Last month, the Lutheran Church of Latvia–the main church body in that Baltic republic–reversed course and rescinded its policy allowing the ordaining of women. But the church has not ordained women since 1993, with its confessional revival at the fall of Communism. Now the church has formalized its doctrine that only men may be ordained as pastors.
The Lutheran World Federation, whose member churches ordain women, says that this decision may affect the Latvian church’s membership. But the Latvian bishop says that this could lead to affiliation with the conservative International Lutheran Council and its member churches such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
On June 3, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) officially adopted a policy allowing only males to be ordained as clergy. The decision came during a meeting of the church’s synod held June 3-4 in the Cathedral of Riga, with the vast majority (77.3 percent) of those present voting to amend the church’s constitution in favor of returning to the historic practice of the Christian church.
Questions over the ordination of women have been an issue of concern in the ELCL for several decades. Archbishop Janis Vanags and the ELCL’s bishops ceased ordaining women in 1993, but the change in practice was never made official church policy until this year’s synod.
“We are an apostolic church, as confessed in the Creed,” explained one lay participant, speaking in favor of the policy prior to the vote. “The apostles are our teachers, not the spirit of our time. I will vote in favor of the amendment.”The change is expected to have a significant impact on the Latvian church’s ecumenical relationships. In advance of the synod, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKiD) had warned that a return to a male-only clergy would force a change in church relations between the EKiD and the ELCL. Delegates from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) had likewise met with ELCL officials in advance of the synod to discourage the church from changing its constitution. The LWF has since expressed its disapproval of the Latvian church’s decision. Questions about the ELCL’s relationship with the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad, which is led by a female archbishop, also have been raised.
Archbishop Vanags addressed the synod about these concerns, noting that the decision brings the ELCL closer to a number of other Lutheran churches that do not ordain women. In particular, he noted the need for the ELCL to draw closer to the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and its member churches, including The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The ILC’s member churches do not ordain women. Archbishop Vanags and several other bishops indicated a desire to meet with LCMS leaders in the near future to discuss areas where the two church bodies may continue to walk together and proclaim the Gospel as partner churches.