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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Colin Ford (Guest) 11/12/2013 19:09
Words fail me regarding this ridiculous charade in respect of "women bishops"? Any one, even in the Godless and pitiable institutions as the current C of E, Cof S, Baptist Union etc, etc, can surely read 1 Timothy 3.2 KJV ? How ever can a bishop be the husband of "one wife" is she is a woman? But there again same sex marriage is rapidly becoming law, and what is worse, more accepted as the norm in society?
Colin Ford (Guest) 11/12/2013 19:11
Correction. I meant "IF she is a woman".
Dale (Guest) 11/12/2013 19:20
Yes, Colin, I agree with your surprise about John Miller's comment about the house church not envisaged in Paul's ministry as a substitute for the local church. What difference is there Biblically between a house church and a so-called 'local church'? Surely the difference can only be the number of believers present? Does John think that the 'local church' is something different?
Godon (Guest) 11/12/2013 20:59
John Miller,
New Covenant leadership is not a matter of holding a position or an office in the congregation of believers, but is a function performed. Those individuals who set the best practical examples in their personal lives of:.. worship and prayer; of Bible knowledge and teaching;of soul winning(evangelism); of loving ,caring fellowship...these are the true leaders of the congregation. We should follow them because they are pointing us to Jesus Christ, our true Leader.
Each one of us is called upon to take up the cross and to follow Him. We are all called to identify ourselves with the Saviour in His service, His suffering and His sacrifice for the Kingdom of God . The better we do this, the greater will be our commendation and the work entrusted to us in the Heavenly realm.
I am sure we have all been greatly blessed by Godly men and women, young and old whose devoted lives and actions have inspired us to greater love, trust and obedience. This is the type of leadership a congregation needs. It is notable that the NT only mentions religious leaders when it speaks of 'blind leaders of the blind'(Matt15:14). "Do not be called leaders; for One is your leader, that is, Christ" (Matt 23:10)
Editor 11/12/2013 22:59
Just to summarise: There is no hierarchy in the body of Christ - only different forms of service (ministry).

There is no distinction between 'house groups' and 'local church'. The 'church' is any gathering of believers (large or small) - any time, any day, any place.
Colin Ford (Guest) 12/12/2013 10:25
I agree with your summarization in it's entirety, apart from what you say about "different forms of service (ministry)".
I would assume that you mean according to Ephesians 4.11 KJV, for example?
But is this not where much confusion abounds? When we have so many self appointed or anointed charlatans fleecing the flock with their false teaching, healing and deliverance ministries?
Perhaps we should all write to our local MPs asking them to lobby for a government appointed regulator to monitor and oversee such ministries?

Colin Ford (Guest) 12/12/2013 10:26
That last sentence was said tongue-in cheek!
John Miller 12/12/2013 10:55
Gordon I agree with your opening sentence except I would rather use the word service or ministry than function. I accept what you say about the use of the word leader in the New Testament (King James) but leadership is clearly referred to in Hebrews 13:7 and the word is used in other equally accurate translations. I do not believe that we differ in our view of the local church.

Editor I agree that there is no hierarchy in the body of Christ. I believe that every believer is personally and directly responsible to Christ. I also believe that every local church is directly responsible to Christ. The only possible reason for any outside enquiry into the affairs of a local church would be if it had adopted doctrine that was blatantly heretical or apostate or as a united fellowship refused to deal with open, unjudged immoral behaviour. This happened for example in the Aberdeen "church" that called a homosexual to its pulpit. Sadly there are many such other examples.

The C of S presbytery system and its hierarchy in George Street failed miserably in this matter and presented the world with a departure of Laodicean proportions.

Regarding house groups, I am quite clear that there can be house churches, i.e. the formation of a Christian fellowship where worship and witness continues on a regular basis. My observation is however that the practicality of this arrangement may have certain weaknesses. For example if the owner of the house is sick or absent the gatherings may be disrupted. Also if some disagreement arises there may be some awkwardness in maintaining the impartiality of the fellowship because of the domesticity of the place of gathering. These are simple but real concerns. Another problem may arise if there is a desire to preach the Gospel. To do this in a private dwelling house might inhibit unbelievers coming along or just coming in off the street.

The church meeting in a house is biblical, but so is an appointed and suitable meeting place other than in a house, for example the School of Tyrannus. For many reasons the latter setting is usually more suitable in normal circumstances. Where persecution exists, isolation is a problem or numbers are very small the former setting might be more appropriate.

When I spoke of house groups I had in mind informal meetings of men and women meeting to study the scriptures and enjoy fellowship and mutual hospitality. I believe that is a very joyful, beneficial and blessed part of Christian fellowship. Paul puts certain restrictions on the audible participation of women in church worship. These would not apply in the informality of a domestic setting.

Finally I believe that the place of meeting has little importance as long as it affords an atmosphere suitable to a gathering of God's people in reverence and as much comfort as possible to avoid unnecessary distraction. In Dundee the congregation that has left Logie St Johns C. of S. meet in Menzieshill Community centre but sometimes have to meet in the University Chaplaincy hall. We were privileged to have fellowship with them last Lord's Day and it was wonderfully evident that God's dwelling place was the people not the buiilding.
Jack Thomson (Guest) 12/12/2013 11:05
Perhaps not so 'tongue in cheek' for is it not the case that most, if not all, 'Reverends' today are but religious politicians - or political religionists ?
Sadly, no matter what gender, the title of 'Reverend'usually introduces and accompanies a spiritually unregenerate individual - who has a social conscience and a 'christianised' mindset (with a divinity degree to prove it)
Their mantra is, and always has been:
Colin Ford (Guest) 12/12/2013 11:27
Yes, you raise some very valid points about the impracticalities that arise from meeting in private dwelling houses.
But then invariably comes the hierarchical leadership structure when you start buying or renting premises?
Also I have noted, and I am sure that you have too, that folk in larger congregations tend to have their own little mini congregations within?
Why wouldn't Paul's restrictions "not apply in the informality of a domestic setting"? They certainly WOULD in mine!
I had better stop as I think this thread is about women bishops?
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