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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






13 August 2005

Family Disagrees Over Women Pastors


Q: My wife and I have had great difficulty dealing with her son (my stepson) on the issue of women pastors. He doesn’t believe they belong in the Church. He attends a Baptist church and we attend a Methodist church, which has a woman pastor. He has recited a number of Scriptures against women pastors. We would prefer him to attend our church along with his other siblings. But when he does attend under protest, he does so by not praying nor singing, rather he stares out toward the window. How do we handle this?

A: With the majority of Christendom, Lutherans never admitted women “pastors” until modernist and postmodernist thinking began to invade some parts of the church in the past generation. Orthodox, biblical Christianity still is firmly convinced for a number of reasons that women, although they might otherwise be eminently qualified, lack one thing: They are not men.

You included a number of Scriptures from your step-son in your question; I’ll touch on them and some others as we study the issue. In 1 Corinthians 14:33-38, Paul tells not only the Corinthian church, but also others, what should be done. Before insisting that women “keep silence,” that is, not teach or preach, Paul says this is true “in all the churches of the saints. (v. 33)” That this is not his invention is clear from verse 36: “Was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?”

Many who urge the ordination of women do so based upon Galatians 3:28, which would pit Paul against Paul. He writes, “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.” But this verse doesn’t teach that all differences are erased. Racial, sexual, and physical distinctions remain, yet all Christians have equality in salvation: All are equally sinful and equally saved by the work of God through Jesus Christ.

In Christ, God does not overturn all the previous distinctions, including those of Creation. The miracle of the Resurrection does not overthrow the mystery of the relationship or the marvel of the distinction between man and woman. Dr. Al Barry, former president of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, said, “We believe that God has gifted men and women with different responsibilities and duties.... So also in the church, God has gifted men and women with different, though complementary, opportunities and responsibilities for service. (from What about … The Ordination of Women to the Pastoral Office)”

As well as the direct words of Scripture, the examples from the Bible point to a male pastorate: Christ’s first pastors, the apostles, were all men. If He had decided that women also should fill that position, why did He not say or do something at the time? Would that have been any more “radical” than anything else He did? The early Church followed Christ’s established pattern and placed only men as pastors.

Relating also to the maleness of the pastor is the idea of pastor as “icon” (image) of Christ. The male-female imagery of Christ and Church as Bridegroom and Bride (cf. Eph 5:22-33) is shown also the example of pastor and congregation.

None of this deals with what has become a battle over superiority and equality. Anyone who thinks that pastors are somehow “superior” to the laity doesn’t realize that these “under-shepherds” are servants of God’s Word. They are called to be the “foot-washers.” They are the ones who are on duty, day in and day out, to give, not to rule.

While Scripture calls a faithful flock to support, honor, and obey a faithful pastor (1 Tim 5:17-18; 1 Thess 5:12-13; Heb 13:17), even this obedience is not slavish. Hebrews says it is because “they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” They surrender themselves to Christ and to His Church in order to feed His sheep and shepherd them safely home to heaven. The Church surrenders herself to them as they lead according to Christ’s Word.

Note that I don’t even begin to go through the examples from the Old Testament. Nor do I quote the early Christian Church, which generally associated a female pastorate with sects and heresies. A full study of all these plus the New Testament would be the matter for a large book, not a short column.

Still, there is also the matter of your stepson’s keeping the Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” His attitude and behavior do not necessarily do the best job of this. While he may not want to participate in a service he believes to be contrary to Scripture, the staring “out toward the window” shows open disrespect to the parents God gave him.

Because I agree with him that he holds the correct, Biblical understanding, I could not urge him to change his mind about women “pastors.” I do hope that when attending with you, he would act respectfully. He could honor his parents by sitting facing forward, not lounging or looking away, thus not making you and his mother so uncomfortable with him. Yet he could, perhaps, be true to his own beliefs by not actively participating. However, he must honor God above man. If he believes he cannot do so at your Methodist church, should you compel him to sin against his conscience?

Finally, I pray that you try to see that the things of the Church are beyond cultural relevance — indeed, often counter-cultural. Many times our ideas of niceness, fairness, and equality run contrary to God’s Word and His order of creation. When this happens, we need divine help to move beyond our own desires and follow God’s will.

Addendum: See also the later post, Women Pastors: Yes or No?

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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