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UK: Biblical Ignorance of Anglican Politicians is no Laughing Matter

UK: Biblical Ignorance of Anglican Politicians is no Laughing Matter

By Julian Mann
Special to Virtueonline
March 22, 2014

Satirical sneering is not the appropriate response to the abject biblical ignorance of politicians in the House of Commons who celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women priests in the Church of England. For the national Church by law established, it is a cause for penitent self-examination because these politicians have been sitting in its pews.

Introducing the celebratory debate on Thursday in Westminster Hall, the Right Honourable Caroline Spelman, Conservative MP for Meriden in the West Midlands, declared: 'Some of the women in my constituency lack female role models within their own family-perhaps they are estranged from the grandparental generation. A female priest can provide real practical help, advice and support to young women making their first steps in motherhood without a family network around them.'

Positive male and female role models are very important in local communities but as an argument for the ordination of women, or indeed men, Mrs Spelman's apologia for women priests displays a lamentable level of biblical literacy. The primary calling of ordained ministers in the Church of England is to proclaim the Word of God, not to spend their time trying to compensate for societal breakdown.

The Book of Common Prayer's Ordinal is very clear on the central calling of ordained ministers. According to the Bishop's Charge, they are 'to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; to teach and to premonish, to feed and to provide for the Lord's family'. How they are to do that is also made very clear in the Ordinal. They do that by teaching and exemplifying the Holy Scriptures - 'And seeing that you cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken of the holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same; consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures'. The ordained calling of course involves the minister being a kind and loving person in their local community but it must not involve being so consumed by social work that they neglect their primary vocation to teach God's Word.

That priority in the Ordinal faithfully reflects the Apostle Paul's charge to his younger protegee in Christian ministry, Timothy:

'I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching' (2 Timothy 4v1-2 - RSV). Unfortunately, Mrs Spelman was not the only Anglican politician to display ignorance of the New Testament and of the Ordinal. The Labour MP for Exeter, the Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw, extolled the 'progressive' credentials of the female chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin. '[Her appointment] was greeted terribly by some Conservative forces in the media at the time, and she has turned out to be the most fantastic chaplain to this House,' Mr Bradshaw pronounced.

It may well be necessary for a faithful minister of the Word to rub up Conservative opinion, but it is also necessary from a biblical perspective to be prophetic and counter-cultural in relation to fashionable political correctness. It is therefore of grave spiritual concern that Ms Hudson-Wilkin appears to be so popular in the current House of Commons.

A chaplain who faithfully pursued the biblical priorities of the Church of England's Ordinal would not be on the receiving end of plaudits from politicians with the revisionist outlook of Mr Bradshaw. They would more likely find themselves censored for hate speech for diligently being 'messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord' in the British Parliament.

Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge in South Yorkshire, UK. He blogs as Cranmer's Curate

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