Understanding the Crisis in the Church of England

Westminster Abbey

Do you need to understand the Church of England?

Here are some explanations from this former Anglican:

The Church of England is the Mother Church of the churches of the Worldwide Anglican Communion. Each of these churches are national churches and are independent. So, for example, the Anglican Church in Nigeria is independent from the Church of England the from the Anglican Church of Kenya or Canada or American or Australia. Most of the Anglican Churches in the developed world already have women bishops and have had for years.

The Church of England is itself, very divided. There are three wings of the church: Liberal, Evangelical and Anglo Catholic. The Liberals go for the whole secular agenda. The Evangelicals are Protestant. The Anglo Catholics more Catholic in practice and theology. These three groups have three very basic belief systems. Within these three groups there are sub groups: Liberal Evangelicals and Liberal Anglo Catholics, Conservative Evangelicals and Conservative Anglo Catholics. It is the last two sub groups who have scuppered the move for women’s ordination.

The Church is governed by the General Synod. This is an elected body with three houses: Bishops, Clergy and Laity. The members are elected from dioceses and deaneries from across the land. No special theological qualification is required to be elected to the House of Laity. The proceedings of the General  Synod have to be approved by the British Members of Parliament who form the government of Her Majesty the Queen who is officially the head of the Church of England.

The conservative Evangelicals follow a Protestant, Bible-only theology and they believe the Bible clearly forbids women to have authority over men in church. In 2 Timothy 2:12 St Paul writes, “I do not permit women to teach men or have authority over them.” More liberal Christians think St Paul’s teaching was a product of his time and culture and that it can be dismissed. Conservative Anglo Catholics hold to this verse from St Paul, but they add to the argument the fact that the Eastern Orthodox and  Catholic churches do not allow women’s ordination and they believe the Church of England is part of this greater Catholic Church and therefore cannot take this step on it’s own. Liberals disregard this argument and say it doesn’t really matter what the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox think. The Church of England is  a Protestant Church and they look to the other churches in the Anglican Communion and other Protestant churches that have ordained women as bishops and say they are the other churches they should look to as partners.

Behind this clear disagreement is a more profound disagreement about the nature of the Christian faith itself. The conservatives believe the Church is founded by Jesus Christ on Divine Revelation and the truths of the faith cannot be changed or adapted because of pressures or trends in society. Indeed, the church, they believe, is there not to conform to the world, but to challenge the society in which it finds itself–even if that means they are unpopular and misunderstood.  Liberals believe the church and Christian beliefs are the result of certain societal and cultural conditions and therefore the church has a duty to adapt and change the message and the method in order to listen to and reach out to the society in which it lives.

The divisions in the Church of England are historical and deep. The Church is held together by a shared national loyalty and a sense of practicality in mission. There is no real doctrinal unity or unity of form of worship, but there is a shared sense of tradition, English customs and a willingness to tolerate one another and “muddle through” which keeps a tenuous truce in place.

Read More: The Real Rift in the Church of England

CofE – Church of Everybody?

What Would Rome Do?

  • SteveD

    The government is almost certainly not going to try to force Catholics to have women priests (though they may well try to force the hand of the CofE). Forcing the measure on other religious bodies would entail trying to force Muslims to have women Imams – believe me few in the government are sufficiently brave or principled.

  • Mike

    I get the Liberal, Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical bit but you lost me with the ‘Liberal Evangelicals and Liberal Anglo Catholics’. Please could you explain what exactly these two groups are. Incidentally there was a letter published in the (London) Times this week from a person who (presumably) belonged to the Church of England and argued that the Synod should be guided neither by the Bible nor by tradition but by what society expects!

    As for “The proceedings of the General Synod have to be approved by the British Members of Parliament who form the government of Her Majesty the Queen who is officially the head of the Church of England” can I just point out to your US readers that while the members of the government must be members of the Parliament (either of the Lords or the Commons but mainly the Commons) the two are not synonymous, so that the majority of the members of the Parliament are not members of the government. The Government is usually, but not always, formed from the party (or parties) which has an overall majority of seats in the House of Commons. The government consists of about 100 ministers of various rank while the House of Commons consists of 650 MPs and there are several hundred members of the House of Lords

  • http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com Alice C. Linsley

    The measure failed because the laity have more common sense than the clergy.

    • Jerry Woods

      I think you are right. The common people know that the priesthood is more than just another career choice; it’s not about economics and an equal opportunity to make money without being held back by a glass ceiling. It’s in another category altogether, so it has different criteria. The Anglicans in Africa and Asia understand; we affluent Westerners have the blind spot.

