Women and The Priesthood: A Call to Embrace Biblical & Historic Faithfulness

“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road .”

C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity

***

What is Needed

There are few topics in the church today that are bound to stir up more impassioned arguments than that of women and the priesthood. Undoubtedly there are good people on both sides of this debate. Surely, there is a love for Jesus and his church among those who both call for acceptance of this practice and those who call for rejection of the same. Sometimes these debates become heated and insulting and that is to our shame.

What should be at the center of any debate on the matter, particularly based on the Anglican’s own formularies, must be Scripture. Second to this, careful consideration must be given to the saints who have gone before us, that “great cloud of witnesses” who have cared for the church in past generations. Everything else, including our feelings or social convention must give way to the Bible itself and its historical exegetical practice.

There are numerous papers and books written on this subject and I do not aim to rehash them here. My purpose in writing is to call attention to the fact that we do not need more information on this topic. Far from it. We have the information. Our own bishops commissioned a study for this very purpose and its conclusions are clear. No, we do not need more study or dialogue. We need humility, repentance, and obedience.

How Did We Get Here?

The Anglican Church in North America’s family tree is diverse, but perhaps its most immediately identifiable branch is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada. If you will, this is the trunk of the tree from which we separated. Therefore, the DNA from which we were planted came from a place where women in the priesthood had been a reality since the ordination of the “Philadelphia 11” in July of 1974. While this ordination was irregular, it set the stage for future ordinations of women to the priesthood.

In September of 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to both the priesthood and the episcopacy. This was not done with prayerful Biblical reasoning, but was motivated by the rise of feminist ideology. That initial impetus remains the unspoken, but closely related reasoning behind this practice today. This was said very clearly in an excellent article by the late J.I. Packer in Christianity Today where he noted, “The present-day pressure to make women presbyters owes more to secular, pragmatic, and social factors than to any regard for biblical authority.”[1]

Nor can we ignore the connection between the ordination of women to the priesthood and the LGBTQ agenda. Historically, the same arguments are used for the promotion of both –namely that the Scriptural texts are unclear and that social climate dictates the acceptance of both for a church to be in step with the modern world.[2]

In 2022, Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford released a 52-page document seeking to justify the blessing of same-sex marriages in the Church of England. The English Churchman published an article in response which noted, “While Croft’s essay admitted that the “obvious interpretation of key biblical passages” seemed to support the view that gay relationships were sinful, it was his ‘pastoral instincts’ that led him to seek a way to interpret the scriptures to allow the blessing of same-sex partnerships.” [3] The same type of arguments, along the lines of “pastoral instincts,” despite the witness of Scripture and its historical interpretation, have been used by advocates of women’s ordination to the priesthood. Activists of same-sex relationships have openly stated that the women’s ordination issue is key to the furtherance of their own agenda.[4]

When the ACNA was formed in 2009, there was an opportunity to step back from this practice, to set the DNA of this new province with not only a Biblical view of human sexuality (which it accomplished), but with a Biblical view and practice regarding the priesthood. It was well known at the time that this issue was not going to fade into the distance and that, at some point, a decision must be made. Instead, the Province adopted a dualistic approach often referred to as “Dual Integrities”. This approach acknowledges that there are sincere Bible-believing Christians who hold opposing views on this issue. Therefore, this approach holds that for the sake of “unity,” both parties will agree to disagree and move forward together. As a former Episcopalian, I have heard this tune before. I know how it ends.

Let me speak plainly on this. “Dual Integrities” is a political compromise, not a theological position. It is a completely illogical idea. Both parties cannot be right. To embrace “Dual Integrities” presumes the Bible is unclear, that every generation prior to ours was in error, and that the Lord’s will cannot be known on this matter. Dual Integrities has no integrity. Additionally, the question of the appropriateness of ordaining women to the priesthood or episcopacy cannot, by its very weight, be a secondary issue. As part of the historic formularies, the Ordinal, and the practice of priestly ordination strikes at the very heart of Anglican theology and practice.

The Current Situation

In 2017, after commissioning and receiving a five-year study from the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders, the College of Bishops issued a statement that recognized the differences of opinions in ACNA on this issue. They added that “[We] acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order. We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province.”[5]

This is a crucial and important statement. This follows a thorough and exhaustive study of the history and relevant Biblical texts on the issue. What we can conclude therefore, is that more information is not needed. More study is not needed. The minds of the Bishops are clear. The practice of women’s ordination to the priesthood is:

  1. A recent innovation to Apostolic traditional and Catholic order and
  2. There is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood

To say that there is insufficient warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood “as standard practice throughout the Province,” also needs to be considered. This phrase begs the question that, if it is acknowledged to be a recent innovation without scriptural warrant, why is it practiced anywhere in the province? In the 39 Articles we read, “It is not lawful for the church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.”[6]

The burden of proof for such a fundamental change in the ecclesiastical practice of the church should have been on those who are champions of the innovation—not on those who opposed it. The truth is that the case for women’s ordination to the priesthood has been made. In fact, it has been made for over fifty years and has been found wanting. The Spirit seems to have spoken to our Bishops clearly as they set forth in their 2017 statement—which was unanimously adopted. And yet, incredibly, the practice continues in a number of dioceses to this day.

