Lutheran Council in the USA<br />The Ordination of Women (1970)

Lutheran Council in the USA
The Ordination of Women (1970)

Chapter 1: Is Scripture Against?
Chapter 2: Is Scripture For?
Chapter 3: What Does Scripture Say?-Hermeneutics
Chapter 4: What Have Lutherans Said?-History
Chapter 5: Is it Workable?-Pragmatics
Conclusion – Reconsider the Evidence


Whole Books Now?

For many centuries no one talked about ordaining women. No one even thought about it. Gradually, though, whispers were heard – all arguing against, of course. Then voices became quite audible, as when Thomas Acquinas said women are not up to “that eminence of degree that is signified by priesthood.” Others agreed, being sure that self-assertive women had “been the occasion of much evil in the church.”

Eventually, a few began to favor public status for women. So more voices were heard – still almost all against. Bishop Martensen of Denmark speaking in 1892, for example, thought the movement to take women out of the home was the result of a perverted mania for free love.

Today whole books are being written on the subject, not all against, nor all for.

Why a booklet like this anyway? These chapters are a digest of research done through the Division of Theological Studies of the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A. A study had been requested by The American Lutheran Church which, along with the Lutheran Church in America, had been pressed by the question of ordaining women. The Division of Theological Studies was a natural choice for processing the study because it provides a forum for the ALC, the LCA, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches to examine jointly questions of mutual concern.

A committee of four was assigned to the task. It carried out the research, sought counsel, and wrote its findings. The findings were adopted by the Division and reviewed by a consultation in Dubuque, Iowa, in September, 1969. The participants in that cpnsultation were appointed by the respective church body presidents.

The research papers, the findings, and the report of the Dubuque consultation were presented to the annual meeting of the Lutheran Council in February, 1970. The Council gave a full evening’s discussion to the material as it transmitted it without recommendation to the church presidents. In the spirit of that discussion, the presidents are having the main points of the documents distributed to the congregations in this abridged and popularized form.

The exact findings are reprinted in full in the appendix. In brief they said:

Although the Gospel does not change, conditions do. New situations, differing customs, continued research, the on-going work of God, and the promptings of the Spirit demand constant reconsideration of previous assumptions. The Church must periodically ask whether its practices give the fullest expression of the will of the Lord.

In the past the Church has hesitated to ordain women because scripture seemed to forbid it. Yet strict and literal enforcement of passages such as 1 Corinthians 11 :2-16 and 14:33-36 has never been applied. In practice churches have given several kinds of leadership functions to women. Hence, and in the light of further examination of the biblical material, the case both against and for ordination is found to be inconclusive. Among the Lutheran church bodies, therefore, a variety of practices on this question ought not disrupt church fellowship.

Great credit must be given to those who did the research for the study. Unfortunately, the discipline of their scholarship will not be fully evident here. A digest would not be a digest if it retained the extensive footnotes, quotations, and citation of the original work.

Chapter 1: Is Scripture Against?

Woman was made only as an afterthought, and secondhand at that. She didn’t even rate fresh dust just a rib. Any man can spare a rib.

Though woman was made second, she was deceived first. Too gullible. She could never be trusted, especially to teach in church.

This, of course, is a glib treatment of Genesis 2 and 3. It is used here to show how serious arguments against the ordination of women do not begin. They come from a much deeper level of scripture interpretation, deep enough in fact to write off more shallow points of debate such as the first three to be given here.


The Weaker Sex

Many have believed that woman is the weaker sex. In fact, they would say she is downright inferior. She is to be ruled by man because she is not capable of managing herself. “It is not the nature of the office of the ministry that excludes women, it is the nature of woman.” Ordination would never “take.”

Those in the Lutheran church who are against the ordination of women generally have not used this argument. When the representatives from the churches met in Dubuque to compare views on the question, some were strongly opposed to ordination, but no one argued that woman was by nature incapable of receiving God’s charismatic gifts.

Neither did the representatives accept the God-is-male argument against female clergy.

God is Male

Incarnation is Male

God is Father and Jesus Christ is Son – the incarnation is male. The Bible has no time for goddesses. Jahweh has no consort. The male figure is a principle in understanding God. The Christ was not male just to be socially acceptable.

This is faulty logic, anyone could charge. It makes too much of an analogy. If carried to its conclusion, women would be excluded even from membership in Christ’s body, the Church. But, to the contrary, Christ came as the new man showing the new humanity of men and women in Christ. As a matter of fact, God’s love can be described like “a mother’s for her child” (Deuteronomy 32:11; Isaiah 46:3, 51:1; Psalm 131:2).

The “God-is-male” contention was not only judged weak, it was rejected by all Lutherans who took part in the Council’s study.

The Apostles were Male

The Twelve

Jesus chose only males for his twelve. He must have intended the ministry to be all male. for surely he knew what he was doing.

But can anyone be sure Jesus deliberately kept women out, or that he intended this selection to be a model for all time? If he did, no Gentile should be a minister, for Jesus chose only Jews. The requirement for being an apostle was to be a “witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:22). Women were witnesses to his resurrection.

The apostles-were-male argument was also rejected by the study participants, because it is not a part of serious biblical theology.

Orders of Creation

Changeless or Changing

Genesis 2 and 3 is where the “orders of creation” argument usually begins. It says that woman’s subordination to man is written into the very structure of the universe. The consultation had an intense discussion about this. Repeatedly, they asked whether God had ordained an eternal, unchanging subordination of woman to man, or whether, instead, he is actually changing the orders of creation by his constant action in history.

It is easy to see how, until recent years, man believed that the natural order always stayed the same. An oak was always just like an oak, and a woman was always just like a woman. The Bible seems to assume this permanence. Under such a view, even when God acted in history as in Christ, he was only trying to restore the original perfection.

But it is now evident that the static view is not so certain. Mutations can be observed. New strains can be developed. Barbarians can become civilized. Slave peoples can manage their freedom. Patriarchal and matriarchal societies can become democratic. A Priscilla can teach a man like Apollos “more accurately” (Acts 18:26), with the help of an Aquila, of course.

Then too, on closer look, maybe the subordination of woman wasn’t an order of creation after all, but an order of judgment! It is only after the fall that God says to Eve, “your husband . . . shall rule over you” (Geneis 3:16). And maybe the orders of creation are all upstaged by the order of redemption.

The New Testament

Actually, though, the New Testament does little to erase the subordination argument. In fact, it substantiates it, telling women repeatedly to be silent and submissive. Yet, all the while it gives them a radical new freedom and recounts how they taught and prophesied in the early church.

Certain passages have been cited so convincingly through the years for the subordination of women and against their ordination that they must be examined in detail. Anyone who wants to be prepared for serious discussion on the subject should commit three of the citations to memory, 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 and 1 Timothy 2.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16: 2: I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head – it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels. (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.) Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.

Women were prophesying and praying in the church assemblies at Corinth! That is made clear in verse 5. And Paul does not stop them. He only stresses that they should wear headgear. Several reasons come to his mind:

  • Proper subordination of wives to husbands, verse 3.
  • Woman was made for man, verse 8.
  • Social custom (shorn hair is a disgrace), verse 5.
  • Nature wants the woman’s head covered as indicated by the long hair it gives her, verse 15.
  • Because of the angels, verse 10, whatever that means. The sense is obscure
  • The practice in other churches, verse 16. This is the ecumenical argument.

