The Church of England’s governance is more democratic than many would have you believe.
No significant change to the liturgy of the Church of England can take place without the approval of a majority of the 44 diocesan synods. But the system is complex; representatives to diocesan synods are elected from the deanery synod representatives, who are, in turn, elected by their congregation. This complexity is one of the reasons that evangelicals tend to be under-represented in the governing structures of the church.
Over the next two months every diocesan synod will vote on the latest legislation to enable women to become bishops. Those pushing for this innovation are claiming that we have found the answer. They assert that the legislation is simpler than the package that failed in November 2012 and it will encourage a spirit of trust that will allow all to flourish.
Any doubters are referred to one of the five guiding principles of the new dispensation, which states: ‘Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures.’
So it is ironic that, as the diocesan debates begin, we find increasing hostility towards those who hold firmly to a complementarian view of gender. Despite all these fine words about ‘flourishing’ and ‘trust’, the facts on the ground tell a different story.
Calling me a heretic
At the Sheffield diocesan synod in March the Dean of the Cathedral summed up the debate by asserting that the complementarian view of the inter-relationship between the divine persons of the Holy Trinity goes against the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. In other words, it is un-Anglican to believe in headship. No opportunity was given for a complementarian to reject this charge of heresy and the vote simply proceeded on the basis of the Dean’s remarks.
It is a serious matter to report such division in the church, but I do it not just for the benefit of Anglicans but because this is the charge of more liberally-minded theologians from all denominations. The Dean is obviously not the first to allude to the idea that a complementarian view of gender leads to an Arian-style heresy and it would seem he is unlikely to be the last.
Nature of the Trinity
As the debate about women’s roles in church becomes a debate about the nature of the Trinity, we can no longer see it as an issue of secondary importance. If our men and women are not to be blown off course by these accusations, then we need to prepare and equip them to understand and refute these arguments. The nature of the Trinity has always been challenging but, wonderfully, some excellent work has already been done by Bruce Ware*, Mike Ovey and others. Reform would be delighted to help any evangelical who is currently facing this challenge.
Please pray that the increasing hostility in diocesan synods will actually open the door for courageous men and women to proclaim the wonderful truth that in the Godhead we see equality and difference worked out perfectly.
Susie Leafe – Director of Reform