Questions and Answers

Below are some Q and As that Dr. Kleinig has prepared for a variety of audiences. Some relate to the ordination of women, and other to liturgical questions. They are presented here in no particular order.


Is the Ordination of Women an Adiaphoron? 

The debate in the LCA about whether women may be pastors hinges on whether that is permitted in the New Testament. The question is whether the ordination of women is an adiaphoron or not.

What Christ and his apostles allow to be done is called an adiaphoron. That technical liturgical term comes from the Formula of Concord, Article 10, on “Ecclesiastical Practices That Are Called Adiaphora or Indifferent Things.” There adiaphora are defined as “ceremonies and ecclesiastical practices that are neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word”. Thus we do not decide whether to celebrate the Lord’s Supper or not. It is not an adiaphoron, because it has been commanded by Christ. But we may use musical instruments to accompany our songs even though we have not been instructed to do so. That is an adiaphoron. Thus what God has given for us to do in the divine service is distinguished from what we decide to do there. Whatever He institutes by His word He empowers by his Holy Spirit. If a practice is not instituted by God or consistent with His Word, we cannot be sure that it pleases Him, nor can we be certain that Holy Spirit is at work in it.

A key issue for us as Lutherans has been the teaching that by His Word the triune God has not only instituted the preaching of the gospel and the enactment of baptism and Holy Communion in the divine service but also the office of ministry for their right administration in the church. Those divinely instituted things provide what is absolutely essential to our worship. Wherever they are faithfully done we can be sure that the triune God delivers His blessings to us. Wherever they are replaced by what God has not commanded we cannot be sure that we receive His good gifts.  

Both sides in the debate agree that Christ has instituted the ministry of the gospel. They also agree that He appointed men to that ministry, beginning with the apostles and continuing with their successors in ministry. But they disagree on whether he now too appoints women to serve as pastors.

On the one hand, those who oppose the ordination of women argue that this is not an adiaphoron, an open question, since it is forbidden by the Lord Jesus and his apostles in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38 and I Timothy 2:11-14. It is therefore not a matter for the church to determine as it seems best in a particular time and place. It has been decided by Christ; it is his command (1 Cor 14:37). That settles the matter. No compromises can be made on that issue without disobeying Christ’s command and so violating the conscience. The conscience of God’s people is bound by that command.

On the other hand, those who advocate the ordination of women argue that it is an adiaphoron, something permitted by God, something that has not been forbidden or only temporally forbidden in those two passages. Yet that clearly contradicts what is said in them, since Paul claims that “it is not permitted for them (women) to speak” (1 Cor 14:34) and adds: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12). What’s more, even if those texts did not forbid the ordination of women, there are no texts that actually instruct the church to ordain women. That is what would be needed to trump the traditional teaching and ecumenical practice of the whole church on this until modern times. An uncertain and disputed teaching based on human authority cannot provide a certain foundation for such a radical change. Without a certain scriptural foundation, a clear divine mandate, we could never be sure that God was pleased with the ministry of women as pastors in the LCA. We, therefore, like the man in Matthew 7:24-27 who built his house on a rock, would be wise to base our teaching and practice on Christ’s word rather than our own opinions.

Why has the LCA changed the wording of the Nicene Creed from "I" to "We" and "Christian" to "Catholic"?

Prepared for the Commission on Worship by John Kleinig Date: August 2006

The Nicene Creed does not belong to the Lutheran church. The Apostles Creed is the baptismal creed used only in those western Christian churches that have developed from the Roman Catholic Church, but the Nicene Creed is the creed that is shared by all orthodox Christians. It was drawn up as summary of the apostolic faith in the face of challenges similar to the church today and adopted in the great councils of Nicea and Chalcedon. In that sense it is ecumenical. If you wish to establish whether a church body or person holds the Christian faith as taught by the apostles and the Early Church, you need to discover if they are baptised and whether they believe and confess that creed. Any one who rejects any part of that creed does not belong to the 'one holy catholic and apostolic Church'. They belong to a sect instead. Thus this creed is not the property of a particular denomination; it is the property of all the orthodox churches in Christendom. It maps out the boundaries to the church. It confesses the faith that is shared by all orthodox Christians. It is our 'common faith' (see Titus 1:4), the faith that you and I and all true believers have in common. It is therefore used at Holy Communion, for through Christ's body and blood all true believers are there united as one body in Christ. So while each person confesses the faith personally with the Apostles Creed at baptism, we confess our common faith as we celebrate the Lord's supper.

