Sydney Anglicans III. Complementarian ministry

Posted on June 26, 2012 
Filed under Sydney Diocese

Mark Thompson writes about complementarian ministry in part three of his series on Sydney Anglicans –

“It is the Bible which teaches us to celebrate the differences between men and women and the way attention to those differences enhances our unity rather than undermines it, not least as together we seek to serve Christ and his gospel.”

Read it all here –

“Some of the most insistent critics of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney are those who oppose its complementarian approach to the ministry of men and women. A number of those critics feel personally injured by the repeated decisions of the diocesan synod to reject measures authorising the ordination of women to the presbyterate. Others go further and insist these decisions arise from a deep-seated misogyny, perhaps related to the peculiar conditions of the early colony, but in any case fuelled by a way of reading the Bible which is authoritarian and androcentric. Yet men and women in Sydney respond that they are seeking above all else to be faithful to the word which God has given us. It is the Bible which teaches us to celebrate the differences between men and women and the way attention to those differences enhances our unity rather than undermines it, not least as together we seek to serve Christ and his gospel. This is not an authoritarian reading but a submissive one. 

In the last quarter of the twentieth century measures promoting the ordination of women to the presbyterate were brought before the diocesan synod on a number of occasions and defeated each time. A succession of reports on the subject were commissioned, not least from the Sydney Diocesan Doctrine Commission. Each of these argued that the teaching of Scripture supported the equal dignity of men and women, equal access to salvation and all the blessings brought to us by Christ and through his Spirit, and yet celebrated a difference between men and women that should not be erased and which has a direct bearing on what is appropriate in the exercise of Christian ministry. This has become the settled position of the diocese, though this should not be taken to mean there is absolute unanimity on either the principle or its implications for practice.

Men and women share all the spiritual blessings that are given to us in Christ (Eph. 1:3–14). When it comes to salvation and the means of salvation ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:28). As Paul says in the immediately preceding verse, ‘as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ’ (Gal. 3:27). Christ calls men and women to himself and gifts men and women in order to serve others in the body of Christ. Indeed, some women, like Priscilla in the Book of Acts, have obvious teaching gifts (and Priscilla exercised hers alongside her husband Aquila, Acts 18). Women prophesy in the congregation at Corinth, albeit ‘wearing’ an appropriate ‘symbol of authority’ because of the angels/messengers (1 Cor. 11:4–10). Women, no less than men, are to use the gifts God has given them for the building up of the body and not as a means of promoting themselves or securing their identity or expressing a sense of self-worth (1 Cor. 14:12).

Nevertheless, the same apostle of Christ who insisted on these things also wrote under the impress of the Spirit of the ordered relation of these creatures who are equal in God’s sight. The discussion of women prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11 follows immediately from a statement of relational order: ‘the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God’ (1 Cor. 11:3). The structure of this verse highlights the truth that both in headship and in the recognition of headship, our model is found in Christ. This order does not imply superiority or inferiority — the perfect equality of the Father and the Son secures this truth. And yet some things are appropriate to the nature of the relationship and some things are not. The Father sends the Son; the Son never sends the Father. The initiative in self-sacrificial service lies with the husband (that is the nature of headship patterned on the example of Christ). A willing receptiveness to her husband’s self-sacrificial leadership is appropriate for the wife.

The most direct teaching of Scripture on the relation of men and women as it bears on Christian ministry is found, unsurprisingly in the pastoral epistles of the apostle Paul. Writing to Timothy, Paul speaks of the responsibility of men to pray ‘without anger or quarrelling’ and of women to adorn themselves ‘with modesty and self-control’ and ‘with good works’ (1 Tim. 2:8–10). He then goes on

Let a women 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. Yet she will be saved through childbirth—if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Tim. 2:11–15)

Far from being a hard and restrictive word, this word is the life-giving word of our Saviour through his apostle. It speaks of what is appropriate in the re-ordered relationships of God’s people. It does not mean women have no opportunity to exercise the teaching gifts they may be given. Far from it. However, these gifts should be exercised in contexts which are appropriate, contexts which do not inappropriately constitute teaching or exercising authority over a man.

It is no surprise that this part of God’s word is highly controversial in the eyes of many. It runs counter to the determined commitments of our age. Many have tried to dismiss them as simply a reflection of an ancient worldview, patriarchal and oppressive when it comes to women. Others have sought to reconstruct a specific situation in which these words of Paul would be necessary and which is so significantly different to our own as to justify the conclusion that they no longer apply. However, the context, the words of one who was ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Saviour and Christ Jesus our hope’, cannot be set aside so easily. These words come to us as Scripture, the inspired text from the pen of Christ’s apostle, and so are the good words of a good God who seeks the welfare of those he has redeemed for himself.

It is in the light of this biblical teaching that a complementarian approach to Christian ministry commends itself. A woman does not have to duplicate a man in order to be valuable in the cause of Christ. Instead, by being the person God created her to be, and seeking to exercise the ministry given to her in appropriate settings, she can be an indispensable partner in that cause.

In the diocese of Sydney women are ordained to the diaconate and their teaching gifts are recognised. Yet the distinctiveness of men and women in ministry is understood as a good gift of God which should not be erased or minimised in the service of an erroneous view of equality. So instead we continue imperfectly to seek ways of maximising the application of the Bible’s teaching on this subject. Sadly, our selfishness — the selfishness of men and the selfishness of women — too often still gets in the way. There is a continuing need for humility, a willingness to learn, and a willingness to repent. Yet we are convinced that God made us to delight in each other and the different but equally valuable contribution we can make to life together as the people he has redeemed.”

– First published at Theological Theology, 26 June 2012.
Dr Mark Thompson is the President of the Anglican Church League.