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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John Miller 13/12/2013 11:27
Editor I must disagree with the absoluteness of your definition of "the church". The church of God in any one place comprises every blood bought child of God in that place. Any denomination, any house group may only have within its fellowship part of the church in that place if there are true believers meeting elsewhere or not meeting together at all.

We live in broken days when the church of God in any one place can hardly be identified in its whole except in very exceptional circumstances, and certainly any group that claims to have the right to exclusively call themselves "the church" is on thin ice.

Jack your last contribution is a slur on the martyrs of the reformation.
Jack Thomson (Guest) 13/12/2013 11:34
John,
I have always believed that the pattern for marriage should be based on our Lord's relationship with His Father.
Jesus was equal with His Father but always submitted Himself to His Father's initiative and authority - which meant, of course, that His Father's power and authority flowed through Jesus withour resistance..........
Jesus is the perfect model for all of our relationships - He came to lead by serving (His Father' selfless precepts) and through that submissive sacrifice served others by giving them eternal life...

John Miller 13/12/2013 14:09
Jack with the greatest respect if you read the Bible you will find the pattern for marriage is unambiguously stated in Ephesians 5:22-23
Jack Thomson (Guest) 13/12/2013 14:26
Jack your last contribution is a slur on the martyrs of the reformation.
But John,
I didn't mean it to be so.
Those heroes of the reformation took it as far as their knowledge enabled them - neither they nor their effort and sacrifice can be faulted.....
They can be likenned to a consciencious surgeon attempting to remove a cancerous growth from a patient. They remove as much of it as they can see - in the hope that they've removed it all........
And if perchance they fail in their task and the cancer re-estalishes itself and flourishes - they cannot be held to task.
In my opinion Romanism is a 'spiritual' cancer which, despite their best efforts, the 'surgeons'of the reformation failed to remove in its entirity - and inarguably it has re-established itself and is now flourishing.
ECUMENISM rules OK!!!!
John Miller 13/12/2013 14:27
Brother Colin McCormack I am glad that you contributed to this discussion. I would not dispute or doubt that there are today still many true believers in the Church of England. I am sure that for many of these their personal faith in Christ is the most important thing in their lives.

The atoning work of Christ and the truth of His title as Son of God stands as the foundation of all Chtistian faith. The authority of Apostolic ministry is indisputable and the teaching of the Apostles in scripture carries equal weight to that of Christ's own words.

For my part the difficulty that I have with the C of E as a system is its departure from the word of God, principally by the addition of a mass of extraneous ritual and doctrine that comes from human imagination. The service of the Holy Spirit of God has been largely excluded by the assumed authority of a blatantly hierarchal system that Paul's teaching does not envisage.

The designation of an elevated minority as priests stands in direct opposition to the word of God.

We see that full blown in the apostasy and heresy of Rome but the C of E is not far behind.
Jack Thomson (Guest) 13/12/2013 14:33
Jack with the greatest respect if you read the Bible you will find the pattern for marriage is unambiguously stated in Ephesians 5:22-23,
John, with equal respect, I read nothing on this scripture which would contradict my statement.
The trinity pattern will always be seen to be upholding good and godly relatioships between men and women.
God did, afterall, make Adam and Eve in His Image - man and women He made them.
Colin Ford (Guest) 14/12/2013 11:47
John,
It is not difficult to see why liberal theologians label Paul a misogynist. Some of us, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, would rather that such verses as 1 Timothy 2.11-12 KJV and 1 Corinthians 14.34-35 KJV were not in the Bible at all? Yet we are supposed to be "people of the Book"? Imagine being a 'woman bishop' and reading these Scriptures? What would they make of 1 Timothy 3.2 KJV? It says a "bishop must be the husband of one wife". Well ofcourse, we can see that same sex marriage would solve this little inconvenience? 1 Timothy 2.14 KJV tells us in NO uncertain terms that it was NOT Adam, but Eve who was deceived. It is my considered belief that Christians, today ignore these 'difficult' Scriptures at their peril, and thus will be led into apostasy? Now I don't profess to be an expert on Church history, but I think it common knowledge until relatively modern times that women had very minimal roles in Church life? In regard to Aquila and Priscilla, it may well be that Priscilla was more knowlegeable in the Word than her husband, but nevertheless, she WOULD have been subservient/submissive/subject to her husband according to God's Word? With knowledge comes increased responsibility, especially in regard to a teaching ministry, hence the exhortation in James 3.1 KJV? Is not a "meek and quiet spirit in the sight of God, of great price" 1 Peter 3.4 KJV? I am sure that Priscilla would have had such?
In the last 100 plus years or so with the rise of feminism, equal rights and weak male Church leadership we now find ourselves in this very sad and sorry state of affairs.
The "modernisers" in the C of E, and other godless institutions, in order to make the Church more "relevant" to today's world would have us believe that we need to bring it "up to date", and this in spite of Hebrews 13.8 KJV!

