Safe in the North-West

(Rev. Otten has written several articles over the years under the category “Steadfast Lessons from the Past.”)


Several years ago this Hyper Euro Sacerdotalist vowed that he had written his last piece on the struggles in Missouri. But even as Katherine Von Bora caused Luther to break his vow, Matthew Becker has done the same for this writer.

There is nothing new in what follows. It all took place more 15 years ago. Some have forgotten and some are too young, but recent events bring this former scribe to go back on his vow. Those events brought forth President Harrison’s words. It is DE JA VU. His words were.

When a public teacher on the roster of Synod can without consequence publicly advocate the ordination of women (even participate vested in the ordination of an ELCA clergy person), homosexuality, the Errancy of the Bible, the historical critical method, open communion, communion with the reformed, evolution and more, then the public confession of the Synod is meaningless. I am saying that if my Synod does not change its inability to call such a person to repentance, and remove such a teacher where there is no repentance, then we are liars, and our confession is meaningless. I do not want to belong to such a Synod, much less lead it. Matt Harrison (see WMLTblog)

On Saturday, November 8th, 1997, Professor Matthew Becker gave a paper at Trinity Lutheran Church in Roselle, Illinois, where Dr. Charles Mueller is the pastor. The program for the meeting assigned him the topic, WHEN WOMEN SPEAK FOR GOD. The meeting was sponsored by an organization within the LCMS known as DIFFERENT VOICES/SHARED VISION. That name has now been changed to simply VOICES/VISION, it is no longer a SHARED VISION. This writer was invited to the meeting by two of the leaders of DIFFERENT VOICES/SHARED VISION.

In the discussion period that followed Becker’s presentation, when the question of women’s ordination was being discussed, Becker responded to the question “where to go the Seminary?” with the words “I think times are changing, even at our seminary, I’m not sure I can say seminaries…I was also very thankful that the faculty committee responsible for checking the orthodoxy of its candidates did not ask me about the question of the ordination of women into the pastoral office. When asked if I could accept a woman as a preacher I skirted the issue by quoting Martin Luther who said. “Why, of course women should preach the word if no capable men are around to do it…I know that I was skirting the issue.”

In response to another women who said she was “thoroughly convinced that the Missouri Synod is wrong on this issue now I’m beginning to worry how many other things have we taken for granted, if they are so wrong on this subject, can they be wrong on others?” Becker responded at length but concluded with the words, “It is not just that I discovered that the Missouri Synod is wrong, but what’s important is that the Gospel is right.”

Another woman asked, “What advice do you have for us who have graduates of the seminary who want us to go back to the way it was?” Becker responded, “Pray for their conversion, first (laughter). Second, raise scripture texts which subvert the old order.”

The concluding sentences to a lengthy two page letter that followed Becker’s presentation, written by this writer on January 5th, 1998 to Dr. Becker were, “I ask that you clearly affirm that according to the Word of God the pastoral office is to be held only by men. I ask that you affirm that to teach that the Missouri Synod is wrong when it confesses that only men should hold this office is to teach contrary to the Word of God.”

Dr. Becker responded on January 15th, 1998, “I agree with you that the Lord’s ‘gift of the holy ministry is given to us in the order he has established.’ The ‘order he has established,’ however, is precisely the new creation effected by means of his reconciling us to God and to one another. The old pattern of female subordination to men (an aspect of God’s judgment in Genesis 3) is overcome in the death and resurrection of Christ. The holy ministry is precisely this ministry of reconciliation of which Paul speaks so boldly in 2 Cor. 5.”

Dr. Becker’s response obviously did not say that he held that only men should hold the office of pastor and it did not say that to teach otherwise was contrary to God’s Word as he had been asked to confess.

His letter was followed by a letter of this writer to him on January 31st of 1998. That letter concluded with the words, “I ask again that you, for the sake of unity of the church and in obedience to the Will and Word of God, affirm with me that God has established the office of the ministry and that He has limited this office to men. If I can not have that assurance from you, I am conscience bound to bring this matter to those who have been given the responsibility of doctrine taught in our church.”

Dr. Becker responded on February 6th, 1998 in a brief letter, in which he first said of ordination, “Ordination itself, of course, is not clearly mandated in the New Testament, and is instead the result of an extra-biblical historical development,” with the words “For the sake of unity of the church, let me state clearly that I do not advocate for the ordination of women to the pastoral office.” He concluded with the words, “Because I am working very hard to finish my dissertation I really cannot respond to you any further on this matter.” His answer, even though he did say that he did not advocate the ordination of women, did not say that the pastoral office was only for men and that the Missouri Synod was not wrong when it said it was only for men. In view of what he said at Roselle this is what he had been asked to confess.

There on February 27, 1998 a letter was sent to Dr. Becker’s district president, Warren Schumacher. After detailing the letters sent to and received from Dr. Becker, it contained the words, “It is precisely because there are varying views about ordination in the church, and Becker’s description of it in the above quoted sentence clearly shows this, that my request of Professor Becker did not include the word ordination. I asked him to give the assurance that he confesses and teaches, as our Synod in the face of many Lutheran Churches who disregard what God’s Word says in this matter, holds that the divinely ordained pastoral office is limited to men. He has not given me this assurance. In his presentation at Roselle, He said otherwise. In this he errs.”

Since President Schumacher “failed to act within 90 days after receipt of the written complaint,” as required by Synod’s by laws, the matter was brought to the attention of Synod President Al Barry.

Many letters followed, to review them all would make this historical review unduly lengthy. Two letters of Dr. Barry however are significant. One of October 16th, 1998 to President Schumacher, president of the Northwest District where Becker was teaching, included the words, “However, the Praesidium did feel that it needs some very clear answers and commitments from Professor Becker to the following:

  1. That he present no additional papers on the subject of women serving in the pastoral ministry until this entire matter is cleared up.
  2. That he is definitely not teaching something divergent from Synod’s position here in his classes.
  3. That without reservation he holds and will teach the position of the synod in this connection.

The other significant letter of President Barry included these words addressed to Dr. Becker, “The members of the Praesidium have requested that I write to you on their behalf and ask for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to two questions. Both of these questions refer to the Word of God and are as follows:

  1. Do you believe and clearly affirm that according to the Word of God, the pastoral office is to be held only by men?
  2. Do you believe and clearly affirm that to teach that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is wrong when it confesses that only men should hold this office is to teach contrary to the Word of God?”

Dr. Becker never answered these questions. A ruling by the Commission on Constitutional matters took the matter out of the hands of the Praesidium, in whose jurisdiction the constitution did place it, but which constitution also said it could be in the hands of the Board of Regents. The CCM ruling gave the matter to the Portland Board of Regents.

When Dr. Becker was made aware of this he responded on December 20th 1999.

“I received a big christmas present early.

I have it on good authoriy that once CU Portland’s board of regents receives the offical minutes of this Dec CCM meeting, it will direct Walter Otten to go back to step one of bylaw 6:47: a face to face meeting (at his expense) with yours truly, something he’s never undertaken…

More importantly, the CCM has ruled contrary to Dr. Barry’s (i.e. Paul McCain’s) reading of the bylaws. The matter of Otten’s ‘charges’ against me are officially off the table of Dr. Barry, and Otten has to go back to ‘GO’ (and he doesn’t get to collect $2oo.oo): in fact he will have to shell out a few bucks if he wants to pursue fraternal discussion with me per 6:47. Even if he wants to pursue charges with me, I am confident that the CU Board of Regents, once it would have to conduct its investigation, will support the conclusion of my district president.”

This scribe did not go back to “GO” as Becker suggested. Becker’s theological security in the north west was more than my purse was willing to risk.

President Harrison may have to go back to “GO,” but he does the constitution with him that says what the duties of the President of Synod are. Hopefully he can go forward without the interference of a CCM, perhaps even with its support on how to interpret the constitution so that the Synod can remain faithful to the faith once delivered to the saints.

The constitution of Synod ascribes these duties to the President.

“The President has the supervision regarding the doctrine and the administration of…All District Presidents (the unnamed ‘public teacher on the roster of the Synod’ must have a District President who is responsible for what is taught by the pastors of his district. To leave this ‘public teacher on the roster of the Synod’ undisciplined would certainly be unwise, challenging and endangering the life and faith of God’s flock.)

“The President has and always shall have the power to advise, admonish, and reprove. He shall conscientiously use all means at his command to promote unity of doctrine.”

Kyrie Eleison
Pr. Walter Otten

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