Good news at last, but the women bishops vote was ultimately never about women bishops

Women Bishops VoteThe history of the role and definition of bishops is a long and often turbulent one. From the beginning, Paul in his letters to the churches set high standards for his leaders:

‘Since an overseer [bishop] manages God’s household, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.’ (Titus 1:7-9)

Interestingly though, when Paul talks about the order of positions within the Church in his letter to the Corinthians, he places apostles first, prophets second and teachers third. This was all about mission as the Gospel spread rapidly throughout the Roman empire.

During the life of Paul and the following few decades, missionary apostles and prophets co-existed with stationary local bishops, who were effectively the leaders of established church congregations. They worked in a sub-ordinate capacity to the mobile apostolic authority. However sixty or seventy years after Paul had written his letters, the prophets and apostles were gone and bishops were in the ascendency. They grew in importance, moving from overseeing single congregations to large groups of churches within cities and provinces. As their responsibilities grew, so did their power and importance. With the advent of a Christian emperor in the fourth century, it became common for the bishops of key cities to be imperially nominated; a situation that was not always free from abuse.

If you read the history of the first few centuries of the early Church, you will see how its bishops shaped and formed both structures and the accepted understanding of Biblical knowledge and the nature of God. There were high moments such as the Council of Nicaea, but plenty of low ones as some bishops promoted heresy and others were imprisoned and martyred.

The episcopate has shaped this country too over the centuries, which has not been without bloodshed, political manoeuvring and corruption alongside great works of good. Who knows if things might have turned out differently if women had been bishops in previous times?

The role and power of bishops has diminished greatly in recent years, but they still have an important role to play, especially the Archbishops and those at the very top, The media attention given to former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey’s remarks on assisted suicide demonstrate that even outside of the church, bishops still have a level of influence. Yesterday’s vote to approve the consecration of women bishops in the Church of England was just another development in the Church’s lengthy history. To some, it may seem like it has been an eternity since the ordination of women was approved in 1986 to get to this point, especially after the failure of the 2012 vote, but in the grand scheme of things, it has been rapid progress. In this day and age patience runs thin.

What makes yesterday’s vote different is that it was never about a change to the roles or position of bishops, nor was it ultimately about women becoming bishops. The episcopate is no different today than it was yesterday. If anyone campaigned from the point of view of increasing women’s political power and control within the church, they were sadly misguided. No one should seek to become a bishop for their own personal gain. Increased authority brings its own sets of problems and now women and men get to share in this together. Paul writes in 1 Timothy that whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task, but he also gives out warnings at the same time. The more responsibility we have before God, the more we need to do to ensure we remain humble. Ignoring this has so often led to damaging conflict that has torn the Church apart in the past.

Neither was the women bishops vote a victory for feminism or any other ism for that matter – it was a victory for servanthood and the position of women in the eyes of God. It affirmed that women can and should be able to serve in all capacities. In Church of England canon law there is now no distinction in ministry between male and female echoing Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 where he says that in Jesus all Christians are fully children of God. Some have fought for so long to see women bishops, but at the point of success, they have ceased to exist. There are now only bishops with no gender distinctions.

We have been able to get to this position because women have been elevated in our culture and society. Liberals may have approached this issue from a humanist point of view, but more importantly the Synod vote would never have passed without a strong theological consensus from many who take the Bible seriously, understanding that it does not hold women as second class humans, deficient in the ability to lead or teach or born to be submissive to the male sex.

It could be argued that yesterday’s vote is a high point in the Church of England’s long story with the Church becoming more like the way God has always intended it to be. Much as this is joyous news to the majority, it is also time for a reality check. As history has proved bishops can do great things, but also hinder the work of God’s Holy Spirit. Maybe a small number will return to churches or even walk through the doors for the first time because of what has happened. But will it ignite a revival of the Christian faith? It is when the Church has held apostles and prophets in high esteem along with the teachers and bishops, that the Spirit has been able to move powerfully, transforming lives and causing churches to be filled.

