Anglican update: The beat of the wrong drum

Anglican Update

(view online version here)

On July 13, in anticipation of the vote of the York General Synod on women bishops the next day, the Archbishop of Canterbury took to the airwaves via the medium of The Andrew Marr Show. He declared that: ‘theologically the church has been wrong not to ordain women as priests and bishops over the centuries’.

In those few words Justin Welby isolated himself from, as I would see it, the teaching and practice of the Lord Jesus and the apostles as well as the understanding of the Church Fathers and the thinking of the best theologians of the centuries since.

He also isolated himself from large parts of his own church, including countless millions of godly women who have rendered the most faithful service to the Church of England in the past and at least 25% of the present membership who, in opinion polls and local and national synod votes, consistently take the opposite view.

The archbishop even stands isolated from the vast majority of the Anglican communion – for almost all of the provinces who do ordain and consecrate women nonetheless respect the theological integrity of those who disagree and avoid declaring that one point of view is right and the other wrong. That was the view reaffirmed at the Global Anglican Futures Conference last year.

Lastly, of course, Justin Welby has isolated himself from the understanding of Scripture on the issues of gender and church order held by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Losing father figures

He will find some who share his view – in Methodism in England and in the Episcopal Church of the USA, for example, and in some other churches, pretty much the entirety of whom have seen the abandonment of complementarian thinking accompanied by precipitate decline in membership to levels of near oblivion.

Remarkably however, given that the new legislation was passed almost entirely on the basis of the need to be ‘relevant’, the archbishop also finds himself isolated from our society. That is true of the bluff northern taxi drivers of York, a group of whom were mystified by the Church’s obsession with political correctness. It is also true more widely: early July saw the publication of the Centre for Social Justice’s report on fatherless families which revealed that 15-year-olds are significantly more likely to own a smart-phone than live with their fathers. Only 57% of such teenagers have their fathers living with them, at huge cost to society.

At a time when our society is waking up to the cost of ‘disposable dads’ the Church of England is busy dispensing with the need for church families to have a spiritual father at their head, or even involved in their leadership in any way. An immense price is likely to be paid for that too.

Driving away error?

How Justin Welby squares his statement to the nation on TV with his statement to Synod that he will ensure that complementarians flourish is anyone’s guess. On one reading it would appear that he is committing himself to the flourishing of that which he knows to be wrong – a strange position to be in as a bishop who has taken a solemn oath to ‘drive away error’. It is more likely, that he has a definition of ‘flourishing’ that I and other com-plementarians wouldn’t recognise as such.

The Archbishop of Canterbury would have us believe that he is only isolated because he is stepping boldly into a brave new future but sometimes being out of step is just that – marching to the beat of the wrong drum.

Susie Leafe, Director of Reform

This article was first published in the August 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to EN for monthly updates

Anglican update: Complementarian is Arian?

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

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Worldwide Anglican update: Women Bishops – power and trust

July WorldThe Church of England Synod in July will take up the unfinished agenda of the consecration of women to the Episcopate.
This is not just an English but also as an international issue. There are already woman bishops in the Anglican Communion. But the position of the Church of England in the Communion still means that the stance it takes defines for many (but not all) provinces what is acceptably Anglican.

The real issue
The issue in England is not whether there will be women bishops, but whether those with principled and theological issues on the matter will continue to have an equal and honoured place in the Church of England.
The November 2011 Synod rejected the legislation then before it. In early 2013 representatives of all interested parties took part in mediated conversations about how best to proceed. The results were summed up in a report to the House of Bishops which highlighted five principles (abbreviated below).

  1. The CofE will be fully and unequivocally committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all, without reference to gender, and will hold that those whom it has duly ordained and appointed to office … deserve due respect and canonical obedience.
  2. Anyone who ministers within the CofE must then be prepared to acknowledge that the Church of England has reached a clear decision on the matter;
  3. …The CofE will acknowledge that its own clear decision on ministry and gender is set within a broader process of discernment within the Anglican Communion and the whole Church of God;
  4. The CofE will remain committed to enabling those within the CofE who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops to flourish within its life and structures.
  5. Pastoral and sacramental provision for the minority within the CofE will be made without specifying a limit of time and in a way that … contributes to mutual flourishing across the whole CofE.

