The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, February 2, 2024

Ordinary Authority, the Apostolic Priesthood, Orthodox Anglicanism and Women’s Ordination


The incident of a couple of weeks ago in which Fr. Calvin Robinson, having been invited to address the Mere Anglicanism conference hosted by an ACNA parish in the United States on the subject of how critical theory is contrary to the Gospel and was disinvited from the final panel because in his talk he highlighted feminism’s role in the development of Cultural Marxism and criticized women’s ordination, is still generating much discussion.   Fr. Robinson, if you are unfamiliar with him, is an outspoken conservative Christian commentator from the United Kingdom.   He was denied ordination in the Church of England a few years ago, for his conservative views, but was ordained a deacon in the Free Church of England (the British counterpart to the American Reformed Episcopal Church, it separated from the Church of England in the nineteenth century in protest over the Oxford Movement) then later a priest in the Nordic Catholic Church (a group that left the Lutheran Church of Norway to join the Old Catholics, i.e., the formerly Roman Catholic Churches that rejected Vatican I).   He also had a show on GB News until they dropped him last year in a spasm of political correctness.   The ACNA is the Anglican Church in North America which was founded about fifteen years ago by parishes that separated from the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada (up here the parishes associated with the ACNA go by the name Anglican Network in Canada, ANiC) over the increasing influence of the alphabet soup lobby in the mainline bodies (as seen in same-sex blessings/marriages).   It is recognized by and in full communion with the orthodox provinces of the Anglican Communion (the Global South provinces) although not with the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada or the Episcopal Church, the three most apostate Churches within the Anglican Communion.   Parts of the ACNA practice women’s ordination, other parts do not.   The aforementioned Reformed Episcopal Church, for example, which joined the ACNA when it was formed although it had already been separated from the Episcopal Church for over a century, does not.   This the REC has in common with other Anglican jurisdictions that left the Episcopal Church over its apostasy prior to the alphabet soup crisis, such as those which left when James Parker Dees declared the Episcopal Church apostate in 1963 over liberalism as manifested in her refusal to discipline Bishop Pike when he abandoned the faith entirely (the low church Anglican Orthodox Church and the high church Orthodox Anglican Church, originally a single communion) and, rather obviously, those who signed the St. Louis Affirmation of 1977 which declared the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to have apostatized from Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by introducing women’s ordination (called the Continuing Anglican Churches or the Anglican Continuum in the stricter sense, the broader sense of these terms also includes the REC, AOC, OAC, and other smaller groups that left prior to St. Louis, these were intended to be a single body by the Concerned Churchman of St. Louis who, interestingly enough, called the body they so envisioned the Anglican Church in North America).  (1)  The ACNA calls its policy of allowing different dioceses and parishes to have different viewpoints and practices on the matter of women’s ordination by the expression “dual integrities”.      


I don’t have much to add to the discussion of the incident itself.   I rather wish to answer an argument that Dr. Bruce Atkinson has posted in several places.   One of those places is the comments section on Dr. David W. Virtue’s article on the Robinson/Mere Anglicanism affair and it is this version, should there be any differences between this and the versions he has posted elsewhere, to which I shall be responding.    Dr. Atkinson is a psychologist and a founding member of the ACNA.


His first section under the heading “On WO” reads:


1) The New Testament does not discuss the issue of the sacramental ordination of clergy at all, neither male nor female. What became the tradition of clericalism (a ruling and elite priesthood order) only developed after the Apostles had passed. The closest the NT gets to supporting this is where Paul mentions roles of overseer, elder, and deacon (servant) and a few times he or elders prayed and laid hands on disciples for specific tasks. Hardly the same as what later became the sacrament of ordination. And Jesus was against such a ruling privileged priesthood as evidenced in Mark 10:42-44 and Matthew 23:5-12, and as also evidenced by Peter’s view of the priesthood as being of ALL believers (1 Peter 2:4-5, 9).


As I have pointed out many times in the past a case against a distinct priesthood within the Church cannot be made from St. Peter’s remarks about the universal priesthood of all believers.   This is because there was a universal priesthood under both Covenants.   In the book of Exodus, the Israelites, having been led by Moses out of Egypt, arrived at the wilderness of Sinai in the nineteenth chapter.   At the beginning of this chapter, the LORD, speaking to Moses out of the mountain, tells him to tell the Israelites “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (v 6).   This clearly did not preclude the establishment of a more specific priesthood, the Levitical priesthood, within national Israel.   St. Peter, by joining the expressions “royal priesthood” and “holy nation” in 1 Peter 2:9 alludes back to this Old Testament passage.   Since the original did not preclude a more specific priesthood, neither can the New Testament allusion.   Especially since St. Paul speaks of his ministerial work in terms of just such a priesthood.   In Romans 15:16 he writes:


That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.


