Let me begin by saying that, in general, I prefer talking about salvation in Jesus than contentious issues. I don’t find it hugely enjoyable swimming against the cultural tide. And so I recognsie that in discussing the consecration of women Bishops I may end up at odds with the world. This is not a ‘vote winner’. But it’s about doing what’s right; not what’s popular.
Given that we’ve had a woman Prime Minister, a woman as Head of M15 and we send women to war it’s surely a little anachronistic that an institution like the Church of England should prevent women from having the top jobs. Of course, whether they’re the top jobs is a discussion for another time. I still enjoy Phillip Jensen’s description of them as ‘glorified estate agents’ enjoyable, even if he never said it. But people increasingly find the ineligibility of women for the Episcopacy as an act of outrageous and ‘criminal’ discrimination. It may well be that Government Legislation will one day make it a criminal offence to ‘victimize’ women in this way.
To deny positions of authority and leadership to women in the church is not meant to cause offence. But because of where our culture is, it does. But just because the culture is saying something doesn’t necessarily require us to change our position, but it ought to send us back to the Bible to make sure we’ve got it right.
One thing we mustn’t do is hideaway. The church is not meant to be isolated from the world. We have a distinctive take on the way things ought to be done that’s derived from our loyalty to Jesus Christ and his word. Therefore we have a Biblical worldview. At times the biblical worldview overlaps with the way that our culture views things. At other times, owing to society’s rapid drift from its biblical heritage, the church finds itself at odds with the culture. At times like this the church becomes prophetic. We speak the word of God into a situation. But it’s probably worth remembering what happened to most of the prophets! They’re words weren’t always welcomed. And so, we’re going to get shot at. It comes with the territory. But we also need to remember that these sorts of counter cultural issues are an opportunity to introduce God’s word into conversation. We usually struggle for those and so it’d be worth trying to work out how you get from Women Bishops to Jesus Christ.
The Church of England’s General Synod, passed a resolution a while ago allowing for the consecration of women Bishops. Since 1989 the Church of England had been ordaining women to the Priesthood but they had not ‘imposed’ female leadership on any unwilling congregation. Consecrating women as Bishops changes all of that. It is now very possible that we might have a women Bishop over us at CCB. What they’re now discussing is what to do with those of us that cannot accept this, ‘as a matter of conscience’.
People oppose the consecration of women for different reasons. Some, no doubt, are misogynistic dinosaurs whose antagonism to the move owes more to prejudice and bigotry than it does to careful application of the Biblical principles. Those are not motivations that I share.
At the risk of being misunderstood and quoted out of context let me say for the record, ‘I love women!’ Two of my most favourite people in the whole world are women. There is no one I love more in this world than my wife, Rosslyn and my daughter, Flora comes in a few yards behind. I greatly value Rosslyn’s contribution to our family life, it’s a real thrill to be involved together as equal partners in raising three little people and I couldn’t do it without her. My opposition to Women Bishops is not driven by a dislike for women but a devotion to Christ and his teaching.
We need to set this issue in the wider context of the Bible’s teaching on the subject of gender roles and responsibilities. My opposition to the Consecration of Women Bishops is a consequence of that.
As I understand the Bible’s teaching, we need to say two things.
1. Men and women are equal
Please note that I said ‘equal’ and not ‘equivalent’. They mean different things. And that’s where some of the problem lies. When I say ‘equal’ I mean they’re on a par, they’re on a level pegging. ‘Equivalent’ means identical or one and the same. In God’s mind men and women are equal. The equality of the genders is something attested by our creation and by our redemption.
a. Both men and women are created in the image of God
In Genesis 1:26 we’re told
’26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them’.
God created male and female. He created both of them in His image. And so both men and women have equal value to God. Therefore men and women should regard one another as having the same absolute value. Women are not a lesser order of being. They’re not like the plants and the animals. They are equal is status and significance as man. We’ll need to repent of any attitudes that we secretly harbour if we view women as second class citizens.
b. Both men and women are granted access to the blessings of the gospel
In Galatians 3 we’re told
‘for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’.
Paul is teaching that both men and women are inheritors of the promise God made to Abraham of a place in the Kingdom of God. Paul is not saying that we need to get rid of the distinctions between men and women. He’s just saying that the legitimate gender distinctions are not a barrier to entry into the kingdom. So in the church we must not despise women or assume that they have a lesser status or contribution to make.
2. Men and women are different
The Bible does not have a symmetrical view of our equality. Though men and women share equality of status there is differentiation in function. In other words, our creator designed different genders to do different things. They are not interchangeable. Women are not designed to do what men are designed to do. And vice versa. God has designed it in this way so that we might complement one another instead of competing with one another.
