The Church of England, Women Bishops, NT Wright & Complementarians

Update: For those who would like to join the conversation elsewhere, the article has been reposted at Internet Monk and good discussion is taking place there.

I know I am a little late to the game (as I’ve been both busy and ill) but a week ago today, the Church of England voted to not allow women to function in the role of bishop within their church setting. Allowing women vicars (pastors) is ok. Women bishops, not so much. At least not yet, they say.

In response to the voted decision, famed Anglican theologian and former Anglican bishop, Tom Wright, shared some of his thoughts, which you can read in full here. Wright is in favour of allowing women bishops. But, suffice it to say, he said this is nothing about ‘progress’ in the 21st century. He is convinced it is about getting back to the Bible and one specific and important event to which the Bible testifies – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Wright articulates it this way:

All Christian ministry begins with the announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead…Part of the point of the new creation launched at Easter was the transformation of roles and vocations: from Jews-only to worldwide, from monoglot to multilingual (think of Pentecost), and from male-only leadership to male and female together.

Of course, there was some backlash from a few complementarian evangelicals, which would argue against women in leadership (this is in contradistinction to egalitarians who would allow for women in leadership, the view to which I personally hold). In particular, we have Denny Burk’s thoughts here and Doug Wilson’s thoughts times two, here and here. And I was interested to read Gerald Bray’s thoughts as a Facebook comment to Justin Taylor.

What is interesting to note is that most of these complementarian pastors and theologians have missed the main point of Tom Wright’s article. Yes, he does make a side comment about 1 Timothy 2 (the ever-debated passage). He also notes 3 important women in Scripture: Mary Magdalene (the first to see the risen Christ), Junia (most likely a woman apostle mentioned in Rom 16:7) and Phoebe (a leading minister in Cenchreae who read Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, Rom 16:1). But how much can you say in an article of about 850 words?

But that’s just it, 1 Timothy 2, or Mary Magdalene, Junia and Phoebe, were not his major point. Yet so many, like Denny Burk and Doug Wilson, have got caught up in these side projects. They have failed to engage with the most central aspect of the Christian faith, the one event that changed the history of humankind (for both men and women) – the resurrection of Jesus.

Read it again:

All Christian ministry begins with the announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead…Part of the point of the new creation launched at Easter was the transformation of roles and vocations: from Jews-only to worldwide, from monoglot to multilingual (think of Pentecost), and from male-only leadership to male and female together.

Are you catching his drift?!

When Christ came out of the grave, he began a new creation, one that was set in place to restore us back to God’s original intention for his creation – the intention of which God gave both male and female in the beginning (see Gen 1:26-28). They were both given the exact same mandate, commission.

This is why Paul would state:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Now I know what argument usually arises next – Yes, but this passage is only about our salvation in Christ. We are all one in Christ in salvation. But we do not all have the same roles in the church.

Maybe something along those lines.

Well, yes, I agree we don’t all have the same roles. Some have been appointed teachers, some shepherds, some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some leaders, some have gifts of healings, some function well in serving and hospitality, etc.

But no gift, no ministry-serving gift, is inherently gender-oriented. Still, even more, we forget that if anything is soteriological (theology of salvation), you better believe it affects the rest of our life in God, including our ecclesiology (theology of church). Our salvation has given us a new ecclesiology, eschatology, Christology, pneumatology, and so on.

Gordon Fee said it brilliantly:

It has often been argued against this point of view [specifically the old distinctions between male and female being broken down in Christ] that [Galatians 3:26-29] is a soteriological text, having to do with people from all of these categories coming to Christ on the equal ground of faith. So it is, but to divorce soteriology from ecclesiology in Paul is theologically disastrous. Salvation in Paul’s view has not to do with God’s populating heaven with countless individuals, but with creating a people for his name through Christ and the Spirit…Thus, the present text is ecclesiological by the very fact that it is soteriological. (Listening to the Spirit in the Text)

And, imagine this. No one would ever argue that only Jews can be leaders, not Gentiles. No one would ever argue that only the free can be leaders, not slaves (slaves still were able to fellowship with the body in those days). Then why in the world would we argue that only men can be leaders?

When Christ stepped out of that grave on that first Easter morning, something happened. New creation broke into life here and now. It obliterated every social structure. It doesn’t mean that there still aren’t Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slave and free, rich and poor, etc. It simply means that none of that has any consequence whatsoever on the calling and gifting of God. None whatsoever!

What about 1 Timothy 2:8-15, then?

Well, as with Wright, I don’t have the in depth space here to look at some things. But suffice it to say that there are a few varying approaches to those well-known words to Timothy. Not to mention that many overlook a) the dress code of vs9 (if the passage is saying plainly what some suggest it is, why forget vs9’s plain statement?), b) the very obscure words of vs15 (thus, maybe 1 Tim 2:11-14 isn’t as clear as we first thought), and c) the socio-historical situation of Ephesus where Timothy was situated, a place where one of the seven ancient wonders of the world was housed, the temple to the goddess, Artemis. He’s probably trying to correct some wrong doctrine/theology of such a city where Artemis worship and theology had possibly intermingled with Christian worship and theology, rather than forbid women to be in leadership for the next couple thousand years.

