10 June 2015
Dear LCA pastors,
The July LCA General Pastors Conference is getting closer – just four weeks away now. Thank you to all who have registered or sent an apology (apologies can still be emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Registration is now closed and final preparations underway. We will have a conference of around 300 pastors in attendance. If for some reason you have an exceptional reason for seeking a late registration, that may still be possible – email email@example.com with an accompanying authorisation from your District bishop.
Remember that this GPC is being given almost entirely to the ordination question, so that we may best fulfil our responsibilities to Synod in regard to this matter. The program has been planned to provide ample time to do the following:
- Receive the proposals in regard to the ordination question referred to GPC by General Church Council;
- Share with a small group of colleagues about the matter – our own engagement with the question, our understanding of the present position of the LCA per the Theses of Agreement, and our evaluation of the referred proposals;
- Hear feedback from all the groups in regard to the referred proposals;
- Search out and decide what advice we can give to Synod in regard to the proposals, and any other recommendations the conference may wish to make.
For inspiration we can recall the council in Jerusalem which considered whether or not Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved, described in Acts 15. There an open question was carefully considered, and eventually the apostles and elders were able to write, It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us… as they gave their counsel. We pray that we will be able to address the LCA similarly at the end of the conference – and to do it with the same consensus granted the apostles and elders when they examined the matter in the light of God’s word.
Clearly our journey needs to begin and continue with the Lord’s engagement in word and prayer. So the conference will be shaped by worship as we progress. This is a spiritual journey, a theological journey and a pastoral journey – and we need to journey with the Lord together in each of these dimensions.
Preparation for this conference has been underway since the 2013 General Convention by means of the LCA’s Ordination: We’re Listening website and the dialogues which have used its resources. Please familiarise yourselves again with the Ordination: We’re Listening content prior to coming to conference, and in particular:
- the Q&A papers recently prepared by CTICR (on the ‘Resources’ page)
- and ’14 of the best documents published in the LCA on the topic’ (also on the ‘Resources’ page).
This is the pre-reading for the conference. The proposals for consideration will be sent prior to conference once their referral by General Church Council has been finalised.
A word about the course of the conference.
- Small groups will help us in a number of ways. They will create a gracious space for each of us to engage with others about the matter, both in conversation and in prayer. When it comes to evaluating the actual proposals on which we have to give the Synod advice, the small groups will provide a space to express our evaluations individually for recording and collection so that a special Feedback Group can then collate responses and report this collectively to the conference (we will have over 70 groups so this will be both efficient and comprehensive). Small groups will not replace plenary debate – that will still take place as we come to shape and decide our final advice.
- As feedback from the small groups becomes known, a Framing Group will begin work at possible words for the conference to use in its advice to Synod. These will be discussed in plenary session and a final form prepared for decision by debate and vote. It may be that the conference will want to give advice on a number of fronts, eg in terms of the theology of the proposals and also in terms of the pastoral effect on the church.
- As much as is possible we will be aiming for consensus in shaping advice, listening carefully to those who are not in favour of initial proposals, exploring reasons why, and searching for what we can say together. Small group discussion will help here too. If we are not in agreement, then we need to consider how that disagreement itself is reflected in advice given – again spiritually, theologically and pastorally.
- To help the chair assess the feeling of the conference as we go, we will use ‘mood cards’ – blue for cool and orange for warm. When asked by the chair we can express our opinion about the direction being suggested by a speaker or an idea being proposed, aiding the productivity of our time together.
Also a reminder that the program for the conference continues in the general shape described in the first GPC eNews (December last year) as contained on the main page of the GPC website. There will be some minor tweaking and this will be made known to you when finalised.
The GPC Planning Committee, under the guidance of the Bishop of the Church, has decided not to include other matters this time, primarily so we can give our entire focus to the ordination question. Bishop John Henderson will give a general report at the start of the conference, as well as introducing the ordination matter. He will include some current matters there (such as the LCA’s position on moves in the Australian parliament to redefine marriage).
A conference dinner is included in the program and we hope it will bless us all by the fellowship it will engender, but also by some special guests and a premier presentation.
