Saturday, 1 December 2012

God, Christ and Gender

One of the issues that has arisen in the ongoing debates about the consecration of women bishops is the representative nature of those we commonly call ‘priests’. Specifically, it is being asked what their gender has to do with their humanity and therefore their adequacy for the ‘priesthood’.
If one takes an ‘iconic’ view of priesthood, then this is clearly pertinent. If the priest somehow ‘embodies’ Christ in performing the functions of priesthood — particularly the celebration of the Lord’s Supper — then it might be worth asking whether a woman can do this in exactly the same way as a man.
The best negation of the argument that it makes no difference is perhaps that put forward by CS Lewis in his 1948 essay ‘Priestesses in the Church’. “Why,” Lewis asked, “should a woman not in this sense represent God?” He continued,
Certainly not because she is necessarily, or even probably, less holy or less charitable or stupider than a man. In that sense she may be as ‘God-like’ as a man; and a given women much more so than a given man.
Such assumptions are taken for granted today. But Lewis had a different objection. “The sense in which she cannot represent God,” he wrote, “will perhaps be plainer if we look at the thing the other way round.” The full force of his argument requires quoting at length:
Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to “Our Mother which art in heaven” as to “Our Father”. Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.
Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity. Common sense, disregarding the discomfort, or even the horror, which the idea of turning all our theological language into the feminine gender arouses in most Christians, will ask “Why not? Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?”
But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity. It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery. Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child.
We should note that even in Lewis’s day, the argument that God has no biological gender was advanced to ‘deconstruct’ the language used about God. And we should note also that Lewis is well aware of the effects of such deconstruction. Far from the use of ‘Mother’ instead of ‘Father’ being the harmless exchange of one metaphor for another, it would (at least in his view) lead to a religious life, and therefore a religion, “radically different from that of a Christian”.
Hence for Lewis the iconic significance of the priest required that the priest be male rather than female, for with the Church, he says, “we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge.”
But what if you do not share Lewis’s iconic view of the priesthood or his sacramentalism with regard to priestly function? What if, as I have suggested earlier, you would allow that anyone and everyone, including women, could celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Is there still room for saying that gender matters, either in relation to God or to Christ? And what implications, if any, does this have for our thinking about ministry?
Our thinking about gender in this particular context has not one but two starting points.
One is biology. And here gender is relatively straightforward, being essentially a component of the process of sexual reproduction. I say relatively because even here there are complications. Some species, for example, exhibit hermaphroditism, where a single organism can function as either the ‘male’ or ‘female’ partner.
Down at the cellular level, however, everything is clear. Whether one is talking about the vegetable or animal kingdoms, sexual reproduction involves the fusion of two gametes (cells with half the usual pair of chromosomes) to form a zygote (a cell with a full complement of chromosome pairs, one from each of the parent organisms).
All the rest, as they say is commentary. But the commentary is both considerable and variable and gives us little by way of ‘rules’ either of gender characteristics or behaviours. Male and female are not hard and fast concepts — not that they are not essentially clear cut within a given species, but that taken as a whole they do not justify us making statements of the form ‘all males look like’, or ‘all females act like’.
At this point, however, we must introduce the spiritual dimension, for as Lewis says above, in the Christian religion we believe that “God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him”. And he does this from very early on.
In Genesis 1:26 we read that God first deliberates about making human beings: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ...”
Some, most notably the feminist theologian Phyllis Trible, have suggested that this adam is androgynous — a sexually undifferentiated ‘earthling’. But this is unsustainable for numerous reasons. Here we may note simply that the text goes on to speak of adam in the plural: “and let them rule over the fish of the sea, etc.” What ever God plans to make, there will be more than one of them.
And so we read how this works out in the next verse, which forms a poetic triplet (single Hebrew words are indicated by square brackets):
[And created he] [God] [man]* [in his image]
[In the image] [of God] [he created] [him]
[Male] [and female] [he created] [them].
In the first part of the triplet, adam has the definite article. But we need not translate this as ‘the man’ since frequently elsewhere (eg Gen 7:21) ha-adam simply means ‘humankind’. Nevertheless, as the second stanza shows, adam in this sense can be spoken of as a collective singular. To use a term which is now regarded as archaic, we are one ‘mankind’, not ‘men and women’ — a point brought out by Genesis 5:1b-2:
When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man [adam].” (NIV)
