What are (women) bishops for?

IMG_2655 - Version 2I am heading back (on Sunday) from what I can only describe as an inspirational service at Canterbury Cathedral where my friend Rob Innes was ordained as the new Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe. (Yes, formal Anglican services can be inspirational!). The recent debate about women bishops (which might continue, for reasons below) raises the question of what bishops are for. Those to the ‘left’ who don’t have bishops (but do have people exercising episcopal ministry in some form) often wonder what the fuss is about; those on the ‘right’ wonder at the departure of the C of E from apostolic tradition!

It’s worth reflecting a little on the Anglican understanding of the three-fold ordering of ministry as ‘bishops, priests and deacons.’ The Church actually claims slightly less than people realise for this ordering; it cannot be derived clearly from the New Testament, but the NT does not oppose such ordering, and it has been an ancient practice. In that sense, Anglicans have generally believed that bishops are not for the esse of the Church, but for its bene esse—not part of its essence, but for its good; not its being, but its well-being.

‘Deacons’ are about service, as the name suggests (from the Greek diakonos and verb diakoneo to serve), but it is also clear that ‘deacons’ had a spiritual and leadership function. Stephen was appointed ‘to serve’ (the noun is not used of him) but he was clearly a leader ‘full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 6.3). Phoebe was a ‘deacon’ (using the masculine form of the noun, not a ‘deaconess’) of the congregation in Cenchreae, near Corinth, and was a ‘leader of many, including me’ says Paul (Romans 16.2), using the personal noun cognate with the abstract noun ‘leadership’ in Romans 12.8.

The term ‘priest’ is a corruption of the Greek presbyteros, ‘elder’, and etymologically has no connection whatever with the OT priests (Heb kohen, Greek hieros). The term presbyter is included in Anglican ordination liturgy, and is the preferred term in many parts of global Anglicanism. Church of England eucharistic theology is clear that the priest/presbyter who presides at Communion has no sacerdotal function; the bread and wine are not ‘offered’ (there is clear avoidance of such terms in acclamations and eucharistic prayers) and the service is primarily a ‘memorial’.

Within the NT, the terms ‘overseer’ (in older translations ‘bishop’, Greek episcopos) appears to be more or less interchangeable with presbyteros; a good example comes in the reading we had at today’s service from Acts 20, where Paul says farewell to the elders from Ephesus (Acts 20.7) whom ‘the Holy Spirit has made…overseers‘ (Acts 20.28). Interestingly, this lack of clear demarcation is reflected in the Ordination Service itself:

Bishops are called to serve and care for the flock of Christ. Mindful of the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep, they are to love and pray for those committed to their charge, knowing their people and being known by them. As principal ministers of word and sacrament, stewards of the mysteries of God, they are to preside at the Lord’s table and to lead the offering of prayer and praise. They are to feed God’s pilgrim people, and so build up the Body of Christ.

They are to baptize and confirm, nurturing God’s people in the life of the Spirit and leading them in the way of holiness. They are to discern and foster the gifts of the Spirit in all who follow Christ, commissioning them to minister in his name. They are to preside over the ordination of deacons and priests, and join together in the ordination of bishops.

As chief pastors, it is their duty to share with their fellow presbyters the oversight of the Church, speaking in the name of God and expounding the gospel of salvation. With the Shepherd’s love, they are to be merciful, but with firmness; to minister discipline, but with compassion. They are to have a special care for the poor, the outcast and those who are in need. They are to seek out those who are lost and lead them home with rejoicing, declaring the absolution and forgiveness of sins to those who turn to Christ.

Following the example of the prophets and the teaching of the apostles, they are to proclaim the gospel boldly, confront injustice and work for righteousness and peace in all the world.

Isn’t that an exhilarating list of responsibilities?! There is very little here that you could not also say of presbyters; there are clearly the liturgical functions of confirmation and ordination, but alongside that there is a strong explicit statement of working with rather than governing over their ‘fellow presbyters.’ Just as an archbishop is primus inter pares, first among equals in relation to his (for the moment!) fellow bishops, there appears to be a similar ethos in the relation between a bishop and the presbyters he (for the moment!) is working with. In fact, since many of the charges in the service were for the bishop being ordained to follow the example of Christ, and Christ is the example for all disciples, there is close contact between the duties of a bishop and the goal of all disciples, to…

Pray therefore that you may be conformed more and more to the image of God’s Son, so that through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit your life and ministry may be made holy and acceptable to God.

Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It is complete nonsense to suggest (as was said to me last week) that any order of ministry is an ‘icon of Christ’; this is the function of all God’s people! This was explicitly picked up by Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, in his magisterial and inspiring sermon:

The bishop must be first and foremost a disciple. As responsibilities increase prayer must be the first priority.

If there is so much commonality, what can be said theologically (as opposed to legally or administratively) about the distinctive role of episcopal ministry?

P1020603The NT word group has two main senses to it. The first is to ‘oversee’, in the sense of standing back and looking at the big picture. In this sense, the word is a close synonym with ‘panorama’; the ‘scop-‘ element (which we use in periscope, telescope, microscope) corresponds to ‘orama’ from another Greek word for ‘seeing’, and the ‘pan’, meaning ‘all’ corresponds to the ‘epi-‘ meaning to look ‘over’. This sense was brought home to me sharply a few years ago when we were on holiday in Corfu, and came across a village called Episkepsi in the north of the island. It was sited on the top of a ridge, giving it a panoramic—or perhaps episcopal!—view over the land as it fell away towards the coast. I took this picture from a further along the ridge, and you can get a sense of the breathtaking overview.

The second sense of the word group is ‘to see to it that’ (Heb 12.15, 1 Peter 5.2), paying careful attention and ensuring that something happens or gets done.  The focus here is making things happen or see that they have been done right. Interestingly, the abstract noun episcope, ‘oversight’ or ‘visitation’, combines these two senses. God’s ‘visitation’ to his people (Luke19.44) in the person of Jesus coming to Jerusalem involved a careful looking around—which explains the otherwise mysterious phrase in Mark 11.11 ‘He looked around at everything…’ But it then involved a holding to account for the things that had not been done right—hence the driving of the money-changers from the temple the next morning (in Mark’s chronology).

So episcopal ministry means having a good overview, and then ensuring that things get done—seeing what is needed, and seeing it is done. This corresponds to a term I heard used in management training of the ‘helicopter quality’ of good leaders—the ability to rise up high and see the overall lie of the land, then drop down low and attend to particular things that needed dealing with. Since there is much talk of the episcopal nature of presbyteral ministry (especially as numbers of stipendiary clergy are falling) it is the scope, rather than the kind, of ministry that is distinctive for bishops.

What then might be the impact of the recent decision to (at long last!) appoint women as bishops? If you believe many of the gender studies (and all research in this area is disputed, because it is so politicised), men tend to be stronger on focus and achievement, and women tend to be more relational and better at seeing the bigger picture. So having women in the House of Bishops might help balance the second sense of episcopacy with some more of the first sense.

Linda Woodhead has commented that she hopes that accepting women bishops might have a generally liberalising effect on the Church. In the short term, she might well be right; amongst those talked about as possible contenders to be the first women bishops, few if any are evangelical, and most would like to see the the Church change its position on same-sex marriage. That presents a real problem for people like me, who believe there is a biblical case for women in leadership. As Elaine Storkey expressed it:

New Testament scholars have long encouraged us towards a deeper exegesis of ‘gender leadership’ passages in the Epistles and it is evident that the Holy Spirit gives powerful gifts to both women and men for service in the Kingdom. Many evangelical churches in the country make no gender distinctions in types of Christian leadership, and now the Church of England is on board.

It would be ironic if leaders were appointed on biblical grounds who moved the Church away from biblical theology. Its possible that some will see the change as theologically correct, though a ‘political’ error. And a certain group in the Church might be in a position in a few years’ time to look back and say ‘I told you so!’

The third issue which will be watched with interested will be the impact of having female leadership on the gender balance of Church attendance. There is some good evidence that attracting men is a key part of church growth, and as I have explored previously, this remains a significant issue for the church in Britain and the Church of England in particular. The ordination of women as presbyters has happened at the same time as a decline in the number of men being ordained; is this causal or coincidence? I am not sure there are any simple answers here—but it is interesting to note how many church traditions which are currently growing appear to have an ‘(A)lpha male’ approach to leadership.

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42 thoughts on “What are (women) bishops for?”

