I have been asked why, on St. Timothy day in York Minster, I stood up to object during the ordination of Libby Lane as the first woman bishop of the Church of England. I am happy to give an answer: I stood out of love for the church for which I have served as a pastor for forty-one years and out of respect for the gospel which it proclaims.
In the Church of England when a priest is commissioned with the laying on of hands and with prayer for the Holy Spirit, a Bible is given as a sign of Authority to minister in the name of the Church. How can the archbishop of York purport to make a woman a bishop, and give her a Bible as the sign of her episcopal authority, when in that very Bible there is no authority for a woman bishop? In 1 Timothy 3.1,2 we are told that “the bishop is the husband of one wife.” To be a bishop was to be a man. How have some arrived at a reversal of this view?
One attempt at explanation makes reference to procedure. They tell us that the synod has voted for it, and the parliament has agreed. I ask, do the synod and parliament have authority over the Bible? Clearly they do not. God has not given it to them.
Two thousand years ago God chose the woman, Blessed Mary, to be the mother of his only begotten son. That son, our lord Jesus Christ, chose twelve men to continue his work on earth, and they chose men to be bishops who chose men to be priests. In this, Christ gave us a model on which we should hesitate to think we can improve.
God the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the New Testament in the Bible. How can we now say that God got it wrong ? How can we claim that the Holy Spirit now tells us that women are to become bishops and priests when it could just as well be said that the Holy Spirit at one time guided the Church to keep a male ministry of Bishops, priests, and deacons? How can we credit such a reversal to a God who is described as eternal and unchanging, and the Son of God who is described as the same yesterday, today, and forever?
We describe holy orders of Bishop, priest, and deacon as a sacrament. A sacrament has to have the correct matter of form and words. So at the Altar at Mass (Holy Communion) Jesus took bread and wine, and said “This is my Bodythis is my Blood” and we cannot change to a hamburger and coke because that is the most popular food today. We cannot marry a man to a man because Holy Matrimony is one man married to one woman. And so we cannot put a woman in the place of the man in Holy Orders.
We should not fear to show confidence in the Bible. To do otherwise is arrogance and folly.
Paul Williamson is the rector of St. George’s Church Hanworth.