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,
Written in response to this