As for "Reform", do these people NEVER learn from history? (I haven't listened to the recording; do I really ever need to?) Luther, and other ex Roman Catholic Priests tried to reform Popery from within.
My avice is "come out of her my people" Revelation 18.4 KJV.
But will they? The positions, pay, priviliges etc that the harlot provides might be too much to foresake?
John Miller 14/12/2013 16:38
Colin I have not come across any verse that I wished was not in the Bible. I unreservedly accept the Bible's divine inspiration. I am not in any way liberal in my theology. I am chrystal clear on my understanding and acceptance of Paul's instructions regarding the respective places of men and women in the church. I believe that Aquila in accordance with Paul's ministry would be a model of subjection in her marital position.

I was attempting to show from scripture that biblical discussion in a household setting is not necessarily and indeed not usually what Paul had in mind in his instructions regarding women remaining silent in the church. I believe in the accuracy of the Holy Spirit's inspiration in Holy Scripture. I do not believe that the order of their names in Acts 18:26 is carelessly random or simply by chance and I do believe that it is to be noted for our instruction.

A wife's subjection to her husband need not preclude her from taking a lead for instance in the examination and understanding of scripture in the household setting. I have observed many women in my experience of Christian life who were more spiritually discerning than their husbands but remained subject to them in the biblical model.

The bottom line is that I do not believe that Christian fellowship in a household setting can be automatically designated as "the church". We never cease to be part of the church individually or in the enjoyment of household fellowship but I do not believe that this what Paul had in mind in his instructions regarding church order. I do not wish to be unkind and I confess that I have a somewhat limited knowledge of Christian house groups but I have observed that some of them come into being because their personnel just cannot get on with other Christians
Colin Ford (Guest) 14/12/2013 17:53
John,
I was certainly NOT laying THAT charge against you! If you read my last post again, I wasn't disputing at all the "order of names" with respect to Aquila and Priscilla, I am in FULL agreement with you! In fact I went on to say that Priscilla may well have had a superior Scriptural knowledge? This may be WHY the order of names were changed? There are indeed, I am sure, many very intelligent and discerning women in the world? Where ever would we be without them? All this aside, men are men and women are women, and there IS a biblical order? I certainly don't advocate exercising any kind of megalomaniacal control over women! As a married man I am well aware of Ephesians 5.28 KJV, and my accountability to God!
To borrow your phraseology, "the bottom line is" that I DO believe that Christian fellowship in a "household setting" CAN "be automatically designated as 'the church'".
Like you, I too have a "limited knowledge of Christian house groups". But I think you are being a little harsh to say it is because they "cannot get on with other Christians"? Rather I would say it is because they may be uncomfortable listening to false teaching, among other things?
I have attended many, many so-called 'church' meetings, especially of the Pentecostal variety, and well, as for biblical church discipline, I would say I observed very little!
In an earlier comment you said "we are living in broken days". Rather, I would suggest that these "broken days" started at "the fall"? Most certainly apostasy is increasing....
Colin Ford (Guest) 14/12/2013 18:28
But, wherever in Scripture is there taught a two-tier Church system, as you seem to advocate??
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