But Paul also opens the door here a bit. Men should now recognize that they depend on women, just as women depend on men. Woman is not always second – man must be born from woman (verse 12). Man and woman are interdependent in the Lord (verse 11). So women may continue to prophesy.

Freedoms Need Limits

But Paul takes pains to keep the new freedom from going too far. Traditions should not be broken needlessly. That would cause unnecessary offense.

1 Corinthians 14:33b-36: As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?

Should this instruction be brushed aside as no more binding than Paul’s tastes in clothes and hairstyles? If it is taken seriously, a contradiction must be resolved. How can it be that Paul allowed the Corinthian women both to pray and prophesy in the previous passage, while in this one he forbids them to speak in church?

  • It could be that these verse were added later. Some manuscripts have verses 34 and 35 following 40; the verses do seem out of context as they are here; and it is odd to hear Paul saying, “as even the law says.”
  • Maybe these are from two different letters, Paul having changed his mind in between.
  • Maybe he was thinking of public worship here, and of house meetings in Chapter 11.
  • He might have been giving permission to prophesy in Chapter 11, but stating his own preference against it here in 14.
  • His term for women in this text (verse 34) likely means “wives” rather than “all women. ”
  • He might just have been irked with wives who had interrupted.

Whatever the explanation, the puzzle makes this passage questionable grounds for prohibiting ordination.

The “ecumenical argument” does come through strongly though (verse 33b – unless 33b goes with 33a as in NEB note). The Corinthians had reveled in gifts of the spirit, especially prophecies. Too much to suit Paul. “Are you the only people God’s word reached?” No, there are other congregations. Try to do as they do, not just as you think.

1 Timothy 2:11-14: Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Some think that a wave of emancipation was spreading through the young churches. These verses try to hold the line. Women were to remove the ornaments, replace the jewels with good deeds (verses 9-10), stop teaching and holding authority over men. Reason? Order of creation; order of judgment.

Women could take satisfaction in a few things though. They could bear children and be saved if they continued in the virtues of faith, love, holiness, and modesty.

The Timothy passage is “handled” in various ways:

  • By pointing out that if it is taken literally, women may not teach in church school or parochial school, direct choirs, or even pray or sing aloud.
  • By saying that this refers to the place of women in nature and society, not in the “order of salvation.”
  • By reasoning that this should be read “evangelically,” not “legally,” especially in view of the fact that women did teach in the early church.
  • By re-emphasizing that this refers to the relation of wife to husband, not all women to men.

Ephesians 5:22: Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord (cf. 1 Peter 3:1. Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands. . .)

Some think that Ephesians was not written by Paul, but that is beside the point. The passage is typical of a code morality which shows up in several New Testament references. It is a catechetical form perhaps taken over from the culture of the day.

The greatest objection to the use of these verses as arguments is that they concern only the married woman, not all women.

Headship Structures

Warning! Watch for shifts along the way here. The theme is subordination as an order of creation. That has not changed. It has been clearly set forth in passage after passage. But the discussion is looking at a variety of reasons for it. First it was because man was made ahead of woman and head over her. Then it was because the freedoms which were sweeping the Church had to have some traditional limits. Now, subordination is being considered because order is necessary in church and home. This latter is more precisely called “headship structures.”

1 Timothy 3:1-5: The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?

This famous passage is especially crucial to the discussion because it definitely connects the ruling of a family to the ruling of a church. All passages cited earlier were somewhat dismissed on the grounds that they referred only to husbands and wives, not to men and women in general, nor to ministers and laymen. This text, however, brings the argument of subordination back into full bloom.

But does this passage grow out of the orders of creation, or does it just come from the culture of the day? The Stoics liked to place family, city-state, and world in parallel. Paul may be reflecting their thought here. If so, can such orders be taken as eternal truth? Should they be the deciding factor for the Church’s ministry? In a once-over-lightly reading the passage poses no problem, but read in detail it does: Must bishops (pastors) be married? Must they be fathers?. . .of submissive children? If these verses are saying that, the very design of nature demands that man be head, and the church must crusade for the subordination of women in all areas of society. But what then, about verses 8 and 11? Verse 8 says, “Deacons likewise must be serious.” No problem. However, verse 11 says, “The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.” This seems directed at a class of women deacons who have some sort of ministry parallel to the deacons and bishops unless the women here were the wives of deacons.

No, the chapter as a whole cannot be taken to require absolute subordination of women. Its style is too casual to be church by-laws. It can be paralleled in Hellenistic lists of qualifications for military generals.

All of this aside, the passage is speaking about the bishop’s responsibility to be a leader who serves so faithfully he inspires respect and obedience. It is not talking of the responsibility of subordinates to be duly subordinate, but of leaders to be good leaders.

Rulership or Leadership Service?

This calls for another shift of attention. Headship was first being seen as the need for order. Now consider it as the need to make someone responsible for good pastoral care. Contrast the two. Is power conferred from above? A divine right? Or is it granted by those who are served? The consent of the governed? Is “authority” the right of the office, or is it earned only in the service the office performs?

At the inter-Lutheran consultation in Dubuque, this difference was sharply marked. Those who said headship was basically a divinely-given, rulership power thought it would be violated if a woman was ordained. Those who said headship was basically leadership service (diakonia), thought a woman in the ranks would not destroy the order. This is a very important difference.

The Confessions

The Lutheran view of the ministry steers a tricky course between rulership and service. It does not make the pastor a special, sacred class of citizen; yet it calls for sufficient respect to make the office effective. The pastor stands with the people under God, yet also under God against the people as the voice of God’s word.

The Reformers insisted that the office of the ministry be filled only by persons who are “rightly called” and ordained. The confessions even speak once of ordination as a sacrament. But this ministry is servant to the Word. “The ministry of the New Testament is not bound to places and persons, as the Levitical priesthood is, but is spread abroad through the whole world and exists wherever God gives his gifts, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers. Nor is this ministry valid because of any individual’s authority but because of the Word given by Christ.” The German goes on to say, “The person adds nothing to this Word and office commanded by Christ. No matter who it is who preaches and teaches the Word, if there are hearts that hear and adhere to it, something will happen to them according as they hear and believe because Christ commanded such preaching.” Such a ministry involves both the authority of the Word and the service to those addressed.

The current upheavals in society have much to do with the contrast between rulership as authority and as service. Young people hate “columns on courthouses.” They want the institutions to earn respect solely on the basis of their record, not to induce it by awe-inspiring symbols. Institutions are not to hide unimpressive service behind impressive fronts. Responsible service needs no front. It can inspire respect on its own.

But can it? Does good service in and of itself inspire the respect it must have to function, or must it be supported by some pomp and circumstance, or some response conditioning, or some authority “from above”?

The freedoms which are sweeping society today are perhaps forcing authorities to serve with more sensitivity, but those gains might be lost if due respect for the authority does not then follow:

Which Way?

Should freedom and reform be further inflamed, or should such movements now be squelched? At this stage, would the effectiveness of the clergy be hurt more if the awe of their office were further diminished or if the new demands for credibility were eased off?

For some, the ordination of women would probably reduce the image of authority the office has enjoyed. But if authority is judged by duly dedicated service, then the admission of women might add to the respect. Luther held that women were more fervent in faith than men.

