Women in the Ministry
At a meeting of its governing body this week the Church in Wales, which is part of the Anglican Communion, voted in favour of allowing the ordination of women as bishops. The Church in Wales agreed to the ordination of women as priests in 1994 and by now over 20 per cent of its priests are women.
The same trend has been evident in the episcopal churches in other parts of the British Isles. The Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of Ireland already allow women to be ordained both as priests and bishops – although to date neither has actually ordained a woman bishop. The Church of England, while permitting women to be ordained as priests, has yet to agree to the ordination of women bishops but will now come under increasing pressure to do so when it discusses the issue again in November. Similar things have taken place in presbyterian denominations: the Church of Scotland has been ordaining women to the ministry for over forty years.
Predictably there were cheers from many of the assembled clergy and laity when the result of the Welsh vote was announced; the Bishop of Bangor described himself as “absolutely over the moon.” Clerics who had approved the move then enjoyed plenty of airtime from a sympathetic media and were quick to express their sorrow that the Church had taken so long to raise its standards to the level of wider society(!) All in all the liberal establishment has hardly been able to contain its glee at the development.
The devil is doubtless rejoicing too. That thought will not bother the sort of people mentioned above, most of whom do not even believe in the devil, yet it is a fact that whenever the visible church departs from the pattern laid out for her in Scripture it is Satan who gains. By such actions the church rejects the authority of Jesus Christ, her only King and Head, and in effect proclaims herself to be wiser than He is.
The episcopal form of church government is unbiblical to start with, which does not help matters. Firstly it misnames the office of minister. While in some sections of Anglicanism the term ‘priest’ is viewed as descending from ‘presbyter’ (elder) and so is properly applied to a minister in others the term retains a sacrificial meaning similar to that held in Roman Catholicism. Secondly episcopalianism misunderstands the office of bishop. In the Bible a ‘bishop’ is equivalent to a presbyter or elder (Tit. 1:5-7), which is why there was a plurality of bishops in the church at Philippi (Phil. 1:1); some of them were concerned primarily with teaching and others with ruling.
Before the debate and vote in Wales Archbishop Dr Barry Morgan said it made “no theological sense” not to ordain women as bishops when the church already ordained them as deacons and priests. He has a point. However his statement begs the question: Is it right for women to occupy the offices of the church generally?
One of the opponents of the legislation Canon Peter Jones, Vicar of Conwy, stressed that he and others were not simply objecting because they felt emasculated or threatened by a woman with authority. He insisted: “This is a matter of theology, it’s a matter of biblical revelation – it’s a matter of Christian conviction.” He added: “Frankly if you have a church without theology, a church without biblical conviction it ceases to be a church.” He has a point too.
Scripture is our rule on this subject, not what society may happen to think. We have no hesitation in saying that the Bible forbids women from occupying office in the church. It does so by establishing the principle of male headship in such verses as the following: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3); “But I suffer not woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:12). Women are clearly excluded from teaching and ruling over men in the church.
If it is imagined that these texts simply reflect the culture of the day or the personal prejudices of the apostle Paul then there is another verse which ought also to be considered: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law” (1 Cor. 14:34). The reference to “the law” must concern the Old Testament and probably the words spoken by God to Eve after the fall: “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). Calvin comments: “Paul’s reasoning, however, is simple–that authority to teach is not suitable to the station that a woman occupies, because, if she teaches, she presides over all the men, while it becomes her to be under subjection.”
To these texts may be added the fact that the apostles were all men and the requirement that bishops (i.e. ministers and elders) be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6) – the same being required of deacons (1 Tim. 3:12). Only when Scripture says that bishops are to be the wife of one husband will the church have any warrant to ordain women: we may be sure that that will never be. There is really no lack of clarity in the teaching of Scripture on this subject: the confusion only comes when it is set aside.
Churches which do not open their offices to women are invariably accused of not respecting women. That is not so. They are recognising the obvious differences between men and women and respecting their distinct, God-given roles in society and particularly in the church. Women have a very important role to play within the body of Christ without becoming office-bearers, especially as regards the running of the home, the raising of children and the performing of good works generally (Tit. 2:5; 1 Tim. 5:14; 1 Tim. 5:10). In a day when the biblical model of the family is under attack it is not surprising that such valuable things as these are often belittled.
The same churches are also ridiculed as not being relevant to today’s world. But how is the church to be truly relevant to the world? Is it by conforming to it or by challenging it? If we believe that the human race is in not too bad a state then we will see it as the church’s duty – rather like the various social agencies – to provide people with support and comfort and reassurance on their journey through life. If however we believe that mankind is fallen, lost in sin and liable to eternal punishment then we will see it as the church’s great duty to lovingly and urgently confront our fellow men with what is surely the most relevant thing possible – the infallible Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whatever the fads and fashions of our society that remains the church’s calling.