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 Issues | General Synod | February 2006

General Synod

Ecumenical Responses to the

Rochester Report on Women Bishops


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.

The United 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).

The Roman 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.

Note on 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



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