With this post I resume with a topic that generated the most heated debate at the Church of God 2010 General Assembly: the admission of women to the rank of Ordained Bishops. (For my Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox friends, the term “Ordained Bishop” has a different meaning than a diocesan: in addition to including those and above, it includes a large number of our pastors and other ministers. It is simply the highest rank of minister in our denomination.)
I have openly supported this idea since 2006, although I doubt that this support carried much weight. Evidently the support of others didn’t either; it was defeated by a large margin in the General Council of ordained bishops, not once but twice during the same General Council.
In the wake of these votes, I’d like to make two comments. (The entire General Assembly was live streamed, something I hope we see in the Anglican/Episcopal world; hopefully it will be archived at the GA site in the near future.)
- Honestly, the speeches on both sides (or at least the ones I heard; I had many duties away from the sessions) may have been the “best shot” of both sides, but I found the overall calibre of the debate wanting. Those against reminded me of some of the trade union grievance sessions and contract negotiations I went through in my family business. The proponents were more eloquent, but some of them drifted into the same kind of “soft” arguments that have gotten their Episcopal counterparts in trouble. Such are, in a true Pentecostal context, unnecessary. The Church of God, in common with most Pentecostal denominations, has a long and illustrious history of women in ministry free from the secular context that bedevils most liberal churches and based on a church life led by the Spirit. If we believe and are convinced that this is God’s intent for the church, we should follow this to its conclusion.
- This debate has driven home something I’ve come to realise but have never really wanted to admit: the ministers of the Church of God struggle with a really clear, straightforward debate on the important issues. That’s a legacy of the aintellectual tradition we have, reinforced by the usual Evangelical fear that putting the Scriptures in a consistent philosophical context would lead to unBiblical results. That affects even procedural issues, such as the Council voting down quadrennial assemblies because they would reduce the opportunities to vote on our leadership and then turning around and granting Executive Committee members four year terms! And I’m not sure our institutions of higher learning have really addressed the problem effectively.
I think that, eventually, the Church of God will come around on this issue. The tragedy of the whole thing, however, is that in the energy of the debate over women ordained bishops, the less than satisfactory role of the laity remains unresolved. If our view of the role of the laity was in line with the New Testament, this debate would be much simpler, because the opportunity for ministry would be more open to everyone without the complexities of the ministerial ranking system (which, as one opponent of the motion admitted, itself has nothing to do with the New Testament.) It would be a tragedy that we would end up with men and women ordained bishops in our pulpits and empty pews.