Edited last paragraph because I didn't realise women priests were already allowed by the CoE. Terms like bishops and priests confuse us reformed folk!
A year or so ago I was having a discussion with a friend about girls and I passed on a particular pearl of wisdom (not my own): “Sympathy not solutions.” To my concern the expression on my friend’s face furrowed into a confused frown so I expanded my explanation saying that when a woman comes to you with a problem unless they specifically ask for help all they want is sympathy whereas for men we expect and give solutions. I could see the cogs turning in his mind as he assimilated this information before with a great cry of frustration he said: “But that’s not logical!” My reply was a wry laugh. The point of my hopefully amusing anecdote is that men and women are different. It may seem a pretty obvious observation, akin to the observation of Newton that apples fall to the ground, but it is a truth that I feel is often forgotten. For instance, I bet some people reading this will immediately assume that by different I meant ‘inferior’ or that my story somehow is meant to reflect badly on women (when frankly it says more about men’s inability to cope with anyone more emotionally complex than a teaspoon). The reason I mention this is because of the recent decision by the Church of England not to allow women ministers, well, it was more that not enough people agreed that they should allow them. In particular I write because of the reaction I observed on Facebook to this decision.
The comments made by my non-Christian friends did not bother me too much for this is a question of Scripture and theology and the unspiritual man cannot understand the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2 v 14). But it was the reaction of my Christian friends that saddened me for many were expressing disappointment that such a decision had been made. So I write this letter because the love of Christ compels me to and because I know we all share a desire to love God with all our heart, soul and mind; that we want to obey him in every aspect of our life because as Jesus said: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14v15) and that we hold Scripture to be the Word of God, inspired and our final authority on all matters of religion.
As Christians then we should be affirming God’s design for his creation not rejecting it. And when God made man and woman, when Christ spoke and humanity came into existence then he made man and woman different: biologically, psychologically and emotionally distinct. And because he made us both in the image of God then he made us equal in worth, for we both reflect the character of God! Make no mistake, if at any point I give the impression that women are not equal with men then call me out as the heretic I would be.
In the matter of women ministers it is required by God that we submit, not to our will, or the will of the world, but to his will as set down in the Bible. This then is not the Benjamin Mildred view on woman ministers or the Old Victorian view but what I believe is the faithful interpretation of Scripture and I would invite you to test me on this. The starting point for this debate is Paul’s command in Timothy:
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” (1 Timothy 2 v 12 – 14)
Unless words have somehow lost their meaning that this means that a woman cannot be a minister, that is hold a position of spiritual teaching and authority over a man. Now, the common objection to actually obeying what Paul, writing as an apostle with all the authority of God behind him and inspired by the Holy Spirit, commands here is that it was for the culture of the time and that culture is now different so we no longer follow the command.
My first response to this argument would be: and what Scripture is this based on? What Bible passage gives us the reason to assume this to be true? And even if I got an answer back then I would point out that Paul roots and grounds his argument in creation not culture. So we ask ourselves: has creation changed since Paul’s time? I cannot see any other answer than no, creation hasn’t changed. In which case, logic dictates that this command is not just for the culture that Paul was writing to but a command for all time while creation still exists and the design of God still stands. As Paul notes, in creation God grants different roles to men and women, men were created to lead in headship (this is why Adam was formed first) and women to be submissive under headship. Yet, and this must be emphasised, it is a relationship of equals and a relation based on love! In the same way that Jesus submits to the Father yet is equal to him so human headship works (for fuller explanation see here and here). As men are women are created different so we have different God-given roles to fulfil.
As Christians then our response should be to delight in this view, to rejoice that men and women are different in role but equal in worth for this is how God intended it to be. It is not a question of ability, or equality at all; worth is not found in a career or role in the church but in our God given image. The view that women should not be ministers does not demean women but rather exalts God’s design for them. And yes, because of the sinful nature of our hearts we rebel against this. As a man, the temptation is to have a headship of dominion rather than based on love and as a woman it is the temptation to supplant their role. Hence we find ourselves in a culture where men are encouraged to be feminine and women are encouraged to be masculine and the church actually has to hold a vote on this issue!
Please, instead of being disappointed in the decision of the Church of England rejoice that they have not slipped further into error and pray that they rescind the decision about female priests. Don’t let the spirit of the age infect your thinking, to be equal one does not have to make everyone identical. After all, biblically speaking, what could be more sexist, more demeaning, than asking a woman to take on a role God did not create her to take on?
Grace and peace be with you,