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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A bad argument for women bishops

After the Church of England's General Synod voted to in favour of women bishops I was reading The Independent newspaper, and there was a opinion column on the issue. Its author was not hostile to the Church of England and was very pleased that the Church had finally agreed to have women in its "top posts." However, her reasoning struck me as poor. It is very important for the Church to have women bishops, she said, because it needs to reflect the values of the society round about it.

On TV, after the news came out, various folk were being asked what they thought about the decision, and the sentiment was much the same — we're pleased because it brings the church more up to date. (Or as one person put it, "It's amazing! Next thing you know we'll land people on the moon!")

But is it the responsibility of the Church to reflect the values of the society round about it? Hardly! The NT ekklesia were often known for doing precisely the opposite. Not for the sake of being bloody minded, but for the sake of being true to the gospel.

Don't get me wrong. I support the idea of women bishops. My point is simply this:
for a Christian, the case for women bishops has to be made on grounds internal to the theo-logic of the Church.
In this instance the matter was especially tricky because there is a universal historical Christian tradition of restricting the episcopate to men. And one cannot simply set that aside as if it counted for nothing! A tradition that old and that universal would need to be taken very seriously indeed. One would need to show that the theological underpinning for a male-only episcopate was shaky and that the theological case for including women was strong. One would need to show that a restriction of the episcopacy to men is not consistent with ancient and central Christian notions.

That is why I am not dismayed at how long it has taken the Church to make this decision. The pressure is on all the time to CHANGE NOW! CHANGE FAST! While such quick change is all but required in our Speedy Gonzales culture, it is also likely to land you in a mess. Wisdom, for the most part, does not rush.

I am very pleased about the decision — it was, in my view, the theologically right one. (I appreciate that many will disagree.) But we must never seek to primarily justify it on the basis that it makes us fit in better with society at large. Such a consideration is, at best, secondary. The gospel must always call the shots.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Robin,

Just out of curiosity, are there any Christian universalists who do not:

A. accept female priests/bishops
B. accept gay marriage
C. accept the morality of homosexuality

Robin Parry said...

Anonymous

Of course. Lots. The issues are not directly related, so one could be a universalist and take radically different positions on all those issues.

Anonymous said...

Robin,

You, Marilyn Adams, and Heath Bradley come to my mind as Christian universalists who support one or more of these issues. Do any specific names, who would not support any of these particular issues, come to your mind?

Robin Parry said...

I don't actually know many live Christian universalists to talk to. So I don't know exactly who thinks what on these issues because they don't tend to come up in conversation.

I know some of the folk on the EU forum stand on different sides of the gay issue. Some are very conservative and others are not (on this issue). And, of course, all Christian universalists until recently would have been traditional on homosexuality. In this they are the same as everyone else. As I said, the issues are distinct and linking them is not going to get you far. The same reasons that make many non-universalist Christians re-evaluate the gay issue are making some universalist Christians do the same.

Same with women's ordination. Most of those who support it and those who oppose it are not universalists. But being a universalist would not automatically make you pro-women's ordination. Why would it? I doubt Origen or Gregory of Nyssa would have had any time for the suggestion that women could be priests.

I have supported women in leadership ever since I have been a Christian—back in my fundamentalist days and long before I ever dreamed that universalism could be true.

Anonymous said...

Robin,

Unfortunately, I think many, particularly the more conservative-minded Christians, are going to see all of these issues as a package deal. When they see several of the 'big guns' in the Christian universalist community endorsing one, two, or three of the other issues (A,B,C), they are not likely to give universalism a fair hearing. Instead, they will be more likely to reject it out of hand seeing that it appears to be part and parcel of a more liberal, and hence unorthodox theological model. Thoughts?

Avigdor said...

I am a conservative gay Messianic Jew who believes in universal salvation. These issues can be so polarising and I have studied the six or seven 'clobber passages' on homosexuality from every conceivable angle. We would do well to take the cultural context far more seriously than we have done - it has nothing to do with being liberal. The Bible is a Jewish book with a Semitic background and all too often, we give the impression that the King James Version itself is the inspired word of G-d. It is a translation of a translation of a translation with a cultural and theological bias - as is the case with all translations, ancient and modern. Robin, I really appreciate you bringing these issues to a wider audience.

Shabbat Shalom - Avigdor Kuhn

Robin Parry said...

Anonymous

Well, you may be right that some will lump them all together. And if they do they are simply being sloppy in their thinking. What else can one do other than point out that the issues are quite distinct. If people still insist on not thinking clearly one cannot compel them.

My experience is that people tend t be able to separate the issues and to consider universalism on its own terms. However, that will not be the case for everyone.

Robin

Anonymous said...

I think the confusion generally sets in when the Church no longer understand WHY it believes what it believes.

Paul gives us a precedent as to why the world sometimes seems 'ahead' of the Church on 'the issues':

"For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness."

We could also look to Christ's assertion that the Samaritans worshipped what they did not know and the Jews what they did. As I read it, this wasn't a blanket praise or condemnation of either, simply an acknowledgement that whether we know it or not, all assertions concerning right and wrong flow from God's character.

The problem with appealing to 'the times' as an authority is that, unlike Christ's Church, they'll abandon human dignity as soon as it becomes inconvenient!

Best,

David Walton

Anonymous said...

Anonymous

There are many Christian Universalists who do not accept female priests and especially morality of homosexuality. Especially those belonging to traditional Christian churches like eastern orthodox universalists and roman catholic (hopeful) unviersalists or many Lutheran [hopeful] universalists in Slovakia and Serbia. Among the theologians too - I can look, but the person who comes into my mind is Hilarion Alfeyev :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous

There are many Christian Universalists who do not accept female priests and especially morality of homosexuality. Especially those belonging to traditional Christian churches like eastern orthodox universalists and roman catholic (hopeful) unviersalists or many Lutheran [hopeful] universalists in Slovakia and Serbia. Among the theologians too - I can look, but the person who comes into my mind is Hilarion Alfeyev :)