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The Feminization of Anglican Orders

The Feminization of Anglican Orders

By Alice C. Linsley
Special to Virtueonline
August 10, 2014

The decision of the Synod of the Church of England to consecrate women bishops has widened the gap between those who hold to historic Anglican orders and those who seek “adventure” - to employ the Archbishop of Canterbury’s apt term. Consider the meaning: “ad” – facing or toward, and “venture” – to move into dangerous territory.

In truth, the adventure began with the decision of the Episcopal Church to ordain women as priests. Before the ordination of women priests, Anglican orders were more highly regarded by the hierarchs of both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. This innovation devalued Anglican orders in the view of those churches and continues to be an obstacle to wholeness within catholic Christendom. The innovation reveals confusion about the nature of the priesthood and suggests infidelity to the received tradition of the Apostles which was embraced by the early priests of the Church. The ordination of women as priests is an accommodation to a culture that does not understand blood covenants or the distinction between the blood work of males and females. The contemporary confusion about the distinction between life and death reflects this lack of understanding.

Anglican holy orders include bishop, priest and deacons. Some priests may also be monks. In the Eastern churches these are called "hieromonks" and all bishops in the Eastern Orthodox churches are taken from the ranks of celibate monks. This is one of the differences between Anglican orders and Eastern Orthodox orders. Anglican and Eastern Orthodox orders differ also from Roman Catholic orders on the matter of celibacy. Contrary to the position of the Roman Church, priests of old, that order from which the priesthood of the Church emerged, married and enjoyed sexual relations with their wives. However, they abstained from sex, shaved their bodies, fasted, and entered periods of intense prayer in preparation for their time of service at the temple or shrine. Married Orthodox clergy continue this practice, abstaining from sexual relations with their wives for 24 hours prior to presiding at the Divine Liturgy.

Historically, Christian women wore head coverings in the churches and did not enter the sanctuary. After childbirth women and their newborn infants were received into the church with great solemnity. This was the Church’s way to recognize the blood work of women in childbirth and it was as a joyful liturgical moment in the community. This “churching” practice was observed among Anglicans for centuries, but began to disappear as feminist influences increased in the Church.

The heresy of gender equality

My objection to women priests is based on a rather lengthy anthropological study of gender distinctions in the Bible. Sometimes children understand complex matters better than adults. They understand that sons and daughters are different. Even in a society where children are exposed to gender confusion, they recognize that it is simply wrong to speak of Jesus as the “daughter of God.”

As adults we grasp that historical facts matter, but we are often ignorant of some of the most basic historical facts about Jesus, including his ruler-priest lineage. However, it was not his priestly lineage alone that confirmed Him as the Messiah, for there were many ruler-priests (and their lines intermarried). It was his resurrection. The author of Hebrews makes this clear:
For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 7:14-17)

The complementarian view of men and women in the Church is not found in the Bible, or in the early Fathers' writings, and it is not anthropologically convincing.
The biblical view of men and women is not complementarian. It is binary and reflects acute observation of reality on the part of the ancients. The assertion that women and male are equal is a heresy. Citing Genesis 1:27 to prove the complementarian position reveals ignorance of the larger pattern in Scripture. In its context this verse makes a distinction between humans and other animals. The phrase "male and female" is a biblical merism that parallels the phrase "God created man in the image of God..." This verse speaks about ontology. It does not speak about equality as that notion is taken today. Today gender equality has become tyranny for Christians who desire to adhere to biblical teaching.

A female bishop is a repetition of the sin of Eve. These women have responded to an unholy urge to “take and eat” of fruit that is not for them. By claiming headship “rights” they invert the pyramidal order of creation, which is what Eve did when she, as the crown of creation, subjected herself to a creature who slithers across the dirt on its belly. Eve was created to enjoy a unique relationship with the Creator. Being made in the Creator's image, she enjoyed communion with the Creator as no other living creature. She also enjoyed a special intimacy with Adam, as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.

