Recent discussion here and elsewhere on the theological justification for women bishops has challenged me as to the substantive quality of my own argumentation. On another site my argumentation has been called "bunk" and "the most tenuous straw-clutching I have seen in a long time." Taking a cue from Bryden Black's contribution of the potent phrase Crux probat omnia (the cross proves or tests everything, via Luther, via 1 Corinthians 1-4), I plan to offer a few posts in coming days which take up the challenge. Today, a reflection on our freedom in Christ.
My working hypothesis here is this: we are free in Christ to appoint women to roles of deacon, presbyter and bishop. (In other words, there is nothing in the example and teaching of Jesus and his apostles which is universally prohibitive of exercising this freedom).
This freedom is the freedom of the gospel in mission, the freedom that has led the church through the ages to translate the gospel into different contexts and cultures. From Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English to Maori, we have literally translated the words of the gospel. From the parables and sayings of Jesus to the theological exposition of Paul in Romans to the priestly reflections of Hebrews to the apocalyptic figuration of Revelation we have translated the mode of communicating the gospel. From the movement of Jesus sweeping through the villages of Galilee to the fledgling church in Jerusalem making up its structures as it went along to the more detailed organisation of 1 Timothy to the imitation of Roman local and imperial rule from Constantine's empire to the English parish system through to the breaking out of many forms of church and missional activity in the 21st century we have adapted the method of communicating the gospel via individuals and groups.
In the expression of this gospel freedom we have successively broken out of one cultural allegiance into another and then to another. Culturally speaking there is no comparison between the movement of Jesus and (say) the great ceremonies of a High Latin Mass or the rock concert feel of a Hillsong service or the solemn chanting of psalms in a kirk in the Outer Hebrides or the exuberance of an African Pentecostal service in Soweto. The only comparison we can (and should) make is whether in each of these contexts the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ - that he lived, was crucified and rose again for our sakes that we might live for him and not for ourselves - is proclaimed and acclaimed in prayer and praise. Crux probat omnia.
The different cultural allegiances of Christians through the ages and, today, around the globe, represent Christians taking up the challenge of communicating the gospel in the "language" of the world around them. "Language" here is not only the words used to speak the gospel but the presuppositions, conceptions, implications and applications of the gospel which make the gospel plausible to those hearing it, as well as seeing it in action. The early church, for example, faced the challenge of whether or not circumcision was part of the language of the gospel as it moved from Jewish culture to Gentile culture. From the perspective of Jewish culture it was part of the gospel. From the perspective of Gentile culture it was a barrier to the gospel being heard and received. Circumcision made the gospel implausible as it headed across the boundary between Jewishness and Gentileness. Crux probat omnia. Peter, Paul, James and co had to get their heads around whether or not the gospel of the cross included circumcision or not. Circumcision dropped away. The cross was sufficient for salvation.
Why do women in Western churches, with a very few exceptions, neither wear coverings over their heads nor feel anxious about whether they grow their hair long or have it cut short? Indeed, pressing this question further, despite the (pun intended) heady theological justification of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which seems to invoke order in creation and eternal order in the Godhead for women covering their heads and having long hair, why do women in the West set that theological justification to one side and go to church without hats and with short hair? Crux probat omnia. Without an ecumenical council having been called (!!) we have reached a consensus that insisting on wearing head coverings and having long hair makes the gospel implausible within our culture which is indifferent to whether hair is long or short and which has moved from uniform hat wearing for men and women to hat wearing for specific purposes (to protect from the sun, to mark celebratory events such as weddings and race meetings). Have we egregiously sinned in disregarding Paul's apostolic teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16? No! Have we merely moved with the times, married the spirit of the age and endangered ourselves of widowhood in the next? No! We have embraced the apostolic crux of mission, the core of the gospel: only Christ crucified on the cross matters, everything else is changeable in order that the gospel may be communicated faithfully by Christians and heard plausibly by non-Christians.
The gospel is not Come to Jesus (and, by the way, you'll need to be circumcised) or Believe on the Lord Jesus (and, hey, you had better buy a hat or headscarf) or Follow Jesus (and, incidentally, start learning Latin fast).
In a culture in which we properly celebrate our equality and mutuality together as men and women - properly because that is how we have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and that is how we are meant to be in the kingdom of God (Galatians 3:28) - it is an urgent and serious question whether we are using our freedom in Christ to preach the gospel faithfully and plausibly when we place restriction on what women may do in the service of that same gospel.
I can think of no more weighty, substantial, and magnificent reason for appointing women bishops than this: it serves the cause of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in our generation.