The Way Back

C.S. Lewis’ famous quote from The Case for Christianity remains floating in the air, “progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.”[7]

It is past time to do an about-turn.

I realize that, for many, this is a painful option. Many good people have gone down this road. Many women have studied and worked hard to fulfill the requirements of ordination and are serving faithfully as priests in various ministries around the province. The cost for correcting this innovation is undoubtedly highest for them. But what is the cost of not making this correction? It is to face the truth that if we do not correct this, with the full knowledge that we are operating without Scriptural warrant in an area so central to the life and flourishing of the church, we are being intentionally disobedient to our Lord. It is to risk further damaging the Body of Christ by the persistent ignoring of the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

The only way we can make this about turn is by embracing the singular desire for Biblical faithfulness that opens us to humility and repentance. It will only be by the Spirit’s movement among the Bishops, Clergy and laity that we will have the courage to make the difficult, but ultimately faithful choice, towards real progress as we seek to walk back to the right road.

Notes

  1. Packer, J.I., “Let’s Stop Making Women Presbyters”, Christianity Today, February 11, 1991
  2. As discussed by Alice Linsley in her article, “ACNA and the Historic Priesthood”, virtueonline.org
  3. https://www.englishchurchman.com/, “The Rise of the BINO”, November 15, 2022, emphasis mine
  4. Gomes, Jules, “Former Female Episcopal Priest Links Women’s Ordination to LGBT Activism, www.churchmilitant.com
  5. College of Bishops Statement on the Ordination of Women, September 7, 2017
  6. 2019 Book of Common Prayer, 39 Articles, Article XX, page 780
  7. Lewis, C.S., The Case for Christianity

 


Chris Findley

The Very Rev. Chris Findley is the rector of St. Patrick’s Anglican Church (ACNA) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He is a former Army Officer and currently a Chaplain with the Civil Air Patrol. Fr. Chris is an advocate for missions and evangelism, and for maintaining authentic Anglican liturgy and worship. He and his wife Sheryl live outside Nashville with their three children, Aidan, Evan and Caelyn.


'Women and The Priesthood: A Call to Embrace Biblical & Historic Faithfulness' have 13 comments

  1. February 13, 2024 @ 12:13 pm Ben Jefferies

    Excellent essay. Good to recap where we are and how we got here. If I might contribute one further note on “the way back” — in 1970 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, by fiat declared all deaconesses to be deacons, without requiring the laying on of hands.
    Women who presently are serving in the ACNA as deacons and priests ARE called to serve and minister to the Church *in some capacity*. Let the ACNA college of bishops reverse by fiat what was done by fiat: declare all women who have been ordained priests and deacons to be, in fact, Deaconesses, and to minister only within the traditional purview of that ministry: Catechesis, teaching, ministry to the poor and needy, prayer, etc.
    Those true-hearted servants of God who only desire to serve Him, will be glad to continue to do so in this altered capacity (I dare not say ‘diminished capacity’ – how can the eye say thus to the ear…). & Those to whom this is insufferable will not suffer it.

    Reply

    • February 13, 2024 @ 5:11 pm Chris Findley

      Thanks Ben. Yes, the fact that there is no other current mechanism than ordination is problematic. What you outlined seems reasonable and a way forward.

      Reply

    • February 19, 2024 @ 12:36 pm Rhonda C. Merrick

      The traditional purview of deaconesses is pretty wide. . . which is a good thing, imho.

      There is one problem with deaconesses instead of women deacons. It’s not insurmountable, but something to consider. If a parish employs a male deacon, according to current federal laws, he is eligible for a clergy housing allowance which is excluded from gross income tax. If a deaconess would not meet the requirements of the law (which is my understanding) to receive this tax break, then a parish ought to offer a compensation for that in its salary and benefits package.

      Reply

  2. February 13, 2024 @ 2:20 pm Jenny Glenn

    Yes! As a new Anglican, the thing that bothers me most is that some dioceses ordain women, completely contrary to Scripture. I pray that we would take that about turn.

