Church says yes to women in ministry
For the first time in its 160-year history, the New Apostolic Church has, from a doctrinal perspective, provided a response to the question of whether women can be ordained to ministry—and the answer was a resounding yes. Following are some of the reasons and background information for what amounts to a “significant shift in our tradition”.
The decision was made in the afternoon of 2 June 2022: “Women can be entrusted with ministerial authority and a ministerial mandate on the basis of gender equivalence and equality before God.” Such was the resolution of the District Apostle Meeting in Buenos Aires. And a lot has happened since then.
Chief Apostle announces resolution
The decision and the foundations for it were discussed with some 330 Apostles. Teaching material and training documents were still to be drafted. And a video address was to be produced in order to introduce and explain the decision to all our brothers and sisters around the world.
So it was that Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider made the following announcement in his broadcast today: “The apostolate—that is, the Apostles in oneness with the Chief Apostle—decides that women can be entrusted with ministerial authority on the basis of gender equivalence and equality.” This applies to all levels of ministry and all leadership functions. The corresponding ministerial mandate will be issued wherever it is accepted in society and the congregation.
A point that had remained open
This decision has nothing to do with gender debates, which result in different outcomes around the globe anyway. On the contrary, in the process of updating its doctrine, the Church had simply reached the point where it had to answer the question of who can bear a ministry?
Chief Apostle Richard Fehr had already begun to formulate and clarify the doctrine in his time. His successor, Wilhelm Leber, continued in this endeavour to the point of publishing the Catechism. And finally the baton was handed to Chief Apostle Schneider, whose task was to respond to a matter which had remained open up to that point, namely the Church’s understanding of ministry.
Beginning in 2014, the District Apostles studied the fundamental questions: “What is a ministry?”, “What happens during the ordination?”, and “How does our Church configure its leadership functions?” From this developed the reforms to the ministerial structure that took effect in 2019. And now that the questions of what and how had been answered, it was time to answer the question of who.
Testing against the standard of the Bible
Traditionally speaking, the New Apostolic Church has only ever ordained men. However, the Church’s literature had never provided any proper doctrinal justification for this. The matter needed to be put to the test—and on the basis of the Bible, no less. After all, neither gender politics nor state constitutions can provide answers to theological questions.
The first question to ask of the Bible was: What does God want? And here the account of the creation provides a clear answer. Women and men were both equally created in the image of God. They have the same responsibility before God. “On the basis of this finding, both genders can be entrusted with ministry and service in the Church and in the local congregation,” states the Chief Apostle in the video.
The second question was: What does Jesus say? Unfortunately nothing concrete. While He does treat women better than most men of His time, He nevertheless only calls men to be Apostles. Otherwise, it would likely not have been possible for the gospel to be preached in the synagogues. However, “neither the words nor the deeds of Jesus provide a clear reason as to why we should act contrary to the clear will of God as expressed in the creation with regard to the equality of men and women”, says the Chief Apostle in his address.
The third question was: What do the Apostles teach? This is somewhat contradictory. At times women are encouraged to speak prophetically in divine service, and at other times they are told to be silent in the congregation. The conclusion here states that “individual negative statements found in some New Testament letters concerning the active participation of women in divine service and the congregation do not constitute sufficient grounds for excluding women from ministry”.
More information to follow
This meant that the decision was up to the apostolate of today, because Christ gave the Apostles the authority to order congregational life.
“I am well aware that this decision marks a significant shift in our tradition,” says the Church leader in his video address. “And it is also clear to me that you will still have many questions now.” However: “We will answer all your questions: in our media, in training courses, or in dialogue.”
“I thank you very warmly for your attention and your patience, not only here today, but also over the past months,” stresses Chief Apostle Schneider. “It was important for us to have sufficient time to gain clarity on this important question.”