by George F. Lobien
”Come weal or woe, our status is quo.”
“Nothing ever changes in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.”
I have heard such sentiments expressed countless times. One might imagine that because such views are popularly held, they are true. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Recently I observed a living coral reef. Fascinating. One of Nature’s wonders. At first observation one might imagine that the reef is an inanimate object, frozen in time. But upon close examination, the careful observer will note movement and signs of life throughout this magnificent organism. In many ways, it reminds me of our beloved Synod. During the span of my short lifetime there are many signs of life and change evident to those who have the patience to explore them.
Allow me to reminisce.
When I attended the seminary the professor who taught our Pastoral Theology course counseled us to inquire of any couple wishing to be married whether or not they planned on having children. If they did not, we were taught not to marry them because their union was nothing but license for sexual relations.
In our Pastoral Psychology course, we were taught that it was wrong to use birth control measures and devices. However, the wife of one of our prominent professors was a pioneer in that field and while there was never an endorsement of birth control, the objections to it became more muted. Cited as Biblical evidence that it was God’s will not to practice birth control was Psalm 127:4-5: “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.” The passage refers to settling disputes by lining up sons and servants, counting heads, and making favorable decisions on the side of the person with the most sword-power. While there are still people who object to birth control in our Synod, it is widely practiced and most methods are rarely condemned.
Major change comes in the world and in the church with great difficulty. If that were not true, we would never have experienced an horrific Civil War. That “all men are created equal” could be clearly seen from Genesis 1. That women are not inferior to men could be deduced from the same scriptural source but even to this day not all men are treated as equals and there is overwhelming evidence that women are still treated as inferior to men. It seems anachronistic that the President of the United States of America should need to make the point in his State of the Union address in 2014 that women should receive “equal pay for equal work.” The apparent approval of that point among those assembled to hear his speech will not easily be translated into reality.
It was my privilege to serve my vicarage year in a large congregation of our church body in St. Charles, Missouri. Most of my Friday nights were spent in my office where people came to announce their intention to attend the Lord’s Supper on Sunday morning. At the end of the night, a tally would be made of the number of people who said they would be attending communion and that determined the number of hosts that would be consecrated for the Lord’s Supper service on Sunday. Does any congregation still practice such a procedure?
In that same congregation, women were not allowed to vote at the voters’ meetings but they had recently been granted the right to attend the voters’ meetings. It so happened that the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League of that parish was an affluent group because of being a large depositor in the local bank which went into financial crisis during the depression with the result that the women had some equity in the bank building according to my understanding. So at a Voters’ Meeting, the women would sit next to their husbands and woe be to those husbands who did not vote in a manner agreeable to their wives. Are there any congregations left in our Synod where women cannot attend a voters’ meeting or vote at such an assembly?
There was a time when purchasing life insurance was frowned upon on the basis of the promise that the hairs of our head are numbered and that the God who feeds the birds will also care for us. Today it would be difficult to have a church dinner without napkins from a Lutheran insurance company.
In my senior year at the Seminary I served congregations in Steelville, Illinois and Lost Prairie, Illinois. The first Sunday at Lost Prairie, a woman introduced herself to me saying, “I am not the organist but I will be playing for you today. We don’t know any of the hymns you have chosen.” “Ok,” I responded, “choose any hymns you would like.” “I have,” she replied, presenting me with a new list of hymns and saying, “You will be singing different words than the congregation on some of these hymns but don’t let that bother you. We are introducing the new hymnal (The 1942 Hymnal and it was then 1960) and the way we are doing that is by having the pastor use the new hymnal but we still use the old one.” After that exchange I went into the sacristy to vest and when I came out to conduct the service I was mortified to see my wife seated in the middle of the “men’s” side of the church—the only woman on that side. “Didn’t you realize there was something wrong?” I asked her after the service. She replied, “Yes, I finally did but I was afraid to get up and move.” There are congregations in our church body in which members act as if they owned certain pews but I know of none where men and women are segregated from each other while sitting in the nave.
At one time it was common practice to allow women only to teach Sunday School classes which did not have boys older than twelve years of age because women were not to have authority over men. I can recall when women wore hats to church because of the admonition of St. Paul. It was during my ministry in a large congregation that women were first elected to Boards and today many congregations have women Presidents, Elders, Lectors, Communion Assistants, ushers, greeters, Sunday School teachers, Bible Class Teachers, Stephen’s Ministers, secretaries, treasurers, financial secretaries, parish nurses, evangelists, Deaconesses—women serving in every congregational function in which men serve, except the office of Pastor.
The relationship between culture and religious practice and teaching is a complex subject. One would like to think that it is always the church that changes the world but sometimes it is the other way around. At one time our church body was a repository of the German language and culture on American soil. But then came two World Wars and the difficulty of finding secretaries who could take short-hand in German. (I stumbled upon this latter factor while doing research for my Doctor of Theology degree). These factors helped our church body to adapt to the American culture and English language enabling it to become more evangelistic.