    Reply

  3. February 14, 2024 @ 1:14 am Ralph Webb

    Why not quote the larger context of the bishops\’ statement? \”[W]e acknowledge that there are differing principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that are acceptable within Anglicanism that may lead to divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood. However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order. We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province. However, we continue to acknowledge that individual dioceses have constitutional authority to ordain women to the priesthood.\”

    The sentences before and after the ones you quote are significant: Different principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that lead to women\’s ordination are acceptable within Anglicanism. Individual dioceses can acceptably ordain women to the priesthood The bishops\’ statement is not as narrow as you make it out to be.

    Nor can it be otherwise without changing the composition of the ACNA, for the ACNA was formed to provide a safe haven for both dioceses that accepted women\’s ordination and those that do not; and as a safe haven for evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, and charismatics. The phrase \”dual integrities\” was even being used, if my memory serves me correctly, pre–ACNA in our lifeboats phase (at least in CANA).

    The ACNA website sums up the conviction at its founding as follows:

    \”At the inception of the Anglican Church in North America, the lead Bishops unanimously agreed to work together for the good of the Kingdom. As part of this consensus, it was understood that there were differing understandings regarding the ordination of women to Holy Orders, but there existed a mutual love and respect for one another and a desire to move forward for the good of the Church. This commitment was deeply embedded in the Constitution and Canons overwhelmingly adopted by the Inaugural Assembly (2009).

    In respect of the two integrities concerning Holy Orders, three matters were specifically agreed in Constitution and Canons:

    1. The Province shall make no canon abridging the authority of any member dioceses, clusters or networks (whether regional or affinity-based) and those dioceses banded together as jurisdictions with respect to its practice regarding the ordination of women to the diaconate or presbyterate (Constitution, Article VIII).\”

    The ACNA cannot move in either direction regarding women\’s ordination without jettisoning a) the original goal of the ACNA in providing a safe haven for both sides, and b) destroying the \”mutual love and respect\” that the ACNA had at its inception and tries hard to maintain between both sides (despite tensions).

    Is that really what we want? It\’s a great oversimplification to suggest that dioceses that ordain women (e.g., DOMA, Pittsburgh, South Carolina) were simply carried along the waves of the Philadelphia 11. They have come to their own scriptural convictions regarding it.

    Moving one way or the other on women\’s ordination would almost certainly break up the ACNA. But those of us with different views on this issue made common cause first in attempting to renew the Episcopal Church, then in moving together into lifeboats, and then in forming the ACNA. Breaking up our coalition, and further dividing the body of Christ, would be a tragedy. Our witness in many respects is enhanced by living together with our differences, with the orthodoxy that keeps evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, and charismatics together despite our differences (and not just regarding women\’s ordination). Let us not attempt to rent asunder the body of Christ that exists in the ACNA.

    Reply

  4. February 14, 2024 @ 9:54 am John Seward

    You can be a Christian, or you can be popular.

    Reply

  5. February 14, 2024 @ 11:37 am Ralph Webb

    Why not quote the larger context of the bishops’ statement: “[W]e acknowledge that there are differing principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that are acceptable within Anglicanism that may lead to divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood. However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order. We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province. However, we continue to acknowledge that individual dioceses have constitutional authority to ordain women to the priesthood.”

    Those first and last sentences make a difference. Different principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that lead to different beliefs about women’s ordination are acceptable within Anglicanism. Dioceses are free to ordain women. The bishops’ statement is not so firmly against women’s ordination as this article implies

    Nor can it be without changing the makeup of the ACNA. For the ACNA was formed to provide a safe harbor for both those who hold that women’s ordination is contrary to catholic order and those who believe it is acceptable. Furthermore, this was done so in an attitude of “mutual love and respect” for both positions, according to the ACNA website. And that history makes sense, as evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, and charismatics joined together first to renew the Episcopal Church, then in lifeboats, and then in forming the ACNA. (If I remember correctly, the term “dual integrities” was first used in CANA and perhaps other lifeboats before the ACNA was formed.)

    So the ACNA cannot move in either direction—toward or away from women’s ordination —without a) going against some of the purposes for which it was formed, and b) jettisoning the “mutual love and respect” that the ACNA has tried hard to maintain, even amidst tensions. It would be a tragedy if the ACNA repudiated its own founding purposes and mixture of groups that labored together for kingdom work. Let us not seek to rip apart the body of Christ that God in his goodness has brought together under the ACNA umbrella. To do so would be damaging for the ACNA as a whole, it’s witness to the world, and the larger body of Christ.

    Reply

  6. February 21, 2024 @ 11:45 pm Marissa Burt

    As with previous articles, it’s probably best to include the entire bishops’ statement. Insisting on quoting half of it, ignores the preceding sentence: “Having gratefully received and thoroughly considered the five-year study by the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders, we acknowledge that there are differing principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that are acceptable within Anglicanism that may lead to divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood.”