There are two more passages which illustrate the headship discussion:

Hebrews 13:7, 17,: Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and . . . .Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men will have to give account . . . (cf. verse 24, Greet all your leaders.)

The theme in Hebrews is the pilgrimage of the people of God. There is no stress on hierarchy in it (Christ is the high priest). The leaders mentioned in this text are to be respected because they speak God’s word and faithfully care for souls. The word for leaders in this use is vague, coming from the Greek political world. The term for “submit” is also not the same as the one used previously in Ephesians 5. Respect is due “the ministry,” but the authority seems to come from example.

A few scholars think that a woman, Priscilla, helped write the epistle!

1 Peter 5:1, 5: 1 1 exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder . . . . tend the flock of God . . . . Likewise you that are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another . . . .

Many scholars see in verse 1 a technical use of the term “elders” (presbyteroi) as a “college of presbyters.” In verse 5, however, the term (hypotagete presbyterois) seems to mean “elders” in the sense of older people in contrast to the younger (Beck translates, “You young people, be subject to those who are older.”).

Like Hebrews, 1 Peter has a “people of God” theme. Distinctions between clergy and laity are not stressed. It seems to be urging due submission to pastoral leaders, again, for the care they give.

Reverse Thrust

Orders of creation, subordination, headship structures-several pages have been spent discussing this many-sided argument. The space is justified, though, because it was generally these principles which in the past caused the Church to decide against the ordination of women. And now these are the very points which are blunted by the arguments for ordination. In fact they are used as part of the basis to make the case in favor. Two examples have already been seen – that God’s work continues in creation, and that headship is that service which is worthy of respect. The search for guidance now goes to other scripture concepts which might favor the ordination of women – image of God, new age, all-members-are-ministers, and women-ministered.

Chapter 2: Is Scripture For?

The Image of God

The Old Testament Image

The “image of God” argument goes back to Genesis also, but not to Genesis 2 where the orders of creation discussion began – rather to Genesis 1. It goes to the so-called first creation story with its seven days, instead of to the second with its dust and rib.

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

These words seem to make woman worth as much as man.

What is more, the image was not lost in the Genesis 3 fall. Adam still had it at the age of 130 when he was passing it on to Seth in Genesis 5:1 and 3, and it was still the basis for prohibiting murder in the Noah episode, 9:6.

The New Testament Image

The New Testament says it differently, or understands the “image” in a different way. There Jesus Christ alone is the image of God, and others attain it only by entering his body through baptism-anew creation! (1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15; 3:9 f.; Ephesians 4:24.)

Whether the image of God was kept after the fall, or whether baptism restores it as it had been before the fall, women seem to acquire equal status before God by partaking in it. The orders of creation argument against ordination of women is therefore weakened.

The catch though, is that the principles in the first creation story cannot be detached that easily from those in the second. At least that is what the counter argument might say. Woman may have the image in Genesis 1, but Genesis 2 could imply that it is merely derived from man. Thus woman could be said to be even spiritually below man. But if not spiritually subordinate, having the image still doesn’t preclude orderly channels of authority. Just because the image of God grants certain spiritual qualifications doesn’t mean equality of functions in the church’s ministry. Thus, the image of God argument can be vulnerable too.

The New Age

The New Order

The “new age” is but a slight shift from the image of God argument. It focuses on the new order that has come in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Galatians 3:27-28: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians has been dubbed “The Epistle of Freedom.” In it, Paul stresses the entirely new status of all who are in Christ-women included. People had been giving thanks, as prayers put it, that they were not women, barbarians, unbelievers, or slaves. Their religion told them that the grace of God had saved them from being born a girl. But Paul is telling them here that women and slaves are not second-class citizens in Christ. Many believe that the Galatians text is the breakthrough which makes the ordination of women possible. In Christ “all barriers are down.”

But look around you, anyone with reservations could say. See, the new age has not come, not even in the Body of Christ, the Church. See it as it is. The “Epistle of Freedom” is referring to future salvation, not to current social life.


This brings up the whole question of eschatology, that is, how everything comes out in the end. Has the new age already come, or is it yet to come? Or both? “Both/and” seems to be Paul’s way of looking at it. Already, but not yet. Freedom has come, and with it the privilege to live to the full. But reality is still here, limiting what can be done. As in Paul’s day, so with the church today. Christians live with a tension in deciding on matters like the ordination of women. Should the situation be seen in the terms of the new and of the fulfilled, or in terms of the old and creation? Has the new day dawned? Has it come partially, as in Paul’s day, requiring some limitations?

Some suggest that women might be ordained now, but that the new limit be drawn at the eucharist. Ordination, perhaps; celebration, no. But comments at the Dubuque consultation expressly opposed preventing ordained women from giving communion. Here, in the sacrament, where the Church enjoys the new age most fully, there should be neither slave nor free, male nor female; all are one in Christ. In fact, this Galatians 3 text is understood by some to mean equality in the eucharist-exactly there, if not anywhere else.

Breakthrough to a new age, or restoration of the original image of God-both arguments have much substance, but still nothing conclusive.

All Members Are Ministers

Males only, and just those without blemishes at that, were admitted to the Old Testament’s priesthood and temple offices. Nor were women allowed to be rabbis in Judaism. In a way, Israel’s faith itself was reserved for men. Entry was by circumcision. There was no initiation rite for women. They were not regarded as worthy to study the Law. Women were even, some suspected, the source of idolatry. Neighboring cults had priestesses, and their gods had goddesses. Israel was different.

Baptism as Ordination

But by and large, there is agreement that the ministry of the Church of Jesus Christ is not particularly a continuation of the Old Testament priesthood. The New Testament deliberately changes it. There is a “royal priesthood” of all baptized believers (1 Peter 2:9). Christian baptism ordains all believers. Women, then, are “priests” by baptism.

But, a reply could say, there is a special, ordained ministry to be distinguished from the general ministry; and, for reasons already well noted, women have thus far been excluded from it.

Women Ministered in Israel and the Early Church

The Picture from History

Although care was taken to keep women out of the priesthood, they did get judgeships (Deborah). And they became prophetesses (Miriam, Hulda, Anna). Women were “ministering at the tent of meeting” (l Samuel 2:22). Some, however, think this verse is a jibe at the laxity which was going on under the sons of Eli.

In the New Testament several references are made to the service of women:

  • They minister to Jesus during his lifetime and at his death (Luke 8:3, Mark 15:41).
  • They serve as prophetesses (1 Corinthians 11; Acts 21:9), perhaps “ordained” at Corinth, certainly speaking in the Lord’s name under the Spirit
  • They are deaconesses, the sort of ministry Phoebe held (Romans 16: I ), consequently recognized as an office (1Timothy 3:8ff., 3: 11). Later references suggest women serving as elders or bishops, but the terms involved could mean the wife of an elder or bishop.

  • They are consecrated widows (1 Timothy 5:3ff.), possibly an order in the church.
  • They have leadership roles – Lydia, Priscilla, Thecla.

The acid test, arguments could say, is whether women actually ministered in the New Testament. They did. But the evidence is thin. Need every woman who served in the Bible be considered a pastor? And why are there so few’?

“Image of God,” “new age,” “all-members-are-ministers,” “women-ministered.” The scriptural concepts which seem to favor ordination are not conclusive either.