Four forms of legislation
On the basis of those principles, the working group identified four possible forms of legislation, ranging from the simplest, relying on adherence to a non-statutory declaration from the House of Bishops, to including on the face of the statute the ways in which those who could not accept this development would be accommodated.
In July the synod will meet first in group discussions to consider the report. Then, on the Monday, they will be given the chance to debate and vote on the House of Bishops’ recommendation accepting the five principles but proposing the simplest possible legislation be chosen.
The Catholic Group in General Synod have given this response to the bishops’ proposal: The selection of … the simplest possible legislation by the House of Bishops …. feels like a step backwards in the process, closing down debate before it has started, and rendering facilitated conversations between Synod members pointless. Option one will not help to achieve a consensus; it will not create legislation capable of achieving the required majorities. It would tear up the current settlement over women priests, and replace it with arrangements which no one would be obliged to follow. The option … relies simply on trust to provide for those who cannot accept the ministry of women bishops and priests. We regulate other areas of church life in great detail by law — measures, canons and regulations — and we see no justification for abandoning that approach in relation to one of the most controversial areas of our church life.
The way forward lies in holding together all of the five propositions, without giving any of them more prominence than the others … the arrangements need to be secure, and not dependent on the discretionary decisions of individual bishops, clergy, PCCs, patrons and parish representatives.

Not doing what should be done
A key issue for the debate is the relation between trust and power. Those with the power in these matters (bishops) are asking the clergy and churches to trust them to provide an ‘honoured’ place to those who cannot receive the ministry of women bishops, without the benefit of a legal structure spelling out what they are required to do. The difficulty of this approach can be seen in areas in which there is no disagreement about what should be done, but some people nevertheless fail to do what they should.

Chris Sugden,
Anglican Mainstream

This article was first published in the July 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057

Church job prospects

Church Job ProspectsSo many voices are crying out about the ordination of women bishops.

Many are expressing their pain at discrimination, their outrage at the sexism inherent in blocking progress, blocking their vocation. Into this fray I want to speak too, but my voice feels weak among all this outrage.
I am a natural candidate for ordination. I am a committed Christian who longs to serve Christ with all my energy. I love to teach the Bible, in fact I ache to teach the Bible, to introduce others to the wonders of Christ in the Gospels, to build others up in their knowledge and love of the Lord, to proclaim Christ so that he may be known, and I grieve at the ignorance in this generation of God’s Word.
Not only so, but I am available to begin a new career, my family are growing and, before I know it, will have left the nest. Surely now is my moment to fulfil my heart’s concern — I could go forward for ordination. It would satisfy my longing to teach God’s word and give me a ready platform from which to do it. It would provide me with a clear identity, a defined role and, most likely, a very helpful salary. When I sit in yet another service where the gospel message is fudged and muddled, I scream inside, I could do this better. It is tempting. Perhaps I should, and perhaps I could…

Equal but different
But I should not and will not go down that path, despite its attractions, because it would undermine everything I know to be true of Scripture. I have grappled with the ‘difficult’ passages about the role of women in the Bible over the last 25 years and how I have longed for them to say something other than they do. I have fought and wrestled with them and never been able to find wriggle room to escape two basic principles: that teaching authority in the church is given to a man, and wives should submit to their husbands. I have studied the debates about the controversial Greek in 1 Timothy 2, but cannot escape the clear instructions about male leadership in 1 Timothy 3. I have read the arguments about the changing face of culture, but cannot escape the fact that Paul argues not from culture, but from Genesis. I know Tom Wright points to Mary Magdalene as revealing transformed gender roles, but I also know better than to develop a whole theology from narrative; besides, Jesus did not appoint women as his apostles, although they were witnesses to his resurrection. As I studied, I discovered the joy of knowing that in Christ we are equal, women are included, women are to be taught and to study Scripture seriously, but, despite trying very hard, I cannot escape from the truth established at creation, that men and women have different responsibilities.

