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Reform Newsletter December 2012 (abridged)

Rod Thomas writes:

The Vote on the Women Bishops Measure

We knew that the vote on 20th November would be very close and we also knew that whatever the outcome, the mission of the Church would be damaged. However, before the vote, there were a couple of opportunities to state publicly that a vote for final approval of the Women Bishops Measure would be much more damaging for our unity in the long run than a vote against (see http://reform.org.uk/news/src/archive/11-2012/page/3). Through God's mercy, the more disastrous course has been avoided. We must now make every effort to help the Church of England find an agreed way forward that resolves the issue within the lifetime of the present General Synod.

Where Now?

There is a lot of speculation at the moment about what is likely to happen next, but in terms of process, we won't know until the House of Bishops has met on 10th - 11th December. Together with the Chair of the Catholic Group in General Synod, I have written to the two Archbishops as well as the Archbishop-designate and the General Secretary at Church House, to urge them to convene early talks with representatives of all the key groups involved in the debate in order to find a better way forward. We have said that there is no reason that fresh, agreed, proposals could not be put to the General Synod next July. The legislative process could then be fast-tracked to ensure that a new Measure is passed in 2014.

What Must We Do?

The voting result has left us not with less work to do, but more. We in Reform need to be actively engaged and focussed on the issue:

  • Pray. Please thank God for His mercy; pray for the building up of those who are most dismayed and discouraged by the vote; pray for strength and courage for those who are most in the media firing line - in particular for a number of very courageous female members of the House of Laity; and lastly pray that a really serious attempt will be made to convene talks and that all parties would be genuinely engaged in the process.
  • Explain. Please be prepared to explain the biblical reasons for male headship.  A summary of our biblical understanding is appended at the end of this newsletter.
    The media message overall has been that an unrepresentative minority has prevented women bishops. It would be very helpful if you could take every opportunity to make the following points: that the Church helps us all remember that we are ultimately accountable to God rather than each other for our actions; that the House of Laity is one of the most representative parts of the Church of England since representatives from every parish elect their members; and that the vote was not primarily about whether or not to have women bishops. That has already been decided by the General Synod. It was a vote on whether or not to have them this way. Enough people felt that the proposed Measure did not provide sufficiently for the needs of significant minorities who disagree with the innovation, to prevent it from becoming law. By voting this way, the Synod gave us all more time to come up with a better, agreed way of going forward, so that clergy and congregations are not forced to act against their convictions or consciences in order to stay in the Church of England.

A Last Word

A number of conservative evangelical members of General Synod met together for prayer before the vote on 20th November and read 1 Peter 3. That chapter contains the wonderful challenge in vv 14-15 that is highly appropriate for us now:

‘"Do not fear what they fear, do not be frightened." But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.'

Appendix 

A Biblical Basis for Male Headship

Key New Testament Texts

Some of the key texts are: 1 Corinthians 11:1-15; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 5:22-33; Philippians 4:2-3; 1 Timothy 1:11-15. It is from these that we derive the following conclusions:

  • Men are to exercise ‘headship' in the family - whether it is the domestic family or the church family.
  • Such headship encourages the full ministry of women - but reserves the exercise of authority over mixed congregations to men.
  • Headship should be sacrificial service, not purely the exercise of power. Similarly, women are called to the sacrificial service of supporting those leading the church.
  • The exercise of these different roles reflect and illustrate what is true of God: Father and Son are equally divine, but the Son is eternally subject to the Father.
  • Men's and women's different ministries also help Christians remind each other of how Christ leads his church through self-sacrificing service and how we, as Christ's disciples, are called to respond in obedience to his headship.
  • The different ministries are gender-based not because of any inequality. In Christ we are all equal. The differences exist because of differences in the way men and women have been created. Paul bases his reasoning on the creation narratives of Genesis 1 & 2.

Key Old Testament Texts

Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:19-24 teach absolute equality between male and female, but also the functional priority (although not superiority) of men: God's image is given to woman through man. This is a pre-Fall difference. Some of those who believe the Bible supports women in leadership say that differences between men and women are part of their sinful decline, not part of their original glory. Paul begs to differ.

Women in the Bible

Some advocates of women bishops quote parts of the Old Testament where particular women are in leadership roles, and parts of the New, where women have key roles. It is quite true that God raised up particular women in the Old Testament for particular times and purposes, but this never flowed through to the institutional arrangements in the priesthood. These remained male. In the New Testament, a number of women did indeed have a crucial role in the development of the early church: they hosted meetings in their homes; provided financial support; were active in evangelism, prophecy and prayer; and were co-workers with Paul. However, their ministries never included leadership of the local congregation. Nevertheless, it is clear that without the ministry of women, the church would never have developed in the first place.

Resources 

The Reform web site has several helpful articles and videos on this issue - click here to view. In particular there is an article by David Holloway ‘A few thoughts on women bishops' and a question-and-answer format publication on ‘Why are there objections to women bishops'.

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