Ministry (29): For want of a doctrine it becomes a question of order

Jesus, women, and the apostolate… While the biblical findings are indisputable, they do not provide clear answers. How does the New Apostolic Church treat this? Here is the first interim conclusion on the question of what the New Testament says about the ordination of women.

When it came to Jesus and the role of women He was far ahead of His time. They served as female students, preachers, disciples, ambassadors, and even as crown witnesses of His resurrection. This is clearly documented in the Bible. Yet Christ only called men to be Apostles.

Jesus’ silence requires interpretation

Some churches conclude from this that women cannot be called to a spiritual ministry. “This assessment is problematic.” Because as far as the gospels relate, Jesus never said that women were not suitable to serve as Apostles or other ministers in the church. The District Apostle Meeting discussed these findings in November 2020.

“Jesus Himself did not provide any reasoning for the choices He made,” the essay on the ordination of women in the Special Edition of the Divine Service Guide 3/2022 explains. “Therefore no normative conclusions can be inferred from this for the Church.” Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider explained the implications in his video message on this topic: “We must interpret His decision.”

Signal effect and social pressure

What did Jesus Christ really have in mind when He appointed twelve Jewish men as His Apostles? Scripture provides a two-pronged approach as a way of explanation.

On the one hand, Jesus’ election signalled to His contemporaries: the promised Messiah restored a new people of God. Because the number twelve stood for the patriarchs of the people of Israel. And they “were also men, so in this respect as well a parallel had to be drawn between them and the ‘fathers’ of the new and universal people of God—that is, the twelve Apostles,” the essay says.

“However, some purely practical reasons for this election of men can also be identified, and these have to do with the societal conditions of the time.” Because Jesus’ commission to proclaim the gospel could initially only be fulfilled by His ambassadors in the synagogues. “Only men were permitted to participate in the service of the synagogue. Only they had the right to read from Holy Scripture and explain it,” we read in the special issue of the Divine Service Guide. All of these things were impossible for women in the context of the Judaic community.

Makings of a dead end

Is gender really a hallmark of the true apostolate? Anyone who concludes from Jesus’ actions alone that only men can be ordained will run into a dead end, the Chief Apostle said in his video address. Logically speaking, they would then also have to conclude that only Jews can be Apostles because Jesus only called Jews.

What’s more, one could also say, and rightly so “that only those who had personally accompanied the Lord could be His Apostles”. Indeed: “By that measure, Paul could not have been an Apostle either. And the renewed occupation of the Apostle ministry over the last 190 years would be utterly questionable.”

The apostolate must decide

In view of the biblical findings and the resulting conclusions, the District Apostle Meeting passed the following resolution in May 2021.

  • “According to the testimony of the New Testament, Jesus called only men to be Apostles. It was to them that He entrusted the leadership of His church.
  • “We are not aware of any statement from Jesus concerning the question of whether a ministry can also be conferred upon women.
  • “From the words and deeds of Jesus it cannot be clearly inferred whether or not it is possible to ordain women.
  • “The decision is up to the apostolate which, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is responsible for the order of the Church.”

While the gospels lack statements, the epistles of the New Testament are even contradictory. Here too we must look at the question of how the Church handles this? This is what we will explore in the next part of this series.

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Andreas Rother
ministry, Doctrinal statements