  1. “It would be ironic if leaders were appointed on biblical grounds who moved the Church away from biblical theology. Its possible that some will see the change as theologically correct, though a ‘political’ error.”

    It gives me no joy to say this is precisely what you will get, to judge from the experience of the US, Canada and down under.
    And it can hardly be ‘biblical’ to appoint someone as a leader who rejects biblical teaching.
    It grieves me to think that the C of E is just in for more theological warfare as it continues to lose members.
    Why do churches grow under an (A)lpha male leadership?
    Not difficult to answer. Men need men to follow as the model of discipleship, to be Christian men, husbands and fathers.
    And when fathers attend church, the whole family is more likely to follow.

    • Except that the nature of the debate here has been quite different from elsewhere. As the comment from Elaine shows, there was a significant debate on scriptural arguments, happening mostly away from the spotlight, which was not true elsewhere.

  2. I would add that what’s missing in the above discussion is the *political dimension of a bishop’s power. Maybe this is overstated, but bishops – standing above the parishes, so to speak – still can’t help trying to shape dioceses through appointments to reflect their own preferences. Maybe not such a big issue in England, where parochial independence is still quite strong, but the disappearance of freehold has surely gathered more power to the centre.

  3. It seems to me that bishops are there basically to incarnate the Church’s determination to fade away into obscurity and irrelevance.

    In this media age, they persist in choosing media unfriendly leaders who reinforce the public perception of the Church as the last bastion of the socially awkward, unkempt, semi-intellectual class nerd.

    I realize the pool of candidates doesn’t leave them much of a choice, but if you look at the current crop of potential women bishops, it’s easy to see that nothing much is going to change. Substituting a grey pudding bowl haircut and a tent cut soutane for a grey straggly beard and an aversion to grooming products really is not a change in substance, but rather just the feminization of an already existing marginalization.

    For the Church to make any kind of impact on the world it needs leaders who look and sound like leaders rather than librarians.

    • Etienne, I have long said that you are welcome to join constructively in debates here. But this is not the space simply to parade your cynicism. I have asked before…I think this is now strike three.

      • Cynicism? I’m not sure I follow.

        My point was that the current Anglican leadership takes very little trouble to present itself in a credible way to a culture where image counts.

        The Catholics understand the importance of charisma. Look at John Paul II and the current pope. But the Church of England continues to appoint men who, to put it mildly, are sadly lacking in the charisma department. A tradition that seems set to continue when the episcopate admits women.

        You can take this as an insult if you like, but no matter much personal loyalty you may feel towards the House of Bishops as presently constituted, the fact remains that to the wider public they’re a faceless bunch of extremely forgetable middle aged and elderly nonentities. And nonentities do NOT change people’s lives or inspire faith. At least not beyond their personal circle of acquaintance.

        Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure these men and women are all highly estimable and capable people in their own way. I don’t mean to attack them personally. Indeed I’m sure I present just as colorless a face to the world as any of them. But then I’m not a religious leader. As the face of the Church of England, the bishops are a PR disaster. When was the last time an Anglican bishop inspired or led any kind of mass religious movement or revival? Not in our lifetimes.

        But take my comments as you will. If you’re only interested in praise and can’t handle valid criticism, treat me as offensive, censor me and continue on your merry way. I’m pretty sure I know where you’re going but I’m quite capable of shrugging my shoulders and leaving you to your own devices.

  4. “Church of England eucharistic theology is clear that the priest/presbyter who presides at Communion has no sacerdotal function; the bread and wine are not ‘offered’ ”

    The bread and wine may not be offered, but we make a “sacrifice of thanks and praise” (Prayer A) or “of praise and thanksgiving” (Prayers B and C) or “of praise” (prayer H) and “offer ourselves to live for you” (Prayer D) or “offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice” (first Prayer after Communion). So the Eucharist can be said to have a sacerdotal element. But of course, for Anglicans, the priest “presides” rather an “celebrates” – the whole congregation are the celebrants (a royal priesthood). The bishop is the “principal minister” of this, according to the ordination/consecration charge, so the bishop is being the guarantor of the sacraments in the Church – which is also what reserving ordination to him achieves – people can’t simply take it upon themselves to be presbyters.