Now that the drawn out saga of women becoming bishops has finally reached its long awaited conclusion, with one major distraction out of the way, there is even less reason not to focus on the real mission at hand. The call to evangelism and sharing the Gospel throughout the nation is and always has been the Church’s primary calling. If the same passion and determination to see women become bishops can be turned to saving the lost then great things are possible.

Is that too much to ask?

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26 replies

  1. Thank you Gillan.

  2. I’m afraid yesterday’s vote was just one act in a long-playing farce.

    Those who see the decision as a mark of progress are deluding themselves. It is not progress, it’s merely puffing and panting to keep up. Those who are opposed to the decision are determined that small as it might be, such progress is wrong. The result may or may not have been anti-biblical, but this just shows how weak and unreliable the bible is as a guide. If the result was God’s will, why has he been opposed to it before now, and why has he suddenly changed his mind? He is as much an anachronism as the church that proclaims him. If it was not his will, then he is clearly pathetic and ineffective.

    The only ones who can take anything positive in the result, are we atheists. We accepted the equality of women long ago. We do not need to claim special exemption from the law in order to preserve our power and authority. We do not need to refer to ancient books and disembodied spirits to guide us; we accept responsibility for our own lives and our own decisions. We do not need to waste time, effort and millions of pounds to drag ourselves into the 21st century. We do not look to men in elaborate frocks to tell us what’s wrong and what’s right. And other religions that have not accepted sexual equality are not even as glacially progressive as the CofE claims to be.

    The vote on accepting women as bishops has been an utter shambles, a complete canine’s feast, and ultimately a complete waste of time.

    • Fascinating. Do tell me when it is you feel that, as a coherent and united group, atheists accepted the equality of women? Was it before or after you promulgated the scientifically obvious inferiority of negroes?

      • It was probably some time after the slave trade was abolished and the Christians who were its driving force had to find something else to do.

  3. Very well put Dave and in very plain English without the gobbledegook even a religious person can understand.
    It is just so unfortunate that some just still do not get it and still think they need to ‘spread the gospel’ as a priority. In plain English Gillan … GET A LIFE.

    Is that too much to ask ?

    • Thanks for the advice Neil! I’m actually quite happy with my life. I can’t imagine what alternative I’d prefer. Is it not better for people to make informed choices about religious belief rather than wallowing in ignorance. It’s about letting people know and then leaving it up to them whether to respond in any way or not.

      That seems pretty reasonable to me.

      • By stating that “the call to evangelism and sharing the gospel … … is the church’s primary calling” you are trying to keep us locked to the dark ages Gillan.

        It is time to move on.

      • Neil, I’m quite happy to consider all of the options! My mind is not that closed, but I need convincing that there is something better than what I have already.

    • “In plain English Gillan … GET A LIFE.”

      … says the person who spends far too much time on stranger’s websites telling them their beliefs are stupid. 😉

  4. Equality Choice and Rights .!!!! There are millions of women trafficked in the world either for the pornography industry or exploited labour, women are still objectified in countless forms of media, women still earn less than their male counterparts, women still do the majority of housework. Sexism is still common in many workplaces. The best we can say is that women have more choices and opportunity in some respects than before but Choices are pointless if in the process we harm ourselves or others. As Gillan is saying its not the gender or equal rights that matter but rather the character,virtue and spirit of each individual. Jesus has much to offer us in this respect. The strength of the bible is not just in its law but also its tensions and paradoxes which are pretty true to life. If you need a life manual choose any amount of literature. The bible presents us with lots of questions and a fascinating challenge, a quest that many people prefer above and beyond the buzz words of secular ethics. Thats why people get wound up by the bible because its asking awkward questions. If you want comfort read A.C. Graylings atheist bible.

