Future Church of England: New Women Bishops

For me today is a sad day for the Church of England.  This is for three reasons.

  1. I think the church has taken an unbiblical step in agreeing to have women as bishops.  My understanding of the contested passages (1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11, 14 and others) means that I haven't been convinced by the relatively modern arguments for women as church leaders or bishops.  If I'm right, then it's a bad thing for a denomination to take such a step.
  2. I think the church has taken the step for unbiblical reasons.  I know this isn't true of everyone, but it seems that most aren't particularly bothered by what the Bible says.  The decision has been made for equality, or to allow women to fulfil their calling, or because we are a laughing stock in the world if we don't allow women to be bishops.  A brief scan of the articles suggests this latter reason seems to have been particularly significant with respect to the change in the votes from the measure being defeated just a couple of years ago. This is really worrying, because of the precedent it sets and reminds us that ultimately we are on the liberal road, which will very likely lead to the Church of England affirming gay marriage and perhaps many other unbiblical positions.  In practice this decision is a way of confirming the Bible is no longer the rule of our faith (despite the position of our canons and our formularies).
  3. I think the Church of England has taken an uncharitable step.  The allowances made for people like me, or anglo-catholic ministers who are unwilling to have a woman as bishop are fairly clearly not enough for many of us to stay within the Church if our bishop is a woman.  That has been repeatedly made clear and has made no difference to the final legislation.  As I have written before, we have the ironic situation where those of us who believed the position of the Church of England yesterday, are no longer welcome in it today.  The writing has been on the wall for some time.  Whatever assurances have been made we have been regularly discriminated against in all my time within the Church of England system and for some years before I suspect.
So it seems we will have women bishops by Christmas.  How that will work out I don't know. Clearly there will be a push to normalise it.  I suspect there will be some serious fall outs and battles along the way.  I'm only guessing, but it's hard not to think that it won't lead to significant divisions and perhaps ultimately a Church of England without conservative evangelicals and traditional anglo-catholics.  Of course, for some that is a thing to rejoice over.  For me, I'm sad, because I think it's probably quite a big step towards the destruction of an organisation that could be a great force for spreading the good news about Jesus Christ.


  1. These kind of slippery slope arguments are sloppy. You are entitled to your view, of course, but this orthodox female leader believes that the Church has made its decision not as a capitulation to culture but because there are two theological integrities on this issue.
    Peace and grace

  2. I think it's unfair to write this piece off as a 'slippery slope' argument. It does contain one. And it's a valid one, granting the author's presuppositions. One unbiblical decision may well lead to others. However, this article contains a number of other valid points, particularly the point that 'this decision is a way of confirming the Bible is no longer the rule of our faith'. The BCP and the 39 Articles have no concept of orthodoxy apart from this rule.

  3. But the grounds of the argument are: this is an unbiblical decision. To assert this the author must disagree with evangelicals like Richard Bauckham, Anthony Thiselton, the late Dick (RT France) as well as US conservatives like Ben Witherington, Scot McKnight and Craig Keener. To suggest that these people are leading the church to apostasy is just ridiculous, and deserves to be called so.

    And the giveaway is that conservative evangelicals, for whom the Pope is tantamount to the AntiChrist, now lament the loss of Anglo-catholics. It is such a strange argument.

  4. Thanks for your comments.

    Just a few points in response.

    First, this blog wasn't intended as an argument against women's leadership in the church. You know there are places to go for that. This was three reasons why yesterday made me sad.

    Second, I haven't made a slippery slope argument as such. I'm not simply saying, if you do this you'll do all sorts of things. I'm making the point of contact that the form of reasoning used by many seems to be the same being used on issues such as gay marriage and could be used for all sorts of things. It is perhaps worth noting that you critique my argument as sloppy Rachel and then make an unsupported and pretty contentious assertion - just saying ;-)

    Third, of course I disagree with Bauckham et al, but I don't state they are leading the church into apostasy. I continue to follow the evangelical debate as best I can with interest and believe it is fruitful. When I say "I know this isn't true of everyone," my intention was to make clear that I know that there is a debate to be had on the biblical issues and that there are evangelicals with whom I agree on very much and don't agree on this. I was suggesting that the decisions in synod were not based upon this debate, but on the other reasons I list.