    And Anglican doctrine gives a far greater emphasis to the bishop’s authority than you allow. It is his “duty to share with … fellow presbyters the oversight of the Church,” which means that the bishop ought to pass it on, but it is not automatic – hence at inductions/collations he has to say “receive this cure of souls.”

    The Ordinal with the BCP is also clear. Collect: “Give grace … to all Bishops, the Pastors of thy Church … that they may … duly administer the godly discipline thereof; and grant to the people, that they may obediently follow the same.” And priestly ordinands are asked “Will you reverently obey your Ordinary, and other chief Ministers, unto whom is committed the charge and government over you…?”

    All this is summed up at the start of the ordination by referring to the (Arch)Bishop as “(Most) Reverend Father in God.”

    A bishop in the Church is far more than a “helicopter leader.” Although there are overlaps with the ministry of presbyters in parishes (the shared cure of souls), there is certainly, in Anglican theology, a difference in kind, not just scope.

    • Bernand, thanks for your interesting comment.

      Yes, indeed we all, as the holy priesthood of God, together offer a sacrifice of thanks and praise and, as you will know, Cranmer ensured in the BCP that this stayed well away from the Prayer of Thanksgiving so that it could not be confused with a sacerdotal offering. I think that reinforces my point!

      I am not sure what you mean by the bishop being the ‘guarantor’ of the sacraments of the church. The ordination services are clear that ministers derive their authority from their adherence to the apostolic faith, not merely by having been through a ceremony. In fact, it is striking that, apart from canonical obedience ‘in all things lawful and honest’ to the bishop, the primary accountability of all in ministry, in each order, is to the example of Christ and the Scriptures.

      I am not sure what you mean by ‘it is not automatic’, when it the bishop’s ‘duty’ to share…?

      On the question of authority, do you think that the (delegated) authority of the presbyter in the parish is similar to the authority that you mention? From negative examples, it has certainly been misused in similar ways! If the bishop had the kind of direct authority you suggest, I don’t think freehold could have developed—in fact, it developed precisely to restrict episcopal authority. Bishops have less authority over clergy than line managers do over their reportees in most organisations…

      • Ian,

        Cranmer may have moved the sacrificial language away from the Prayer of Thanksgiving, but it’s there in Common Worship! And in any case, if it’s in the liturgy then it’s part of what is going on, whichever prayer it appears in.

        By “guarantor” I mean that without the Bishop, the principal minister, there are no sacraments (yes, OK Christ is the actual minister, but that’s not what is expressed in the ordination – though perhaps here is the foundation of an “icon of Christ” theology). Thus in introduction to the consecration service we get:

        “{Bishops] are to gather God’s people and celebrate with them the sacraments of the new covenant. Thus formed into a single communion of faith and love, the Church in each place and time is united with the Church in every place and time.”

        Unless the Bishop gathers the people and celebrates with them the sacraments, they are not formed into a single communion, and the Church is not united. Without union it is no kind of Church. Surely then the Bishop is of the bene, not merely bene esse!

        I can’t see where the bishop’s authority is derived from adherence to the apostolic faith (which to my mind includes bishops being of the esse of the Church, but that’s by-the-by). Surely it is based on God’s call, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, invoked in the Ordination Prayer. The accountability then is to God, who called him (soon her).

        As for the duty, I just meant that the “ought” of a duty does not entail the “does” of doing the duty. It is thus not automatic.

        And finally (!), I don’t think a Presbyter’s authority is similar to that of a Bishop – nor would it be good for it to be so (though they don’t always get the respect owing to their office either). And yes, freehold developed to resist episcopal authority, which is an historical conundrum of sorts, but at least shows the authority a bishop is seen as having in theory, if not in practice.

  5. IMHO, it is both political and theological – not just in appointments, but in consolidation of worldly compromise. Ruth Gledhill reports as much. What else are women bishops for? One purpose of women bishops is to constructively excommunicate a portion of the church – only time is needed.

    Mission accomplished.

      • I disagree that the biblical arguments in favour are at all robust, but perhaps this isn’t the place to debate that.

        What I will say is this: even if you believe that this change is biblically supported, it doesn’t mean that the change has in fact been made “on biblical grounds” by the CoE as a whole. What proportion of those who voted in favour of this change are genuinely motivated by biblical considerations?

