THE CAVALRY IS NOT COMING FOR REFORM OVER WOMEN BISHOPS
By Julian Mann
Special to virtueonline
February 1, 2012
“Should I stay or should I go?” was the 1981 song by the English punk rock band The Clash. It is the question looming over conservative evangelical members of Reform in the shadow of next week’s meeting of the Church of England‘s General Synod in London.
The General Synod elections of September 2010 did see gains for traditionalists but with 42 out of 44 English dioceses having voted for women bishops since then, the bus is now unstoppable.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York would like to supply traditionalists with their own stream of bishops, and that is due to be a major bone of contention at the upcoming Synod.
It is possible the Archbishops will get their way over ‘co-ordinate jurisdiction’, but the current momentum does not favour institutional generosity towards traditionalist opponents of women bishops. The Archbishops need the backing of the House of Bishops at their next meeting in May to change the Draft Measure agreed by the Synod in July 2010, when Canterbury and York saw their last attempt to introduce co-ordinate jurisdiction sunk.
With fears that changing the Draft Measure would mean it would have to go out for consultation to dioceses all over again, thus delaying the advent of women bishops, the Archbishops are likely to struggle to gain the support of their episcopal colleagues.
Conservative evangelicals would therefore be ill advised to bank on a posse of authorised traditionalist bishops riding to the rescue.
But conservative evangelical caravans are encircled on the wild plain of an ecclesiastical institution dominated by dogmatic, politically-correct liberals who have rejected the clear teaching of Holy Scripture that leading churches, whether as a bishop or as a presbyter, is a man’s job. The appointment of women bishops means Bible-flouting ungodliness becomes institutionally entrenched in the Church of England.
The conservative evangelical congregation and minister in a diocese is set to be left facing the choice as to whether to accept the ungodly oversight of a person the Lord God Almighty has forbidden to exercise pastoral oversight over the precious flock of his Son Jesus Christ or to leave the institutional Church of England.
Our conservative evangelical churches are often net-givers to dioceses in terms of parish share; they often have young people in them, bucking the ageing trend of the denomination; they are often pro-active in biblical evangelism and church planting.
But overwhelmingly they meet in buildings that are owned by the institutional Church of England.
Leaving the Church of England therefore will mean congregations leaving their buildings and clergy leaving their vicarages.
Conservative evangelicals who are able to leave the institution and form a Reformed Anglican connection in England under the oversight of orthodox Bible-believing bishops may well find the experience liberating after getting over the initial inconvenience and disruption. They would be shot of having to negotiate with liberals on ministry issues.
But the challenge for a new Reformed Anglican connection would be to ensure that our churches are well represented in inner cities and deprived areas. Being in the institutional Church of England has given conservative evangelicals platforms to proclaim Christ’s gospel in urban priority areas. The openings are there. In some of the worst areas of the UK, the Anglican Church is often the last voluntary organisation to pull out.
God willing, a Reformed Anglican connection would not be confined to an affluent, book-cultured ghetto but would preach Christ to all anywhere and everywhere in the UK, to God’s praise and glory.
This article, by The Revd. Julian Mann, (an Evangelical opponent of the idea of Women Clergy and Bishops in the Church of England) is using the argument that the Bible never authorised the ordination of a woman – or the equivalent in biblical-speak – so therefore the Church of England would be virtually heresy-bound to ever ordain a woman as a bishop. One presumes the same argument, for him, applies to women priests.
The arguments of adamant anti-women Evangelicals (suprise, surprise) is little different from that offered by anti-women Anglo-Catholics – that women should be seen in the Church but not heard, and definitely not ordained to either priestly or episcopal function.
The main difference is that Evangelicals place their argument almost solely on Biblical precedent, while the protesting Anglo-Catholics (most of whom have departed for the Roman Catholic Ordinariate) have based theirs on there being no precedent for women’s ordination in the Tradition of the Church.
Both arguments are based on ‘what has been done before’ – not realising that other initiatives in the Church, too, have been changed – especially in the Church of England and other Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Modern understandings of slavery, race, usury & gender and sexuality have brought reforms within the Churches of the Communion that would have been unthinkable earlier in the Church’s history. Issues like Divorce, Contraception, and the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood have all been accommodated by the Church of England, and are therefore canonically ‘orthodox’ practices in that Church.
For Evangelicals like Julian Mann to speak of the Church of England as descending into ‘un-orthodoxy’ on account of their ‘un-Godly behaviour, is to deny the Church’s official position on (among other things) the Priestly Ordination of Women in the C. of E. Here is Mr Mann’s explanation of his approach to the further possibility of Women Bishops:
“But.. conservative evangelical caravans are encircled on the wild plain of an ecclesiastical institution dominated by dogmatic, politically-correct liberals who have rejected the clear teaching of Holy Scripture that leading churches, whether as a bishop or as a presbyter, is a man’s job. The appointment of women bishops means Bible-flouting ungodliness becomes institutionally entrenched in the Church of England.”
Such rhetoric begs the question of whether the ‘sola scriptura’ school of English Evangelicals has accepted that Divorce, Contraception and the Ordination of Women is compatible with membership of the Church of England! This stand-off over the Ordination of Women Bishops is only an extension of their rejection of Women Priests.The question might be asked: How can Julian Mann really continue to be, in all conscience, a priest of the C.of E.?
The fear of most mainstream Anglicans might be that the proposed ‘Archbishops’ Amendment’ – that would overturn the decision of the last C. of E. General Synod to not provide further ‘special arrangements’ for opponents of Women Bishops -might yet be acceded to by the House of Bishops, so that General Synod, shortly to meet, might be presented with a ‘fait accompli’ by the H.o.B. – in favour of ‘Special Provision’ that would deny a woman bishop the right to decide who ministers, episcopally, in her diocese.
For supporters of Women Bishops; General Synod’s passing of any Amendment to the current ‘Code of Practice’ – which already allows for a Flying Bishop to minister in a Diocese, at the express permission of the (Woman) Diocesan Bishop – in order to bypass the ‘Code’ so that Alternative Oversight may be accessible to dissenters as ‘Due Process’ – without the express permission of the (Female) Diocesan – would be tantamount to perpetuating the un-catholic idea of a two-tiered espicopate: Firstly, those who accept Women Bishops, and, Secondly, those who do not. This, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said – he would not want to see happening. The question is, how to avoid it, if the amendment is, willy nilly, concretised into canon law?
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand