A Response to the feminization of Anglican Orders

VirtueOnline - expositor of all things orthodox or so it purports, blinded perhaps by the power of thinking that its own 'plain reading' is far from plain and skewed like all our readings into a hermeneutic because we are all fall-influenced and far from neutral, prone to blind sides that are blind to us - VirtueOnline, a thinkingtank/blog with reach and influence, laments the feminisation of the church of England with surely some glaring gaffs and dramatic conclusions. 

I would like to contest some of these, part aware and part unaware, until someone points them out to me, that, of course, I have my blind sides too!

Alice C. Linsley believes that we are moving into 'dangerous territory' as she puns on the etymological root of 'venture' to mean dangerous, picking up on Welby's use of the word to describe this new epoch, post women Bishops.

The idea of women leading churches is still described by Linsley as an innovation even though the exegetical debate has lead to the belief that in fact we have had it wrong for a very long time but certainly not forever. She is wrong to say that 'The innovation reveals confusion about the nature of the priesthood and suggests infidelity to the received tradition of the Apostles which was embraced by the early priests of the Church.' On the contrary, Madigan and Osiek have uncovered evidence for female deacons, priests and bishops through the ages so that 'Whatever the arguments against women's ordination ... they can no longer be predicated on a naive reading of a defective historical record.' (TILLEY, M.A., Catholic Biblical Quarterley; Jan 2008, Vol. 70 Issue 1, p.156)

That 'the ordination of women as priests is an accommodation to culture,' is also a misunderstanding. As Evangelicals, the case is made from the scriptures alone that the scriptures themselves present positive positions on female leadership. To say that there is a confusion about even life and death itself is a tad dramatic and Linsley fails to successfully persuade us by her claim here. References to the churching of women after childbirth, a service in our Book of Common Prayer are said to have been dropped due to the feminisation she laments. In fact with careful adaptation, the church can celebrate the childbearing gift that is woman's alone. It is perhaps that we just need to modernise our language so that the service can be understood. Thomas describes how, 'matrescence is a time of power, a time when a woman encounters new dimensions of self, relation, and God.' ('Becoming a Mother: Matrescence as Spiritual Formation' Religious Education, Volume 96, Number 1, 1 January 2001, pp. 88-105(18) 2001, 90). The Book of Common Prayer is fruitful where it offers a liturgical response of 'Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth, commonly called Churching of Women'. It seeks to affirm a woman for having 'putteth her trust in thee (God)' and recognises her need, with the plea, 'Be thou to her a strong tower.' It is the church that then needs to nurture specifically her spiritual development after such a profound life-changing experience. Often, as in my case, this spiritual development culminates also in a call to ordination and church leadership as began to happen after the birth of my first child.

Linsley believes that intuitively we understand 'it is simply wrong to speak of Jesus as the “daughter of God.” Is there a veiled implication here that somehow the creation of women bishops would lead to such a thing? If so this is a serious and unfounded exaggeration. Logic and common sense alone would prevent this happening, quite apart from the fact that revelation gave us a male Messiah. 

Linsley believes that the 'assertion that women and male are equal is a heresy.' Of course, aside from the fact that it should be either 'women and men' or 'male and female' and she confuses the two, she doesn't go on to expand on how this equality might be heretical successfully. She separates ontology (essence) from function and it is this kind of trajectory that is causing such a lot of problems in the church. What we are left with is a strange logic. With a representational theory of priesthood a woman can't be a priest because she is not like Jesus in his maleness. However, she also can't be a priest because she is like Jesus, destined to be 'eternally' subordinate!!  

To say, as Linsley does, that a 'female bishop is a repetition of the sin of Eve,' is to misunderstand Eve, God's creation mandate and the fall. The pyramidal order she conjures in support of her point has no precedent in the Scriptures: the pyramid is inverted and quite the opposite of the one she understands with its point at the bottom and its promotion of servant leadership. That 'She also enjoyed a special intimacy with Adam, as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh,' is exactly the reason why gender complementarity is a point of celebration and a reason for shared servant-leadership between the genders of God's church.

