Australian Pastors Conference rejects draft doctrinal statement on women’s ordination

AUSTRALIA – The General Pastor’s Conference of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has rejected a draft doctrinal statement calling for the ordination of women by a vote of 119 to 96 (and one informal vote). Despite disagreement on the subject, debate was reportedly marked by a spirit of calm and gentleness. The conference was held July 10-12, 2018 in Hahndorf, South Australia,

The draft document—entitled “A Theological Basis for the Ordination of Women and Men”—was created in response to a resolution of the LCA’s 2015 General Convention of Synod. That resolution called on the church’s Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations to develop draft doctrinal statements for the church’s 2018 convention providing a theological basis for the ordination of women, as well as a theological basis for why the ordination of women need not be church divisive. The resolution came after an earlier vote to approve women’s ordination at the 2015 convention narrowly failed to receive the 2/3 majority it required to pass.

The decision of the 2018 General Pastor’s Conference to reject the draft doctrinal statement may impact the LCA’s upcoming General Convention of Synod, which is expected to vote again on the ordination of women when it meets October 2-7, 2018 in Rosehill Gardens, New South Wales. The LCA’s bylaws note that the pastor’s conference is tasked with giving “guidance in matters of doctrine and confession” to the wider church. To that end, the General Pastor’s Conference is called specifically to “consider those questions, issues and statements of a theological and confessional nature which appear on the agenda of the Convention of the General Synod,” and “voice its opinion with regard to the advisability or non-advisability of dealing with any such question or issue or of adopting a particular statement.”

The question of women’s ordination has been a longstanding subject of disagreement in the LCA. In addition to considering the matter at its 2015 General Convention of Synod, the church also addressed the subject in 2000 and 2006.

The LCA is an associate member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). The ILC does not accept the ordination of women, but it has pledged in the past to remember the Lutheran Church of Australia in prayer as it wrestles with this difficult subject—a pledge that continues to remain true.

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Latvian Lutherans reinstate male-only clergy

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The 2016 Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia meets in the Cathedral of Riga. Photo via the ELCL.

LATVIA – On June 3, 2016, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas Evaņģēliski luteriskā baznīca – ELCL) officially adopted a policy allowing only males to be ordained as clergy. The decision came during a meeting of the church’s Synod held in the Cathedral of Riga from June 3-4, with the vast majority—77.3%—of those present voting to amend the church’s constitution in favour of returning to the historic practice of the Christian church.

Questions over the ordination of women have been an issue of concern in the ELCL for several decades. Archbishop Janis Vanags and the ELCL’s bishops ceased ordaining women in 1993, but the change in practice was never made official church policy until the 2016 Synod.

“We are an apostolic church, as confessed in the Creed,” explained one lay participant, speaking in favour of the change prior to the vote. “The apostles are our teachers, not the spirit of our time. I will vote in favour of the amendment.”

The change is expected to have a significant impact on the Latvian church’s ecumenical relationships. In advance of the synod, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKiD) had warned that a return to a male-only clergy would force a change in church relations between the EKiD and the ELCL. Delegates from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) had likewise met with ELCL officials in advance of the Synod to discourage the church from changing its constitution. The LWF has since expressed its disapproval of the Latvian church’s decision. Questions about the ELCL’s relationship with the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad, which is led by a female archbishop, have also been raised.

Archbishop Vanags addressed the Synod about these concerns, noting that the decision brings the ELCL closer to a number of other Lutheran churches that do not ordain women. In particular, he noted the need for the ELCL to draw closer to the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and its member churches, including The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). The ILC’s member churches do not ordain women. Archbishop Vanags and several other bishops indicated a desire to meet with LCMS in the near future to discuss areas where the two church bodies may continue to walk together and proclaim the Gospel as partner churches.

In other business, the Synod adopted a new strategy plan for the next four years and elected a new bishop, Hanss Jensons, for the Liepajas diocese. A provision to allow for the formation of monasteries and convents, at the approval of the College of Bishops, was also adopted.

