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The Problem Overlooked in the McGowin-Nelson-Johnson Debate Over Women’s Ordination

One of the more interesting items on this blog (some don’t think there are any, but I digress) is the McPherson-Bogard Debate, between one of the most important figures in early modern Pentecost and one of the most illustrious representatives of fundamental Baptist belief and practice.  The fact that the Pentecostals were represented by a woman does relate to the current topic, but that’s for another post.

In those days the two disputants got into a church with a crowd and went at it.  Today in the Anglican/Episcopal world two or more get on a blog or blogs and produce extended pieces which many won’t understand and hopefully won’t degenerate into a food fight.  Mercifully the recent debate between Emily McGowin on the one side and Lee Nelson and Blake Johnson on the other didn’t do that.  It concerns the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood or not, a debate that has continued in the Anglican Church in North America since its founding.

It’s easier to start with the rejoinder: at the risk of oversimplification, Nelson and Johnson state that, since Christ was male, it is necessary for a male to represent him at the altar, thus women cannot do this task.  This is familiar to any one who has moved in the Roman Catholic world.  The problem with this is that it presupposes an unbiblical ecclesiology.  It requires that the celebrant, as a priest, represent Christ at the altar, and thus be empowered to effect the transformation of the elements as Our Lord did at the Last Supper and Paul enjoined us to continue in the Eucharist.  That in turn leads to the whole concept of the Mass as a present sacrifice, which I deal with elsewhere.

At the risk of being repetitious and otiose, let me remind my readers of the following:

Again, new Levitical priests are continually being appointed, because death prevents their remaining in office; but Jesus remains for all time, and therefore the priesthood that he holds is never liable to pass to another. And that is why he is able to save perfectly those who come to God through him, living for ever, as he does, to intercede of their behalf. This was the High Priest that we needed–holy, innocent, spotless, withdrawn from sinners, exalted above the highest Heaven, one who has no need to offer sacrifices daily as those High Priests have, first for their own sins, and then for those of the People. For this he did once and for all, when he offered himself as the sacrifice. The Law appoints as High Priests men who are liable to infirmity, but the words of God’s oath, which was later than the Law, name the Son as, for all time, the perfect Priest. (Hebrews 7:23-28 TCNT)

We don’t need a priest representing God any more.  We have one perfect priest, Jesus Christ.  We may appoint someone to represent us before him when we gather together, but Our Lord needs neither representative nor substitute.  I’ve debated this subject in the past and you can read that here and here.

Once that is posited, Nelson’s and Johnson’s case collapses.  That doesn’t entirely solve the issue, and it brings another one to light: the whole nature of the church.  When the ACNA was started I noted that there were two major issues of division that remained unresolved: WO (this one) and the Reformed-Anglo-Catholic divide.  The two are related;  McGowin actually touches on this issue in her response but doesn’t really pursue it.  In American feminism the custom is to superimpose postmodern ideas of equality on existing structures without considering the merits of those structures to start with, and the result is cognitive dissonance.  The same problem applies to same-sex civil marriage: it never occurred to anyone to debate whether civil marriage was working for heterosexuals before extending the franchise to same-sex couples.

Anglicanism is metastable in its ecclesiology; it started out by combining a Reformed (how Reformed it is depends on whether you equate Reformed with Calvinist or not) theology and an episcopal church structure.  The Anglo-Catholics called their bluff and today we have a “communion” which doesn’t have a unified ecclesiology.  That’s the source of many of Anglicanisms problems today, and it’s going to take more than GAFCON or a covenant to ultimately resolve them.


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