You see. Some important things to work through here.

Still, even more, are we really going to forget to centre our theology in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? I know Gerald Bray somewhat mocked the idea of tying our theology into the centrality of the resurrection. But that’s just it – it really did change everything, even the social roles so respected amongst Jewish people.

In the end, I would encourage some of these complementarians to go back and deal with the weightier things of Wright’s words. But, more importantly, laying Wright aside, I’d encourage them to rethink just what it meant for Jesus Christ to walk out of the grave and bring new creation into the present, the here and now. What does this actually mean for the social structures of our present world?

I believe that all-important apostle got it right when he penned these words to the church in Galatia: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

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32 thoughts on “The Church of England, Women Bishops, NT Wright & Complementarians

  1. Pingback: On the Ordination of Women | This Scroll

  2. The quote in Gal. 3: 28, quite literally has nothing to do with the who of Christian ministry! It is about the Justified Believer In Christ! In the Family of God, and not a servant under the Law.

    And old Tom Wright simply has it wrong! But, what else is new?

      • And btw, Fee is simply dead wrong here “exegetically” (the Text of Gal. 3: 28)! Paul’s statement about the redeemed being Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise, (Gal. 3:29), is the redemptive theological issue, which again includes the justified believer as a son or heir in the family of God, and not a servant under the law.

      • Robert –

        The effects of our salvation in Christ is going to affect how the ekklesia is to be formed. What was happening in the beginning? What is it like in the age to come? The ekklesia is called to live as if the age to come has already come, and it has in Christ and the new creation.

        There are plenty of women that functioned as prophetesses (no light thing), teachers, leaders, serve alongside (not under) Paul, possible apostles. Why was Priscilla normally mentioned before her husband? Maybe it’s because her ministry was recognised as of a stronger measure. What of Deborah? What of Huldah? What of Phoebe, Nympha, Euodia & Syntyche, Junia? I think it is a poor argument to say that it wasn’t the norm for women to lead, but God decided to use them in his grace. Almost like God couldn’t find a suitable man, so he chose second best. God chooses whom he chooses, whether they are male or female.

      • Scott: No one questions women in spiritual ministry even in Paul’s time, but the “presbytery” is quite another issue! Noting 1 Timothy 2 & 3 / see too chapter 5! This was simply a non-issue in the time of the Apostolic Church! As Christ called male Apostles! Sure perhaps some women shared in the spirit of the Apostles Doctrine/teaching (as Paul notes of Phebe, Romans 16:1-2, and other women) but they were simply not “presbyters”! THIS is a critical mistake, as we can see with Paul’s argument, in 1 Cor. 11: 2-16, to press women into the “creational” equality with men! (Gen. 3:16-17…comparing here, 1 Tim. 2: 11-15).

      • “THIS is a critical mistake, as we can see with Paul’s argument, in 1 Cor. 11: 2-16, to press women into the “creational” equality with men!”

        The critical mistake is made by those who won’t press the church into the New Creation equality that is, and is in, Christ, the New (Hu)man.

      • Btw, I am perhaps one of the oldest on this blog? I can well remember in the Dublin and Ireland of my youth (1950’s), women wearing hats and veils to church, of course I was raised Roman Catholic. But too in my greatgrams PB (Plymouth Brethren meetings), the women were veiled. Yes, these were the so-called good old days! And boy, did the Irish women rule in their homes in those days! They were treated with great respect & love, at least in my Irish family! And you better believe the kitchen was their domain! And did they know their faith? Just a bit! 😉 Of course this was the time of a Judeo-Christian ethic! Right was right, and surely wrong was wrong! What a bit of heaven, as I remember! 🙂

      • So in the life of the New Creation (on this earth), will male and female be shallowed-up? Not hardly, but indeed they/we will have the essence of GOD’s equality and the salvation of Christ! “Children of the resurrection”, also “children of the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” “And I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows be he who receives it.” (Rev. 2: 17) Btw, here salvation is very individual, but most denfinitely from the Lord! We cannot forget the eschatological here! (Rom. 8: 16-23, etc.)

  3. “THIS is a critical mistake, as we can see with Paul’s argument, in 1 Cor. 11: 2-16, to press women into the “creational” equality with men! (Gen. 3:16-17…comparing here, 1 Tim. 2: 11-15).”

    Are you saying that Genesis 3:16-17 is God’s design going forward rather than a result of the fall?

  4. Hi Scott,
    I’m quite late in reading it, I know, but many thanks for this thoughtful piece. It’s been very helpful for me in my reflections on Tom Wright’s previous piece on the ministry of women (http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Women_Service_Church.htm). Also, if I may say so as an Anglican priest, I appreciate such robust Scriptural considerations of this subject as yours, because I sometimes get weary of the implication that ordained women are subverting biblical tradition, rather than belonging to it. So thanks twice. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Exegetical Confustication | Blog & Mablog

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