Jody Stowell makes an excellent case excellently. At the heart of the turmoil over women in ministry, focused in the last week or so on women in the English episcopacy, is a simple question, Are women human as men are human? If women are not really human, Jody's question, then churches should boldly say so. After all, if women are not really human, then the simple fact is that they should not be ordered in such a way as to represent Christ to humanity or humanity to Christ through a priestly role, nor should they presume through a teaching ministry to speak about the incarnation of Christ as human to be saviour of humanity (i.e. to preach and teach the gospel).
But what if women are human? Actually, I am assuming here that all readers do think women are really, truly, completely, equally human, as men are, so my question turns out to be, Why can all (gifted, called, Spirit-filled, in Christ) humans not be able to be discerned for any office of the church? That is, if we are all on the same page in wishing to treat one another as fully human (note carefully, I am assuming we are), the question remains whether the decisions we make about church order properly give effect to that intention, and whether the argumentation or reasoning supporting those decisions constitute true recognition of the full humanity of women and men.
One argument against an affirmative answer to the question is that the truest and greatest office of the church, being servant to all, is already open to women, indeed held in many instances by women. This argument was drawn to our attention the other day in a comment pointing to this article on Kyrie, Eleison! To which I simply reply that if the greatest office of ministry in the church is open to both genders, why isn't the least office (by comparison, i.e. bishop) also open to women!
The same article stoops very low in suggesting that women desire to be bishops (a noble desire according to Scripture) as a matter of power ambition. Jody Stowell rightly nails that on the head. Women enter the diaconate and priesthood to respond to God's call and to serve the church. Power, ambition, career aspiration: cheap shots. Do we use that language when a man aspires to be ordained?
Whether we have a 'catholic' or 'evangelical' understanding of church office, the role is about being a saved human being in service to humanity, called and set apart by God to spread the gospel of the Word who became flesh in order that all flesh might be saved. On a 'catholic' understanding the priest represents Christ to humanity and humanity to God: there is nothing intrinsic about Christ's maleness to being our Saviour (ditto, as is often observed, his being a Jew). On an 'evangelical' understanding the priest is the presbyter or teaching elder, discharged with responsibility to lead the church through teaching sound doctrine: the emphasis falls on the ability of the presbyter to teach, not on the gender of the teacher. (In special regard here is 1 Timothy 2:12-15, but this is an explosive text in the sense that a reading of it which concludes it is universal in application relies on a reading of verse 14 that women are instrinsically and permanently unreliable: do we really believe that?)
In recent times a new* argument against women being presbyters and bishops has entered the fray, namely that the church is a household, the head of the household is a man, and thus the head of the church should be a man (where 'head', in episcopal churches, particularly pertains to the office of bishop as the licensing authority over the presbyters, deacons and lay officers). The questions about this argument which strike me as most pertinent are: (a) is the analogy between household and church a strong one, in particular strong enough to base as important a decision as denying to (remember) gifted, called, Spirit-filled, in Christ women the possibility of holding any office in the church? (b) should rules and regulations about church offices be based on an argument which, essentially, is a 'drawing a line through the dots', that is, an inferential argument? (c) are there not many situations in which women are heads of households and thus why can the church (on a straightline analogy) not also be a household headed by a women? A further question, but perhaps not the most pertinent, concerns the nature of biblical headship and whether women in the role of wife are not mutually bound with husbands into the role of head of household.
As I reflect on these situations I suggest we are too prone to read from the New Testament a set of everlasting rules when the essence of the New Testament in respect of 'how we then should live?' is about life in the Spirit (the most important criterion for church office is endowment of the Holy Spirit) and the fullness of the kingdom (which is a seed growing into a harvest, an ever widening and deepening healing of creation, one aspect of which is the fullness of our humanity being experienced, through (among other things) the healing of the rift between men and women in which women have been subjugated, set upon and sidelined through male dominance and aggression).
In this 'big picture' perspective we look into the New Testament and see a Spirit-led church which was very flexible in the way it was led, responding adroitly to local concerns (whether Acts 6 or 1 Timothy 2), remarkably mutual in the manner in which women and men took part in the ministry (think Priscilla and Aquila, Junia and Andronicus, Paul with Euodia and Syntyche), and fluid in its understanding of apostleship (so not only 'the Twelve' were deemed apostles). In those days of the 'charismatic' church, before it (for various reasons) solidified into an 'institutional' church, we see remarkable possibilities of the fullness of humanity developing in God's healing kingdom.
The point of being Anglican is being a catholic-and-reformed church, following the tradition yet ever open to varying it through examination of it in the light of re-reading Scripture, semper reformanda and sola scriptura. But what is the Scripture we read about men and women in the life of the church? Is the New Testament a deuteronomistic book (that is, a second law book for God's people) or a pneumatological handbook of the kingdom (that is, a guideline to life in the Spirit a.k.a our freedom in Christ and under Christ the king to become what God created us to be).
At the heart of the turmoil in England as it spills out into the Communion is an important challenge to Anglican theology: what is our vision for humanity in the kingdom of God? Does that vision truly, deeply, thoroughly engage with what it means for women and men to be really, truly, completely, equally human?
I side with Jody and against Anastasia!
ADDITIONAL ARTICLE: Read Tim Chesterton's excellent post here.
ADDITIONAL ARTICLE: For an interesting endorsement of Junia's apostleship in terms of being sent out for coffee, see here ...
*By 'new' I mean that in my reading over the past few decades I feel that a headship based argument is a relative newcomer to debates. It is, of course, an 'old' argument in the sense that it goes back to the New Testament era for its line of reasoning.