      • JoFro

        I wouldn’t say that! It only lost by 6 votes in House of Laity – which means quite a few in the laity were totally for women bishops. What the House of Laity did’nt get was a majority vote and so women will have to wait another few years – or if Parliament has its way, another few months.

        As for Anglicans in Africa – did you not hear? Swaziland has just made a woman an Anglican bishop! This, at least for the liberals in England, is an embarrassment

        • JoFro

          …that a woman in Africa has already reached the office of Bishop while, here in the modern West, the Church of England just defeated the measure

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          This comment sounds racist. You are implying that Africans are backwards and ignorant while we white rich people are advanced and enlightened.

  • http://www.azoic.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    I am confused. They voted to say women can’t be ordained ? ….or that they can be ordained but not raised to the episcopate?

    • flyingvic

      I think that the proposed legislation fell because there were those who were unhappy about the reduced provision of episcopal care for those unable in conscience to accept the priestly ministry of women. The drive of the “pro” lobby appears to some to have meant “join us or get out”; and this perceived lack of tolerance and charity has made sufficient numbers in the Synod say, “Go away and think again.”

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        Thanks for your input on this interesting affair!

  • Dixibehr

    Speaking as a former Episcopalian, I grieve for the many CofE laity and clergy who are confused and saddened by developments and trends therein. There is only ONE solution for their perplexities, and that is to come home to the Catholic Church, or at least the Orthodox Church.

  • Lynda

    Irenaeus, The vote was on ordaining women bishops; they already have women ordained to the “priesthood”. And the House of the Laity was just 6 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed. The other two Houses passed the measure with the required majority.

    • Will

      The C of E will ordain women as bishops. As you point out, they have women priests. If one can be a priest, it logically follows that one may be a bishop. All three houses passed the measure, and all but the Lay house passed it by a 2/3rds supermajority. They will overcome that in the next synod, unless the makeup of the C of E becomes radically more traditionally minded — which, with Anglicanorum Coetibus in effect, seems unlikely.

      The Catholic and Orthodox churches will not ordain women as bishops. They have correctly concluded that they may not ordain women to the priesthood. If one cannot be a priest, it follows that one cannot be a bishop.

      • savvy

        It’s a Bishop who ordains a priest, so those who disapprove of women priests can still have other options. Once the Bishop is a woman, no options are left.

  • Nicholas Hinde

    A former UK Prime Minister once said that he had 2 political principles: never cross the Catholic Church and never invade Afghanistan. On the wisdom of the latter I make no comment but it is sad that it is now Muslims, not Catholics, who frighten politicians.

    • shieldsheafson

      I believe this was Harold Macmillan: The Brigade of Guards; The National Union of Mineworkers; and, the Roman Catholic Church.

      • shieldsheafson

        Nowadays, it’s more likely to be: The Mullahs; the homosexuals; and, the Greens. They nearly always get what they want, irrespective of voters’ views.

  • veritas

    The Archbishop of Canterbury has made the comment that the vote against the ordination of women as bishops causes him a “deep personal sadness”, thus confirming what we all knew – he is a total heretic.
    When men put the trends and causes of secular society ahead of the clear voice of God – they are on a path to Hell, quite literally.

    • pagansister

      It is my understanding (and I might be wrong) that much of England are non-church attendees. It is possible that most of the citizens of that great country really don’t care about all this.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    …and the protestant churches will continue to disintegrate because they are no longer in communion with Peter…plain and simple.

    Someone (a practicing Catholic) recently made reference to me about “conservative” Catholics and “liberal” Catholics. I informed them there was no such thing. Either you accepted and believed ALL that the Catholic Church teaches or you do not. If you do not, you cannot call yourself a “Catholic in comunion with the Church.”

    • pagansister

      If what you say is actually true, Deacon Peitler, does that mean if some of the Catholic teachers I taught with for 10 years in a Catholic school were not ” in Communion with the Church” when they disagreed with some of it’s teachings? IMO, they were and are wonderful representatives of the Church. As is true of many Catholic schools, there was 1 nun who taught there, and the rest were lay teachers—all Catholic except me and one other teacher (pre-school). I taught Kindergarten.

      • Hegessipus

        Correct.
        Opinions may be nice but do not cause a change in doctrine or dogmatic teaching. Contemplate the true meaning of these words mean if they seem all ‘Dark Ages’ to you.

