Thursday, April 27, 2006

Lutherans ask "The Women Question"

Over at “Always Yes”, Tom Pietsch has posed a question that deserves an answer:

“The very idea of a few hundred Australian [Lutheran] delegates voting in a Toowoomba auditorium on whether the Bride of Christ has been sexist for its two thousand year history does seem a tad rich. But one does sense that the Holy Spirit is moving the LCA toward a greater fidelity to that Word whose beauty is ever ancient ever new. Ecclesiology aside, it is worth noting the fidelity of a people who will most likely decline again the offer to ordain women, instead declaring their allegiance to the Church of the departed saints. I wonder whether even the Catholic Church could manage such a popular outcome. But maybe that’s just gossip..”

The answer is, I think, no. A popular vote among Australian Catholics today would produce a landslide in favour of women's ordination. I have two observations to make in this regard:

1) Australian Catholics (probably most Catholics) are not as well catechised as Australian Lutherans, and therefore do not understand the issues so well. They would tend to make their judgement on sociological grounds rather than from a knowledge of the Word of God (in both Scripture and Tradition);

2) It somewhat depends on who these "Catholics" are. If you define as a Catholic someone who has been baptised as one (which the Church does), then you would get a quite different result from the one you would get if you selected only confirmed, catechised, weekly mass and regular confession attending Catholics who consent to the doctrines of the Catholic Church and spend a great deal of time in prayer and studying God's Word (as it is conveyed in tradition and scripture).

3) The Church doesn't believe that doctrine is something for anything but an ecumenical council (made up of all the validly ordained bishops in the world who are in communion with the See of Peter, ie. the Magisterium) to vote on—and even then, they can’t invent a new doctrine but are restrained by the Word of God (which, as I think I mentioned, is both Scripture and the way in which the Apostolic Witness has been traditioned over time.)

Sorry, did I say "two observations"? Well, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition…

The questions that Tom asks about the authority of localised synods (be they of laity, of sectarian groups, or of validly ordained bishops), and about subsequent syonds voting against earlier ones, are important. Apart from the logical inconsistencies of a Synod voting against its own prior resolutions (which would seem to undermine its authority to make any sort of declarative pronouncement on doctrine at all), the fact is that a local Church can never act in a way that is opposed to the Universal Church without bringing into question the matter of communion between the local and Universal Church. Cf. The Anglican situation.

If you want to stay a sane Lutheran, Tom, don’t ask these questions. You will either become an insane Lutheran or a sane…

As an interesting sideline, in Terry Pratchett’s 31st Discworld Novel “The Monstrous Regiment”, the scriptures of the local god Nuggan are kept in a ring binder so that bits can be added and deleted on the whim of Nuggan, who issues daily bulletins as to what is or is not to be considered “an abomination unto Nuggan”. Not surprisingly, after a while, Nuggan’s adherents begin to suspect that their god is completely mad.

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