Linsley believes 'It is not proper for the weaker vessel to stand as a symbol of the God-Man.' This is perhaps where she is at her most incredible. Aside from the fact that we have a suffering Saviour, women as well as men reveal something about the nature of God, the plural God who in himself must be both and yet beyond gender to have made people in God's image - male and female. 

She goes on to say 'Males are larger and stronger than females. The one must be stronger in order to save the weaker.' I do not think this requires much comment really, its inadequacy as a theological argument is plain to see. 

I agree with Linsley that 'Attempts to justify women priests on the basis that the Church is described as female reveals profound misunderstanding of the biblical pattern.' I have not seen any arguments being put forward that try to do this. Here she sets up and knocks down a straw man.  Thankfully the logic with which she blows away the straw is valid as she says 'The image of the Church as “bride” ... speaks of His coming to reign over an eternal kingdom. It is not about gender equality in the Church.'

She ends with a huge and unsuccessfully supported claim that 'a woman priest... changes our received Christology.' 

Good grief - whoever would have thought us women could have been so powerful!! 


Response on women Bishops from RevisingReform

Dear Member of RevisingReform,

You will have been overjoyed by the General Synod’s vote last Monday on women bishops. This was the logical and prayerful outcome of the decision in 1993 to enable women to be ordained to the presbyterate in the Church of England. That decision prompted the response of so many women to God's call on their lives and since then we have actively sought to urge the Church to reform herself under the authority of the Word of God in the light of this.

Over the last 10 years we have worked hard both to resist the prohibition on women bishops and to offer ways in which appropriate provision could be made if the Church of England opened the Episcopate to women, for those whose interpretation of the Scriptures, finds this problematic. Thankfully provision is being worked out for our brothers and sisters, who for hermeneutical reasons, or reasons of tradition, can not accept the ministry of women in the Episcopate. The debate that has ensued will better prepare congregations for engaging with the issues so that they might go forward with confidence.

We can continue to minister to each other and our wider communities with confidence because God’s Word hasn’t changed. The church has engaged with the Scriptures and decided that indeed God powerfully pours out his Spirit on both men and women and gifts them for roles in the church. We continue to rejoice therefore in the way God has ordered relationships between men and women, overcoming the curse and calling us to work for that mutual submission to one another that is a reflection of the perichoretic dance of the Trinity. That the Trinity is the perfect community gives us our ethic for living together.

Similarly, men and women are equal in God’s eyes (Galatians 3:28) and this appears to be Paul’s starting point in 1 Corinthians 11.3: “Now I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” As we see here, Paul does not present a hierarchical sequence of relationships because he doesn't arrange his sentences to denote this. Instead, God is the source of Christ, Christ the source of mankind and man the source of woman because she was made from his rib in the metaphorical narrative of our creation. Men and women are equal in the Lord as Paul explains because 'in the Lord...everything comes from God.' The Divine mutuality of men and women really was God’s clear intention at the very beginning of human creation. Adam is unconscious at the moment of his wife's creation and unaware from whence she came, only struck by how perfectly she completes him: 'bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.' As a result, the responsibility for teaching and leading rests with both men and women after they have submitted themselves to God and learned about the scriptures in an edifying environment (eg 1 Timothy 2:12). Women are encouraged to 'learn,' this would have been very counter-cultural in Paul's day and there is a permanent prohibition there that we can take from this pericope that no person should usurp the authority of the person leading or preaching, we must all pray to better recognise the godly leading of those God has appointed to lead us in the faith and seek our own edification too. From God’s first purposes in creation to his ultimate salvation, mutual submission and humbly seeking God's will together as men and women who complement each other and submit to one another (Ephesians 5), is a mandate.

It is going to be our privilege to teach and model in the lives of our churches these great truths. How we do that is something we will be always discussing as we seek to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. The House of Bishops’ Declaration says that it is committed to human flourishing and our ecclesiology now better reflects our biblically derived understanding that all three orders of ministry are open to women. For our brothers and sisters unconvinced by the Church of England's decision, there will be the appointment of a conservative evangelical bishop who can provide episcopal ministry that accords with their hermeneutical interpretation of the issue.

