Labouring in the same field

The 300 page report Women Bishops in the Church of England? spends far too long in skirting around peripheral issues, and in failing to address the central point.

If we start with scripture, it must be with Paul — ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ The Church made excuses for not eradicating slavery for centuries, and has made similar excuses for not recognizing the equality of women with men. Certainly there is a complementarity, and the other scripture texts point to that. Men and women are very different. But, for the Church of God to be whole, just as in a human family, the roles of both mother and father need to be present. The Church has too long presented itself as a single parent family in which men ruled, and the women were grudgingly accepted as housekeepers.

It is very evident that clergy chapters throughout England, which were once boys’ clubs, have been enormously transformed by the presence of women as equal partners in ministry, and indeed, as leaders of the group in the role of rural dean. A great deal of the posturing about different styles of churchmanship has been tempered, and there has been a more gracious acceptance of those who are different, yet labouring in the same field.

Yet this has been achieved at a very high price in England; allowing a polarization about the ordination of women that has enabled those opposed to become caricatures of their churchmanship in the cosy clubs of traditional Catholics and Evangelicals. These boys’ clubs have become entrenched in their views, and have moved further out of touch with the mood of the nation as a whole. They define themselves by their opposition to women priests and bishops, and undermine their notable work in former times at home and abroad, working in slum parishes here, and ending slavery around the world.

The presence of large numbers of women in public life is slowly having a civilizing influence. Public policy and the conduct of parliament is being transformed. And in many parishes the presence of women priests has brought enormous change and new ways of working. The Church of England’s report needed to look carefully at the way in which the presence of women in public life has made a difference today. Ignoring this is a major omission, and a refusal to see the benefits of making the change. It looks as though the Church doesn’t even yet believe in women having the vote.

We know the arguments about the priest or bishop being an ikon of Christ. We need to see women in that role precisely because we need to show both men and women that the Church believes we are all one in Christ, and that it is humanity, not just men, who are made in the image of God.

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David Huff
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David Huff

Well said, Tom. Amen. I’m going to forward a permalink to this essay to our friends in the Fort Worth Via Media group (the Diocese of Ft. Worth, Texas is one of only, what ? three ? of the dioceses in the ECUSA which still refuses to ordain women at *all* – yes, not even deacons)

“These boys’ clubs have become entrenched in their views, and have moved further out of touch with the mood of the nation as a whole.” indeed…

Dr Abigail Ann Young
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It has certainly been my experience in the Anglican Church of Canada that women’s orders have enriched us. It is just one small thing, but the first time I knelt in my parish church and heard the prayer of consecration sung in a woman’s voice instead of a man’s voice, alto instead of tenor, I was unexpectedly moved. And I was always a supporter of the ordination of women! But it was comparable to the impact I felt when the words of the confession were changed from “judge of all men” to “judge of all people” — I didn’t start… Read more »

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

I agree that one should be *aware* of the mood of the nation as a whole. But if we are to be led by it, then it follows that the nation as a whole knows more than the church, so the church should join them and forsake Christianity.
It is self-contradictory for a Christian to advocate being led by the fashions prevalent in a non-Christian nation.
Moods are just that: moods. They are only normative for fashion victims, not for people with a rich 2000-year heritage.

John Henry
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John Henry

Wolfhart Pannenberg, an eminent Lutheran theologian, makes an interesting point when he writes: “For a woman to act at worship IN PERSONA CHRISTI need not be regarded as offensive if we consider that the minister is not representing the earthly man Jesus of Nazareth but the exalted Christ in whose body the distinctions of sex, as well as those of social status, nationality, and race have been overcome” (Systematic Theology, III, p.391). In fact, Galatians 3:27 establishes a basic principle that fellowship with the risen Christ relativizes all distinctions, including that of gender. For St. Paul that was an implication… Read more »

Revd. Francisco de Assis
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Revd. Francisco de Assis

I want to express my hope that the Church of England advances to take seriously the ordination of women bishops. My Province, in spite of not have Bishops women still has the principle, in our Canons, of equality access to the three orders to the women, since 1984. I had the privilege to be present at Bristol, eleven years ago, in the first ordinations of woman priests within the Church of England. And i’m sure that this Church has to be thankful for the enrichment caused by woman’s ministry. My prayers are full of hope that the Synod of Church… Read more »

