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....

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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
T
he Primacy of the Local Church
Clericalism is Killing the Church
V
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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Editor 10/12/2013 11:41
"J.C.Ryle, who said that he would leave the institution if they ever withdrew from the Westminster Confession of Faith"

I'm surprised to hear that, for at least two reasons -

* The Westminster Confession of Faith was never (in spite of its name) never adopted in any substantive way by the Church of England.

* I have an extremely high regard for J C Ryle and I doubt if even he - even if he so wished - could defend all the teachings of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
[ Refs. -
http://www.christianstogether.net/Articles/300017/Christians_Together_in/Christian_Life/Christian_Survival_Resource/Reformation_document_is.aspx
and
http://www.christianstogether.net/Publisher/Article.aspx?ID=298219]

But what the whole situation illustrates is that it is impossible for any man-made document to prevent a slide into apostasty.

There can only be one 'standard' and that is the Bible. There may be differences in interpretation, but we cannot have two distinct expressions of 'Truth'.

All that the current situation illustrates (across denominations - perhaps it should be spelt demoninations - and on a variety of issues) is a long-standing disregard for God's Word.

At one level let's rejoice that what has been thus far hidden (or glossed over) is now being exposed for what it is (Luke 12:2,3).
Colin Ford (Guest) 10/12/2013 18:54
Editor,
I thought it common knowledge?
I am not currently at home, but, even looking on Wikipedia, it states "Drawn up by the 1646 Westminster Assembly to be a confession of the Church of England etc".
From my studies thus far, it is clear to me, at least, that Ryle was influenced by the Puritans of the 17th century and was a theologian who held to Calvinism as a biblical theology, likewise that most noble of confessions, the WCF.
When you say that Ryle couldn't defend the Westminster Confession of Faith, I would most certainly disagree with you on this. The more I study the Confession, the more I come to agree with how much it agrees with Scripture, even infant baptism. Of course I whole heartedly agree with you that the WCF is but a man-made document, but never the less, it is only worded as a confession which men could agree upon regarding what the bible actually teaches? You are most correct that there is "one standard, and that is the Bible", but then you go on to say "there may be differences in interpretation"? But, then, surely this is what the WCF was/is ALL about?? A confessional document to keep us all on the right track, hence J.C.Ryle's statement? I am glad that you have an "extremely high regard" for J.C.Ryle, and no doubt you find his teachings of great benefit to your soul, as indeed I do.
I did e-mail you some time ago about some innacurracies in your article about the WCF to which, as yet, I haven't received a reply. Also regarding the WCF's statement about the Antichrist, I have subsequently learnt from what Bonar taught that our understanding of it is a common mistake.
I shall post on the relevant page sometime soon.
Editor 10/12/2013 23:30
Colin, If you wish to continue to post on the WCF please go to the articles that I have indicated (and feel free to disagree with what is written there).
But just for the information of those who may be interested, the Puritans were generally as unhappy with Scottish Presbyterianism as they were with English episcopacy so the Confession was never - in any substantive way for any length of time - adopted in England.

Now, back to the subject of Women Bishops. Please. Thank you.
John Miller 11/12/2013 09:25
Gordon I would value your comments on my reply to your last post if you are free to respond.
John Ferguson (Guest) 11/12/2013 13:31
John,I would agree with your recent post in regard to leaders or elders being biblically taught in the New Testament. 1Tim 5-17 Heb13v17 whether they should be officially appointed I am not quite sure but those who qualify for such a position should be recogniised.
Jack Thomson (Guest) 11/12/2013 14:20
"...but those who qualify for such a position should be recognised."
As what ?
More reverend ?
More righteous ?
More justified ?
More sanctified ?
More saved ?
More spiritual ?
More Godly ?

I think not........


John Miller 11/12/2013 14:49
John it cannot be denied that the Apostle Paul recognised the necessity of overseership in a local church. His charge to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28 puts this concept beyond argument. The only question therefore is how their appointment is ratified. Paul gives all credit to it to the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere he is specific as to qualifications for such positions.

If we do not expect, and I think most would not, the Holy Spirit to make His choice known by some disembodied, ethereal announcement, we would be left to assume that it would done through the body of the believers. Gordon's point that God's government is theocratic rather than democratic is an important truth. Most present day denominations have made shipwreck by adopting a democratic or autocratic approach to church governance.

It seems clear to me therefore that a humble, dependent attitude displayed in a reverent prayerful desire to seek God's guidance in such decisions is essential. Personal feelings must be set aside and moral authority must be recognised. The superiority of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ over all man made organisations will thus be seen.
John Ferguson (Guest) 11/12/2013 15:49
Jack,I didn't mean recognised in an official way,but moral and spiritual leadership qualities would be apparent in those who have them,and therefore aught to be acknowledged by those within the local church. I agree with John the democratic or autocratic approach is not right for church governance.
John Miller 11/12/2013 17:02
In another thread the subject of house groups is discussed. I believe that house groups are a manifestation of real and godly desires to enjoy Christian fellowship and the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ will be known according to His promise.

We find house groups in the Acts, but Paul's ministry clearly teaches that believers in Jesus Christ will come together as a church or assembly of born again, Spirit filled individuals to worship together. Their assembling in itself will be a witness to the continuation of what the Spirit of God put his divine seal upon at Pentecost. I do not in any way belittle house groups but they are not envisaged in Paul's ministry as a substitute for the local church.

It is there that the headship of Christ and the power of the Spirit, indwelling the company as well as the individuals is seen in the normality of how the church of our Lord Jesus Christ operates in the midst of a wicked and hostile world. Christ's headship and all that entails should be demonstrated through His Holy Spirit in every local church setting. The moral qualities of leadership reflecting the perfection of the church's only Head, Jesus Christ Himself, should be demonstrated in those appointed by His Spirit.

University degrees, fancy robes, including dog collars, humanly devised rituals etc., have no part in this. Please note that I do not have anything against a man having a university degree. All I say is that it is not in itself a qualification according to God's word, for leadership in His church. I was at a C of S communion service recently when visiting friends and the elders, men and women, all partook of the elements before the rest of the congregation. I actually found it a distressing affront to Paul's instructions regarding the Lord's Supper.
Colin Ford (Guest) 11/12/2013 18:51
John,
I certainly say a hearty AMEN to your last paragraph!
But...in your second paragraph,surely, the "house groups" ARE the local church, or am I missing something?
Perhaps you would be good enough to expand upon this? Also "worship" can take a on meaning of it's own, a bit like Bishops and Deacons?
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