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 14/12/2013 18:50
Sorry Colin, I'm not teaching a two-tier church. If you have read my previous posts carefully you will observe that I have most strenuously advocated the priesthood of all believers.

I don't really know how much more simply the point that I feel is at issue in this conversation. It is clear that you and others including the Editor believe that where Christians gather in a private house the local church is designated in that gathering. I simply disagree.

We entertain other believers from our church fellowship and elsewhere regularly in the privacy of our house. We discuss the scriptures and their application to believers in The Lord Jesus Christ. In these discussions women are welcome to contribute on an equal footing to men. This is profitable, joyful and instructive. I do not accept that it is in breach of Paul's teaching.

In our Bible study, teaching and preaching women do not speak. This is in accord with Paul's teaching, the inspired word of God.

The setting of these two circumstances is completely different in my mind.

If through force of circumstances or convenience the fellowship gathered as a local church in my house I would accept the strictures regarding the place of women in a church or assembly setting.

I cannot put it more simply than that so I will leave my thoughts with you. I would feel very sorry for women in a Christian household who were forbidden to speak and even challenge what they might feel was incorrect in informal discussion because of their subservient position.
John Miller 14/12/2013 18:57
If I may I will add one other thought. I do not see the teaching of subservience for women in the New Testament. This is an altogether stronger thought than subjection as far as I would think.
Colin Ford (Guest) 14/12/2013 20:02
I think the problem you have, or indeed, I may have too, is that it is inherently difficult, we may say nigh on impossible to 'enforce' biblical church discipline in a "household setting"? But we can do it in a public building? There seems to me to be a kind of hypocrisy going on here?
Is this not then entirely due to the culture that we grew up in, and daily surrounds us? I believe Paul didn't have this problem in his day, as (for want of a better expression!) women were 'better behaved' in those days?
Prophetically, I believe 1 Timothy 3.1 KJV may in part be very significant as regards the church in these latter days?
"Once the horse has bolted it is no good shutting the stable door"?
Women bishops!

Colin Ford (Guest) 14/12/2013 20:04
In the above posting I meant 2 Timothy 3.1 KJV.
Penny Lee 15/12/2013 00:02
As a woman, I have been reading this discussion with interest. Like yourselves, what is in the Bible is there because it matters to God and we can't just disregard certain passages/texts because we find them difficult.

I am not at all comfortable with woman bishops/ministers. That is despite the fact that I myself have taken services, in the church, and been completely at peace doing so. Somehow, I see this as different to actually having the office of minister which, even if it appealed to me, I would never do as it is against scripture. Over the last seven years, I have felt God lead me to take these particular services and, at the beginning, I was horrified at the thought. However, the call was so clear that I had to obey and I felt a wonderful sense of closeness to God on each occasion as a result.

Strangely, the last time I felt led to take a service, I didn't get this feeling and wondered why it was different from the rest. However, since then, I have had great blessing in that one couple, whose only occasion to be in this church coincided with that service, asked for a copy of my sermon and this has been copied and left for others to take as they please. Two women who had been given a copy had stated they weren't going to read it and then both separately changed their minds and it seemed to touch both their hearts.

It is easy to say that women shouldn't preach but I have absolute peace in my heart that God led me to do so on all of the six or so occasions when I have filled a gap. Somehow, I feel no conflict with my actions and what is written in God's Word and yet others may say that, scripturally speaking, I am in the wrong. Well, if I am in the wrong, then God led me into it and, of course, we know that God would never do that so, what can I say? I have no explanation for why I felt led by God to preach on these occasions but I know that it was instigated by, arranged by and blessed by Him every time.
Jack Thomson (Guest) 15/12/2013 20:58
Your 'peace' in preaching is not inconsistent with God's word.If we look to the OT we find that God used Deborah to lead Isreal when no suitable man was available.
Don't take this the wrong way, but your leading to preach on these ocasions which you did was perhaps judgement on the spiritual inadequacies of the men in these congregations rather than God sanctioning you as a 'woman' preacher.

Gordon (Guest) 16/12/2013 11:49
I don't believe in having women bishops/ministers because it is unbiblical. Culturally it also goes against the grain, but that is secondary.

But I believe even less in men being bishops/ministers. Few can sustain the rising ego, arrogance, authoritarianism and oratorical performance that goes with the job. Most would welcome an early retirement, and their families and congregation would be in full agreement.

The fault lies in the structure of the way we do 'church'. We are trying to put the wine of the New Covenant into the old , dilapidated sacks of Moses. But Moses is dead and the Old has become obsolete with the fulfillment in Christ Jesus.

Jesus said in Matt 23:10 "Don't call anyone 'leader', for one is you Leader, the Christ".

God gifts all his children to serve the Body of Christ, and all should be set free to minister to one another, without discrimination on gender, ethnicity, age ,class, education,etc.

Jack Thomson (Guest) 16/12/2013 12:25
I agree with you - on much of what you say, but we must remember that God is a God of order.
And that true (divine) order will always complement equality - it will never compromise it
John Miller 16/12/2013 12:47
Gordon may I ask if you are committed to a church fellowship?
Editor 16/12/2013 14:42
Note to Gordon and John
From various postings on this thread and others it would seem that there is confusion (which probably started about the 3rd century) concerning the word "church".

Please (in any questions and subsequent answers) if you wish to refer to what the man-in-the-street would term "church" then feel free to use that term.

If however you a referring to the body of Christ (i.e. a group of believers) then perhaps use the word "ekklesia".

Gordon, as I have earlier indicated the (biblical) "ekklesia" refers to any group of believers in any location (irrespective of geography and/or building or field) on any day of the week. However I do not know if this is what John is referring to or not.

PS. The biblical framework (injunctions/instructions/practices etc.) for meeting together apply equally to a mid-week gathering in a home as they do to a steeple house on a Sunday.
I might (if I have time) post an article on this subject as there is so much confusion regarding the use of the word "church" (as there is also regarding the word "minister" et al).
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