And though it is common to regard Genesis 2 as being a separate ‘creation narrative’, actually it brings home rather neatly the point made in chapter 1: there is a singular ‘adam’ before there is a plurality of male and female.
This means, furthermore, that we must address at this point the question of a ‘Christological’ reading of the opening chapters of Genesis, for in the New Testament the first Adam is clearly seen as anticipatory of Christ, “a pattern of the one to come” (Rom 5:14), who is therefore a ‘second Adam’:
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. (1 Cor 15:45)
And this is of enormous significance in terms of our salvation, for the argument runs that what is true of the first in a negative sense is true of the second positively. Thus,
... since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor 15:21-22)
When it comes to Genesis 1:27, therefore, we must hold the second and third stanzas in tension. God created a singular ‘man’ in his image and he created a plural ‘male and female’ also in his image.
Once again, we must understand this Christologically. The first point — that one man on his own can image God — must be true in order for what the Bible later affirms about Christ to be true also:
For he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Col 1:15)
Christ’s imaging of God lacks nothing. Furthermore, it is necessary that he be the full image-bearer, for we ourselves derive our imaging of God from him:
And just as we have borne the likeness [eikon, image] of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness [eikon, image] of the man from heaven. (1 Cor 15:49)
But here we must be very careful and again we must be ready to read Genesis Christologically, for what do we mean by ‘Christ’?
In attempting to do theology, there is a danger of treating the person of Christ in isolation, as if Christ were an abstract concept or, more plausibly perhaps, understood comprehensively as a member of the Godhead. That, however, would not be true, for Christ as we know Christ — Christ as he is revealed to us — is not an abstraction, nor even just the Second Person of the Trinity. Rather, as 1 Peter puts it, he is the lamb “chosen before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet 1:20).
Indeed, he is the one whose character determines the world as we know it, since it was made not only “by him” but “for him” (Col 1:16). His very character is that of ‘Creator Redeemer’, and therefore though it does not require, it entails another.
And it is here that the third stanza of Genesis 1:27 comes into play: “Male and female (in the image of God) he created them”, for what we see played out in the history of creation and redemption is that God images his own image.
God is imaged in Christ, in whom dwells the fullness of God taking bodily form in his creation (Col 1:19). And as Christ is imaged in us, so God is imaged in that which he has created which is entirely distinct from himself.
Now something of this is surely what we see in Genesis 2. We are told in 2:18 that it is ‘not good’ for Adam to be alone — a word which means not ‘lonely’ but ‘the only one of his kind’ (cf Gen 44:20; Ex 18:14, etc). Similarly, however, in God’s plan for creation, it is clearly not his intention that Christ should be ‘alone’. On the contrary, through Christ God is “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb 2:10). Therefore,
Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. (Heb 2:11)
But there is only one eternal Son who is “ the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). Therefore these ‘images of the image’ must be both ‘the same as’ and ‘quite different from’ the eternal Son, whose image they bear by derivation from him rather than by nature.
And this, I suggest, is the theological heart of the concept of gender.
Following a Christological reading of Genesis 2, we stand in relation to Christ as Eve stood in relation to Adam. He recognized her as ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh’. In a real sense she was him — an image of the image-bearer. But in another sense, she was quite distinct from him — a being in her own right. And this is brought out in her name: she is an ishshah, not an ish — a woman, not a man (and later an Eve, not an Adam). But she is an ishshah precisely because “she was taken out of man” (Gen 2:23).
And all of this sets the stage for the comment in 2:24 which Paul will pick up and place at the centre of his understanding of the Church and of the nature of our salvation:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Gen 2:24, cf Eph 5:31)
This is why, in the great drama of marriage and sexuality husband is to wife as Christ is to Church, which is again as head is to body. Christ is not alone, for that would be ‘not good’ in relation to creation. Rather, it is ‘Christ and the Church’ which constitutes the ‘one new man’ (Eph 2:15) ruling over God’s creation.
The Psalmist expresses a sense of mystery in relation to Genesis 1:
what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet (Ps 8:4-7)
Ephesians sees it fulfilled in Christ and the Church:
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph 1:22-23)
God is thus rightly and always in relation to us ‘he’. And in marriage the husband is always to the wife as Christ, and the wife is always to the husband as the Church.
What this means for the ministry is simply (!) that what we do in the congregation should follow what we see revealed in Christ. But that, of course, may be a challenge to all of us in many ways.
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  1. Funnily enough at the moment I'm reading Robert Letham's, "The Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology & Worship". In the chapter on OT background, in the section on Father he says,

