At this year’s Annual Parochial Church Meeting in April I took the opportunity to explain the current situation in the Church of England regarding women Bishops and Priests. If you weren’t able to be present at the meeting I’d like to offer a summary of what I said. Also can I encourage you to read a one sheet briefing paper that I handed out at the meeting – copies are available at both churches.
The Church of England is seeking to operate by five guiding principles on this matter. Basically the principles state that although our denomination is now fully and unequivocally committed to ordaining women as priests and bishops, it still wants the doubters to remain and flourish. Thus, if they want, PCCs are allowed to pass a resolution along these lines: ‘This PCC requests, on grounds of theological conviction, that arrangements be made for it in accordance with the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests.’
As a result of this resolution a female bishop would not be permitted to take a confirmation in such a parish; nor would a female priest be appointed as incumbent.
Over the years I’ve been open in saying that I’m unconvinced that the ordination of women can be supported from scripture. It won’t surprise you that I’ve therefore asked our PCC to consider passing a resolution such as the one above. This means that our PCC members need to wrestle with what the Bible teaches on this matter. Of course I realise that there are those in our denomination who feel at liberty to disregard what the Bible says when they decide on something; but that’s not the proper Church of England way of doing theology and I hope members of our two churches would avoid that approach.
Amongst those who take the Bible seriously two positions have emerged. First there is what is often called the Egalitarian Position. This notes that according to Genesis 1:27 men and women are equally created in the image and likeness of God. However, one of the effects of sin is that men domineer over women (Genesis 3:16). It is then argued that as God’s redeemed people Christians should want to overturn the effects of sin and so, in the church, all roles should be equally open to men and women. A key verse often quoted is Galatians 3:28 – ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’
The alternative, often called the Complementarian Position, sees things in a more nuanced way. It agrees that men and women are equal in dignity, value and nature; nonetheless there is a difference in their roles even before the Fall. Hence in Genesis 2:18 the woman is called a ‘suitable helper’. This has the idea of ‘corresponding to’, or ‘complementing’, or ‘being like opposite’. In other words she’s the same but different from the man – same in nature but different in role – and it’s this similarity and difference that makes the marriage relationship work. Thus, even in the redeemed community of the church in which both genders are equally saved (Galatians 2:28), the roles of men and women are not identical. In fact, in Christ we find grace to live out our different roles in a way that is loving and mutually beneficial (Ephesians 5:22-33).
A key verse is 1 Corinthians 11:3 where Paul writes: ‘The head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.’ We note that even though Christ is of the same nature as the Father he is happy to submit to the Father as his loving head. So, it is argued, something similar is desirable in the relationship between man and woman.
Can I encourage every parishioner, and not just PCC members, to wrestle with this issue? You’re more than welcome to discuss it with me and one another.
Yours in Christ