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?

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