    "While the distinctive covenant name of God, YHWH, occurs nearly seven thousand times in the OT, God calls himself "Father" only just over twenty times. Both stress on monotheism and the commandment prohibiting images for worship underline God's transcendence over all creaturely comparisons. This helps explain why the name is so rarely used and also why there is an abscence of feminine images and metaphors for God. Indeed, the name Father usually refers to the covenantal relationship of Yahweh to Israel (Ex 4:22-23; Hos 11:1) and points to God's free choice, not to sexual activity and physical generation."

    I recommend it, regardless of gender debates (I think he's written a paper on Trinity & gender though too)

    Darren Moore

  2. Conclusive proof that God would fall foul of the Equalities Act.

    Chris Bishop

  3. John, in the interests of keeping dialogue as open as it can be, I have also read this post. My observations, as an orthodox evangelical, are that it is seriously problematic.

    1. Your exegesis of Genesis is, I think, very poor, and suffers from your trying to push the text out of shape in order to fit your agenda. It does not, for example, appear to understand the basic dynamics of parellelism in Hebrew poetry.

    2. What you call 'Christological' reading of the text does not appear to be much more than your imposing a particular reading of the NT back onto the OT texts in quite a crude way. And because you have already decided what these NT texts say, this is both circular and eisegetical.

    3. The idea that God is gendered is, along with the idea of God as three beings in hierarchy, I think quite a serious heresy, and you can only support this by misreading the texts.

    For these reasons, I guess I would come as close as ever to saying you are a 'false teacher' (to borrow a phrase of yours). This leaves me with a dilemma.

    Should I, as Stephen Kuhrt might advocate, nevertheless take seriously your profession of following Christ seriously, and attempt to engage the errors here.

    Or should I, as perhaps you would advocate, denounce you as a false teacher to others, and cease any further discussion?

  4. Sorry, I should have added that the suggestion that creation was in any sense necessary for God (ie 'it was not good that God/Christ was alone) is also, I think, heretical.

  5. Ian, thanks for your comments. Your call as to whether you want to denounce me. I would find that quite amusing, personally! :-)

  6. As a PS to Ian, you'll find a bit of a discussion of 'Necessitarianism', which I came across whilst reading Norman Kretzmann on Aquinas, here. Heretical on my part, maybe. Original, no.

  7. Ian's post reminded me of this

    There is a great irony in this. People talk about Conservative Evangelicals as being nasty for saying people are wrong. However, they are a bit reluctant to label everyone who they disagree with as non-Christians or heretics. There is a difference between error, heresy and apostasy.

    I think that we need to talk about error, as it can in time, lead to heresy & apostasy. BUT, just because someone gets something wrong, even seriously wrong, doesn't mean that they follow the line down to heresy.

    So, Ian, you may think what John is saying is wrong, but has he denied Jesus' humanity or divinity? Has he denied penal substitution or the like? Has he said something even that might mean that he is "OK", but who's teaching is sooo dangerous that it could lead people to hell.

    Does John denounce false teachers & say we should have nothing to do with them? I would have thought the book plugged on the side is pretty much saying the opposite. Much like the comment about God being gendered... isn't that OPPOSITE to what's said in the piece above, making the point that although God does NOT have a gender, chooses to always be refereed to as he, Father, Son & husband, rather than wife, she, mother, daughter. Before charging people of eisegesis of the Biblical text, you need to make sure that you don't eisegete the blog text. Which is simpler to get right.

    I just read the comments and thought "really?"

  8. Yes, Darren, I think that the move into tritheism from a proper Trinitarian understanding does deny Jesus' divinity--because it denies that he is to be identified with the one God of Israel, and instead says that he is another god alongside. I think it is quite a small step from John's argument to this position, as Kevin Giles has pointed out. It was this kind of tritheistic understanding which I think it behind Islam's early rejection of Christian belief.

  9. Ian, Jens Christensen in Mission to Islam and Beyond has some useful comments on why the Trinity (properly understood) and the Incarnation are anathema to Muslims.