So what should we do next?
We will continue to focus on growing Gospel ministry through local Anglican churches, particularly now that those who have prayed, written and worked hard to have the church open its three orders to women, are freed to concentrate better on the primary issues over which we are all united. Part of our job, whatever our theological viewpoints, will be to stand together to continue to make Christ known.

Secondly, we will in the next few weeks seek to help PCCs think through this move from the Church of England, to become better informed about the ways in which the church reached such a decision, to engage with the Scriptures in an edifying way and to come to a place of being able to confidently assert how the Scriptures do indeed support women's leading in all three orders of Anglican ministry.

So, now that the vote has happened and the Church of England is set on the course of introducing female bishops, let’s once again take courage from the words of Scripture: ‘Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong' . Let all that you do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).' Let's love those for whom this decision has caused problems and let's work together with a gospel that we have always been able to proclaim with confidence. Let's watch for the ways in which our proclamation has now been made more confident by that proclamation being carried also by those women as well as men, who have been called to make Christ known.
With love in His service,
Rachel Marszalek

Written in response to this


I am a new creation

God is always doing something new and sometimes the new is upon us in surprising ways.

I trained a at a low evangelical, charismatic college. It could even be that assumptions were made during selection that I was more acquainted with high church practice than is actually the case: I had married a Catholic (who is now an Anglican).

The days of my high church experience were those of childhood; days in which I believe I was first called to minister as I knelt as a Brownie 'not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs,' knowing that something hugely significant was happening and that my Brownie friends were seeming to miss the point with their giggles and whispers. I clenched my hands tighter and tighter together in the thinking that the harder I squeezed, the more efficacious my prayer might be. I was nine!

I was profoundly impacted by the Eucharist.

I now begin a journey into my first position of responsibility and I revisit some of my thinking regarding higher church practice.

There will be those gestures, not habitual for me, that I am bound to simply miss. I am hoping that some room will be made for my lower evangelical sensibilities. As I rediscover some of those higher church customs that have not been a part of my daily life for many years now and I seek with grace to journey with a body of people into all that God would have for us together, I came across this really lovely exchange between a high church and a low church minister in which their obvious respect for one another, their imputation of good motives to one another and their very obvious friendship is a source of inspiration and comfort to me at this time, as I prepare for my new post.



Cake and death

Eddie Izzard, known for his acerbic wit and original dress, presents the Church of England as a choice between 'cake' and 'death.' On youtube you can find this episode in his stand-up routine enacted with lego.

But cake and death are now to be found in a cafe near you!

Death Cafe has launched and I wonder about the challenge such a place might pose for the church.

Often people's first encounters with church are during the loss of a loved person in the planning of their funeral. It could be that 'Death Cafe' equips people in ways from which the church could learn. On the other hand, it could be that the church realise that theirs is a distinctive message that needs to be communicated in different ways. If Death Cafe culture impacts people's reactions and resourcing for this inevitability, the church might need to up its game.

Take Philomena, for example. Next week, a Death Cafe will open near to me in Hampstead. Philomena, a Marie Curie volunteer, will become an an End-of-Life-Doula when she has finished her training. She describes herself as a friend at death or ‘death missionary’ and will be  available to listen to next week when this venture launches in an upstairs floor of Cafe Rouge on Monday 9th June.

Death Cafe's mission statement is 'to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives'.

Jesus comes with a message that is not dissimilar in John 10:10 about a fullness to life although 'making the most' would only describe an aspect of what he means.

It might be cynical to detect a note of the individualism in a statement like 'make the most of.' Afterall, Death Cafe advocates do believe that it is the rise in individualism and loneliness that has in part led to death becoming such a taboo and such an underground conversation. 

Death Cafe is wanting to bring death into the light.

I wonder where their aims and those of the church overlap.