Our previous translation of the Nicene Creed was not used by all liturgical churches in the English-speaking world. The new translation of the Nicene Creed was meant to replace an older Anglican translation (in which we changed catholic to Christian). It was officially adopted by the LCA at our 1997 convention at Croydon. It had been drawn up by international representatives from the main English-speaking churches. We were involved in the Australian side of this process. All the main Christian denominations agreed that, since this creed expressed our common faith, we needed to have a common translation of it from the original Greek text that could be used to defend the faith from attack by modern heretics. There was, as might be expected, much debate in our church over many of the points of translation. In the end, however, it was decided that they were not substantial enough to warrant the rejection of this translation.

The original Greek text of the creed has " We ", not " I ", and " catholic ", not " Christian ". First, there is the use of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. The theologians who formulated this creed did it in this form because it was meant express the basic content of the apostolic faith. It confesses our common faith in the Triune God, the foundation of our worship and life. It is, of course, true that we cannot see into the heart of another person and so judge whether that person is a true believer. The creed was not meant to do that. We can, however, judge whether what they believe is apostolic, scriptural, and therefore true. Paul himself tells us that we are to judge people by what they confess with their lips in Romans 10:8- 1 0 (see also 1 John 2:23 and 4:15 as well as the frequent use of "we" in that letter). We take people at their word. This is all very important for us as Lutherans. We are a confessional church linked together by the Lutheran confessions. Our unity is created by our common confession of faith. Our faith is always both personal and corporate. We speak together as a body of believers in the creed as well in our hymns and our liturgical texts. The 'we' that is used in our worship obviously excludes all those reject what we believe on the basis of the Holy Scriptures. The 'we' of the Nicene Creed includes all those who believe what it says, just as it excludes all who reject what it says.

The second change also expresses our solidarity with all other baptised believers. The people who formulated the creed quite deliberately rejected the use of the term 'Christian' because it did not convey exactly what they wanted to express. Then as now, many heretics, and the members of every sect, claimed to be Christian. This was true even for those who rejected the divinity of Christ and other foundational doctrines. In the Early Church (at about 90 AD) Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, invented and used the new Greek adjective "catholic" to describe those churches that were faithful to the whole teaching of the apostles. It meant that which was whole. The trouble, then as now, was that many so-called Christians taught only some parts of the Scriptures and the doctrine of the apostles. Their teaching was therefore Christian and apostolic, but partially and incompletely so. In contrast to these groups, the catholic church claimed to teach the whole faith, what St Paul calls "the whole counsel of God" in Acts 20:27. The "catholic faith" is therefore the whole faith taught and practised by all true pastors and bishops in all churches at all times and in all places for the whole of humanity. The problem is that, just as there was no Greek word for that idea, there is no modern English word which accurately expresses that reality. The translators of the Nicene Creed thought about translating it by "universal" but rejected it because Christianity is not a universal religion. So they stuck with the word "catholic" as the only term that represented this truth adequately in modern English.

The association of the word "catholic" in Australia with a particular denomination is no reason for us to reject it. In other parts of the world the term catholic is associated with what we call the Eastern Orthodox churches. Our own Augsburg Confession asserts that we Lutherans are no new church but belong to the catholic church. In fact, it argues that we Lutherans were more catholic that the Roman Catholics, because they were sectarian in their rejection of some aspects of apostolic teaching. In the same way all Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists claim to be catholic too. So too does the Uniting Church. We should not use that word to refer only to Roman Catholics, for we too belong to the catholic church. What's more, it does express what we have in common with these churches despite all our differences. We Lutherans are not a sect and should not act in a sectarian way. To put it another way, I am a Lutheran pastor with a passion for our Lutheran heritage because I believe, with all my heart, that it is catholic and therefore relevant to all Christians. We are catholic because we are hold the whole faith together with the apostles and all faithful people throughout the ages. 

