The Church of England, Baggage and Women Bishops

Last week the Church of England got itself in a mess over the issue of allowing women to become bishops.  Even though a majority of bishops, a majority of clergy and a majority of the laity voted in favour of having women bishops the latter majority was not great enough for the motion to pass.  It’s all quite strange because they do permit women priests, and have for over 20 years.

I look at all this and shake my head.  Not at the outcome of the vote, but at the baggage that the Church of England has to carry.

Let me get some things clear at the start – God loves the Church of England, God is using the Church of England, and plenty of good things are going on in the Church of England.  The Church of England is a part of the bride of Christ so far be it from me to say that the bride of Christ looks ugly.

What the Church of England does have is that it is the official church of the “nation” of England.  And that is a role that I do not envy.  Part of the accidents of history that have put the Church of England where it is today have resulted in 28 of the Church’s bishops having seats in the House of Lords.  Amazing!  To my Australian mind that’s stunning – that being a church leader might get you an automatic seat in Parliament.

The Church of England also has an extraordinarily complex organisational structure, where decisions are made slowly and have to clear many hurdles.  If those things were not enough it then has the care of literally thousands of very old buildings which are of great value for heritage reasons but are completely unsuited to housing modern congregations.  Those buildings cost vast sums to maintain, and that’s money that can’t be spent doing things of more use in spreading the gospel.

Then there is, for me, some of the most amazing baggage of all – ecclesiastical dress.  In other words the odd collection of dog collars, robes, strange hats, crooks and other bits and pieces that leaders within the Church of England wear.

Maybe in centuries past there was good reason to build the sorts of church buildings that the Church of England did.  Maybe in centuries past there was good reason to have a structure where synods debate legislation and need to pass motions with two thirds majorities in the house of bishops, the house of clergy and the house of laity.  Maybe in centuries past there was a good reason for church leaders to start wearing dog collars and ornate, flowing robes.  And maybe in centuries past there was good reason to take up seats in the House of Lords.

But in 2012 those things seem to me to be baggage – unhelpful baggage that makes the Church of England less effective for the gospel.  Of course all churches have some sort of baggage – the Church of England is hardly alone in this regard.  I would not be so bold as to say that there is a single baggage free church anywhere on earth.  And clearly such baggage does not mean that they cannot be effective in making disciples.  Indeed one of the world’s great churches is Holy Trinity Brompton, the home of Nicky Gumbel and the Alpha course.

The Church of England won’t be revisiting the issue of women bishops until 2015 at the earliest.  Granted this, perhaps they might want to address if the 21st century might mean that their leader does not have to dress like the recently retired Archbishop of Canterbury is in this photo.  The Church of England has a genuine theological difference of opinion about women in leadership.  They need to work that through, as they did the issue of women priests.  But there is no reason that they cannot jettison some of the other baggage that would make it easier to be effective for Jesus in the meantime.

As for the issue of women bishops, that is a complex question for someone who has a high view of scripture, and one that I will tackle another day.


2 Comments to “The Church of England, Baggage and Women Bishops”

  1. you sure thats not a women bishop in the picture?

  2. And it was the baggage which infuriated Jesus about the Temple, Pharisees, Saduccees, etc. Radical loyalty to God, the sermon of the prophets, still presents a problem for humans who want to “add” to the Law. Simple is so hard to accept it seems. Trimmings aren’t a problem until we “own” them as important…

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