        “It would be ironic if leaders were appointed on biblical grounds who moved the Church away from biblical theology.”

        See, that WOULD be ironic, but it presupposes that the leaders to be appointed as a result of this change will be appointed on biblical grounds.

        • But that’s a comment about the people making the decision, not about the decision itself.

          What I find odd is that those opposed on biblical grounds can’t acknowledge that there is a case in the opposite direction, and that it is a respectable one. There are a wealth of evangelical biblical scholar supporting women’s leadership on biblical grounds, and many of them have had a pioneering influence on biblical theology as a whole.

          I find it sad that conservative evangelicals offer no recognition of that at all.

      • I acknowledge arguments have been made, but I do not find them persuasive – and certainly not to the point of carrying the burden of change. I am not even persuaded it is a question we can (or should) arrogate to ourselves.

        Yet the decision has been made and the consequences will flow, both internally and ecumenically.

          • I cannot recall encountering a proponent of innovation of an existing system that considered the innovation to be anything other than reforming. That said, one might embrace ‘semper reformanda’ and still leave unanswered the questions of who, when, and how.

            I suppose a group of Christians might construe women’s ordination as biblically mandated – a reform necessary to be obedient, which justifies a break from fellow Christians within the body, without the body, and throughout history.

            Of course, to the extent the innovation is not biblically necessary, but merely biblically permissible, then perhaps a different outcome is merited.

            The phrase that comes to my mind is: ut unum sint.

  6. Men don’t NEED to follow men. By this logic, I, as a woman need women as bishops to model discipleship as strong biblical women, maybe a wife, maybe a mother. Although what your argument says about the call to singleness is also ill thought through. Where are your statistics for male-led churches being the most successful? This is a current favourite generalisation. Neither is a female bishop likely to reject biblical teaching. This is nonsensical and hugely offensive to the many ordained and biblically literate women.

    As for ‘liberalising’ the church? This is generalist and unspecific.

    • the move for women bishops is driven by power hungry women and their supporting males. Feminine leadership leads to feminist churches. leadership Biblically is male BUT women are permitted to exercise their gifts under a male covering. If the C.O.E. were less concerned with authority – only ordained men and women can celebrate the Lords’ supper for example – the COE might be more relevant.

  7. Beth, I think women *do need women to model biblical discipleship for them – as Christian women, wives, mothers. This is what the pastoral epistles say. So I think the Prisca and Aquila model of shared leadership is a good one. As for the statistics about male-led churches, they are everywhere you look, in just about every denomination. Similarly the evidence that when fathers attend church, the family is more likely to follow; and I read Ian’s last sentence as agreeing with this.
    The claim that this will further liberalise the leadership of the C of E is based on the experience of North America and New Zealand.

    • Beth, I agree that women leaders (at any level) are necessarily going to reject biblical teaching. But, using theological shorthand labels, I am not sure I have heard anyone dispute the observation that e.g. women clergy as a group are more ‘liberal’ than male clergy as a group.

      There are some obvious reasons for this. One is that, if to be ‘conservative’ means, for some, to reject women’s leadership, then that is self-fulfilling. But I think also women are much less prepared to ignore the human consequences of doctrinal positions, and this is a mark of a number of ‘conservative’ groups—which often have many fewer women.

      It just so happens that, whether for these reasons or not, all the ‘front-runners’ for the first women bishops do not agree with the Church’s current teaching, or the (well-supported) interpretation of the biblical teaching on same-sex relations.

      Brian, I am not sure I agree with you as a matter of principle—but I am just making an observations about the current dynamics of the church. As John Drane comments in a FB discussion just now, personality type is actually more important than gender in determining effectiveness as a leader.

      • Ian, I appreciate the irenic way you discuss these issues and your willingness to observe things others prefer not to discuss. You know of course that for most of church history most of the church has believed that ordained leadership should be male; and this is still the view of most churches around the world. Has the church been in heresy since the days of the Apostles?
        Bizarrely, western Anglicanism – itself in serious decline – seems to want to drive out people who have faithfully held to traditional Anglican belief. What has driven the terrible warfare and decline of Tec but the mergence of two religions within one body?
        Of course personality type is important – and I would no doubt be accused of ‘stereotyping’ if I said that women are inherently more ‘relational’ and ‘pastoral’ while men are more focused on projects and activities. There are differences of interest as well: I know there are exceptions, but why are few women interested in apologetics and philosophical theology?