Chapter 3: What Does Scripture Say? – Hermeneutics

Maybe readers are saying, “Hold it!” because they have not agreed with the way scripture is being used here. A few may think the exegesis in this summary is too breezy, that it is not seriously searching the text for direction. Some may say that the exegesis is too forced. That it has been trying to make the scriptures answer questions they had never been asked. The answers may be new to still others. This brings the study tight up against the problem of hermeneutics. How should scripture be interpreted and applied?

Hermeneutical Problems

Seriously, Not Literally?

Scripture is to be considered normative and taken seriously, but it need not always be taken literally. That seems to be the practice of the church anyway. To take these passages literally would mean purging a lot of Bible classes, that is, dismissing women teachers and never letting women students publicly question a statement made by a man. In fact, just have women keep silent altogether. Let them be seen, not heard – and their faces shouldn’t be seen at that. A veil please. No. In practice at least, the agreement is: scripture is the norm, but the norm is not always found by a simple literal reading.

In fact, finding the norm is often difficult. For ordination, there is a problem right off. The Bible does not use the word “ordination” as it is known today. A “laying on of hands” was practiced in Judaism as far back as Joshua, but it was used only for certain high offices and scholarship. The early Christians used it to bestow the Spirit, or to heal, which is something else again. Acts has some people being “sent forth” (13:1 ff.), but that was more like the rite used for commissioning today. The Pastoral Epistles, Acts, and probably Matthew, suggest types of ordination, but no uniform practice can be detected, let alone a full-blown “theology of ordination.” The Bible doesn’t carry the whole mind of the Church because so many practices had to be worked out over the years.

Time Conditioning

The guidance sought is on ordination, and the scripture doesn’t mention ordination. That is the first problem.

Second problem: how to tell which scriptural instructions were to apply to the time in which they were written, and which to all times?

The early church lived in complex surroundings. It was influenced by:

  • The Old Testament
  • First-Century Judaism
  • Greek culture
  • Roman culture
  • The philosophies of the day
  • The religions of the day

Some customs it accepted, some it rejected. Paul could use various Stoic sayings and ideas, while decrying pagan practices. In the same way, Christians adopted some of the current attitudes toward women while denouncing others.

For the most part, the surrounding cultures regarded women as subjects. The early Church was often as far ahead of its time in this respect as it could go. It gave women a radical new freedom. It allowed them the same rite of entry as man-baptism. It believed they could be saved just like men. It let them prophesy in some places.

In other ways, though, it set limits on this freedom. It acted out of the feelings for order that prevailed around it. Those feelings were often taught in the Church as a part of the basic Christian catechism. As was mentioned, some of the codes seem to have been transferred intact to the passages just studied.

Now, which practices are the everlasting will of the Lord and which are just time-conditioned?

If subordination was kept in some forms by the early church merely to avoid needless offense to the community, then maybe ordination should be the norm today-to avoid offense in a society which is beginning to resent male domination. If subordination is an order of creation for all times, however, then the norm is obvious.

And then, too, Paul and the early Christians may have been unable to distinguish clearly between what the Gospels implied and what the culture taught. That is, the influence of the culture may have caused Paul to assume that subordination was an order for all time. That would not settle the norm either.

Conflicts in Scripture?

Third problem: taking the Bible as a whole, not just in bits and pieces or proof texts. If a church tries to construct a norm for ordination from the overall view of scriptures, then it must deal with possible conflicts. One passage taken by itself says one thing, while another taken by itself says something else. Remember trying to resolve 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 where the differences occur within three chapters of each other. Remember the broader conflict between the old age and the new. Unfortunately, building a theology of ordination from the Bible as a whole isn’t easy either.

Historical Evaluation

Fourth problem: to what extent should historical criticism be applied in the search for norms? How rigorously? Can some passages be marked as earlier and others as later and less central?


Fifth problem: how to allow for the development which took place during the New Testament period and in subsequent centuries. The Church’s view of ordination and society’s view of woman’s place have undergone much change. How is development weighted?

A Canon Within the Canon?

This brings up still a sixth problem: degrees of emphases. If the interpreter accepts the possibility that through the years development has taken place, passages reinterpreted, ideas added, emphasis changed, then the value of some texts is bound to be affected. Should some texts be weighted more heavily than others? Is there a “canon within the canon”? What is central in the Bible? Do some texts matter more than others? Does “the gospel” take precedence over any single verse?

This is hardly the place to try to wrestle to the floor the massive hermeneutical issues of our day. Enough to say that for every interpretation some objection can be raised and to every argument some weakness found.

But the problem remains unsolved. Is there any principle to guide in norm-finding?

A Case Study in Norm-Finding

An idea can be gained of the criteria which a church uses by observing it in the actual process of norm-finding. An example occurred in the recent decision of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to allow congregations to let women vote. The Commission on Theology and Church Relations finished a study on woman’s suffrage in 1969.

In its final report the CTCR refers, in passing, to ordination. It understands the scriptural injunctions to mean that women should not hold the pastoral office. This reference may have been in the report to separate the onus of ordaining women from the question of granting suffrage to them. The commission concluded against ordaining women, but for suffrage. The latter was voted at the 1969 Denver convention. The former certainly would not have been.

The norm-finding work of the commission was done very seriously and gives direction for the process. The master argument of the CTCR statement is subordination as an order of creation. The study believed voting would not be insubordination, but holding any office in the church which involves authority over men would. The fact that this subordination theme was chosen by the CTCR from the biblical complex offers a clue to a norm-finding principle which might be isolated.

In arguing its case, the CTCR did not explicitly use the statements (1) that a woman ought to wear a veil “because of the angels,” (2) that man was not made for woman, but woman for man, (3) that Adam was made first or (4) that Eve was the first to be deceived. It did identify the passages which contain them, but it generalized from them; it did not apply them specifically.

The Selection Process

That is, from all those reasons which are given by biblical writers for subordination of women, the CTCR document did some selecting. The question is: why was the rule about veils bypassed and the rule about subordination applied? By what “higher criteria” are some of the Bible’s specifics ignored and other principles retained? Is it that the general principles are to be taken seriously, but not detailed specifics? That is to be doubted. Is it really because there is no case today just like that of Paul’s day in which wives publicly question their husband’s revelations? What about the typical Bible class in which the leader, like the pastor himself, invites questions and sincerely wants the class, including his wife, to discuss what he says? Why isn’t that forbidden? Not because the two situations are too specific to be connected. There must be another reason.

Could it be that times have changed, that some practices of Bible times are no longer binding because times are different; that the situation today is quite different from that of the New Testament? To many folks, the answer is “yes.” This means that, to them, historical change is an important factor in finding the Bible’s meaning for each new age.

History, the Guide

Like most American Lutherans at one tune or another, the early Missouri Synod fathers had assumed, without expecting to be challenged, that the Bible made woman’s suffrage invalid. However, the CTCR notes, woman’s suffrage had not yet been established then in the American way of life. The question has taken on new significance for the church since women have had equal vote in society.

It may seem that the norms of scripture should direct the history of the Church and world. The fact is, though, history gives new understandings which permit reconsideration of earlier interpretations.

The CTCR study has made allowances for time-conditioning in norm-finding. That principle helps a great deal toward hermeneutical problem solving.

Humanization of History

Going even further: God’s act in Christ might be “humanizing” history, making the status of women more humane. If that is true, then the action reported in scripture is shaping the history of the world. History is a reflection of the action in scripture!

