Alice C. Linsley
I am writing this from the strength of my conviction that women's ordination to the sacred order of priests is a dangerous innovation, and as a woman who served as a priest in ECUSA from 1988 until the Sunday on which Gene Robinson was consecrated.
Some will view this article as an attempt to influence the 2017 decision of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). However, this is a question on which I have been speaking and writing for over 10 years, and I have no illusion that what is said here will change the minds of those who also hold their positions with firm conviction.
Some say that the opposing positions on women's ordination are predicated on equally valid arguments. That is problematic because the Church does not change sacred Tradition based on the validity of arguments. It has no authority to do so.
Given that Anglicans are comfortable with theological ambiguity and some bishops are pleased to act unilaterally, with little regard for uniformity, it may be impossible to achieve consensus on the question of women priests. As far as the Anglican Church of North America is concerned, the question has been under study for a good while. Out of concern for the growth and unity of that fledgling body, it was not addressed early.
"At the inception of the Anglican Church in North America, the lead Bishops unanimously agreed to work together for the good of the Kingdom. As part of this consensus, it was understood that there were differing understandings regarding the ordination of women to Holy Orders, but there existed a mutual love and respect for one another and a desire to move forward for the good of the Church. This commitment was deeply embedded in the Constitution and Canons overwhelmingly adopted by the Inaugural Assembly (2009). [From "Frequently Asked Questions" at the ACNA website.]
While the Anglican tent has room for "both integrities" the issue remains contentious, and some clergy may leave ACNA should the ordination of women become an approved practice. For these clergy the ordination of women is deemed a first order issue.
Father Louis Tarsitano wrote, "The priesthood of Christ, and that representative priesthood rooted in Christ's priesthood is changeless. To change it is to change the New Testament itself."[Tarsitano, "Some Scriptural References Applicable to the Question of the Ordination of Women"]
Father Richard L. Jones has written, "The established historicity of the priesthood extends back to Melchizedek, then the Levitical priesthood, then Christ and the Apostles, then the Apostolic Fathers, and on through the succeeding 1900+ years. Not only is women in the priesthood a recent innovation that defies the traditions of the past, it also has no basis in Scripture whatsoever."
The Most Rev. Walter F. Grundorf, Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Province of America, expresses that body's fidelity to holy Tradition in this statement:
"The Anglican Province of America, in common with the rest of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, affirms that the Sacrament of Holy Orders of Bishop, Priest and Deacons is the perpetuation of Our Lord Jesus Christ's gift of Apostolic Ministry to his Church and that these Sacred Orders consist exclusively of men in accordance with Christ's will and institution as proven by Holy Scriptures and the universal Tradition of the Holy Catholic Church for two thousand years. We do believe in conformity with the Undivided Catholic Church of the First Millennium that the male character of Holy Orders is unalterably of Divine institution."
The Anglican Province of South America debated the issue of women's ordination for 20 years and feelings ran high. Nevertheless, that Province has agreed to differ. According to Gregory Venables, the Primate of the Anglican Church of South America, "it hasn't caused any division."
Some believe the ability to embrace opposing views is a strength. Michael Warren Davis, writing for the Imaginative Conservative, expressed exactly this view:
"By allowing these rival sentiments to work themselves out, by allowing different provinces and even different parishes to align with this or that camp, the Anglican Communion has grown to be the third largest Church body in the world. To pick the Communion apart now, either from the left or the right, is the only certain means of destroying Anglicanism entirely. Total uniformity is not only impossible--its expectation is un-Anglican."Concern for the growth and unity of the Anglican Communion does not condone moving the boundary stones set up by our holy ancestors (Proverbs 22:28) that enable us to discern and avoid errant paths. Anglicans who uphold the all-male priesthood are portrayed as having "conservative separatist tendencies, such the Anglican realignment and Continuing Anglican movements."["Ordination of women in the Anglican Communion" Wikipedia] In reality, the separatists are the innovators, and their departure from holy Tradition creates division.
C. S. Lewis observed, "The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant. We are, within that context, treating both as neuters. As the State grows more like a hive or an ant-hill it needs an increasing number of workers who can be treated as neuters. This may be inevitable for our secular life. But in our Christian life we must return to reality." [C.S. Lewis, "Priestesses in the Church"]
A woman standing at the altar as a priest represents a departure from the pattern of Scripture. The Bible does not explicitly state "Women shall not be ordained" because it was inconceivable to the Biblical writers that a woman would raise a knife to ritually slay an animal on the altar. This was the work of priests and the heads of households, both roles of men in the Judeo-Christian Tradition.
The priesthood is tied to the altar, and though the Christian priest enacts a bloodless sacrifice, the priesthood is about blood. According to Leviticus 17:11, "The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life." The blood of Jesus makes atonement, purifies, and sanctifies. He is both Sacerdos and Agnus Dei.
St. Paul refers to the Blood of Jesus no less than twelve times in his writings. Because God makes peace with us through the blood of the cross, he urges us to "Take every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together" (Eph. 4:3).
The notion of a woman offering blood sacrifice was unthinkable to the Hebrew people. Such a thing would have been viewed as an affront to the Creator. He created women to bring forth life, not to take it. The blood work of women involves childbirth. The blood work of men involves hunting and warfare. Traditional gender roles speak of the distinction between life and death, a distinction that modernism has blurred. To the modern reader, this sounds bizarre. Today women fight in combat, hunt and abort their unborn.
