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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John Miller 12/12/2013 11:32
Jack you generalise too much. It is my privilege to be personally intimately aquainted with men who have such a title. While your description may sadly apply to many, even a majority, it certainly does not so do to all.

In our fellowship we have such a man, now well into his ninth decade. His godliness is a shining example to all and his ministry is the very essence Christ like sweetness.

Perhaps you need to get out a bit more. Every blessing brother.
John Miller 12/12/2013 11:40

"But then invariably comes the hierarchical leadership structure when you start buying or renting premises?"

Sorry I do not agree with the insertion of the word "invariably". I have mainly worshipped in small fellowships since my childhood, but if God's ways with His people is to put them in a large company, have I the right to dispute or suggest that His arrangements are second best.

The important thing is to be in fellowship with God and His people in as active a way as possible, thus enjoying the normality of Christian life, walk and work.

Jack Thomson (Guest) 12/12/2013 11:42
Thank you for the correction - yes, my post reflected the limit of my experience - and I should have stated it as such.
But the question remains:
Why are godly men content to languish in, and therefore extend christian integrity to such godless (worldly and man-made) systems?
John Miller 12/12/2013 11:53
Colin do I understand that when you are entertaining Christian friends and discussing the things of God, for instance or having household prayer you do not allow women present to speak or pray?
Colin Ford (Guest) 12/12/2013 17:34
Sorry for late reply, I have been out all afternoon.
If we read 1 Timothy 2.11-12 KJV, for example, (this is the Word of God?) who was Paul talking to?
Is it any wonder the Church is in it's current state of affairs when believers plainly transgress this commandment? And yes it IS a commandment, how does Paul open up 1 Timothy 1.1 KJV ?
If a woman wants to learn anything, then they can ask their husbands afterward, according to 1 Corinthians 14.34-35 KJV ?
This is what God's Word says? But are these commandments just meant for stuffy Reformed Churches, and NOT 'enlightened' house churches? Is this why some are confused about exactly what church means?

Now, here is where the "rubber hits the road" as they say. Have I "entertained" Christians at home? Of course; but have I applied the above to my 'meetings'? No, sadly, I haven't!
I think this is where the waters get muddied. Is "house chuch", then just meant to be an anything goes sloppy social club with no Biblical discipline?

John Miller 12/12/2013 18:31
I would not consider presuming to place any restrictions on my guests, male or female in a household setting. I think such behaviour would be rude and unjustified.

Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos into their house and jointly instructed him. No doubt they used their knowledge of Paul's ministry in this household ministry.
Colin Ford (Guest) 12/12/2013 18:42
And would not have been Priscilla subservient to her husband according to the Word of God?
But you still seem to separate the "household ministry" from the "church"?
According to the Editor of this site (and me) there is NO distinction?
Colin McCormack (Guest) 13/12/2013 10:09
As an Anglican, I find some of the comments re the curent state of the C of E interesting,even informative. However, when you reject the Anglican model of authority as being " top-down" while espousing Presbyterianism as being "closest to that the Biblical model"I begin to wonder exactly who is "missing the point" here!

In the first place ,there is no reference in your argument to Apostolic authority; one to the foundational differences between RC and Protestant understandings of church life and government and secondly(and more importantly)- given the centrality of the death ,resurrection and exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ - the foundation of the life and welfare of the emerging Christian Church. If that is not "top-down", then I don't know what is !
Furthermore,to quote(misquote?) with approbation:"it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" as Biblical support for what you describe as "consensual" government without any contextualisation actually vitiates your argument.Acts 15:22 says: "Then it seemed good to the apostles(!) and to the elders,with the whole church to choose men from among them---".Your generalized "us" hardly does justice to the biblical material.

In effect,the real failure of the C of E is,its cavalier disregard for "top down" theology and ecclesiastical government. On the contrary, its obsession with consensuality is only serving to hasten its demise.
Jack Thomson (Guest) 13/12/2013 10:57
Anglicanism or Presbyterianism?
Sadly, both are children of Romanism
Both are wrong.....
And two wrongs will never make a right - never in an eternity of years................

John Miller 13/12/2013 11:10
Colin I believe the references to Aquila and Priscilla in the scriptures are very instructive if we care to study and acknowledge the accuracy and meaning of how the Holy Spirit inspired their writing.

This godly married couple are mentioned six times throughout the Acts and the Epistles. Three times Aquila is mentioned first and three times Priscilla. Interestingly Acts 18:26 puts Priscilla first. Is this by chance? Perhaps we might pause to consider that this might suggest Priscilla had a greater grasp of Paul's ministry, its meaning and application. What the six references to this couple indicate to me at the very least is that they were united in 6heir service to the Lord and that Priscilla was in no way spiritually subservient to Aquila. I'm sure that she was subject in the biblical sense.

Another thing that this verse teaches me is that household fellowship is not necessarily the representation of a local church. As I have stated previously, I believe that house churches were a feature of the early church and are so today in many places. I do not believe that groups of people meeting in private houses can always be designated as local churches. We entertain the people of God, including our local Christian brethren regularly. When we are enjoying such fellowship I do not regard such a gathering as our church.

One good reason is that those present there are specifically and exclusively invited to that particular meal. In the house I do not regard my wife as subservient to me. In the biblical sense I trust that I can claim she is subject, but not subservient. In the kitchen I am usually, but not always, subservient to her. As far as housework is concerned I am always the subservient partner!
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