Wednesday 27 August 2014

Ordination of women to Christian priesthood

Official arguments on this topic - which in recent times has been and remains one of the litmus test issues of Christian churches (an issue which divides institutions, which defines ideologies, which encapsulates positions) - tend to be abstract and resolutely to avoid ad hominem, personalized, individualized evaluations.

Understandably so, since this is one of the hot button topics with potential to generate hatred, resentment and destruction.

But such abstract arguments rapidly become incomprehensible and unconvincing - and unsuitable for making important choices. Indeed, abstraction is a way of reducing the emotional temperature - but carries with it the cost of reducing the relevance and clarity of any conclusion reached. Abstracted debate may be calm and reasonable - but abstract discussions also tend to be interminable and ineffectual.


In practice, we must make judgments as best we can - we have to take sides (because 'not taking sides' on this issue is in fact to take the side of ordination of women to the priesthood).

And since we can perceive people but cannot perceive ideologies (cannot perceive complex webs of abstract principles) - then we do need to judge the individuals (as best we may; knowing that our personal judgment is not the same as divine judgment - yet that we necessarily live and die by our personal judgments).


On that basis, my judgment is that argument in favour of ordination of women to the priesthood is never made by 1. serious real Christians who 2. believe in the reality of the priesthood.

Although the first part covers most of the advocates, the second part is extremely important and neglected; because there are serious real Christians who do not believe in the reality of priesthood - and who are therefore not-against/ or in-favour-of women performing the duties of a pastor. 

Especially, some Protestants are of this type - they do not distinguish a priesthood, do not distinguish 'ordination', perhaps do not distinguish 'a church'. For them, Christianity is about individuals, not an organization (not even a divinely-sanctioned organization); and therefore the issue of 'ordination' is merely one of church order, of functionality, of the matter of the expediencies of organizing an implicitly secular institution - and therefore there is room for legitimate disagreement.


But among those serious real Christians who believe in the reality of the priesthood there is unanimity on this issue.

Note: Of course, some specific person may self-identify or strategically present-himself as being a serious real Christian, when judgment suggests that he is not; and that he is instead primarily operating on the basis of some other 'ideology'. Likewise, someone may say that he believes in the reality of the priesthood, but observation suggests that this is untrue. Such falsehoods and errors are not necessarily matters of legalistic or logical 'proof'; but are nonetheless very obvious to common sense and personal experience; and it would be extremely foolish to ignore them. Certainly, such obviously-fake pseudo-exceptions do not refute the above thesis.   


Geoff said...

Most protestants tend toward the laity/clergy distinction as merely fictive/functional. I don't think that makes them unserious. They just take the claims that the whole church is a kingdom of priests seriously. So, in some sense, everybody is precisely responsible for the community and for his or her own salvation. In that respect, female priests are as common as female converts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Geoff " I don't think that makes them unserious. "

- Of course not - I agree! Maybe you misunderstood my point?

Adam G. said...

Serious Christians who take priesthood seriously--to me this looks like the Catholics, the Orthodox, some break-away Anglicans, and the Mormons. Is there anyone I'm missing?

ajb said...

The problem with exclusively defensive battles is that one will, eventually, lose ground even if one wins 99% of them.

What is required, instead, is an articulation of a positive movement - what is so great about a male priesthood? What are the key advantages? How does it increase certain goods people widely value?

Of course, all of this is futile if one does not either a) have a community that is immune by and large to the mass media (such as, say, the Amish) or b) have a significant influence in the mass media.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - I agree, and this is what is currently happening in the LDS.

So far (and despite what you read in the mainstream mass media) the LDS are 100% solid and effective in resisting OW; and the General Authorities are strengthening the positive teaching about the nature of the priesthood in General Conference and elsewhere.

Of course, OW is a completely ignorant, incompetent, ridiculous or actively malicious idea (this last one, mostly) for Mormonism, since the priesthood is a core reality for the CJCLDS and the complementarity of men and women is recognized as going back to pre-mortal, pre-child-of-God existence: built-into the basic nature of the universe. Therefore any argument based on 'equality'/ sameness of men and women is Just Plain Wrong.