    Fourthly, I don't particularly lament the loss of anglo-catholics. Although I'm not sure your argument about the Pope holds, given that many anglo-Catholics seem to be in the C of E, because they don't like papal authority. However, I didn't actually write that I lamented the loss of anglo-catholics. I suggested that the Church of England would divide and that would be related to the conservative evangelical and anglo-catholic groups. What I lamented in that paragraph was the weakening and potential destruction of the Church of England. My apologies if that wasn't clear.

    Fifthly, with respect I write a blog about why I am sad about a decision and I get response calling it "sloppy" and "ridiculous." I don't mind the debate, but why can't we conduct it with courtesy?

  5. Fair comment Stephen…but can we explore the language a little further?

    In your post you comment 'the church has taken an unbiblical step' and you the cite your reading of the NT. So you are saying quite explicitly that I and other scholars are 'unbiblical'.

    Interestingly, you also claim this is a 'modern argument' despite the fact that a number of the Fathers agreed with this notion, and that Paul appeared quite happy for women to exercise authority over their husbands (1 Cor 7.4), to prophesy in the assembly (which clearly carried authority of some kind in the gathering), and called Junia an apostle. This comments also ignores the role of women in renewal movements over the last 200 years, which Stephen Holmes sets out helpfully in his blog.

    I do agree with you about the status of the 'equality' arguments. But I think you misread the change in voting. For evangelicals, given the scholarly support for the decision which has been made, it was difficult to see the Conservative case retaining credibility, and that was a significant factor.

    You might not lament the loss of Anglo-Catholics, but for most people it has looked like a very strange union in the anti campaign…! Notice the same thing happening in GAFCON.

  6. 1. He isn't saying any *people* are unbiblical, he's saying a decision is unbiblical. Play the ball, not the man.

    2. Can you please direct us to the relevant patristic passages? In the meantime, your other points (Junia etc.) just highlight how flimsy the biblical support for your position is.

    3. I would suggest that its actually your position, Ian, that ignores the role of women in revival movements. Clearly, women can exercise profound ministry without the episcopacy.

    4. As for this 'strange union' stuff, Stephen's only point was that the decision excludes two groups in the C of E: his group and another one.

  7. Ian, thanks for the comment.

    By prefacing each point with "I think" I was trying to acknowledge again that people would disagree. Michael is right in saying I am trying to talk about the position rather than the person, but I know it's hard to prevent it being personal, as positions are held by people. I would take it that all Christians and Christian denominations hold unbiblical positions, just because of sin.

    Is it that you don't like "unbiblical" as shorthand for something like "wrong about what the Bible teaches"? Presumably we both think the latter about each other, but perhaps you feel the former implies something more sweeping...

    In terms of the modern arguments. As I've said, I don't find the Biblical arguments put very compelling on the issue of women in church leadership, including those you note, although one of the helpful things about the discussion is it makes you ask what role did women play (prophesying - what does that mean?, apostle - in what sense?). For me they don't lead to church leadership, but they do, I hope, help me nuance how I understand 1 Tim 2 etc.

    I've read a little on the revival stuff and I think a little on the Fathers (although pointers on that would be appreciated) and I thought it was again not quite to the point (perhaps what Michael's getting at), but I will happily look again at that. However, would you think it was accurate to say "majority modern arguments" or not?

    In terms of the voting, you may have more knowledge than me. I'm sure many evangelicals in general have been convinced by some of the arguments. My take had been that the 2012 no-vote happened because enough people had sympathy for those of us who couldn't accept women bishops - in that we were not provided for acceptably. The backlash from that vote (pressure not to look silly to the world, pressure from parliament etc.) seemed to have overcome those concerns. I may be wrong, but it doesn't seem like the biblical arguments had a particularly big place in that, although I agree in the larger picture many evangelicals have been convinced by the arguments you and others have made.

    In terms of the "strange union," I think you are right that most of us who are conservative evangelicals would openly say that the doctrine of salvation, with which we may have significant issues with anglo-catholics (although this is complicated when you get down to talking to individuals!) is more of a problem than what we believe about women's ministry!

    More than that, our reasons for rejecting the woman bishops proposals have often been very different.

    In the end that's why there isn't really a union other than voting against the same thing. For example, the directions we are going in are quite different following the result of the vote I think. That said there are individuals that straddle the evangelical/catholic groups - I'm not really one of those, I suppose.

  8. One further brief comment on the "scholarly support" point, which is just to say that of course the problem is that many of us have taken on the scholarly work of the various explicit conservative scholars and feel it under undermines the egalitarian case. My sadness is that evangelicals in the CoE, recognising this and that neither side is stupid, didn't work for a way in which we could really stay together.


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