In all successful organizations, there is a system of operations. The system provides the structure, functions, and patterns of behavior that help the organization run smoothly. Within the LCMS we have a strong system that has been in place for over 150 years. We are not a church body that eagerly embraces change, and our current system has served us well. As a matter of fact, there are only two major changes that have happened within our church body during the last 150 years. We no longer speak German, and women have been welcomed into ministry as teachers, deaconesses, Directors of Family and Women’s Ministries, and Directors of Christian Education. This is quite a change from the German words of C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the LCMS, when he said that women should not be teachers.
Walther spoke and wrote primarily in German, which was his native language since he was a German immigrant from Saxony. During the 19th Century, the LCMS attracted German immigrants and helped to preserve their German heritage by educating the descendents of those immigrants in our Lutheran schools. However, during the 20th Century, English became the primary language of the LCMS. In 21st Century America, the demographics are changing again. Today’s immigrants are coming from Hispanic and Asian cultures, and our Lutheran churches and schools will need to change our attitudes and approaches in order to reach out to those cultures.
Change happens, and resistance to change is not unusual for religious institutions. Luke 2:36-38 describes an 84-year old prophetess named Anna, who had served in the temple. “She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37). Then, one day, the Baby Jesus, the promised Messiah, was brought to the temple. Can you imagine the thrill that Anna experienced when she saw the Baby Jesus for the first time? Just imagine the influence that Anna had on people as “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38). I wonder what happened to Anna. I can’t imagine that the Pharisees were very happy that Anna was telling everyone that she had seen the Savior. Anna’s actions foretold enormous change for the Jewish nation.
Changes were ahead for the temple with the announcement of the birth of Jesus, and this revelation would not be well received by Jewish officials who had a vested interest in keeping their system the same. No longer would the structure of the temple remain the same with Pharisees and Sadducees retaining control. No longer would the function of the temple be one of waiting for the Messiah. No longer would the patterns of behavior necessitate following every “jot and tittle” of Jewish law. The announcement of the Messiah changed the structure, function, and patterns of behavior in the Jewish world forever.
During the first half of the 20th Century, some LCMS women advocated for a change. These women had a dream of creating a women’s organization for the purpose of raising funds for mission work. They petitioned the synod for many years to be allowed to use their gifts of administration to create a women’s mission organization. When the women appealed to various groups in the LCMS about this idea, they met blatant resistance. In May, 1930, the LCMS College of Presidents refused approval because: 1) they saw no need, 2) many pastors were opposed, and 3) an additional organization would mean more work for pastors, who might have to neglect their other duties. When a District LWML was proposed in Northern Illinois, one pastor said, “It would be difficult for our district officers to control so many organized women.” Another pastor warned about the danger of feminism in the church.
Finally, in 1941, the Synod endorsed the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. The 38th Regular Convention of the LCMS voted “that the Synod give its approval and encouragement to the creation of a national organization of women within our church in harmony with the Scriptural principles governing woman’s position in the church.” Over six decades, the national LWML has provided nearly $80 million for mission work in 30-plus countries. The pastor in Northern Illinois was correct. It can be difficult to control so many organized women!
As women work within the LCMS system, we might meet roadblocks and limitations due to our gender. However, like Anna and the founding women of the LWML, we have work to do within this system. Change happens, and there is no greater change that can happen in a person’s life than receiving Christ’s eternal life-saving message. Like Anna, we give thanks to God and speak about Jesus to all who are looking forward to redemption. Seize your “Anna Moments” for such a time as this!