There is nothing conclusive about all of this, of course, but it makes things previously thought to be conclusive less so. It suggests, again, that the orders of creation might not be static if God is at work in them. The orders might have a history and may be understood best in the light of the changes they have undergone.

Such a conclusion still need not imply ordination of women. It could be pointing, instead, to whole new forms of ministry and whole new meanings-of ordination.

The work of the Church has branched out into a wide variety of new opportunities. There are ministries of music, ministries of mercy, educational ministries, streets ministries, and dozens more. Laymen work full time in social institutions, on parish staffs, in community services. The dividing line between the work of laymen and pastors is becoming more and more unclear. History has brought the opportunity for new definitions. Those who participated in the Council’s ordination of women research strongly urged the churches to undertake a joint study of this broader question, the meaning of ordination itself. History has brought the need.

What does the Bible say? For all the hermeneutical problems, hopefully this discussion has made some progress. First the problems themselves were isolated to show that a conclusive case could not be made easily for or against a practice such as the ordination of women. Second came the realization that history does have a bearing on biblical understandings and that history brings new situations which require the reconsideration of previous assumptions. Third, history was seen as the possible arena for God’s humanizing work, bringing new opportunities and the necessity for new definitions.

Is there a hint in all this that the Bible should be dropped altogether, with history becoming the norm? If there is, this study disclaims it. The fact that the major portion of the booklet is given to the search for scriptural norms is a witness to the place scripture holds.

If there be any hint, let it suggest that the histories of the church bodies involved in this study do differ slightly. Think how the histories of the various Lutheran churches throughout the world vary. Which is to say a practice which might be in the strongest interest of the Gospel for one, might not be for another. The representatives participating in the study found themselves again and again in agreement on the point that differing decisions on the ordination of women should not cause division in Lutheran fellowship.

Chapter 4: What Have Lutherans Said? – History

Lutheran History in Europe

Luther and the Confessions

Luther can be quoted on both sides. Sometimes he repeated the traditional views. Sometimes he was radically different. He based some of his reasoning on abilities, which he thought women generally lacked, but did not completely lack. If no men were able, he said, let women preach and administer the sacraments. Let the circumstances decide. But then. he added, the Spirit will surely see to it that capable men are not lacking.

The Lutheran confessions say nothing about the ordination of women. They do have points to make on the ministry, some of.which have already been mentioned.

Lutheran Orthodoxy

In Europe, Lutherans, after the Reformation, generally decided the question by continuing past practice, not as the result of debate about doctrine. Until this century they gave little attention to the possibility of ordination. They were generally opposed when they did, and most assumed that biblical doctrine forbade it, but not all. A few early voices thought the matter was less than dogma, but they were ignored by most eighteenth and nineteenth century Europeans.

Matthias Flacius (1520-1575) thought that men rather than women should preach and minister, but considered this a human arrangement rather than divine command. He thought that order was at least partly to be based on the attitude of the whole community so long as there was fear of God in what was done.

Johann Gerhard (1621-1668) saw 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11, 12 as a rejection of the matriarchal ways of some sects, rather than as an absolute rule. He distinguished between church privileges in general and teaching in particular, public – church and private – teaching and routine rules and special cases. He believed women had all sorts of weaknesses of character and intellect making them less fit.


The Pietists broke down some of the separation between clergy and laity by insisting on a more active laity. They did not stir up sentiment for ordaining women though. Phillip Jakob Spener (1635-1705) found no scripture against having women teach, but wanted to control the extent to which the practice was permitted.

Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752) admitted that there could be logical exceptions to the rule against ordination. The fact is, though, exceptional cases have been exceptionally few. Bengel emphasized that women are to have no authority over men.

19th Century

Little was said about ordination of women in the nineteenth century and little change took place in attitude toward it. The common feelings were against; one voice, for example, quite adamantly saying that women are “too easily excited.” Bishop Martensen (1808-1884) of Denmark thought women had no real creative talents. F.H.R. Frank (1827-1894) wanted to let the inner brotherly love of the congregation decide the question.

Europe Today

By 1968 the ordination of women was permitted in the Lutheran churches in the following countries:

Norway. Since 1938 the government has had the right to appoint women pastors, provided they were not rejected by the congregation. A 1956 law removed this veto power. The first woman was ordained in 1961.

Denmark. A law permitting ordination has been in effect since 1947. Ordination has been practiced since 1948.

Czechoslovakia. Women were pastors in Czechoslovakia as early as 1953, but they were not allowed to become chief pastors of parishes until 1959.

Sweden. The law permitting ordination has been in effect since 1959, the practice since 1960.

France. Reports available at the time of this research indicate that the Lutheran church of France already had several women pastors prior to 1962.

Germany. As of February, 1968, of the twenty-seven member churches of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKID), twenty permitted the ordination of women. Of the thirteen territorial churches in the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany, seven admit women to the ministry. All of the territorial Lutheran churches in the German Democratic Republic permit ordination of women.

Women are not ordained in Finland yet. Nothing in its Public Worship Act prevents ordination, but a 1958 and 1962 refusal of the church to remove all legal doubts has prevented any exercise of the possibility. Since 1965, a type of parish service office has been open to male and female theological graduates.

When the shift came, it came fast. Over half of the Lutherans in the world are in churches which now have women on their clergy rolls. But none of these is in North America.

Lutheran History in America

American Lutherans, until recently, were unanimously opposed. Hardly anyone thought that the question was solely a matter of practice, neither enjoined nor forbidden by God in scripture. They presumably saw it settled by the Bible.

A sampling of American views ranging over the century:

Sarnuel S. Schmucker (General Synod). Women shouldn’t even lead in prayer.

Edmund Jacob Wolf (General Synod). Subordination was not only established in creation, but made sure by history.

Henry Eyster Jacobs (General Council). In 1897 said women may speak sometimes in public, but in 1899 he reverted to the rule that they must be silent “except there be no man.”

C.F.W. Walther (Missouri). Scripture excludes women from voting, teaching in public assemblies and having authority over men but does not forbid their teaching privately and in parish schools.

Franz Pieper (Missouri). Was alarmed by woman suffrage. “Woman ought not be dragged from her place of honor into public life.” Women were not even to ask questions publicly.

The break in ranks in America came on the question of vote and voice for women in congregational meetings. At the turn of the century, the General Synod’s model congregational constitution gave the women vote but not office. In 1907, Augustana gave women vote and in 1930 allowed them to be delegates. In 1934, the United Lutheran Church decided that women could be delegates, church councilmen, and board and commission members. (The majority report said, though, that it would have agreed with the opposition’s minority report had the question been ordination.) In 1969, the Missouri Synod allowed congregations to grant women voting rights.

Krister Stendahl believes the matter of vote and voice is the basic question anyway.

Lutherans in North America do not now ordain, but the ALC, LCA, and LC-MS are all at some stage of study on the matter.

The ALC’s Board of Theological Education reported in 1966 that it permits enrollment of women in its theological seminaries to receive the B.D. degree, and allows adjustment of the curriculum with respect to the women students. It adopted this rule, however, fully understanding that the church’s prevailing practice did not ordain women.

