Yesterday I posted a rough guide to the three main views on men and women in ministry. Those views are not enough to know how people will vote at synod on this complicated issue. I think the various views on episcopcy must also be considered and I’m not sure if this is being articulated at present. Some in the church hold bishops to be of vital importance to unity whilst others don’t. This short blog gives a rough guide to various views on the role of a bishop.
What is episcopacy and how will different views influence voting on women bishops?
For the first three centuries after the ascension of Christ, the church in Europe expanded through missional movements and networks of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who locally associated with an overall leader [1 Cor 1:12-13] and who later would be recognised as a bishop in the threefold order of ministry (bishops, priests and deacons). This early church period might be called the Augustinian model of church.
After the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century the church progressed, under a Christian government, toward a settled geographical division of the continent with national, diocesan and parochial divisions of ministry centred on Rome. This ordered model of church under a national Christian government is sometimes known as a “Constantinian” model.
For the past 50 years the church in Europe has operated under a secular government. The settled support of the ruling class has evaporated and in parts it is hostile to the church. The Church of England is still trying to run as if the rulers were Christian, in a geographical or Constantinian fashion.
At a parish level the church has already recognised that the parochial system, geographically defined mission, does not really work and so fresh expressions have emerged. “Fresh expressions” is a recognition that the church grows through networks of people not necessarily marked out by geographic boundaries.
In the debate on women in the episcopate, there are really two debates worth having simultaneously. The first is the gender debate the second is the nature of episcopacy in an Augustinian (passive or hostile ruling class) environment. The episcopal models can be shown in a grid:
(Settled Episcopal Hierarchy)
(Episcopal Fresh Expressions)
|Mission||To the parishes||To networks|
|Growth||The HQ model
Order and centralised control
Bishops appointed from the centre
Bishops determine appointments
|The Grassroots model
As the Spirit blows [John 3:8]
Bishops recognised from below [1 Cor 1:12-13]
|Order||The Christmas Tree
Neat and tidy – hierarchical
One Senior Archbishop
One Junior Archbishop
Bishops neatly appointed by diocese
Suffragan Bishops over areas
Vicars over parishes
|The Rambling Rose
Untidy, with strong primary shoots
De facto Bishops as leaders of missional networks (i.e. New Wine, Soul Survivor, Gospel Partnerships, Reform, Forward in Faith)
Missional vicars seeking to understand and reach local culture and networks with the gospel.
|Unity||Uniformity in liturgy, dress code and practice.
The bishop as the focal point of unity.
|Jesus is head over all and redeemer of all who trust in him, irrespective of bishop or beliefs on secondary issues.
Genuine catholicity centred on Christ.
Agreement to disagree on secondary matters fo the sake of reaching the unreached.
I have written more on bishops as the focal point of unity elsewhere. Tomorrow I will write a final post on how this and the various views on women bishops will shape the way people vote.