Thursday, 22 November 2012

After The Women Bishops Vote- The First Evangelist

After this week's General Synod vote, time to turn to one thing that I have noticed which concerns me.

About 20 years ago, I was in Mensa's Politics Special Interest Group, and the discussion turned to the ordination of women as presbyters. One lady commented that there were 4 women identified in the New Testament as priests- Phoebe, Priscilla, Lydia and Chloe. Case closed.

What struck me wasn't just the "oh look- tbe Bible mentions a woman, ergo she must be a priest" approach, it was the subtle message about the Apostle Paul. He came across as someone a bit grand- rather than a man willing to get his hands dirty and work manually (Acts 18:3) (keep that page open). A man who surely could not associate with anyone who wasn't wearing a dog collar and didn't have Rev in front of their name.

A bit of the attitude that one former vicar of mine described as "the minister ministers and the congregation congregates". An approach he disagreed with.

One argument I heard for women being ordained to the presbyterate is that there are not enough male presbyters to carry the load. Can I just suggest that if more people in dog collars is the answer, then maybe we're asking the wrong question!

In the debate about the pros and cons of ordaining women to the presbyterate, it often came across as if Rev in a dog collar saying words over bread and wine was the be-all and end-all of Christian ministry.

When we hear that it is only by allowing women to be consecrated to the episcopate that we are affirming women's ministry, or that women will only feel a valued part of the Church if we have women bishops, then take a step back and ask what the underlying assumption is..

Is it that the only ministry that counts is that of the mitre and crozier? That lay ministry is something not to be affirmed, or - at best - is a second-rate ministry? What message is being said about ministry in general? With all Bishop this, Vicar that, what seemed to be lost in all the heat generated was any idea the lay ministry matters. Singificant that it was the House of Laity that the draft Measure fell in - just a reminder that the Church isn't all about Bishops and Clergy...

We heard a lot about how God has given women gifts. Yes, and the New Testament passages restricting women from preaching and exercising authority in the church setting were written in the full knowledge of that- it's not as if Paul had been unaware of how Acts 2:17-18 fulfilled Joel 2:29.

It has been said that women are the backbone of the church, and then in a leap of logic this needs to be reflected in the episcopate. Is it more a case that it's laywomen exercising their God-given gifts that are the backbone of the church? And then the Church sends the message that real ministry is done by the big boys (and since April 1994, the big girls as well) in fancy robes with titles in front of their names...

It may seem an odd point to start talking about tongues, but in a Twitter discussion I referred to this. Paul has to write to the Corinthians about the correct use of tongues in services (I Cor 14:26-33). Tongues are a gift from God, but there is a time and a place and a manner.

A couple of examples. The first is from the March for Jesus back in May 1994, and I ended up in a small group when it was time to pray in groups. And in our group, whenever anyone started praying in English, a young man would start praying loudly in tongues, verbally drowning whoever was praying in English. You can say "Amen" to a prayer in English. How can you say "Amen" to a prayer in a language you don't understand?

The seocnd was a couple of years later, at a prayer meeting labelled as ecumenical, where the speaker asked people to get in pairs and pray out loud together- one in English, one in tongues- and then swap later on. I got up and walked out.

When God gives a gift is it really for use whenever and wherever you feel led? Does the Holy Spirit really lead people to use gifts in a manner that is contradictory to the Bible?

So, yes, there are many men and women to whom God has given gifts for the building of His Church and the extension of His Kingdom. But every gift needs to be exercised in a manner that is consistent with the Bible. A woman might indeed be given the gift of teaching- but it doesn't follow that the appropriate time and place is in the pulpit on Sunday. If you go back to Acts 18 (you did keep it open, didn't you?) then in v.26 we encounter Priscilla, a woman with the gift of explaining Christianity. But her arena wasn't the front of the church, but in private, one-to-one instruction, giving him the individual instruction that he would not get in a big church setting.

Part of Twitter discussions have been about Mary Magdalene- sometimes she gets called the Apostle to the Apostles, but nowhere in the Bible is she called an apostle.

She was, indeed, the first person on record to see Jesus after He rose from the dead (John 20:11-18). But an Apostle, with the authority that it entails?

Is it not possible that Mary was the first evangelist? With the simple message that evangelists share- He is risen. Jesus is alive. Sharing the message with Jesus' closest circle of friends.

Sometimes a wrong idea of evangelism develops, and I have fallen into this trap. That it's all about special church events, with a big name speaker, and waiting for people to come through the front door of church to be met on our terms, so they are the ones making the effort. And, yes sometimes that is the way. But Mary didn't rush off and have a set of flyers printed to say she would be giving a talk entitled "That Jesus You Crucified Has Risen" at the local town hall the following week. No, it was the basic go and share the message that Jesus lives.

Rather than spending the next years arguing over who can wear a mitre, just draw a line under it and concentrate on what Biblical ways the laity can be empowered and encouraged to exercise their ministries.

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