I graduated from the seminary in St. Louis in 1960. I took another year of study to acquire my master’s degree (STM). During that time our family was invited to move into the new parsonage of Zion Lutheran Church in Hillsboro, MO where I had begun serving them. After receiving my Master of Sacred Theology degree I was awarded the Scheele Scholarship to study for my doctorate. One of the provisions of having that scholarship was that I could not be ordained until that year of study was completed. Whenever we could find a seminary professor to travel to Hillsbobo, we would celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The congregation asked me to celebrate it because I was living among them, baptizing their children, burying their dead, preaching, teaching and comforting them in their sorrows. I said I would do that if they could get the plan approved by the President of the District and the President of the Seminary. They did that and I began offering the Eucharist weekly. In the liturgy I would say, “I as a called servant of the word . . . .” instead of “I as a called and ordained servant of the word . . .” I believe the efficacy of the sacrament was not affected in any way by my ordination or lack thereof. I cite this incident because it illustrates that those in authority felt that granting me the privilege of celebrating the Lord’s Supper though I was unordained was within the purview of the principle enunciated in the Lutheran Confessions that those exercising the public ministry of a congregation should be “rightly called.”
I was ordained in 1962. At the first District Convention I attended in Hot Springs, AR, a theological study was presented on the book of Job. I learned that the African American clergy, of what was then called The Western District, were not permitted to stay in the same hotel in which we were lodged. With heart-in-throat I rose to move that in the light of our Bible Study the Western District never again hold a convention in a town where black and white clergy could not stay in the same facility. Some argued that my resolution had nothing to do with Job but ultimately it passed and our conventions were held at Concordia Seminary for several years because it was the only place that would accommodate black and white together. But the district leaders surely knew of this problem before they booked our convention in Hot Springs, Arkansas. In that case the District seemed quite willing to adopt itself to the world’s prejudice.
Will the day ever arrive when women will be allowed to use all of their spiritual gifts in our church body? Will we ever take seriously the fact that the Holy Spirit falls upon maidservants as well as menservants? Will we put into practice the promise of our sacraments that we are one in Christ Jesus and that in the sight of God there is neither male nor female any longer because we have been baptized into Christ?
Judging from the progress and change we have made in the past, I think that the day when the office of Pastor becomes open to women is inevitable. This last step is a large step yet it is but one step. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we shall one day find leadership that will help us fully appreciate the faith and blessings of our sisters in Christ. The authority to forgive sins in Christ’s name is not limited to the male gender and the power of the gospel is not lessened when proclaimed by female vocal chords. Women first proclaimed the resurrection gospel to men. Women and men can witness together the great things God has done for the world through his beloved Son.
What will it take to have women ordained in the LCMS? Authority. The big issue in the church has always been authority. Do you remember how Christ was challenged when his behavior deviated from established Jewish traditions, and when he broke the Mosaic Law? Do you remember the reaction of the church leaders to his forgiving sins? The question was “From where do you get authority to do this?”
It was ever thus and will be ever thus. One day, pastors and congregations will take authority into their own hands and just do it—ordain women. One day, God may give us a leader who will exercise the authority of his office to welcome women into the Holy Ministry. And then one day, God may raise up for us a leader who will use the authority of her office to encourage those who have been denied the privilege of ordination, to seek it.
There are those who think we may achieve the ordination of women by the study of Bible passages. I doubt it. That is not how we disposed of the hat issue in church or began allowing women to teach men and become presidents of our congregations and serve on our Boards of Elders. Since ordination is, in a sense, an adiophoran, there is no Bible Passage which speaks directly to this practice. District Presidents may call themselves bishops and congregations may choose to call as their pastor whomever they please if they are not afraid of being excommunicated from a church body in which whoever has the authority would not hesitate to do that to breach the tide of change.
The Bible is clear in its teaching. The law says that a person committing adultery should be stoned. Jesus simply chose to ignore the Bible on that issue and a new day dawned. The Bible says that the sun travels around the earth. There is no sense trying to exegete that world view into a 21st century cosmology. The antidote to that teaching is benign neglect. The Bible says, one is not to work on the Sabbath. Jesus didn’t try to put a new interpretation upon that old rule, he simply recognized a higher law, the law of love and compassion which made the law forbidding work on the Sabbath irrelevant and a stumbling block to God’s people who needed the grace of God on the Sabbath.
This paper is written to encourage dialog, not as a doctrinal statement. It is an opinion piece representing one man’s observation of some things that have changed in the ministry of our church body over the past fifty-four years of his ministry and is an expression of his hopes and dreams for the years to come.
Soli Deo Gloria!
The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Presentation of our Lord to Simeon and to the Prophetess Anna
February 2, 2014
There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain,
A time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace. . .
Whatever is has already been,
And what will be has been before;
And God will call the past to account.
The Rev. George F. Lobien, Th. D.