Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Bride of Christ

One of the topics at the recent ICCA was the question of the ordination of women in the Anglican church. It is a topic that largely unites Forward in Faith North America, whose tract on sacraments states:
The sacrament of Holy Orders … is administered to baptized men in whom the Church discerns a special vocation in three successive modes. One is first ordained a deacon, who represents Christ the servant of those in need and assists in public worship. Deacons may be ordained priests to represents Christ in preaching, celebrating, blessing and absolving in the Lord’s name. Priests may be ordained bishops, receiving in episcopal consecration the fullness of the priesthood of Christ with a calling to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church.
However, this is not a position shared by the ACNA, which is divided over women’s ordination — nor by TEC, ELCA and other mainline Protestant that entirely favor it.

The issue of women’s ordination was the subject of several talks at the ICCA, including a Wednesday afternoon keynote by Bp. Michael Nazir-Ali (CoE), a Tuesday lunchtime talk by Nazir-Ali and Abp. Mark Haverland (ACC), and the banquet talk by former ECUSA priest Alice Linsley.

Most (not all) Christians agree that Jesus called men as apostles and that the church had only male pastors for the first 1800+ years. Two of the arguments for changing that policy (to ordain women) are an issue of societal fairness, and the belief that Jesus limited his ministry to men because of the cultural conditions of the day (when Jewish society would not have respected women leaders). In response, Haverland said that Jesus (who worshiped with tax collectors and other sinners) didn’t seem to be constrained by Jewish culture.

All of the speakers noted the obstacle that this change posed to ecumenical cooperation with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, which reject women’s ordination. Of course, seeking to restore the unity of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church was a major goal of the ICCA and Anglo-Catholics more generally.

On Thursday, Bp. Keith Ackerman (until recently FiFNA president) was interviewed on Issues Etc. about the impact of the CoE ordaining its first six women bishops in the past year. He said that Church of England want to change the terminology of the Trinity from personhood of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to the functionalist view of Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

The terminology dates at least to the 17th century mathematician and theologian John Wallis (according to a 2008 book by Jason Vickers) and was picked up by John Keble in his 1833 sermon “National Apostasy” that launched the Oxford Movement. It was used as a gender-neutral Trinity by late 20th century Catholic liberals, and in 2008 the Vatican proclaimed it invalid for use in baptism.

Ackerman (like Haverland and Linsley the week before) also noted that ordaining women to the priesthood — by which priests offer the sacrifice in Christ’s stead — does violence to the metaphor of the church as the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25, 27; Mark 2:19-20).

Still, for Anglo-Catholics there remains the question of how to affirmatively integrate women into the church’s ministries. Haverland argued against “clericalism” — the view that church ministries are reserved for ordained ministry. Nasir-Ali speculated about the creation of orders for women that include evangelism and intercession. Nazir-Ali also argued that women should be ordained vocational deacons (as some Anglo-Catholic ACNA dioceses and parishes do — but the Continuing churches do not). He argued there were women deacons present in the early Church, and that the Orthodox church had women deacons until the 11th century.

Ackerman noted that the CoE change is a direct consequence of being a state church and having its policies changed through the political process. While it is only one of the 39 provinces of the Anglican Communion — and most provinces do not ordain women priests or bishops— the COE’s historic role and the See of Canterbury mean that it retains an outside role as a voice of Anglicanism in the communion and the world.

Here perhaps is a silver lining for Continuing Anglicans in the US. In the UK, the polity and governance of the CoE are subject to a vote of the parliament and under the heavy influence of the prime minister. In the US, while we lost our buildings and had to start over, we have the option of choosing our own faith and doctrines under the freedom of association guaranteed by the 1st Amendment. The Tractarians of 1833 were right to fight against state control of the church, and it is a lesson that American Christians must remember in the 21st century.

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