Coming soon: women in ministry

The year 2022 will go down into the New Apostolic history books. For the very first time, the Church has provided a doctrinal answer to a 160-year-old question. And the resulting decision will begin to take effect in the year 2023—when women will also be given the opportunity to be ordained into ministry.

Traditionally, the New Apostolic Church has basically only ever called men to the ministries of Deacon, Priest, or Apostle. There was something of an exception in the first half of the twentieth century with the appointment of deaconesses. But neither the one nor the other was sufficiently substantiated as doctrine.

When work began on the Catechism, an answer slowly came due, because the Church was in the process of reviewing, concretely defining, and updating its entire teaching. Owing to time constraints, only our understanding of church and the sacraments could be fully elaborated before the Catechism was published in 2012. However, the Church’s understanding of ministry remained fragmentary.

Looking at the big picture

It was only in 2014 that work began on formulating the Church’s understanding of ministry—and in a comprehensive manner at that. Elements that still needed to be cleared up included:

  • first of all, what is a ministry?
  • secondly, how does the ministry function?
  • only after that would it be possible to answer the question of who is permitted to bear a ministry.

The results were elaborated in writing, and the Chief Apostle reported on these in the year 2017. And it was on Pentecost 2019 that the distinction between ministry and function took effect in the Church.

Taking a closer look at the Bible

Now that the questions of what and how had been answered, it was time to address the question of who. And only a proper analysis of the Bible could provide the necessary answer. Here too, there were basically three questions that arose:

  • what does God have to say about it?
  • what doses Jesus Christ have to say about it?
  • what do the letters of the Apostles say?

The account of the creation makes the will of God abundantly clear: He created man and woman in His image to the same degree—with the same value, the same dignity, and the same responsibility for shaping life.

With Jesus Christ the situation is unclear: He said nothing on the subject. And His actions were likewise ambiguous. On the one hand, He treated women better than was usual at the time, but on the other hand, He only called men to be Apostles. But if one were to take this as an example, one would also have to follow Him by appointing only Jews as Apostles.

And the letters of the Apostles are quite contradictory in nature: on some occasions, women are supposed to speak prophetically in divine service, and on other occasions they are to be silent. In some epistles, the refusal to allow women to speak is justified by the fact that Eve brought sin into the world, whereas other letters regard Adam as the guilty party.

A decision for all

What’s the bottom line then? God’s good creation establishes equality between men and women. Anything that might possibly be used as an argument against this in the example of Jesus or the letters of the Apostles cannot trump the will of the Creator.

Thus it is up to the apostolate to make a decision for the future of the Church. But are they allowed to do that? Certainly! Jesus Christ Himself gave the Apostles the power to loose and to bind, in other words, to make binding regulations for the Church.

In June 2022, for example, the District Apostle Meeting, in consultation with all the Apostles of the world, decided “that women can be entrusted with ministerial authority.” However: “The associated ministerial mandate will only be given wherever it is accepted by society and the congregation.” After all, cultural aspects are not only to be considered with respect to the past in the context of biblical analysis, but also in the realities of the present.

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Andreas Rother
ministry, Structure, Doctrinal statements