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: 1884
Recorded: 16/04/2011
Length: 27 minutes
Listen Download MP3 Audio (25.1MB)

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Jack Thomson (Guest) 21/12/2013 11:40
I think we are in broad general agreement regarding the complete godlessness of traditional/hierarchical church systems, but I am still of the opinion that order and function are essential to the efficient working of any organ or organisation - not least the body of Christ Ref: 1 Cor 12/12-21.
Colin Ford (Guest) 22/12/2013 22:47
I misquoted J.C.Ryle. Earlier on page 1 of this thread I said that he would leave the C of E if they abandoned the WCF, or words to that effect. I quoted from memory, and confounded the WCF with the Prayer book which incorporates the 39 Articles, so-called.
Ryle's exact words from his book "Holiness" page 298;

"In the last place, would you understand what the times require of you in reference to the Church of England? Listen to me, and I will tell you. No doubt you live in days when our time-honoured church is in a very perilous, distressing and critical position. Her rowers have brought her into troubled waters. Her very existence is endangered by papists, infidels, and liberationists without. Her lifeblood is drained away by the behaviour of traitors, false friends and timid officers within. Nevertheless, so long as the Church of England sticks firmly to the Bible, the Articles, and the principles of the Reformation, so long I advise you to stick to the church. When the Articles are thrown overboard, and the old flag is hauled down, then, and not till then, will it be time for you and me to launch the boats and quit the wreck. At present, let us stick to the old ship."

Ryle died in 1900, but I think we can confidently assert if he were around today that he would have indeed "quit the wreck"?
Having said this, Ryle in the same book on page 123 for example speaks glowingly of the WCF regarding Justification.
As you know Ryle was a staunch defender of Calvinism and quoted from many works of the Puritans, and others who held to the WCF, which I understand has historically been used as a confession by many in the C of E.
I would have posted on your "critique" of the WCF, but there is no facility to respond on that article. There are things written there which I would certainly comment on, in time.
I have posted this primarily for YOUR information, so please delete if appropriate. I am not sure if any of your readers are interested in the above, though, is it not pertinent to "women bishops"?
John Miller 24/12/2013 09:25
"The complete godlessness of traditional/hierarchal church systems."

That statement presupposes the absence of any work of the Holy Sprit in a denomination of which the writer disapproves. It is a harsh statement that the Bible does not support. Even in the church at Laodicea, where Christ found nothing to commend the opportunity to repent is afforded and the possibility of individuals responding to His invitation to have fellowship with Him is envisaged.

The condemnation of other Christians in such absolute terms irrespective of their situation does not exhibit the grace of a self-judged spirit. The Lord said to Sardis, "Thou hast a few names, even in Sardis that have not defiled their garments." Complete godlessness? I do not see it.
Editor 24/12/2013 10:48
Note to John M - "Amen to what you have said."

Note to Colin F -
The 'WCF Critique' contains the following advice:
"Logged-in site members can use the 'Response' facility below. Any comments from non-members of the site should be made directly to the Editor.."
Colin Ford (Guest) 24/12/2013 11:48
I did try to log on as a member last week, I am not sure whether or not it was a fault with your site or me, most probably the latter!
Yes John, Jack's statement indeed is rather harsh, agreed. But such are the days we are living in, that people comment thus?
This current article we are commenting on regarding "women bishops" is of course related to the C of E, which I suppose is the head of apostate Protestantism in the UK? What next? A complete surrender to Rome? Jack's statement may then seem much, much more appropriate? Revelation 18.4 KJV.
Charles (Guest) 24/12/2013 11:58
John Miller, in building your 'strawman' you wrote:
The condemnation of other Christians in such absolute terms irrespective of their situation does not exhibit the grace of a self-judged spirit.
But Jack Thomson did not condemn 'people' - did he?
He condemned The SYSTEM!!!
A system from which God calls His people OUT:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”


“Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”


“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Of course there are bona fide believers still remaining in these godless church systems

Note to ED. Your comment smacks of a 'Pack' mentality.

Colin Ford (Guest) 24/12/2013 15:06
Reading Jack's comment again, yes, very true. Jack WAS speaking against the system. Having said that there ARE still men and women in these systems, as you acknowledged?
But, you DO just wonder when these folk will "wake up and smell the coffee"?
Bishop Ryle would have left the harlot many, many years ago, if he were still around. Considered by many to be the best 'low churchman' ever in the 'High Church', apart from those in it today, ofcourse!
I rather think your comment to Ed is rather lacking in grace, somewhat?
John Miller 24/12/2013 15:27
Charles, if we say that a system (I can only assume that this refers to Christian "denominations") is completely godless, this explicitly condemns it as having no Christian constituency within.

All Christian denominations will have children of God in the full sense of John chapter one, within them, so it is incorrect to say that that system or denomination is completely godless.

I am very clear about withdrawing or abstaining from iniquity and for my authority I turn first to Paul's teaching, for example in his second letter to Timothy. I have in fact withdrawn from fellowship with some because of false teaching many years ago. In doing so I recognised that there were brothers and sisters in Christ left behind. The error was most serious, that is all I am prepared to say, but because these true Christians remain to this day I cannot say that that fellowship was completely godless.

We cannot separate the "system" or "denomination" from its members, or vice versa. God did not bring down His judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah until righteous Lot and his family had left. Only when they had departed could Sodom and Gomorrah be described as completely godless. Abraham's intercession makes the point I believe.

I will leave the Editor to defend himself if he so desires, although I think your note is without foundation. I
Charles (Guest) 24/12/2013 16:20
Every Christian takes from, and contributes to the Godless system which we call civilised society.
And our society and the laws on which it is based are Godless, in so far as they operate, and increasingly adopt the self-focused precepts and principles of the god of this world.
I'm truly surprised that you cannot grasp the distinction between a 'system' and an 'individual'.
As your own presence, reliance and contribution to society confirms individuals can be 'contolled' by a system without necessarily agreeing with its principles.
John Miller 24/12/2013 17:10
I have no difficulty distinguishing between a system and an individual, Charles. I would respectfully point out that you are not understanding my reasoning. I simply say that no system, and I understand that this refers either to denomination or a wider concept, e .g. Presbyterianism, can be described as completely godless if within its ranks exist a constituency of born again believers.

You either accept that as a possibility, and within that denomination there will be those who gather, experiencing the presence of our Lord Jesus according to His promise or you reject it. If you accept it then you cannot condemn it as completely godless. If of course you do not believe that within those who are within it there can be a single righteous person you then have a basis for using that description.

I cannot make my position more clear.
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