Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Further reflections on the FCA launch

Correction: It has been pointed out to me that it is not correct to say, as I have below, that "the platform and presentations did not feature any ordained women". In fact, the gospel was read by an ordained ( priest) woman, the Rev Erin Clifford, Associate Minister at St Michael's Chester Square, and one of those offering prayer was Rev Carrie Sandom ( a deacon), now based in London. This doubtless will not satisfy some people, but it does put things in a (slightly) different perspective from what my comments may have suggested.

On the second evening after the ‘Longest Day’ (the July 6th launch of FCA UK, which, as I’ve said before, was a bit over-packed), I find myself reflecting that the Church of England may be in even worse trouble than I imagined last night —and that was bad enough.

The reasons for this lie in three reactions to the day I am picking up —two of them simply disappointing, and one of them more challenging.

The first reaction is the not-unexpected, but still sad to behold, visceral dislike from those who have been hostile to GAFCON and were inevitably therefore going to look askance at FCA. These I would generally characterize as ‘liberals’ from all wings of the Church, as well as most wings of the media. Since their opprobrium was inevitable, however, one tends to greet it with the sense that if these are the people one has upset, one has probably done at least something right. Nevertheless, it is still sad.

More disappointing, though, is the response of some who were there as supporters, yet who didn’t feel their ‘side’ was sufficiently represented.

Personally, the lack of ‘balance’ is something I have already noted —and it was not just a matter of breadth of churchmanship. However, this was a launch, not a last word, and on other days the swings may compensate for the roundabouts. More importantly, FCA is attempting to bring together groupings within the Church of England which have a past history of open conflict, yet without compromising or ‘fudging’ their integrity. (In this, I would argue, it is being more bold than anything attempted by ‘Open’ Evangelicalism.)

If this is to become a reality, all of us are going to have to swallow some things which we find unpalatable, and there will be times when ‘our’ point of view takes second place. For me, one such moment was seeing rows of ciboria, neatly labelled as containing so many ‘hosts’, waiting for the end-of-launch communion. The Protestant in me still finds such manifestations of ‘Catholic’ spirituality slightly uncomfortable —but hey, that’s life. Or at least, it will be life if FCA as presently conceived is to succeed.

By the same token, however, I made sure I wore my dog-collar to London (not something which Conservative Evangelical clergy are generally inclined to do), specifically because I wanted to take seriously the sensibilities of Anglo-Catholic clergy who would be there and whom I might meet.

The third reaction, however, is more serious because it is the most challenging. It concerns the ordination of women, but not necessarily in the way people might think.

It has been observed, both by supporters and opponents of FCA, that the platform and presentations did not feature any ordained women [but see correction above], and that, indeed, several known individuals and organizations opposed to the ordination of women were in evidence.

The latter cannot be helped. The truth is that FCA, and GAFCON before it, is attempting to embrace both viewpoints. That being the case, those opposed to the ordination of women will (inevitably) be welcomed, seen and heard. This is not, after all, the House of Bishops or the General Synod!

However, the more challenging reaction is from those on the Anglo-Catholic side who have complained about the very fact that FCA is trying to treat this as a ‘second-order’ issue —one, that is to say, on which Christian brethren can agree to disagree.

Indeed it is rather ironic that at this point Traditionalist Anglo-Catholic and Liberal ‘others’ share the same point of view —in the eyes of both, women’s ordination is a first-order issue, standing in the way of full cooperation with those who think otherwise.

It may, therefore, be the case that FCA cannot finally work, not because it contains those who accept and those who disagree with women’s ordination, but because it cannot contain both those who view this as a first-order issue and those who do not.

The matter is further complicated by the fact that, for Conservative Evangelicals like myself, ordination itself is not a first-order issue. Indeed, I once remarked, slightly tongue in cheek, that this was why I could happily sit down with Anglo-Catholics who have a view of priesthood and sacrament which I regard as somewhat beyond the Pale of true Anglicanism. It is because I don’t think ordination is worth that big a fight that I don’t think someone’s (in my view) extreme position on ordination is similarly worth a major falling out —not when I find myself agreeing with them on so many other things. To illustrate it from another angle, I have previously enjoyed Christian fellowship with Seventh-Day Adventists whose views of the Sabbath are, I think, quite misguided, because I found them to be co-believers in Christ and co-belligerents for the gospel in a very tough situation.

By the same token, however, I can also accept ministry —including sacramental ministry —from an ordained woman, even though I might have serious reservations about women’s ordination generally and women’s consecration specifically. In this respect, it is genuinely, for me, a second-order issue.

