and official teaching of the apostolic word. Prophecy, then, is open also for women. Scripture refers to a number of women prophets…” (46). It has already been noted, however, that this concession makes it very clear women hold positions of authority higher than those of male teachers (see the argument here, for example). It is interesting, though, that on Kreiwald and North’s own discussion, they admit that women may give “speech directly inspired by God.” What is odd, then, is that they then seem to think that prophecy is less authoritative than the act of teaching or preaching. As if somehow having direct revelation from God (as noted p. 46) is less authoritative than simply expounding upon that same revelation! This seems backwards. If God chooses to use women to directly reveal God’s own word, is it not a strange position that would then say “Ah, but God would not actually let women teach about that word they delivered”? Yet that is what readers are expected to believe, and indeed to affirm as if it were just obvious from the text, for Kreiwaldt and North immediately go on to say that women are to “be silent” when it comes to “prophecy… being weighted and evaluated” (47).

The meaning of lalein is much discussed on the literature related to this passage, and Kriewaldt and North argue that it means “speak” but specifically “authoritative teaching,” for they insist that it is a “a synonym for authoritative teaching” (47). Indeed, they go so far as to say that lalein “certainly doesn’t mean chattering or strident speaking,” despite the fact that some studies have shown exactly that, and (as noted in the previous link), ancient evidence in a dictionary and elsewhere suggests that is exactly what it means.[1] Such studies would greatly undermine the interpretation the authors give here, but as we have seen throughout the book so far, serious studies by those who disagree are largely ignored or dismissed.

Kriewaldt and North give four reasons that “women are to be silent and are not to speak” (47). First, they claim it is “the ecumenical practice of all the churches” (ibid). As we’ve mentioned, this begs the question regarding where they put the clause about the commands from Paul. The authors don’t actually establish that it was this ecumenical practice; nor do they address serious NT counter-examples (eg. Phoebe, Junia), nor do they do anything to demonstrate that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is actually next to the clause about “all the congregations of the saints” despite their own admission that some manuscripts place it after verse 40! Each of these would be highly relevant to their claim here, but none of these points is addressed beyond the mere dismissal of opposing viewpoints. Second, they claim that the submission of women is due to the “Law” (capital “L,” of course, though no argument is made). This Law, they claim “probably has to do with the whole Pentateuch.” Yet as many interpreters have noted (see discussion of this part of the passage here), there is serious difficulty discerning exactly where this is supposed to be found in the Law. Some have suggested it is actually related to the culture surrounding Corinth, rabbinic teaching, or other extrabiblical sources. Our authors, however, say it is related to Genesis 2:18-25 (ibid). But nothing in Genesis 2 says anything specifically about woman submitting to man. There is nothing there. So how can it be that this is what Paul is referring to? It seems like the reason to suggest this is because it best fits Kreiwaldt and North’s preconceptions of what the text ought to say and refer to, rather than any relevant evidence from the texts themselves. They do go on to say that it is due to “order of creation” (47-48), which is certainly a weak argument. Too often, as here, a bare appeal is made to “order of creation” without any reference for what that is supposed to mean. Indeed, it seems the reader is just supposed to assume that that order of creation is submission of women, but that begs the question. Moreover, if we are serious about the mere order of creation–that is, what comes first in creation–as a grounding for submission, then men everywhere ought to be submitting to all other animals, the heavenly bodies, dirt, the seas, etc.–for according to the order of creation, all of these things were created first. Of course, I don’t actually believe that; but the point is it is incredibly easy to make the malleable term “order of creation” mean whatever one wishes, and much more difficult to ground it in the texts.

The third reason given, after a brief aside in which the authors dismiss “mutual submission” in Ephesians 5, is that “It is disgraceful” for women to speak (49). They argue that the shame is “theological rather than… social” (ibid) such that it is “shameful to God for a woman to assume a teaching role in the church…” (49). But again, given that women are already allowed to present direct revelation from God, it is hard to see why a much less authoritative form of speech would somehow be shameful. The authors once again ignore this intriguing dilemma. They then address briefly 1 Cor. 14:36, which seems a bit of a strange question given Kriewaldt and North’s view. Indeed, it seems more likely that Paul is here showing that he is answering a false teaching that originated in Corinth as he does elsewhere, but the authors of this essay take it to mean that the church must submit to Christ’s word, which is of course what they already told us it is.

The fourth and final reason for women to be silent is “because anyone filled with the Spirit would have to admit that what Paul is saying is really a command of the Lord!” (49). This is a blatant kind of poisoning the well. What Kriewaldt and North say here, seriously, is that anyone who disagrees with their interpretation is not filled with the Spirit! After all, if they were, then they would just accept this interpretation of the text and force women into silence. This kind of questioning the salvation of those with whom one disagrees is unbecoming and nothing more than an attack on fellow believers with whom the authors disagree. It is unfit for a scholarly work.

Thus far, we have seen that Kriewaldt and North essentially assume their position is correct and then turn to question the salvation of those with whom they disagree on whether women ought to be silenced. They fail to deal with the serious textual critical issues related to the placement of the passage at question; they appeal baldly to “order of creation” as if that term is a settled issue, and they fail to account for the cultural context of the Corinthian church.

[1] ‘Phrynichus, the ancient dictionarian, defined the term as “to talk nonsense.” The word is used of gossip, prattling, babbling, animal sounds, and musical instruments. During the classical period, it usually was employed in a contemptuous sense. Debrunner, writing in the Kittel-Friedrich Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, states “Lalein can also be used quite objectively of speech when there is reference to sound rather than meaning.”‘ See “Pandemonium and Silence at Corinth” by Catherine Clark Kroeger.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this same passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Didaskolos” by Bertil Gärtner, Part 1, in “Women Pastors?”edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

Didaskolos: The Office, Man and Woman in the New Testament

Gärtner’s chapter begins by asking and answering a question “Does the New Testament contain any direct teaching about the relationship between man and woman in the office of the ministry? The answer to this question is an unequivocal yes” (27). Such a statement suggests that he will demonstrate that there is a verse, somewhere, that specifically teaches about the relationship between man and woman in the office of the ministry. After all, his claim is that one can unequivocally say that yes, the New Testament does contain such direct teaching. As we explore this chapter, we will return to this question a few times and ask whether Gärtner’s claim is correct.

Gärtner states that the ministry must be set into a larger New Testament context. Addressing 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12, intriguingly again pointed to as the apparent proof against women pastors, he states that a view that teaches that those verses are “intended to correct some irregularities” at the time of the writings of the letters “does not correspond with the material Paul presents” (27). To prove this, he notes that in 1 Corinthians, Paul “deals with a number of questions which have been put to him by the congregation” (ibid). He uses the example of eating meat sacrificed to idols and says that Paul “places the question in the larger context” because it “is considered in relation to the doctrine of God as the only God…” (27-28).