Why do parents and congregation renounce the devil and confess faith in the triune God on behalf of a child in baptism?

Prepared for the Commission on Worship by John Kleinig Date: August 2006

The practice of renouncing the devil and confessing the Apostles Creed on behalf of a child rests on four foundations.

1. The confession of a common faith in the triune God is an essential part of baptism. On the one hand, baptism is performed ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matt 28:19). It is therefore the work of the triune God, his commitment to us. It is valid whether a person believes or not. On the other hand, only those baptised people who believe in Christ are saved (Mark 16:16). Faith receives what God gives to us in and through baptism. We must not, however, reduce the link between baptism and faith to a chronological sequence of events in a person’s life in one of two ways. We do not first have to believe and confess our faith in the triune God before we can receive baptism, for baptism lays the abiding foundation for the life of faith, just as the marriage ceremony provides the basis for confidence in one’s spouse and adoption provides the basis for trust in adoptive parents. Like a marriage or an adoption, our baptism is valid whether we believe in Christ or not. It is also true that we do not first have to be baptised before we can believe in Jesus as our Lord. Yet we do not receive the benefits of baptism apart from faith, just as married couples cannot enjoy the blessings of marriage if they mistrust each other. So the baptismal rite emphasises both these sides to baptism, God’s gracious commitment to us and our reception of him and his gifts in faith. Since everything cannot be done at once, the rite consists of a series of enactments that are not meant to be taken separately but all join together as part of a single event.

2. Since both infants and adults are in the same boat before God, spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1), unable to do anything to regenerate themselves, we have the same baptismal rite for both. Because we quite wrongly equate faith with knowledge and understanding, we think that it is easier for an adult to believe than a child. But that is not so. Jesus teaches that unless we all become as little children we will never enter God’s kingdom (Matt 18:2, 13-14; Mark 10:13-15; Luke 18:15-17). Before God we are all spiritual infants with nothing to give and everything to receive. So since apostolic times the church has always baptised infants as if they were adults and adults as if they were infants. This, traditionally, is why people did not bring themselves to baptism but had sponsors who spoke for them; they brought them to be baptised, presented them for baptism, and joined with them in renouncing the devil and confessing faith in the triune God. Like the friends of the crippled man who used their faith to bring him to Jesus (Mark 2:1-12), the congregation and the sponsors bring people who cannot walk in the way of the Lord to him in baptism for forgiveness and healing.

3. Socially, legally and spiritually children are under the headship of their parents. Parents speak and act on their behalf until they come of age. This, too, is so in Christian families. Parents and grandparents speak and act on their behalf until they become adults. Just as parents pray for their children, share the word of God with them, and bring them to church, they also can use their spiritual authority to confess the faith for them and renounce the devil for them.

4. While Christ deals with each of us personally, he does not regard us as isolated individuals but communally as members of families, as children of Adam and Eve, and as members of God’s family. This means that just as we all share in the same sin against God and were once all enslaved to the same devil, we have all been redeemed by the same Lord Jesus and given the same gift of faith by the Holy Spirit. We therefore confess a common faith in a common Lord (Eph 4:4-6; Tit 1:4). Just as we pray for others, we too confess that common faith on their behalf and so include them in the common confession of faith of the whole church. That’s what happens at every baptism. In love the congregation reaches out to the candidates for baptism and speaks for those who cannot yet speak for themselves. Yet this does not mean those who were once baptised as infants need not later on in life renounce the devil for themselves and make the Apostles Creed more and more their own confession of faith. That does not happen just once at first communion or at confirmation. It is a lifelong process of growth in faith as we are gradually drawn from our spiritual isolation into fuller union with Christ and each other.

Is the Tradition of Ordaining Men Only Based on Temporary, Local Prohibitions?

