Monday, 12 July 2010

When it comes to strategy, faithfulness, not femaleness is the conservative Evangelical agenda

I was brought up in an Anglo-Catholic church (St Luke’s, Charlton), became a server there around the age of eleven and was for several years the crucifer (though I really wanted to be the thurifer — frustrated ecclesiastical ambition has dogged me ever since). Today, I have numerous Anglo-Catholic friends in the Church of England, and for a long time I was on the editorial board of New Directions, so I have considerable sympathy with the Anglo-Catholic position on women priests and bishops.
At the same time, however, I have to acknowledge the unavoidable fact that whilst conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics may have something of a common cause in this regard, they do not share not a common case.
At the risk of over-simplifying, the Anglo-Catholic takes the view that a woman could not be a priest or a bishop, whereas the conservative Evangelical holds more broadly that a woman should not be a priest or a bishop.
Underlying this is a difference over whether being ordained confers a change of condition — often referred to as ‘character’ — or essentially an authority to exercise a public ministry (compare Article XXIII, ‘Of ministering in the congregation’). The Anglo-Catholic would hold to the former, whilst the Evangelical Anglican would generally adhere to the latter.
The consecration of women bishops is a particular problem for the Anglo-Catholic since it means that in the course of time there will be increasing uncertainty as to the validity of orders, and therefore of the sacraments, even amongst male Anglican clergy, for if the latter have been ‘ordained’ by a woman who is not (by definition) a bishop, then they also are not priests.
The Evangelical, on the other hand, would not have quite the same problem — any more than there would be a problem over, say, the orders (rather than the authority) of a free church minister from a denomination which cannot claim to stand in the succession of the historic episcopate.
It may be painful to have this spelled out, but it is a reality which has to be faced. It does, however, mean that conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics can (and in some cases must) adopt different strategies in response to what is currently happening in the Church of England. This need not mean going in entirely different directions, but it may well mean taking different paths.
The conservative Evangelical Anglican understanding of orders and ministry means that the debate concerning women priests and bishops is not ultimately about gender but about faithfulness to Scripture.
The conservative Evangelical may thus apply Article XXVI in a way that the Anglo-Catholic cannot, for what the Article says about ‘unworthy’ ministers, the Evangelical may also be willing to apply in principle to women priests and bishops:
... forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the Word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments.
(The application of ‘Christ’s commission and authority’, incidentally, must be to the office and nature of the ministry of word and sacrament, not to the person of the minister, since this Article explicitly concerns those who really ought to be deposed.)
The conservative Evangelical would therefore not automatically deny the validity of Holy Communion celebrated by a woman priest, nor maintain that nothing useful could ever be learned from a woman’s teaching. (Indeed, the crucial objection in 1 Timothy 2:12 that a woman should not ‘teach or exercise authority over a man’ rather presumes that a man could, nevertheless, learn in such circumstances.) Equally, the conservative Evangelical need not have a problem with a man ordained by a woman bishop, since the prescriptions of Article XXIII have arguably been met:
... those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men [in the old, ‘generic’, sense] who have public authority given unto them in the congregation to call and send ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.
Since, under any new legislation, a woman bishop would be in receipt of that ‘public authority’, she could lawfully call and send ministers.
Indeed, no less an evangelical than Broughton Knox once wrote,
There is no objection to a woman consecrating a bishop, ordaining clergy, confirming young people, baptizing infants or reading the service of Holy Communion, when these actions are considered in themselves, that is, religious acts apart from the context of the congregation. (‘The Ordination of Women’ in Selected Works, Volume 2: Church and Ministry, Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2003, 205 — though the observation regarding the congregation is crucial to his overall position.)
It might be presumed that all this ought to make things easier for conservative Evangelicals. Indeed, there will be some reading this who will be asking if this is the case what all the fuss is about. Why don’t conservative Evangelicals just accept women priests and bishops and get on with their own ministries? And indeed, in the ‘extremis’ position for themselves resulting from decisions currently being taken by the Church of England, conservative Evangelicals may decide that a certain amount of such leeway is necessary. Knox, again, writes,