In 1967 the ALC’s Church Council asked the board to have the question of women’s ordination studied. The faculty of Luther Seminary reviewed four objections to ordination – biblical, theological, practical, and ecumenical. It found that there was nothing decisive in the first three and that the fourth, while serious, was difficult to assess because some churches are already ordaining and some that aren’t are open to discussion of the possibility. In view of this, they saw no reasons why ordination shouldn’t be permissible.

The LCA heard an interim report in 1968 by a Commission on the Comprehensive Study of the Doctrine of the Ministry which said the commission could see no biblical or theological reasons for denying women ordination.

The LC-MS’s 1969 convention adopted a guide which referred to the scripture directing women to keep silent in the church and prohibiting them from teaching and exercising authority over men. The resolution said, “We understand [this] to mean that women ought not to hold the pastoral office or serve in any other capacity involving the distinctive functions of this office.” The resolution stated the belief that the passages did not preclude women from service on boards, commissions, and committees and in congregational or synodical assemblies, so long as the order of creation was not violated. Congregations and the synod were thus at liberty to alter their polities accordingly but were urged to act cautiously and deliberately in the spirit of Christian love.

In January, 1970, the Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations assigned to its committee on theology a study on the ordination of women.

In Europe the shortage of pastors following World War II opened the way to the ordination of women. America did not experience that emergency. Challenges to the traditional view came only with a change in the position of woman in society and a development of principles of biblical interpretation which could permit basic reconsiderations.

Chapter 5: Is it Workable? – Pragmatics


This is the post-pill era. Practically speaking, women are already free. Ordination will hardly change that one way or the other. But what effects would ordination have? How would it work? How much resistance would be encountered? How would the churches be changed as a result? What rules of selection should be set? What would other churches think?

Even if scripture had a verse which said, “Women should be ordained in the American Lutheran churches beginning in 1970,” practical preparations would be necessary.

If on the other hand scripture really neither forbids nor enjoins ordination, then the whole question might be a matter of practice altogether, something to be decided by the churches in the light of their God-given responsibilities and effectiveness. Practice instead of dogma.

Either way, this chapter tries to isolate some of the practical aspects by looking at sociological, psychological, and ecumenical factors.

How Has Woman’s Status Changed?

  • the right to vote,
  • 1919 decline in the double standard
  • more freedom from the home because of labor-saving devices and smaller families
  • laws against discrimination

In 1840, only seven occupations were open to women in the United States: teaching needlework, keeping boarders, working in cotton factories, typesetting, book binding, and housekeeping. Then came vast changes in technology, massive war efforts, and an exploding economy. Not enough men were available to fill all the jobs. The social system tremored a bit and admitted women.

History changed not only attitudes but methods of Bible interpretation as well. Herbert Alleman’s New Testament Commentary 1936, was probably the first American Lutheran commentary to say that the references in Corinthians and Timothy were “part of the intellectual-philosophical milieu of the writers.”


Changes in society brought up the question of woman’s status in the Church, and the new awarenesses in hermeneutics opened the way to reconsideration of practice. The practical developments of history had been the key.

What Will the People Think?

But what will people think if women are ordained? Facts are available to help answer that question. A study was made by Lawrence Kersten in the Detroit metropolitan area. (1) Several hundred Lutherans were surveyed. Response of Lutherans to the question: “Do you think women should have as equal a voice in the church decisions as men?” (Proportion answering “yes.”)


  Laymen Clergy
LCA 73% 98%
ALC 86% 98%
LC-MS 71% 40%
Wisconsin 49% 0%

Response of Lutherans to the question: “Should women be allowed to become ordained ministers?” (Proportion answering “yes.”)


  Laymen Clergy
LCA 73% 62%
ALC 68% 30%
LC-MS 47% 8%
Wisconsin 39% 0%

Laymen Least Opposed

1. Laymen will be more receptive to the idea than clergymen.

2. Quite a bit of resistance can be expected from the clergy.

3. There is much difference depending upon church body. A proposal to ordain women:

  • would probably meet approval without many problems in the LCA
  • could possibly be approved with concerted effort in the ALC
  • would most likely be defeated the first two or three tries in the LC-MS
  • might as well be forgotten for a generation or two in the Wisconsin Synod

Although there is much opposition in the ALC and Missouri, the seeds of change are there, as shown by the feelings on equal voice for women. The gap between the Wisconsin clergy and laity also forbodes change.

There are also statistics showing the differences of opinion between men and women:


  Lay Men Lay Women
Favoring equal voice 79% 71%
Favoring ordination of women 65%vc 51%

Men are less opposed than women!

So what will people think? There is no doubt that some will be repelled by the idea of a woman pastor. This will probably be based more on inner feelings than on scripture. From a psychological point of view, such feelings can change. Because some do not want change is no reason for the church’s deciding against it though. Yet, the church must be concerned about feelings and must handle them with love and care. Attitudes are best changed by experience, and a few decades with women in some pulpits will probably quiet all fears.

What Will Others Think?

What will other churches think? Here are brief statements of their present and possible future practices with regard to ordination of women.

The Orthodox Church

The Orthodox Church ordains no women and has no interest in doing so. A few questions about the possibility are being raised as a result of contacts in the World Council of Churches; but unbroken tradition, Canon Law, and strict interpretation of 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy discourage all discussion.

The Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church? Certainly no ordination yet but it could come. Canon Law says that only men may be ordained but allows a woman’s advance to the lower orders. Discussion, however, is lively and growing. Several prominent theologians propose ordination, including Rahner, Kung, Tavard and Haering. Kung says, for example, that ordination is entirely a matter of cultural circumstances; there are no biblical or dogmatic reasons against it.

The momentum of the discussion cannot be gauged easily. In the light of Vatican II, the consequences may be revolutionary.

The Anglican Communion

The Anglicans? Maybe. Woman’s suffrage was the larger question among Anglicans until recently, but that right has advanced quickly.

The 1968 Lambeth conference decided that:

  • arguments both for and against ordination are inconclusive. (This was in rejection of a report which said there were no conclusive reasons for withholding the clergy office from women.)
  • the churches should study the question.
  • the churches should allow women to lead worship, preach, baptize, read scripture, distribute sacramental elements, and enter the diaconate, though they would not thereby automatically become eligible for the priesthood.

The Reformed Family

Churches of the Reformed family have taken different positions. Those in Switzerland, Germany, and the United States do ordain. In 1956, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., said “Equality is proper both in terms of creation and redemption.”

Other Churches

Other major bodies permitting ordination include Methodist, United Church of Christ, United Church of Canada, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, and Pentecostal


Some observations can be made which might help in getting ready for a decision:

  1. Lutherans should benefit from the study of a question such as this one to be aware of any effect an action by a church to ordain would have on inter-church relations.
  2. The ecumenical factor should not be given undue weight, though, in the decision. When Swedish Lutherans decided to go ahead with the ordination of women, there were fears it would hurt their relations with the Church of England, but it hasn’t.
  3. “Ordination” and “ministry” carry different freight in different churches.
  4. The ordination of women is far from the most critical problem in inter-church conversations.
  5. The greater ecumenical problem for Lutherans in this regard may be intra-Lutheran rather than inter-denominational.
  6. Over one-half of all Lutherans belong to churches which have women on their clergy roll.
  7. Since arguments neither for nor against ordination are conclusive, a variety of practices is permissible within a common confession. This certainly was the case with regard to the question of women voting in the church. Neither would a compromise of the gospel be involved with the ordination of women. A decision by one church to ordain them, while another chooses not to do so, should not endanger their fraternal relationships. That was the finding emphasized by the inter-Lutheran consultation at Dubuque.

