Thursday, 24 November 2005

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.

Posted by Tom Ambrose on Thursday, 24 November 2005 at 3:24pm GMT
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: just thinking
Comments

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...

Posted by: David Huff on Thursday, 24 November 2005 at 4:18pm GMT

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 off as a fan of liturgical reform or inclusive language but I learned something I needed to know from that change. All the intellectual understanding that I had of the history of the language and the inclusive meaning of "men" in that context didn't cut the ice: it was different when I said "people" than when I said "men"!
I think the experience of having female clergy has had that kind of impact for many of us, and I know that some people who were opposed to women's orders in the beginning were reconciled to the change by their experiences with women in ordained ministry.

Abigail

Posted by: Dr Abigail Ann Young on Thursday, 24 November 2005 at 4:22pm GMT

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.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Thursday, 24 November 2005 at 6:21pm GMT

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 of baptism, which both sexes receive as distinct from the sign of circumcision in the Old Covenant.

Posted by: John Henry on Thursday, 24 November 2005 at 7:25pm GMT

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 of England gives this important step.

Posted by: Revd. Francisco de Assis on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 1:58am GMT

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 has set out above, that women and men really are equal in baptism! It's a big ask, though, when the only texts they will look at are those which, when literally read, seem to support the prejudice they just can't seem to put aside. I fear it's a lost cause.

Posted by: Rodney on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 2:33am GMT

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 somehow normative for all time, dooms the Church to irrevelancy.

Posted by: ruidh on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 3:18am GMT

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 people have heard:

Love thy neighbour, Equality, the value of all Creation, Justice, Peace and so on...

This is the real contradiction - and makes me wonder at the sense of humor of the Holy Spirit.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 6:34am GMT

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.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 6:51am GMT

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

Posted by: Harold Macdonald on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 7:16am GMT

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 in the Church he writes of this verse: (excuse the length, please)
2. Galatians 3.28


The first thing to say is fairly obvious but needs saying anyway. Galatians 3 is not about ministry. Nor is it the only word Paul says about being male and female, and instead of taking texts in a vacuum and then arranging them in a hierarchy, for instance by quoting this verse and then saying that it trumps every other verse in a kind of fight to be the senior bull in the herd (what a very masculine way of approaching exegesis, by the way!), we need to do justice to what Paul is actually saying at this point. I am surprised to see, in some of your literature, the insistence that women and men are equally saved and justified; that is, I’m surprised because I’ve never heard anyone denying it. Of course, there may well be some who do, but I just haven’t met them. The point Paul is making overall in this passage is that God has one family, not two, and that this family consists of all those who believe in Jesus; that this is the family God promised to Abraham, and that nothing in the Torah can stand in the way of this unity which is now revealed through the faithfulness of the Messiah. This is not at all about how we relate to one another within this single family; it is about the fact, as we often say, that the ground is even at the foot of the cross.

First, a note about translation and exegesis. 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. What he says is that there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, no ‘male and female’. I think the reason he says ‘no male and female’ rather than ‘neither male nor female’ is that he is actually quoting Genesis 1, and that we should understand the phrase ‘male and female’ in scare-quotes.

So does Paul mean that in Christ the created order itself is undone? Is he saying, as some have suggested, that we go back to a kind of chaos in which no orders of creation apply any longer? Or is he saying that we go on, like the gnostics, from the first rather shabby creation in which silly things like gender-differentiation apply to a new world in which we can all live as hermaphrodites – which, again, some have suggested, and which has interesting possible ethical spin-offs? No. Paul is a theologian of new creation, and it is always the renewal and reaffirmation of the existing creation, never its denial, as not only Galatians 6.16 but also of course Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 make so very clear. Indeed, Genesis 1—3 remains enormously important for Paul throughout his writings.

What then is he saying? Remember that he is controverting in particular those who wanted to enforce Jewish regulations, and indeed Jewish ethnicity, upon Gentile converts. Remember the synagogue prayer in which the man who prays thanks God that he has not made him a Gentile, a slave or a woman – at which point the women in the congregation that God ‘that you have made me according to your will’. I think Paul is deliberately marking out the family of Abraham reformed in the Messiah as a people who cannot pray that prayer, since within this family these distinctions are now irrelevant.