God’s voice
I attend a church where many feel differently about this issue and I have been asked to preach. When I hear a poor sermon, how I wish at times that I could take that offer up. Even my daughter said: ‘Why don’t you Mum — you could do much better!’ But, of course, as soon as I opened my mouth, I would be undermining all that I believe about Scripture. I am convinced that it is poor exegesis that argues for women to have the same role as men in church, so how could I exegete any other passage using all the exegetical tools at my disposal without eventually exposing that I was ignoring God’s voice by my very action? I confess I find the situation I am in very frustrating, but the solution is to keep praying for the male leaders of our churches to faithfully proclaim and teach God’s word and not to take over their job myself!

Affirm women’s ministry
There is another need too. In the middle of all this fury about what women cannot do, I hear little about what women should be doing. Those of us who are passionate about a biblical model of ministry need to affirm women’s ministry. We need to raise up an army of women who can teach God’s word to women. It is a huge task, a valuable task, and to think otherwise is a form of discrimination. I know my calling: it is not second rate or second best — I am an older woman who needs to teach younger women. It is difficult, because, as I seek to do this, I get no formal position, no salary, no job prospects and no career development. This is an issue conservative evangelicals need to address: how can we enable women like me to serve more, and free up many others for the task? As for me, I will serve Christ, despite all the muddle. It is lonely and hard at times, but I know that serving Christ in this world was never about my personal development, and always about taking up the cross.

Karen Soole is Chair of the Northern Women’s Convention. Readers may also like to read the article, ‘Justice, equality and truth’ in the January issue of EN.

This article was first published in the January 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057B

Anglican update: ‘An outbreak of honesty’

On the morning of November 20, I woke up with a sense of foreboding.
This was the day, I thought to myself, on which those of my persuasion, along with many Anglo-Catholics, would be pushed to the margins of the Church of England by the passage of a measure to introduce women bishops which gave almost no statutory provision for our point of view.
On the other hand, there were doubtless far more people, most women clergy included, who woke up with a sense of anticipation. Today they would finally achieve a full integration of women into the Church’s orders of ministry.
As is now well known, however, we were both wrong and the measure was lost in the House of Laity by a handful of votes. So where has this left the Church of England?
This question is particularly acute given the reaction, which in many quarters was an outbreak of sheer rage. And, in the light of this, it is hard not to conclude that the assurances of ‘respect’ and ‘gracious generosity’ on offer before the vote were, if not actually insincere, certainly an example of self-delusion.
As I said to a couple of people in the days following, the one good thing to come out of the whole affair was an outbreak of honesty. Unfortunately, what it honestly showed is that there are many in the church who hate traditionalist theology and believe those who hold to it are betraying the gospel.
Indeed, one of the things I realised was that, whereas I think those who accept the ordination of women as incumbents and bishops are mistaken, they think I am morally wrong. And, of course whereas you can tolerate mistakes in the church, you cannot tolerate immorality.

What price democracy?
What the reaction also showed, however, was how tenuous is the commitment of our society in general and, sad to say, Parliament in particular, to the principles of democracy and freedom.
The Synodical structures of the Church of England are deeply flawed. Nevertheless, they include balances and safeguards, especially when it comes to doctrine, that are thought to be necessary. These include, of course, the now-notorious two-thirds majority required for the passage of the measure.
The reaction across the board by its supporters, however, has been that this self-imposed discipline, and the consequent vote, has produced a result ‘up with which we will not put’. Parliament has already waded in, and with Frank Field’s Private Member’s Motion on the table to remove the exemption of the Church of England from the equality laws, looks set to do so even further.
Meanwhile, many supporters of the measure are proposing a ‘clean sweep’ of the next Synod and a ‘single clause’ approach which will make no statutory provision for traditionalists. Once again, we must ask what this means about the future, because, hot on the heels of women bishops, we already have a mounting pressure for the ‘inclusion’ of ‘equal marriage’.
No one can regard the present state of the Church of England as representing a ‘victory’. Indeed, there are many who are treating it as a signal for total war. Personally, my sleepless night following the vote was at least in part because I was wondering to myself, as we all should, what the future holds for my church and this nation, and what God is doing in all this.

John Richardson,
associate minister of the churches at Henham, Elsenham & Ugley, near Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire

This article was first published in the January 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057