However, I have considerable difficulty with those for whom the acceptance of women’s ordination is a first-order issue, especially when the worthiness or otherwise of any enterprise or event is judged by whether or not the women on the platform or the organizing committee were ordained women. To me, this is to elevate ordination to the point where you are not at the ‘pinnacle’ of spiritual development unless you have been endowed with that ‘quality’. Frankly, it smacks of the old concept of priestly ‘character’. Someone who insists at this point that I must see things their way is making a demand with which I simply cannot comply.

And so I find myself surveying the Church of England on this second post-FCA evening with rather less confidence (even) than I had last night. If the FCA cannot work because we are too defensive about our own positions, that will be bad enough. If it turns out that women’s ordination has become a first-order issue on both wings of the Church —the Traditionalist and the Liberal —then those of us who are presently ‘in the middle’ may well wonder if the institution can truly embrace a diversity of views. The only other alternative, I suppose, is that we must adopt the same position ourselves, whichever may be the side on which we come down.

Revd John Richardson
7 July 2009

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  1. Given the reported words of some of the speakers, e.g., that the devil lives in Church House,it should not be surprising that there has been negative response from some.

  2. You're right about the issue of women's ordination. I heard these concerns from friends / colleagues last summer after the initial GAFCON.

    But would not the gospel call us to bear with both sides (liberal and anglo-catholic, to use broad labels), and keep seeking to explain to them why ordination is not a first order issue?

  3. Nigel Atkinson8 July 2009 at 13:50

    Is not an ordered ministry essential to the existence of the Church? Has there ever been a Church since Apostolic times without an ordered ministry? That seems pretty first order to me.

  4. While the fact of an ordered ministry seems agreed amongst mainstream circles, the precise mode and powers thereof has been a matter of contention over time, with those who follow in the footsteps of the Magisterial Reformers tending to hold that such pertains to the bene esse of a church.

    Michael Canaris

  5. Nigel Atkinson8 July 2009 at 17:52

    Michael you are quite right. The point I am making is simply that of Calvin who said "the ministry of MEN is a principle (ie not secondary) bond by which beleivers are kept together in one body...who ever disparages this bond or treats it of minor importantce (ie second order) plots the devastation or rather ruin of the Church". Thus while one may have a presbyerian or episcopal polity what can't happen is for a church to have no polity at all or to introduce into its polity "clergy" who are not held by all to be clergy. This is to bring the church to ruin and collapse which is what female ordering does. Which is pretty first order stuff...

  6. Nigel,
    Given the two meanings which "men" has had in English, is it clear that Calvin meant males?

  7. Nigel Atkinson8 July 2009 at 21:30

    Hi Fr. Daniel
    The way to see what Calvin meant would be to look at the Latin. Having said that the magisterial Reformers (including Hooker) forbade female presbyteral orders following Scripture and the practice of the undivided Church.

  8. Nigel,
    I agree that ecclesiastical anarchy and mal-ordination are manifest scandals which the Church ought do all in its power to rectify. Nonetheless, it seems to me that humbly acknowledging their past occurrence may help churches take a view towards the repeal of such egregious measures.

  9. I agree with Nigel. This pertains to the 3rd mark of the church in Reformed ecclesiology (after preaching and the sacraments), which is mentioned in the Homilies: the exercise of godly discipline. This surely presupposes that there is an ordered ministry to carry out that discipline. While it might be possible in an extreme “desert island” situation to have a church without a properly ordered ministry, it is highly undesirable.

    I don’t often disagree with John, (how can I disagree with the man who wandered round NEAC in a purple shirt?  ) but for two other reasons I think it is misleading to think of the ordination and consecration of women as not a first order issue, compared to the issue of same-sex sexual relations. Firstly because of hermeneutics. The hermeneutical somersaults used to justify ordaining women as presbyters are follow the same methods as those used to justify same-sex sexual relations. So a church which ordains women is going to find it much harder to say “no” to those who want to legitimise same-sex sexual relations (see article by Melvin Tinker in Churchman- I think it was around 1995, but has probably been reprinted in one of his books). I have a lot of sympathy with homosexuals who think that evangelicals who are against gay sex, but who are happy to ordain women, are simply homophobic.

    Second, evangelicals have for decades made the mistake of treating women’s ordination as an isolated issue of church polity. It is not. It is an issue of discipleship- maybe one of the most important in our generation. We have to see it as part of the wider issue of biblical gender relations, and the debate between complementarianism and egalitarianism. At a dogmatic level, this links it to the issue of whether we will accept God’s order in creation: which links it to issues of human sexuality. At a pastoral level, if someone has decided to defy God’s word and creation order on one issue of discipleship (e.g. gender relations), I suspect that they will find it psychologically much easier to defy them on another issue of discipleship (e.g. sexual relations).