Expanding on the context, Gärtner appeals to the choosing of the apostles, Jesus’ conception of marriage and creation, the Christian as new creation, and heresy in Corinth  in order to make his argument that women are excluded from the ministry. We’ll briefly sketch out his argument. Jesus’ apostles, Gärtner argues, are all men (29). He notes that these apostles are “leaders of the new people of God,” something important we will consider below. He also states that “although the most esteemed women… who were part of the closest circle of disciples, were present in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, it was only the apostles themselves who were invited to be present at the Last Supper… By immemorial custom both women and children shared in this dinner fellowship. Yet, this is the time that Jesus breaks that tradition and gathers only the twelve around Him” (ibid). Regarding Jesus’ concept of marriage and creation, Gärtner walks through Matthew 19:3ff in which Jesus discusses marriage (30-31). The Christian as new creation Gärtner states, after pointing to texts talking about the Christian as new creation, that “in the life of the church, the true relationship between male and female can take place” (31). Regarding Heresy in Corinth, Gärtner paints an image of the Corinthians as seeing themselves getting direct revelation from God and having everything spiritualized such that people could set above “the fundamental command of fellowship and love to the neighbor.” Then, he states that Paul teaches that “salvation rests upon creation” and that the “office” (he doesn’t, on p. 33, specify which one or the definition thereof) “is related to the order of creation; and according to the order of creation, the human race is divided into man and woman” (32-34).

There are already a number of interesting issues to explore in Gärtner’s essay. First, the question of what “office” he is referencing throughout is quite relevant. Though it is possible to divert conversation in important issues by constantly punting to definitions, the notion of “office” is a central aspect of Gärtner’s argument so far, yet it remains undefined. We do not find him providing his own definition of ordination, as Hamann did, and so are left to simply guess exactly what he means by the word throughout the essay. As Hamann found in trying to define ordination and the ministry, it is extremely difficult to find the modern idea of what a pastor is in the New Testament (Hamann ultimately admitted his own definition could not be found therein). But because Gärtner is so focused on showing that women may not hold the “office,” one must ask what that office itself is. One would not find the answer in Gärtner’s essay. The closest he comes is by stating it is the “office of the ministry” (27). Second, Gärtner’s admission that the apostles are leaders of the new people of God is particularly on point because one of the arguments against using Junia (Romans 16:7) as an example of a woman leading is that apostles are merely ones sent by God (turning the Greek literal than using it as it is throughout the NT, as an office. Gärtner here concedes this point, and so the fact that Junia was a woman apostle overthrows his entire position.

Third, Gärtner’s argument about only the Twelve being at the Last Supper is not part of the biblical text. Indeed, he even says that women were not invited to it, specifically (31). Yet in the accounts of the Last Supper, there is no such clear exclusion. Gärtner’s point relies upon an argument from silence, excluding those who were not explicitly mentioned. Yet if we used the exact same kind of argumentation, all kinds of contradictions in the NT occur. For example, Mark 16:5 mentions only one young man (angel) at the tomb of Jesus. Gärtner’s methodology would insist that this would entail there was only one angel. Yet Luke 24:4 and John 20:12 each state there were two. But if we use the lack of explicit mention to exclude those not mentioned, as Gärtner does in relation to the Last Supper, we have a direct contradiction in the Bible. Of course that is a poor argument for a contradiction, because having two angels means that at least one was present. The silence regarding the second angel does not exclude his presence in the tomb. Similarly, just because no women or children or other followers of Jesus are explicitly mentioned in the accounts of the Last Supper (though Matthew and Mark both use the generic term “disciples” and then mention specifically the Twelve as for sure being there, thus making it rather clearly open to others being there as “disciples” who had helped prepare for the Passover), one cannot exclude them any more than one could seriously charge Mark and Luke with a contradiction. Another way to think about it is this way: All of the Twelve were Jewish. Does this mean that pastors must be Jewish? After all, it is quite clear that no Gentiles were among the Twelve. So Jesus only invited Jews to dine with him at the Last Supper, suggesting that no Gentiles may be pastors, right? No. Gärtner wouldn’t agree, I’m sure, but then his point about the Twelve being men must also be conceded as incidental.

Fourth, Gärtner’s point about the new creation is to merely assert his point: that male and female are most exactly expressed in the church. But of course verses like Galatians 3:28, also Pauline, point to the reality that such distinctions as male and female in the body of Christ are not germane. Yet even if one disagrees with me on that point, Gärtner does nothing to make this aspect of his argument anything more than an assertion. Fifth, Gärtner does little to demonstrate that the heresy in Corinth is that which he asserts, and even less to show that even if he is correct that it all goes back to an kind of charismatic overthrow of the order of creation, that that has anything to do with women pastors. He simply assumes his readers will make a connection for him. But there doesn’t seem to be any relevant connection between his notion of the alleged heretical teaching at Corinth and that of women pastors. He doesn’t even argue for it. Sixth, allowing for the heresy in Corinth to be part of the interpretation actually works against him, because, as has been argued, it certainly seems possible that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is part of that heresy that Paul then argues against.

Thus far, context has done little for Gärtner.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The New Testament and the Ordination of Women” by Henry P. Hamann, part 2 in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

See Part 1 of this chapter here.

The New Testament and the Ordination of Women by Henry P. Hamann Part 2

Section III

Hamann notes that “One might get the impression that the prohibition of female leadership in the church is something of an arbitrary opinion of the apostle…” (21). He argues that, instead, “Paul’s views on this matter [women in the church] are embedded in his theology of creation, the fall of man, and the redemption through Jesus Christ” (ibid).

First, I would note that I believe Hamann is deeply mistaken here in adding the issue of gender roles into the basics of the Gospel. By placing gender roles on the same level as creation, the fall, and redemption, Hamann is dangerously close to adding to the Gospel and taking away from the Lutheran doctrine of Christ alone. He is confounding the Gospel by making it equivalent to the demand that women stay silent (however qualified) in the church.

Second, how does Hamann justify this claim? He does so by arguing that 1 Corinthians has a whole theology of “the place of woman,” borrowing heavily from Peter Brunner. Effectively, by weaving together 1 Corinthians 11, Genesis 2, and Ephesians 5 with Paul’s thought, he argues that “head” must mean some kind of structure of authority (21, 22). Interestingly, Hamann’s own reading seems to undercut this interpretation because he goes on to say that “woman is ‘from’ man” (21), an interpretation that fits better with the typical egalitarian reading of “head” as “source.” Genesis 3 is taken to show that woman is to submit to man because the fall of humanity didn’t occur until “it also became the sin of Adam.” Yet in Genesis 3, we see that each of the players is held accountable, despite trying to shift responsibility. Hamann’s analysis here does little to support the notion that head = authority, and a clearer reading of the account would be source. After all, in Genesis 2, which Hamann seems to take to support his position, woman is taken from man, as Hamann himself states. But that would make man a source of woman, would it not? Moreover, multiple studies of the Greek seem to suggest that “source” is a more natural reading of the text. See here, here, or here for example. Thus, Hamann’s exegesis is critically mistaken on the meaning of the term kephale.