The word “ministering” that is placed in bold in the above quotation is in St. Paul’s Greek “ἱερουργοῦντα” (hierourgounta).  This is the present, active, participle of ἱερουργέω (hierourgeo) which means “to officiate as a priest”, “to perform sacred rites”, “to sacrifice”.   It is formed by combining the basic Greek word for “priest” (St. Peter’s word for “priesthood” in 1 Pet. 2:9 is ἱεράτευμα, hierateuma) with the basic Greek word for “work”.   Indeed, the word λειτουργὸν (leitourgon) that is behind the noun “minister” earlier in the verse has connotations of this as well since the primary meaning of the word, “public servant” in the civic sense, clearly does not apply here.


That this sort of language is not more widely used of the Apostolic ministry in the New Testament is easily explainable.   The Old Testament priesthood was still functioning at the time.   The Book of Acts brings the history of the Church down to a few years prior to the destruction of the Temple.   SS Peter and Paul were both martyred prior to that event.   Most of the New Testament was written prior to that event.   To more promiscuously refer to the ministry of the Church as a priesthood would have invited confusion at that time.   That this did not prevent St. Paul from referring to it as such in this verse is explainable by a) the fact that his ministry was to the Gentiles as stated in this very verse and so unlikely to be confused with the priesthood of national Israel, and by b) the fact that this verse comes towards the end of an epistle in which it is preceded by an extended discussion of the differences between the two Covenants.


The very nature of the rite that the Lord commissioned the Apostolic ministry to perform in the Church necessitates that it be thought of as a priesthood.   There were three types of sacrifices (in terms of what was to be offered) the Levitical priesthood was commissioned to offer in the Old Testament.   There was the offering of animals, who were killed and their blood sprinkled, which was involved in any sacrifice having to do with sin and guilt.   These were a type of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ and were forever fulfilled in Christ’s Sacrifice.   Then there were the offerings of grain/flour/cakes (meat/meal/grain offerings) and of wine (libations).   These three elements are also featured prominently in the Passover meal.   A covenant in the Old Testament would always be sealed by a sacrifice and concluded by both parties to the covenant eating the sacrifice together as a shared meal.   Jesus Christ offered Himself as the Sacrifice that sealed and established the Covenant of redemption from sin.   In instituting the Lord’s Supper, He took the bread and wine of the Passover, the other two elements offered by the old priesthood in sacrifice, and pronounced them to be His Body and Blood, making a way for God’s people to be perpetually sustained by the food of His One Sacrifice.   Just as baptism replaces circumcision as the rite of initiation under the New Covenant, so the Sacrament by which Christ’s One Sacrifice becomes the sustenance of the believers’ spiritual life takes the place of the sacrifices that looked forward to the One Sacrifice, and so the ministry commissioned to administer the Sacrament is a priesthood within the universal priesthood of the Church, as the Levitical priesthood was a priesthood within the universal priesthood of Israel.


Dr. Atkinson’s use of terms like “ruling”, “privileged” and “elite” to describe a priesthood within the universal priesthood of the Church is misleading.   The import of Mk 10:42-44 is not that the Church was not to have governors but that her governors were to govern in a spirit of humility.   Pressed to the extreme of hyper-Protestant anti-clericalism, Mk 10:42-44 would condemn St. Paul in defending his Apostolic authority in the Corinthian epistles and the early chapters of Galatians.   The Lord clearly set His Apostles as governors over His Church, just as clearly the need for structure and order in the Church did not die with the Apostles nor did they let their governance end or die with them.   Already in the New Testament we see them placing others in authority under themselves over local Churches as elders/presbyters, and already in the New Testament we see them commissioning others such as SS Timothy and Titus to exercise the same level of governing authority as themselves, including the authority to ordain elders/presbyters and deacons.   The term bishop (overseer/episkopos) would later be used as the title of the Apostles’ co-governors/successors.   In the New Testament this term is used either interchangeably with elder/presbyter or more likely for the presiding elder/presbyter in each locality.  When it is first unmistakably used for the co-governors/successors of the Apostles, in the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the description suggests that every presiding elder/presbyter was now what SS Timothy and Titus were in the New Testament.   The rapidity and earliness with which this usage became universal and the fact that it first appears in the writings of St. John’s direct disciples may indicate that St. John, the Apostle who survived the others by decades, had merged the two offices towards the end of his life and ministry.    However that may be, the thing traditionally designated by the term bishop, the person who has been given the ordinary authority (vide infra for explanation of this expression) of the Apostles to govern the Church and ordain presbyters and deacons, is clearly already established in the New Testament.   That the Lord’s instructions in Mk. 10:42-44 have not always been obeyed by those in authority in the Church is lamentable, although not, given the fallenness of human nature, very surprising, but the abuse of something does not invalidate the thing itself.  


