These are exciting times for the Church of England. The appointment of Justin Welby to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury has been met with considerable enthusiasm across the Church. There is a desire to reflect his optimistic vision for the relevance of the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Before then, we face a significant matter to be settled in the form of Women Bishops. The nation is watching the decision which is taken by General Synod this week.
Just two weeks ago, those of us in favour of women being allowed to become Bishops launched a website which helps ordinary church members to register their support for a YES vote on this measure. Since then over 2,000 people have used our website to get in touch with their synod representatives to urge them to support the proposals this week. Many at the grass roots of the church have never been asked their views in this kind of a way and they have shown an overwhelming support for a YES vote.
The theological argument is strong
Most members of the Church of England are now thoroughly convinced of the firm biblical basis for the ordination of women as bishops. Whilst passages such as 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 are sometimes quoted to justify the restriction of women’s ministry, the overall context of both these texts and the weight of the New Testament suggests quite the reverse.
The commissioning of Mary Magdalene and the other women to be the first apostles on the very first day of the new creation is hugely significant here pointing to the full emancipation of women and their gifts that now exists under the new covenant (Matthew 28, Luke 24, John 20; Romans 16.2,7; Galatians 3.28).
Twenty years of women’s ministry as priests has brought enormous blessing to both the church and wider society. Those of us who have had the privilege to serve in clergy teams containing both genders can testify to the power that is released when men and women are allowed to minister with complete equality. This is because the full image of God, in which both male and female were created, is being displayed so much more fully in our worship and corporate church life.
“I have argued strongly and scripturally for the propriety of ordaining women to each order of ministry; my colours have been nailed to that mast for a long time.” The Rt Rev N.T. Wright
It’s the will of the Church
Surveys and opinion polls have consistently shown 75-85% support for women bishops within the Church of England, and as this legislation passed through the dioceses 42 of the 44 dioceses voted for the measure, with around 75% of total votes cast in favour of the legislation. Members of the Church of England have been patient with the slow process towards the passing of this change but any further delay will be damaging to their faith in its structures of rule and governance.
Much of the debate over the legislation has surrounded how the Church treats those are opponents of women bishops. But the proposed amendments offer a legally-binding protection for those who oppose Women bishops without jeopardising the overall credibility of the measure. It is vital to recognise that women bishops will simply not be full bishops if the legislation establishes permanent ‘women free zones’ within the church.
“As is widely known, I am committed to and believe in the ordination of women as bishops. I hold these views as a result of careful studies of the scriptures, and examination of the tradition an ways in which the Church globally has grown into new forms of ministry over the two thousand years of its existence. They are not views gained simply from a pragmatic following of society around us, but are ones held in all conscience and with deep commitment.” The Rt. Rev Justin Welby
The vital nature of the vote this week
The Yes 2 Women Bishops campaign started from the grass roots of the church via conversations on social media sites. The campaign started without fanfare or publicity, with no mailing lists of supporters, no organisation, no network of supportive churches and no funds.
Members of General Synod, whatever their personal viewpoints, should recognise that now is the time for this legislation to be passed. The task before Synod now is to decide whether to proceed with the only credible option available, or to throw it away and start again from scratch.
“The earliest Christian generations reserved the Latin and Greek words for ‘priest’ to refer to bishops, because they saw bishops as the human source and focus for this ministry of reminding the Church of what it is. The idea that there is a class of presbyters (or indeed deacons) who cannot be bishops is an odd one in this context, and one that is hard to rationalise exclusively on biblical or patristic grounds.” The Most Rev Rowan Williams
- Website: Yes 2 Women Bishops
Rev. Stephen Kuhrt is Vicar of Christ Church, New Malden and Chair of Fulcrum.