Decisions are hard, especially when they affect others, as most decisions do. There are consequences to every decision, even the joyful ones.
“Will you marry me?”
Cue the deluge of decisions that now need to be made – day, time, and location of the wedding. Not to mention the menu, flowers, dresses, suits, and guest list. You picked a day when Uncle Bob cannot make it, so he’s upset. You picked a dress style or color that doesn’t necessarily suit a bridesmaid, so she smiles politely but laments that she has to pay for something that she does not like. Your mom wonders why your fiancé needs to invite so many distant relatives when your family is relatively small and will barely fill a pew. How will that look to other guests? she asks. And on and on.
And then there is the tendency, perhaps even the temptation, to avoid making a decision because you know it will hurt and/or disappoint someone. Or worse, you are an inveterate people-pleaser so every decision, no matter how minor, is agonizing because you just know, deep down, that someone will be upset. You think that the best solution is simply not to make a decision but then you learn that someone’s hurt because you did not make a decision! And on and on.
Common sense seems to suggest that there are winners and losers with every decision that is made. The mundane: my wife and I invite another couple over for dinner but they are already committed to something else. We “lose” the joy of their company. The exceptional: I decide to move across the country from where the rest of my family lives. We “lose” the joy of seeing each other in person on a regular basis. In either case, there is some degree of hurt even if it is unacknowledged and even if there is also a celebratory nature. For example, “We are so happy that you are moving across the country to pursue your dream of working at Tesla but of course we will miss you greatly and wish that you could be here for all of our family get-togethers.” A bit of hurt coupled with genuine happiness.
So what do you do when you come up against a decision in which there appears to be no happiness for all and certainly hurt for some? Or, to say it differently, what if there are two sides to a particular issue, as is often the case? The one side is convinced they are right but so is the other. There have been years, even decades, of discussion, yet there is still an impasse. Moreover, what if the decision has deep, even dire, consequences, not just of an earthly sort but also of an eternal sort?
That is the context for Blaise Pascal’s infamous “wager.” Pascal believes that if “there is a God, he is infinitely beyond our comprehension.” Thus, we “are therefore incapable of knowing either what he is, or if he is.” In short: human finitude makes it impossible for us to know without doubt that there is a God, much less that we know everything about him. Hence the need for faith, and not mere rational consent. Pascal continues, “Let us therefore examine this point, and say: God is, or is not. But towards which side will we lean? Reason [alone] cannot decide anything.” And because reason is limited and “cannot decide anything” it cannot make us “choose one way or the other, reason cannot make [us] defend either of the two choices.” So, Pascal asks, “How will you wager?” He goes so far as to say that we “have to wager.” It is no longer an option, we have to make a decision no matter the consequences because there are eternal consequences.
Pascal concludes that the proper way to wager is to believe that God is. For if God is then humankind has everything to gain and nothing to lose. If, it turns out, God does not exist nothing is lost in living as if he does. But if one lives as if God does not exist but he does, then that poor soul loses everything. In the language of winners and losers: believing that God is, is a win, win situation but believing that God is not, though he is, is a lose, lose situation. Pascal writes, “I should be much more frightened of being wrong and finding out that the Christian religion was true than of being wrong in believing it to be true.” And this matters because the stakes are high. In fact, they are at their highest. The bottom line: it is either heaven or hell. How would you wager? It seems to me a sincere, reasonable person would take the wager and live as if God does, indeed, exist. If she is right then she enjoys God forever. If she is wrong then… well, she’s just wrong – no harm, no foul.
A similar situation seems to be plaguing the Church today, or at least our own Anglican Communion, including our province. That is, the issue of the ordination of women to the presbyterate appears to be at an impasse since there are two sides, and neither side believes it is wrong. Those who support the ordination of women, continue to ordain women. Those who do not support it, do not ordain women. And in spite of the ACNA’s College of Bishops conclusion “that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province,” women continue to be ordained. And in spite of the ACNA’s College of Bishops conclusion “that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order,” women continue to be ordained, and apparently not due to scriptural or tradition’s warrant but for juridical reasons: “we continue to acknowledge that individual dioceses have constitutional authority to ordain women to the priesthood.” But if the College of Bishop’s thinks that it is less than biblical and less than traditional then why are bishops still ordaining women? Simply because they have a juridical right?
But what is really at stake is nothing short of the salvation of all humankind. In other words, the Anglican Church of North America finds itself, it seems, in the same position as Pascal. Not the only, but a primary, ministry of all presbyters in the Church is to “do” the sacraments, (or, “confect the sacraments,” to be a bit more crass) especially the Holy Eucharist, which is the source and summit of the Christian life. And the sacraments, especially the dominical sacraments of baptism and Holy Eucharist, are salvific. How so? Minimally they convey grace and grace is what every non-believer needs to respond to God’s offer of salvation and what every believer needs to remain faithful and to mature in Christ. Maximally, according to the Roman Catholic Church, they are regenerative ex opere operato.