With nearly 300 congregations, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia is the nation’s largest church. Approximately 700,000 Latvians identify as Lutheran, of which approximately 43,000 are active participants in the life of the church. The ELCL is a member church of the Lutheran World Federation. While not a member of the ILC, the ELCL is in fellowship with one of its member churches: the LCMS. It also holds close ties to the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) of Germany, another member church of the ILC.

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Vote to introduce female ordination fails among Polish Lutherans

luteranie-plPOLAND – The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland (ECACP – Kościół Ewangelicko-Augsburski w Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej) has rejected opening ordination to women, after a vote on the issue was defeated during the 2016 Spring Synod of the Church in Warsaw.

In total, 38 people voted in favour of the change and 26 voted against it, with four abstentions. According to the church’s bylaws, altering this aspect of church teaching in the Polish church would have required a 2/3 majority vote—a target missed by eight votes.

The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland notes that the discussion of female ordination has a long history in their church, going back more than seven decades. In 2008, the ECACP’s Commission on Theology and Confession reported its opinion that there were no theological objections to introducing female ordination in the ECACP. Despite their finding, female ordination has not been adopted by the Polish church. Women have been able to serve in the office of deacon in the church since 1999.

The question of opening pastoral ordination to women had been raised in the Autumn 2015 Synod of the Church by Bishop Jerzy Samiec, head of the ECACP. He announced his intention to open discussion of the topic during a conference in Warsaw discussing the Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) Gender Justice Policy.

With approximately 60,000 members, the ECACP is Poland’s largest Protestant church in a predominantly Roman Catholic country. Prior to Communist oppression following World War II, the church counted a membership of approximately one million members.

The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland is a member church of the LWF, though it also has ties to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, a member church of the International Lutheran Council. Churches in the ILC do not ordain women.

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Lutheran Church of Australia grapples with women’s ordination; ILC pledges prayers, encourages unity

LCA-logo-webAUSTRALIA – The Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has announced its 2015 General Convention, to be held September 29 to October 4 in Rochedale, Queensland.

As has been the case at a number of recent LCA gatherings, the question of women’s ordination is expected to be a major concern. The LCA has twice voted in the past to decline the ordination of women, but another vote at this year’s convention is widely anticipated.

“Decades of debate have resulted in an apparent stalemate, with neither side willing to cede,” LCA Bishop John Henderson has written in anticipation of this year’s convention. But he hopes that a healthy dialogue between delegates may allow the church to finally reach “some agreement on what might happen next,” even if “a final resolution” remains elusive.

Bishop Henderson has suggested elsewhere that “some people are saying that whichever way Synod votes on the ordination question, some people—or even entire congregations or groups within congregations—will leave on the grounds of conscience.” He encourages the church to nevertheless be “confident of God’s blessing as we allow the love of Christ to guide our actions.”

The topic of women’s ordination was previously discussed at the LCA’s General Pastors Conference, held July 7-9, 2015 in Hahndorf. At that time, the pastors took no action to recommend a change to the LCA’s doctrines and policies regarding ordination.

The ILC pledges prayer

Email-Branding-for-feedburnerIn response to an invitation from Bishop Henderson, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) has committed to praying for the Lutheran Church of Australia as it wrestles with these issues. “We are keenly aware that this is no routine gathering, and that Bishop John’s plea for the prayer support of oversees partners is not an empty formality” the Executive Council writes in a newly released open letter to the Lutherans of Australia and New Zealand. “We wish you to know that we implore the Lord to guide your convention as the ancients prayed: ‘Come, Holy Spirit.’”

The ILC’s letter further encourages the LCA to hold fast to historic Christian teaching on ordination. “It is no secret that the churches of the International Lutheran Council are convinced that historic Christian and apostolic teaching and practice on these matters represent God’s own revealed truth,” they write. “The Lord knows how we deeply treasure the unity He has given us together with you, and the many contributions you have made to our fellowship. We sincerely hope that He may give you endurance to continue bearing the tensions that come with confessing Christ in this challenging time, to refrain from making new decisions in the matter of ordination, and to stand fast in the unity of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

Download the full letter here.

The Lutheran Church of Australia has approximately 60,000 members throughout Australia and New Zealand. It holds associate membership both in the ILC as well as in the Lutheran World Federation.

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