Saturday, May 31, 2014

Did You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind?

Ever Have to Finally Decide?

Did you ever have to make up your mind?

You pick up on one and leave the other one behind

Did you ever have to finally decide?
And say yes to one and let the other one ride

I was always lucky if I had one girlfriend, so I don't have much experience of the sort The Lovin' Spoonful sang about (Listen) - finally having to decide between girls. But in life there are situations when you have to make up your mind between or among choices. Sometimes, when my wife can't make up her mind, I have to finally decide. McDonald's or Wendy's? Every husband is required to make such momentous decisions. 

There are more significant moments in the Valley of Decision. "Choose you this day whom ye will serve." "How long halt ye between two opinions?" "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say?" "Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?" "For I am in a strait betwixt two."

What I am thinking about today is women and the gospel. IF I had to choose, would I decide to hear something less or other than the gospel from a man or hear the the gospel from a woman? Would I choose a muddled or mixed message from an ordained male or the pure gospel from an ordained woman?

This is a live issue. I was a Presbyterian for 65 years and a Presbyterian minister for 40 years. Among evangelical Presbyterians there are differences regarding the ordination of women as ministers and elders. The churches of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council do not ordain females as elders and ministers. On the other hand, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church allows such ordinations and the Evangelical Covenant Order promotes them. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It appears that, as the PCUSA sifting continues, all or nearly churches that leave will go to the EPC or ECO, because they already have women as ministers and/or elders and do not believe the Scriptures forbid it. It is also worth noting that within the Prebyterian Church in America there are churches where females serve as de facto deacons (function without ordination), and certain instances of women functioning as teachers without being ordained.

It is particularly a live issue for me now because I am a Presbyter in the Reformed Episcopal Church which is a founding jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in North America. (Here I am obliged to make it clear that I am new to the REC and Anglicanism, have limited knowledge of the history and traditions, and, of course, speak for no one except myself.) 

The ACNA recognizes female ordination to the priesthood. It appears this is a settled matter beyond reconsideration. If you are in the ACNA, you are in a group with women ministers. On the other hand, the REC appears to be firmly set against female ordination. Females may serve on vestries (which I approve) and may serve as deaconesses, which, while involving the laying on of hands by a bishop, remains a lay office and does not lead to ordination to the office of Presbyter (Presbyter=Minister=Priest in REC). I am not sure this problem of differences between the REC and the ACNA can be resolved. 

Now I find among at least some in the REC that the reason for denying ordination to the Presbyterate to women is based primarily upon the maleness of Jesus and not upon the Apostolic teaching regarding the function of teaching and exercise of authority (1 Corinthians 14:34,35; 1 Timothy 3:11-14). For those for whom the maleness of Jesus is the critical issue the maleness of Jesus is signficant, at least primarily, to the sacramental function of the minister. In other words, Jesus was a male, and no one except a male can represent Jesus in the administration of the sacraments.

One church sets forth its belief in this way:
In accordance with the teaching of Scripture, the holy Traditions of the ancient and undivided Church, and the historic Prayer Book witness, this parish upholds the principle that it is God's will that the specifically apostolic ministry of blessing, consecrating, and absolving is intended to be exercised by whole, male, baptized persons who have been called to and trained for this holy vocation.
I asked an Anglo-Catholic friend about points of agreement between Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics and inquired if the matter of female ordination was perhaps the most important thing holding them together. After pointing out that Evangelicals were among the first to capitulate on the matter in The Episcopal Church, he commented: "AC's hold to male priesthood because of the sacramental nature of the office and the priest functioning in persona Christi." 

I am firm in opposition to female ordination. I am firm because I believe the ministry of the Word and the ministry of Sacrament are one, both ministering the same grace. It is this one ministry of Word-Sacrament that Paul does allow women to exercise. I am more persuaded by the explicit teaching of the Apostle than by the implicit teaching derived from the maleness of our Lord. When I focus on our Lord's maleness (which I do not consider to be an insignificant or inconsequential matter) I focus as much on his three years of teaching ministry as I do on his one evening of sacramental ministry - on the Mount where he preached his great Sermon as well as on the Upper Room.

But, while I am firmly opposed to the ordination of women, there is something that
trumps female ordination as an issue. That issue is the gospel. What do I mean by the gospel? In general I mean what we confess in the 39 Articles of Religion. In particular focus, what I mean is the undeniably Protestant teaching of Article XI: Of the Justification of Man:
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification. 
You can read the whole Homily (Here), which is a well balanced statement of the doctrine. For our present purposes it is sufficient to quote the following:
And where as it lay not in us that to do, he provided a ransom for us, that was, the most precious body and blood of his own most dear and best beloved Son Jesus Christ, who besides this ransom, fulfilled the law for us perfectly. And so the justice of GOD & his mercy did embrace together, & fulfilled the mystery of our redemption. 
Archbishop Cranmer
...the true understanding of this doctrine, We be justified freely by faith without works, or that we be justified by faith in Christ only, is not, that this our own act, to believe in Christ, or this our faith in Christ, which is within us, doth justify us, and deserve our justification unto us (for that were to count our selves to be justified by some act or virtue that is within our selves) but the true understanding and meaning thereof is, that although we hear GODS word, and believe it, although we have faith, hope, charity, repentance, dread, and fear of GOD within us, and do never so many works thereunto: yet we must renounce the merit of all our said virtues, of faith, hope, charity, and all other virtues and good deeds, which we either have done, shall do, or can do, as things that be far too weak and insufficient, and imperfect, to deserve remission of our sins, and our justification, and therefore we must trust only in GODS mercy, and that sacrifice which our high Priest and Savior Christ Jesus the son of GOD once offered for us upon the Crosse...
This is the gospel: We are justified (declared righteous by God) on the basis of the sacrifice and obedience of Christ and not any works or virtues of our own. We receive this justification (salvation as the Homily refers to it) by faith alone, which faith is not a work or virtue but trust in God's mercy and Christ's death.

Bishop Cummins
This proves nothing about me save that I am a Protestant Anglican, a Cranmerian Anglican, an Articles of Religion Anglican, a Prayer Book Anglican. It proves me aligned with the founding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, George David Cummins:

Justification is the office of God, and not of man...the act of God accounting us righteous and not making us so...the forgiveness of the sinner, the acceptance of the penitent believer, as righteous, into Divine favor.
Oh, and I suppose it proves I believe that, while the Article on Justification was written in a particular historical context addressing particular historical questions and issues (as were the Scriptures themselves), it nevertheless states timeless truth. Further, I suppose, it proves that I do not think the martyrs of the English Church misunderstood Paul on justification. 

All doctrines are important, but not all are equally important. The doctrine of ordination is important both for its substance and for its test of our submission to Scripture. But the doctrine of salvation or justification (the gospel) is more important. 

I hope I shall not have to choose. But, there are regularities and irregularites in the life of the church. A Baptist baptism is irregular but is a baptism. It is a closer call, but I am inclined to think that female ordination is irregular but not sufficiently irregular as to make the female not a minister. But, leave that aside, if you will. The bottom line for me is this:  IF I had to make up my mind and finally decide, I would choose to hear the pure gospel from an ordained woman than to hear a denial of, a mixed, or a muddled gospel from an ordained male. 

The proclamation is more important than the preacher. The gospel is more important than women.

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