What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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Recently a priest was elected bishop for The Anglican Church in North America whose wife is also ordained. For some this has nudged the sleeping 600 lb gorilla in the ACNA living room. Since our founding as a province we have existed in an uneasy truce, agreeing that no woman will be consecrated as bishop but leaving it up to each diocese if women will be ordained to the priesthood. There are those who see this as a secondary or even tertiary issue. But others, who see it intimately connected to the demise of the Episcopal Church (TEC), believe it touches upon core doctrines.

In 1974 the Episcopal Church ceased being a steward of the mysteries of God[1] and became an innovator. Their experiment changed nearly 2,000 years of Christian tradition by admitting women into the priesthood and by many measures the experiment was a failure. A domino effect ensued. First it severely damaged ecumenical talks with both the Roman and Orthodox Communions. This is counter to Jesus’ prayer for His Church to be one[2]. Second the priesthood, rather than being viewed as a divine calling, was now seen as a civil rights issue. Additionally the very same arguments for women’s ordination were used for non-celibate homosexuals to be ordained. Third, treating women’s issues and homosexual issues as moral equivalents opened the door to the Episcopal Church’s acceptance of homosexual marriage, contrary to our Lord’s definition of marriage.[3] Fourth the loss of catholic order led to a further loss of catholic faith that resulted in nearly 1,000 faithful exiting the Church each week![4] The snowball went from individuals to parishes to entire dioceses fleeing the heresies of Schori’s universalism and the Spongian rejection of the major tenants of the faith. Fifth, the feminization of the Church has led to an exodus of men. Recent polls reveal that nearly twice as many women as men attend church[5]. Not wanting to appear misogynistic, most men won’t overtly oppose women clerics, they will simply disappear. The list goes on but the real question is why this experiment has failed? The Church has seen God do new things in the past that advanced His kingdom but this innovation has only led to further damage and deeper divisions. Why?

Rebellion

The pattern of the Church that emerged as early as the first century was that she took counsel together when facing conflicts or establishing foundational doctrines. We can read of the Council of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts or the Seven Ecumenical Councils over the first few centuries of the Church. But the ordination of women did not evolve in this manner. This monumental decision was not made in consultation with other parts of Christ’s Body nor even with the permission of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. It was done in an act of rebellion. Three retired renegade bishops ordained eleven women to the priesthood and then presented them to the General Convention. This body, facing a gotcha moment rather than a move of the Spirit, decided that the ordinations were irregular but valid. It is no accident that this act of defiance happened in the height of the feminist movement. Rather than being a new work of God it was an invasion of the culture into the Church. Many believed that this action would grow the Church but just the opposite has happened. God did not bless the rebellion. As a compromise, bishops who did not agree with women’s ordination were given a conscience clause not to do so. Eventually however the conscience clause was removed and women’s ordination became mandatory for all bishops. Rebellions tend to squash freedom of conscience.

Iconoclasticism

During the Mass the priest represents the Church to Christ and Christ to the Church. The latter is known as ‘in persona Christi”[6] and is most evident during the anamnesis when he recites the very words of Christ, during the absolution and during the blessing. The chasuble that the celebrant wears represents the seamless robe of Christ for which the soldiers cast lots. The hard reality is that while God has no gender, Jesus does and a woman playing the role of Christ is as effective as the male members of Monte Python dressing up as women and speaking in a high pitch. It simply doesn’t work. The Book of the Revelation shows Christ as the Bridegroom and the Church as the Bride. While there are many and varied roles available to women in the Church it is both unnecessary and nonsensical for a woman to attempt to represent the Bridegroom. In maintaining the proper icon we proclaim the reality to which it points. Conversely in changing the icon to fit our demands we make it all about ourselves.

Inverted Headship

While men and women are equals ontologically, they have been given different roles by God. Some cite the verse that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, male of female as an argument for women having any role that a man may have in the Church.[7] But in context this verse is about salvation not ordination. While it is true that men and women are equal inheritors of grace, they are not interchangeable in their callings. We look to the Trinity for this truth. A proper confession of the Holy Trinity is that each Person is fully God and therefore equal.[8] And yet it is also clear that the Son submits to the Father and the Spirit points humanity to the Son. While being equals they play differing roles. This concept is called “economic subordination.”

As the Father takes headship in the Trinity, without diminution of either the Son or the Spirit, so a father is to take headship in his family and a spiritual father is to take headship in the Church. When St. Paul gives instructions about bishops and priests he has only men in mind. “An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife.”[9] There is no equivalent verse that addresses women.

Admittedly some of St. Paul’s admonitions are culturally driven, such as forbidding women to braid their hair and wear pearls.[10] In historical context this was more how prostitutes dressed and so the principle being put forward had to do with modesty and being careful for Christ’s reputation. But when St. Paul says that he does not allow women to have authority over men, he appeals beyond his culture to created order to make his case. He says that since it was Adam who was created first then men are to bear the leadership role.[11] St. Paul also made it clear that men, rather than lording over their wives, are to lead by laying down their lives for their wives as Christ did the Church.[12] I ask the rhetorical question in premarital counseling, “Wives are called to submit to their husbands and husbands are called to die for their wives….who has the harder job here?”