  • http://www.thecatholicbeat.com Gail Finke

    I am impressed at what a pithy and easy-to-follow summary of a complex group of factions this is, and how well you explained their approaches and what they believe. This is a big help to me, thanks!

  • Rick Mengelkamp, Jr.

    The Church was established by Jesus to teach the world His message. Therefore, the Church teaches society, not society teaches the Church! The church of England is wandering off of the correct path since it does not follow the successors of the Apostles…The Catholic and Orthodox Bishops.

  • http://www.hdnazarene.com Tim Stidham

    Many conservatives, who believe Christianity to be a revealed religion, based on the fully inspired Scriptures, support women in leadership on biblical grounds. We simply consider EVERY relevant passage, not just one. Christians were the first to elevate women. Paul himself wrote strongly about our equality before God. Whatever the Timothy and Corinthian passages are referring to, they don’t trump everything else the Scriptures say. Here are a few key passages for biblical conservatives who support female leaders…
    So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
    “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17, 18 NIV)
    Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. (Acts 21:8, 9 NIV)

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Indeed. Thank you for your contribution. The existence of good Scriptural arguments as well as theological arguments both for the ordination of women and against motivated me to search for a source of authority which was able to rightly interpret the Scriptures and to give a definitive answer. This lead me back to the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was able to examine the question, bring a global and historic perspective and a perspective not influenced unduly by local cultural trends and fads. Her authority structures were able to examine this important question from the largest perspective and give a solid answer and an answer which was also supported by the majority of Christians worldwide. That’s why I then became a Catholic.

      • http://www.hdnazarene.com Tim Stidham

        Thanks for posting my comments. I just wish your original post had acknowledged that Bible-believing conservatives have supported the move not on cultural grounds.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          Yours is an interesting point. From where do the Bible believing Christians get the idea that everyone may interpret the Bible on their own except from the surrounding culture?

  • http://www.hdnazarene.com Tim Stidham

    This passage implies mutually held appreciation for female servant-leaders between Paul and the Roman believers:
    Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Romans 16:3-7 NIV)

    • savvy

      We agree that women can be leaders. We disagree that they can be priests. Only Anglicans/Orthodox/Catholics ordain priests.

      The priesthood is founded on the personhood of Jesus Christ who was the ultimate High Priest whose supreme sacrifice is re-enacted at every mass through the transformation of bread and wine into His Body and Blood by ordained priests who act in the name and authority of The Lord. Thus only men can enter into the sacerdotal state and is not dependent on worldly sociological distinctions and fads for it’s essence.

  • Sue Sims

    While I agree with all your points, Fr Longenecker, I think there is another factor at work here, though I don’t know how important it is. It is fairly clear by now that, looking at the numbers of Anglo-Catholics who have taken advantage of the Holy Father’s offer of the Ordinariate, a far higher proportion of clergy than laity have made the jump.

    Why this is, one can’t be sure: my gut feeling, looking at my High Anglican friends, is that, while the clergy are motivated by anxiety about the source of authority, the modernising direction of Anglicanism and the obvious failure of the ‘branch theory’, the laity – for whom theological considerations are often less vital – are more concerned with their identity as Anglicans. My friends, whose beliefs in most cases are little different from my own (RC), nevertheless talk about ‘the Italian Mission’ and think of themselves as the inheritors of St Augustine of Canterbury.

    This, of course, means that the Houses of Clergy and Bishops have largely lost the men who would have fought against women in the episcopate, whereas the House of Laity still has a fair number who dislike the idea – or, even if they’re in favour personally, don’t want to see the C of E even further split, and want proper provision for the ‘antis’. They’re mostly ‘High’ or ‘Low’, as you suggest. But ultimately, the ‘Broads’ will win: this is a holding action rather than a huge victory.

  • http://www.hdnazarene.com Tim Stidham

    More passages not making distinctions between the important leadership contributions of women and men in the early church…
    Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10 NIV)
    Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. (Colossians 4:15 ESV)
    All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:14 ESV)
    Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. (Romans 16:15 ESV)
    I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2, 3 ESV)

    • Mark Ferris

      Tim,
      While I am sure that your knowledge of Latin, Greek and Aramaic are up to the task of studying the original texts along with the extensive writings of the past, I myself, find that I am weak in those areas and defer to the Doctors of the Church.

  • Mark Gladding

    As a rational liberal anglo- catholic evangelical North American Anglican ….isn’t it possible to believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit …. just perhaps She is leading the Church in a direction toward wholeness and inclusion of ALL people, in All roles, in All places; after all what does Baptism mean anyways? I’m just wondering.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Sure the Holy Spirit guides the church. Have you any suggestions as to how we know what is the Holy Spirit’s guidance and what is not?