  5. Oh dear, another one trotting out the single verse in Galatians. Article 20 reminds us that ‘it is not lawful for the Church to… expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.’ Given that elsewhere Paul clearly gives separate instructions for men and women and husbands and wives, it is clear that the Galatians passage must be interpreted to allow for this distinction; therefore to trot it out, as many ignorant people do, as a ‘proof text’ for gender equality in the church is very sad – and certainly reminds us of that aphorism: ‘a text without a context is a pretext’…

  6. Roll on the openly gay bishops!!!!!

  7. Lot we think was acting on his own initiative to offer his daughters and attempt to protect the angels who had been invited into Lots home. Would men hell bent on homosexual gang rape take up that offer ? Also if our home was surrounded by men wanting to rape us, how would we react ? Basically Lot is terrified. Besides God intervenes through his angels to save both lot and his daughters because as the text states God was merciful. It is Lots daughters who later take advantage of their fathers drunken state to have intercourse with him and the resulting children lead two tribes who are cursed and actively work against the purpose of Gods people. Later on one tribe is redeemed through the faithfulness of one woman. Certainly not much paradox sarky but rather a story about sin and its consequences, Gods mercy and later the importance of faithfulness. Whether it is an inspired story or recorded history is open to debate but certainly this theme recurs in the old testament showing that rules and regulations are limited in reforming human behaviour. By reading these old testament stories we can contrast them with the new spiritual covenant that Jesus brings in the new testament. Neil -The bible seeks to ask questions as much as answer them. The Rabbis at that time treated scripture in this way exploring the text and the characters for meaning through discussion and argument and we still do this in our church home groups and studies today. This makes the bible interesting and brings it alive. The more time we engage with the bible our understanding grows which then throws up a whole new set of questions. After a while reading the bible coupled with an active prayer life becomes more like an emotional experience than an intellectual exercise. Being open to the possibilities is worth it.

  8. Inspired story or recorded history?? I think the presence of angels probably answers that one!! Also having being in a drunken state myself a few times, I doubt anyone would be able to take advantage!!!!! This kind of story has a reoccurring theme in the bible, god puts man in an impossible situation, then jumps in at the last minute to save the day and be a big hero. The new testament might be the ‘fluffy bunny’ part of the bible, but it doesnt make up for the questionable morals and atrocities of the old. Unfortunately for christians you cant have one without the other!!!

  9. Not sure that the new testament is so much the fluffy bunny. In some respects Jesus makes the old law even tougher by enlarging on it. In those stories human nature is being laid bare and nothing has changed in 2000 years. The bible is not just describing and recording the harsh survival culture of the day of which atrocities were a part but also trying to guide people to Gods purpose so that they may be distinct from say the tribes that were worshipping idols and performing child sacrifice for example, that they may be a light to the gentiles. There is still incest drunkenness and fear today. Its true that the bible stories seem to lack credibility sometimes. What is the chance that both daughters should become pregnant at the same time after just one sexual encounter but despite this they all carry this underlying theme. We are created for the purpose of love. God is not so much playing superman as nudging us onwards which must be an arduous task having given us free will. The stories don’t feel unfortunate for ourselves but rather instructive and an important part of the overall plan.

  10. Reblogged this on The Attic Lodger and commented:
    Worthwhile reflection on the recent decision by the Church of England, to allow woman bishops.

  11. An excellent post – thank you Gillan. In the end we will have to answer for our choices in life. I’m very happy to say that I supported giving women who feel a calling from Christ the chance to offer their skills and gifts to the Church, rather than hiding behind selective use of scripture. I understand the deep feelings involved, but it is time to focus on all working together to promote the church militant here on earth. I hope that bishops in future will be a far more diverse group with women, evangelicals, traditionalist etc all represented. Diversity of view but unity of cause is the greatest thing about the Church of England.

  12. I thank God every day I’m Roman Catholic and not an Anglican. We will never ever commit blasphemy against the person of Jesus Christ by the absurd ordination of women priests, let alone the ludicrous thought of a woman bishop. This is just another example of the stench of feminism and it’s destructive and corrupt influence is all areas of life. NO WOMAN has the right to wear a clerical collar, I refuse to even recognize such an Insult to the holy spirit.


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