Statement presented to my Church Council (Thursday 17, August, 2000)

Authority in the Lutheran Church of Australia

The Lutheran Church of Australia confesses that “we accept, without reservation, the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as a whole and in all their parts, as the divinely inspired, written, and inerrant word of God, and as the only infallible source and norm for all matters of faith, doctrine, and life.”

The Lutheran church accepts the confessions of the Lutheran Church, “without reservation, as true expositions of the word of God”.

The Lutheran Church, along with the church of all ages, regards the authoritative interpretation of God’s Word as belonging by divine right to the authority of the office of the ministry:

AC XXVIII; 21-26 “According to divine right, therefore, it is the office of the bishop to preach the Gospel, forgive sins, judge doctrine and condemn doctrine that is contrary to the Gospel, and exclude from the Christian community the ungodly whose wicked conduct is manifest. All this is to be done not by human power but by God's Word alone. On this account parish ministers and churches are bound to be obedient to the bishops according to the saying of Christ in Luke 10:16, "He who hears you hears me." On the other hand, if they teach, introduce, or institute anything contrary to the Gospel, we have God's command not to be obedient in such cases, for Christ says in Matt. 7:15, "Beware of false prophets." St. Paul also writes in Gal. 1:8, "Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed," and in 2 Cor. 13:8, "We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth." Again Paul refers to "the authority which the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down."
The doctrine of the Lutheran Church of Australia, and all practices that follow from it, was determined at its inception by the “Theses of Agreement”, which were accepted by the Synods of the UELCA and ELCA. The constitution of the LCA requires a two thirds majority of Synod to change this doctrine, or any practice that follows from it.

The unwritten rule, set by precedent in the LCA on the basis of AC XXVIII, is that no doctrinal issue shall discussed or voted on at Synod that has not been previously discussed by and recommended to the Synod by the Pastors Conference.

The Lutheran Church of Australia does not teach that the authority of the office of the ministry is derived from the priesthood of all believers, but directly from the mandate of Christ.

In the same way, it has been accepted that the Pastors Conference does not receive its authority from the Synod, but from Christ by virtue of his institution of the office of the ministry.

This Synod and Pastors Conference has called into question key elements of this balance of authority in the LCA.
The issue of the ordination of women is one that requires an interpretation of scripture. Since scripture alone is recognised by the LCA as the only infallible source and norm of all doctrine in the church, this has created a crisis in our understanding of the authority of scripture in the church. (ie. how can it be the only source and norm of our doctrine, when we are using other means to interpret it? does this not mean that we are in fact seeking an authority higher than scripture itself, on which we can depend for this interpretation?)

Synod took upon itself the role as interpreter of God’s word and judge of true and false doctrine by voting on the matter of ordination of women. Since Synod is clearly without a divine mandate to interpret and judge God’s word, this has created a crisis in our understanding of the authority of the Synod. (What is the Synod’s source of authority? Who authorised it? Can Synod authorise itself?)

Synod voted on an issue that had been rejected by the vote of Pastors Conference. This has created a crisis in our understanding of the relationship between Pastors Conference and Synod.

A majority of the Synod voted for the ordination of women, although not enough to change the practice of the church. This has created a crisis in our understanding of the authority of the constitution: how many need to vote for something before we can say that it is truly God’s will?

The vote at Pastors Conference was against the ordination of women, but only by three votes. Since the Pastors Conference is the one body in the church that could, by virtue of the office of the ministry, claim a divine mandate as interpreter and judge of doctrine, this has created a crisis in our understanding of the authority of Pastors Conference in the LCA. (Moreover, other questions have been raised: such as the inclusion of retired pastors (which has never been questioned before). And a majority of pastors in the Pastors Conference itself directly repudiated any notion that the Pastors Conference may act as an authority in interpreting the word--”send it to the people” was the cry)

Moreover, all other authoritive bodies in the church have been shown to be helpless in deciding this issue, be it Commision on Theology, General President, College of Presidents, or General Church Council (which will now decide future action).