    • pagansister

      Happy to see, Mark, that the Holy Spirit is female. Good call! :o)

      • pagansister

        OOPS! the above is directed to Mark Gladding. Missed that there was another Mark poster.

  • veritas

    Tim,
    You can quote as many verses as you like that show that the early Church had influential and strong women who St Paul loved and respected – but when you continue to ignore St Paul’s ban on women in teaching authority roles in the Church you are simply playing the Protestant game of: “I want to interpret the Bible according to my own fantasies.”

    Both St Paul and St Peter specifically stated that women were not to have authority leadership positions in the Church. The Catholic Church has consitently followed this for 2000 years.

    The Church of England, being now nothing more than a secular humanist social club, is simply following what society wants.

    • savvy

      The issue is not just leadership, but priesthood.

    • pagansister

      IF indeed, veritas, the Bible was still strictly interpreted, then there is the possibility that there would be legal slaves, women would be totally submissive to men (and I guess in some religions they still are) many would believe that child abuse is fine (the spare the rod and spoil the child bit) as well as other cruel practices.

      • savvy

        Pagansister,

        I appreciate your thoughts, but you need to understand the theology. Christian equality is not based on what we do, but what God has done. We find our value in Christ and not in jobs we do. We are already equal before God. There is nothing we have to do to prove it.

        The covenant relationship between Christ and the Church is expressed in Scripture by the “great analogy” of married love: Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is His Bride. This analogy protects the distinction between Christ and the Church as well as highlighting their unity. In Mulieris Dig­nitatem John Paul II called the Euch­arist “the Sacrament of the Bride­groom and the Bride,” the “sign” of which is clearest “when the sacramental ministry is performed by a man.” There is also a “comple­men­tarity” ordered to “communion” in the relationship between the priest and the rest of the baptized, for the priest is not only “in the Church,” but also “stands in relation to the Church.” The spousal love that was only an analogy in the Old Testament took “concrete historical expression” in the Incarnation when Christ became a man. Now sexual complemen­tarity is “sacramentally significant.”

        Priestess would be a different religion.

  • flyingvic

    veritas, if I remember correctly you once accused me of posting something that was “dripping with bile”. (If I have not got the phrase completely correct then I apologise.) I thought you were wrong then – and I think you are wrong now.

  • Jerry Woods

    I am a former Episcopalian now looking at the Catholic Church. What stands out to me in the discussion is that we tend to view this issue as though we were speaking only of equal economic opportunities for women and fairness in career advancement. In our affluence, we tend to view gender as though it is an interchangeable economic widget. The nature of the sacraments involves a blood sacrifice, not a monetary transaction. That very point makes a priest’s role unique. In virtually all other times and places but the modern West, males are associated with spilling blood in war, hunting, and sacrifice–death, while women and blood are associated with menses and childbirth–life. This situation holds in the Bible, also. From this perspective our gender roles aren’t interchangeable, as in job market descriptions, yet both are equally beautiful, important, and foundational. Maybe the role of blood is why Jesus welcomed, cherished, and elevated women among his closest followers, yet only spoke to men when he instituted the sacrifice of the Eucharist at the Last Supper?

    • savvy

      Yes, you have a point. The issue is people making arguments along political lines, about rights etc, do not understand this.

      Blood can stand for both life and death, judgement and mercy. These were safely mixed in Christ, making him the saviour for both men and women.

  • Lee

    The greatest leaders are the women who have raised children, held them, guided them and and brought them up to fear the Lord. Truly, women are in the position of leadership – in the domestic church and the Church worldwide. Praying for the day when there is unity among brothers and sisters in Christ -

  • Father Canu

    Do those who say that no role that a man can have ought to bar women include the role of husband? Those of us who are certain that Christ established for all times the structure of his one and only Church don’t need to debate such matters. He guides us through the true successors of the apostles united to the leader He chose and named the Rock.

  • veritas

    Again, what concerns me greatly is that many people on this topic are arguing from the viewpoint of what society wants or deems fair.

    We, as people of faith, are to follow God’s directions. He knows what is best and fair. It says in Scripture: “I want obedience not sacrifice (referring to the ritual sacrifices of the Old Covenant).” People today find that concept intollerable. To submit to God in obedience is unthinkable to most people now.

    I would also add that I strongly object to Pagansister calling corporal punishment of a child, such as a smack on the backside for deliberately defiant bad behavior, “child abuse”. To equate lovingly administered punishment from a parent with the appalling child abuse that is rampant in our socciety is ridiculous and dangerous.

