Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Rod Thomas and the Reform statement on Women Bishops.
The recent Reform statement on the controversy over Women Bishops seems to have further fuelled the feelings of division between Evangelicals of differing viewpoints. An attempt to take the 'biblical high ground' (something that Reform appear increasingly keen to do) is the main thrust of his argument in which he tries to claim more faithful scriptural study than less extreme evangelical opinion.
"Our concern is derived from Scripture. It seems to us that the Apostolic teaching on male headship in church and family (as in 1 Corinthians 11-14, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Peter 3) is clear enough in its principles: overall leadership in the church is to be exercised by men. The fierce debates that have surrounded the gender issue over the last twenty years or so have stimulated much careful analysis of these texts, and have only served to show that mainstream translations such as NRSV, NIV, REB and ESV are correct in their translation and may (and should) be taken as they stand."
Rod Thomas then argues that to study a passage with close reference to the culture in which it is set (as many open evangelicals do), is to somehow imprison it, making it ineffectual and an attack on scripture's authority.
"It is, of course, right to say that these passages in Paul and Peter have a particular cultural setting; but to make them prisoners of that culture and thus unable to challenge our culture, seems to us implicitly to deny the authority of Scripture."
In response to this I would like to make a few points...
1. I have always found it perplexing how most Conservative Evangelical women, (who uphold complementarian teachings) are happy to dispense with Paul's instructions not to leave their heads uncovered during worship, who shamelessly wear pearls and braid their hear without guilt. Their reasoning is that Paul's instructions are to be interpreted against the culture within which they were written and only suggest broad ideals to be extrapolated in a culturally relevant way by us today.
2. Many cessationist Evangelicals frown upon the practice of raising ones hands in prayer, seeing it as 'charismatic' and yet Paul specifically tells men to do it. Why then aren't all faithful christian men doing so regularly?
3. I know of Anglican Conservative Evangelical clergy who have children who are exceptionally badly behaved; yet these men have not been demoted from a position of leadership, despite Paul's explicit instructions in Titus 1:6. Why are they allowed to continue as leaders if the Bible forbids it and is always to be read and obeyed without any interpretation or contextual study at all?
Rod Thomas continues:
"It is surely the genius of the New Testament that what was spoken in a particular context is at one and the same time also God’s word to us. Far from being a prisoner of his culture, Paul is not afraid to challenge it, warning his readers “not to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking” (Eph 4:17). Why, then, is it assumed he will uncritically reflect their values on this issue of gender?"
Rod Thomas is here arguing against himself. No-one except him has said that studying the bible with reference to context and culture is imprisoning the meaning, rather it is felt that studying context sheds greater light and insight on what was meant by the New Testament writers. No-one 'assumes' anything if they take the Bible's message seriously and God breathed. I have read some excellent egalitarian studies of the passages he speaks about which are some of the most serious and respectful biblical exegesis out there. The reason that many evangelicals believe wholeheartedly in women's ordination and women holding the office of a bishop is BECAUSE they have studied these passages in depth. In addition they also look at other passages which Reform seem to spend very little time explaining their less plain interpretation of: e.g. the story of Deborah leader of Israel, Huldah the Prophetess who advised the advisors or the King, Junia the apostle etc.) The reason we think Paul supports an egalitarian view is because of the scriptures and his acceptance of women within a culture which rejected their authority.
Lastly, Rod Thomas' appeal to reason seems odd against his 'sola scriptura' position above.
"If reasoned reflection of Christians down the ages (including the historic position of the Church of England) has been correct; we fear that the current pressure to overturn it comes not for biblical reasons but because we are losing our nerve in the face of pressure from society."
This reasoned reflection and the historic position of the C of E, was actually based upon a basic theology that women were inferior to men and somehow lacking mentally! I recognise that Reform are not making this point, but their forebears believed it. Therefore if it is possible to reinterpret one's theological position in one regard, why not in others? To assume that Open Evangelicals are somehow 'losing their nerve'in the face of cultural pressures; are lacking 'biblical reasons' and by inference, that they care less for the true will of God and more about what people think is at best severely misguided and at worst, insulting. A little more respect for Evangelicals who disagree with Reforms interpretation of scripture and their doctrine of headship would be welcome. In addition, an appreciation of open Evangelical integrity and faithful reference to scripture in coming to their position would also be welcome...and long overdue!