Prepared January 2014

Those who promote the ordination of women in the LCA quite commonly dismiss the prohibitions in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14, because they are held to apply only for a time and in a particular context. It is argued that women were not allowed to be pastors in the ancient world to avoid giving offense and thus hampering the spread of the gospel in what was, by and large, a patriarchal society. But that is no longer the case for us in the western world due to the cultural, social and political changes that have occurred. In fact, the opposite now applies. Those prohibitions have become an unnecessary obstacle to the mission of the church in the modern world. Since it is assumed that they do not apply to the church at all times and in all places, the LCA not only may ordain women but should actually do so.

Apart from its questionable assumptions about the ancient world and modern society and the strategy of Christ and his apostles in the early church, this superficially attractive justification does not square with the facts. In these two texts there are three remarks that show that these prohibitions do not just apply to ancient Corinth and ancient Ephesus.

First, in 1 Corinthians 14:33b Paul writes that the embargo on authorizing women to preach God’s word is not just for the congregation in Corinth but for ‘all the congregations of the saints.’  It is an ecumenical command that holds for all churches all over the world, because it had to do with the ongoing transmission of God’s word from the mother church in Jerusalem to Corinth and each new congregation on earth.

Second, the teaching of Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 is part of his written ‘charge’ to Timothy (1 Tim 1:18; see also 1:5), his brief on what Timothy is to implement within the church in Ephesus. That written charge, which goes from 2:1-3:16, includes the instruction that women are not to teach or exercise authority over a man. That charge does not just give him sound advice on how to best to proceed in dealing with a dysfunctional congregation; it actually tells what ‘must’ be done ‘in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and buttress of the truth’ (3:14). The instruction on women in ministry in 2:11-14 is therefore not just a local matter but something that applies to the whole church, the universal church in all times and in all places.

Third, after his claim in 1 Corinthians 14:37 that the decision to prohibit women to be preach God’s word to the congregation in the divine service was ‘a command of the Lord, he adds this warning in 14:38: ‘If anyone does not recognize this, he will not be recognized.’ He here addresses those who claim that they should be recognized as preachers because they are prophets or Spirit-filled people who speak in tongues. Now there is more to this warning than meets the eye. It has two sides to it. On the one hand, it decrees that those who do not recognize this as the teaching of Christ will not be recognized as preachers of God’s word by Paul and the congregation in Corinth. They will not be allowed to speak in the divine service. On the other hand, it also decrees that if they act as pastors, they will not be recognized by God Himself as speakers of His word either now or in the Last Judgment. Paul indicates this divine dimension by his use of the passive form of the verb to refer to what God will do at the end of the world. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, even though they will be saved on that day, their work, their ministry, will not pass the final assessment. This warning therefore shows that what Paul teaches applies for the whole history of the church.

Thus there is no warrant for assuming that the two passages which do not permit women to be pastors apply are temporary prohibitions. Rather they apply to the whole church for the whole of human history. 

Is the Ordination of Women Church Divisive?

The question of church divisiveness is raised in the Theses On Principles Governing Church Fellowship. They maintain that if a 'difference in teaching or practice is a departure from the doctrine of the Bible, such a difference cannot be tolerated, but must be pointed out as an error, on the basis of clear passages of Holy Writ; and if the error is persisted in, in spite of instruction, warning, and earnest witness, it must lead to a separation' (Theses of Agreement A1.4.(a).). While they hold that differences in doctrine and practice are church divisive, they also concede that any 'differences in exegesis that do not affect doctrine are not church divisive' (Theses of Agreement 1.4.(e)).

It is true that, politically and institutionally, the ordination of women need not necessarily be church divisive. That is not a matter of theology but of skilful leadership and the adroit exercise of authority by those who lead the church. However well the introduction of such a change is managed politically, it will not, and cannot, solve the far deeper theological and pastoral consequences of such a change.

The question of division arises in a number of different levels which can be distinguished and yet are all interrelated.