    • savvy

      I find it strange that those who argue that others interpretations were subject to culture, what makes them think yours in not?

  • Pat

    One group (mine) was left out of your description. Conservatives Anglicans who believe the Bible allows for women’s ordination and that the prohibition is a cultural distortion of what the scriptures depict. Junia the female apostle alongside Paul, Phoebe described in the orginal text as minister — the same as Timothy although numerous translations translate the same work as servant for her. I could go on…

    The church in America originally ordained women for the wrong reason — cultural capitulation. Now many conservatives thanks to more accurate translations see that Christ restored women as equals.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for your comment. The question your comment begs is, “Who is to say that your interpretation of Scripture is the correct one?” Is it more correct because you have Biblical and linguistic scholars on your side? Those opposed to women’s ordination have their cadre of scholars. The reason I became a Catholic was not because the Catholic Church was opposed to women’s ordination, but because the Catholic Church offered a coherent and intelligible authority structure that could give a final answer.

    • savvy

      Some would argue that none of these examples, involve ordination or the priesthood. Christian equality is not based on what we do, but on what God has done. We find our value in Christ, not in jobs we hold.

      The political arguments are giving to Cesar, what belongs to God.

    • Theresa Mason

      Amen and thanks!

    • savvy

      The question is where these women sacrificial priests? It’s the cross that unites men and women, in the God-man Jesus Christ.

    • Frances

      All that the mention of “Junia” means is that Andronicus and (his wife?) Junia were important in the Jerusalem city-church, just as Prisca (or Priscilla) and Aquila (another husband-and-wife team) were “prominent” within the Roman (see: Romans 16:3) and Ephesian (see: 2 Tim 4:19) city-churches. This fact is hammered home by Paul’s comment “they were in Christ before me.”…meaning that they were members of the earliest Jerusalem city-church, and not that they were Apostles chosen by Christ during His earthly life.

      Note that “Junia” is not called a “fellow apostle”. What we know from the text is that this “Junia” is paired with “Andronicus,” who is listed before “her”. We are also told that Andronicus and “Junia” are St. Paul’s “relatives” and that they were Christians “before” St. Paul. The natural conclusion here is that “Junia” (if it is “Junia”) was Ancronicus’ wife, and they were “prominent among (or before) the apostles” in one of two senses: 1) Either they were regarded as a “husband and wife team” (with Andronicus being the primary figure as an evangelist; i.e., women were not permitted to preach publicly or have authority over a man). In this, they would have been no different than Aquila and his aristocratic Roman wife Priscilla, who are likewise always paired together, and mentioned in this same Epistle to the Romans only a few verses earlier (Romans 16:3), where they together are called Paul’s “co-workers”; and this by a Paul who does not permit women to preach; or, 2), “prominent among (or before) the Apostles” can mean that Andronicus and “Junia” were held in high esteem among the Twelve, just as Priscilla and Aquila were “prominent” among the disciples of Paul. This would make sense if they were “in Christ before [Paul],” since that would mean that they were early members of the Jerusalem church, and probably the Apostles’ first emissaries to the Jews of Rome, if not among the very Roman Jews who were converted on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:9-10, where Roman Jewish pilgrims are mentioned). Paul, of course, was a Roman citizen, and so it would make sense for his relative Andronicus and his wife Junia (if it is a woman) to be Roman citizens as well, and so residents of Rome. So, there is no “womyn-priest” here.

      That said, the issue is, as Father has stated, who has the authority to interpret Scripture according to the mind of Christ.

  • Theresa Mason

    I’m going to go find myself a woman priest right now before its too late!

  • Theresa Mason

    Show me one place in the gospels where Jesus States that women cant serve? Whoever is ordained should be one called by Him…regardless of gender.

    • savvy

      I understand your point of view, and I am sorry if you have been hurt by the church or her members. But, I do not think you understand what we mean by the priesthood.

    • savvy

      Jesus, said, this is my “body, given up for you, this is my blood poured out for you”. It’s HIS sacrifice that atones for sin. The priest stands in for the God-man Jesus Christ.

  • Theresa Mason

    I believe these Patriarchal denominations have ” lost their first love”. The Church is for the people. All people. They seem to think they have cornered the market on biblical obediance and piety…and are thus ” owed” the right to “lord it over others”. I speak from many painful and hurtful experiences.