    Kevin Giles has been critiqued on his views about the historical doctrine of the Trinity by Peter Adam here.

  10. "We should not fall into the trap of believing that if
    only a few groups of Christians led lives which were genuinely conditioned by faith in the Holy Trinity, as I have just described it, then we could get on with our proclamation and confession of the faith with some hopes of getting results among Muslims. If you think that, it only goes to prove that you are still working with the law of cause and effect; that you still do not believe that ‘results’ are exclusively the free sovereign act of the triune God. All we can say is that under such ideal conditions the confession of the Church would be a genuinely true confession. That might lead to further enquiry by Muslims, or it might result in widespread persecution of the Church. And we cannot even say that truth must carry the burden of its own proof, for truth is only Truth through the effectual working of the Holy Spirit." (Christensen, p306)

  11. John, as an evangelical, you should be extremely concerned to correctly understand the Bible. Ian Paul, a highly-qualified evangelical theologian, has indicated that your understanding in this area is wrong, to the point of being heresy. So I'd like to know when you are going to change your views and accept the true teaching of the Bible. If you're not prepared to do this, could I respectfully suggest that you should stop describing yourself as an evangelical, as it seems to me that your approach to the Bible has more in common with liberal theology than evangelicalism.

  12. Ian Smith, it is easy enough to say 'heresy' but it needs to be deminstrated.

  13. John I do not believe your conflation of 'gender' in the Godhead with that of the whole discussion of ministry in the church, and especially as applied to females is valid. They re simply not connected and are separate issues.
    I think then that we need to return to the relative simplicity of the New Testament with regard to ministry. Virtually all serious contributors to the debate concede that women played a very prominnent part in NT ministry. That is a given.
    The NT establishes also that ALL believers under the New Covenant are 'priests' and that former distinctions as regards the functions priests, sacrificial offerings have been fulfilled in Christ. So it is the New Testament that should define our theology on this issue.
    I believe a critical text in the discussion with its massive implications for both Jews and women has been virtually ignored, (or pulled out of context) and that is Gal.3:28.

    In the cultural and religious milieu of the day Paul's statement here, together with the parallel passage in Eph. 2:14-18 would have been truly revolutionary, even shocking to its first hearers.
    The removal of centuries of the historic barriers between Jew/Gentile, male/female, bond and free of which Paul speaks would initially be difficult to fully grasp then, and it appears so still today by some!

    All the theologically conservative commentaries I have read on this verse seem to unite in recognising the radical nature of Paul's teaching here. For women therefore it meant a dramatic reversal of roles from being historically in subjection to men and regarded as inferior, to an equal status which had already been endorsed by the Lord throughout his ministry.

    Paul's main thrust is to emphasise this because all of these groups are now "in Christ". This is the hinge upon which all turns.

    John Stott for example states plainly that the text teaches by implication " that women are called by God to ministry hardly needs any demonstration". His further point is also important, namely that if the gifts of the Spirit were poured out on all the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, including women, then so also were his gifts (for ministry)... and that "the burden of proof lies with the church to show why it should not appoint women to ministries".

    Thus: "The larger context is the key to understanding Gal.3:28. Specifically, these words are concerned with the corporate inclusion in Christ of all races and classes and genders without distinction, and thus with their equal participation in the promise given to the "seed", that is the descendant of Abraham who is Christ." In effect then it is about a shared unity in all the Gospel privileges enjoyed by Christians without respect of persons, who are now an entirely new entity - i.e. the "new man" in Christ. (Col. 3:10). (Earl Ellis 'Pauline Theology').

    "Prior historical barriers have been torn down through the work of Christ....The ethnic barrier between Jews and Gentiles is no longer in place (Eph.2:11-22). The economic and social barriers between slaves and freemen, Barbarian and Scythian no longer exist (Col. 3:11), and the sexual superiority of the male has given way to equality for the female in Christ (Gal.3:28)..... By his redemption Jesus Christ restored the relationships broken by the Fall"

    Stott again: "This is not to say that Christ has abolished these distinctions, we mean not that they do not exist, but that they do not matter.... they are still there, but they no longer create any barriers to fellowship".
    Graham Wood

