The Rochester Report on Women Bishops
was sent to the so called ‘ecumenical
partners’ of the Church of England and to the other provinces
of the Anglican Communion asking for comment. Only three responses
have been received from the Methodists, United Reformed Church
and Roman Catholics – thus from two liberal denominations
and from the Romans. These responses have been distilled in order
for a presentation to take place.
It should be noted that most evangelical churches and denominations
in England are not ecumenical partners of the Church of England.
The Free Church of England is one possible exception to this,
but it has split, partly because of the ecumenical involvement
of the leadership.
Methodism, now a predominantly liberal denomination, draws none
of the Biblical distinctions between gender roles in the life
of the Church. Their views were already reflected in the Rochester
Report and in talks about possible unity they have already stated
that they would expect all roles to be open to men and women.
Whilst the fact of Bishops has been more problematic it looks
likely that they will be willing to swallow this as well.
Reformed Church is also now far from reformed and
this is reflected in many of the traditional Lutheran and Reformed
bodies at the international level. Those churches that are truly
reformed are generally not involved in the bodies which are engaged
in ecumenical relations with the Church of England. The URC submission
states that they have ‘received’ the ordination of
women to all orders of ministry. They therefore question the
fact that the Church of England still sees reception as ongoing.
Again, they raise questions about aspects of episcopacy. They
also criticise the way the Rochester report handles scripture
claiming that at times it takes proof texts without regard to
context (for which read that they do not like the texts and so
wish to argue that the context negates what the text says) whilst
in other places it follows a ‘general direction’ approach
to Scripture without explaining what this means (which is true).
Catholic response came from the Catholic Bishops.
Since the Roman position is well known they concentrate on some
of the content of the report and provide quite a long analysis
of some of the issues the report raises. They draw attention
to the continued divisions in the Church of England (notwithstanding
the several hundred clergy who have left) and suggest that this
in itself should “call into question the wisdom of proceeding”.
Most of the other arguments focus around notions of priesthood
that are alien to evangelicals and to genuine Anglicanism.
The URC response states “For the Church of England not
to ordain women as bishops would be disastrous for the future
of the Anglican-Methodist Covenant and future relationships with
the Lutheran, Reformed and Methodist traditions.” Given
the liberalism dominant in the URC and Methodism this seems like
a good reason to reject the consecration of women bishops.
The Romans state “the ordination of women bishops in the
Church of England would undoubtedly create an additional major
obstacle to any future full communion with the Roman Catholic
Church, and might further impair the degree of communion already
existing…” - almost a reason to vote for women Bishops,
but not quite.
ecumenism : You may detect
a certain antipathy towards ecumenism in this analysis. True unity must be
on the basis of unity in truth – a shared commitment to the supreme and
final authority of Scripture and to the fundamentals of the gospel.
This cannot be said of most of our “ecumenical partners” (nor
for much of the Church of England for that matter despite the
solid doctrinal basis of our Articles and Prayer Book). Sadly,
those churches which do share the evangelical gospel are not ‘ecumenical
partners’ although at local level evangelical unity across
all boundaries is rich and fruitful.
David Phillips, February 2006