Section IV

Hamann provides responses to two objections in this section. First, the objection that “the church is inconsistent in prohibiting the ordination of women while allowing women a whole host of other activities which are just as contrary to the apostolic directive as the pastorate” (24). His counter-argument is to say that the things like singing or speaking “would not fall under Paul’s rule” (ibid). But of course this is to simply make an assertion. He nowhere provides any reason for narrowing the prohibitions to ordination, and as noted in part 1 of this review, he himself admits his definition of “ordination” is nowhere found in the New Testament. Thus, Hamann has simply made an invented definition that he then asserts is Paul’s true meaning, without providing any exegetical reason for limiting the scope of his reading of the Pauline prohibitions. I believe this objection carries for a number of reasons, most simply because Hamann fails to provide any reason to narrow the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and thus makes it a verse he cannot consistently read literally. And, as noted, Hamann simply asserts the contrary without argument.

The second objection Hamann notes is that some would argue complementarians ought to expand the scope of their prohibitions by “protest[ing] against women taking up positions of authority in non-ecclesiastical spheres, in society and in politics” (24). Remarkably, Hamann’s response to this argument is to say that “if anywhere, then at least in the church Christians should insist on the role of women which fits the created order. Not every development in the world can be changed or even challenged by the church, but a witness to the proper state of affairs can be given by what goes on in the church. And the complaint of the prophet may not be so far off the mark: ‘My people–children are their oppressors and women rule over them’ (Isaiah 3:12)” (24-25). That’s right, Hamann simply states that the church can’t stop everything, and his clear implication is that women ought not hold such positions of authority. This certainly allows for a more consistent position, but it is one that means, apparently, no woman can hold authority over men. It is the enshrinement of patriarchy in the church and the world at large. That is what Hamann explicitly affirms.

Hamann then notes various roles women may have in the church. Interestingly, one of these includes the “baptizing those who have been approved by the pastor… and the dispensing of the cup at the Lord’s Supper” (25), despite Hamann explicitly having “the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” as part of his invented definition of ordination (14). Inconsistency looms time and again, and Hamann is not the only one guilty of it in this volume, as we shall see in posts to come.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Who is Worthy?- A reflection on closed communion in Lutheran churches

I do not claim rights to this image and was unable to find original source. Possibly here: http://thehandsomehansons.blogspot.com/2010/11/lutheran-seal.html

I do not claim rights to this image and was unable to find original source. Possibly here: http://thehandsomehansons.blogspot.com/2010/11/lutheran-seal.html

My wife and I have been refused communion on more than one occasion. In each instance it was in a Lutheran church that we were turned away. We are, ourselves, Lutherans, but the church bodies that did not commune us were different groups of Lutherans, and held that the divisions between us justified not giving us the gifts of the sacrament that Christ promised.

Here, I’d like to examine this practice of some Lutheran churches, often referred to as “closed communion.”[1] What do the actual Lutheran Confessions say about who may receive the Lord’s Supper? That is the question which must be asked by any claiming to be Lutheran.

We believe, teach, and confess that the entire worthiness of the guests at the table of his heavenly meal is and consists alone in the most holy obedience and perfect merit of Christ. We make his obedience and merit our own through true faith, concerning which we receive assurance through the sacrament. Worthiness consists in no way in our own virtues, or in internal or external preparations. (The Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article VII, Section 20)

The Lutheran Confessions leave no wiggle room here. What makes one worthy to receive the sacrament? Is it one’s preparation? No. Is it one’s denominational commitment? No. It is explicitly and clearly stated here: “the most holy obedience and perfect merit of Christ” which is itself made our own “through true faith.” Indeed, what does it mean to add the requirement of complete doctrinal agreement onto these words? Would not such a teaching be to make one’s “own virtues”–here of the doctrinal variety–what makes one worthy? It seems so. The teaching here, however, is that it is only faith in Christ’s words and works that make one worthy.

Just in case one wants to persist and allege that there may be some difficulty interpreting these words, Martin Luther himself states, in the Large Catechism:

Now we must also consider who the person is who receives such power and benefit [from the Lord’s Supper]… It is the one who believes what the words say and what they give, for they are not spoken or preached to stone and wood but to those who hear them, to those whom he says, “Take and eat”…All those who let these words be addressed to them and believe that they are true have what the words declare…
Now this is the sum total of a Christian’s preparation to receive this sacrament worthily. (The Large Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, section 33-36)

What does Luther himself teach here? “[T]his is the sum total of a Christian’s preparation…” (emphasis mine). And what is that sum total? Simply being one who “let these words be addressed to them and believe that they are true…” Once again, we see no mention of further conditions. There is no place here for refusing communion to those who believe the words are for them. The Christian must simply take hold of the words of Christ, which promise his body and blood to them. They need not be part of a specific denomination (which would have been historically impossible or at least unlikely at this point). It is the faith of the individual that makes them worthy, not their adherence to a set of doctrinal truths apart from those affirmed about the Lord’s Supper.

What do Lutherans who turn away other Lutherans from the sacrament say about their reasoning? Here is one example, from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod:

Because the Bible teaches that this Sacrament may also be spiritually harmful if misused, and that participation in the Lord’s Supper is an act of confession of faith, the LCMS ordinarily communes only those who have been instructed in the teachings of our church and who have confessed their faith in these teachings. (LCMS FAQ, cited below)

Here we see an unwarranted limit being placed on the sacrament of communion. What makes one worthy to receive this sacrament? The Lutheran Confessions make it explicit that that which makes one worthy is faith in the words of Christ. Here, however, an addition is made: “only those who have been instructed in the teachings of our church [the LCMS] and who have confessed their faith in these teachings” are “ordinarily” communed. Yet this limit is nowhere taught in the Book of Concord.

Counter-Argument

A possible counter-argument to the above is that there were no divergent Lutherans or Lutheran groups at the time the Lutheran Confessions were written, so they couldn’t have even addressed the issue. Apart from the fact that this is historically false (for parts of the Book of Concord were written to correct others within the folds of Lutheranism), it doesn’t change the Book of Concord’s teaching on the topic. The Lutheran Confessions make very strong statements. Phrases like “the sum total” and “alone” are used accompanying what the Confessions teach in regards to worthiness for the Lord’s Supper. These phrases are exclusive. That is, they affirm explicitly that no other expectations may be added. For what else might saying “sum total” or “alone” mean?

Conclusion

Those Lutheran groups who have added requirements for worthily receiving the Lord’s Supper stand against the Book of Concord’s own teaching on the topic. Time and again Luther and other confessors state that the only requirement for worthiness is to affirm the words of Christ and take hold of them by faith. Any who add requirements to receiving this sacrament have made their own words supersede those of the Confessions.

[1] Closed communion may also refer to simply keeping communion closed to those who affirm what the Book of Concord teaches regarding the Lord’s Supper. There is a fine line between this practice and making the additions to the Book of Concord’s teaching as noted in this post. I am not addressing this less stringent variety here.

Sources

LCMS Frequently Asked Questions Doctrinal Issues- The Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion (accessible here).

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

A Sacramental/Lutheran Response to Women in Church Leadership

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_BreadThe debate over women in the church–and particularly in church leadership–often has a different tenor when it is carried out in those church bodies which are sacramental in nature. A recent post over at The Junia Project entitled “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” written by Tim Peck highlighted some of the different issues that come up in these church bodies. Here, I will present a few objections that often come up to women in leadership in sacramental churches, using Peck’s post for some insights. Then, I will note how from a Lutheran perspective, the notion that women cannot perform the sacraments is unfounded.