We also have some electoral work to do at conference:
- We need to elect nominations for the position of LCA Assistant Bishop to then be submitted to General Convention. Only those in attendance who are ‘pastor delegates’ to General Convention are able to vote in this nominating election. Nominations which receive 25% or more of the vote will be passed on to Convention (By-Laws Section V. F. 3.(1); VII D. 1.(4); & VIII A. 9.(2)). For your information I am not standing for re-election as LCA Assistant Bishop – so it’s important we have new nominations.
- We also need to elect a secretary and two other members for a GPC ‘program committee’, ie the next GPC Planning Committee (By-Laws Section V. F. 3.(2). All LCA pastors in attendance may vote in these elections. The LCA Bishop and Assistant Bishop are ex officio members, and it’s long-standing practice that the Assistant Bishop chairs the committee and conference. Please refer to the 20 February Update 1 on the GPC webpage for a list of the current GPC Planning Committee and the roles they take – and consider appropriate nominations.
- Note that there is no nomination process for LCA Bishop this time, as a new bishop serves two synodical terms before being subject to re-election.
Finally I want to share with you the last part of a paper I presented on the ordination matter at our recent Vic/Tas District Pastors Conference – not as a final word but as some encouragement along the way, especially seeing I won’t be able to make this kind of contribution at conference as I’ll be in the chair. May the Lord be with you as you read it.
Chair – GPC Planning Committee
10 June 2016
Extract from paper, 27 April, Vic/Tas District Pastors Conference
Finally I want to make some comments to help our theological and pastoral preparation for GPC.
As I see it, we are asking the question about the ordination of women at a depth not previously asked in the life of the church before – and I don’t mean in the LCA, I mean in the church catholic. Yes, it was commented on by occasional Church Fathers and by eg Luther, but their responses were merely to cite the action of our Lord in appointing only male apostles and perhaps the Pauline passages – and that was sufficient for their day. And yes, other churches have asked the ordination question in the last century, some saying yes and some saying no, with others like us, still in progress, but that does not mean the answers provided are settled ecumenically. Obviously they are not.
In some churches which have ordained women for more than 50 years, like the Church of Sweden, considerable dissent and even separation is occurring and with evangelical energy, despite the hardship of this. Even when decisions are made, the theological questions remain. In our own case some of these have been articulated along the way, including in the May 2004 CTICR document Controverted Matters in the LCA Debate on the Ordination of Women.
The point is this: Asking the question at this particular time in Western history, with its emphasis on the equality of the sexes but also suspicion of any differentiation of the sexes, necessitates exploring the matter more deeply – searching into the relationship of male and female in God’s work of both creation and redemption, which also means the connection with God the Father and his eternally begotten Son, the male person Jesus. We can’t shirk this because Paul uses such reasoning in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 which needs explication, and because of the male-only precedent set throughout scripture.
Paragraph 11 in the Theses on the Office of the Ministry (TA VI) is so brief because in the minds of those preparing them in the 1950s the matter didn’t warrant further explanation. Today it is quite different: not only more explanation is needed in relation to the ordination question, but also a witness to the particular character and blessing of humanity being male and female in the image of God is needed in the context of a sexually distorted society. And that will take time to work out because it’s not been done before, at least not with agreement within the LCA, let alone more widely.
Having bitten off the ordination mouthful, we find we have a very big meal to consume before we can say the plate is clean. Should this trouble us? Not at all. It has been questions asked/controversies raised throughout history which have impelled the church to search for a theological rationale for its beliefs. William Weinrich enumerates some in his article in Women Pastors? (Concordia Publishing, 2008, p 361):
In the Arian conflict of the fourth century, the question arose concerning the legitimacy and propriety of prayer to Christ or to the Holy Spirit. The answer came in the form of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity which affirmed the full deity of both the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. In the Pelagian controversy of the fifth century, the question was concerning the theological requirement of the Baptism of infants. The answer came in the doctrine of original sin which asserted that each individual, however small or young, was subject to the death which sin brings and therefore was in need of the redemptive work of the Saviour. In the fifth century with Nestorius the question arose concerning the legitimacy of the church’s liturgical reference to the Virgin Mary as the ‘Mother of God’. What deep, theological reason made that reference not only possible but necessary? The answer came in the church’s assertion of the incarnation of the Word of God whereby the flesh of humanity was assumed into the person of the eternal Son so that the humanity of Jesus was in truth the humanity of God. Therefore, that One born of Mary was in truth the divine Son of God incarnate. Mary was in truth the ‘Mother of God’.