      1. Confessionally speaking, it is true that those who advocate the ordination of women are not heretics. They may teach false doctrine, but they do not deny the Triune God and so sever themselves from the body of Christ. They do not thereby deny the teaching of our Lutheran confessions, but they do reject the confessional basis of the LCA as contained in the TA. On this level such a move would be divisive, for it would separate those who are committed to this as the confessional and legal basis for the LCA and its ministry from those who had departed from it.
      2. Ecumenically, it would be divisive in two ways. It would separate the LCA from the church catholic and the orthodox tradition from the early church until modern times. We would therefore move away from those churches which adhered to that tradition and align ourselves with unorthodox Protestant groups. We would ourselves forfeit the right to be catholic and become a sect. We would, of course, thereby separate ourselves from those Lutheran and Protestant churches which continued to uphold the orthodox teaching on ministry and the catholic practice of it.
      3. It would inevitably lead to divisions within each congregation of the LCA. Every call meeting would lead to a battle between those who wanted to call a woman and those who did not. If a congregation did appoint a woman as a pastor, those who conscientiously rejected her authority would either have to leave or stay away from any services led by her. Every woman pastor would constantly face theological challenges to her authority  from her opponents and so need to justify her position in the congregation. She in turn would be unable to exercise proper pastoral authority to maintain the divine unity of the congregation.
      4. It would be liturgically and sacramentally divisive. Those who rejected the ordination of women would not in good conscience receive the sacrament from a woman pastor. They would therefore be excluded by the church from the sacrament and the fellowship created by participation in it. If they did receive the sacrament from her, they would do so with a bad or uneasy conscience, for they could not be sure that the sacrament was valid, since, for them, it  had not been administered as Christ had commanded. They would therefore be deprived of its comfort and subject to the accusation and condemnation of the evil one.
      5. It would be synodically divisive. If a woman became a president, all the pastors who opposed the ordination of women would either refuse to recognise her or leave that district. People who rejected the ordination of women could not participate in any synodical service where a woman was giving the absolution, preaching, or presiding at communion. It would lead to the withdrawal of congregations from synod and the establishment of independent congregations - perhaps even districts- opposed to this doctrine and practice.

 

Does it matter that only two passages in the New Testament forbid the ordination of women?

Prepared January 2014

One of the repeated objections to the traditional teaching that women are not to serve as pastors is that only two passages in the New Testament directly forbid this practice. That is true! They are 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14. Yet those two passages are backed up by Christ’s choice of men as apostles, the nomination of two ‘men” by the church in Jerusalem in Acts 1:21 as candidates to replace Judas, and tradition of the Early Church.

The argument from frequency of testimony itself is weak, for the truth of God’s teaching does not depend on how frequently that matter is mentioned in the New Testament. What matters is that an article of faith or a practice is taught by Christ and his apostles, not how often it is taught. It must also be consistent with what else is taught and not contradict any other clear article of faith.

If the church would refuse to accept a doctrine or practice that was not mentioned more than two times, it would have to call into question the following teachings and practices.

1. The following articles of faith from the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed would not pass the test.

      • Christ’s conception by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20; Luke 1:35)
      • Christ as one substance/one being with God the Father (Hebrews 1:3;  John 10:30?)
      • Christ’s descent into hell (1 Peter 3:19; Eph 4:7-10?)
      • Christ as the Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1)
      • The Holy Spirit as Lord (1 Cor 3:18)
      • The Holy Spirit as the Life Giver (John 6:63)
      • The procession of the Holy Spirit from God the Father (John 15:26)
      • Baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16)
 
2. The following liturgical practices could also be dismissed.
      • The teaching of one baptism rather than repeated washings in Ephesians 4:5
      • Christ’s command to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28:19
      • Christ’s command for the ongoing celebration of Holy Communion (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24-25)
      • Christ’s instruction to pray the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4)

While it is argued that only two NT passages forbid the ordination of women, there is not even one passage in the NT that actually authorises women to be pastors. Galatians 3:28 is the only text that has been used to support the case. Yet that verse does not speak about the ordained ministry but only about the unity of baptised women and men as co-heirs with Jesus in the family of God.

The ordination of women is part of the doctrine of the apostolic ministry of Christ, the ministry of word and sacrament. It is in itself not an article of faith but a practice that has been instituted by Christ and his apostles. As a practical matter it is remarkable that it is mentioned at all, let alone twice in two completely different contexts. Nevertheless the weight of these passages does not depend on their repetition but on the reasons given for their prohibition of women as pastors, the chief of which is that this is a command of Christ.

