A carefully argued letter in reply to Reform worth reading

From the CEN Thursday 18th February 2010
Peter picks up on this at Anglican Down Under and takes an interesting angle on Paul and female conservative evangelical anonymity.

In some senses the recent rise in discussion over women and the episcopate is healthy. There also seems to be more and more confident and articulate Scriptural argumentation for women's ordination and consecration being put forward.

When I first naively began to understand the debate some years ago, two things literally drove me to near despair, had it not been for wise counsel. The first was the supposition, that Ugley vicar proposes, that those women hearing God's call must be liberal when it comes to the Bible, this is just not the case. I am conservative. Trust me, it is possible, although 'post-conservative' feels more apt.

The second thing that 'did my head in' (I know, aren't these types of expressions jolly useful in these situations) was the idea that the ordaining/consecrating of women would naturally lead to the ordination/consecration of people in same-sex relationships. I will not debate the same-sex issue just here (I have elsewhere), but why should these two things be related? The arguments in scripture are completely different and speak into each case differently.

Essentially, what I am seeing gives me great hope. People are beginning to wrestle with the scriptures, as I did on this issue before saying 'yes' to God and they are bringing some very intelligent reasoning to bear on the topic. Reason it sometimes has to be to counteract all the cerebral responses to God's Holy Word, one of the problems of the Reformation as I see it. And reason is good, do not get me wrong, I have done my homework on the Logos and wisdom and Christ as God's reason, but you know what I am getting at.

The other great reason for hope, is that alongside scriptural warrant for the ordination of women, there seems to be more and more attention being given to the Holy Spirit. The letters in the CEN this week, surrounding the one I reproduce above, appeal to movements of God's Spirit too, praise God!

So ultimately Our Lord Jesus Christ, God, the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit are being considered as carefully as that one itsy bitsy teeny weeny sentence of the oft-mis-quoted and much misunderstood Spirit-filled and transformed Paul (1 Tim 2:11-15).


Clayboy's reflections on mine


Revd John P Richardson said...


Briefly, the problem with the above letter is that it begs the question that the 'debate' seeks to resolve - ie it comes down on the side of women's ordination and then confuses the critique of the Reform position on women's ordination with the critique of the specific letter (with which I also disagree) recently put out by Reform. The 'Gordian Knot' is how you keep the Church of England faithful to its commitment to Scripture on the interpretation of which there is division.

Secondly, you've not followed my own argument in the post to which you refer. I have not said that "those women hearing God's call must be liberal when it comes to the Bible". Indeed I could not, because I doubt that anyone liberal when it comes to the Bible would be called by God!

What I said was that because the General Synod "fudged the theological basis by failing to settle the biblical issue", as a result, "those women drawn to ordination to the priesthood tended to be those less committed to biblical precision, whilst those women drawn to full-time ministry, but of precise views, tended to avoid ordination to the priesthood."

With respect, it is difficult to do 'careful' argument, when there is a lack of careful reading!

Rachel Marszalek said...

Yes,John, I must admit I read half your post with a view to returning to the rest today...emmm.

Okay, I get what you are saying, I think. Was it a fudge though? Was it not more that a clear case had been made supporting women's ordination from the Scriptures but a generous spirit was also fostered towards those with a different hermeneutic? Would women decline the call in the face of that hermeneutic? I am unconvinced. Would they decline the call because they supposed they might somehow be involving themselves in something causing division? Perhaps.

The church gently introduced something new. The Gamiliel test was applied. Dr John Habgood in an article written for ND [March 2004] wrote:

'No time limit was set on the Act, and those of us who promoted it were relying on the Gamaliel principle [Acts 5.38-9], whereby in due course it should become plain to all those open to God's guidance, when the time has come that it is no longer needed. We assumed that members of the Church of England would be open-minded enough, and generous enough, to learn from each others experience whether this new ministry is clearly being blessed by God or not'

I think what the spirit of the letter that I quoted captured is that surely, it is now time just to get on with the job of serving Jesus together, men and women, side by side for the sake of mission. I am sure you do not disagree with that.

Revd John P Richardson said...

Rachel, you wrote, "Was it not more that a clear case had been made supporting women's ordination from the Scriptures but a generous spirit was also fostered towards those with a different hermeneutic?"

Well, no, I don't think it was - at least, following the debate at the time, that did not seem to be the case.

Simply ask yourself this - who is more likely to appeal to the Bible to bolster their argument: those pro or those against ordaining women? I would bet it is the latter - and as I recall it was the case also in the 1990s.

You yourself write above, "alongside scriptural warrant for the ordination of women, there seems to be more and more attention being given to the Holy Spirit." Surely that drives a wedge between the Bible and the Holy Spirit? This is something which evangelicals thirty years ago (at the time of the second NEAC) would never have countenanced. On the contrary, they would have recognized such a move as the first step towards liberalism (look at how the Episcopal Church constantly appeals to 'the Spirit' on other issues).

