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: 1883
Recorded: 16/04/2011
Length: 27 minutes
Listen Download MP3 Audio (25.1MB)

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John Miller 16/12/2013 20:46
Editor you will note that I usually refer to a church fellowship when writing about a company of believers who meet together on a regular basis. I am clear that the church in one place can rarely be identified. The church in any one place comprises in that place every blood bought, born again child of God irrespective of where they meet, with whom they meet or even if individuals in that number refrain from meeting with other Christians.

I do not agree that Paul's instructions regarding church order, for example 1 Tim.1:11,12 apply in a domestic setting such as when I am entertaining other Christians in my house for a meal or a cup of tea or coffee.

That is not a church gathering. It is certainly a gathering of individuals who belong to the church but it is a private meeting for the enjoyment of our mutual Christian beliefs. You and Colin Ford seem to accord such a gathering the status of the local church gathering for worship and witness. I do not see that so I am content to leave you with your convictions but they are not mine and never will be.

I regret the harshness of tone with some regarding the position of churches, or eklesias as you wisdh to put it, where there is an appointed minister. I do not see this as the biblical pattern but I am not prepared to condone Gordon's statement -

"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."

Some seem to welcome such offensive caricatures of men, many of whom are seeking to serve God with godly commitment. It seems that those who are so harshly critical of others may not even meet with the other believers in a local church fellowship. I am not prepared to agree with such a "holier than thou" attitude having had to seperate from it in the past at considerablr cost.

I am not confused about the meaning of the word church whether it refers to the church universal or local. There is no other status in scripture. There is no "national church" envisaged in scripture. that is an invention of man. Only one nation has been recognised by God according to His word. That is the nation of Israel.

The heading of this discussion is "Women Bishops ....etc." God in His word does not recognise such a notion. If we look at scripture the term "bishop" or "overseer" is a ministry that belongs to a local church. It does not carry any suggestion of a wider influence.
John Miller 16/12/2013 21:21
Apologies for typing error in last post - 1 Tim.1:11,12 should be 1 Tim.2:11,12
Colin Ford (Guest) 16/12/2013 21:52
In the first paragraph of your comment at 20.46.
You say, "The church in any one place comprises in that place EVERY blood bought believer, born again child of God..." (emphasis added).
I don't believe you are really saying that EVERY person that attends "church", be it a house church, or one with a "steeple" on it is a "blood bought" or "born again child of God"? I think, or rather would be so bold as to say, I KNOW not! Does not the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13 confirm this? What about Judas Iscariot; was not he very like the other apostles? When the Lord warned them that one would betray Him, no one said "is it Judas?" We had better think more about the churches of Sardis and Laodicea than we do?
Most of us that believe in "the fall" sometimes forget that we are still falling? It is interesting that you have re-quoted those verses in 1 Timothy 2.11-12 KJV! They should make us think? I agree with you, very, very hard, well nigh on impossible to enforce in a "house setting"? Especially with some of the women that I know! Where do we draw the line? Maybe we could say "church starts at 11.00 am, stops at 11.45 am, women can talk and confer with husbands for 30 minutes, church restarts at 12.15 pm" and on it goes! Maybe our esteemed editor could offer some advice?

Editor 16/12/2013 21:58
John, I am sorry if I did not communicate well.

When I mentioned "meeting in homes etc" I did not mean meeting with others (fellow Christians)for the principle purpose of social interaction.

I meant meeting for Christian fellowship, prayer, praise, worship, teaching, discipleship, breaking of bread (communion) and all the other features of any truly Christian gathering.

I believe the Word of God makes absolutely no distinction on the definition of the 'ekklesia' with regards the Sunday morning 'church' meeting or the mid-week home church meeting.
Both (provided they are comprised of Christians in the acts of worship, teaching, etc) are the 'ekklesia', the body of Christ in communion.
Editor 17/12/2013 11:22
John, I am sorry if I did not communicate well.

When I mentioned "meeting in homes etc" I did not mean meeting with others (fellow Christians)for the principle purpose of social interaction.

I meant meeting for Christian fellowship, prayer, praise, worship, teaching, discipleship, breaking of bread (communion) and all the other features of any truly Christian gathering.

