Comment: We oppose women bishops because the Bible tells us to
By Timothy Edwards and Pete Myers
The Church of England will almost certainly have women bishops and, despite our theological disagreement, traditionalists such as ourselves have accepted that.
The vote in Synod on November 20th was about how women bishops are going to be introduced, not whether. And the reason why the legislation ultimately didn't get through was that it had been hijacked by a minority who don't see any legitimate room in the Church of England for traditionalists like us at all.
We praise God that the majority are just too nice for that, and graciously extended an arm of love to those of us who believe it's right to remain steadfast to the faith as we've received it. However, when we turn on our TVs it seems a vocal minority, the press, and politicians who've had no interest in the church up until now are pushing for us to be banished from the church that we have for years called home'.
Before the vote we appealed on YouTube for us to take the rancour out of this debate. The church is a family after all. However, now we're being asked to write articles on why we should still be included in this family. Here’s three reasons.
1 – We Are Not Dissenters
We agree with the Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal. We believe that they faithfully articulate biblical Christianity. Canon A9 of the Church of England tells us that the doctrine of the church is revealed in the Bible, and that these formularies are a faithful summary of what the Bible teaches.
We don't know why, in the news, we get given the labels 'dissenters,' 'reformers,' or 'puritans'. It is not us that have led recent calls to 'reform' the Church's Synodical structure, even though conservative evangelicals ourselves feel unrepresented at the diocesan level. The introduction of women bishops is often accompanied by vocal 'dissent' with the perceived problems of 2,000 years of church history. And the, at times, fundamentalist commitment to the 'equality' agenda over and above the desire to keep the church united sounds very 'puritan'.
Furthermore, the Book of Common Prayer itself testifies to the complementary roles of men and women in the vows couples are to say in the marriage service. So, we could throw these labels around in all directions, however we don't think they really help.
The church is our family, and we don't dissent from that. We'd much rather use language such as 'love,' 'tolerance,' and 'together'. Perhaps that way we can find an amicable way forward.
2 – We Are Not Excluded by the Bible
Those of us who believe that men and women should play complementary roles in the church do so because we believe that is what the Bible teaches. Our position is understandable. The apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man"; and the apostle Peter says (it is not just Paul): "wives, submit to your own husbands".
Peter and Paul are certainly not saying that women are of less worth than men. Within the trinity, the son and the father are absolutely equal, but that does not mean they are exactly the same. The father sends the son (not the other way around) and the son joyfully, freely submits to the father. In the same way, men and women are of equal worth and ability expressed through complementary roles. There is a distinction of personality and role, but absolutely not of importance or worth. The son is just the right person in the trinity to play the role he does.
Now, we acknowledge that we may be wrong.
We recognise, for example, that many talented theologians disagree. Pete spoke recently about this issue to a top New Testament scholar, Richard Bauckham, who takes a different view to us. He believes we have misunderstood those passages in Peter and Paul.
However, if we are wrong and Richard is right, then our view is not excluded by the Bible – in fact it is explicitly included.
Those who disagree with us believe that in the verses quoted above Peter and Paul are 'accommodating' the church’s practice to the culture of the first century. In other words, even if Paul does think that men and women should play the same roles, he still makes space in the church for those who believe that men and women have different roles to play.
According to their own reading of Peter and Paul, therefore, the church should also include people like us. So let's find a way to hold our own views with integrity, while also allowing space for other people’s consciences – this attitude has always been the Church of England's strength.
3 – We Are Not in the Minority
While conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics are in the minority in the Church of England right now, the vast majority of Christians down through history have understood the Bible in the same way we do on this issue. Furthermore, the majority of the Anglican communion worldwide shares our opinion too.
We hate playing a numbers game, but it feels like we've been on the receiving end of one for a long time now. The Anglican churches which have appointed female bishops have, for the most part, shared the same cultural DNA: postmodern Western liberalism. For example, the churches in New Zealand, Australia, USA, and Canada, despite being in countries with a broad mix of groups and cultures, are all predominantly made up of white middle class Christians with liberal values.
The argument made by so many recently that the church should keep up with 'the times' actually needs to be qualified a little more carefully: they are arguing the church should keep up with this time in this place.
According to the most ancient of creeds, the church is supposed to be Catholic – a word which means 'universal'. When a change is being introduced with the tide of one particular culture, in this case Westernism, it should make us pause and think before we decide to exclude the minority within that culture who stand shoulder to shoulder with the majority of Anglicans in the rest of the world.
Please Let's Behave as a Family
We think the above presents strong reasons why people like us should continue to be included in the Church of England. Actually, we could go one step further, and say that agreeing with the Church's Articles, Prayer Book, and Ordinal, and interpreting the Bible as Christians have done for 2,000 years and Anglicans do across the globe, gives us reason to believe we are more Anglican than many of the Western revisionists who want to see us turfed out.
However, we believe it is time to put arguments and disagreement to one side.
The issue of women bishops, and the roles of men and women in the church, does not need to be one which divides us. There are some disagreements which are important enough to divide the church – the New Testament is full of examples of them. But this issue is not one of those.
We have been very privileged in recent weeks to meet many godly women and men who disagree with our view on this. Women and men who faithfully trust in Jesus. Women and men who earnestly read the Bible and come to a different view from us.
We have agreed that the things that unite us far outweigh the things that divide. And we have agreed there are many things on the horizon in our Western liberal culture which we wish to stand shoulder to shoulder in Jesus' name and oppose.
So long as we trust in Jesus, we're family – the revisionists and us. And we love them. The reality is that sometimes families fight. But once the squabble is over true families get up off the floor and help tend to each others wounds.
It is our response to squabbles that reveals how deep our family ties go.
And so we invite every conservative evangelical or Anglo-Catholic reading this, to think and pray carefully how to love thy neighbour: find the nearest minister they disagree with, go round to their house, and shake their hand.
Tim Edwards and Pete Myers are part of the Together4ward campaign team in the members of the Church Society council.
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