    It may be strictly true that women’s ordination is a “second order issue” in that it does not concern someone’s salvation in the way that same-sex sexual relations. But that doesn’t mean that it can be swept under the carpet for the sake of unity.

    Stephen Walton

    PS. Daniel: it was one speaker, not “some”.
    Nigel: where is the Calvin quote from?

  10. --It may be strictly true that women’s ordination is a “second order issue” in that it does not concern someone’s salvation in the way that same-sex sexual relations. But that doesn’t mean that it can be swept under the carpet for the sake of unity.--
    Agreed (besides, “second order issue”s can potentially be open to prudential review; part of our trouble seems to be that the zeitgeist is rarely tempted to repeal their particularly daft notions.)

  11. On the question of first or second order issues here, I treat women's ordination as a second order issue because (a) some people do, genuinely, think they are being biblically faithful whilst supporting the ordination of women and (b) it is not a moral issue where there is a clear-cut condemnation, as in the case of, for example, sexual sin.

    The Reformers had some disagreement on this. In particular, Martin Luther took the stance that women could do anything a man could do, sacramentally, because the authority to do this was vested in the word of God. He did not, however, believe that a woman could be in charge of a congregation because the Apostles forbade this. Calvin, by contrast, disagreed with women administering baptism.

    I am with Luther.

  12. Nigel Atkinson9 July 2009 at 10:11

    Why not support the ordination of active homosexuals?? There are many evangelicals who are starting to argue that they are being biblically faithful whilst supporting the ordination of sexually active homosexuals and whilst it is not a moral issue there is a clear-cut condemnation of female headship in both the family and the Church.
    As to Luther he never ordained female presbyters and neither (I think) did his followers. Come back to the teachings of Scripture, the Prayer Book and the Ordinal!! You will be on much safer ground.
    Stephen the quote from Calvin can be found in Institutes 4.3.2.

  13. Nigel, there are some areas where Christians have disagreed, yet recognized the intention of others to biblically faithful (eg on infant baptism) and other areas where this has not been possible.

    One of the reasons I cannot see the arguments for sexual 'inclusiveness' in this light is the constant willingness of many proponents to say simply that 'the Bible got it wrong', or their tendency to facile exegesis, for example when Jeffrey John or Gene Robinson make comments about eating prawns and wearing clothing of mixed kinds of cloth. The language here betrays the fact that in the end exegesis does not matter.

    One of my reasons for great hesitancy about women's ordination is a similar willingness to accept facile exegesis or to reject Scripture entirely. However, the situation is still a bit more 'nuanced', not least because Anglican orders, and Anglican structures of authority, cannot simply be overlain on the New Testament text.

    They are, as I think Peter Jensen once observed, the way that we try to give expression to the New Testament pattern of ministry, but they are not perfect. Within that, therefore, there is room for some biblical flexibility. I, for example, have little problem with a woman who is an Anglican presbyter but not the vicar, rector or priest-in-charge. On the other hand, I do have a problem with the notion that the vicar, rector or priest-in-charge is an entity set apart from the rest of Christendom by merit of ordination - something which prevails amongst many in the Church.

  14. It may be naive to some people, but my current thinking is that ‘first order’ is surely about ‘sin’.

    For what did Jesus suffer and die? Did He go to the cross because some folk ordained women? I think not. Were His sufferings because some folk did NOT ordain women? Surely not.

    And what about the episcopacy? Would the consecration of a woman bishop, or the continued denial of consecration, mean that one or other of those acts or policies would require atonement? I don’t think so.

    However, apply the same thinking to the acts of those who preach a false gospel - of many ways to ‘reach’ God, or that what the Bible calls ‘sin’ is really quite wholesome and should be encouraged - THEN, I think, we are talking ‘first order’.

    I’m not saying ordination and consecration aren’t important, and clearly we should try to get it right, but the ‘right’ is surely not of the same gravity as that for which the Saviour died?

  15. --Stephen the quote from Calvin can be found in Institutes 4.3.2.--
    For what it's worth, I just roughly transcribed that paragraph from this edition thereof:
    "2. His verbis illud ostendit hominum ministerium, quo Deus in gubernanda ecclesia utitur, praeeipuum esse nervum, quo fideles in uno corpore cohaereant: tum vero etiam indicat, non aliter incolumem servari ecclesiam posse, quam si his praesidiis fulciatur, in quibus salutem eius reponere Domino placuit. „Ascendit Christus in altum (inquit Eph. 4, 10.) ut omnia impleret." Haec autem implendi ratio, quod per ministros, quibus officium hoc mandavit, et muneris obeundi graliam contulit, sua dona dispensât ас distribuit ecclesiae: seque adeo ipsum praesentem quodammodo exhibet, Spiritus sui virtutem in sua hac institutione exserendo, ne inanis sit vel otiosa. Sic instauratio sanctorum peragitur, sic aedificatur corpus Christi, sic adolescimus per omnia in eon, qui est caput, et inter nos coalescimus: sic redigimur omnes in unitatem Christi, si prophetia inter nos viget, si Apostolos recipimus, si doctrinam nobis administratam non aspernamur. Ecclesiae ergo dissipationem vel ruinam potius et exitium molitur quisquis ordinem hunc, de quo disputamus, et hoc genus regiminis, vel abolere studet vel quasi minus necessarium elevat. Neque enim vel solis lumen ac calor, vel cibus ac potus tam sunt praesenti vitae fovendae ac sustinendae necessaria, quam est conservandae in terris ecclesiae apostolicum ac pastorale munus."

  16. I think the ugly vicar's reading of me as a liberal modern believer is well-intended but rather wrong headed.

    WO is important to change now, because we know enough now that we must be responsible for what we know. I can easily forgive previous generations for not quite getting it; I wonder if I would have gotten it, given the dominant males first-males only contexts in which I would have been socialized, intellectually, emotionally, embedded.

    That legacy does not exempt me from being responsible for knowing what I do know, as a modern believer and citizen, raised for the most part in a western contemporary democracy. Seriously indebted to particular women, I might add. Surely that extra dollop of indebtedness figures into what I know and what I know I know. What I am trying to be responsible about.

    About the folly and many sins of patriachy, about the flat earth aspects of what used to be the going justifications for why not.

    WO issues are quite pressing, per my modern believer conscience; but I would not argue them on alleged first order grounds. Truth is, all that we know is provisional. Thus all is in some telling sense, penultimate, open-ended, capable of more nuance, fine tuning, even wholesale corrections. I try to do justly and follow Jesus, not because I am guaranteed to be perfect according to special revelation (or scriptures or tradition); but because that is the percpetible, irresistible call to me from God in Jesus.

    As a modern believer I am not at all relying on doctrines or articles of faith for my salvation; those are second order things, entirely dependent in a direct and mystical way upon God being gracious to me and others in Jesus of Nazareth.

    It's nearly all grace, so far as I'm concerned. I didn't come to follow Jesus of Nazareth by figuring a whole lot of first order eternal things out, even via huge second hand efforts made by large figures sometimes called Doctors of the Church. Saints. Patristic Fathers. NT Authors.

    The only reason I am willing to fight for women to be priests-bishops is just because I know what I know, about equality and womens' competencies as equal human beings. The available empirical evidence about the contextualization of sex and gender also figures in all that, somewhere. Not as a final doctrine or revelation, but as the current best practice data available.

    The U Vicar's take on all that just misses most of the progressive modern marks.

    UV is still playing special revelation first order games; I think these are fun or interesting up to a point. Yet empty and worthless, precisely when a best practice investigation into legacy first orders - starts to take over from the trumping second order realities of just following Jesus of Nazareth. Paying attention to the vicar at that point just makes me wonder when he started thinking that his being able to recite, say, the Nicene Creed delivered him from being incarnate on this earth, no longer a human mammal, embodied.

    Insofar as he thinks he has a clear grip, finalized, on first order things as a believer? Well that is where I part most ways with him as a modern educated person. I think my best understandings are second order, and the vicar's, too.

    The gloss the vicar would probably substitute? He'd likely dismiss my corrections of him glossing me, making additional mistakes by claiming that if I don't assert I am exclusively privy to first order knowledge in a special revelation sort of way, I in fact by his definitions cannot believe. Tut-tut, too bad, vicar.

    That's his loss, and so far as he is lost to me by mistaking me as a (non-)believer, my loss, too.

    If I only knew what to do about it, then I would have to be provisionally responsible for that, too; but as it is, I do not know how to always correct the U Vicar's mistaking of me as modern believer.

    I do know about WO, so I am responsible for that.

    drdanfee, Berkeley, Californa, USA

  17. Nigel Atkinson10 July 2009 at 10:02

    Are you absolutely sure that truth is provisional? That sounds like very dogmatic and fundamentalist statement to me.

  18. Did Jesus say he was the Way the (Provisional Truth) and the Life?

    I don't get the impression that Jesus was provisional in anything He said do you? He sounds pretty dogmatic in his pronouncements to me.

    Unless you think that what we know of Jesus can only be provisional anyway, but then that is an issue as to how much you consider the Bible to be reliable.

    Chris Bishop