        • Brian, that’s an interesting question, and exposes two fallacies.

          First, this is not a novel idea. Have a read of this defence of women’s ministry, *on the basis of Scripture* from 1664:


          Secondly, for most of history, Christians have thought that we should kill Jews. That includes the church fathers, Luther and Cromwell. Should we still do this?

          On your last point, I think there are biologically based cognitive differences between men and women…but it is really hard to see how these would have an impact on leadership effectiveness.

  8. Well, call me an apostolic fundamentalist then. I just don’t see women functioning as ruling elders in the NT Church. Further, I don’t believe Jew-killing has ever been a dogma of the Christian Church, I can’t find it in the New Testament, and I seem to recall that Cromwell invited the Jews back to England – or so said Jonathan Sacks.

    How do cognitive differences impact on leadership effectiveness? An interesting question. I suggest it is because women are inherently programmed (by God) toward nurturing and family-forming, and the ‘synthetic’, men toward combat and protection, and the ‘analytic’. Can we think of exceptions? Of course. But the generality holds. That’s why women predominate in nursing, social work and primary education, and men in engineering and computing.

  9. Church history is littered with arguments from authority that have fallen by the wayside.

    The divine right of kings (Romans 13), slaveholding (Ephesians 6), and, of course, male headship and apostolic succession have all bitten the dust. Every turnaround has followed the same pattern: vehement argument about the meaning of scripture; social change; consensus that the Bible “really” supports the change.

    So yes, female bishops can call themselves conservatives, but their beliefs tell a different story. Most everyone’s do!

  10. You say that episcopacy «cannot be derived clearly from the New Testament», and «Anglicans have generally believed that bishops are not for the esse of the Church».

    That’s not right. First of all, the King James Bible referred to Christ as «the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls» (1 Peter 2:25), which means that the reformers saw the episcopal=pastoral ministry as derived from Christ himself. Secondly, the BCP’s ordinal says that «it is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.» So, the CofE took those ministries as granted from the Early Church.

    It is not clear that the Seven were “deacons”, but he could have been “bishops” in fact. They all have Greek names, and their appointment might have been for the fulfillment of the apostolic ministry to the Greek-speaking Christians.

    Your idea of “leaders” and “leadership” is foreign to the Early Church, NT included. Saint Paul speaks about Phœbe’s ?????????. This is about the function of the ????????. We have ?? ?????????? ??????????? in 1 Tim 5:17. Before the «?????????» word was used, it’s the «????????» that the Church had. And, up to this day, both the Eastern and Roman liturgies have conserved the word «????????/antistitis» either for the one who presides over the Eucharist or for the bishop. So, the bishop is not the “bene esse” of the Church. There was the bishop, the one who presided over the Eucharist, in college with the presbyters (who used to replace him in the presidence of the Eucharist), and without him there was no Eucharist. And Phœbe could have been one of those ?????????? = bishops.

    I can’t explain that in two words. You should read Fr Afanassieff’s book «The Church of the Holy Spirit».

    You say that according to the gender studies, «men tend to be stronger on focus and achievement, and women tend to be more relational and better at seeing the bigger picture. So having women in the House of Bishops might help balance the second sense of episcopacy with some more of the first sense.» First of all, this partaking of humankind into two groups is biologically wrong (see Anne Fausto-Sterling’s books). Secondly, you are thus affirming that men be ontologically different from women; the conclusion is that Jesus did not have the full of humanness; you are thus assuming he didn’t «tend to be more relational and better at seeing the bigger picture». If this be so, he could not heal what he did not assume; so the incarnation would be a fiasco (as for all the other christological heresies).

    The only orthodox option is to have female bishops, because they are 100% human, 100% assumed by Christ, along with men, merms, herms, ferms and the whole spectrum of the humankind. Therefore, as Christ, they are capable of ministry: «Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.»