The New Testament does not consider the anomaly when Christian men are incompetent, ill-prepared or unwilling to discharge the teaching ministry. In this anomalous situation it may well be that what is normal must give place to what is beneficial! (‘Ministry of Women’, ibid, 245)
He would presumably also have said that the New Testament made no allowance for the ‘anomaly’ of a denomination having legally ordained women clergy. But perhaps he may nevertheless have suggested that, on the same principle, what is beneficial must sometimes give place to what it legal.
All this is not to say, however, that conservative Evangelicals should be indifferent to the issue of women bishops. But because the ultimate issue is not gender but faithfulness, it is on faithfulness that we can and should focus.
Indeed, because it is an issue of faithfulness, we can even have fellowship with those with whom we to an extent disagree. Some people will, for example, quite reasonably ask how, if our convictions are so different, conservative Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics can find any common cause whatsoever. My answer is that we can do so because we share a common Anglican heritage, so long as we take seriously those things we affirm in the Declaration of Assent — the Scriptures as supreme, along with the Creeds, the Prayer Book, the Thirty-nine Articles and the Ordinal.
Others may observe that this surely creates problems for the Anglo-Catholic when it comes to conformity to the Anglican ‘formularies’. And no doubt it does. But that is for them to resolve, and whilst they are willing to work on it, I would be personally willing to work with them.
Yet others, though, may ask why the same cannot apply to Liberals, to which my reply is basically the same. Provided they take the Declaration of Assent seriously, we have something in common from which we can begin to work. My home church of St Luke’s also gave me an early taste of Liberal theology — nice enough people, shame about the faith. However, where Liberalism is seen as providing a theological carte blanche, and the Declaration of Assent is cynically regarded as a mere nod to the past rather than a commitment in the present, then Liberalism becomes a ‘cuckoo in the nest’ which is not only an imposter itself, but which will push out the other inhabitants.
This is largely because if this particular form of Liberalism is tolerated then it introduces into the Church a fundamental ethos of dishonesty. And, unfortunately, in the Church of England we have indeed (and somewhat bizarrely) cultivated an ethos of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ where it matters most for a community of faith, namely what we actually believe! If anyone thinks the Church of England is ‘two-faced’ in its institutional attitude to homosexuality, they would be horrified when it comes to the basics of doctrine. By all means let a Liberal say, “That I can’t believe!” But dishonesty in the church, as in business or in politics, introduces a corruption which spreads through the whole and influences everyone.
The question conservative Evangelicals need to confront, however, is this: “If you had your own way, and were running the Church of England, what would you do that would transform it from what it is to what you think it ought to be?” And the answer cannot be (to put it extremely crudely), ‘get rid of the women and the gays’.
We may need to remind ourselves that the Church of England had no women priests before 1993, yet it wasn’t exactly thriving back then. What it lacked was not men, but faithfulness to the gospel and integrity regarding its own outward standards of faith and practice.
By the same token then, and according to the arguments I have advanced above, the advent of women bishops need not be the ‘end of the world’ that some are gloomily predicting. It is possible to be ‘salt and light’ even in a Church where, as Article XXVI puts it, “the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the word and sacraments.” And even the Church of England is not there yet!
It will, however, require faithfulness of its own, as well as courage, fortitude, imagination, dedication and a willingness to suffer for the sake of the gospel.
What we must look for from our evangelical leaders in the next few weeks is not threats (or, as our opponents would regard them, offers) to depart, but coherent and practical proposals to achieve what our bishops are called to do in the Ordinal, namely, “to teach and exhort with wholesome Doctrine, and to withstand and convince the gainsayers” and “with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to the same.” And this applies, of course, not just to the ordination of women or other ‘hot button’ issues, but to the ‘whole counsel of God’.
We face an uphill struggle, but whoever said it would be easy?
John P Richardson
12 July 2010
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  1. John, you have said more than once that we need action from CE leaders. In what action will you take a lead?