Personal Questions:

Can a democratic vote “of the people” ever determine what is the true will of God?

How can the church today reach an authoritative interpretation of the bible?

What is it that makes our confessions “true”? Does “true” mean the same as “infallible”? What gives the writers of the confessions (eg. Luther and Melanchthon) an infallibility that the Lutheran Church denies to anything or anyone other than the scriptures?

How and from whom does the Synod of the LCA receive its authority to teach on matters of doctrine?

How and from whom does the Synod of the LCA receive its authority to authorise the ordination of anyone? [I have been taught that Christ authorises me to serve as an ordained servant of the word through the call of the Lutheran Church of Australia. Presumably this means that it is the Synod that authorised me. Who authorised the Synod of the LCA?]

When I preach, I am required to preach the “truth”. Who decides the “truth”? Me? Synod? Pastors Conference? Dare I preach as God’s Word what is simply my opinion/interpretation? Dare I preach as God’s word what is simply the opinion/interpretation of two thirds of the delegates to Synod?

Pastors (and all Christians) should stand “beneath” the word, as its obedient recipients, not “above” the word as its critics and judges. Yet am I not required to do the latter, in so far as I, as an exegete, am trying to determine the “true meaning” of scripture? (eg. law forbidding divorce).

I have been told that “we cannot ever know for certain what God’s will is, and must simply rely on God’s grace, doing what seems best to us.” Would Christ really have sent out his apostles “to make disciples of all nations by baptising and teaching” without giving them some means by which they could know for certain what they were to teach?

I have been told that the Church has made mistakes in the past. The failure to recognise that it is God’s will that the church ordain women is just one of them. If this is so, could the church not have erred (eg.) in regard to the doctrine of the two natures of Christ? or the Trinity? or salvation by faith? or the exact extent of canon of scriptures? If the church has no way of infallibly knowing the will of God, then how can we trust that we have not long ago gone way of the rails and that we are indeed following God’s will at all any more?

In essence, whenever anyone recognises a crisis of authority one is simultaneously faced with a crisis of faith. How can I believe if I do not know what to believe?

Monday, 21 August, 2000

I should have written in this journal a week ago. This has been a busy week with regard to my “conversion”, and I only hope that I can remember it all.

Last Monday, Cathy’s parents came to tea, and I took the opportunity to tell them of my decision. It wasn’t easy, but Cathy had said that her mother was asking if everything was alright now (the District President had told her that he was almost in daily contact with me, which was a bit of an exageration). When I finally did find the courage to tell them, and to tell them why, my mother-in-law's first reaction was sheer horror--not at what this might mean personally for Cathy, Maddy and I, but at the dogmatic question of authority.

“But they’re only men!” she repeated, again and again, in horror.

When I outlined the need I had personally to be able to know what it was I should believe in, ie. what the will of God is for his church, she responded: “But we can never know, that’s just it. We do what seems best to us and trust in God that we are going the right way.” If that is true, I said, then the only alternative for me would be atheism (at this point, my father-in-law pointed to himself, indicating that this was his chosen option!).

The choice for me was as clear as that: Catholicism or atheism. I had to raise the personal aspect (my mother-in-law seemed not to be able to get over her horror at the idea of me accepting the Catholic faith). I reassured her that this did not mean that I was leaving Cathy and Maddy, and told them about my efforts towards my annulment. Unfortunately, I had to leave early in this discussion for a meeting down at Casey, but it was a little more traumatic than I had expected.

Interesting to compare it to my own parents' reaction when I stopped in Pinnaroo on my way home from Synod. Mum had said “I always believed that there was right and wrong in the church, and that the pastors were supposed to be trained to follow and teach according to the rules, I just wish you didn’t have to become Catholic.” She and Dad, at least, could understand what my need for certain authority was. I don’t think that my mother-in-law could.

I commented about this to Cathy the next day, and we considered how much we have actually received from our parents of our understanding of faith.