In considering Eve, we note that she had two trustworthy relationships in her life: one with her Creator and another with the man from whom she was created. In both relationships, Eve experienced a unique and special existence. She was a woman of high estate whose life was encompassed by great potential for fulfillment and joy.
What happened? St. John Chrysostom wrote, “Do you see how the devil led her captive, handicapped her reasoning, and caused her to set her thoughts on goals beyond her real capabilities, in order that she might be puffed up with empty hopes and lose her hold on the advantages already accorded her?” (Homilies of Genesis)

Why did Eve act against her high estate and against the trustworthy relationships that were to bring her fulfillment? Why did she heed to the serpent’s lies instead of listening to God in whose image she was made? In listening to the creature rather than to the Creator, Eve became subjected to a creature of low estate. She exchanged the natural for the unnatural. So the first trespass was against the order of creation and introduced disorder.

The female form at the altar likewise represents disorder and the setting aside of “the advantages already accorded” to the woman of God. It is not proper for the weaker vessel to stand as a symbol of the God-Man. Mary brought forth Jesus, and Jesus honored her, but she is not Christ's equal in divinity or glory. This is consistent with the binary pattern of Scripture in which one entity in the binary set (light-dark, male-female, etc.) is superior in a visible way to the other: the sun is the greater light, the moon the lesser as its light is refulgent. Males are larger and stronger than females. The one must be stronger in order to save the weaker. Christ must be over all in order to stoop to save all. Further, this binary feature of the Biblical worldview militates against Asian dualism, a framework in which the blood work of Christ becomes meaningless.

The veneration of Mary expresses the truth that she is unique among women as God-bearer. She lived to the greater glory of her divine Son, just as the Church's service to Christ is as a weaker vessel. Her service reflects a proper relationship to the Son of God. It is characterized by humility and strength and her embrace of the work to which she was appointed.

The Church as the “bride” of Christ

When considering the feminization of Anglican orders, it is important to rightly understand biblical references to the Church as the “bride of Christ.” Attempts to justify women priests on the basis that the Church is described as female reveals profound misunderstanding of the biblical pattern.

Among Jesus’ ruler-priest ancestors it was the first born son of the half-sister wife who received a kingdom from the father. The first born son of the cousin wife was a more removed blood relative who served in a secondary role as vizier in the kingdom of his maternal grandfather. The first wife was the ruler’s half-sister (as was Sarah to Abraham) and the second wife, taken shortly before ascending to the throne, was the patrilineal cousin wife (as was Keturah to Abraham). According to the custom, the second wedding feast for the first born son of the sister bride was followed by the son’s coronation. This explains Abraham’s urgency to fetch a cousin bride for Isaac before his death (Genesis 24). Analysis of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of Abraham’s people reveals that the heir’s marriage to his second wife preceded the transfer of power.

Jesus refers to this second marriage at the Last Supper. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." (Mark 14:25; Matthew 26:29). Jesus is referring to the marriage feast of the Lamb. This was the tradition that informed John’s vision on Patmos (Revelation 19:6-9).

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

Eschatologically speaking, the Church is the second bride of Christ. The first bride is genetically closer to Jesus and consisted of the faithful ones of old who lived and died in expectation of His coming, dying and rising (Hebrew 11:19). This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56)
St. Paul expresses the Church’s relationship to Abraham in these words: “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11: 17, 18)

Some argue that the priest stands at altar in persona ecclesiae and as the Church is described as female, being female is not an impediment to ordination to the priesthood. This is not a sound argument. The church is not described as female, but as a “bride” and the term has eschatological meaning. The image of the Church as “bride” reflects the marriage and ascendancy pattern of Jesus’ ruler-priest people and speaks of His coming to reign over an eternal kingdom. It is not about gender equality in the Church.

