Why Women’s Ordination Cannot Be Tolerated
The church stands under the authority of the sufficient and perspicuous Scriptures, and if a church starts to disobey these Scriptures, it must be rebuked, and if it persists, it must be rejected. May God give us the courage to stand up for the truth, the humility to recognize our failings, and the resolve to correct them in a spirit of repentance.
The error of women’s ordination has stalked, cursed, and haunted Anglicanism for nearly half a century and no matter where we go or what efforts we make to correct our wrongs, we cannot seem to fully rid ourselves of it. For many conservative Anglicans, women’s ordination is like the relative you cannot stand but have to put up with because no matter what they will be coming to every family gathering. However, I believe that if we follow Scripture faithfully and assent to the Anglican Formularies, then women’s ordination cannot be tolerated; it must instead be rebuked, and every effort must be made to eradicate it from the church before it is too late.
1. The Church Is Bound to Scripture
In the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Article XX says that “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written.” The use of the word “ordain” here seems rather providential, as it was the Anglican Communion’s decision to “ordain” woman as Priests and Bishops, despite the fact that Scripture forbids such a thing, that helped bring about its demise. There is no need to explain at length how Scripture prohibits women from ordained Church leadership, simply quoting a few passages will suffice:
Man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. (1 Cor 11:8‒10)
As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor 14:33‒35)
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. (1 Tim 2:11‒14)
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife. (1 Tim 3:1‒2)
Of course, egalitarian Biblical scholars will try to overturn these passages by appealing to others that are all vague and have nothing to do with the issue at hand. Article XX condemns this very method, saying “neither may [the church] so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” When egalitarian scholars bring up Aquila and Priscilla’s explaining of the “way of God more accurately” to Apollos (Acts 18:26) or the possibility that St Paul might have called a Junia an “apostle” (Rom 16:7), in order to undermine the clear and explicit teachings of these passages above, they are making some parts of Scripture repugnant to others.
Moreover, the claim that these passages are so mysterious that they cannot be understood without the esoteric and sometimes even Gnostic insights of Biblical scholars also undermines the qualities of sufficiency and perspicuity which the Formularies attribute to Scripture:
In holy Scripture is fully contained what we ought to do, and what to eschew… We may learn also in these Books to know God’s will and pleasure, as much as (for this present time) is convenient for us to know… Although many things in the Scripture be spoken in obscure mysteries, yet there is nothing spoken under dark mysteries in one place, but the self-same thing in other places, is spoken more familiarly and plainly, to the capacity both of learned and unlearned. (A Fruitful Exhortation to the reading and knowledge of holy Scripture)
The passages quoted above (1 Cor 11:8‒10, 14:33‒35; 1 Tim 2:11‒14; 3:1‒2) are without question the ones that speak to women in church leadership the most clearly and directly. Therefore, to undermine their meaning being sufficiently known from a plain sense reading, or to use obscure passages to make those clear passages unclear, is to go against the hermeneutic given to us by the Anglican Formularies. Following this Anglican hermeneutic, we must conclude that Scripture forbids women to preach and teach the word in church or to have authority over a congregation. Since these duties are essential parts of a Priest’s vocation, we must as Anglicans who assent to Article XX deem it unlawful for churches to ordain women to the Priesthood.
It must also be said that there is no sense in which the Anglican Formularies themselves could be understood to have an egalitarian reading of Scripture. It is true that the Formularies nowhere explicitly forbid women from being ordained, but this is simply because the idea of that happening was unthinkable to their writers. However, the Ordinal assumes that a “man” is the one being ordained and patriarchal gender roles are taught throughout the Formularies. The BCP’s Solemnization of Matrimony directs the bride to vow to “obey, serve, and honour” her husband, and the Homily of the State of Matrimony says “wives must obey their husband and perform subjection… God hath commanded that ye should acknowledge the authority of the husband and refer to him the honour of obedience.” The Homily goes on to say that a woman must cover her head in church to signify that “she is under obedience of her husband, and to declare her subjection.” It thus seems very implausible that the writers of the Formularies would be happy to know that in the future women would be ordained as Priests and Bishops within the Church some of them died to defend. Some Anglican Divines did, however, speak against the possibility of such a thing happening. The great Anglican Divine, Richard Hooker, made the throwaway comment that “to make women teachers in the house of God were a gross absurdity,” and the Bishop and Martyr John Hooper said “the preaching of the word is not the office of a woman, no more is the ministration of the sacraments.”
While it is clear that the Formularies rule out the possibility of allowing women to become church leaders, one could of course argue (and some have argued) that since they never spoke directly to the issue it must not be an important one. This is to ascribe the quality of sufficiency to something that is not Scripture. The writers of the Formularies were not blessed with the ability to foresee the future, and the Formularies were not inspired to sufficiently touch on all matters of later importance. However, the Ordinal tells us that the Priesthood is so “weighty an office” and so “great a treasure” that an “horrible punishment will ensue” if it is misused (cf. James 3:1) This is because, being “Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord,” a Priest’s office is “appointed for the Salvation of mankind,” and therefore to distort it is a serious offense.
Returning to Scripture, after St Paul tells us that women cannot speak in church (1 Cor 14:34), he says that “what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” and that it is given so that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor 14:37‒39). Because the church is called to worship God “in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23), God takes our worship very seriously, and He demands that our worship be conducted in an orderly fashion. This is why Nadab and Abihu’s offering of “strange fire” to the Lord led to Him incinerating them (Lev 10:1‒2). It is precisely because of how God has ordered the sexes (rather than cultural concerns) that women cannot teach in church (1 Tim 2:13; cf. 1 Cor 11:8‒9), and so the ordination of women to a position of authority God forbids them from having is to have worship be led in a disordered way. If God was enraged by the offering of strange fire, or the fact that it was not the Levites who carried the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chron 15:2, 12‒13), He will surely be enraged when people He has forbidden from leadership lead the congregation in offering to Him the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist. We must then ask what this means for churches that ordain women, and whether it makes them run the risk of losing their lampstands (Rev 2:5), to answer that question we need to turn to the Homily Concerning the Coming Down of the Holy Ghost.
2. The Marks of a True and False Church
The Homily identifies three marks that define “the true church,” which are “pure and sound doctrine, the Sacraments ministered according to Christ’s holy institution, and the right use of Ecclesiastical discipline.” The error of women’s ordination concerns all three of those marks. To say a woman can be a Priest is to make a doctrinal statement about not just spiritual leadership and the Priesthood, but also the church itself, and the very nature of gender and humanity. To ordain women to preside over and lead Holy Communion, directly affects the administration of the Sacraments. And finally, to allow women to violate God’s commandment that women shall not “teach or have authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12) is to fail to exercise proper discipline, and to in fact encourage this sin on an institutional level is to fall under God’s condemnation, as we see happen in Isaiah 3:10‒14. Right away then, the Homily’s vision of a true church does not seem to perfectly resemble the churches who ordain women.
The only example the Homily provides of a false church is Rome, which it says is “so far wide from the nature of the true Church, that nothing can be more.” The reason why Rome is labelled as a false church is—it is claimed—because they have not followed the Scriptures in their doctrines, administration of the Sacraments, or discipline, but have “so intermingled their own traditions and inventions, by chopping and changing, by adding and plucking away, that now they may seem to be converted into a new guise.” And what is women’s ordination but the introduction of a man-made—or rather, a feminist-made—tradition and invention into the church? What is it but the chopping and changing of the passages we looked at above? The Homily claims that if a church follows “their own decrees before the express word of God… they are not of Christ,” and what is the ordination of women but the disobeying of God’s explicit commandments in order to follow the decrees of feminism?