The next day was Zone Pastors’ Conference. The District President attended, but spent most of the time he was there discussing the Eucharistic Hospitality issue. He went to great pains to show how carefully this would be applied, and all the hoops that would be necessary before jumping through them. I must say I felt a bit cynical, and commented afterwards that while I could imagine him and the Anglican Bishop of Ballarat being scrupulous in this regard, I could not imagine the other Lutheran presidents and (say) some Uniting Church moderators being so careful about the interpretation of the rule.

During the lunch break, I took up a discusion with Pastor DB. He had suggested that the Heidelberg Disputation be the topic of consideration next time, in particular the distinction between the theology of the cross and a theology of glory. I took up with him an issue that had been bothering me. Was it a theology of glory to desire a clear and certain line of authority in the church, whereby God’s word could be clearly and infallibly known? The answer, in his opinion, was “no”, since it was still required that such authoritative statements be received in faith; and that such authority was still excercised by sinful men (shades of my mother-in-law's objection?), under whom the authority of the church was still “hidden” rather than “manifest”. This was a good answer, it seemed to me.

Then we had the discussion regarding Synod. Pastors HP and GW tried to defend the Synod, and wondered why the two sides of the issue must be church divisive. We talked about the crisis of Authority in the church (some are still closing there eyes to this, but most now recognise it). And I asked a question, saying: “If anyone has an answer to this, they may have the power of changing my life. What authority does Synod have to determine the will of God, and where does it get its authority from?”. HP answered “Synod authorises Synod”, which was exactly the answer I had suspected, but did not want to hear. Pastor SP disappointed me in saying “What do we do when we no longer have a clear authority in the church? We just act--we sin ‘boldly and even more boldly believe in Christ’--and we trust in God’s grace.” This seemed to be my mother-in-law's model for ecclesiology, but I am not sure SP actually believes it.

Then after this rather disatisfying episode, I had an hour before meeting Cathy at Wattle Park Clinic for a pregancy checkup, so I went down to the District President in his office and told him that I was back at square one again, that I was applying for the annulment, and that I was hanging on by my fingernails to my faith as a Lutheran. I told him that I would be taking steps along the way to develop a process whereby I could be received into the Catholic Church--not that I had yet decided to (little white lie, there), but that I wanted all extraneous material out of the way so I could make my decision. He told me that he not only had the three of us (or four, including Marco) with a foot in Rome, but he was also facing five pastors in the Western districts and seven congregations who were threatening to leave the LCA. He says he is going to make a statement at the October Pastors’ Conferance. He also outlined his plan for working with the issue of Women’s Ordination--he wants to see that it never comes back to a Synod again unless the Pastors Conference is agreed on the matter.

To that end, I applied myself to preparing a document for my elders, with whom I am meeting this Thursday. After trying to explain issues to my Church Council on Thursday night, I decided that I needed to put some things down on paper--not hinting at my “Catholic solution”, but outlining the reasons for suspecting a crisis of authority in the church following this Synod. I sent copies to a large number of the brethren, and am surprised to see that it has sparked quite a healthy debate regarding church polity and authority and the legality of the debate at Synod etc.

I have also put in a lot of effort into writing my written statement for my annulment application. I have complete this today--it is a full 10 pages, but I am quite happy with it. I have offered it to Cathy to read, and she has said that she is interested, if I am willing to share it. I am nominating my oldest and closest friends, Pastor A., Pastor D. and his wife, G. and Pastor T (who was my pastor and celebrant at my first marriage) as witnesses. I have written a letter to T., which I will send soon, and I called D.'s wife on her mobile (D. in the United States)--and got her in Rundle Mall outside Myers! She is staying with her parents there in Adelaide. I asked her to be a witness also, because she knew both me and my first wife, and is not another “Rev.” on the list.

