Women and Episcopacy

I am a Protestant.

Clearly, some might say, because I do not attend a church which receives oversight from the Roman Catholic episcopacy.

But that would make me merely a non-Catholic.

When I saw Protestant, I mean that I am committed to the theological priorities of the Reformation theologians. Chiefly, for me, that of Sola Scriptura or the belief that the Christian Bible is the final authority for the Church in all matters of doctrine and practice.

The Roman Catholic opponent here would snigger, pointing out the (literally) thousands of Christian denominations, fellowships and networks in existence today and smugly note the glaring inadequacies of that optimistic ideology.

Yet if there is one thing which my theological adventures in Higher Education have convinced me of, it is that Christian Scripture clearly says things.

THINGS!

Which must therefore mean Scripture DOESN’T SAY OTHER THINGS.

All is not mere interpretation. One is able to determine the meaning of a passage based on the academic study of those words. Therefore one would be able to ground certain ideas in Scripture at the dismissal of other ideas.

All this sounds frustratingly narrow, yet for the Church to exist at the Church I see no other way than for it to sit under Scripture as its authority. Again, I am at the end of the day a Protestant. Just because someone stands at the front of a building reading ancient words, approved by some people who have been approved by some people who once knew the Apostles of Christ does not constitute a Christian Church.

So a group of people committed to obeying the God testified to in Scripture and exclusively experienced by fellowship with the God-Man, Jesus who are united by the Spirit are to be the basis of what is called a Christian Church.

Now, if you happen to share these commitments you might have observed the the national-scale decision making of the Church of England at the Synod this week with much confusion.

Obviously many people have been hurt by the failure of the vote. Some, it is maintained, would have been hurt  had the decision gone through and women be consecrated as Bishops.

Yet in all the heat and smoke of the day, it could be said that what occurred at Synod was the battle of several groups with differing beliefs regarding this issue attempting to come to a democratic consensus. Much of the discussion which I heard, or rather made the rounds on the internet was on the nature of the provision made for the various dissenting views, be they Catholic or Reformed in nature.

This is not how I would have hoped to discussion would go.

Rather, if it is to be believed that Scripture has something to say, then someone is going to be wrong in this discussion. And not just wrong inasmuch as they lose the vote, but eternally wrong inasmuch as they blaspheme the name of God by declaring him to say something he does not say.

To be clear, I am an (ana)baptist and thus am committed to Congregationalism as the main form of church governance. I do not see Episcopacy as divinely mandated in the New Testament, though I do not see it as totally dismissed. In these matters of Ecclesiology I interpret the sporadic suggestions from NT writers as a guide for the localised ecclesiologies of particular churches, each having been inspired by the story of Jesus and made sensible by an ecclesiology appropriate to the time and place in which the church found itself.

Yet in my own Congregationalism it is believed that the community of faith, who pray and read Scripture together are capable of reaching decisions based on that reading.

I do have my own views on women in church leadership, which you can ask me about in the comments section, but the main point I wish would be addressed is this one of authority.

Church is not a compromise of equally valid options. Some are invalid because they are sinful, and others are more valid because they are more consistent with the message of Scripture.

Perhaps if this was the commitment of the Synod members, maybe a humble, trembling and fervently prayed-for consensus would be reached.

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One Comment

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  1. Beautiful and eloquent. Thank you!

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