    Rev. Chris, I’m curious to know if you’ve read the entirety of the taskforce’s theological report? Because it doesn’t offer a conclusion. Which is one reason I respect the fact that the bishops’ statement reflects that.

    In any case, I know NAA holds firmly to an anti-WO stance and presumably that is why every few weeks they publish another piece decrying WO in ACNA. I wonder if they might consider publishing a piece regarding the unanimous commitment the bishops made to proactively seek to make space for women to fulfill their callings & giftings in ministry? Would be great to hear form some parishes that don’t ordain women how they are prioritizing that for lay women.

    Here is the statement in full: “PREAMBLE

    In an act of mutual submission at the foundation of the Anglican Church in North America, it was agreed that each Diocese and Jurisdiction has the freedom, responsibility, and authority to study Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition of the Church, and to seek the mind of Christ in determining its own convictions and practices concerning the ordination of women to the diaconate and the priesthood. It was also unanimously agreed that women will not be consecrated as bishops in the Anglican Church in North America. These positions are established within our Constitution and Canons and, because we are a conciliar Church, would require the action of both Provincial Council and Provincial Assembly to be changed.

    STATEMENT

    Having gratefully received and thoroughly considered the five-year study by the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders, we acknowledge that there are differing principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that are acceptable within Anglicanism that may lead to divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood. However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order. We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province. However, we continue to acknowledge that individual dioceses have constitutional authority to ordain women to the priesthood.

    COMMITMENTS

    As a College of Bishops, we confess that our Province has failed to affirm adequately the ministry of all Christians as the basic agents of the work of the Gospel. We have not effectively discipled and equipped all Christians, male and especially female, lay and ordained, to fulfill their callings and ministries in the work of God’s kingdom. We repent of this and commit to work earnestly toward a far greater release of the whole Church to her God-given mission.

    Having met in Conclave to pray, worship, study, talk, and listen well to one another, we commit to move forward in unity to carry on the good witness and work that God has given us to do in North America (Ephesians 4:1-6; John 17). We invite and urge all members of the Province to engage with us in this endeavor to grow in understanding the mission and ministry of all God’s people.

    Adopted Unanimously by the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America
    The Church of Our Lord, Victoria, BC, Canada”

    Reply

    • February 26, 2024 @ 3:56 pm Don Warrington

      The connection between the role of the laity and WO is one that is frequently overlooked by advocate and opponent of WO alike, but as someone who has worked in lay ministries at a denominational level, it is one that cannot be avoided: https://vulcanhammer.org/2024/02/26/the-issues-of-the-role-of-the-laity-and-wo-are-really-tied-together/

      Reply

      • February 28, 2024 @ 12:49 am Marissa Burt

        Don, thank you for this article. I agree! It is not right to (and we cannot afford to!) sideline anyone – laity, women, anyone!

        https://mburtwrites.substack.com/p/the-women-of-the-new-testament

        Reply

      • March 16, 2024 @ 11:23 am Rhonda C. Merrick

        Mr. Warrington, I admire and appreciate your work and voice especially regarding Anglican matters. However, there’s one aspect of your general perspective with which we traditionalists disagree. From your post of about 5 years ago to which you allude: “The problem with this is that it presupposes an unbiblical ecclesiology.”

        While there’s a bit of a chicken-first-or-the-egg aspect here, many traditionalists would point out that censure by early Church Fathers of women celebrating the Eucharist existed well before Councils began discussing (never mind defining) what were Holy Scriptures and what weren’t. So, the phrase “unbiblical ecclesiology” begs the question of, according to whom? Others who write and comment on this website can tackle that issue far better than I, or mention theologians who have written books on this and related questions.

        If I lived down the road from you I’d gladly invite you and yours over for conversation about these topics. I’m several hundred miles away, so I’ll envy Fr. Findley his opportunity for now.

        Reply

    • March 16, 2024 @ 11:03 am Rhonda C. Merrick

      \”Would be great to hear form some parishes that don’t ordain women how they are prioritizing that [the unanimous commitment the bishops made to proactively seek to make space for women to fulfill their callings & giftings in ministry] for lay women.\”

      Pfft, parishes and dioceses where this has been and is really happening have been one-sidedly attacked on Twitter/X and similar places, and/or purposely ignored within many official channels by the strongest advocates of WO. Are you really asking for more fodder for the injustices of social media? Or do you just believe that the traditionalists are all fake when they talk about the spiritual gifts and other sorts of gifts and talents typical of women? I mean, some of them indeed are fake, or clueless, and some are outright misogynistic, but those attitudes are on the decline, and positive ones are on the uptick.

      Reply


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