The micro-loophole - which is not really a loophole unless you are dishonest - is that continuing revelation can be pseudo-interpreted as meaning than *anything* might happen in the future - therefore including OW.

The reality is that is when Mormonism embraces OW, as *already happened* with the Reorganized LDS when it was part of the collapse of the church into a fake-Christian PC-suicidal, leftist pressure group clone of The Episcopal Church.

So CJCLDS could only OW as part of ceasing to be Mormonism in anything but name.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - That would be the same list I can think of - with the modification that until the collapse of Anglicanism in the 1960s, that was a solidly Episcopal (hence real priesthood believing) church in its Mainstream as well as its Anglo Catholic forms. Only the minority of 'evangelicals', among serious real Christian Anglicans, would have dissented from this - they tended to (and still do) prefer to call priests Presbyters, or refer to the office title such as Vicar or Rector.

Geoff said...

Perhaps I did.

Bruce B. said...

I was going to say that it’s pretty much all Protestants except Anglicans that don’t distinguish these things. Some denominations have offices that they call episcopos or presbyteros but they have a different understanding of them.
I’m not even sure about Anglicans except the Anglican Catholic ones. From the thirty nine articles:
XIX. Of the Church.
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.
XXIII. Of Ministering in the Congregation.
It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord's vineyard.
The Anglican understanding seems to be similar to the Lutheran and this isn’t surprising since a number of the articles are virtually identical to what’s found in the Augsburg confession.

Bruce B. said...

You would think that St. Paul’s counsel on the proper demeanor/role for women in the Church would settle this for all Christians whether they have priests, ministers, pastors, elders, whatever.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - The chapter and verse proof texting method is too easy to subvert by secular historical and linguistic microscopy. What seems plain statement is examined in the context of the times, and attention focused on the uncertainties of translation of particular words, grammar and the rest of it. And at the end of this, the (supposedly) greatest New Testament scholar of our time (NT Wright) is able to reinterpret St Paul and approve the ordination of women. So, I conclude that the 'male leadership' argument *alone* cannot hold the line. Also, I think it is a secular/ political/ expediency argument - whereas the only hardline rationale is some metaphysical version of 'complementarianism'.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - I am talking about the historical mainstream Anglican Church from my reading on the subject - the via media.

Anonymous said...

I don't think priesthood as such is the issue. Requirements for pastors and elders are explicitly spelled out, that they be married men of good character who are in control of their households.

stephen c said...

From personal experience, I believe that many, if not most, non-denominational Bible churches in the U.S.( excluding the prosperity churches and the "ethnic" "Bible" churches)would never, on Biblical principles, invite women to preach to a mixed congregation, even though they lack a concept of Christian priesthood. Generally, even the smaller subsets of those churches, called prayer groups (or called "small groups") are, if composed of women, led by women, if composed of men, led by men. Of course, from the point of view of eternity, the fact that non-denominational Bible churches are correct on this subject is numerically and, much more importantly, spiritually undermined by their failure of courage (in most cases) on the contraception and abortion issues(see, for the saddest example, Billy Graham's apparent endorsement of abortive endings to the lives of innocent children of first-cousin-couplings, evidenced in his handbook for those involved in his ministry, which encourages or excuses violent abortions in cases of non-violent incest). By the way, mainstream American Mormons ( none of whom could deny - unless I am happily but improbably wrong - that a doctor who aborts viable babies of healthy mothers can, in certain circumstances, be a Mormon in good standing)have embarrassingly little to be proud about on those issues, too, to tell the truth. I do not mean to be rude to anyone (being a sinner myself, although not on this subject), but unless your Christian church is trying harder than the average 2014 church to not be a Molochite-Christian or Baalite-Christian church, it stands to reason that it has no real future among the generations to come, who will have no reason to call blessed any "church" that did not believe in their basic right to life.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dl - See above remark on NT Wright.