In the Place of Christ

One common objection to women serving in the office of the pastor has been that the pastor is to serve in the place of Christ when presiding over the sacraments. Thus, it is inferred that because Christ is a man, the pastor must also be a man. A similar objection is that Christ is the bridegroom of the church, and the pastor acts as Christ to the church. Thus, the pastor must be male, it is argued, because of the union of bride (church) and groom (Christ/pastor). As one complementarian I spoke with on this issue asserted, if the pastor were a woman, it would mean the church is in a homosexual relationship with the pastor (the inference being that the bride [church] would then be ‘married’ to the woman pastor).

The first part of the objection is answered fairly easily by pointing out, as Peck does, that:

Jesus was ethnically specific (Jewish), gender specific (male) and class specific (poor). To focus on just one and ignore the other two for the presider to function sacramentally seems arbitrary.

The second, similar objection can be answered by pointing out that the literal interpretation being used to exclude women from the pastoral office should also exclude any number of others from the office as well. After all, to turn the analogy the complementarian used above, if the pastor were married, then the pastor would be in a polygamous relationship with the church! But of course this is absurd. The reason it is absurd is because an analogy–the pastor being as Christ to the church–is being pressed into service literally. But this literalism is selective at best.

The Levitical Priesthood

Another argument I’ve heard a number of times is that pastors are analogous to the Levitical priesthood and, since no women were in the Levitical priesthood, women cannot serve as pastors. Peck again answers this argument:

[T]he New Testament itself insists that any priesthood existing among Christians would differ significantly from the old covenant priesthood. This should be obvious, since the old covenant priesthood was passed on by heredity. Moreover, men who suffered disabilities such as deformities, blindness, or mutilation were forbidden from serving as priests in the old covenant.

He offers other reasons to undermine this argument as well, but I think this one pretty much clinches it already: there is, again, a selectively literal reading happening. When it’s helpful for the complementarian argument, texts are taken literally, but even in the same contexts the literalism is not applied consistently.

A Lutheran Appeal

The Lutheran Confessions and the Administration of the Sacraments

From a confessional Lutheran perspective, the documents contained in the Book of Concord are binding. Yet, the types of arguments already analyzed above are often presented alongside the notion that a woman cannot perform the sacraments by virtue of being a woman. The reason this is true often varies from person to person, but the core of the reasoning is that women are excluded from the pastoral office and so by necessity cannot perform the sacraments. This reasoning reveals a presupposition: the sacraments, if performed by a woman, are made invalid.

The Augsburg Confession in Article VIII, states “Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ, even when offered by evil people.” In The Large Catechism, Fifth Part, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Martin Luther states “Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament… just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.”

Thus, we find the unified teaching of the Book of Concord is that the efficacy of the sacraments is not based upon the person performing them. Indeed, if they were, then surely our confidence in the sacraments would be destroyed, for what pastor has no sin? The sacraments, then, cannot be made invalid because they are performed by a woman.

Responses to the Argument Above

The most likely response to this kind of reasoning would be to appeal to the biblical text to argue that women shouldn’t be pastors. However, this type of response would be a red herring. A discussion of the biblical texts is both necessary and valuable, but the argument that Lutheran complementarians have presented suggests that somehow the sacrament cannot be performed by a woman. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the Lutheran confessions themselves contradict this. The efficacy of the sacrament is not–thank God–dependent upon the one performing the sacrament. Thus, to argue that women would somehow invalidate the sacrament would be to deny the confessions of faith that we hold most dear and, indeed, undermine the very basis for our confidence in the validity of sacraments to begin with.

No human is without sin; none has no blemish. Our confidence in the sacraments is found not in the person performing them but in the unfailing word of God.

Another possible response is to appeal to, for example, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV, section 1 in which it states that “no one should be allowed to administer the Word and sacraments unless they are duly called…” The appeal would then go on to suggest that no woman, by virtue of being a woman, can be “duly called” into the administration of the Word and Sacrament. This counter-argument begs the question from the beginning. Rather than offering an argument as to why women cannot be duly called, the complementarian has here simply assumed that women cannot be called and then applied this backwards to exclude women from performing sacraments.

If the appeal is then, again, made to the biblical text, then that is where the debate must play out. But notice that if one moves in this direction, they have already conceded the invalidity of the reasoning the argument began with. Instead, they must continually retreat from the reasoning used above and try to argue from proof texts through specific–often unquestioned–exegetical methods.

Conclusion

There are many arguments put forward in sacramental churches against the possibility of women being in the role of the pastor. An analysis of two primary arguments have shown they are faulty in that they are selectively literal. From a Lutheran perspective, we find that the Lutheran Confessions themselves actually work against anyone suggesting that the sacraments are invalid when performed by any variety of people. It is God working, not some magical formula that the human must perform.

We must instead go back to the texts and approach them with a cautious eye towards the fact that we have selectively taken parts literally that cannot, when pressed, hold up. The conversation within Lutheran circles–and indeed, within sacramental circles generally–should continue, but the arguments analyzed herein have been shown to be wanting.

Sources

Tim Peck, “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” 2015, online at http://juniaproject.com/women-leadership-in-sacramental-churches/.

All citations of the Lutheran Confessions are from:

The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008).

The Image in this post is from Wikimedia Commons and published under Creative Commons licensing. It was created by John Snyder and may be found here. Please appropriate cite if re-used.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint” by Nadia Bolz-Weber: Book Review

Pastrix3Nadia Bolz-Weber is an edgy, hard-hitting, and often witty pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Her latest book is filled with autobiographical stories and a number of anecdotes which focus around the subtitle: they are often cranky, sometimes beautiful, and they reflect a sinner-saint.

The book traces Bolz-Weber’s path towards the ministry through her years in recovery from alcoholism to her starting a church: “House For All Sinners and Saints” and the struggles and triumphs she experienced throughout these events. I’ll not summarize the entire contents of the book but rather I have selected one story to give a brief sample of how the book flows.

The most poignant story in the entire book, in my opinion, is that of Bolz-Weber’s relationship with Chris Rosebrough from Pirate Christian Radio, a very conservative Lutheran (from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod [LCMS]) who runs a very conservative radio show. He is, in many ways, all that Bolz-Weber would oppose. And Rosebrough often criticized Bolz-Weber on his show. Then, one day, they had a chance to meet and they talked through the core of Lutheran theology: salvation by grace. Bolz-Weber wrote, “[The other people witnessing their meeting] saw us share a thirty-minute public dialogue about our own brokenness and need for confession and absolution, why we need the Gospel, and what happens in the Eucharist… God made my enemy my friend that day” (113).

Later, Bolz-Weber experienced criticism from her “own side”–liberals [her word, I’m not trying to use it in a derogatory fashion]–and talked with Rosebrough [who is, again, staunchly conservative] about it. They didn’t have to agree on the issues to carry on a conversation about God. “Chris [Rosebrough] doesn’t agree with me [about various issues]… But the one phone call I got in the middle of being attacked by my own tribe was from someone who is on the other side of the issue entirely… [H]e knew what it felt like… [He] said that he loved me and would pray for me. His enemy” (119-120).