  • Glenn Juday

    Those who presume to have discovered a truth (not just an attitude, but a genuine truth) that escaped all faithful Christians for nearly 2,000 years, and to have discovered this truth because of the new, modern, and “enlightened” conditions of the society in which they have been indoctrinated are asking us to participate in an act of mind-boggling arrogance and hubris. ALL other Christians in history were not only wrong, but stupid – they couldn’t see the scriptural “evidence” you use? And if not simply wrong and stupid, willfully EVIL, in that they have rejected Christian love?

    A truly staggering claim. And a claim with staggering implications. This claim represents a “smoking gun” that establishes the unreliability of the Christian faith, which demands absolutely all of us (including our bodies).

    If the vicious charge of bad faith “Patriarchal” motives for denying females a male priestly or episcopal “career option” is correct, then logically the entire Christian faith proposition must be rejected as no longer a sure guide to truth about the most important, and costly, things. Why not quit now, rather than seek the office of bishop, an office of social, and in some ways, material gain – essentially out of motives that will end in rejection of the whole institution anyway? The only course of action of genuine integrity is to leave the institution that cannot, according to this peculiar logic, be relied on to guide you in the most important matters of human relationships and relationship to the Divine. According to this worldview, Christ did leave his followers orphans, adrift and unsure if they are to become bigots of the future. Furthermore Christ lied when he said he would not abandon us.

    Following this train of thought all the way through to the inevitable conclusion is blasphemy, impure and straightforward. Speaking personally, I reject it. I invite other Christians to reject it as well.

    • savvy

      This is why I am now suspicious, of their suspicion. Those accusing others of ulterior motives, and themselves resorting to political arguments to make their case.

      Doctrinal decisions cannot be made on popularity.

    • Mark Ferris

      Need a ‘like’ button here!

    • JessicaD

      I see it rather differently. I would say that it is not the Christian faith, but dogma, that is demonstrably unreliable. And it is not ‘a truth that escaped all Christians for nearly 2,000 years’, that proponents of female ordination presume to, but rather an application of truth that has always been central to our faith.

      2,000 years is nothing, really, in the grand scheme of history. We do not know where we are in the over-arching Story, how many more pages are left. We do know that for most of the last 2,000 years, the dominant cultures in which Christianity flourished were patriarchal. That the Church has continued that subordination of women throughout that time may be sad, but is no surprise.

      To me, it’s a little funny to suggest that ‘liberal’ Christians are caving to societal influences when that appears to me to be precisely the case for much of male-dominated Church history. Clinging to subordination of women is not clinging to the faith, but clinging to a previous cultural prejudice. And it is subordination. ‘Separate but equal’ is as much a sham now as it was during segregation.

      • savvy

        Jessica,

        What do you want a priest for? Could it be that we are actually talking about different concepts?

        “‘Separate but equal’ is as much a sham now as it was during segregation.”

        The Church and Christ are distinct yet, united and equal The persons in the Trinity are distinct yet, equal and united.

        Comparing a sacrament to secular issues is comparing apples to oranges.

  • Glenn Juday

    Dear JessicaD,

    Dogma, as the term is used correctly, means principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. If the dogma is wrong, the dogmatic authority is proven to be unworthy of the assent of faith. An example would be the Vatican II document “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – Lumen Gentium. Christianity does, in fact, hang in the balance.

    Women do not have a subordinate standing to men. Women have full equality with men spiritually, and that very point was disproportionately established by early Christian teaching and witness. But women do not need to establish their worth or spiritual standing by performing male roles, such as self-sacrificial ordained priestly ministry, and in fact cannot do so. And further, any Christian who seeks “advancement” toward “equality” by using ordained ministry to metaphorically improve their resume is condemning him or herself. The ordained priestly office is one of service, and a form of service reserved for men in the form of spiritual fatherhood.

    However, it appears to me that the role being discussed and that many women are drawn to is one that any Christian can perform such as teaching the faith or providing lay leadership of a Christian group, charitable service, or inspirational sharing of the faith. In that case there never has been a question that women are called to such things, and their charisms must be respected. Still, such priesthood of the faithful is not ordained priesthood. Such a ministry does not confect the Body and Blood of Christ, confer forgiveness of sins, transfer grace in the Anointing of the Sick, and other actions that ordained priests accomplish. And as unfair as it might seem, we must note that such a ministry does not conceive, bear, and nurture new human life to populate Heaven with new souls.