As to quoting John Habgood, I understand he was the prime mover for the Act of Synod, without which, as he writes in the Article you quoted, "the Measure for the Ordination of Women itself ... would not have been passed either by Synod or Parliament." It is also true that, as you also quote, "No time limit was set on the Act." Yet for some time there has been pressure to rescind it (viz GRAS, supported by, amongst others, our former diocesan bishop in Chelmsford), and now it is to be abolished, even there are those of us who would like it to continue.

This is why it is important, as he goes on to say about the mutual learning from each side that was supposed to occur, "Sadly this mutual learning does not seem to have been taking place as much as it might have done."

Hence, he adds, "The advertisement by GRAS [placed in the press], with its hectoring tone and insulting remarks, is not going to help those targetted by it to evaluate sympathetically whether the actual impact of women priests on the Church of England has been positive or negative. It is not a good sign if success, won by much patient endeavour, merely serves to breed intransigence. Accusations of sexism are easy to make, but miss the point that for those concerned what is more likely to be at stake is not sexual discrimination as ordinarily understood, but a desire to be faithful to what are perceived to be the teachings of Scripture and tradition."

It is the final point which is important. It is all very well to talk about getting on with "the job of serving Jesus together" - but can that be done whilst some of us feel we are being asked to set aside (or at least, not be too fussed about) "the teachings of Scripture and tradition"? That is where the problem lies, and that is why I think the Church of England is about to make a big mistake.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Hi John
Thanks for your reply. I would never intend to drive a wedge between Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Movements of the Holy Spirit must be tested against scripture, as you know I know.

However, humanity is slow to learn and quick to use proof-texts to justify particular positions. I still think that the letter I quoted from the CEN speaks simply and plainly into what for many would be the bigger scriptural picture, one in which women are trusted to deliver the good news of Jesus to the nations. Essentially, I think that it is all a lot simpler than we make it. Surely, in another generation or two, this, perhaps, not unlike the Reformation, will be another change in our church history which we look back on. Change is never without difficulties, which is lamentable, but change is inevitable. I appeal to the Holy Spirit but with the caveat above. You appeal to tradition. Is this because the exclusion of women to the episcopate can not be sustained through an appeal to scripture alone?

Anonymous said...

I am not certain if it is correct to say that John Richardson is appealing to "tradition". While it is undoubtably true that some Anglican complementarians appeal to traditional arguments, I have not found this to be true of them all.

At the root of all this is how you should interpret the theology of ministry and the nature of equality -and how far you should allow latitude of different views. I would have thought that JR is making his appeal to the theology and is appealing to the Holy Spirit in the same way as you claim to be.

My impression is that for people like JR, it is a matter of theological conviction that is no less an appeal to the Holy Spirit. The message that people like him are getting is that this theology is no longer wanted in the Anglican Church and they either accept it or leave. No place will be found for their convictions.

That does not seem to me a work of the Holy Spirit but one of polite coercion.


Rachel Marszalek said...

Spoken with characteristic wisdom and grace,
thanks Iconoclast

Anonymous said...

I'd take a look at this Rachel...



Revd John P Richardson said...

Rachel, just further to Iconoclast's point, it was John Habgood who made the appeal to "Scripture and tradition", and I suspect he did so knowing that these were two complementary, but different, appeals.

There is such a thing as 'the tradition of Scriptural interpretation'. This is, of course, not without challenge, but a challenge must be more robust if it opposes a long-established tradition, especially if it has served the Church well. (I take it that a lot of our reading of the Scriptures in a 'Trinitarian' framework falls into exactly this category.)

As to an appeal to the Holy Spirit, the classic Christian tradition (not confined to 'evangelicals') is that in Scripture we see the product of people who "spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit".

This is why the classic evangelical position is that the Spirit cannot contradict Scripture, because he cannot contradict himself. Indeed, this was a touchstone of the Anglican charismatic movement of the '60s and '70s, without which I am sure it would have been rejected as heretical.

Moreover, the Church of England anchors its own doctrine in Scripture, not just as a source of 'proof texts', but as the instrument of ministry, including parish ministry. If you read the Prayer Book Ordinal, it is the best summary of this I have ever seen. But that is why it is so important that on this issue of Scriptural understanding the Church of England must accommodate rather than divide, for if it divides, the majority part will include many who are absolutely not committed to Scripture on any grounds (as you must know). And that would be a disaster.

Rachel Marszalek said...

You crack me up!!

Revd John P Richardson said...

Rachel, by the way, have you read the article by Colin Craston in the same issue of the Church of England Newspaper from which that letter comes, in which he attempts to defend women's ordination from Scripture, whilst attacking Reform (and, to boot, Anglican Mainstream and Gafcon, many of whose members actually support the ordination and consecration of women)?

It is a dreadful piece of work, culminating, when he comes to the Apostles, in the assertion that (quoting P T Forsyth), “In matters more periphery [sic, in which he includes their understanding of gender]” the Apostles “reveal the understanding and knowledge of their age”.

Whatever Forsyth may have meant, as Craston uses it, it is a cop-out, which allows him to override all that the Apostles said which might disagree with his own position of egalitarianism.