Also, I think it is an error to read the Bible as if it were a rulebook, line by line. It is the overall, multilevel, cross-linked, integrated (Right Brain!) *meaning* that is what matters.

(For example, everything in the Bible needs to be understood in light of the Master Metaphor of God being our Loving Heavenly Father.)

This is the way we nowadays regard laws and it makes for bad laws and incoherence - even worse way to build our lives.

Not to say that we ignore whatever we don't like or is inconvenient - but bureaucratic legalism vs anything-goes are are not the only two options.

Bruce Charlton said...

@sc - "many, if not most, non-denominational Bible churches in the U.S.( excluding the prosperity churches and the "ethnic" "Bible" churches)would never, on Biblical principles, invite women to preach to a mixed congregation, even though they lack a concept of Christian priesthood."

Yes, I said that above. But this is a matter of making sustainable organizations where the choice is seems as either patriarchy or feminism: patriarchy is sustainable but feminism is parasitic. IF these were the ONLY options, then it would have-to be patriarchy - and indeed *would* be patriarchy simply by natural selection that dominates.

However, real complementarity - the Mormon view - is also sustainable and has the advantage of being a matter of religion rather than organizational/ social expediency.

So complementarity is a third alternative to patriarchy and feminism.

I think complementarianism is more loving than patriarchy, less easily-corruptible into tyranny and a spiritually empty religion of politics; and the dyadic/ complementary view of men and women (two different parts of a single whole) is more in line with ultimate reality (i.e. it has the advantage of being true).


I think that putting abortion (in whatever precise and decontextualized (motivation-ignoring) 'legalistic' definition is decided upon) as the number one central litmus test religious issue is a reaction to modernity and will ultimately lead to evil. This is simply one sin among many, many others - and the modern use of it as a litmus test is a sign of spiritual degeneration, not strength.

It is a misunderstanding and lethal to Christianity to build itself, to define itself, on prohibitions - even though many prohibitions are necessary. It leads to one hatred being pitted against another hatred.

This is NOT a refusal to regard abortion as wrong, but this IS an inflexible-refusal to use a person or denomination's attitude to legalistically-defined 'abortion' as the single and ultimate core principle of real Christianity.

Adam G. said...

The abortion thing isn't so much wrong as it is beside the point. When a Christian is thinking about the wisdom of female ordination, it is extremely relevant that all of the Christian organizations that have a robust theological/sociological understanding of priesthood and that have managed to remain significantly Christian have also rejected female ordination. That's the only point Bruce C. was making and I'm frankly at a loss to see what abortion has to do with it--if you're insisting that total opposition to abortion is the sine qua non of remaining significantly Christian, you haven't changec the conclusion any, since there still aren't any "significantly Christian" denominations with robust understanding of priesthood that practice female ordination.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - Yes, that is probably the best response.

But I do find it foolish, dangerous and psychologically unconvincing that some people have made abortion into something like the *ultimate* decontextualized sin - the only one for which there can be no reason, excuse or exceptions - in a way that does not apply to murder, rape, torture or anything else (where it is normal to consider motives, degrees, mental competence, health and so on).

It is simply a psychological fact that humans do not consider abortion or infanticide as equivalent to murder.

Indeed, abortion and infanticide are 'normal' in many pagan societies - and their prohibition is distinctive to Christianity (and a few other religions).

(In effect, while murder (of the in-group) is contrary to 'natural law' and a feature of all societies, the killing of her own child by a mother before or shortly after birth is not.)

According to Rodney Stark's account of the early years of Christianity - the prohibition of abortion was one of several pro-familial features which helped Christianity to grow in a context of very low fertility/ reproductive success among other Romans.

Therefore, for non-Christian societies to allow abortion is exactly what would be expected from surveying human history. This does not make it right, but it should not be at all surprising.

Bruce B. said...

If Wright can’t understand what Paul is saying then he’s a “scholar” not a scholar. If you’re saying that the interpretation of the words of holy scripture can be manipulated and, therefore, certain beliefs aren’t sustainable by scripture alone, then that argues for either capital T tradition or a Pope or both. So that leaves Orthodoxy and Catholicism and, perhaps, Mormonism through their living prophet.