Rodney
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Rodney

Thanks, Tom, for saying these important things. However, when it comes to trying to persuade those who have closed their ears on this question, the only arguments we can use are those drawn from the texts of the Greek scriptures, or from “Tradition”. Any reference to modern life outside the boundaries of some part or other of the existing institutions of the Church is met with putting fingers in ears and shouting “La, la, la, la …..” as loudly as possible until the speaker shuts up. We need to persuade the deniers to accept the line of argument John Henry… Read more »

ruidh
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It is self-contradictory for a Christian to advocate being led by the fashions prevalent in a non-Christian nation. Moods are just that: moods. They are only normative for fashion victims, not for people with a rich 2000-year heritage. It is not at all self-contradictory for the Church to utilize cultural expectations in order to communicate and convert people to the Gospel. If the culture believes and expects that women are fully equal to men, insisting otherwise impedes the spread of the Gospel especially as Scripture teaches the same thing. Insisting that the Church’s accomodations to older and extinct cultures are… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
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Christopher Shell, Why do you think this is contradictory? Or rather, is the contradiction not an other one; that your Tradition is the academic 2000 odd years old Platonist one from Hellenist Alexandria? For most of the last Millennum, the European Church has preached Hellenist teachings: Abstinences, priestly Celibacy, Hierarchy, Coercion, Burnings, Sperm/soul gnosticism, Holy War, the Subordination of women & c. But if we listen to the vox populi, such as the reactions to Pastor Kalin’s Priestly Declaration against the Blessings of Partnerships, decided upon by the Synod of the Church of Sweden last month, we see that the… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
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Very strange of Pannenberg to say such a thing. For Dr Martin Luther priesthood was not an unalienable character, but chiefly something d o n e.

Also the Church of Sweden has never done this “representative” stuff at all, save of late (normative Early-Church Ecumenism) the odd romanizing individual.

Harold Macdonald
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Harold Macdonald

51 years in the priestly Anglo Catholic boys club has not inhibited contact in the Anglican church of Canada with the ministry of women. Each redefinition of women’s role in ordained ministry has been preceeded by an aura of female competence and “calling”. It has not been an experience of jumping in the deep end of the pool, but a wading into deeper waters, hand in hand. Notwithstanding objections, fairly easily overcome. Peace Harold

Jeff
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Jeff

I really don’t have the time to get into a long discussion on this issue but one thing that continues to discredit the position on women in the priesthood/episcopacy is terrible exegesis seen by this post and John Henry’s reference to Gal. 3.27. If you want to be taken seriously that you are dealing with the text and not throwing some verse out as some sort of trump card that cancels out all other texts of scriptures, this one is not it. Bishop Tom Wright is known for advocating women in these roles and at a conference on women’s service… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
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Jeff quotes Bishop Wright: “I notice that on one of your leaflets you adopt what is actually a mistranslation of this verse: neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female. That is precisely what Paul does not say; and as it’s what we expect he’s going to say, we should note quite carefully what he has said instead, since he presumably means to make a point by doing so, a point which is missed when the translation is flattened out as in that version.” This conflation nor, nor, nor, comes from the Latin translations. The eldest… Read more »

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

It has often been said that the NT recognises only 2 priesthoods: the High Priesthood of Christ and the priesthood of all believers. And rightly said.

What would someone say to someone like me who thinks it’s no wonder that these prieshood arguments get in a jumble because this basic fact has not been acknowledged?

Göran Koch-Swahne
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Well, I for one, would simply agree.

Along with many other things, the particular priesthood is Church; Tradition, not Scripture.

Bona esse, not esse.

Simple as that.

badman
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badman

Christopher Shell, would I be right in deducing from your e mail address that you are not an Anglican? Or that your primary church is the Kensington Temple? I know from my own experience that that is an exceptionally vibrant and successful church. However, it is not an Anglican Church, or an Episcopalian Church. Also, it has no priests in the Anglican or Roman Catholic sense, as opposed to pentecostalist ministers. Do you agree with this distinction? If so, would you care to explain in a few lines why you have chosen this church and not the local Anglican church?… Read more »

J. C. Fisher
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“We do not become hermaphrodites or for that matter genderless, sexless beings when we are baptised.”