The priesthood is a received tradition

Dr. William Witt believes that the Eastern Orthodox view of the priest en persona ecclesiae removes the objection based on gender representation. However, this is not so. In Eastern Orthodox theology the Church is viewed as the "new Israel" and the figurehead of the new Israel is the male priest, the "father" who offers sacrifice for the family (as did Job) and baptizes and chrismates the newly born. Father Georges Florovsky points to this in the following statement:

The first followers of Jesus in the "days of His flesh," were not isolated individuals engaged in their private quest for truth. They were Israelite regular members of an established and instituted Community of the "Chosen People" of God ... Indeed; a "Church" already existed when Jesus began His ministry. It was Israel, the People of the Covenant... The existing Covenant was the constant background of His preaching. The Sermon on the Mount was addressed not to an occasional crowd of accidental listeners, but rather to an "inner circle" of those who were already following Jesus . . . "The Little Flock" that the community which Jesus had gathered around Himself was, in fact, the faithful "Remnant" of Israel, a reconstituted People of God. Each person had to respond individually by an act of personal faith. This personal commitment of faith, however, incorporated the believer into the Community. And this remained forever the pattern of Christian existence: one should believe and confess, and then he is baptized, baptized into the Body. ("Worship and Everyday Life: An Eastern Orthodox View," Studia Patristica, vol. 2 (1963), p. 266.

The Orthodox maintain that God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants were fulfilled through Christ and His Church. “In Christ, then, the covenant with Israel was fulfilled, transformed, and transcended. After the coming of the Messiah—the Incarnation of God the Son—only those who are ‘built into Christ’ are counted among the people of God. In Christ, the old Israel is superseded by the Christian Church, the new Israel, the body of Christ; the old covenant is completed in the new covenant in and through Jesus Christ” (George Cronk, The Message of the Bible; St. Vladimir Seminary Press; 1982, p. 80).

In other words, those who faithfully believe in Jesus Christ inherit the status that Israel had before it rejected the Messiah. This view also fails to align with the biblical marriage and ascendancy pattern of Jesus’ people. It is based on a wrong interpretation of Galatians 3:7-9: “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham . . . if you are Christ’s then you are of Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

When Paul calls the followers of Jesus “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), he is not speaking of the Church supplanting the faithful of Israel. He is reiterating that the pattern of faith and the ground of salvation are the same for all faithful people throughout time. This touches on Paul's understanding of the timeless and pleromic nature of the Blood of Jesus.

Nor is the view that the Church supplants Israel supported by I Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people…” for here Peter is addressing believing Jews in the diaspora; people who were biological descendants of the ruler-priest caste from which the priesthood of the Church emerged. He is not speaking of a universal priesthood. Martin Luther's generalization of the priesthood to all believers served his purpose by undermining the authority of the Roman hierarchy. From Luther comes the Protestant notion of ministry. He wrote, “In this way we are all priests, as many of us as are Christians. There are indeed priests whom we call ministers. They are chosen from among us, and who do everything in our name. That is a priesthood which is nothing else than the Ministry.” (On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church)

Unfortunately, this view detracts from the historical facts that the priesthood originated among Jesus’ earliest ancestors and it was preserved by their Hebrew descendants. The Church received this tradition and has responsibility to preserve what it has received.

Contrast Luther’s position with that of Saint John Chrysostom, who wrote concerning that the priesthood "is ranked among heavenly ordinances. And this is only right, for no man, no angel, no archangel, no other created power, but the Paraclete himself ordained this succession..." (On the Priesthood). A "heavenly ordinance" is eternal and binding. It cannot be changed by man.

Ultimately, the question of women priests and bishops rests on whether the Church has the authority to change received tradition that extends back to Jesus' ancestors. Should the Church decide it has such authority, it must recognize that a woman priest also changes our received Christology.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” Jesus Christ, the righteous ruler-priest who defeated death and awaits His inheritance, delivered this holy tradition and no synod or jurisdiction has authority to pervert it.

Alice C. Linsley has studied and written extensively on the question of women’s ordination. This has been a matter of personal interest and concern since before she voluntarily renounced Episcopal Church orders in March 2006. She attends St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Frankfort, Kentucky.

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