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Her name was Doris.  Each week she was an anchor in the Tuesday morning women’s Bible study.  After study was over, and a lunch, she would take one or two and sometimes three of the other women and visit Swedish Hospital in the neighboring suburb. Checking the patient list – this was before HIPPA – she would spot all the Lutherans, and rounds would begin. Occasionally she even would find one of our members who was hospitalized but, as Doris put it, “failed to report in.”  There would be cheery talk, then a Scripture reading and a prayer. And if there weren’t enough Lutherans that week, the day would include contact with non-members or following up on a suggestion by the hospital chaplain. I would hear the results and I passed them on to the Elders.  A number of times I received phone calls from non-members who expressed deep appreciation for the spiritual support they received from Doris and company.

Then, at one of their meetings, one of the Elders suggested, “Why don’t we ask her to come to our meetings and report to us?”  Okay, and Doris came.  Months later the same Elder said, “Doris does good stuff. Why don’t we make her an Elder?”

Ooops!  My Missouri Synod bones shook.  I said I would look at the issue.  So I sat down to prepare a brief six or seven page paper.  I read again the New Testament passages usually quoted in the discussion. I found a paper by Harry Coiner, one of my Seminary profs, titled “A Study of the Ordination of Women Issue.”  He raises the pertinent issues.  In my copy I have underlined the following several times: “…St. Paul speaks of the gifts of the Spirit given to individuals for the welfare of the collective church.  The purpose of the gifts with which God graces the church is to exalt Christ and build up the body of believers in faith and love.”  Doris incarnated this love, using gifts and sharing Christ.

Our constitution had been approved by the District Constitution Committee a number of years earlier without any gender designations or limitations for any congregational office or position. How does this apply to the issue of permitting Doris to become an Elder?  Our congregational president and Constitution Committee chair asked me to explore this. Conversations with the District followed.  My paper had grown to fifteen pages, and I shared this with the District President.  One of the Vice Presidents joined us at an Elders’ meeting. He pointed to a clause in Synod’s constitution that indicated once a constitution is approved by the District, the District could not require a retraction, although he did caution against “deviating from Synod’s accepted standard.”  From that meeting the Elders heard nothing which they felt refuted their question. They felt ministry was being done.

A number of years later I had a home communion scheduled with an elderly parishioner whose daughter was in town that day when an emergency arose which needed an immediate response. The Tuesday class was in session, so I asked Doris to meet me in the sanctuary, and I explained I would like her to make the communion call I had promised. I consecrated the elements, said a prayer, and sent Doris on her way. The next day she stopped in my office.  “I have never been so blessed,” she said, “as when I shared the Lord’s Supper with Marie and her daughter.” Her face glowed.  Doris herself now glows in the presence of her Lord in heaven.

It is to her and her Lord that these studies are dedicated.

In the introduction to the original paper submitted in 1999 to the CTCR I wrote:

I now circulate this paper to address the biblical issues and to seek discussion and response.  This essay is a dialogue with the document, “Women in the Church: Scriptural Principles and Ecclesial Practice,” prepared by Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and released in September, 1985.  I render this in accordance with Bylaw 2.39c of the Handbook of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod 1995 Edition.  The bylaw indicates that in matters of “a doctrinal nature, dissent is to be expressed first within the fellowship of peers, then brought to the attention of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations….”  Therefore I submit this to my “fellowship of peers,” seeking discussion and input.

This paper has been shared with the president of the Rocky Mountain District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Rev. Roger Krause, and he is aware of the process I am following.

In the Synod we commit ourselves to “walk together.”  We accept without reservation the “Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and practice” (Article II Confession).  “Walking together” begins with being “together in the Word” (“No resolution of Synod is binding if it is not in accordance with the Word of God…[Italics added]” (Article VII Relation of the Synod to Its Members).

The covenant of “walking together” does not preclude or prevent or curb examining the resolutions and positions of Synod on the basis of the written Word.  Indeed, faithfully “walking together” drives us deeper into the Word and expands our collective discussions based on the Word.  We begin neither with church fathers and Lutheran patriarchs, nor do we limit the basis of our discussions to them.  Synod’s history supports this.

The careful reader will note some inconsistencies, a lack of overarching cohesion in argumentation.  The operative word is “resources.”  Study, choose, make your own decision letting the Spirit guide.  The Commission on Theology and Church Relation’s document is, after all, only one human construct among many.  The arguments and points of view herein will not necessarily convince, but in the least this paper ought to suggest that the Commission on Theology and Church Relations has not completed its exegetical homework.  The question of our understanding of how God also equips and employs and empowers women for ministry within the community of faith is still open for discussion on the basis of the written Word of God.

And we must remember that this discussion is not about “women’s issues” or “women’s problems.”  This description points a finger of blame.  Rather, the discussion is about our inadequate and incomplete understanding of God’s will for all his people, an understanding that will only be opened up on the basis of the continuing study of the written Word and Will of God.  The Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church today through the written Scriptures.

Arnold J. Voigt

October 1999

P.S.  [……]  The symbol introduces usually a quotation from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations’ document “Women in the Church: Scriptural Principles and Ecclesial Practice” (September 1985) (herein abbreviated as CTCR-WIC).  Sometimes introduces a quotation from other sources within Synod which address the question of women’s roles.  All sources as such are identified.  These quotations are then followed by response and commentary.  I have drawn liberally from many scholars and do not claim origin of authorship or ideas.