What Might Happen?

Perhaps the question should be re-worded. What are the most drastic changes that might come? There is little data which can be obtained from the experience of the other large churches which have begun ordaining. This study can only pose some possibilities:

  1. The church might become more feminine. Already there is a trend to leave religion to the women. And women are generally more active members than men. This has not been so true among Lutherans, males having kept the leadership. Even in the Lutheran church, though, men and boys wonder whether religion is masculine enough for them. That gap would probably widen, mainly on the lower economic levels. Men would be reluctant to go to a woman for counselling. Boys who already live in female-dominated homes and schools would have even less opportunity to identify with strong male figures.
  2. The Church might get fewer men to go into the ministry. Public opinion ordinarily classifies pastors as somewhat effeminate. The ordination of women might reinforce this image. An argument can be made that the Church would even contribute to sex-role blur. On the other hand, ordination of women could have the opposite effect. If both the male and female elements were distinctively evident in the image of the ministry, the more masculine male might identify with it more easily than is now the case.
  3. The Church might become more supportive. Men try to get a job done. Women try to see that people are happy while doing the job. Studies show that women in professional roles tend to program emotionally supportive, healing ministries, whereas men try for task fulfillment. This means:

    a. The Church might become more concerned about well-being and less about right knowing. Doctrinal distinctions and scriptural constructs might receive less attention.

    b. The Church might do less evangelizing. The idea of saving people for the Church Triumphant might have less interest as healing and supportive ministries increase.

These hypotheses might be overdrawn, but they try to bring out the most drastic possibilites in order to deal with them clearly. Getting unduly upset might be unnecessary, though, because statistics indicate that few women would actually be ordained.

Few Would Apply

Eighty of 262 denominations in the United States ordain women. In the 1960 census, only 2.3 percent of all clergymen were women – 4,727. That is a decline from 4.1 percent in 1950! Of 4,258 students in Lutheran seminaries in January, 1969, 109 were women. Only 17 were in B.D. programs – none in Missouri seminaries, 7 in ALC, 10 in LCA. (To look at the matter pragmatically, the issue of the ordination of women may actually have been decided when seminaries began admitting women to B.D. programs and some of the female students found internships.)

Only a small number of women who do enter the ministry serve the parish. In 1951, only fifty percent were in the parish ministry, including those in assistantships. The majority of those serving as pastors are in the Pentecostal and Holiness groups.


  1950 1960
Lawyers and Judges 3.5% 3.7%
Physicians, Surgeons 6.1% 7.0%
Social Workers 69.2% 57.4%
Teachers (elementary and secondary) 74.6% 72.6%

The length of the training period for a profession seemed to reduce the percentage of women directly.

The proportion of women in most of the professions has not been increasing. For women professors and administrators in colleges and universities, it was greater in 1930 than it is today. The proportion of women physicians and surgeons was greater in 1910!

Summing it up, the number of women in pastorates would probably be such a small proportion, for the predictable future at least, as to minimize the effects.

Vocational Factors

In this day of concept explosions, the definition of ordination itself has spread out into a wide range of understandings. The most pragmatic view would say that it is no more than a licensing process which qualifies certain individuals for certain specialized functions, just as a pharmacist must be registered and an accountant certified. This takes any supernatural and theological flavor out of the rite though and could be charged with being an understatement of the “holy office” of the ministry.

At the other extreme may be a highly sacramental definition which says ordination brings a change to the essential nature of the ordained. This could be charged with being an overstatement because it makes the change something “indelible,” a principle rejected by Lutherans. This discussion doesn’t wish to prejudice any study which might be undertaken by the Council on this broader question of ordination. The range is mentioned here though to point up the importance of entrance standards. Whether the need is for exceptional professional skills as illustrated in the certification extreme or for unique spiritual qualities as indicated by the sacramental view, standards are necessary.

Entrance Standards

But setting entrance standards is nervous business. The Church has not come far in making qualifications measurable. It has been bold only on two counts, poor grades and evident immorality. It probably should screen more finely against persons who exploit or who are so guilt loaded that their talk of the gospel comes through as law.

Maybe it is just as well though that the rules are not so specific. If they were, a particular type would be favored and the candidates would turn out looking like so many sausage links, all alike. How could a Luther or a Saint Francis get in then?

Exclusion of a Whole Sex?

Even if the standards were to require candidates to possess certain traits, women would not thereby be ruled out. Women are not completely devoid of any one particular quality found in men. They may not be as forceful as men, for example, but on the other hand they might be more humane. As a group they may have more of one quality while men have more of another. There is much overlap. A woman having the most of a quality not typical of her sex will have more of it than the man who has the least, and vice versa. The standards would have to exclude females explicitly if they intended to admit males only, which brings up the possibility that the female exclusion clause of some present standards is even illegal.

If women were admitted, would the standards which apply to them have to be tighter than those which apply to men? No, with one exception. When persons of one sex first enter a role which has previously been reserved to the other, a larger portion of them may tend to be deviant in some way. This deviation could either be in a good or bad direction. While this is still not cause for excluding women as a group, it would mean careful screening until the role is well established.


A vocation is chosen in many unconscious ways. Recent research has shown that no one makes choices in simple, straightforward, perfectly-reasoned ways. Behavior is too complex for that. Some women candidates might have unconscious motives such as feelings of protest against male domination. Some might be seeking a sort of holiness in the ministry because of a heavy guilt. Some might wish they were men. These motives would need some attention in the selection process, but they would not necessarily make vocational hopes invalid. Men have a mixture of motives too.

Happiness and Satisfaction

Can a woman be happy and satisfied as a pastor? The answer depends on her personal ability to cope with some inevitable problems. Anyone who assumes an unusual role will be criticized and discriminated against. Could she accept this? Could she function at ease with her colleagues when most are male? Is she ready to choose between profession and family rearing? Of course she could take leave from the ministry for a time, but she might find the dislocation difficult. This also raises a selection question: would the willingness to forego a family be desirable or undesirable? Some suggest that only married women should be ordained; others, only single women.


Many say the Church is in a credibility crisis. How would the ordination of women affect this? If the Church gives the impression that its past rules on women were wrong and even unscriptural, it will add to a growing list of such admissions. The repercussions of these changes are just beginning. The confidence of the people in what the Church says is eroding. Support and commitment will decline. A shattering of many personal faith systems may result, and the entire Lutheran social system could be shaken – some could say.

This does not mean the Church should conceal anything it suspects to be truth. Part of the credibility crisis has already been caused by delayed admissions. Honest change here might actually have a positive effect. By facing reality, preparations could be made to minimize the bad consequences and strengthen the good. A pragmatic study cannot be conclusive for or against ordination, either. Its service is to tell what practical effects should be considered and what consequences might be expected.

Conclusion – Reconsider the Evidence

“Not fully persuasive”-that is the basic conclusion of this study. All major arguments against ordination of women are found to be less than decisive. The same is true of the arguments for ordination.

“Ordain Her, Ordain Her Not,” was the title of a recent article.’ The reader of the reciprocating arguments in this book probably feels that that is the way it has gone. The last petal was never plucked. The last word has yet to be said. And the churches themselves must say it, the decision must be theirs.