But what if those sacraments were not, in fact, sacraments? Without even taking sides, we can see that the stakes are high when it comes to the question of women’s ordination. If women cannot be priests then they are unable to “do” these dominical, salvific sacraments. They are not, then, offering grace and salvation to God’s people but empty, graceless copies of the real thing. They are offering, even promising, something that they, in fact, cannot provide. And what’s at stake? Salvation! If women cannot be priests but are allowed to “act” as priests then they are putting the souls of God’s children at risk. If this is the case, then I think that Pascal would encourage us to take the wager; that is, not to ordain women to the presbyterate because there is too much at stake. If, in God’s economy, women cannot be presbyters then allowing them to act as if they are is to put ourselves into a lose, lose situation. If, in God’s economy, women can be presbyters but are not allowed to be ordained presbyters then the Church’s shepherds will have to answer to God for that but in doing so they will not have risked the lives of human souls. In that sense, not allowing women to be ordained presbyters is a win, win situation.
So, I ask, along with Pascal, towards which side will we lean in the ACNA? The answer is of the upmost importance and carries eternal consequences. Thus, we must choose not just wisely, but in a godly manner for souls are at stake.
March 25, 2022 @ 1:36 pm Cameron Shaffer
I admit to being a Presbyterian observer, but it seems to me Article XXVI of the Thirty-Nine states that the stakes are, in fact, short of the salvation of all humankind.
March 25, 2022 @ 2:07 pm Kevin Davis
This would only apply to the Eucharist, not baptism. Even the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the validity of baptisms by women and not just in emergency situations. So, for example, if someone was baptized by a clergywoman in the Presbyterian Church USA or the United Methodist Church and converted to the Roman Catholic Church, they would not need to be baptized — so long as the proper Trinitarian formula was used with water and the intent of the church. As for the Eucharist, for those traditions that require valid ordination in order for the Eucharist to be a valid sacrament (with Christ’s presence and sanctifying grace), then if women cannot be ordained then there is no sacrament.
March 31, 2022 @ 3:29 pm Catriona MacKirnan
A very clear and straightforward statement, Mr. Davis, with which I entirely agree, in all of its parts. Disclosure: I am a woman, raised Baptist and non-denominational, confirmed (conservative) Episcopalian, then Roman Catholic f0r quite a few years, and now entirely at home in the Reformed Episcopal Church, which does not ordain women.
May 28, 2022 @ 7:39 am Petros
I agree women should not be ordained. However, you overreach in asserting that the sacraments are invalid performed by them. It would be illicit and improper but not invalid. The AC does recognize as valid a baptism performed by a lay person (male or female). It would only be considered illicit if it were a non emergency. The Eucharist is valid by the words of institution. I see it inThe same light of non celebrate homosexual priest performing the sacraments. The sacraments are valid but it illicit for him to in the position. Otherwise we end up in a defacto donotism. As such this issue goes deeper into the differences of sacramental theology. I am suggesting that there is no connection to the practice and salvation. But the connection is not in lay people being denied the grace in the sacraments. The connection is with those who persistently are being disobedient the will of God. While I certainly believe that the Lord is merciful to those who are not well informed on the matter, but for those in positions of authority who know better they will surely have to give account. Where Pascal’s wager comes in is that I am by far safer resting in what the church practiced for 2000 years then this recent novelty. However, if I am mistaken on the issue validity I am open for correction. I am still a novice when it comes to sacramentality.
March 27, 2022 @ 10:19 am Sara Pettus
May 30, 2022 @ 9:14 am Rhonda C. Merrick
Well, keep reading the Bible, the Creeds, the Articles of Religion, and early Church writings, then.
April 1, 2022 @ 12:57 am Ralph W. Davis
The grace given in the sacraments is from God, not from the priest (or priestess…). The Donatists were wrong. In the same way that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are valid–in other denominations, and even when done by apostate or non-believing clergy. The sacraments are valid–even when the ordination of ministers is irregular, and we don’t recognize the ordination–again, because St. Augustine was correct & the Donatists were wrong:
“Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men” [or women.] (Article XXVIb)
April 10, 2022 @ 10:01 am Antti Saarilahti
You have omitted a key part of article XXVI: ”forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ\’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry”. By his commission and authority! This is clearly a reference to valid ordination.
The Donatist controversy never touched upon whether ministers were validly ordained; it was about whether their ministry continued to be valid despite apostasy (and subsequently professed repentance). To put that in general terms, it was about the effect of certain personal choices made after valid ordination on the subsequent validity of sacramental ministry. Nobody ever questioned that the ”traditores” had been valid ministers at least once upon a time! Therefore, the matter here at hand cannot be resolved by invoking article XXVI.
On the other hand, there are admittedly similar concerns now as then. Back then, many were worried about the validity of the sacraments they had received or were about to receive due to the ministry of certain people being called into question – just like now. I would not go so far, however, as to say like the author of this article that the eternal fate of a person would be at stake, for the reason already pointed out by Kevin Davis: baptism is valid even when performed by a layman, so long as the external form is correct and there is the intention to baptise (and, in adult baptisms, the faith of the recipient is sincere). To my knowledge, no Christian church holds the Lord’s Supper to be necessary for salvation – even though willful negligence to partake of it is regarded by many to be perilous.
February 2, 2023 @ 11:43 am Carol Hogan
If the ACNA is ordaining female priests (which is totally unblical), how long before they begin ordaining homosexuals? And we’re right back to TEC.