Editor’s Comments – Authority in the Church, Part II

[1] Welcome to the continuation of the excellent papers presented at the Association of Teaching Theologians. The papers posted this month, still heeding the call to address the theme of authority, are threefold:

[2] Darrell Jodock, in Rethinking Authority in the Church Today addresses the nature of authority, the nature of authority in the church, and the effect wrought by the contemporary context upon the nature of authority in the church. Out of the Lutheran tradition, Jodock develops a series of cautions and two questions to ask of authoritative claims and some guidance on scriptural authority. He concludes “The authority that the church offers today is an incarnate authority, a message-oriented relational authority.”

[3] Church historians Maria Erling and Susan McArver give historical accounts of the decision to ordain women in the predecessor church bodies to the ELCA. Erling lays out the ecumenical and social context against the background American Lutheran church polity, which gave power to make decisions to democratic structures. She discusses the pivotal role played by the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A. Susan McArver then examines the historical record of public statements of the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A. and ELCA predecessor church bodies, as well as some very revealing archived letters. McArver notes the lack of input from females, the influence of the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A.’s study of the matter, and the response of the Missouri Synod. She draws some incisive conclusions about the meaning and influence of the decision.

[4] What our historians have thrown into sharp relief for us is the complexity of decisions such as ordaining women. Social, cultural, and ecumenical factors affect the best work that theologians can do. As McArver concludes, “Issues of identity, status, economics, cultural upbringing, long-treasured assumptions, and the simple fear of change often works more powerfully on people’s emotions than the most carefully-articulated tomes of systematic theology. This is a truth theologians ignore to their peril.”

These papers were presented at the 2011 Convocation of Teaching Theologians — ELCA/ELCIC under the theme “Sources of Authority in the Church: Lutheran Traditions in North American Contexts.” The papers will be published in early Fall by Lutheran University Press.

Kaari Reierson

Kaari Reierson is the founding editor of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics and is the Chair of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics Advisory Council.