What is the last word? It is that what used to be the last word is not necessarily to be the last any longer. Enough new possibilities have arisen in the understanding of scripture to make reconsideration of previous conclusions permissible. The arguments are sufficiently inconclusive now that the churches may adopt differing practices in this regard without violating the gospel.

So,“variety.” That is another important word. A variety of practices is permissible on this matter within a common confession without endangering fellowship.

The exact wording of the “Statement of Findings Relating to the Requested Study on the Subject of the Ordination of Women” is printed in full in the appendix immediately following. It is the official summary of the 123-page study committee report which formed the basis for this booklet and which was transmitted by the Lutheran Council to the presidents of its member churches.


A Statement of Findings Relating to the Requested Study on the Subject of the Ordination of Women


  1. 1.Until recent times it has been the case in Lutheran churches, as in Christendom generally, that the ordained ministry be limited to men because of long-standing and inherited custom, sociological and psychological factors, and, more specifically, biblical references, notably at 1 Corinthians 1 1:2-16 and 14:33-36, which preclude women teaching or speaking in church.
  2. In actual practice, however, strict and literal enforcement of what these passages say has probably nowhere fully existed, and women in different Lutheran churches have thus increasingly been permitted to go without veils; take part in public worship, join in liturgy and hymns; lead worship in choirs; speak and teach in church schools, on Sundays and weekdays, asking questions of teachers and instructing males as well as females; vote and hold positions of leadership in the church; and in some cases be ordained to a ministry which is partial or total.
  3. Today, in a time of widespread change, women are achieving new dignity, rights, and responsibilities in all areas of life in the world, so that one can properly speak of a “revolution” in the status of women.
  4. While the Gospel is determinative for the church’s ministry, not contemporary developments, and that Gospel does not change from age to age, nonetheless it is necessary to ask from time to time whether areas of the church’s life such as practices regarding the ordained ministry do properly reflect that Gospel and the will of the church’s Lord in the world amid the new situations. We must ask whether what we have been accustomed to continues warranted in the face of what we are actually doing in some instances and amid what is happening in God’s world, and is the fullest expression currently possible of faith and of the Spirit’s activity. Lest we miss the ongoing work of God and promptings of his Spirit, we are called to consider anew what we have readily assumed.


  1. In examining the biblical material and theological arguments we find the case both against and for the ordination of women inconclusive.

    a. “Ordination” in our sense of the term is not a topic addressed in the New Testament-there has been a long history of development-and the ordination of women was not a question discussed in the Lutheran confessions.

    b. The biblical passages and theological arguments invoked against the ordination of women are not fully persuasive because, e.g., of exegetical obscurities (are “women generally” or only “wives” referred to in them?), possible internal contradictions (does I Corinthians 14 give the same answer as I Corinthians 1 I?), and the impossibility (and undesirability) of consistent literal application (veils; total silence of women in church?). In short, for every interpretation some objection can be raised, and to every argument some objection found.

    On the other hand, passages and arguments employed to urge ordination of women are likewise not fully decisive either, and here, too, objections and exceptions occur.

    Some of the arguments offered on both sides are inconsistent or rest on unbiblical, unevangelical assumptions.

  2. There are also, besides these arguments, sociological and psychological considerations, pro and con. We are convinced that such factors are significant and that assessing such non-biblical factors is indeed “biblical.” But neither the objections to the ordination of women, serious as they are, nor the positive potentials which some see, settle the issue.
  3. The “ecumenical argument” concerning the relation of the decision by one church to what other Lutherans and other Christians do on this question deserves serious weighing, but does not decide the issue either; if some groups appear irrevocably set against the ordination of women, others, it is to be noted, have already begun the practice, and some churches assumed to be most opposed to the practice are or seem to be open to discussion of it.


  1. 1.Thus no one argument or set of arguments settles the matter clearly one way or another at this point for us.
  2. It would not be realistic to insist that individual Lutheran bodies should tailor their decisions or delay them indefinitely so as to conform with all other Lutherans, let alone the whole ecumenical world (the fact is that varying degrees of difference of practice already exist), but it is hoped that any single church would seek to act only after consultation with fellow Lutherans and with sensitivity to the entire ecumenical spectrum.
  3. If there are no conclusive grounds for forbidding the ordination of women and no definitive ones for demanding it, it follows that a variety of practices at any given time remains possible amid common confession; indeed, question can be raised to what extent doctrinal matters in the strict sense are here involved (theological aspects, yes, but whether “in the doctrine of the Gospel” is another matter).
  4. We have been forced to observe again and again in our study that the ordination of women is part of larger questions: (a) the ordained ministry; (b) the work of the laity in ministry of the whole people of God today; (c) the church. Also involved is a hermeneutical question which lies not fully resolved among Lutherans on how one interprets and applies scripture.
  5. We urge, therefore, that appropriate commissions of the participating churches share in further joint study of broader topics of the “ministry,” “laity,” and “church” as a context in which such specific questions must be addressed, and invite representatives of the churches to join with us in exploring fully these areas.

(Adopted by the Standing Committee of the Division of Theological Studies, March 7-8, 1969)

Members of the Subcommittee on the Study on the Ordination of Women by the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A.

Dr. John Reumann, Chairman
Dr. Robert W. Bertram
The Rev. Stephen G. Mazak
Dr. Fred W. Meuser
Dr. Paul D. Opsahl (Staff)

Study Papers reviewed in this book were by the above persons and:

Dr. Harold I. Haas
Dr. Ronald L. Johnstone

Participants in the Inter-Lutheran Consultation on the Ordination of Women, Dubuque, Iowa, September 20-22, 1969:

The subcommittee and staff named above

American Lutheran Church
Dr. Roy A. Harrisville

Dr. William Larsen
Dr. Stanley D. Schneider

Lutheran Church in America
Mrs. Margaret Ermath
Dr. Martin J. Heinecken
Rev. Ralph E. Peterson

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
Dr. Fred Kramer
Dr. Martin H. Scharlemann
Dr. Edward H. Schroeder

Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches
Professor Kenneth Ballas


Chapter 1

1 Apology XIII.10: cf. 12, Tappert ed., 212.

2 Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 26; Tappert ed., p. 324.

Chapter 5

Cf. Kersten’s forthcoming book, The Lutheran Ethic, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1970.


1. Constance Parvey, Dialog, Summer,1969.

Notes: This 1970 document is a digest of papers written for the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A., an ecumenical body consisting of representatives from the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America; the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. (In 1988, the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church merged to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.) The study found that the issue of women’s ordination is biblically ambiguous, and therefore a variety of church practices ought not to disrupt ecumenical fellowship.

The surveys done to determine reaction to women’s ordination within the various Lutheran churches were especially valuable. Overall, men were somewhat more favorable towards ordination than women, and the laity significantly more favorable than clergy. The predictions about how ordination would be received in each denomination have so far proven accurate. The American Lutheran Church approved women’s ordination at the same time as the Lutheran Church in America, but its members were more resistant. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has thus far disallowed women ministers, but some signs of change are apparent.

The Council study, though couched in mostly neutral terms, did suggest that churches ought to be able to make their own decisions regarding this issue. Though this finding was not binding on the member churches, it did infuence the American Lutheran Church in particular to approve the ordination of women. The Missouri Synod church was displeased with the study and in 1971 reaffirmed its position against the ordination of women.

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