Should grape juice be used instead of wine in Holy Communion?

Prepared for the Commission on Worship by John Kleinig Date: August 2006

Some Protestant churches use grape juice instead of wine for Holy Communion. This practice has been adopted by some Lutheran congregations without much question. They seem to assume that it is better to use non-alcoholic grape juice rather than alcoholic wine.

Until modern methods of preserving grape juice without fermentation were invented, it was not possible to use anything except wine in the Lord's Supper. Grape juice would not keep unless it was fermented and contained some alcohol in it. So only wine was used. Alcoholics and people who were allergic to alcohol were permitted to receive the bread by itself without the wine. But since various ways were discovered to preserve grape juice without any alcohol, some churches, and that includes some Lutheran churches, have offered grape juice as an alternative to wine for people who were alcoholics or allergic to wine. The use of grape juice has always been regarded as a pastoral exception rather than normal practice.

Under the influence of Pietism, some Protestant churches have, over the last hundred years, used grape juice rather than wine in the Lord's Supper because they wanted to promote temperance in the use of alcohol, or because they believed that Christians should not use alcohol or any other drug. Some Christian groups even went so far as to claim that it was a sin to drink alcohol. The rejection of wine also came to be associated in some Protestant churches with adamant rejection of the real presence of Christ's blood in the sacrament. So even now, some churches refuse to use wine because they identify its use with the Roman Catholic teaching on the presence of Christ's body and blood in Holy Communion. They therefore use grape juice as an anti-Catholic gesture, a confessional statement about their rejection of the real presence. Since they believe that the purpose of the Lord's Supper is to remember Christ's death, it does not matter whether wine was used or not. For them the teaching that we actually drink Christ's blood is so offensive and abhorrent that it must be avoided at all costs.

The Lutheran Church uses wine rather than grape juice or other forms of non-alcoholic wine for four reasons.

1. In the ancient world all wine had to be fermented. It therefore contained alcohol. Otherwise it could not have been kept. The winemakers in ancient Israel did not have our modern methods of sterilisation, or refrigeration. So Jesus must have used alcoholic wine. Since he used wine, we too celebrate the sacrament with wine. We thereby obey his command that we do the same things that he did in remembrance of him. By his word he attaches the gift of his blood for the forgiveness of sins to the use of wine.

2. If we don't use wine, some people may doubt whether the sacrament is valid or not. So for the sake of conscience we insist that wine should normally used unless a person is an alcoholic or allergic to wine.

3. In our ecumenical context here in Australia the use of grape juice could easily be taken as a rejection of the real presence of Christ's blood. Since the churches that teach that we do not receive and drink Christ's blood in the sacrament also use grape juice to reinforce their teaching, the use of grape juice instead of wine could be taken as a rejection of our confession that we drink Christ's life-giving blood in the sacrament.

4. Practically speaking, the use of alcoholic wine minimises the possibility of cross- infection, because alcohol is such an efficient sterilising agent. It therefore also makes it possible for us to use the common cup, which we prefer to use for important symbolic reasons (1 Cor 10:16-17). 

Should Lutheran pastors wear vestments or not?

Prepared for the Commission on Worship by John Kleinig Date: August 2006

The Situation

Even though Lutheran pastors have customarily worn vestments when they have led their people in worship, some pastors have in recent times chosen to conduct public worship without any vestments.

Three reasons are given for this rejection of traditional practice. Vestments set the clergy apart from the laity and so convey notions of superior status and rank. Vestments are said to be alien to the unchurched in Australia and to alienate Christians from other denominations. They therefore hamper outreach to the unchurched in worship. Pastors justify their rejection of vestments by claiming that Christ and his apostles did not command the wearing of them.

The Reason for the Use of Vestments

Lutherans have always held that the efficacy of worship does not depend on the regalia of the celebrant, but on the word of Christ which institutes and empowers the divine service. Since the use of vestments is neither bidden nor forbidden by our Lord, they have the status of a liturgical adiaphoron, something that is permitted for use in worship but is not always required. They have been introduced into the church for the sake of “good order, Christian education and evangelical propriety” (Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration, 1X,7).