The pattern of relationships and roles within our trinitarian God model how we are to behave in our relationships. He shows that it’s possible to have equality without symmetry. Though we struggle to accept that it’s possible to have equality of status but differentiation in function, God doesn’t. This is not an alien concept for Him. It perfectly describes the way He functions.
The Father, the Son and the Spirit are all equally divine. No one is more divine than the others. But the Father, the Son and the Spirit perform different functions. It is generally safe to say that the Father arranges, the Son accomplishes and the Spirit administers. But it’s not simply that they do different jobs. Those jobs express the ordering of their relationships and so there’s an authority structure that orders their relationship. The Son submits to the Father (Mark 14:36, John 6:38) and the Spirit submits both to the Father and to the Son (John 14:16&17, 14:26, 16:13-15).
We see the equality of status but differentiation of function in gender roles required of us in two areas; in the family and in church.
a. God gives men and women different responsibilities within the family
In Genesis 2 we’re told,
’18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”’
Within family life God has ordered relationships so that women fulfil the role of helper and men fulfil the role of head. At the creation man is given the creation mandate by God to rule over the earth. But God realised that there was an imperfection in an otherwise perfectly ordered world. Man was alone. There was no suitable helper for him. He needed a woman; not to cure his loneliness but to help fulfil God’s creation mandate.
How this new relationship was to be ordered is given for us in 1 Corinthians 11:3 where Paul writes,
‘But I want you to understand that the head of every man in Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God’.
Notice how the wife’s responsibility to submit to the authority of her husband is the same in principle as the Son’s responsibility to submit to God the Father. No one imagines that it’s going to be an easy thing to do, but it is godly.
We’re also told in Ephesians 5,
’22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’
Wives are to submit to their husbands in everything, in recognition of the fact that husbands are head of the family as Christ is the head of the church. Husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Each of them needs to play their part in the marriage if it’s to reflect the way that the Lord Jesus relates to his bride, the church.
b. God gives men and women different responsibilities within the church
The Bible is hugely appreciative of women’s ministry. Both Jesus and Paul recruited women onto their ministry teams. In fact their attitude and affirmation of women was profoundly counter cultural for their day. And evangelical [Bible believing] churches like CCB need to continue to value, support and resource the ministry of women. At some stage I would very much like to employ a women’s pastor. I recognise that with two male staff we’re a little lopsided and we’re indebted to the ministry of our female lay leaders. We’re keen to provide for the large numbers of women in our congregation. It’s to the credit of our female lay leaders that they have been able to fulfil this role on a volunteer basis.
Yet, as positive as they were about women’s ministry, it’s striking that Jesus did not appoint any women as Apostles and neither did Paul appoint women as Church Elders or Regional Bishops. In fact, the Bible limits the responsibility of church leadership as elders and bishops to men.
There are three key passages to consider
1 Timothy 2:11-14
11 Let a woman learn quietly [i.e. without grumbling and complaining] with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
Although in Titus 2:3-5 it is entirely appropriate for a woman to train and teach other women, in this passage God prohibits women from teaching and exercising authority over a man in the context of the assembled church. There seems to be some correspondence between learning quietly and not permitting a woman to teach and with all submissiveness and not exercising authority. Teaching and exercising spiritual authority in the congregation is something limited to male elders.
1 Corinthians 14:33-36
As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?
Given that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul has already permitted women to pray and to prophesy in the congregational setting his prohibition in chapter 14 against women speaking cannot mean that they are never allowed to open their mouths. In the immediate context of (29), in which some are given the task of weighing the prophetic insight of others, it would appear most obvious to assume that the role of assessing the truth is something that God requires the male elders to do. It’s a teaching function tied up with exercising authority.
1 Timothy 3:1-17 & Titus 1:5-9
The Bible bases the suitability of a man for leadership on the way he performs in his family setting. The churches are therefore to appoint male elders to run the congregations of which families are a part.
This is a sensitive issue for many. My intention has not been to provoke, but in these few short words try and show why evangelicals like me cannot accept the consecration of women to the Episcopacy.
This is a primary issue over which we might need to break fellowship. It’s not a secondary issue on which the Bible has nothing to say. But this is not a salvation issue. Being consecrated as a Female Bishop or being a supporter of Women Bishops is not an issue over which God will send us to hell. But it is a sin issue. But it’s possible to be a Christian and to reject God’s word on an issue.
And so the Church of England has done something that it should not have done. It remains to be seen whether they carry on down that road.
What should we do? That’s a discussion for another time. But, at the very least, I hope and pray that the Archbishops’ amendments carry the day over the weekend.
I’m pretty sure that I found an article by Carrie Sandon and Piper and Grudem’s ‘Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’ helpful in the compilation of this article. But it’s so long ago that I sketched the outline fo what’s here that my memory may have failed me. Still, they’re both good. So why not read them anyway?