Christian Life 

Women bishops; and the art of completely missing the point

The divisive issue within the Church of England on women Bishops illustrates failings to understand or implement a biblical theology of 'ministry', headship within the body of Christ, and direction and decision-making within it.
First published 21/11/2012

UPDATE 15/07/14: The previous 'No' vote (to which this article initially refers) has now been overturned in an historic decision to allow the ordination of women bishops.

UPDATE 17/12/14: The Reverend Libby Lane has been announced as the first female bishop for the Church of England, just a month after a historic change to canon law. Read on....


Woman bishopThe outcome of the Church of England's debate on the validity of women being appointed to the bishopric variously astounded, perplexed, angered, pleased and dismayed those within the Anglican Church.

The decision not to appoint women as bishops also serves as both an epitaph to the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury and a baptism of fire for his successor Dr. Justin Welby. Both of these men – who between them have led and will now lead not only the Church of England but the worldwide Anglican community – argued passionately for a pro-women vote.

However the whole process serves to illustrate that the Church of England – indeed the whole Anglican communion, right across its membership and the theological spectrum – is continuing to fail dismally to either grasp or, otherwise, to apply biblical doctrines and principles within its ranks.

Women: yes. Clericalism: no

In terms of the theology of 'ministry' the teaching of Scripture is very clear. Women should not be placed in positions of authority over men. Full stop: exclamation mark. Emphatically, however this does not mean that women have no roles (ministries) within the body. In fact the Bible clearly teaches that God gives gifts of service (ministry) to every believer. What the Bible does not teach is the clergy/laity system which is rife across most of denominations; and which is killing the church.
So it's not that there should be a denial of women in ministry but there should be renouncing of the clergy/laity system.
Accordingly, it is interesting, nay tragic, in the current dispute that neither side of the debate can see – or if they do, admit to – this much more fundamental issue and causal factor. 
 The Art of Missing the Point 
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Christ the head; and His body
In terms of church government there should be no 'hierarchy' whatsoever in the body of Christ. Christ is the head, and under his headship his disciples share an absolute parity in the priesthood of all believers.

Of the three main systems of church government that we currently see Presbyterianism (in its true-to-scripture local fellowship expression) gets closest to the biblical model. Unfortunately, the Presbyterian system as it exists today is a mixture of oligarchy, hierarchy and bureaucracy. (If it were otherwise the Church of Scotland et al would not be in the divided position that it finds itself on the matter of human sexuality.) Meanwhile the Anglican system of 'top-down' authority is clearly unbiblical; as is congregationalism (the church is not a democracy).
The whole system of (what the world would call) 'leadership and decision-making' in (what the world and the church would call) 'the church' does not comply with the biblical model of male eldership operating in a consensual fashion; that of 'it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us' (with the 'us' meaning a local company of believers operating within the primacy of the local church).
The tragedy of the present crisis is two-fold:
  • Most of the church has succumbed to the spirit of the age which refuses to understand that men and women though equal in status under God, are nevertheless different.
  • But beyond that, and in addition to that, even the Bible-faithful segment of the church has failed, and is continuing to fail, to see beyond the superficial and get down to the fundamental misunderstanding of the biblical dynamic which should be found in the all-member ministry  of the priesthood of all believers within the body of Christ.
Until these issues are addressed the Anglican Church and the denominations beyond will continue to be dysfunctional in their service to, and witness for Christ Jesus, the head – the only head – of church. 

Footnote: There are many issues which find a locus in the above: the following articles address some of them.  In particular 'A Church in Ruins' and 'Sexuality and Women Bishops - a Reform view' (which includes a link to a recorded interview) relate directly to the present Anglican crisis.

The Role of Women in the Body of Christ
he Primacy of the Local Church
Clericalism is Killing the Church
oting: the great church splitter

Christians Together, 10/12/2013

Bishops and Gay Clergy in the C of E Rev. Paul Dawson
Reform is a grouping of churches and leaders within the Church of England who are seeking to maintain a Biblical response to sexuality and women in overseeing roles. A representative speaks to Christians Together in a wide ranging interview with much relevance for churches everywhere.
Downloads: 1882
Recorded: 16/04/2011
Length: 27 minutes
Listen Download MP3 Audio (25.1MB)

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Michael (Guest) 30/12/2012 15:30
Presbyterianism is not the Biblical model. In the NT each town had a presbyter The senior presbyter was a bishop (in Greek, 'episcopos' (sometimes translated 'president'). There are many instances of these 2 words in the NT (eg Titus 1, 5 - 9. These 'local churches' in towns were headed by a bishop with his presbyters. As the Church expanded into the country, the presbyters began to look after these smaller communities on behalf of the bishop. But they were not 'local churches'. The local church meant the whole collection of these communities with the bishop with his presbyters. So, to clarify the situation the word diocese was employed to mean the whole local church, and the word parish to designate these smaller communities making up the local church. All these local churches were in fellowship with each other, believing and sharing the same Faith. For various reasons the local Church of Rome became the centre, and this is the same today. The Roman Catholic Church is not some mega-organisation, but is simply the fellowship ('communio') of all the local churches with their own bishops and presbyters. So, this is the NT pattern, with its Churches in Rome, Galatia, Colossae, Corinth, Ephesus,Thesalonika etc etc. I happen to be a priest (presbyter) of the local Church (diocese) of East Anglia, in communion with the local churches everywhere, including Rome with its bishop, Benedict XVI, presbyters and people.
John Maclean (Guest) 31/12/2012 16:48
The words presbyter and episkopos are ujsed interchangeably.