I rang the Tribunal and asked to speak to Fr Tony Kerin, the priest I saw the first time around. Unfortunately, I had to deal with the assistant, and she was very brusque, saying that I did not need another appointment, but just send the document in. I said I wanted to talk to Father Kerin about getting a dissolution for Cathy, since her first husband was not baptised. She said that Cathy had to come in and make an application for that herself. I tried to explain the situation, that I wanted to know what the process would be, but she was very adamant that I was not going to get an appointment to see Tony. So I have included a request in this regard in my covering letter to accompany the application.

The road ahead is still very long and winding. I can see the goal, but not how to get there. I have come to realise that it may be as much as two years before I can make the change (given that the annulment application itself may take 18 months). In fact, it is probably better that it does take this long, when I consider the fact that I am financially committed to paying of my car (still owing $11,000) and that I have 11 weeks of long service leave due to me in Nov 2002. Mum and Dad rang me on Sunday (they are travelling in outback WA at the moment) and wanted to know if I was still in the Lutheran Church. I said that it was likely to be a long drawn out process, so not to worry for some time yet.

I am reading an excellent book from P. (my source of all books Catholic--I accused him of being a “voyeur” the other day, with his room full of “pornography”--ie. he was looking lustfully from the outside without intention to enter into the committment, and meanwhile filling his shelves with books of Catholic theology!). This one is called “The Church and the Culture War” by Joyce Little, a Catholic female theologian. It is sheer brilliance, and, next to Ratzinger’s “Called to Communion”, is the one thing I have read in the last six months that has most made me want to affirm the Catholic faith.

Monday, 14th August, 2000

The last two weeks have been hard. They have been filled with dialogue via email with a number of fellow pastors in the LCA--two who know my decision and three who do not. I have been watching the LCAi discussion list on the net again, and there is nothing that gives me joy.

Main events in the last fortnight was meeting meeting on Friday night a week ago with the elder who wants an elders meeting to discuss what is on my mind. He wanted the meeting before I went away, but we could not find the time. I had to drop in to see him about something else, so I got onto telling him my fears about our Synodical process as a means of doctrinal teaching. He concurred with my conclusions for the most part, and although I did not tell him what my final conclusion was, I think he knows. He said that I have three choices: either I get out, or I put blinkers on, or I try to change to system. Neither of us could accept the second solution, and I told him that I did not think it was possible to change the system; that leaves “get out”. We didn’t go into that, but I think he knows what my choice would be. He himself converted from RC to Lutheran--not because he was ever disloyal to the Catholic Church, but rather because pre-marriage discussions with his wife led him to believe that being Lutheran was better.

Then last Friday night, P. invited me around for a drink after the Ministry to Adolescents Program (Confirmation lessons) and we talked about the reactions of a few of the pastors of the LCA. We also had look at the Apology to the Augsburg Confession articles VII and VIII and concluded that it was a very thin and inadequate ecclesiology.

I have felt quite despondent in the last few weeks. Above all, to be able to do this job, you have to believe in it.

Monday, 31st July, 2000

[Not recorded here is the fact that on the way home from Synod, I stayed with my parents again in Pinnaroo, and told them that it was now only a question of time before I left the Lutheran Church. - David 11/12/06]

I am in very low spirits at the moment. I woke up in a cold sweat at about 2am on Saturday morning (now at home) after having had a dream argument with the LCA General President that reached passionate hieghts. I remember the final words: “But don’t you see that that will be the end of the church!?” I have no idea what the issue was that I was so passionate about! Then last night I dreamed about the eucharistic hospitality issue. This is obviously weighing heavily on my mind!

I told Cathy this morning that I have no further desire to remain in the LCA. I am going ahead with the anullment, and then going from there. She took it calmly enough. I think she expected it.

I have been corresponding all day with other pastors who were at the Synod. And I have corresponded further with Fr John Fleming.

The three of us (P., Peter and I) are meeting on Wednesday to “debrief”.

One of my elders wants an elders meeting to discuss whatever it was on my mind last time we met. I don’t know how to tell them, or if I will, but I do think that we must address the consequences of Synod.