Bruce B. said...

Does Christianity allow exceptions for murder & rape? I’m not aware of any. The fact that something (e.g. infanticide) is common, even nearly ubiquitous, doesn’t mean it’s part of the natural law.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - "Does Christianity allow exceptions for murder & rape? "

Of course - Capital punishment and mandatory sex within marriage.

wrt infanticide - have you read the anthropology literature? The argument is that infanticide is not considered bad, not that it just happens.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB "If Wright can’t understand what Paul is saying then he’s a “scholar” not a scholar. "

Most evangelicals seem to love him - they buy his numerous books in great numbers. His academic reputation is sky high. Myself, I think he is politics/ power crazed - but perhaps he is aware enough of this fault that he renounced his senior Bishopric (Durham) and became a Professor (as Rowan Williams should have done 20 years ago - or rather he should never have become a Bishop in the first place).

"If you’re saying that the interpretation of the words of holy scripture can be manipulated and, therefore, certain beliefs aren’t sustainable by scripture alone, then that argues for either capital T tradition or a Pope or both. "

I would have thought is absolutely obvious that scripture is not self explanatory - sola scriptura protestants have always been schisming over their inability to agree.

The Old Anglican position was that scripture, tradition and reason were all required - but I think we also need continuing personal revelation and living prophets or Saints, because even these three are insufficient.

Adam g. said...

* I think he is politics/ power crazed - but perhaps he is aware enough of this fault that he renounced his senior Bishopric (Durham) and became a Professor*

In the circumstances of the modern world, it is not obvious to me that this would diminish either his power or his political involvement.

Bruce B. said...

I don’t know the derivation of the words but I think of “murder” as the willful taking of innocent life so I don’t see how capital punishment fits this description. I also don’t see how any common sense definition of the word “rape” includes acting on Paul’s counsel that husbands and wives not withhold their bodies from each other.
I don’t believe that natural law, as understood by Christianity is that which is considered good by the majority (even overwhelming) of historic humanity

Bruce B. said...

I agree that continuing personal revelation and/or living prophets or Saints would offer a solution to the problems that you describe. I also think authority such as the Roman Magisterium could solve the problems. And I think Tradition as the Orthodox understand it could (potentially) solve these problems too.
I agree with your opinion of sola scriptura although I think it should be noted that in modern society many (most?) people (both scholars and ordinary people) have hidden motives when interpreting scripture rather than a sincere desire to understand and submit to God’s will.

Jonathan C said...

Bruce, what is the difference between complementarianism and patriarchy? I wasn't aware that there was a difference. Thanks.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jonathan - Try this

Also I have a post in the pipeline on this topic - maybe ready tomorrow?

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - I am not expressing my opinion on these issues. My point is that there is disagreement on what is murder, what is rape among Christians of different times and places. One man's judicial execution is another man's murder, similar for what constitutes rape within marriage. There is no clear, bright, objective, universal line among Christians.

Adam G. said...

**“murder” as the willful taking of innocent life**

Traditionally christians were permitted to wilfully take the lives of enemy combatants in wartime.

Christians are also traditionally allowed to kill in self-defense without regard to the innocence of the threat. Perhaps the guy coming at me with a knife has been lied to by somebody and thinks I'm on a shooting spree; or perhaps he's hallucinating; or perhaps he's going after a real mass murderer who is sneaking up behind me, but I don't realize it. If I shoot to kill in self-defense, that doesn't make me a murderer.

This argument isn't meant to justify any particular approach to abortion. I'm merely pointing out that there are instances in conventional Christian morality where wilfully killing the innocent is permitted.

Bruce B. said...

Maybe it's better phrased as "the taking of a life when you know it is without cause" or when you know the person is innocent. In Catholic thought a sin is mortal when you give the consent of your will to it. Without this consent, something still might be sinful, just not mortally.