  11. Unfortunately, the Greek letters seem to be replaced by «???». I meant this:

    Your idea of “leaders” and “leadership” is foreign to the Early Church, NT included. Saint Paul speaks about Phœbe’s prostatis. This is about the function of the proestos. We have hoi proestotes presbyteroi in 1 Tim 5:17. Before the «episkopos» word was used, it’s the «proestos» that the Church had. And, up to this day, both the Eastern and Roman liturgies have conserved the word «proestos/antistitis» either for the one who presides over the Eucharist or for the bishop. So, the bishop is not the “bene esse” of the Church. There was the bishop, the one who presided over the Eucharist, in college with the presbyters (who used to replace him in the presidence of the Eucharist), and without him there was no Eucharist. And Phœbe could have been one of those proestotes = bishops.

    • Georges, thanks for your comment…but it contains some odd logic (it seems to me).

      1 Peter 2.25 suggests not that episcopal leadership derives from Christ but that *all* ministry derives from him. Yes, the BCP notes these ministries have been in existence—but I don’t think you will find anyone defending the idea that they exist in the NT as three distinct orders now practiced. I demonstrate why in my post—episcopos and presbyteros are used interchangeably.

      If the Seven were bishops (which is of course anachronous), and Phoebe was a ‘presiding elder’, I guess the Greek Orthodox should have been ordaining women all these years….?

      It is not me that puts humanity into two categories of male and female, but Gen 1 and 2. I have written on this here: http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/creation-and-sexuality/

      in my comment, I make no suggestion which is ‘affirming that men be ontologically different from women’. To suggest they have different traits has nothing to do with ontology.

      I agree with you on the logic of ordaining both men and women, but Scripture gives no warrant for other categories of humanity. It seems odd to me that the traditions you cite and draw on don’t come to the same conclusion as you do about what the consequences are of their beliefs.

  12. A string of ‘could have’s’ and ‘might have’s’ don’t add up to one ‘did’. The apostolic church wasn’t interested in who ‘presided’ over communion thanksgiving. If ‘prostasis’ means what Georges seems to be saying, then Paul in Romans 16.2 would be saying he was under the ruling authority’ of Phoebe – which seems very unlikely for an apostle to say. Much more likely that the word means ‘benefactress’ or ‘protectress’, women of means of which there were numerous examples in the apostolic church, and indeed in the ‘support group’ of Jesus.

    • I mostly agree with you here Brian. But the reason for translating prostatis as benefactor rather than leader seems to have more to do with the translator’s presumption about what Paul could or could not say, than the actual derivation of the word.

      • Not entirely. Looking at Moo (NICNT, pp. 915-6), I see he came to the same conclusion as I did independently, and he cites BAGD and a 2nd century papyrus for the meaning ‘patronus’. I looked at the SBL paper as well, but I don’t think it really adds anything.

      • Discussed briefly above. Moreover, proistemi can equally mean ‘to stand before / protect / guard / entreat’ etc. The noun prostasis is a hapax legomenon in the NT. Context and contemporary usage are the best guides to meaning. Rom 16.2 argues against ‘one who stands over [me and many others]’.

  13. I think that St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” provides a solid foundation for doctrinal development to resolve some vexing issues of human sexuality and human ecology, including the ordination of women to the priesthood.

    This possibility is explored here in the context of solidarity-sustainability issues: http://www.pelicanweb.org/solisustv10n07page1.html#tob

    This is a visceral issue that cannot be resolved by reasoning alone, but critical feedback would be very much appreciated. Let us pray that the church will be able to discern the difference between revealed truths and patriarchal ideology.

    I am Roman Catholic, but thank God for the Anglican Communion!

    God bless,

  14. Hello Ian,

    Sorry for coming to this thread late. It looks pretty interesting, and I’ll try to read the comments in more detail and follow up the links at some point.

    Looking over the article and comments, it struck me that nothing is said about the provision made to protect freedom of conscience on this matter within the CofE. (Apologies if it is addressed and I missed it!)

    I would be interested to know your opinion on the provision for “traditionalist complementarians” that was finally arrived at?



  15. Hi Ian,

    I think the first female episcopal appointments confound the fears of those who claim that women will be liberal and unable to grow churches. It is time people stopped repeating these miserable and completely unfounded claims. Libby Lane’s large and growing congregation thought the world of her and Alison White is really good news. At Libby’s consecration, the female Archdeacon of York , a long-time friend of Libby’s, preached a cracker of a sermon which our vicar declared to be “the best he had ever heard in the Minster”!


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