  14. Graham, not sure if you've read this:

    1. Thank you John I have only just read it. You seem to express the current confusion and muddle on this issue when you say:
      "Are there two kinds of priesthood — one common to all and another belonging to a special order within the Church? Or are there just specialities within the 'priesthood of all believers' like there are specialities in, for example, the Navy, with some having expertise in one area, some in another, but all (like the crew of a ship) essential to the whole?"
      As I assert Gal.3:28 cuts across such questions with a simple comprehensive statement, and one which incidentally is confirmed by a wealth of other NT scriptures.
      You ask if there are "specialities in the priesthood of all believers?" The answer to that from Scripture is of course a negative in terms of gender as I believe Gal 3:28 teaches.
      That there are very distinctive gifts for ministry in the body of Christ is again a separate issue - one which you conflate with gender. Such distinctive gifts are potentially for both male and female without distinction, and Paul's discussion of these is set out in Eph. 4:7-15 and again in 1 Cor 12-14. 12:7 is particularly important and the word "all" there is, again applicable of course to females (man= 'each one)in context.
      That some gifts are more important than others is also self evident from Paul's discussuion in these passages, but at no point does he draw a distinction as regards gender.
      In turn the qualifications for elders (ministers) are set out in the pastoral epistles, and these relate to character, spiritual maturity, and to a degree aptness to teach.
      None of these invalidate the general priesthood of all believers without distinction to minister to the body of Christ when gathered, the only primary criteria being that of speaking to edification (repeatedly emphasised in 1 Cor. 14).
      I think then the answer to your question is: no special order (ordained or unordained) but a multiciplicity and variety of gifts and ministries which Paul encouraged and recognised.
      Thus Paul draws no gender distinctions - why should we?
      This is not to endorse modern 'complementarianism' or egalitarian theories, but recognise fairly plain biblical truths.

  15. Graham,
    I think you've missed the point in a comical way. As you say who is saying women don't have a vital point to play in Ministry? Who wants to chop Gal 3:28 out of the Bible? The point is how do we make sense of something like Gal 3:28 AND something like 1 Tim 2 so they are both true, in their own right, without contradiction. That's what complimentarianism is all about. John Stott himself was one! As I remember he's idea was that women could be ordained but not be the overall leader i.e. in a C of E context, Vicar or Bishop (others might say that's a bit of a reduced view of ordination

  16. Ian & Ian,


    It's nice to see John being very John & sort of laughing off your comments but actually I think that both of your comments are extremely serious.

    Ian Smith, I think they are dangerous because you have just set up a Priesthood of theologians. Theologians who disagree with each other! Moltmann is a more "serious" theologian than Ian, I quite like him... should I modify all of my theology to be the same as him? Nope!

    Ian Paul, we can all pull out names of heresies. What we need to do is show WHERE the person has said it before starting a witch hunt. Ian Smith latched on to what you said which shows the responsibility you have in your position.

    As I mentioned above, I happen to be reading a book on the Trinity at the moment, where he looks at some of the balancing acts one has to do before slipping off into Modalism, Arianism or Tritheism. & sometimes one might make a comment which sounds a bit like that (after all how did these things come about?) But if you quote a sentence someone can come back & say, "oh yes, that is a bit clumsy, thanks brother for your sharp eyes", or "yes, but I'm not denying x, whole context, don't try to catch me out", or even, "yes, I am all your worse fears, this is the new orthodoxy I want to spread". But fankly what you have done is nothing short of name calling in the play ground.

    Doug Wilson, a NT Wright fan has recently been critical of him for just this, "serious scholarship", is used like some Harry Potter Spell, "arguementus defeatus" - oh no, we all have to lie down now. If some of this is "serious", then we need more flippent theology!

    Doug's comments are here

    It is also worrying because, John is an ordained Minister, as it happens in the same outfit as Ian Paul. 1 Tim 5:19 (& surrounding context) means you must be very cautious about such things. I am in a more conservative denomination, but we would be extremely cautious about saying an equivalent thing even to someone quite liberal. Wrong, dangerous so... not a Christian... come on! John Piper went to great lengths before publishing his critique on Wright, to make sure he fairly represented him. A snap blog comement, "your wrong" is one thing, "you're a heretic" is a power play to make sure someone is dismissed. It calls for repentance.

