The vote in synod against provision for those who can’t in conscience accept the authority of a woman bishop is sure to cause all sorts of grief and fallout in the Church of England in the months and years ahead. I am deeply saddened by the way the circles have been drawn, excluding all Anglo-Catholics and a significant number of conservative evangelicals. The vote at synod last week will have the same effect on the church as the act of uniformity under Charles II. Unity sought in uniformity will cause brothers and sisters in Christ to be excluded from the life of the church by drawing circles of form rather than status in Christ. And yet, despite the rupture and pain, we should give thanks to God.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
What should we give thanks for? We can’t really give thanks for the inversion of the responsibility for men to lovingly, sacrificially and carefully to take spiritual responsibility for teaching and shaping families, churches and communities according to God’s decretive will (1 Tim 3:2ff), especially at a time when the nation needs a clear relational lead from the church. Won’t we just end up like Andy Capp and his strident wife? It is clear that men must not abdicate what God has charged them to do and women must not usurp already weak attempts by men to lead in this way.
1 Timothy 2:12-14 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
The Church of England is following the secular world in giving women power and authority over men at just the time when secular women are beginning to question the wisdom of emasculating men by assuming positions of power over them, some secular women writers (e.g. India Knight and Liz Jones) have recently commented on this. We can’t, therefore, give thanks for a decision which further erodes the humble confidence of men in the church when we should be modelling to the broken secular world just how men and women can and should relate according to the wisdom of God.
We can’t give thanks then that women have sought equality with men based on function or role in the church rather than equality based on God’s work of creation and the completed work of Christ in the redemption and adoption of sinners.
Galatians 3:26-28 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Equality is a gift of God, a status conferred on us by God, to all who trust Christ as Saviour. We are equal in God’s eyes by faith and become brothers and sisters of Christ, co-heirs with him and holy, loved, righteous, blameless children of the most high God. Equality of role and function is not equality but uniformity. We are obliterating gender complementarity by emulsifying authority and power.
Evangelicals might give thanks for a weakening of a theology of the Catholic priesthood which finds no support in scripture, but this would be a shallow even hollow response.
So, what can we give thanks for? In spite of the pain the vote will cause, we can give thanks to the Lord because as women step into leadership we must say, “this is the will of the Lord, praise be to God”. Not his decretive will but his sovereign will.
Lamentations 3:37-38 Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?
Thank God that women have been given the opportunity to lead the church. The ring-fence around the episcopacy restricted God’s judgement on men in the church. The barrier needed to be removed. Just as Eve had the opportunity to take the fruit and eat when Adam abdicated his responsibility or Deborah the opportunity to judge Israel to shame the spineless men of her generation so women today need to have the opportunity to show men up for their weakness. In the days of the judges, as in ours, God had said to the men of Israel “be bold and courageous” (Joshua 1:9) but Barak was, as our emasculated generation is today, just the opposite and so God raised up a woman to lead Israel and another woman to receive the glory of the victory as God judged the men of Israel.
There was clearly a sense of injustice which the church had created by denying women the opportunity to lead. Like social clubs where only men are admitted, the episcopacy was lorded over women by men and this lack of choice created a strongly felt injustice. It has been corrected and the equal opportunity created. Women can chose to lead, and this is a good thing for which we can give thanks, but women are also free to say “We now have the opportunity to exercise power over men but we choose not to. We want our men to be strong and courageous and to lovingly and sacrificially to lead the church to the glory of God.” This freedom to choose gives a new and great opportunity for women in the church to be truly counter cultural.