Monday, November 13, 2006

Bishop Duncan on Ordaining Women

Recently the Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network has said some positive things about the need for the return to One Edition of the One Book of Common Prayer—the classic edition of 1662 which is in 150 languages—as the bench-mark or formulary of the renewed and re-ordered Anglican Way in North America. I have applauded him for this in a variety of tracts and e-mail messages.

Yet he has also said some things which are disturbing, about “Reception” for example. I am particularly concerned since I am one of the very few persons in the Anglican Family to have written a major essay/study on this topic and I am aware of the shaky foundations upon which this doctrine rests.

[The study is published in London: Peter Toon, Reforming Forwards…The Anglican Process of Reception, Latimer Trust, ; further I have dealt with the Eames Report on Reception in a long chapter in my Anglican Identity, Keeping the Global Family Together, available from or from 1-610-490-0648]

Here is what Duncan said at Nashotah House on October 25:

"My own support for women in holy orders is well known. Global Anglicanism has said that there are, in fact “two integrities” here, both arguable from Holy Scripture, and – to employ Hooker’s method — less so from Tradition. I am convinced that an honest century of reception will sort this one out. I am also persuaded that our God has challenged us to deal with this issue, either because He does intend to bless this new understanding or because He has it in mind that we Anglicans will best find ourselves again in the institutional and relational charity it will require of us as a dynamic and faithful Anglicanism re-emerges."

In this short piece there are several things that need to be unpacked and challenged. So here we go.

1. First of all, Global Anglicanism has not said with anything like one voice that there are two integrities both of which are arguable from Holy Scripture. Certainly it has become common to refer to “two integrities” and even the Forward in Faith Movement in the Church of England uses the phrase. It means that there is general agreement that there are two positions—one in favor and one against ordaining women—in the Church of England and elsewhere that have been accepted by the resolutions of General Synods and Houses of Bishops and confirmed by the Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998. This is a submission to reality for the sake of preventing schism in the Anglican Family; but it does not mean that those who oppose believe that a case can be argued from Scripture (or indeed that those who are in favor believe that a case can be argued for). In fact, most of those who oppose the ordination of women on the basis of Scripture believe that the principle of the headship of the male in God’s ordering of human society and especially in the Church is so deeply rooted and embedded in the Scriptures that the only way to avoid it is as follows: by using innovatory principles of interpretation that make the reality of patriarchy in the OT & NT to be that which God tolerated and allowed but does not sanction, and thus God is seen as ready to remove and replace it when people are prepared for the change, which, it is said, they are now in the world. So advocates of change employ the argument of cultural relativity and claim that the real God of the Bible is the God who does not favor male headship but Is all for genuine equality of the sexes.

2. Certainly Tradition speaks with one voice for even the Protestant mainline denominations only got into the making of women as clergy in the twentieth century in the context of the human rights movement and of equality for women in society. That is the Scripture for them began to allow in the 1960s what it had forbidden before; and to achieve this major development, new principles of interpretation of the Bible were needed and these needed for their operation a new context of changing society and culture after World War II.

3. The “Anglican doctrine of Reception” (note that I say Anglican for it is not precisely the same as the doctrine of reception known to historians of doctrine and the development of doctrine in the Church) was invented by the Grindrod Commission in 1988, adopted by the Lambeth Conference in 1988 and developed and commended by the Eames Commission between 1988 and 1998 and confirmed again by the Lambeth Conference in 1998. It is all about the process (a favorite word these days in ecclesiastical talk) of the reception of the decision made by a provincial synod to ordain women. It is asserted that time and patience, reflection and study, testing and discernment will eventually show whether or not the original decision was right. And the mind of the Church will only be known at the end. No specific time period is set and few criteria are supplied for the testing and discernment. It is all suitably vague. Thus in the C of E right now the reception of women as priests is seemingly going on and discernment is apparently occurring. However, while the process is ongoing and thus not yet completed, there is much activity to try to get women also consecrated as bishops. And the same thing goes on elsewhere! Would not a reasonable understanding of reception lead to patience before moving on to the next step especially when it will be divisive in the C of E? Also in England as well as in other provinces there is definite prejudice shown against candidates for ordination who are male and say they do not believe that the ordination of women is of God. In practice Reception works as a means of advancing the ordination of women without the theological controversy that such an innovation would normally cause. In 100 years, if there is still an Anglican Communion, it will be long past the process of reception, for women as priests and bishops will be universally accepted—and in part because the so-called process of Reception has provided the cover for the advancement of this innovatory ministry. Where can you find anyone who really believes that the process of reception can possible lead to the abandonment of the ordaining of women? The doctrine is designed to lead to one conclusion even though its vocabulary and rhetoric suggest otherwise.

4. It would be far better for Anglicans to abandon this phony doctrine of reception, be HONEST, and accept that the ordination of women is a very major issue but is not anywhere near the first truth in the hierarchy of truths (it comes far below the Trinity, the Person of Christ, the Work of the Holy Spirit and so on). There is a basic communion in the Gospel that exists by reason of One Baptism into One Faith in One Church under One Lord. However, this may not reach Eucharistic communion in all places because of this difference over ordaining women. However, if more use is made of Services of Prayer and of the Word, then there can be the practice of baptismal unity and Christian fellowship without tension. (The insisting on Eucharist as a kind of fast food always available at all meetings in the modern Church has itself exacerbated this problem of relations between groups of different mind. Too many eucharists outside parish worship is problematic in several ways these days.)

I myself believe that this doctrine of reception, because it is essentially a dishonest doctrine based on a politically inspired view of the Church, cannot lead to any real and lasting good and may well be the very undoing of Anglicanism. I regret that Bp Duncan is so attached to it.

Dr Peter Toon Consecration of Samuel Seabury Nov 14, 2006

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