Tuesday, July 13, 2010
On English Women Bishops, with note for Evangelicals
I find what is going on, or what might be going on, let alone what will be going on in the C of E re women bishops a little confusing. Go to this Fulcrum link for further links. If I understand what the ABC is saying here, then (i) there will be women bishops in the C of E, (ii) there are unlikely to be 'provisions' satisfactory to those seeking 'provisions' (i.e. ways not to have ministry of women bishops in my corner of the Lord's vineyard), but (iii) there is a chance there might be satisfactory 'provisions' if discussions in dioceses over the next 18 months accumulate to be a tide in GS approving 'provisions'. But then I might be wrong.
John Richardson, reliably, posts an extremely helpful essay on how conservative evangelicals might respond to women bishops, distinguishing the ways in which this response could, or should differ from anglo-catholics. The whole essay is here. Some sentences which caught my eyes are these:
The essential difference between CEs and A-Cs opposed to women bishops:
"At the risk of over-simplifying, the Anglo-Catholic takes the view that a womancould 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."
On an Anglican way forward for CEs opposed to women bishops to work with women bishops:
"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:"
"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."
On the non-necessity of departure:
"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’."
This is eminently sensible. It opens up the crucial question of finding fellowship with those we disagree with because we look first for what we hold in common and not what we differ on. (John has fine things to say on this which I have not cited). That, I suggest, from afar, could be important to rapprochement between 'conservative' and 'open' evangelicals in the C of E!
The essay also helpfully focuses attention on what we can admire in the ministry of those we are cautious about: are they faithful to the gospel?
This, incidentally, is part of the reason why I affirm the ministry of women in all orders of our church: there is no intrinsic reason by way of gender why women and men cannot be faithful to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; and, having ordained women as deacons, priests, and bishops, there is good evidence of these ministries being carried out faithful to the gospel.
The difference between conservative evangelicals opposed to women bishops and women bishops themselves will be paper thin indeed in the C of E where the teaching ministry of women bishops is doctrinally sound!