Awesome, heart-stopping stories like this are scattered throughout the book. But they are in-between stories that will surely polarize readers. One is a story about a transgender girl turned boy and how Bolz-Weber helped hold a ceremony to help recognize “Asher”‘s new name and identity as a boy. Another story is about her time away from Christianity in which she worshiped a “goddess” instead.

Pastrix ends on a note about Bolz-Weber’s vision of church. Mary Magdalene becomes her foil as she reflects upon the meaning and purpose of church. She wrote, “Like Mary Magdalene, the reason we can stand up and weep and listen for Jesus is because we, like Mary, are bearers of resurrection, we are made new” (201).

Evaluation

There are no words minced in this book. The f-word is sprinkled throughout (and even featured twice in one chapter title). Bolz-Weber continually describes situations or feelings as “s***.” She is completely unapologetic in her approach in this regard.

This raised red flags for me. What does the Bible tell us about the Christian life, and does it say anything about the requirements for teacher, overseer, elder, and deacon?  How might Bolz-Weber apply these to her life as a pastor? No, I’m not saying that as a woman she shouldn’t be a pastor–I’m firmly egalitarian. But I wonder about how she would take a passage like James 3 (specifically 3:1-2; 9-10):

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check… With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Teachers are called to a higher standard. James noted that obviously people stumble, but that does not mean that we should give up or simply embrace whatever wrong behavior we are engaged in. “This should not be!” I wish Bolz-Weber had engaged with this issue in her book.

Another huge issue with the book for me is Bolz-Weber’s exegesis. It seems to me her preconceptions about what the text should mean often shape how she reads it. Specifically, this relates to the question of sanctification. Are Christians really in the process of being made new? If so, how does she reconcile this with the way she seems to conceive of “sinner-saint”–a valid concept–by which she seems to simply mean that one does not even have to try to change? She wrote:

Repentance in Greek means something much closer to ‘thinking differently afterward’ than it does ‘changing your cheating ways.’ Of course repentance can look like a prostitute becoming a librarian, but it can also look like a prostitute simply saying, “OK, I’m a sex worker and I don’t know how to change that, but I can come here and receive bread and wine and I can hold onto the love of God without being deemed worthy of it by anyone but God.”

It seems her primary point in this passage is that God’s grace is firm and sure and we, as sinners, can hold onto that. But I can’t help but feeling Bolz-Weber misses the mark at an astonishing margin in that she never discusses the need to go beyond that. Paul discussed various types of sins in 1 Corinthians 6, and then he went on to say “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” That is, God’s work does not simply end with justification, it continues on into sanctification. We are sinner-saints in the sense that we are yet sinners but God has saved us; but also, we are being made saints by the work of the Holy Spirit. We are to flee from sin, not ignore it.

Bolz-Weber’s entire autobiographical account does speak to the way that the powerful message of grace changes someone, but she never draws this point into the open. Moreover, when she speaks about the life of others, sin is often treated lightly or even entirely ignored. It seems that she is fully willing and able to apply the Law to her own life, but she does not universalize it; she does not make the Law applicable to everyone. Thus, it seems to me she fails to properly preach Law and Gospel.

Pastrix, was a book I really wanted to love. But… I didn’t. There are a number of great insights and anecdotes scattered through the pages, but ultimately readers have to slog through gobs of unnecessary cursing, shock-value stories, and more to find them. One moment, it had me cheering along with Bolz-Weber; the next, I found myself confused about what she was trying to communicate. Ultimately, the book left me wondering who, exactly, the intended audience was supposed to be. It’s not the type of book I’d hand to someone to try to convince them of Bolz-Weber’s view. Nor is it the type of book that I, as someone who agrees in part with her, particularly enjoyed. It seems to me the audience is ultimately those who already agree with her on basically everything. That isn’t a problem, as it is perfectly acceptable to write books that preach to the choir, but I am left confused as to why Bolz-Weber actually did write Pastrix.

Throughout the book it seemed that she was trying to convince me of something, but it never really became clear what that message was. There are times when I really did “get it.” It was like she grabbed that which is Lutheran in me and just played it for all it was worth. But then she failed to make it universal; it applied to her, but she never made Law and Gospel universal. She would discuss intense need for grace which is free and abundant and ever-flowing. She would point out how we need not do works to access this. But then, so often, it seemed she would conflate this with the notion that Christians are not all called to move away from sinner and towards saint. There seemed to be no sanctification in the work. It was all about the initial call to grace; but little about the enduring, sanctifying work of the Spirit.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Law Always Condemns, The Gospel Always Saves. Or, why I’m a Lutheran.

Gebhard_Fugel_Moses_erhält_die_TafelnComparing Holy Scripture with other writings, we observe that no book is apparently so full of contradictions as the Bible, and that, not only in minor points, but in the principal matter, in the doctrine how we may come to God and be saved… This riddle is solved when we reflect that there are in Scriptures two entirely different doctrines, the doctrine of the Law and the doctrine of the Gospel. C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, 6 (cited fully below)

How are Christians to view the relationship between Law and Gospel? The issue has generated countless views and debates. One recent work which illustrates the breadth of views on this topic is Five Views on Law and Gospel, which outlines the major views on the issue.

C.F.W. Walther’s work, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, is what I would consider the definitive work on Law and Gospel. Here, I will outline what I believe is the correct understanding of Law and Gospel, while drawing heavily from Walther’s work.

Law and Gospel

The most central point of all–that is, the point that I hope readers remember if nothing else–is this: The Law always condemns, the Gospel always saves. This point is emphasized throughout Lutheran theology. What does it mean? Simply put: it means that these two doctrines, found throughout Scripture, have entirely distinct meanings and usages. One cannot intermingle law and gospel while remaining true to either doctrine. Wherever the Gospel is presented as if it had requirements attached to it, there the Gospel is not rightly preached. Whenever the Law is preached as if it offered some kind of free gift, it is not rightly preached. 

Law only has power to condemn. It cannot save. That is because none can keep God’s Law. All sin, and all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Law shows what God requires of us. It “issues only commands and demands” (Walther, Proper Distinction…, 9).

In contrast, the Gospel only gives offers without requirements attached (ibid). The Gospel shows us God’s promises and offer of grace.

At first face, one examines the whole of the Bible and finds these teachings throughout. The teachings seem so at odds with one another that one might suspect a contradiction throughout the Biblical teaching. However, the fact is that both doctrines are “equally necessary. Without the Law the Gospel is not understood; without the Gospel the Law benefits us nothing” (Ibid, 8). The reason this is so important is because Law and Gospel are not opposites working against each other. Instead, both “have their final aim [human] salvation” (Ibid, 7). They work together to present a full picture of how salvation comes unto men.

The Law, as we have noted, cannot bring salvation because none but God can fulfill it. That is, it gives the requirements for salvation but no one can meet these requirements! We would all be lost if this were the whole of Biblical teaching. Yet there is more to the story, for the Gospel offers only its promises. God has promised to save. He is mighty to save. God has accomplished our salvation. And this salvation does not come with requirements attached. Such is our hope.