The length of the journey is quite understandable for a church which won’t let go of the authority of scripture even as it struggles to understand these counter-intuitive directions, searching out how they support rather than hinder the scripture’s primary content which is Christ and the gospel. Remember that foundational attribute of the LCA per para 5 in Theses I (Principles Governing Church Fellowship):
We believe that the formal and material principles should not be brought into opposition to each other, for the Scriptures are the Word of Christ and they testify to Him. Loyalty to Christ requires loyalty to His Word, and loyalty to the Scriptures requires loyalty to Christ, His person, His work, His means of grace. We dare not stress the material principle at the expense of the formal principle, or vice versa.
The length of this journey and its struggle is testament to the significance of the task. Yes, it is painful and we may wish it would just go away, but the Lord has given it to us today – not to distract us from the gospel but to bring us more deeply into its riches. We can expect that from him with confidence.
Some things to avoid in this challenge:
- Opting out (flight). Each LCA pastor is a theologian of the Church and we each are a part of GPC which must advise the Synod on the matter. Opting out is reneging on a part of the Lord’s call into the office of the ministry.
- Using power to win (fight). That includes force of personality or force of numbers through lobbying etc. We are a church of the Word and it is the Spirit giving light through the Word of God which will clear this up for us. See the CTICR’s Q&A 10 on Disagreement over Doctrine.
- Depending on others (freeze). Yes, we listen to our academic specialists, but we do not defer to them. We are each required to come to conclusion – including, if necessary, that we are not yet concluded.
- Simply appealing to the passages themselves, as the TA VI.11 does. As Weinrich puts it (p360):
In the present polemical and apologetic context, a simple appeal to the Pauline passages is futile and bears no persuasive power. For the real question lies deeper than the issue of biblical inspiration and inerrancy or the question of whether a particular passage is applicable to this or that situation. The question is rather whether the relevant Pauline passages are, as it were, imbedded in the general matrix of the Christian revelation and the corresponding vision that it engenders, so that they are perceived to arise organically out of the very preachment of the prophetic and apostolic witness to the creative and salvific work of God, and are not to be regarded as mere regulatory additions attached, for some unknown reason, to the real apostolic concerns.
- In a similar way, arguing that the passages are limited in their application to a particular time and context also needs to engage with the deeper significance of the reasoning Paul gives in God’s work of creating humanity male and female.
- Finally we need to avoid impatience, which destroys love for one another and the unity with which God gifted the LCA at union and for which our Lord has not stopped praying and working. How much does the old proverb about the first generation building, the second generation enjoying, and the third generation destroying apply to us, in the third generation since union? Can we be builders of something new? Can we take the opportunity the Lord is giving us – even if that means more time in the wilderness first? As someone has said, the wilderness is where God does his purifying work and meets us most closely – as we have just seen again in the greatest wilderness of all, the cross of our Lord. The wilderness is hard and we don’t naturally want to be there. It is painful – for some, very painful. Please understand that of others; respect what they share in dialogue, and share your own experience. And trust that the Lord will speak when we listen to him in his word – deeply and together.
So let’s prepare not just in the head but also in the heart. The Evil One’s great goal is to pull Christians away from each other and away from Christ. Our preparation needs to be deeply spiritual. We need to recognise things like anxiety, disdain, hostility, self-justification by proving ourselves right, and more – then put these to the Lord for forgiveness and change.
Let’s examine ourselves according to the word of God and ask him to expose the idols of our heart – fears, loves and trusts of and in anything other than our Lord himself. Pray for the change of heart we each need, and ground our preparation in God’s grace toward us all in Christ – grace which we are to receive first ourselves and then embody for others.
The Lord is true to his word and will do this for us, bringing us to GPC with love for one another, ready to listen as much as to speak, and then also to speak as the Lord has spoken to us in his word. Let’s glorify God for what he is and by what he will do with us together.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your promise that your word will not return to you empty but will accomplish what you desire and achieve the purpose for which you sent it. Please do that for us now, as we study and discuss your word in this matter. Keep us in your grace and in love for one another. And continue to bless us with unity in Christ. In his holy name we pray. Amen.