    So the real question is whether women who had priestly words recited over them, who put on priestly clothes, who stand in front of assemblies of Christians in priestly postures, and who speak priestly terms are, in fact, conferring the graces of ordained priestly ministry. The answer the Church gives us, dogmatically, is no. These actions and symbols are without that effect, and have been appropriated by revolutionaries who reject the authority of the Church on these matters, and claim superior insight, knowledge, and virtue compared to all Christians of the past.

    Now, when conducting a revolution, such as establishing a new religion, it is important to own up to the full responsibility being assumed. It is more than a god-like act, it is an actual assumption of Divine prerogatives. If it is to be done, it should be done proudly, and with the assumption of full responsibility. Why pretend to cling to old, dead past? Because ordained priestly ministry cannot be accomplished within the Christian faith, those who are insisting it be attempted anyway have elevated their concept of sex role interchangeability to the foundational principle of a new religion. I do not presume to stop them.

    On the other hand, Christianity teaches differently, and does so definitively and dogmatically. The Christian vocations proper to men and women are not interchangeable, they are immutable and unique suited to each. The impossibility of the ordination of women to Holy Orders is testified to implicitly (which does not mean weakly) by the actions of Christ. It is testified to indirectly (again, not weakly) by St. Paul’s comments about not appointing women in a position of teaching authority in the Church (1 Timothy 2:12). This is not a secular reference – clearly mothers must teach their children and have authority over them – but has application in the Church. Teaching, governing, sanctifying are the charisms of episcopal office.

    So, there should be no confusion. Groups of Christians who either do not know better or who choose to stay outside the structures of the one Church established by Christ and empowered by Him to confer His grace through the sacraments, will have adherents who organize themselves in many different ways. In some, women may take different forms of leadership. Those groups who organize this way may even use terms such as “priest” or “bishop” (overseer), but their use of these terms, borrowed from their Christian ancestors, does not bring about the reality.

    • jdens

      I’m afraid we’re at an impasse. We’re no longer discussing female episcopacy but the validity of Christianity outside the Roman Catholic Church. When you assert that your institution is the one and only True Church and guardian of True Christianity, you put me, as an Episcopalian, in a corner. Frankly, arguing for the whole of the Anglican Christian tradition is a bit much for me in a blog comment. It’s perplexing, though, to see us described as presumptuous when we don’t claim to have exclusive rights to Truth, or to Christ. One thing that seems to keep coming up in these comments is a desire for authoritative, black and white answers. I will grant you, the Roman Catholic Church is good at handing those out. I live in a predominantly Roman Catholic country, and I have a deep respect for many of the Roman Catholic priests, monks, and lay people I have the good fortune to know here. The sad thing is, I don’t think some of the commenters here would even allow that these people are real ‘Catholics in communion with the Church’ because they do not necessarily agree with ALL the Roman church’s teachings. It’s a lot to agree with. And I just don’t see the validity of that emphasis. The Roman Catholic Church has so much to offer. So much beauty and mystery and depth…I feel you don’t do it justice when you focus on the ‘definitive and dogmatic’ side of it.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        Allow me to interject with the Catholic Church’s teachings on this subject. The Catechism teaches that those who are baptized and have faith in Christ are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ, but they are not in full communion with the Catholic faith. Therefore it is correct to refer to Episcopalians and other Protestants as ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ and to recognize and affirm all that is good and faithful and true in their individual Christian lives and traditions. However, it is also true that they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church so it is incorrect and confusing to refer to them in any way as “Catholic”. Anglicans are often fond of claiming the name “Catholic” and like to affirm that they are “Catholic”. A Catholic however, would never think that an Anglican was Catholic and would not use that term to refer to them.

  • jdens

    Thank you, Father Dwight. In case there was a misunderstanding, I referred to Roman Catholic priests in my comment, not Anglican ones. And because the word catholic is semantically broader than the Roman Catholic church, we do use it to refer to the Church Entire of which we believe we are a part. But you’re aware of that. I’m not so sure, however, that all Roman Catholics are in agreement with you about the exclusivity of the term. There is much more diversity of opinion among Roman Catholics than the institution, perhaps, would like to believe.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      We understand that the word ‘catholic’ might be used in a broader sense, but I have never met a Catholic-liberal or conservative of any stripe who would refer to a Protestant as a “Catholic”. Protestants might call themselves Catholic, but their self identification is inaccurate. Catholics also understand that there is a sense in which the Church as the Body of Christ is larger than the Catholic Church, but we don’t use ‘Catholic’ to refer to this wider church. Protestants do that. When we use the term ‘Catholic’ we mean ‘Roman Catholic’.