I think there is more. Remember that the presenting issue in Galatians is circumcision, male circumcision of course. We sometimes think of circumcision as a painful obstacle for converts, as indeed in some ways it was; but of course for those who embraced it it was a matter of pride and privilege. It not only marked out Jews from Gentiles; it marked them out in a way which automatically privileged males. By contrast, imagine the thrill of equality brought about by baptism, the identical rite for Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female. And that’s not all. Though this is somewhat more speculative, the story of Abraham’s family did of course privilege the male line of descent: Isaac, Jacob and so on. What we find in Paul, both in Galatians 4 and in Romans 9, is careful attention being paid – rather like Matthew 1, in fact, though from a different angle – to the women in the story. If those in Christ are the true family of Abraham, which is the point of the whole story, then the manner of this identity and unity takes a quantum leap beyond the way in which first-century Judaism construed them, bringing male and female together as surely and as equally as Jew and Gentile. What Paul seems to be doing in this passage, then, is ruling out any attempt to back up the continuing male privilege in the structuring and demarcating of Abraham’s family by an appeal to Genesis 1, as though someone were to say, ‘But of course the male line is what matters, and of course male circumcision is what counts, because God made male and female.’ No, says Paul, none of that counts when it comes to membership in the renewed people of Abraham.

But once we have grasped this point we must take a step back and reflect on what Paul has not done as well as what he has done. In regard to the Jew/Gentile distinction, Paul’s fierce and uncompromising insistence on equality in Christ does not at all mean that we need pay no attention to the distinctives between those of different cultural backgrounds when it comes to living together in the church. Romans 14 and 15 are the best example of this, but we can see it as well throughout Galatians itself, as Paul regularly speaks of ‘we’ meaning Jewish Christians and ‘you’ or ‘they’ meaning Gentile Christians. They have come to an identical destination but they have come by very different routes and retain very different cultural memories and imaginations. the differences between them are not obliterated, and pastoral practice needs to take note of this; they are merely irrelevant when it comes to belonging to Abraham’s family. And this applies, I suggest, mutatis mutandis, to Paul’s treatment of men and women within the Christian family. The difference is irrelevant for membership status and membership badges. But it is still to be taken note of when it comes to pastoral practice. We do not become hermaphrodites or for that matter genderless, sexless beings when we are baptised. Paul would have been the first to reject the gnostic suggestion that the original creation was a secondary, poor shot at making a world and that we have to discover ways of transcending that which, according to Genesis 1, God called ‘very good’. This is the point at which we must issue a warning against the current fashion in some quarters, in America at least, for documents like the so-called ‘Gospel of Mary’, read both in a gnostic and a feminist light. That kind of option appears to present a short-cut right in to a pro-women agenda, but it not only purchases that at a huge cost, historically and theologically, but also presents a very two-edged blessing, granted the propensity in some branches of ancient gnosticism to flatten out the male/female distinction, not by affirming both as equally important, but by effectively turning women into men. Remember the last saying in the so-called ‘Gospel of Thomas’.

The ways in which Paul explores the differences between men and women come elsewhere than in Galatians, of course. I want to look first at 1 Corinthians and then, finally, at 1 Timothy; but, before we do either, I want to offer you some notes on one or two themes and passages in the gospels and Acts.

You may read the rest of this argument at http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Women_Service_Church.htm

You're starting at the WRONG place!

Posted by: Jeff on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 8:41am GMT

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 manuscript the 3rd Century p 46 (Clements’s redaction) says, as do many translations, in the abstract: there is not Jew nor Greek, not slave nor free, not male and female.

The 4th Century Sinaïticus, on the other hand, says l o c a l l y; ouk éni: h e r e is not Jew nor Greek, not slave nor free, not male and female.

Whichever one chooses, what Paul says is that our Ethnic, Social and Biological categories do not apply in the Congregation. No less, no more (but compare the contrary social policies of the 2nd Century Pastorals).

Jeff quotes Bishop Wright: “So does Paul mean that in Christ the created order itself is undone? Is he saying, as some have suggested, that we go back to a kind of chaos in which no orders of creation apply any longer? Or is he saying that we go on, like the gnostics, from the first rather shabby creation in which silly things like gender-differentiation apply to a new world in which we can all live as hermaphrodites – which, again, some have suggested, and which has interesting possible ethical spin-offs?”