Most simply put then, the purpose of the Law is to show our need for the Gospel because we cannot meet the requirements of the Law. The purpose of the Gospel is to show that God has already met these requirements for us in Jesus Christ and to offer us that fulfillment through Christ’s atoning work. So the Gospel, without the Law, would be empty promises. What need have we for Gospel if we are not sinners? Yet without the Gospel, the Law is only a terror which tells us that all are condemned.

sketch-for-the-crucifixion-thomas-eakinsSome Distortions

A number of objections have been raised against this understanding of Law and Gospel. For example: “[The notion t]hat the law must be viewed as a single entity is one of the most common of all objections made against the Christian use of the Law” (Walter Kaiser, Jr., “The Law as God’s Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness,” 188, cited below). Kaiser then argues against viewing the Law as a single entity. He makes distinctions between Civil, Ceremonial, and Moral laws. I agree that we can make these distinctions, but they do not somehow mean it is impossible to refer to the “Law” as a whole entity with all of the commands God has issued.

Another common objection is that of dispensational thought. It is often charged that because we live in a new dispensation, the teachings of the Mosaic Law, for example, no longer apply to us. Without commenting on the plausibility of dispensationalism, I would simply answer that it seems extremely hard to reconcile the notion that the Mosaic Law has no applicability in our own context with Jesus’ words about the Law: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Note that this verse also shows Christ using the “Law” as a single, coherent entity.

Yet does this mean that everything recorded in the Mosaic Law has applicability exactly as written? No. A further discussion along this line of thought would take me too far afield, but I think that the Bible does clearly teach there is some discontinuity between the application of Mosaic Law to the Jew and the New Covenant with Christians (for example, the dietary laws do not apply to Christians). This hints back at the divisions Kaiser was keen to make within the Law, and I think the application to the Christian life can be viewed within the categories he discusses.

Conclusion

There is so much more worth saying about Law and Gospel, but in the interest of keeping this post at a readable length, I have had to set some aside. Interested readers should see the annotated sources below.

We have seen that the Law and Gospel must be properly divided in order to properly understand the whole of the Bible’s teaching. Why do I say that this is why I’m a Lutheran? I hope, at least, that other branches of Christianity teach these distinctions between Law and Gospel. But I have to admit that I have not seen it so consistently done as it is within the Lutheran perspective. Martin Luther was right to focus directly upon this teaching, and I believe it is central to the Reformation[s]. It touches upon soteriology, sanctification, the atonement, and more. Thus, I think it is vitally important to get this doctrine correct. In my studies, I have found no teaching so close to the Biblical truth as the Lutheran teaching on Law and Gospel. I’m not saying that everyone should go and become Lutherans. Instead, I think that everyone should benefit from learning the proper distinction between Law and Gospel and apply it to their lives.

The Law always condemns, the Gospel always saves.

Appendix: The Modified Lutheran View?

I think it is important to note that the view put forth as “The Modified Lutheran View” in Five Views on Law and Gospel is not, so far as I can tell, the Lutheran view at all. I want to make this clear because we need to avoid this misunderstanding. Douglas Moo’s view essentially seems to be  temporally-based. He writes, “Basic… to biblical revelation is the contrast between ‘before’ and ‘after’ Christ, a contrast between two ‘ages’ or ‘eras’… the New Testament writers… relegate [the Mosaic Law] basically to the period of time before the coming of Christ” (322).

Those who have stuck with me this long should be able to immediately see how this is utterly different from the Lutheran view I proposed above. The distinction between law and gospel is not a temporal distinction whatsoever. The Law is still with us. Walther himself makes this explicit: “[W]e find both teachings in the Old as well as in the New Testament” (Proper Distinction… 62). There is no temporal dividing line between Old and New such that some new reality has dawned on Law and Gospel. Instead, the Law continues to condemn, while the Gospel continues to save.

Yet Moo goes so far as to say this is a point which needs to be “corrected” within the Lutheran view (ibid). He seems to think that Lutherans would deny that Jesus was able to speak law, while also mistakenly painting the Sermon on the Mount as being a preaching entirely of the Law. Indeed, Moo’s view seems to affirm many of the basic tenants the Lutheran view explicitly denies, such as mixing the uses of Law and Gospel.

I thus would say that Moo’s position is not at all the Lutheran view. It is not a modified Lutheran view at all. Instead, it seems to violate a number of the primary distortions noted above. That said, Moo does admirably to defend the notion of the Law as a coherent, cohesive whole. There is much to commend Moo’s essay, but it ultimately fails, I think, to provide a properly Lutheran view of Law and Gospel.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Annotated Sources

C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1986). This is Walther’s magisterial work on Law and Gospel. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I personally think this book should be required reading for every single seminarian. He goes through and lists numerous distinctions to be made in learning, teaching, and applying Law and Gospel. Every Christian should read this book and apply it to their lives.

For a more succinct summary of what Walther argues in the above, see God’s No and God’s Yes: The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. This latter work is essentially the same in content as Walther’s text, but 1/4 the length. It is out of print, it seems, which is very unfortunate. I do recommend it highly. But if you cannot get

Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan 1999) – I specifically used the following essays: Walter Kaiser, Jr., “The Law as God’s Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry, 177-199, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999); Douglas Moo, “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley Gundry, 319-376, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999). I found this book to be very helpful in outlining various views, but was disappointed with the “modified Lutheran view” (see my appendix here).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Response to a Complementarian video about why women cannot be pastors- Part 1

I am here responding to a youtube video, “Why Oranges Can’t be Apples.”

Recently, I came across a video arguing why women should not be pastors. I watched it and I have to say that it seems to reflect generally the arguments often used for complementarian positions. I thought it worth responding to this video simply to show how this debate is often focused around preconceived notions of manhood and womanhood instead of the actual Biblical texts.

Here, I will simply quote some of the things Jonathan Fisk claims in this video. Then, I shall respond to the comments he makes. I tried to include times for any of the quotes. They may not be exactly to the second, so I’ll take blame for any of these that aren’t lined up properly.

“God created authority, he made it good.” (3:00ish)

This line is troublesome. Did God create “authority”? Think about that claim. Is it possible to “create authority”? That doesn’t seem to me to be the case. In fact, I would argue that God has authority by fiat. Upon creation, God had authority over creation. Authority requires something to be authoritative over, but it is not created. Anyway, this is a minor point.

“Okay so put that [family roles] into the role of man and woman in Christ.” (4:46-4:48).

Fisk makes this comment after a rather lengthy discussion over authority structures in the family. Again, there are some really major problems with this statement. First, Fisk fails to make the argument that the roles of man and woman in Christ are distinct. Instead, he reads such roles onto the positions of male and female only after assuming them in the family. Fisk made the claim before this that man is placed as an “actual authority over the wife.” But here he must rely upon the interpretation of “head” as “authority.”

Consider the line of reasoning that is happening here: man is the head (authority) over woman in the family; Christ is the head (authority) over the church. Therefore, man should be the head (authority) over the church.