Some argue that women may serve as priests, and not confound the notion of headship, if they serve under a male priest. While this arrangement would be closer to biblical order it still misses the mark and not in an insignificant way. If the previous two millennia were correct and women cannot be priests, consider the consequences to the Church if she takes that role, even while serving under a male priest. When she is the celebrant at Eucharist are the bread and wine truly consecrated? When she offers absolution at a private confession or after the General Confession in the Mass are the people truly absolved of their sins? When she blesses are the people truly given God’s blessing or just her well wishes? Again, these are not insignificant considerations. If none of those things really mattered then there would be no need for the priesthood at all, neither male nor female.

Apostolic Recession

The priest has authority to administer the Sacraments through apostolic succession.[13] St. Paul gave careful instructions to St. Timothy concerning raising up bishops[14] and the early Church was very intentional in choosing the successors to the Apostles.[15] It is therefore noteworthy that all of the Apostles and all of their successors were men. Some argue that this was because of the prevailing culture and that times have changed. But consider two responses to that argument.

First the Scriptures are full of powerful women. There were famous wives like Sarah and brave sisters like Miriam who were not hesitant to speak truth to men. There were faithful women like Ruth and wise women like Ester. There were women judges and queens and prophetesses. It was to a woman that Christ first revealed Himself as raised from the dead and there is no more venerated human being in the history of the world than His mother. So if Christ wanted to make a woman an Apostle it would not have been beyond people’s ability to comprehend.

But second, when did Christ ever bend to the prevailing culture? He did what He did because He only performed the will of His Father. If it had been the will of the Father for female apostles then He would have called female apostles. But evidently it wasn’t so He didn’t.

Where the Episcopal Church was consistent was when it realized that there is no argument for a woman to be denied episcopal orders if she has been allowed priestly orders. And so in 1989 the first woman bishop was created and this was the beginning of the end of apostolic succession in TEC. Instead it entered apostolic recession. As sobering as it is to think of what does not transpire when a woman takes the role of a priest, it is doubly troubling to think of the ramifications of a woman invalidly acting as a bishop. Chief among the role of bishop is ordaining deacons and priests and consecrating fellow bishops. But if the bishop is a pretender what becomes of those who they have “ordained” and “consecrated?” More importantly what becomes of those whom they serve? The spiritual ramifications are chilling.

Apostolic succession, like the sacraments is not meant to be magical. As a priest I do not have the power or authority to consecrate anything I choose to become the Real Presence of Christ. I must have the correct substance of bread and wine. That is what Christ took and blessed and it is what I take and bless. To even consider alternatives is blasphemous.

And so it is with a bishop. When the first renegade bishops ordained those eleven women, even if they used the correct rites, they did not become priests. Just as I need the correct substance to consecrate the Eucharist, they needed the correct gender to ordain as priests. Even though he is a bishop, if he moves beyond the scope of the sacrament, he leaves behind the authority of the Church. Otherwise he could ordain a flock of Canadian snow geese and ask that they be admitted to the Church Pension Fund.

Conclusion

Anglicanism moves at a glacial speed and most of the time that is a very positive attribute. So while I realize that the matter of women’s ordination may not be settled in my lifetime, it is my hope that the Province will do everything possible to settle the matter. And it needs to be settled with certitude. Some have suggested that we embrace “two integrities” which in essence means that both sides are right. While sounding noble it is untenable for those who believe in a male only priesthood. For example it would be a violation of conscience for those who believe in the male only priesthood to receive from a woman celebrant and so it places us out of communion with one another. And as we learned in TEC to be silent and compliant only serves to propagate the innovation. Thus an up or down vote needs to happen eventually and then we will have to deal with the fallout. While we do not have many answers we can celebrate that the Head of the Church does and if we will be guided by His Word and Spirit, The Anglican Church in North America will have a bright future.

[1] I Corinthians 4:1

[2] John 17:21

[3] Matthew 19:5

[4] http://www.christianpost.com/news/episcopal-church-loses-50k-members-closes-69-parishes-147583/

[5] http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=14-01-026-f

[6] http://www.adoremus.org/0609Schall.html

[7] Galatians 3:28

[8] ref. Nicene Creed

[9] I Timothy 3:2

[10] I Timothy 2:9

[11] I Timothy 2:11-15

[12] Ephesians 5:25

[13] “Wherefore we must obey the priests of the Church who have succession from the Apostles, as we have shown, who, together with succession in the episcopate, have received the certain mark of truth according to the will of the Father; all others, however, are to be suspected, who separated themselves from the principal succession. Irenaeus d. 200

[14] I Timothy 3

[15] “Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men” Tertullian 160-225AD

 

2 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With This Picture?

  1. Agreed. I would only add that I have trouble with the words dual integrity. It seems to me double-minded, neither hot nor cold, and no integrity at all. I pray for a speedy vote by our bishops that preserves the order established by Christ.

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