Afterall, their finite is in brackets.
Are they hinting here at an openness to a life that continues?
Is there room for an exploration of the Christian belief in eternal life at a death cafe?

I wonder what offering the light of Christ at a Death Cafe might look like.

I wonder what Christian mission might look like into a context such as this one. 

Hopefully it would begin with a good deal of listening.


Seeking and seeking


As I begin to get to know my new community, both the people here and the culture and geography and ethos, I look for signs of seeking. I hope to be open to the ways in which, as church, we translate, live out and embrace the gospel, how our walk, our ways and our welcome communicate our hope. I also look for those Christians I will minister with who themselves 'seek' - seek God, his presence, his empowering and a deeper knowledge of him.

This calls for a kind of self- and other-people consciousness as I try to analyse our direction, people's passions and vision.

We all leak.

Or in other words, those things about which we most speak (or if we are more introverted) about which we most think, are those things that most preoccupy us. Now, of course, there is the stuff of life that we can not control, our responsibilities to work and family and friends and community. We have a certain amount of control over these things, but often we do not. I guess it is how we go about engaging in these areas that we can ask God to impact. I think the extent to which we need the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit can never be underestimated. To live out a 360 degree faith, each aspect of our life can go through a necessary releasing and surrendering to God as we seek his wisdom for how each aspect should be governed: the attitudes we bring to each and the people we're to do life with there; how we both might grow and optimise the flourishing of others in all of those contexts.

As we approach Pentecost and our awareness of God's gift of his Spirit becomes something to which we naturally turn, the lectionary guiding us there, I find myself having conversations and praying prayers for the presence of the Spirit in my new community, for God to show me in whom His Spirit is living powerfully here. I know that very little will happen without prayer. Something will happen and be sustained for a while but for God's plans to come to fruition, we must seek him very intentionally, which must at least begin by speaking with him and hearing from him in prayer.

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?"
"John's baptism," they replied.
Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all (Acts 19:1-7)

As twenty-first century disciples I wonder ... we have to learn again to wait, to listen, to become empowered for his mission and what it might look like.
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."Acts 1:4-5

After meeting to discuss worship last night, I woke up and had a vivid sense of it being Christmas. I soon remembered I was in May and laughed but the feeling stayed with me. It feels as though over the next few weeks and months I am to unpack a series of gifts which is a discerning of the gifts that God has given his people here, in this new community, whose vision I am privileged to facilitate as their vicar. I feel like a small child with a hundred presents at the end of the bed.

Can't wait to uncover these beneath the wrapping paper of my community:

Teaching - Romans 12:7, 1 Corinthians 12:28; Eph 4:11
Ministering - Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28
Administration or leadership - Romans 12:8; 1 Corinthians 12:28, Heb. 13:7; 1 Thes. 5:12-13; 1 Corinthians 13:2
Evangelism - Ephesians 4:11 (2 Timothy 4:5 - Timothy did not seem to have this gift)
Pastor - Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-90.
Exortation - Romans 12:8
Giving Romans 12:8
Showing mercy Rom 12:8 (relief of sick and needy)
Helps - 1 Corinthians 12:28; 2 Timothy 1:16
Faith - Romans 12:3-6; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10
Apostleship - 2 Corinthians 12:12, Heb. 2:4; 1 Corinthians 9:1; Act. 14:14, Phil. 2:25
Prophecy 1 Corinthians 12:28; 14:3; 14:29; Romans 12:6
Agabus - Acts. 11:27-28; 21:10-11
Barnabus, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen - Acts 13:1
Daughters of Philip Acts 12:9
Judas and Silas Acts 15:32 (as well as Barnabus and Paul)
Miracles - 1 Corinthians 12:28; Acts. 13:11
Healing - 1 Corinthians 12:9, 28, 30 (see Acts. 5:12-16, Acts. 8:13, Acts 19:11-12)
Tongues Acts 2:1-13 (Joel 2:29); Act. 10:46; Acts. 19:6; 1 Corinthians 14


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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.