The conclusion simply does not follow from the premises. Even were I to grant that the two premises were true (which I don’t), the conclusion still would not follow. There is no argument here, only an assumption.

Second, reading human relationships onto God and then back onto humans is extraordinarily problematic. Many heresies have developed because humans have  decided to make God in their own image. Fisk is here bordering on that by reading a preconceived notion of family onto God and then from God back onto the church.

“Christ himself, in order to save the world, had to be a man…” (7:03-7:05)

“It’s impossible for a woman to redeem the world.” (7:08-7:09)

Here Fisk claims to be talking about Christology, but I’m hesitant to agree with him. Fisk’s argument is a bit convoluted and he mostly just throws out a number of Christological phrases, so rather than quoting him at length I’ll sum up his argument.

Essentially, the argument is that Christ had to be male because he had to act as the head (here still using head as “authority”) of creation in order to save creation  Because man is the head of the family and therefore somehow responsible entirely for the fall (?) Christ had to be a male.

Now one problem with this argument that should be immediately apparent is that the way Fisk is using “head” to mean “authority” actually undermines his claim that the Redeemer had to be male. Why? Well Fisk’s claim is that Christ had to be male to act as the head over all creation so that He could redeem creation. But in order to make sense of Fisk’s claim, one would have to ground all creation in Christ, which would work only if Christ was the “head” over all creation in the sense of source not of authority. The reason is because Christ would have to have the ontological capability to redeem creation, not simply the authority. This is actually at the heart of Christology.

Why would God have to become incarnate as a human, suffer, die, and rise again if redemption is merely a matter of authority? After all, surely the Godhead would have the authority to forgive sins in the first place! The issue is not one of authority but one of ontology. God simply offering a brute forgiveness of violations of His Law would not adequately bring to fulfillment God’s justice. Instead, God had to become incarnate so that  God could fulfill His perfect Law without sin. The issue was not authority. God had the authority already. So Fisk’s use of “head” as “authority” is inconsistent. When he applies it to Christology, he equivocates on the term, using it as though it means source, despite claiming it means authority. That is the root of the problem with his argument here: he mixes ontology with authority.

But there are still more problems: if Christ had to be male in order to save humanity from sin, does that not speak to something about the nature of maleness and femaleness? If Christ can only be male, does that not mean that males more closely reflect the image of God than females? If Christ had to be male, does that not mean that males are closer to the incarnate deity? It does indeed imply these things, and there’s a reason such thinkers as Augustine explicitly reject this faulty, nigh-heretical teaching.

“This was such a clearly defined teaching… that they [apostles/church fathers] don’t do a lot of talking to say ‘women cannot be pastors.'”

Fisk goes on to say that “the word pastor wasn’t really the common word used for talking about pastors, instead they said things like ‘elder’ or… ‘deacon’ or ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer’.”

Let’s turn to a text here really quickly:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon [Greek: diakonon] of the church in Cenchreae. (Romans 16:1)

So let’s just contemplate for a moment what Fisk said. He claimed that the apostles don’t much discuss women not being pastors, in part because they used other words, like “deacon.” But Paul sends a greeting to the churches in Rome, and he talks about “our sister Phoebe” whom he called “a deacon.” Perhaps this explains why we don’t get a lot of talk about women not being pastors; because they were pastors. Phoebe is explicitly called a deacon, the very word Fisk himself cites as an example of a word used for pastor.

But Fisk goes on to say that “they” go on to describe what a pastor should be over in 1 Timothy. This list, he notes, says that an overseer must be a “husband of one wife.” Now, Fisk actually says that this is the “first thing” it claims about being an overseer. Fisk is wrong. The first thing the text says is actually that an overseer must be above reproach.

Fisk’s ultra-literalistic reading of this text is problematic. In order to realize this, it is important to have the text out there:

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach… [1 Timothy 3:2- note that there are quite a few more requirements of the overseer listed after this verse]

Fisk is trying to read this verse as saying that an overseer must be a man, because after all, how else could the overseer be the husband of one wife? But what of all the pastors who are unmarried? If the text is teaching that an overseer must be the husband of one wife, why is it only the masculine part of the verse that applies today? Why is it not the entire phrase? Why are not all pastors required to be husbands of one wife?After all, that is what the text says.

Before someone accuses me of claiming that the Bible is wrong or diverging from Biblical truth, I should note that the problem is not with the text; it is with Fisk’s interpretation of the text. The problem is that Fisk is reading this text ultra-literalistically only in order to prove his point, but no farther. He wishes to read only that the overseer must be a man, but not that the overseer must be a husband. His exegesis is a mixed approach. Instead, I would point out that the requirement of being a “husband of one wife” shows that pastors should be faithful spouses. If Fisk wants to make his point, he must be consistent in his hermeneutic. He must read the whole passage in the same literalistic manner he has read “husband” to imply absolute maleness in the pastoral office. Thus, all pastors must be married. But they must have children that they keep submissive (verse 4), they must not be recent  converts, etc. Now many of these requirements for pastors can be read literally and work just fine. Pastors should not be lovers of money (heaven help them if they are! they are in the wrong profession!). But the whole point of the verse is general requirements; not explicit, literalistic requirements.

Now  I realize that I’m at about 1500 words and I’m not even halfway into the video, so it looks like this will have to be a multi-part response, if people find this useful. Do you?

Preview of some other issues: the Trinity, more problems with texts, and more!

Further Reading

How complementarianism is getting the Trinity wrong.

How complementarianism undermines the image of God in male and female.

A book review of an excellent work addressing every major text on this issue.

Women teach us all the time, through the Bible.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era: Reformation Review

Theological debates raged throughout the period of the Reformation. These debates were about who had the right to interpret Scripture, what was the nature of salvation, who had authority in the church, and the like. Sound familiar? It should. Many of the debates that were central to the reformers are still in our purview today. Central to several of these debates focused upon the interpretation of Scripture.

Sola Scriptura: Two difficulties

The Reformers operated under the ideal of sola scriptura. The term literally means “scripture alone.” The notion seems simple enough: when it comes to doctrine, practice, and belief, the church universal is to be guided by Scripture alone. Yet it quickly became apparent during the Reformation era that things were not quite so simple.

First, sola scriptura was largely founded upon the notion that any Christian could read and understand Scripture. Yet, as became clear due to the fierce debates of the meaning of the Sacraments (i.e. the debate between Luther and Zwingli on the “real presence” in the Lord’s Supper), it seemed that on some things, Scripture wasn’t so simple (McGrath a, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 106-107, cited below). People could disagree, vehemently, even over things that each side thought was abundantly clear.