At the Reformation the Lutheran church continued to use the traditional vestments of the western church, for, unlike some other Protestant denominations who forbade everything that Christ had not instituted, it preserved most traditional catholic practices, provided that they had not been forbidden and were consistent with the gospel (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, 27,1). The Lutheran position is put well in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, XV, 51: “Nothing should be changed in the accustomed rites without good reason, and to foster harmony those ancient customs should be kept which can be kept without sin or without great disadvantage.”

Liturgical vestments have traditionally been used in the Lutheran Church for the following reasons.

      • By their symbolism they portray the nature and function of the ministry of word and sacrament as it is exercised by the pastor in public worship.
      • They express the solidarity of the pastor with all other pastors of the LCA as well as the pastors of the Lutheran churches throughout the world.
      • They identify the pastor ecumenically with the ministers of those main line churches which hold that the office of the public ministry is divinely instituted for the preaching of the word and administration of the sacraments.
      • Vestments contribute to appropriate liturgical conduct by de-emphasising the personality of the pastor and highlighting the office of the celebrant as the representative of Christ in the congregation (see Apology of the Augsburg Confession, VII and VIII, 47-48).
      • When lay people assist the pastor in the service, the vestments identify their wearer to visitors as the pastor of the congregation.

The Implications of the Rejection of Vestments by Lutheran Pastors

While it may be conceded that some pastors of the LCA have abandoned vestments for what appears to be good reasons, they may also not be aware of the implications of their position. Their action may be interpreted as revolutionary gesture by which they dissociate themselves from their predecessors in the congregation and their fellow pastors in the LCA. It may also be understood by some members as rejection of the traditional view of the office of the ministry in favour of the teaching that the pastor is merely the representative of the congregation.

Their action may create severe problems in the congregations after they leave, if their successors wish to reintroduce the use of thee traditional vestments. What’s more, the willingness to forego the use of vestments may determine the eligibility of subsequent pastors for a call to that congregation.

Since vestments of some kind, and increasingly the alb, are used by ministers in all mainline denominations, the pastors who do not use vestments will be aligning and identifying themselves, their ministry, and that congregation with those anti-catholic and anti-sacramental bodies that reject the divinely instituted office of the ministry.

Since vestments are intended to express the nature and limits of the pastor's authority publicly and ritually, the rejection of them may lead to confusion in the minds of members about the nature and extent of his authority. This could, in turn, lead either to fostering of a personality cult or to inappropriate assertions of authority apart from the ministry of word and sacrament.

Those pastors that reject the use of vestments still have to decide how to dress and what to wear when they lead in worship. In our society we have a very elaborate and clearly articulated code of dress by which people signal their status as well as their identification with particular subgroups or dissociation from them. So no matter how the pastor dresses liturgically, he will be seen to associate himself publicly with some people and to dissociate himself from others. The advantage of vestments and clerical dress is that it is socially and culturally neutral. They are, in a sense, countercultural and trans-cultural. With their use of vestments pastors do not identify themselves culturally with any single sub-class or represent any one group of people. Rather, they identify themselves with his fellow pastors who represent Christ and the gospel to all classes of people.

The rejection of vestments is regarded by some proponents of church growth as a necessary condition for effective outreach. The danger is that this assumption, in practice, all too easily becomes an unproven and unquestioned requirement, a new law that must be observed. Where that is the case, we may do well to follow Luther's example. When Carlstadt rejected the use of traditional vestments as idolatrous and appeared in the pulpit in street dress, Luther deliberately countered his demands by dressing up in all the vestments that were available in the vestry of his church in Wittenberg.

Pastors are not called to be lone rangers but are ordained into the ministry of the gospel. They serve as ministers together with all pastors in the ministry of the LCA and of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. They therefore would do well not to act individually or carelessly in a blanket rejection of vestments, but to act synodically and ecumenically in the way that they dress as they lead the church in its worship of the triune God.