Friday, June 23, 2006

women as clergy... do they contribute to the advance of progressive liberalism (revisionism)?

A discussion starter from Peter Toon

Most Anglicans, Lutherans,
Presbyterians and Methodists, who regard themselves as “orthodox” or
“biblical” or “evangelical” or all of these, seem to regard the
presence of women as ordained clergy as being in general a good thing.
In making this assessment they usually are thinking of the ability, the
graces and gifts, the charm and compassion of the women and their
dedication to the tasks in which they engage. No-one in a rightful mind
would doubt that most women clergy are very able and committed
ministers, often more gifted then their male counterparts.

if the assessment is based, not on the dedication and ability of the
women which are very real as we all know, but on the impact that women
in leadership and headship roles have upon church doctrine, worship and
discipline then the assessment will need to be modified and possibly

The reasons for making this suggestion may be stated in these preliminary terms:

The admittance of women as pastors of the flock raises problems about
the way the church is to read Scripture and to interpret it as “Word of
God” today. There is very clear teaching in the New Testament, which
asserts that a man is to be head of the family and also head of the
congregation of Christ’s flock. To have women in this position of
headship requires that the teaching of the N.T. be regarded as, at
least in some cases, culturally conditioned. If so, where does this
cultural conditioning begin and end? Any innovation today, which has no
specific sanction in Scripture, can be brought into the church by the
claim that where it, or something like it, is forbidden in Scripture
the whole passage needs to be interpreted by experts to show the amount
of cultural and societal conditioning present.

2. The presence
of a growing number of women as Ministers has led to the demand that
the received biblical language used for naming and addressing GOD be
modified so as to be in harmony with the presence of female clergy
speaking to God. (If men address God as Father, why cannot women – as
does the new Presiding Bishop of the ECUSA – address God as Mother!)
That is, to hear masculine terms for Deity from a female minister is
deemed odd and she should be able, it is said, to use feminine terms,
or at least, a mixture of names and descriptions in order to remove
perceived patriarchalism and sexism from “God-talk”. Here we may note
that the changing of Names may also mean the changing of identity and
thus the changing of doctrine concerning the Nature, Character and
Attributes of God and God’s relation to the church and world.

The acceptance of women as clergy arose in the 1970s in the main-line
denominations not because the churches had studied the Bible and they
had seen in its pages a failure by the contemporary churches to obey
what is required by the Lord Jesus and his apostles. No! It was very
much because of the feminist movement in western society with its call
for full rights, dignity and opportunities for women in all job
markets, including the churches. On the back of this powerful movement,
texts from the Bible and arguments from theology were put forward, but
they were essentially in support of what arose in secular culture and
rushed into the churches. Thus the presence of women as clergy stands
as a permanent sign of the commitment of the churches to justice and
human rights for women and as such it encourages other groups (e.g.,
LesBiGay activists) to base their claims for recognition on human
rights and dignity, with fulfillment therapeutically. It may be
suggested that the ordaining of women and their deployment has opened a
door wide through which others are entering to demand their full
rights, and the churches now do not know how to evaluate all these

Other suggestions could be offered but these three are sufficient for the beginning discussion.

the doctrine first used by the Church to explain to pagans why there
were no women priests in the churches, when there were women minister
at pagan temples, was that of God’s order for creation. God made man in
his own image; in the image of God created he male and female (Genesis
1 and taken up by the Lord Jesus). God’s order is that the man is first
in order and the woman second (equal in dignity but not in order). And
later the doctrine developed that as the Second Person of the Trinity
became Incarnate as a Man, then only men whom He calls can be His icon
when presiding at the Table of the Lord, where the Heavenly Banquet is
experienced, with the exalted Christ Jesus as Host.

The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)

From CaNN, via Father Nelson.


Clement Ng said...

Peter Toon wrote:

"Most Anglicans, Lutherans,
Presbyterians and Methodists, who regard themselves as “orthodox” or
“biblical” or “evangelical” or all of these, seem to regard the
presence of women as ordained clergy as being in general a good thing."

Eh? LCMS Lutherans do not ordain women. Neither do PCA and OPC Presybterians. These are not insignificant chuches.

Jody said...

One thing that gets missed in the denominations that experienced the transition to the ordination of women through a "rights" movement, is that liberalism and ordination of women are not intrinsically bound, they just happen to be so in the DNA of these institutions because it was the liberals of these institutions that pushed for it. For example, there are several smaller evangelical Protestant churches that ordain women and have done so since the 19th century (Free Methodists and Cumberland Presbyterians for example). Just from observation, it appears that most of the denominations that ordain women and have remined solid in doctrine are those that did so from evangelical or pneumatological (at least from their perspective) reasons, while those that have not primarily did so from a "rights" based perspective and seemed more interested in prooving a political point than furthering the Gospel. This is where I think the difference comes--even in the Anglican Communion, the ordination of Li Tim Oi was pursued out of evanglical and catholic reasoning (the need of people to hear the word and recieve the sacraments). By Contrast, the movement within ECUSA has been one animated by a spirit of rebellion (read the Devil) and those who associate the ordination of women with the current crisis are, I think, sensing that the same spirit motivates them... but I do not think that a spirit of rebellion motivates the ordination of women in all cases. Sorry for rambling... I'll post something more coherent soon.

Thorpus said...

Jody's got a point. I didn't think it was possible to find an ordained woman in the Episcopal church who was theologically orthodox, but then I came to the Albany diocese and they're all over the place. Now, their orthodoxy does have limits, or else they would not seek to be ordained. Sometimes this expresses itself in a tendancy to slide middle-ward on other theological issues. But they aren't left-wingers or even moderates, taken on the whole. The orthodoxy of the ordianed men, however, doesn't seem to be subject to the same kind of limitation or middle-ward tendancy.

Even after three years of presence in this diocese, I still find myself expecting ordained women naturally to be liberal, and doing a double-take when they're not.

I like Jody's distinction between the cultural trend of women's liberation and the possibly laudable theological reasons. But I don't find the theological reasons convincing, and the cultural trend is revolting. You just can't go wrong trying to be more catholic, trying more carefully and fully to obey the catholic Tradition.

Charlie said...

I think Peter Toon is essentially correct. Ordination of women did begin with Methodists but we should note that the Methodists were a schism from the Anglican Communion. Also, the Wesleyan emphasis on experience as a fourth leg on the Anglican commitment to Scripture, tradition and reason has led to all sorts of aberrations such as the 19th century holiness movement and the subsequent development of the pentecostal and charismatic movements, which are full of heterodoxy and sometimes even outright heresy.

The other comment is essentially correct that most conservative Evangelical denominations did not and do not ordain women because it is not taught in Scripture and it has never been part of church tradition until relatively recent times.

Toon's observation that this ordination of women brings confusion to the biblical roles of men and women in the church and the home is most insightful. His further point that liberals and feminists have used this as a occasion to attack the biblical theology of God in masculine language and imagery is on target as well.

However, my personal opinion is that Scripture is the final authority and not tradition. Where Scripture forbids that women should exercise authority in the church we should obey.

I might point out that church tradition has been unable to stand against feminist theology, as the current state of the Episcopal Church USA and other provinces within the Anglican Communion clearly show.