Another brother has written -

Bishop and presbyter

Many words are used to describe the role of the elder, such as piloting, manager, governor; but the two main ones are episkopos and presbyteros.

Comparing Scripture with Scripture it is not hard to conclude that all these are virtually synonymous; they are used interchangeably to regulate the ministry and scope of the elders in the local assembly.

In Acts 20, for instance, Paul calls for the elders and in addressing them reminds them that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (bishops) over the church in Ephesus.

In 1 Peter 5 we notice the same word-knitting: referring to the same group, Peter says they shepherd (pastor) the flock and at that same time calls them elders.

In 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1, where we have the qualifications for overseership, we find the same pattern.

However, when studying history, we sadly notice that this simple and effective pattern started to be abandoned even from the 2nd century onwards.

In the Apostolic Fathers, especially Ignatius, we see a sharp distinction between the bishop and the presbyter. The bishop was seen a the one man around whom unity is to be nourished. He is assisted in the task by the presbyters, later on to be denominated priests (as the sacramental liturgy starts to strangle the vitality of the churches).

With the rise of the Antichrist, the bishop becomes the autocratic leader and administrator of the diocese, having power answerable only to the pope. Instead of nourishing and cherishing the flock, the bishop finds it natural to fleece the flock in order to maintain his extravagant life-style of "a prince of the church." Thus Diotrophes, who loved to have the pre-eminence, becomes incarnate in a thousand more. And Paul's prophecy in Acts 20, that from among the early leaders themselves, men will arise speaking perverse things and drawing disciples after them, comes true.

This sharp distinction between bishop and presbyter developed into a three-fold ministry: Bishop, priest and deacon. A hierarchy that eventually developed into something more monstrous still.

Once you start importing foreign ideas into Scripture, and think that you can formulate a better form of church government than God can, where will you draw the line? The departure from the biblical pattern led inevitably to the Roman Catholic church structure, politically and administratively strong, but spiritually dead.

A return to the grass-roots is called for, even in Protestant churches. Elder, pastor, bishop, and presbyter, by sound and solid exegesis, all refer to the same person, gifted by Christ to take care of his people.

We notice also that in each church (for instance, see Philippians 1:1-2), there was a plurality of elders, who, in seeking the mind of Christ, teach and disciple the people.

In this, spiritual-mindedness is of the essence. Even the biblical pattern will fail miserably if the elders are self-seeking, rather that seeking to please Christ (as Timothy and Epaphrodotus were, Philippians 2).
Gordon (Guest) 08/12/2013 22:22
Should women be Priests/Ministers ? Wrong question: Should men be Priests/Ministers ? The answer in both cases is : NO ! The Church is a theocracy, acknowledging Jesus Christ to be Head and King. Each individual believer has soul competency by virtue of having the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Scriptures to guide him. A congregation of such believers is to be more trusted in knowing the mind of Christ in corporate matters than is a committee of a few old men. No one, apart from Christ, should have leadership authority over any follower of Christ
We also find that the Gospel is usually more securely ensconced in the pew than it is in the pulpit.
No congregation has all the gifts of the Spirit; how much less do we find this in one person ?
Let the people speak what they know . Authoritarian church government has and is killing the spiritual growth and life of the followers of Christ.
There are too many babes in the congregation, who are always kept dependent on a diet of milk from the 'Minister', instead of tucking into solid food for themselves.
John Miller 09/12/2013 16:45
Gordon, if I may I will comment respectfully on your post. Firstly all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God are priests. Age, sex, race of colour, there is no difference. The C of E in its constitution and practice denies this. This fundamental truth of the Christian faith is barely acknowleged in the C of S. For this reason I have difficulty with the platform currently afforded to a C of E "priest" to promote his theories regarding the return of the Lord Jesus for His church. However I digress.

Secondly leadership in the church is a biblically taught concept. It is both approved and commended by the Apostle Paul. I do not personally see official appointments being ratified by the word. What I understand is that it comes by gift from Christ through the Spirit of God and corresponding moral qualifications.

If you care to study the written word I believe that you will find confirmation of these things.

Every blessing brother.
Jack Thomson (Guest) 09/12/2013 17:12
. For this reason I have difficulty with the platform currently afforded to a C of E "priest" to promote his theories regarding the return of the Lord Jesus for His church.
And I thought that I was the only one who looked upon the retired Anglican Rev with cynical disregard
Editor 09/12/2013 19:38
I have deleted a post which relates to eschatology and not the subject matter of this thread and article; and is thus irrelevant and uhelpful to this discussion.

Tony Higton is currently engaged with the CT site in a 'Q&A' session on 'end-time' issues and site members will soon be able to directly respond to Tony's posting on-line.

Colin Ford (Guest) 09/12/2013 21:06
Sorry Ed!
I believe a previous Archbishop of Canterbury very recently made the prediction that the Church of England would be non-existent in 20 years time?
The Cof E has no doubt had many fine truly God Fearing men pass through it's ranks, most notably, in my opinion at least, J.C.Ryle, who said that he would leave the institution if they ever withdrew from the Westminster Confession of Faith. I can now see why he made such a declaration. What would he make of this very sad and sorry soap opera that we see before us?
Colin Ford (Guest) 09/12/2013 21:10
Jack, I can well understand your cynicism. Who wouldn't?
Jack Thomson (Guest) 09/12/2013 21:24
A sad and sorry soap opera indeed....
The C of E is grasually making the transition from apostate to heretical with the greatest of ease - as indeed is the Church of Scotland - as indeed are most of the traditional denominations..........
But we shouldn't be surprised because they are all built on the sand of human initiative, device and understanding...having a form of godliness but denying it power....

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