Dr. Atkinson begins the second section of his argument by saying:


2) I will never ignore clear scriptural advice; like most members and clergy in ACNA, I am generally against women’s ordination above the level of deacon. What Paul clearly wrote to Timothy (1 Tim 2, cf. Titus 2:3-5) is that he did not allow women to have authority over men in his churches, but he did not condemn the practice nor was it ever called a ‘sin’ anywhere in the NT. He also wrote elsewhere about male headship in the family (1 Cor 11: 3-10, 1 Cor 14:33-35, Eph 5:22-23)


If someone in a position of authority were to say “I do not allow you to walk up to your neighbour, poke him in the eyes, tweak his nose, and pull his beard” would you interpret this as a non-condemnation of eye-poking, nose-tweaking and beard-pulling?


His third section, however, begins by saying:


3) However… the whole counsel of God provides some mitigating circumstances.

a) The fact that Jesus Himself elevated women (and their roles) above what was regarded as normative in His culture (women were virtual chattel, not even to be spoken to in the street) tells us a lot about the teleological direction we could expect to occur over time in the Kingdom of God by the revelation of scripture made evident by the Holy Spirit. Note Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3:24-29 where egalitarianism is taught as being part of our freedom in Christ versus the Jewish laws and culture. Despite Paul's admonition to Timothy about women's disqualification to have authority over men, Paul was not shy about allowing women to lead where his own welfare (and thus that of the gospel) was concerned (as seen in Romans 16:1-4).


This is a common argument but it is no less wrong for being common.   The fact that Jesus elevated women above what was normative in Jewish, and for that matter Roman, culture carries the exact opposite meaning to that which Dr. Atkinson attaches to it.   It makes it all that much more significant that Jesus did not include a woman among the Twelve.    Had He, by treating women as the human beings they are, intended to start the Church on a path that would lead towards women’s ordination He would not have allowed St. Paul to prohibit – his words to St. Timothy are stronger than a mere admonition – women from having authority over men in that way.


He continues:


b) The issue of Women’s Ordination (WO) is not at all the same as the homosexuality issue where there are absolutely no exceptions in either Old Testament or New Testament that this behavior is an egregious sin that will keep a person out of the Kingdom of God (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9). Rather, the role of women in God’s kingdom on earth has clearly had some exceptions in the Bible, where women have had authority without any divine judgment or criticism being revealed about it. The New Testament reveals that there were women deaconesses and women prophets in NT churches… without any criticism by Paul or other Apostles. And how far should we generalize Peter’s point that the Church consists of the “priesthood of ALL believers”? But I must emphasize that these scriptural exceptions to the rule (like Deborah the judge in the OT) were in fact exceptions.

Therefore, ACNA is not wrong to also have exceptions... but they must be kept relatively rare (to remain exceptions) and never to be turned into a general WO rule (as TEC and the Church of England have done).


The issue of Women’s Ordination is related to that of the homosexuality – actually the entire alphabet soup – issue.   I’ll return to that momentarily.   First, I would like to point out how Dr. Atkinson seriously misinterprets the significance of the Scriptural examples of women with authority to which he points.   These are not exceptions to the rule.   They are rather illustrations of a different rule.


As orthodox Christians, we believe that God is working in everything that goes on in the world.   We are not Deists who think that God started the world going, like someone winding up a clock, then left it to wind down on its own accord.    God brought Creation into existence ex nihilo and apart from His sustaining its existence it would slip back into nothingness.   The tree in your front lawn, God put there, through multiple different steps including the falling of the seed from which it originally grew, the natural process of growth that He put into the seed, the rain that He caused to fall, etc.   Everything that happens in nature, does so because God is working in and through it in this way.   God is not limited to working in this way.   If He had reason to do so, He could cause a tree to appear out of nowhere in your front lawn without going through all that preliminary motion.   If He did so, this is what we would call a miracle.   God does not work in this direct way unless He has special reason to do so.   His ordinary method of producing a tree in your front laws, is through the means of the seed, the growth, the rain, etc.   A miracle, in which He directly acts without means, is extraordinary.