  2. Good post,John,in your usual well and logically thought out (& even eirenic?)way. I know I am out of it all now having crossed the Tiber in Dec 09, but I can never forget my roots and my journey over the years that has brought me to where I am. I am deeply saddened (but not surprised) at the way Synod went and still continue to pray for my evangelical and anglo-catholic friends as they seek the Lord's guidance about their future. Hope all well with you - keep blogging!

  3. Nick - thanks for that encouragement, and I trust you are enjoying life on your side of that particular river. It must be relatively tranquil!

    Mike - I think I'm a blogger rather than a leader. To qualify as a leader you have to have people who will follow your lead, and I don't think I'm quite in that position!

  4. An excellent, thoughtful, calm and informative post! The most difficult thing I find about anglican church life is that doctrine is considered so anathema. There is only one commandment: One mustn't ever say anything that might hurt feelings. 'Don't ask don't tell' and 'cuckoo in the nest' are spot on. Don't people realise how vital good theology is to our understanding of God's nature and the work He's done in us? Even the liberals could at least teach us what it is they don't accept and why. Instead we are fed mush and bleh and self-help gruel. Where are the courageous men who will love the sheep enough to preach the hard things that make God's mercy and love so incomprehensibly joyous?

    On the other hand, since it seems about 95% of most congregations these days are female, maybe the small number of men should be required to go to the pub during any sermon given by female clergy? That would keep things biblical and I don't suppose the men would complain. :-/

  5. Although an American, at age 13 I read Lewis' Letters To Malcolm and was hooked. Now I'm part of the group separated from TEC for reasons of faithlessness on the part of the leadership-not only currently but going back at least 140 years.

    I have no evangelical colleagues with which to rub elbows. We were promised a place in the pews and and now its take-it-or-leave-it from the anglo-catholics.

    I'll be making a move to Reformed Theology in a local presby church that is loving and solid.

    It saddens me at a time when there should be growing unity in the Anglican Communion worldwide between disciples, there is instead the left-hand of fellowship.

    I've enjoyed this blog and follow, though rarely post.

    See you later,
    if not here,
    then over there.

  6. John, a good and thoughtful post - many thanks.

    I know you have started a Chelmsford branch of the FCA, but apart from that, I have to say I have heard absolutely nothing whatsoever from it about anything, either publicly or by e-mail, since I "joined" it some months ago. Have you any ideas what is going on with it? Why are they so quiet all the time?

    David Baker

  7. Interesting post John
    However the trouble is that you seem to be working with a functional view of ordination and this has bedevilled the evangelical response to female presbyter/bishops for some 20 years. Faithfulness to Scripture means that we cannon accept unfaithfulness in the Church's Ministry. If the Reformers had done that there would have been no Reformation!!

  8. David, you need to make sure you're on the current e-mail list. E-mail me via the link at the bottom of the blog and I'll send you details.

  9. Nigel, you're quite right, I do take an entirely functional view of ordination, insofar as it is to the function of publicly ministering the word of God and the sacraments. My old friend and mentor Harry Sutton was very explicit in emphasizing this when I asked him 18 years ago about what should be our Evangelical priorities.

    Of course, we should not accept unfaithfulness in ministry, and in this regard some of us will not be able to accept aspects of the ordained ministry of women priests and (more especially) bishops. (I would personally exclude some areas of ministry from these objections.)

    The trouble is, the Church of England has accepted and almost encouraged unfaithfulness amongst its men for many years and that is partly why we are in this mess.

  10. Surely faithfulness (and honesty) would require me, if a woman was appointed as bishop of Chester, to write to her and tell her that I did not recognise her authority, and that did not consider my oath of obedience binding in these circumstances?

    Stephen Walton, Marbury

  11. Steve, if that's what it requires, that's what you should do - and she'd have to take it from there, which would be interesting. This is why I think establishing strong networks is so vital now. If we all start firing off as individuals we'll get nowhere. As Benjamin Franklin said, "Gentlemen, we must all hang together or we shall most assuredly all hang separately."