Excellent point, +Tom.

. . . but neither do those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or intersexed “become” something *different* in our essential God-given natures, either.

Forgive an off-color remark? I often find it amusing that RC iconography should enshrine the “Sacred Heart” of Jesus when, vis-a-vis their anthropology of “Alter Christus” in the priesthood, it seems that there is *another organ* that the Vatican truly uplifts as sacred! ;-p

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

Hi Badman I am nondenominational, all and none; however Im a New Testament Christian and a mere Christian. No denomination has any right to people’s allegiance above another denomination. I always think it’s important to look at the whole picture of what God is doing in a particular country, town or locality; particular places of worship are secondary to this. Theologically: yes, the Christianity of the Book of Acts looks to me more pentecostal than catholic (though it is even better to eschew labels altogether, since it has many different dimensions and characteristics). Anyone trained in New Testament is going… Read more »

Merseymike
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Merseymike

But, Christopher, the description of priesthood you have given is not the Anglican one – is it?

Christopher Calderhead
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Christopher Calderhead

Christopher, Thanks for your post. I find it curious, given your theological position, that you spend time disputing with Anglicans about Anglican issues. If you hold a non-denominational understanding of Christianity, then you must find the whole Anglican enterprise to be entirely misguided… why help rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic? But, more importantly, I want to challenge–gently–this idea that one can be a ‘mere Christian’. Every time I have encountered a person who asserts that they are non-denominational, I have found that they had very specific theological points of view which derive from the Protestant reformation. The stance that… Read more »

RMF
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RMF

There are enormous swaths of Christiandom, and even some major outposts in Anglicanism (Sydney comes immediately to mind) where this question of “representing” Christ during Eucharist is not in play. And yet in many of these places, women still play subordinate roles in corporate worship. I hope we do not sublimate the Protestant position on the priesthood of all believers in the name of liturgy. “In general, the pattern of conformity with transient social fashions (usually a few years later, which if anything makes it worse) is the primary thing that drives me and others away from anglicanism as a… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
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Well, as I said, the Church of Sweden does not have this Roman idea of “representing” Christ at all, bits or no bits.

And we are quite happy with our Lady Bishops, thank you.

Christopher Shell
Guest
Christopher Shell

Hi Christopher Calderhead-
Supposing that people were indeed rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. Would the thing to do be to leave them to it?

It’s not so much a matter of succeeding in being a mere Christian: more a matter of aiming at that.
There are certain principles (e.g. grounding in Jesus and the New Testament, both history – & thence doctrine – and ethics; international outlook; historical awareness). Don’t you think that all teh labels that supposedly belong to only one party (e.g. catholic/universal, evangelical, charismatic, thinking) are all things that are non-negotiables for *every* Christian? It’s obviously a both/and situation.

Christopher Calderhead
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Christopher Calderhead

About the Titanic, yes, if the boat’s sinking, man the lifeboats. But I haven’t given up on the Anglican project. And I certainly don’t think the solution is to tell Anglicans to stop being Anglican… A return to NT Christianity is problematic (many have tried before). Rather than creating a meta-Christianity, beyond denominationalism, it always becomes simply one more tradition amongst the many. (Funny thing is, if we recreated the NT Church today, would it look very different from what we’ve got now? Lot of squabbling in Acts and the Epistles…) You’re right about the labels you mention. They’re all… Read more »

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

Two points: (1) There is still the difference between (a) people who think in terms of separate denominations and (b) people who think in terms of a federation, of different regiments in the same army. (b) is clearly an improvement on (a) – and that’s all Im really trying to say. Whichever Christian body one finds oneself in needs to be being renewed constantly in the sense of being conformed to some blueprint (namely Christ and the body of Christ). So there’s everything right with renewal movements; in fact, they are inescapably ubiquitous, and rightly so. (2) Being a NT… Read more »