The distinction just made can also be seen in those to whom God delegates authority.   In the Old Testament, God established the Levitical priesthood and the Davidic monarchy.   These were positions of authority that were passed on through the generations in an ordinary manner (David passed his throne to Solomon who passed it to Rehoboam, for example).   This type of authority corresponds to God’s working ordinarily through the means of nature.   There are other examples, however, of God raising up individuals to positions of leadership and authority that correspond to His working extraordinarily through miracles.   The judges are examples of these.   So are the prophets.   Each one was called by God as an individual and given special authority and power.   Since order is one of the more important purposes of structure and ordinary authority there are rules as to how that authority is transmitted.   God is not bound by such rules in raising people up to special authority any more than He is bound by the laws of nature when He performs miracles.   In the New Testament, Jesus gave to the Apostles both ordinary and extraordinary authority when He set them in governance over His Church.   The extraordinary power, such as infallibility when teaching the faith and writing Scripture, could not be passed on to others.   The ordinary authority that they exercised in settling controversies, ordaining presbyters and deacons, and basically governing the Church they passed on to those such as SS Timothy and Titus who succeeded them in governance.   St. Paul’s instructions to St. Timothy in regards to women belong to the rules governing ordinary authority and its transmission.   They do not bind God when it comes to raising up people with special or extraordinary authority like prophets.  

This distinction accounts for Deborah the judge and the prophetesses of both Testaments.    Remember that if someone claims to have received extraordinary authority directly from God, they are to be tested and tried by all the tests of the prophet in both Testaments.


This brings us back to the connection between the women’s ordination issue and the alphabet soup issue.   If God raises up a woman as a prophetess or otherwise gives her extraordinary authority that is one thing.   If the rules governing the transmission of ordinary authority in the Church are altered to allow for women’s ordination that is something entirely different.   When that happens it leads to further apostasy.   This is what has happened in the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of England.   That this further apostasy has taken the form of the affirmation of alphabet people, then same-sex blessings, then outright same-sex marriage, and most recently all the garbage that is preceded by the prefix trans is only to be expected.   When you set aside the rules laid down in Scripture for the transmission of the Apostolic ministry of the Church so as to ordain women you do so for a reason.    In this case you do so because you think the rules of Scripture (and tradition for that matter) are incompatible with some higher standard or ideal you are seeking to achieve.    To regard an ideal or standard as higher than the Word of God is itself a serious apostasy.   When the rule set aside is the prohibition against women in positions of ordinary authority, the ideal that is set above the Word of God, and thus made an idol, is the equality of the sexes.   The equality of the sexes, when treated with this exaggerated importance, becomes the interchangeability of the sexes.   If the sexes are treated as interchangeable when it comes to the priesthood/ministry the next step will be for them to be treated as interchangeable in other areas – such as in who one looks for as a mate and ultimately with which sex one identifies.


Of course we could also back the story up and point out that just as women’s ordination has led to the alphabet soup problems of today, so the path to women’s ordination was one the Church set upon when it took that first false step of breaking with the Catholic (in the Vincentian sense) consensus against artificial contraception in Resolution 15 of the 1930 Lambeth Conference which passed because supposedly conservative evangelicals failed to support the conservative Anglo-Catholics in their opposition to the Resolution (for the Biblical case against birth control, see Charles D. Provan’s The Bible and Birth Control, Zimmer Printing, 1989, for an interesting discussion, albeit from a Darwinian perspective, of why affordable, effective, contraception for females led, counter-intuitively, to the ramping up of the feminist demand for abortion and the skyrocketing of single-motherhood, see Dr. Lionel Tiger’s The Decline of Males, St. Martin’s Press, 1999).   That is, however, a topic for another time.


(1)    Lest you get the impression that the mainline Anglican Churches in England, Canada, and the United States are entirely apostate, I assure you there are orthodox parishes left in each.  On both sides of the pond, there are parishes within the mainline Anglican Communion that indicate their adherence to the full orthodoxy affirmed at St. Louis by affiliating with Forward in Faith or Forward in Faith North America.   In the Anglican Church of Canada there are parishes that indicate their ACNA type orthodoxy by affiliating with the Anglican Communion Alliance.   My own parish is one affiliated with the Anglican Communion Alliance and personally, while I disagree with separatism as a solution to apostasy, I could sign my full agreement with the Principles of Doctrine and Principles of Morality sections of the St. Louis Affirmation.  

1 comment:

  1. "Therefore, ACNA is not wrong to also have exceptions... but they must be kept relatively rare (to remain exceptions) and never to be turned into a general WO rule (as TEC and the Church of England have done)"

    That is hilarious! The lack of self-awareness of moderates! Their emotional desire for consensus and acceptance makes them mealy-minded even while they claim to uphold higher principles (unless those principles might offend the wrong people!)

    "When you set aside the rules laid down in Scripture for the transmission of the Apostolic ministry of the Church so as to ordain women you do so for a reason. In this case you do so because you think the rules of Scripture (and tradition for that matter) are incompatible with some higher standard or ideal you are seeking to achieve."

    That paragraph is logical fire!

    Great article!