  17. I've just come across this debate between Bob Letham & Kevin Giles

    It's good, both can be heard properly. A couple of comments about it
    1st Giles says that Letham (& others) is a post 1970s view, driven by ordination of women debates, it's the tail wagging the dog. I actually think it's the other way. As someone pointed out, if Giles agrees Jesus was submissive during his earthly Ministry, what's the problem, nobody is arguing for the eternal submission of women!

    2nd In the 2 responses, I think Letham is very clear in how Giles has misrepresented him making wrong inferences. & of course in being so determined not to slip into subordinationism, almost ends up in modalism (almost - I don't actually think he is). In contrast, Giles just kicks up a bit more dust.

    PS Ian Smith, I believe that Robert Letham is a serious Evangelical scholar too, ThM from Westminster, PhD from Aberdeen, taught at Westminster & WEST... do we have to modify our theology to match him?

  18. John - thanks for this detailed post. I'm trying to make the connection between your analysis of gender and the implications for ministry. Could you help me?

    The connection would be clear if you would go on to say that the role of the elder towards the church is as the role of Christ towards the church. That is, the elder in some sense represents Christ to the congregation. But you seem explicitly to deny that: "But what if you do not share Lewis’s iconic view of the priesthood or his sacramentalism with regard to priestly function? What if, as I have suggested earlier, you would allow that anyone and everyone, including women, could celebrate the Lord’s Supper?"

    I've recently been thinking about this, as a result of reading a book by a reformed/presbyterian author. Something like this...

    No one baptises themself. Rather, they are baptised by Christ, with the Holy Spirit. But it is the minister who administers the sacrament on Christ's behalf.

    No one goes up to Christ and snatches his body and blood for themself. Rather, Christ gives himself, and we receive what he gives us, and feed on him (in our hearts, by faith). But, again, it is the minister who administers the sacrament on Christ's behalf.

    In the authoritative preaching of the word, it is God speaking to us, through his Word, by his Spirit. But it is the preacher who brings that word to us. We might even speak of the preacher as "bringing us God's word". Thus, as in the sacraments, the minister (of the word) is playing the role of Christ, in bringing the word of God to the people of God.

    So it could (perhaps) be argued that the minister acts out the role of Christ in relation to the church, and therefore that it is only appropriate for the minister to be a man.

    But if you don't see the minister as having a Christ-like role in relation to the congregation, then I can't quite see the connection between the Christ/church husband/bride examples and the relation between the minister(s) and the congregation.

    Anthony Smith

  19. Darren, you comment 'nobody is arguing for the eternal submission of women.' If that is so, how is the submission of women to men a reflection of the submission of the Son to the Father, which by definition is eternal?

  20. Darren, you write "if Giles agrees Jesus was submissive during his earthly Ministry, what's the problem, nobody is arguing for the eternal submission of women!"

    Well, I think one problem might be the shape-shifting nature of your arguments. Are you now saying that women's roles (and by this we mean women really, don't we since women don't play at being women) should reflect Jesus' submission during his earthly ministry? If so, what do men reflect? Are they now on par with the Father?

    As the only (I think) woman commentator on this thread, I am genuinely baffled and astonished by the absolutely enormous amount of time, energy and dodgy theology which is spent trying to establish male primacy. A genuine question asked of John, Darren and their stable-mates, if you were to get your heart's desire and expunge women from all visible positions in the church, what do you think would follow? The conversion of England? Scales falling from unbelievers' eyes? The Roman Catholics have an all male priesthood and dwindling congregations - must be difficult for them not to be able to lay the blame at women's feet - the CoE is luckier in that respect.

    Non-believers are not non-believers because a woman rather than a man stands in front of a congeregation or vice-versa. They don't believe for a whole host of reasons, chief amongst them because they find any religious explanation of the world implausible. Fern Winter, London

  21. OK everyone, let me say this as calmly as I can. One of the reasons I don't like internet debate is because it almost never rises above bad-tempered point scoring, with little that can be classed as dispassionate engagement or argument.

    There is also the 'straw man' problem which caricatures someone's position - usually to fit their 'opponents' dislike of both it and them.

    You don't have to see someone with different ideas - even wrong ideas - as 'the enemy'. But because people do, I'm closing this discussion now.

    I have an email address. If anyone wants to engage in a proper - and private - discussion then, other commitments permitting, I will endeavour to do so.

    Otherwise, I really think it is for the good of our souls to avoid the kind of disputation that is going on here.

    Sorry, but that's how it goes.