    Start inviting your local 'Reform' types to preach in your church. This is the first move.

  12. John
    Here then is a massive divide between those who take a mere functional view of ordination and those who (like Calvin and Hooker and other magesterial Reformers) regard ordination as conferring a "principal bond" of unity and communion(so Calvin)or as the putting on of a "cloak" that cannot be removed (Hooker). Calvin was to say that those who treat ordination lightly (ie as a function)inadvertently plot the devastation and ruin of the Church!!

  13. "Here then is a massive divide between those who take a mere functional view of ordination and those who (like Calvin and Hooker and other magesterial Reformers) regard ordination as conferring a "principal bond" of unity and communion(so Calvin)or as the putting on of a "cloak" that cannot be removed (Hooker)"

    Yup, I second you here Nigel, I've written a blog post with a similar view, i.e., that ordination is a matter of "catholicity", i.e, recognition and communion with the wider Catholic Church.

  14. Respectfully, might it be too much to ask what the Ordinal and the Scriptures say?

  15. John
    The scriptures teach that those who are teachers in the Church are to be more severely judged than those who are not. Why? Becasue they have been set apart and authority has been conferred upon them in a way that is denied the laity..As Christ’s under-shepherds they are distinct from the sheep they feed..ect ect ect

  16. Haha, I've both developed my argument from both the Scriptures and the Ordinal in my post here,

  17. Nigel and Rubati - I doubt we want to get into too much of a conflict over this, given the urgency of other matters, but I take it that Anglican ordination is an authorization of a role, based on a recognition of equipping, rather than something which itself changes (and therefore equips) the ordained person for the role.

    Cranmer made this comment: "In the admission of many of these officers [civil and ecclesiastical] be divers comely ceremonies and solemnities used, which be not of necessity, but only for good order and seemly fashion: for if such offices and ministrations were committed without such solemnity, they were nevertheless truly committed. And there is no more promise of God, that grace is given in the committing of the ecclesiastical office, than it is in the committing of the civil office." ("Questions and Answers Concerning the Sacraments")

  18. John
    Thanks for this. But we need to understand that the reason we are at 6's and 7's over this is that we have not defined what ordination is. I agree with Cranmer (!!) that it is not a matter of "grace" or "more of the promise of God" given in ordination but nevertheless ordination is ordination to an OFFICE (restricted to men) and not merely to a FUNCTION in the church.

  19. John, I think that's a false dichotomy. Certainly ordination doesn't change a person. But that doesn't mean it's just an "authorization of a role". In the ordinal, in the service of ordination and consecration, at the laying on hands, the bishop says:
    "Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest/Bishop".
    Not just "work"- function. But office.

    I thoroughly agree on need for strong networks. Seriously, when would you like to come and preach here?

    Stephen Walton, Marbury

  20. The CofE has a problem in all of this which is of it's own making. It states that there are THREE orders of ministry. Scripture does not in fact support such a claim - but does see some presbyters as having a wider responsibility than others - becoming area overseers or bishops.

    The EC-FCE has a TWO-FOLD order of ministry. So I as a bishop am appointed/elected by the body as a whole, and then consecrated by the PRESBYTERS. This actually means that not only do we steer clear of the idea of 'bishop for life', which means bishops are never removeable, but also it means that my 'bishopness' is an office of the church, rather than being a title which I personally own.

    Whilst the CofE continues with a three-fold order of ministry the bishop is given far too much power and is not responsible enough to the church as a whole. I would far rather our situation where I don't have the ability to do many things on my own, but am responsible to the whole of the church.

    (Our presiding bishop is, of course, re-elected every year, so he would soon be gone if he behaved as CofE bishops do!)

