Thursday, 29 August 2013

Rūtana Rumblings

It's not often I sound off about the faith community of my early years, the Lutheran Church of New Zealand, so it's not surprising that I'm a bit behind the times. Although I haven't darkened the door of a Lutheran church in years, I still have an admiration for the progressive strands within that tradition as well a residual sense of loyalty.

The church's greatest assets include the indisputable fact that it has a built-in resistance to the wackiness that afflicts so many Anglo denominations. So I was intrigued (and somewhat gobsmacked) to discover a couple of changes in the way the wind is now blowing in this small denomination.

The first is a local initiative, bearing in mind the the LCNZ is an outlying district of the much larger Aussie body. The second is obviously driven from the distant holy city of Adelaide, headquarters of the Lutheran Church of Australia.

The New Zealand church last year adopted an alternative Māori name: Te Hāhi Rūtana o Aotearoa (Rūtana is apparently a transliteration of Lutheran, it's certainly not found in any of the Māori dictionaries). Perhaps it's the last of the country's mainline denominations to do so, but it still comes as a bit of a shock. Whether current church president Mark Whitfield is responsible for the initiative, or whether there is any substantive grassroots support for the move, I'm not certain. Frankly, I'm all for it. It marks a long overdue commitment to a twenty-first century Kiwi identity.

The second change is also one of nomenclature. Until about five minutes ago (small exaggeration - more like April this year) the highest elected officials in the church were referred to as "presidents". This reflects in part the strong historic ties with the neo-fundamentalist US-based Missouri Synod. Then suddenly the various district presidents along with the overall denominational president in Adelaide were made-over into bishops. Bishops! Gott im Himmel!

Actually, I think this is kind of overdue too. Lutherans aren't Presbyterians or Methodists, praise the Lord, and they share a great deal with Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions in terms of liturgy and ethos. Which is why traditionalists are, on average, less loopy than the happy-clappy types who now dominate the increasingly dumbed-down Christian marketplace. It also brings the Antipodean church into line with most overseas Lutheran bodies.

All positive. Except.

Except, unless I've missed it, the Ocker-Loos still exclude women from the pastorate. The official statement on the matter, dated 2001, reads like something from the 1950s. 
"The rule of the apostles excludes the possibility of women acting as pastors and shepherds of congregations."
 Not so much a "priesthood of all believers" as "under half the believers." It's that kind of ingrained discrimination that's holding the LCA and it's Kiwi outpost in a sociological Stone Age.

The name changes may shuffle the deck chairs but, sadly, really meaningful change is yet to come. Without it, you just have to suspect it doesn't amount to much more than window dressing.


  1. In the wide spectrum of contemporary Lutheranism from liberal to literalist, where does this Adelaide body stand?

  2. Contemporary Lutheran soteriology takes the safe middle path between Arminianism & Calvinism - so amusing, so gutless!

  3. Not that I'd want to appear as any kind of apologist for "Lutheran soteriology", but it's only fair to point out that their position predates that of either Calvin or Arminius.

  4. Interesting post-Reformation evolution of theology (in competition with the Counter-Reformation) to extreme soteriological polarities. None of which is believed today of course (by scholars, church leaders, educated secular society..) following the last 200 years of academic biblical criticism. Even today, those who read the scholars are 50 years ahead of lay members who are kept in the dark by the leaders.