      • jdens

        Fair enough. I don’t know any Protestants who would refer to an Anglican as a ‘Catholic’ either. I certainly wouldn’t because it would be misunderstood as a shorthand for Roman Catholic.

        • savvy

          jdens,

          Yes, I think we should be discussing theology, and not politics or bragging about which church is better.

  • savvy
  • Glenn Juday

    If we consider (a) the ordination of women versus (b) the basis of Church authority and fidelity to it, they are not different subjects, they are the parts of the same subject. If episcopal ministry is a simply a job, a role, a function, then it is monstrous to categorically exclude women from it. If, on the other hand, ordination to the episcopate involves a spiritual (mysterious) conforming of the self to Christ in a way that the ordained becomes an alter Christus who acts in persona Christi as deliberately chosen by him, then it is monstrous to consider oppressing women by falsely implying that they should engage in such a radical denigration of the feminine and could actually achieve a denial of their essence.

    We all want to get along here and in the world, but on this subject somebody is right and somebody is wrong. And it is not stubborn humans who are provoking the issue. The clash comes about from the dual and complementary sexual nature of bodily human beings which is an inherent part of their nature as created by God, and from the necessity to confront and decide what God intended when he appeared in history and founded his Church.

    Of course it is a pedantic and useless exercise to pretend to be able to decide such basic truths of the faith by counting up all the virtue among Catholics versus other Christians. But nobody was suggesting that. Certainly most people shy away from a dialog that involves fundamental disagreement and conflicting, mutually exclusive views. But we are always confronted with the necessity of making a real, radical, and fundamental choice about our relationship to Jesus Christ. To believe otherwise is to deny His Divinity and the drama of his personal invitation to us to participate in growth into His nature and eternal life.

    • jdens

      So what is it about Jesus’ genitalia or y chromosome or ‘sexual nature’ that was essential to his sacrificial role? And how does this idea of pre-determined, strictly defined sexual nature mesh with the reality of the hermaphrodite, for example?

      On this issue, as on so many other issues, someone may be right and the other wrong, or both could be right and both could be wrong. I disagree with you about female ordination and probably a great many other things, but I am not so blind as to think my view of Truth, which is already narrow by necessity, cannot also be distorted.

      I don’t see the connection between debating the validity of your claims of an exclusive One True Church, and confronting ‘the necessity of making a real, radical, and fundamental choice about our relationship with Jesus Christ.’ Your wording seems to imply that anyone who hasn’t engaged with the Roman Catholic Church has not made that ‘real, radical, fundamental choice’ about Jesus. I am not persuaded in the least that they are one and the same thing.

      • Frances

        True inspired religion was essentially different from pagan religion because true inspired religion was ordered toward the mysterious and eternal Fatherhood of God (see Eph. 3:14-15), and thus had male priests to image this Divine Fatherhood, whereas pagan religion worshipped forces of the created universe (as if they were gods), and thus had priestly ministers who imaged the qualities of these created forces, which were seen as either male (a god) or female (a goddess). The true God of Israel could not be imaged as a female, i.e., a receptive nurturer of life, since He is the initiating Creator of all, and thus a clear Progenitor and Originator of life – a role held in human and created biology by men, not by women. To depict God or His priest in a female capacity is essentially to say that God is “receptive” and “incubative” rather than a Progenitor, and thus part of Creation, rather than its supernatural Originator. This is the deepest problem with a proposed female priesthood for Christianity.

        When God becomes Man, He makes everything about that Man revelatory, not only about God but about man. Thus that Man (Who is God) chooses water for baptism, oil for anointing of the sick, bread and wine for the Eucharist, and the Apostles for High Priests, definite men to take his place when He visibly exits; those and only those chosen material beings mediate the graces He wants mediated. We are not free to correct His choices. Thus a Tradition which is Divine in origin and Divine in being sustained by the Holy Spirit manifests the will of that Christ. Faith accepts that. Human perception and self-will do not respect that.

        Given this insistence on the material medium as being essential for the validity of sacramental grace and not faith in it alone, a Catholic may not hold to another understanding of the priesthood. In Protestantism the personal sincerity self-affirmed is the interior condition alone which validates, and then the outward sign is merely expressing this already existing spiritual reality believed in so that it is merely a political issue to get the institution to accept the believed-valid spiritual reality already existing.

        For Catholics the only valid spiritual reality is made present through the integrity of the sacramental signs which confer the interior reality. Any corruption of the sign (essential alteration of the matter, form, i.e., words and meaning, minister) invalidates the presence of the Reality.

        An article which may help: http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/a49.htm

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