Second, Anabaptists and others argued that sola scriptura meant that every single individual Christian could read and understand the Bible for themselves. How was this problematic? Well, if every Christian could understand every part of the Bible, then there was no way to arbitrate between differing interpretations of soteriology (doctrine of salvation), eschatology (doctrine of the end times), and the like. Of course, not all of these interpretations could be correct, and if those who had argued for the individualism of Scriptural interpretation were correct, then they could all be right, in some sense. Furthermore, the issue was exacerbated in that because no one had the authority to proclaim what doctrines were correct, the church began to increasingly split  to the point that “the radical Reformation was not a unified movement, but rather a chorus of protest against the clergy, secular authorities, and Reformers such as Luther and Zwingli. It was a reservoir for uncompromising protest that could well up in the most varied social circles… ‘Within the turmoiled flood of radical reform or restitution the fresh vitalities of the Reformation… were borne along swiftly to radical extremes'” (Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations, 213, cited below).

Limiting Perspicuity

The solution to the first problem was simply to concede that, on at least some issues, Scripture was not crystal clear. On at least certain points, the magisterial reformers “had conceded that Scripture is obscure” (McGrath a, 108). There was genuine disagreement over some issues. However, not all agreed with this conclusion, and some still pressed that all of Scripture was indeed clear. Such an argument tied into the second problem the Reformers had to confront in relation to sola scriptura: who has the right interpretation?


Which Interpretation? Tradition’s Importance

Tradition played an important role in determining how the interpretation of Scripture was to be undertaken. During the Medieval period, a number of developments in hermeneutics laid the groundwork for the various interpretive methods utilized in the Reformation (McGrath b, 148ff). There were three primary views which emerged during the Reformation.

First, there was the position that “there is no place for tradition in the interpretation of the Bible. Every individual or community is free to interpret the Bible without reference to the Christian past” (McGrath a, 100). Such a position was part of the Radical Reformation and led to innumerable differing interpretations of Scripture. Of course, this was the group of reformers which applied sola scriptura most consistently. They took the principle literally and only allowed the Bible to be authoritative. However, with no way to arbitrate between differing doctrines, it seemed that such a position was incapable of standing up to scrutiny. All it could allow for was rampant individualism.

Second, there was the position that tradition was “an additional mode of divine revelation, in which information that was not committed to writing in the Bible was passed down…” (McGrath a, 100). The Roman Catholic church endorsed this position. However, it did not become popular with the reformers at all.

Instead, the Reformers developed a third position, one which stood as a middle way between the extremes of enshrining tradition and rejecting it outright. On this position, “Tradition designates a traditional way of interpreting a biblical text, which does not displace the text” (McGrath a, 100). Tradition therefore does not become an independent source of authority, but rather a way of interpreting the authority–Scripture–in an authoritative manner. By using tradition in this manner, the Reformers avoided the individualism of rejecting tradition, while also avoiding the error of raising tradition to the same level of importance as Scripture.

The third way was developed largely in the Reformed and Lutheran traditions, but it had its core in the historic Christian Creeds. Within the Lutheran tradition, the Apostles’; Nicene; and Athanasian Creeds were taken as theological foundations, and the Augsburg Confession and the later Book of Concord (which drew together several other confessions of the Lutheran faith) became the interpretive lens through which the Lutheran church would view Scripture and right doctrine.

Modern Theology, Reformation Problems

The discussions which occurred in the Reformation on the nature of sola scriptura, tradition, and the interpretation of Scripture had their origins in the past, and they continue into today. Some continue to insist that anyone can read the Bible and understand it in its entirety.

Against those who argue against their position, they insist that they themselves are just reading what the Bible says. This can be seen in a number of debates in Christian theology. It seems the best response to those who wield the ‘perspicuity of Scripture’ as a weapon against alternatives to their own doctrine have no alternative against those who disagree other than going back and forth claiming their own interpretation is correct and/or more clear.

The example I most often like to use is the book of Revelation and eschatology. Someone who claims the perspicuity of Scripture applies to the whole of Scriptural teaching must claim, in order to be consistent, that these doctrines are clear. Thus, such a person must maintain that every single verse in Revelation can simply be read by anyone and understood.

To be frank, I find this absurd. The extreme diversity of people’s interpretations of Revelation seem to undermine the notion that every passage in Scripture is clear. Furthermore–as has already been noted–those who hold to this radically individualistic position of Scripture have no way to decide between differing interpretations of Scripture. They are thus left with no way to determine any doctrine, whether it is radically opposed to Christianity or not, is heretical. Thus, one who holds this position cannot condemn modalism, as long as the person arguing for it is only using the Bible. After all, Scripture is clear! Everyone can read it. Therefore, it seems that this debate which continues to rage on from the Reformation must end. In order to avoid the mire of wanton individualism, we must have some principles for interpretation.

Another major issue of contemporary debate is that of Creeds and “paper popes.” Often, for example, the Lutheran Church is accused of utilizing the Book of Concord as a “paper pope”–a book which acts as an infallible interpreter of Scripture. Similarly, some argue that the historical Christian creeds are not Scripture and therefore must not be affirmed: again, sola scriptura.

It may be helpful to see this as a case study: in Lutheran circles, there is a debate over whether one must agree with the Book of Concord (the Lutheran Confessions) because it agrees with Scripture or insofar as it agrees with Scripture. Note the very important difference. If one says it is “because,” one is affirming that the Book of Concord is the correct intepretation of every relevant passage of Scripture. If one affirms that it is “insofar as,” one is admitting that there may be error in that interpretation. From a Lutheran perspective, this debate is hard to resolve. I tend to line up on the latter (insofar as) view.

However, it is clear that once one takes that position, one must lean more towards individualism. Again: how does one arbitrate doctrine if one does not adhere to any kind of authoritative statement on doctrine? It seems to me that one must at least hold that God has the power to transmit His teaching truthfully, and that’s why the historical Christian Creeds are vastly important. There must be a line drawn somewhere, but people may ever debate where to draw that line.

The key is perhaps found in Scripture itself, in which Christians are instructed not to continue arguments needlessly nor to focus upon topics which will create division (1 Corinthians 1:10ff; Ephesians 4:1ff). These teachings do not, however, preclude division nor do they allow for rampant individualism. It seems to me, therefore, that by adhering to the ecumenical council’s teaching–specifically, the creeds–as drawing out the right teachings of the church, we can avoid some of the great difficulties illustrated above. That’s why I would focus upon the Creeds which were drawn from those councils (like the Apostles’,  and Nicene Creeds) as the sources of authoritatively governing Christian interpretations on those topics.

Conclusion

Many theological questions that are in play today have their origins in various aspects of Reformation thought, which themselves have their origins in earlier Christian thought. The issue of the perspicuity of Scripture, it seems to me, must be limited to that of soteriology and perhaps a few other core issues. On who has the authority to interpret Scripture, it seems that the Reformers offered a way forward: by agreeing to submit to the authority of ecumenical Creeds not as sources of their own authority but rather as authoritative interpretations of the Bible, Christians can proceed in their reading of Scripture and interpretations thereof through those lenses. Thus, the danger of individualism and endless division can be avoided.

Link(s)

I survey the origins of the Reformation.

Sources

Alister E. McGrath a, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Alister E. McGrath b, The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

Thanks

Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought: An Introduction was a gift from an anonymous donor. I was blown away when I saw it show up at my door and I have to say Thank you so much for being such a blessing! Whoever you are, you made my day. Well, more than just one day actually. This series of posts is a direct result of your donation. Thank you!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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