Ministry (32): Done rather than thought out
This much is clear: in areas where the Bible is not clear, it will be sorted out by the Church. This then gives rise to the next question regarding the matter of the ordination of women: how were things sorted out until now? The answer: in a variety of ways and based on weak arguments.
In practice it was inconsistent: in the last eight decades, the New Apostolic Church ordained only men to the spiritual ministry. In the eighty years before that women were also active as Deaconesses. This raises the question, why first like this and then like this?
The answers are few and far between: “There was no official or theologically justified announcement by the apostolate concerning the matter of women and ministry,” it says in a current essayon women and ministry in the Divine Service Guide Special Edition 3/2022. “In the older writings of the New Apostolic Church there is no theological justification why women should not be allowed to exercise liturgical functions,” adds church historian Manfred Henke in response to an enquiry from nac.today.
Barely more than two sentences
An announcement from Chief Apostle Richard Fehr in an issue of the Divine Service Guide in 1999 (No. 6) comes closest to constituting an official communication in this matter. The explanations on the general understanding of ministry end like this: “Women do not bear a spiritual ministry in the New Apostolic Church. In this matter, the Church orients itself by the example of Jesus and considers itself in harmony with the statements of Holy Scripture.”
The text refers exclusively to the commandment for women to keep silent and to the calling of the Twelve. These two sentences do not constitute a comprehensive analysis and justification—as does the current thirty-page essay. Nor is there any resolution of the District Apostle Meeting to corroborate it.
Looking to the future
The bottom line is that this was a summation of the situation then. Chief Apostle Fehr also made this clear when he was asked in 2005 what the gospel says about the ordination of women: “Of course, one can argue about this,” he made clear. “Depending on how you interpret the Bible, you can say, as Paul did, that women have no business in preaching. Others say that women were the most faithful of Jesus’ followers and He told them many things and confided in them.”
“But perhaps one day we will come around to the way it was before when we had Deaconesses,” Chief Apostle Fehr said in that interview published in the book Our Lord is Coming. “Well, I mean as a first step as Deacons, why not! But I don’t think the time is ripe yet. Let’s see what the future holds.”
Easier to conceive than realise
“I think this is a matter of tradition,” his successor, Chief Apostle Wilhelm Leber, explained when asked about the practice of ordaining men only. “The question of whether it must remain that way is still open,” he said in the interview published in the 2005 Pentecost brochure.
In a conversation with young people from the Lübeck district in 2012, Chief Apostle Leber was even more explicit: “It is entirely possible, and there is no reason to say that women cannot do it. So I don’t want to rule that out.” But: “It is not that easy to implement,” he said because acceptance in the congregations depends on social conditions and cultural imprints. “As an international Church we need to be sensitive to this.”
The bottom line: the practice of ordaining men only lacked the doctrinally based fundamental decision of the apostolate. Chief Apostles Fehr and Leber already considered it possible to call women to the spiritual ministry. But what about the Deaconesses mentioned by Chief Apostle Fehr? This is what we will explore in the upcoming instalments of this series.
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