I believe the Word of God makes absolutely no distinction on the definition of the 'ekklesia' with regards the Sunday morning 'church' meeting or the mid-week home church meeting.
Both (provided they are comprised of Christians in the acts of worship, teaching, etc) are the 'ekklesia', the body of Christ in communion.
John Miller 17/12/2013 12:00
Editor thanks for the clarification. It seems that others do not share that clarity of definition.

Colin according to scriptural teaching we do not attend church. Every blood bought, born again child of God comprises the church, whether universal or local.

I never at any time, here os elsewhere said that I believe that all who attend church gatherings can be described in this way. We have regular/occasional attendees that live in such a way as to bring into question that description.

If believers, true believers are meeting as an "eklesia" (the editor's preferred description) we do not have to enforce anything. Such persons will be governed by God's word. The Christian women with whom we gather are as observant of and obedient to God's word as the men, perhaps more so.
Editor 17/12/2013 12:32
Thanks John. Given that the 'ekklesia' can and does exist in both Sunday-morning and mid-week house-meeting forms, the difficulty which can arise is that different 'rules' (aka inconsistency) can sometimes be in evidence in these respective settings e.g. with regard hat-wearing, women speaking and praying audibly. Whatever ones views on these things there needs to be a common standard.

(Of course the number of people in any one setting can affect the dynamic of the gathering, but this is not the point as it is possible to have a large number of people in a big house and small number of people in a church building.)
Gordon (Guest) 19/12/2013 21:43
John Miller,
As I said, the fault lies in the cultual system that binds so many minds and congregations. Any human authoritarian model will necessarily truncate the Gospel, stunt the spiritual growth of the believer, and inevitably bring woeful 'burn-out' upon those who think they preside in the congregation in the place of God. They and others see themselves as being the vicar of Christ on earth This model is a denial of the Divine Right of the Redeemer. He is Lord, and we are to call no man 'leader' or allow ourselves to be called 'leaders'. One is our Leader: the Christ( Matt 23:10).

If you are going to adopt a cultural hierarchical ecclesiastical order of authoritarianism into the structure, what cultural reason is there for excluding over half your congregation from participating? Both are erroneous, in any case.
But if you accept the New Covenant Scriptures as your guide, convinced by the Holy Spirit that we are all one in Christ Jesus, then there is no problem. All believers in the congregation may exercise their spiritual gifts without let or hinderance or distinction of gender, race, etc. Here we have submission to one another, but no subjection to any, except to Christ. Sisters, stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made you free. Bothers, welcome them as equally gifted colleagues in the service of Christ, our Leader.
Finally, let us remember there will be no gender separation in Heaven, and there will be a great deal of work for us to do together in managing Christ's vast inheritance in the universe.
Jack Thomson. (Guest) 20/12/2013 10:36
Yes indeed all believers are one in Christ, but that 'oneness' refers to 'equality' - it does not include function and therefore order.
Christ is equal with His Father and yet He submitted His will absolutely to His Father's initiative, and thereafter followed that initiative to Calvary.
Indeed it could be said that believers have eternal life solely on account of Christ's submission to His Father's Order
And it wasn't our Father - or the Holy Spirit who was crucified - it was Jesus.
I have no doubt - absolutely no doubt, that whilst equality is an essential component within the true body of Christ so also are order and function...........
Marriage does not exist in the kingdom of heaven but order, equality and function most certainly do.

Gordon (Guest) 20/12/2013 20:22
I don't think 'function'-- from which you deduce 'order'-- is quite so permanently set as you make it out to be. To me, 'function' is something much more flexible and variable. This is fully compatible with having an orderly structure in a congregation of believers. Workers come and go; functions change, but the important thing is for the 'purpose' of the congregation to continue unabated; this does not change. Anyone who shows gifting...regardless of race, gender or age... should be encouraged to participate in activities which promote the purposes for which the fellowship exists.

This is Spirit led and inspired Godly order, which turns the members into being serious participants rather than being unemployed spectators. It will help to redress the current general imbalance between the exercising of gifts in the Pulpit and those dormant in the Pew. "Let the redeemed of the Lord speak up"(Psalm 107:2). This participation applies equally to men and to women......but no authoritarian positions, offices, ruling elders, presiding bishops, clergy, vicars, etc. please ! One is our Leader: Christ, and because of this each one of us has soul competency to share His grace.
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