During this visit, I was speaking with a pastor here who said, quite accurately, that quite apart from theology (on which we did not differ) women’s ordination in the CoE has been a disaster. We were not differing on the theology of the thing (God says not to do it), but rather agreeing that disobedience has consequences far more substantive than simply having a check mark against your name indicating technical non-compliance of some sort or other.
Last year more women than men were ordained in the CoE. Why were they ordained? What led them to seek it? What theological standards are being ignored for the sake of this diversity-advance? What might happen as a result? Let us assume for the sake of discussion that she is middle-aged, wants to help people, was recently divorced, needs something to occupy her time, and that because of her station in life a number of the ordinary theological requirements were waived. What might happen in the broader church as a result? Other than churches continuing to empty out?
One of the things that is likely to happen is that other crises that are confronting the CoE will only grow larger and more threatening. Those crises would include the constant background challenge of a secularized pluralistic state, the mounting challenge of Islam, and the pressing challenge of homosexual ordination. And these challenges are not the kind of issues that can be flubbed without serious practical consequences. On some of them, there will be no “do-over.”
Now let’s throw evangelicalism and liturgy into the mix. The CoE has a vibrant minority movement consisting of evangelicals. They are the ones with full churches. They are the ones whose members still tithe — but frequently with the stipulation that their money not go to the central CoE. They are the ones who still believe (although they may not recite) the Apostles Creed. They are the ones who deliberately cultivate a low church liturgy.
In my previous post on this, when I said that the Christians here in the UK need to give deep thought to matters of liturgy, I was not presuming to lecture the venerable Bede. Nor was I taking Cranmer aside to give him some pointers on how we do it “over in the States.” The only section of the CoE that has any significant spiritual life in it is the evangelical wing, which is low church, and they are the ones that I believe ought to have a serious discussion of liturgical matters.
The evangelicals here stand out in stark contrast to the frilly descendents of the Oxford movement. And looking at the broader church around them, it is hard to find fault with what they are trying to do. On the one hand you have men who preach from the Bible, with minimal litury, and on the other you have a decked-out and unbelieving clergy, as camp as a row of tents. If the choice had to be one or the other (and for many evangelical believers here, as a practical matter, it is one or the other), it is impossible to fault their choice. If the church building where you worship this coming Sunday were to be struck by a giant meteor, do you want to be in one where the great majority there would go to be the Lord, or one where worship from the Book of Common Prayer was being led by an avowed poofter? Or by a woman who feels sorry for herself and anyone who is called names like poofter. For example.
Now I don’t believe that it has to be one or the other at all, and this is what I thought the discussion among evangelicals ought to be about — but the discussion needs to be limited to those Anglicans who believe the Bible. And by “believe the Bible” I mean believe in the full and absolute authority of the Bible, maps and concordance included, for all of life. But if the Bible is authoritative over all of life, then this should mean that it includes direction for us in matters liturgical. Does the Bible teach us how to worship?
In chatting with another friend here, I used the illustration of a fireplace and fire. A formal, established liturgy is like an ornate fireplace. Warm, edifying, exegetical, Christ-centered preaching is like a fire. The Church of England is filled with cold fireplaces — very beautifully done, but cold. You can look at them there behind the velvet rope for a donation of three pounds. And so in reaction to this, actual believers in Scripture have found themselves setting fires in various places around the house — on the couch, on the coffee table — places where it is easy to find fault with them, but at least they know there is supposed to be a fire. I want a fireplace, but I also want a fire in it. And to get that, you are going to have to conduct thoughtful, charitable discussion among English evangelicals over the course of the next number of years.
I am afraid I would not include in this discussion the “open” evangelicals, who have no trouble with women’s ordination, which means in effect that they have no trouble with accelerating the coming collapse of the established Church. Old guard evangelicalism of the Lloyd-Jones variety has been an effective fire wall against the encroachments of liberalism. It has been the only fire wall. But open evangelicals are simply moderate liberals, as opposed to flaming liberals. But because liberalism of all sorts is essentially parasitic, it cannot function without a host body that is alien to it. Open evangelicals are drawing (temporary) strength from the conservative evangelical movement in much the same way that the older liberalism at the beginning of the twentieth century rotted out the CoE from within. We are in the fourth quarter of the game, as opposed to the second quarter, but the other coach is still running the same plays. Why stop using them if they still work?
So femininity in the pulpit will not prove itself any kind of bulwark against effeminacy in the pulpit. And effeminacy in the pulpit will not be able to stand against the renegade masculinity of Islam. And this means, for the CoE, the gender issue, the sexuality issue, and the multiculturalism issue (read, Islam) are all connected.