This is why so many of us have problems with the claim that biblical exegesis lies at the heart of the case!

Rachel Marszalek said...

Much of this resonated deeply with me and you know, I was just struck with a profound sense of sadness, quite overwhelming. The divisions in the body of Christ just struck me with some new sense. It is so lamentable. God we are so desperately in need of your guidance, heal our fractured church, keep us all somehow in union with one another. Amen.

David Ould said...

Well Rachel, dare I say it, but God has already provided clear guidance on this matter in His word. As John and others have pointed out the arguments that all of a sudden our understanding of that word are changed do not really convince many of us.

So there is a way to heal our fractured church, but I suspect it is too far gone in its blinkered slavery to modern trends to be restored before much damage is done.

Rachel Marszalek said...

Hi David
Thanks for popping by.
I respect you bring a different hermeneutic to bear on this issue. I can not support you in thinking that the church is 'blinkered' in 'slavery to modern trends'. On the contrary, I think it has just taken for an evolutionary process in the way we engage with scripture for us to fully realise Biblical support for the servant-leadership of women. It has taken this long for us to work out that women can teach from the scriptures and spread God's word.

Your reference to 'slavery' is rather apt when we think about what else has been warranted by scriptural backing in the past.

David Ould said...

yes, I don't deny the force of the argument re slavery.

Nevertheless I am reminded of a Luther quote I just came across...

It is the most ungodly and dangerous business to abandon the certain and revealed will of God in order to search into the hidden mysteries of God.

Which is I think much the same point John has been making on this thread.

Rachel Marszalek said...

...and David 'Male headship' is the 'revealed will of God'?

David Ould said...

Yes, as John and I have been arguing.

Rachel Marszalek said...

...and David - what does that look like practically, in the world, the church and the home?

Rachel Marszalek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Marszalek said...

...deletion above because I was supposed to put the link in.

...so for a graceful response to the exchange between David and I read this by Peter Carrell.

Tim Harris said...

My experience in Australia in the 1990's was that there was a real unwillingness of many of the 'opposed to women's ordination' evangelicals to engage with the biblical case in favour of women's ministry made from fellow evangelicals. Many were so focussed on the Gen. Synod arena of debate, dominated by the liberals vs. Sydney dynamic, that the predominant mood was to hold the line against the liberal rationale for women's ordination, which would also open the door to all sorts of other justifications based on a 'rights' rationale.

What was lost was the biblical and exegetical debate within identifiably evangelical perspectives - to the extent that some within Sydney made views on women's ministry the litmus test for whether someone was truly converted or not. The result - in my view - was that women's ordination succeeded for the wrong reasons, while more valid reasons (a biblical case - again, in my view) were neglected, largely because of the political environment in the national church.

That a significant biblical case can be made is reflected in serious consideration in most critical commentaries over the past 20 years (evangelical and otherwise), and can also be found in work such as Philip Barton Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters (Zondervan, 2009). The extent of the evangelical case - for biblical reasons - in favour of women's leadership in ministry is held by a significant number of 'evangelicals' (I suspect a significant majority) - although that invites question of who may lay claim to the name, especially when attitudes to women's ministry has been the test case for many.

My fear is that wider political considerations will once again mean that dialogue at an exegetical and hermeneutical level will be shut down.

I recognise and respect that some fellow evangelicals in good faith come to other conclusions, but it has been my experience that such willingness to respect the diligence and questioning that lies such considerations has not been reciprocal, and too often has been less than gracious (to put it mildly).

Peter Carrell said...

... and please note this comment in particular http://anglicandownunder.blogspot.com/2010/02/successful-model-of-ministry.html?showComment=1266978173389#c4856190828732442187

Rachel Marszalek said...

For Peter's link above click here

Rachel Marszalek said...

Tim this is exactly what I have been thinking in recent years. There are very good reasons 'to hold the line against the liberal rationale for women's ordination.' As a conservative (small 'c') evangelical Christian, it is so frustrating when debate runs dry because people talk past each other. It is too easy for those arguing against the ordination of women to suppose that those in favour are simply caving in to social mores.

It is engagement with scripture about which evangelicals are passionate and yes, those against women's ordinations often need to enter more gracefully into discussions beginning there and ending there, without using both the secular agenda and might I also add, the 'same-sex issues' agenda as weaponry in the arsenal.

Thank you for your observations and commentary on the Sydney scene.

Much appreciated


Rachel Marszalek said...

We have visited 'Kephale' before at Re vis.e Re form but for a refresh see Tim here

Need more, go here

Tim also scrutinises the REFORM pamphlets over which I have poured many an hour of study but am yet to refer to directly on this site. See here

Tim Harris said...

The other frustrating phrase is 'equal but different', as though this is saying something contentious. Of course men and women are 'equal but different', just as every human is 'equal but different'. Such a phrase doesn't name the gender based hierarchy that is distinctive about the headship view, but that is the very point in contention.

Thanks for the 2nd link in particular (as above, 'Excellent work on κεφαλή) - it is a fine and perceptive post.


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions