Representatives of the Japan Lutheran Church (JLC) and the LCMS will meet Aug. 30-31 for their fourth round of discussions concerning the two church bodies’ relationships in light of the JLC’s proposal to ordain women.
The representatives made that decision during their third session together, Feb. 3-4 in Yokohama, Japan. The next discussion round also will take place in Japan, at a location to be determined.
The talks result from a resolution the JLC adopted at its 14th General Convention in May 2008. A proposal to ordain women as pastors had been presented for convention action. But delegates instead adopted a resolution calling for “talks with the LCMS,” to be followed by a special JLC convention to further take up the matter.
A joint news release issued after the third round of the discussions states, “Before finalizing a response to this proposal to ordain women, the JLC and the LCMS representatives to these talks have agreed to have one more round of talks.”
Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger, the Synod’s director of church relations, said, “Recognizing that a decision to ordain women as pastors would ultimately result in an end to the altar and pulpit fellowship which our two churches have enjoyed for almost 40 years, the JLC representatives indicated that it would be necessary to postpone a special convention which had tentatively been set for May of this year to take up this matter.
“The purpose of this fourth round of talks is to discuss what kind of relationship between our two churches might be possible, should the JLC decide to amend its constitution to permit the ordination of women,” Nafzger said. “Our LCMS representatives readily agreed to a fourth meeting to discuss this.”
“Since a decision to permit the ordination of women in the JLC would involve a change in its constitution,” the news release notes, “it would be necessary that this revision be approved by a two-thirds majority vote.”
The news release continues: “In these discussions, agreement between the JLC and the LCMS has become evident on the centrality of the Gospel in confessing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ stands at the center of what we believe, teach, and confess. Both churches agree that what our respective churches teach about the service of women must be normed by the inspired and infallible Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. All participants are in agreement, moreover, that the Scriptures must be properly interpreted, and that a distinction must be made between what is prescriptive and what is descriptive in Scripture. Both churches agree that that which is not clearly taught in Scripture must remain as open questions.
“But it has not been possible in these discussions to date to reach agreement on whether the ordination of women is a doctrinal matter or not,” the release states. “The LCMS has repeatedly stated its conviction that we understand the Scriptures to teach ‘that women are not to hold the pastoral office or serve in any capacity involving the distinctive functions of this office’ (1969 Res. 2-09). The JLC, on the other hand, has held since 1974 that the question of women serving as pastors is an adiaphoron, an open question.”
“The JLC believes that since the matter of the ordination of women as pastors is an adiaphoron, it would be possible to change its constitution to permit the ordination of women as pastors so that it might more aggressively promote the mission of the church in Japan,” said JLC President Rev. Yutaka Kumei. “But the JLC also prays that it will be possible to maintain the closest possible relationship to its mother church, the LCMS.”
“The Japan Lutheran Church traces its origin to the work of Missouri Synod missionaries who first came to Japan in 1948,” the news release points out. “In 1971, the Missouri Synod responded favorably to a request from the JLC for partner church relationship as an autonomos church (1971 Res. 3-03).”
Along with Nafzger, LCMS participants in the discussions are Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and Dr. Gerhard Michael, a former Synod missionary to Japan and past president of the LCMS Florida-Georgia District.
In addition to Kumei, JLC representatives at the Feb. 3-4 meeting were Rev. Shinri Emoto, vice president of the JLC; Dr. Tohru Shiba, chairperson of the church’s Theological Education Committee; Dr. Masao Shimodate, former director of the church’s seminary program; and JLC General Secretary Goroh Naito.
Dr. Jonathan Blanke, associate professor at Japan Lutheran College in Tokyo, served as devotion leader and translator during the discussions.
Posted March 10, 2010