That men and women have distinct blood work is a given in the context of the Biblical writers. Women were not permitted at the altar and men were not permitted inside birthing chambers. This is an aspect of the Tradition the Church has received. Some view this as legalistic and patriarchal, but instead it is an invitation to contemplate a sacred mystery that is to be preserved by the Church.
A woman standing in persona Christi at the altar sends a distorted and confusing message. Likewise, a man standing in a Nativity scene as the Virgin Mary sends a distorted and confusing message. Jesus Christ is not the author of confusion. That comes from earthly and spiritual forces that oppose Christ and His Gospel.
Through the Church, God preserves right belief and right actions in the service of humanity. The conservation of holy Tradition is the responsibility of bishops and priests who follow the Apostles, upon whom the Church is founded. So-called "traditionalists" have been criticized for doing exactly what must be done to preserve the Gospel and the Church's witness.
Archbishop Shane B. Janzen, Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion, has stated:
"The Traditional Anglican Communion, as with other Continuing Anglican Churches outside of the Canterbury Communion, holds to the Principles of Faith set out in the Affirmation of Saint Louis, 1977. We hold and believe that the Holy Orders of Bishop, Priest and Deacon are exclusive to men, affirming as we do the ancient tradition of the Church and the authority of Sacred Scripture. Though many in the secular world today see the ordination of women as a matter of human rights and equality between the sexes, it is in fact a matter of divine institution not human determination. No one has the 'right' to be ordained. The calling to the ordained ministry within the Church is from God who, in the person of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ, instituted the sacred ministry among men alone -- though He could very well have done otherwise given our Lord's pronouncements and actions which in many cases ran counter to the prevailing understanding and teachings of the then Jewish authorities. The ordained minister is an 'icon of Christ' -- persona Christi or alter Christus -- particularly in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. To set aside the teachings of Christ and the sacred tradition of the Church universal in any unilateral way is contrary to the teachings of Christ, the ancient discipline of the Church, and the means by which doctrines of the Church are determined. The Traditional Anglican Communion continues in the beliefs and discipline of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We seek to conform to the model of Church left to us by our Lord, and as He did not grant authority to His Church to confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders on women, it is beyond our moral and canonical right to do so. We hold that no Church or body of bishops has the authority to alter the teachings of Christ and His Church in matters of faith and morals, including the ordination of women."Christian leaders are to uphold values consistent with the Gospel and to resist dangerous innovations that threaten the unity of the Body of Christ. They are to preserve the pattern, rather than change the pattern based on vain arguments. As a philosophy teacher, I know that an argument can be valid and yet have no basis in reality. The Tradition of the Church is grounded in reality. It speaks about what is real and true. In an escapist society the Church is a troublesome reminder that God exists and is working in mysterious ways to redeem the world. The emotional fragility that is exhibited by many today is a sign that they are fleeing the reality of God. We escape reality when we fantasize new identities, immerse ourselves in virtual realities, hide behind addictions, and avoid pondering eternal verities.
This is what Lewis meant when he wrote, "With the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us." [C.S. Lewis, "Priestesses in the Church"]
On the question of women priests, Archbishop Edmund Akanya of Nigeria has stated: "Our position as a church is that it runs counter to scripture and more so our culture. Even the women themselves are seriously opposed to women's ordination. This position has been held before I became a bishop. In fact, it [women's ordination] is looked at as something that led to the issue of human sexuality today.
Archbishop Akanya is justified in this view since the first woman "regularly" ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) was known to be a lesbian and served as co-president of Integrity.
Louie Crew, the founder of Integrity, worked to influence the decisions of the General Conventions, and the 1976 Convention passed resolutions supporting the "civil rights" of lesbians and gays. (And it came to pass that the salt lost its saltiness and is no longer good for anything.)
The theological ambiguity and biblical illiteracy with which Episcopalians were comfortable served to advance Crew's agenda. He wrote,
"Almost never in our history have we had the luxury of expecting a high degree of conformity in doctrine or liturgical practice. To avoid extinction, frequently individual Anglicans and even groups of us have needed to back off from actions with which we disapprove and allow them still to happen, preferably 'somewhere else.'" [Louie Crew, "Changing the Church", no longer available online.]
This live-and-let-live attitude became enshrined among American Episcopalians and paved the way for Integrity to work its wizardry. Crew wrote, "Episcopal polity, therefore, allows much air in which lesbigays may breathe our living witness."[Louie Crew, "Changing the Church"]
The Church's nature resists worldly corruption and it is able by God's grace to correct what is wrong within itself. Regardless of how one views the priest at altar - in persona Christi, in persona ecclesiae, an icon of Christ, the divinely appointed mediator in the pattern of the Mediator, etc., this is not a matter of secondary importance. No synod or jurisdiction has authority to change the received Tradition concerning Jesus Christ and his blood shed for the salvation of the world. C.S. Lewis is correct that when it comes to the Church's received Tradition, "We cannot shuffle or tamper so much."
Through Jesus Christ the eternal truth signified by the Priesthood comes into focus. He perfects atonement through His own shed blood. The Priesthood is necessarily tied to the blood of Jesus Christ. Where faith in the saving nature of His blood is denied, there can be no true Priesthood. A priest who denies the necessity of repentance and trust in Jesus' blood as the only means of atonement is a false priest.
This article may be freely posted to websites and blogs with full recognition as to its source. The article was originally published at Virtueonline in December 22, 2016