Sunday, December 13, 2009

Do Evangelical's emphasise the authority of leadership too much?

One of the principal reasons that some Anglicans have objected to women priests is due to their theological understanding of the functionality of the role. In the Evangelical wing of the church, Ordination is understood as a calling to leadership and authority over the people of God. Incumbents are expected to fulfil a teaching and preaching role primarily, leading the people and proclaiming God’s word from the pulpit.
The Church of England Ordinal certainly states that these roles are indeed part of priestly ministry:
“They are to proclaim the word of the Lord” and “They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God.”
It could also be argued that an authoritative role is hinted at when the ordinal says:
“They are to teach and to admonish” and “Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ's name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.”
However, nowhere is the actual word ‘authority’ mentioned. Indeed the Ordinal puts far more emphasis on serving and caring for the people of God and for those who are outside the kingdom, than on anything else.
“Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent... They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; to feed and provide for his people ...and to walk with them in the way of Christ, nurturing them in the faith...They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death.”
The language above is heavy with subservient, selfless language. It echoes the words of Jesus - the Good Shepherd and also the use of the word 'diakonos' (servant) in the letters of Paul to describe the churches leaders.
A shepherd cares for the sheep and puts himself at risk for them. A steward and a messenger both serve others. Feeding, nurturing, supporting and defending are all words which suggest selfless caring and pastoral responsibility.
In the ordinal's description, as in scripture the importance of 'being in authority' seem almost entirely absent. Why then are they emphasised so much Evangelical circles?
All Anglican priests accept the Ordinal’s description when they are ordained. If they have integrity it is fair to assume that they must agree in full with the theology of the priestly statement.
With the exception of teaching and preaching most of the ordinals listed functions of a priest could and should be fulfilled by women as well as men, even allowing for the most 'complementarian' readings/interpretations of scripture. No-one would argue that a woman shouldn’t ‘defend the poor and intercede for those in need’ for example.
Is it then just the teaching and preaching role which is really the problem for those who cannot accept women's ordination? Certainly this is the area of functionality that seems to be the most debated amongst evangelicals. It is also an area where certain biblical texts are frequently cited as definitive against the idea of women fulfilling this side of the role, 1 Timothy chapter 2: 11-12 for example.
However, teaching and preaching are something of a lesser issue if we examine the problem carefully. Many evangelicals will accept woomen as deacons and assistant priests but not as incumbents or as Bishops. Thus they are ok with women preaching as long as they are under a man's authority.
It is actually ‘authority’ that is at the centre of the issue for conservatives and more specifically the idea of ‘headship’. When commenting on the evangelical view of Ordained priestly ministry, R.T. France comments:
“But the heart of the issue is elsewhere: it is a matter of authority...the specific function of priests is not primarily specific acts in the context of worship, but an overall role of leadership in the parish.” (France, 1995)
Is it possible then that the conservative evangelical emphasis placed on authoritative leadership may be at odds with the wider expectations of the ordinal? In conservative evangelical churches, many of the listed responsibilities of a priest are rarely fulfilled by the incumbent, but are usually delegated to layworkers, often ironically - women. Something doesn't add up! The Church of England has an agreed theology of priestly ministry far from the day to day reality of the evangelical model. The ordinal emphasises servant leadership not authority. At ordination we pledge pourselves to serve, nurture and pastor the people of God as well as to teach them. But for many Evangelical clergy, pastoral care clearly is only very rarely the vicar's role..he believes himself to be called primarily to teach and preach and to be in authority over the people.
Why then are so many conservative evangelicals still happy to go through an ordination ceremony which demands that they make pledges they do not intend to fulfill and to agree to a very different theology of priesthood from which they actually hold?
That doesn't seem to me to be an example of integrity at all...

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