  21. The Preface to the Declaration of Assent says that the uniquely revealed faith of the Church is to be proclaimed afresh in each generation. Proclamation, of course, implies interpretation. (Evangelicals clearly make certain interpretations that are different to those of their Anglo-Catholic brothers and sisters.) And this process of interpretation must be undertaken “afresh in each generation” because each generation will have its own fresh insights as well as its own peculiar “blind-spots.” – Thus at around the end of the eighteenth century some Christians began to think that keeping slaves might not be consonant with the inherited faith of the church, although earlier generations of Christians had apparently seen no particular difficulty with it. Indeed those who argued against the abolition of slavery thought they had scripture on their side and those who argued for the abolition of slavery were the one who ahd to be more imaginative in their use of scripture.

    In more recent times, biblical scholarship has led to insights that were not available to earlier generations of Christians. For example there is now good evidence to suggest that not all the so called “Pauline” letters were written by the same hand, but that 1 Timothy, for example, was probably not written by the same Apostle Paul who wrote Romans, but by a later disciple of Paul. The later disciple writes in 1 Timothy 2:12 that no woman is to teach or have authority over a man but is to keep silent. However, the earlier Apostle apparently entrusted to a woman, the deacon Phoebe, the delivery of his letter to Rome. Phoebe, in this case, would not have been a mere ‘post-woman’ but would, most probably, have had to read and interpret the letter as part of the delivery process. This and other examples suggest that Paul may have accorded the ministry of woman a level of prominence in the Church which did not sit easily in the culture of the time. Thus the later writer of 1 Timothy may have been trying to ‘tone down’ the apostle’s approach so as to make it seem more acceptable to the culture of its age.

    These and similar insights were not available to the Protestant reformers nor, indeed, to those generations of the church involved in the process of “reception” through which the canon of Scripture took shape; but they are available to us and must surely take them in to account as we, in our turn, offer a fresh proclamation of the ancient formularies that is appropriate to our own culture.

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Wow David, there's a fair amount of 'interpretation' going on in your post itself. Yet having said all that, I wonder how you would respond to the 'top five questions', which I doubt are much affected by the points you've raised.

  24. Stephen, there is a danger of nit-picking over offices and roles. One of the great things about the Ordinal is that it teaches what the 'office' of priest entails in terms of the role, and comes up with something rather different from the previous notion of what it meant.

    I'd love to come to preach in your church. Contact me via the e-mail link at the bottom of the blog and I'll see what we can sort out.

  25. I'm fascinated by the scholarly trawling over minutiae in response to the liberal takeover the Cof E is witnessing. You're being outmanouvered at every turn and have lost every battle so far. You don't seem to understand that you are engaged in a disputation for the very soul of your church with liberal opponents who are not interested in negtotiation or concessions. Why? Because they fervently believe they are right and everyone else is wrong.
    Luther drew a line in the sand and said, "Here I stand, I can do no other." I wonder if I shall ever see any Anglicans begin doing this. C.S.Lewis talks about the road to hell not being steep but an oh so gentle decline. One day you stop, look back but can't see where you've come from.
    Look and consider how far away you've come from all that the Anglican church has stood for.
    Find some leaders and begin taking some action. Doing nothing is no longer an option for you otherwise in a few years your church will be unrecognisable.

  26. From one anon to another - I could not agree with your sentiments more. However, fear not, those of us at the grass roots are already engaged in painting the lifeboats and have been doing so since the day that women were allowed into the priesthood. On that day the Church of England that we grew up in changed for ever and we have accepted there is no way back. We acknowledge that we have lost the war and now we refuse any more to argue over any scraps the Liberals deign to throw us.
    We now have several options and one of them is NOT yet more discussions at Diocescan level about a toothless Code of Practice that is as much use to Traditionalists as a chocolate teapot.
    There is no longer a place for the Traditionalist Anglican in the C of E - the female activists in the House of Clergy at Synod have made that very plain .
    Why should we want to stay in a Church that treats us with such derision? We have the development of the Ordinariate as I write, the 3rd Province and the also the option of the Traditional Anglican Church (of Great Britain).
    For those that want to go the whole hog a bracing swim across the Tiber will be all that is needed.
    At the end of the day the Liberals will be welcome to the mess and the empty pews that will be all that is left.

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