Proper Provision for Opponents of Women Bishops is not Old Covenant Legalism
By Julian Mann
Special to Virtueonline
August 24, 2013
One would have thought the UK publication Evangelicals Now would be supportive of beleaguered conservative evangelicals in the Church of England who wish to uphold the biblical principle of male headship. But its August Anglican Update column comes across as sympathetic to the Archbishop of Canterbury‘s view that there should be no canonical provision for opponents of women bishops.
The columnist David Baker, a rector in East Sussex, seemed to affirm Dr Justin Welby‘s stated rationale in his address at July’s General Synod for a single clause women bishops’ measure. ‘Essentially, what is envisaged for those opposed to women bishops is to be founded not on regulations but on establishing relationships of trust,’ Mr Baker explained, claiming that this approach was rooted in Dr Welby’s relationship with Christ: Commandeering the Apostle Paul‘s language in 2 Corinthians 3, Dr Welby had said: ‘History and contemporary experience show that detailed arrangements not only embed division, they are also unworkable and lead to frequent and prolonged litigation…If they do not lead to gaming the system they invite a box-ticking approach that seeks to conform to the letter not to the spirit.’
Sounds lovely. But the problem is that if this approach were taken to be its logical conclusion, then there would be no Canons for the ordering of the Church of England, including the forthcoming Canon to consecrate women bishops. The women bishops’ measure is itself a piece of legislation.
Conservative evangelicals want to see proper provision in that legislation, a recognised Canon that allows for the appointment of bishops who uphold the traditional interpretation of the Bible on church leadership. We do not believe that such canonical provision would be an act of Old Covenant legalism conforming to the letter and not to the Spirit because we believe the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, including Paul’s New Testament teaching about male headship in the family and in the church.
We believe that under the single clause measure a uniformly unbiblical pattern of church leadership will be imposed on the Body of Christ meeting locally. Our concern is thus for the local conservative evangelical churches we love and serve. The new single clause measure will sweep away all the provisions for them that were in the 1993 women priests’ measure, which – pace the Archbishop of Canterbury – have worked harmoniously.
One would hope that a good publication like Evangelicals Now and a good writer like David Baker would be sensitive to that pastoral concern, instead of apparently falling for a ‘trust me, I’m not legalistic’ public relations line.
In a refreshingly different plea for special provision in the Church of England – on the grounds of biblical prohibition – for conservative Evangelicals who claim the theory of ‘Headship’ voids the possibility of Women becoming Bishops (or, indeed, for them, priests or preachers), should women actually become Bishops in the C.of E.
The Revd. Julian Mann is actually dismissive of the Revd. David Baker, of ‘Evangelicals Now’ whose column in E.N.’s latest publication has advocated the stance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the recent July General Synod, which called for a ‘Single Measure’, that would allow for the Ordination of Women Bishops – without special provision for dissenters from the process.
One is more used to ultra-montane Anglo-Catholics who, on grounds of tradition (e.g. It had never been done before in the Church Catholic) find themselves unable to live with the prospect of Women Clergy or Bishops in the Church of England. However, for them, the special R.C. Ordinariate, raised up for their special need by Pope Benedict XVI, has already provided a way to be both Anglican and Roman Catholic, by its non-recognition of Women’s Ministry in the Church.
The real oddity – in both case, where Special Provision for dissenters is requested – is that anyone who remains in the Church of England after the Ordination of Women Bishop, will still be bound canonically to the Church of England – which ordains Women as both Priest and, hopefully after legislation in passed, Bishops. For either Con-Evos or A.C.s to pretend that the Church to which they still wish to belong does not ordain women is beyond the bounds of Reason – another of the Anglican charisms – Scripture, Tradition and Reason; which together summarise the Anglican approach to Church polity.
On account of this, it would seem that Archbishop Rowan’s desire that the Single Measure initially proposed for the Ordination of Women as Bishops provides the best way out of an ecclesial dilemma; which might be summed up for the protesters as: “When is a Bishop not a Bishop? Answer: When she is a Woman”
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand