Woke in the WELS: Lutheran Leadership Conference #3

The recent WELS Lutheran Leadership Conference featured a woman, Dr. Joan Prince, as the keynote speaker paired with Rev. Dr. Ken Fisher. This post is not about Dr. Prince's bona fides, but rather about the theology of the role of men and women in the church.

The Bible provides both positive examples and negative rebukes of a woman's role with respect to her family and the church. Positive examples include:

Titus 2:3-5 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

2 Tim 1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 

1 Tim 2:15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

"Saved through childbearing" says a lot. No, barren women are not condemned to hell, but God gave us vocations He wants us to fill. And so, if we pursue the role God laid out for us, in faith, and love, and holiness, with self-control - this pleases God. On to the rebukes:

1 Cor 14:33 As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 

1 Tim 2:12 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.

We can then take these admonitions and compare them against Scripture. First, the Proverbs 31 woman. To my eye, she meets these criteria. The distribution of food in Acts 6 was given to men. Assuming this was strictly waiting tables, this seems like something a group of women could have done without a voters meeting, election and the laying on of hands. Acts 15, the letter was to be delivered by "chosen men". Acts 16 is where Priscilla and Aquila take Apollos aside to explain to him the way of God more accurately. In this case we can say that women one-to-one can instruct a man, but even in this case it is with her husband. 

We now turn from the Bible to our WELS doctrinal statements. First, we have the WELS Man and Woman Roles doctrinal statement. Points 17 and 20 are key, here:

17. The biblical principle of role relationship applies also to the gatherings of the church. All believers, men and women, will participate at gatherings of worship, prayer, Bible study, and service. The scriptural applications that a woman remain silent (1 Co 14:34) and that a woman should not teach a man (1 Ti 2:11,12) require that a woman refrain from participating in these gatherings in any way which involves authority over men.

20. Christians also accept the biblical role relationship principle for their life and work in the world (1 Co 11:3; Eph 5:6-17). Christians seek to do God’s will consistently in every area of their lives. We will therefore strive to apply this role relationship principle to our life and work in the world.

Point 17 indicates that in any gathering of Church, women will refrain from participating in any way which involves authority over men. So is a WELS sanctioned leadership conference 'Church'? In the WELS, you betcha! The WELS Doctrine of Church and Ministry clearly states:

"We hold it to be untenable to say that the local congregation is specifically instituted by God in contrast to other groupings of believers in Jesus’ name; that the public ministry of the keys has been given exclusively to the local congregations."

Within the WELS, Church is fractal. Two or three gathering in Christ's name is Church, the local congregation is Church, the district is Church, the synod is Church. Products of the synod such as woker training schools and yes conferences are Church. The marks of the church are present in both Word and Sacrament in the opening worship and the use of the Word throughout the conference.

And even if you could convince yourself that this meeting doesn't fall under the WELS definition of Church, we have point 20 which says that Christians will strive to apply the same principles to our life and work in the world.

We can then leave the authority of a doctrinal statement and look at the WELS FAQ - not a great way to do theology, but specific lay questions are answered. On 1 Timothy 2:12, the WELS FAQ reads “The verse does not prohibit women from all teaching. The directive “not to teach” is in the context of the relationship between men and women. In keeping with biblical principles, women are able to teach other women and youth.”

Everything we've read so far would admonish against having Dr. Prince participate in the WELS leadership conference as a keynote speaker. If we compare our Biblical examples and rebukes, it would fall with the rebukes. If we consider our doctrinal statements, our WELS Man and Woman Roles document would seemingly agree. The WELS FAQ provides and application that also affirms. 

So how did the WELS Lutheran Leadership Conference get there?

I had an opportunity to ask that question. Their defense for platforming Dr. Joan Prince relies on two arguments, first that αὐθεντεῖν only appears once in the Bible, and second, a perceived ambiguity in 1 Timothy 2:12, in that the grammatical structure could set up a dichotomy of “teaching” and “teaching, with authority,” where only the latter is prohibited. In my opinion both are novel (feminist, perhaps) takes.

First, the traditional understanding of the meaning of authority conveyed by αὐθεντεῖν is consistent with other contemporaneous texts. From BDAG:

Wallace's Greek Grammar uses 1 TIM 2:12 as an example on pages 598-599 to discuss complementary verbs and states that you can't separate the complementary verb because both are required to express the full verbal idea. Secondly, even in English it is pretty clear that "teaching with authority" must not conflict with "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness" found in verse 11. Recall, this pericope is discussing worship. If she's to learn quietly and be submissive within the context of worship but also teach in some cases in the context of worship, you've now pitted verse 11 against verse 2.

Reading the full pericope, verse 8 already sets up male leadership in worship. 

Lenski does not recognize a duality but simply states “To teach is to act as an authority over all those taught” and “The opposite helps to bring out the meaning: ‘but to be in quietness.’ Those who are taught sit in quietness and learn; the one who teaches acts as the master who is to be heard, heeded, and obeyed.” Lenski was published in 1937 prior to second-wave feminism. Lenski’s understanding is reflected in the WELS doctrinal statements drafted in 1993.

Regardless of the novel take on 1 Timothy 2:12, it doesn't align with our doctrinal statements. Clearly in this case our practice does not match our doctrine.