Why no Women Bishops? 27 November

Last week the ‘parliament’ of the Church of England failed to agree how to move to having women bishops. A proposal was put which needed a 2/3rds majority among the bishops, clergy, and laity – church members. Among the laity the 2/3rds majority was not reached. A significant number of those voting against the proposal were Conservative Evangelicals who read the Bible as saying that women should not be in ‘headship’ over men. They argued that the details of the proposal would not have ensured them, as conscientious objectors, a secure continuing place within the Church of England.

Dear Conservative Evangelicals, who voted or argued against the Measure.

We are fellow evangelicals within the Church of England. Please allow me to explain why I think your voting against last week’s proposal was not Biblical. Please will you reflect on these matters? There will be no further decisions for at least 3 years, but it is good to consider while the issue is fresh in our minds

We probably disagree about how we read the Bible. What we agree on wholeheartedly is that the Bible is the foundation of all doctrine and the authority by which all Church decisions are guided. Some of us give greatest weight to the Biblical principles which Jesus taught and demonstrated in His life. We do this because the whole of the New Testament points us to Jesus as the foundation and cornerstone, the one to whom we are to listen. We are emphatically not to listen equally to Moses, Elijah and Jesus. We are not to listen even to Paul equally with Jesus.

Listening to Jesus means that we pay greatest attention to the ‘weightier’ matters of the Law – justice, mercy, faith – while not neglecting the others. Listening to Jesus means that what happens in the heart has to have priority over external rules and regulations. Listening to Jesus means that we recognise how He fostered the role of women to the edges of the limits of current convention. Paul followed Jesus in proclaiming the absolute equality before God of men and women. Paul followed Jesus in explaining important principles by which we make our decisions – such as the principle that avoiding hindrance to the Gospel in a particular culture is to be foremost in our thinking, or that faith, hope and love are primary over what we allow or encourage in our churches.

You may well not read the Bible in exactly the same way. Please be assured that the division over women bishops is not between those who believe in the Bible and those who do not, but between different ways of reading the Bible.

Please consider again: What is going to promote or hinder the spreading of the Gospel in our society – the good news of God’s coming to seek and save the lost among all humankind? Was this uppermost in your thinking as you voted? Did you vote in faith, hope and love, ie Biblically, or in suspicion, fear, anger, resentment?

I would agree that you have been treated with less generosity than you could have been. Too many supporters of women bishops have argued stridently for no concessions to those opposed to women bishops. Arrangements for conscientious objectors have been granted grudgingly. More security could have been ensured had the proposals of the Archbishops, among others, been accepted by Synod. The treatment of Conservative Evangelical Anglicans in the US has been unsympathetic and rejecting, with too little criticism of that rejection by the English Church Establishment. All this is no reason, Biblically, to respond with suspicion and fear for your future position.

The better way would be to trust that there are enough of us fellow Evangelicals in the Church of England to make sure that you will always be treated decently. The better, Biblical, way is to trust the leaders, the bishops, God has put in place. Trust God and your fellows Christians, not the best legislation you can secure for yourselves.

 Roger Harper

 

 

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