Now, this rhetorical question of Bishop Wright depends on a reading of Genesis 1-2 as normative; “created Order” - unknown in Sweden - and which I personally did not encounter before the year 2000, and which moreover, I have not been able to trace further than the year 1978 even in American Calvinist literature.

Giving me the impression, that there must be something wrong with this line of rhetoric.

So surely, if Paul says in so many words, that there are no Ethnic, Social or Biological categories in the Congregation, the first thing that comes to mind is hardly that Paul contradicts Creation, but rather that he affirms it.

Jeff quotes Bishop Wright: “Paul’s fierce and uncompromising insistence on equality in Christ does not at all mean that we need pay no attention to the distinctives between those of different cultural backgrounds when it comes to living together in the church. Romans 14 and 15 are the best example of this, but we can see it as well throughout Galatians itself, as Paul regularly speaks of ‘we’ meaning Jewish Christians and ‘you’ or ‘they’ meaning Gentile Christians. They have come to an identical destination but they have come by very different routes and retain very different cultural memories and imaginations. The differences between them are not obliterated, and pastoral practice needs to take note of this; they are merely irrelevant when it comes to belonging to Abraham’s family.”

Now, in the light of Paul’s words, this is a Jim Crow.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 1:09pm GMT

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?

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 1:46pm GMT

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.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 2:58pm GMT

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? (if you have) Is it for theological or practical reasons? Is it because you disagree with the Anglican polity, or just because Kensington Temple (for example) has a much bigger congregation than the local parish church, or because you prefer its charismatic emphasis to the evangelical Anglican parish church which is actually in the same street?

Posted by: badman on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 5:21pm GMT

"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

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Friday, 25 November 2005 at 7:58pm GMT

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 to wonder about the discrepancies between the NT and the established church. (There are plenty of discrepancies with established Pentecostalism too, foremost among which is the insidious prosperity 'gospel'.)
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 first choice. But many these days see themselves as merely Christians, with no barriers between church fellowships.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 26 November 2005 at 9:34am GMT

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

Posted by: Merseymike on Saturday, 26 November 2005 at 2:09pm GMT

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 the Bible 'teaches' clearly, for example; or that the Bible is the sole authority for Christians; or that individual believers should read the Bible on their own, and that it will give all the answers one needs--all of these are particular points of view that come out of one historic tradition. (I don't know your thinking on these points, but they are commonly held among the non-denominational Christians I've met).

I don't think you can say yours is simply plain unadorned Christianity. Once you've taken certain stances, you've identified yourself as a Christian with particular views, which differ from those held by other Christians. It may be a Christianity without an institutional basis (such as a Church or denomination) but it is still a subset, or a movement within the broader Christian faith.

So I just don't think you can claim 'mere Christianity'. You can either claim that your version of Christianity is true (and others are false to the extent that they differ from you). Or, more gently, you can can say that you concentrate on those things Christians hold in common, while letting differences be.

I'd also note that the rise of non-denominational Christianity coincides with the rise of individualism in Werstern societies-- isn't that the kind of 'transient social fashion' that you decry?

Posted by: Christopher Calderhead on Saturday, 26 November 2005 at 2:32pm GMT

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 first choice."

How bald a statement in a thread where the discussion zeroes on the CoE position on women bishops!!

Posted by: RMF on Saturday, 26 November 2005 at 2:40pm GMT

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.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Saturday, 26 November 2005 at 9:37pm GMT

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.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Sunday, 27 November 2005 at 12:50pm GMT

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 descriptive of Christianity in general. I see labels merely as a kind of short hand, a convenient way to enable conversation. I always think they should sit lightly. They certainly aren't definitive.

Posted by: Christopher Calderhead on Monday, 28 November 2005 at 12:29am GMT

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 Christian doesnt mean copying the Galatians or the Corinthians. It means accepting that the understanding and self-understanding that we gain from the primary documents is going to be more definitive and authentic than that gained from any other/later documents.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 30 November 2005 at 11:10am GMT
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