Equal & equivalent

Stuart Seaton considers one of the common assumptions behind the supposed scriptural presumption in favour of women’s ordination

and detects a category error behind the call for equality in the body of Christ

I imagine that even before they read the article, Christina Rees had shot up in the estimation of most readers of New Directions, simply for taking the trouble to write for the magazine. I understand from the editorial that so far not a single bishop has responded to the request to put a positive scriptural argument in favour of women’s ordination. We will draw our own conclusions about why they have not. In view of this episcopal unwillingness to explain the biblical basis for their position, Christina Rees’ preparedness to write an article for ND seems all the more worthy of respect. Rees’ article was not meant to fill this scriptural gap and it would be unfair to judge her piece as if it was intended as an exhaustive biblical defence of the ordination of women. Nevertheless, she did offer a biblical basis for supporting the ordination of women, and I wonder if I might offer some observations on her comments.

Ordination and baptism

The heart of her position seems to be where Christina Rees says, ‘All those who are baptized into Christ share the same inheritance. Hence the famous cry of [some] women ‘Either ordain us or don’t baptize us!’’ Rees develops this point in relation to the baptized as members of the body of Christ, and draws the conclusion with Desmond Tutu that ‘If gender cannot be a bar to baptism it cannot be a bar to ordination.’

The argument seems to be that since each of the baptized is equally and fully a member or part of the body of Christ, it is possible for each of the baptized to be every part of the body of Christ. But such a move wrecks the whole imagery of the Church as body of Christ because it reflects a category mistake.

My big toe is fully and equally a part of my body, but it is false to imagine that my big toe is thereby able to be every part of my body. My big toe could hardly serve as my eye or my ear for example. For the same reason the fact that a woman is made part of the body of Christ by baptism, does not prove that she could be every other part of the body of Christ and therefore it cannot prove that she could be that part of the body of Christ which is the priesthood.

On the other hand the fact that my big toe cannot serve as my eye or my ear ‘does not make it any less a part of the body’ [1 Corinthians 12.15]. So if a woman cannot serve in the body of Christ as a priest or bishop, this also would not make her ‘any less a part of the body.’ Consequently, ‘the famous cry of [some] women ‘Either ordain us or don’t baptize us!’’ implies that currently the arguments in favour of the ordination of women betray such an overwhelming emphasis on ordination, that baptism and the lay state are in danger of being evacuated of their full meaning. Or as one Orthodox theologian put it, ‘The ordination of women is the bitter fruit of the clericalization of the Church.’ Indeed, since faithful, baptized members of the laity now find themselves in danger of being unchurched, in order to make room for the consecration of some clergy to the episcopate, these warnings are confirmed.

But not the same

My suspicion is that the popularity of Rees’ argument amongst supporters of the ordination of women is because they assume that ‘all are equal’ must mean ‘all are the same.’ But this is simply a mindset that feminists have uncritically picked up from their Marxist forefathers.

Surely in a Christian context ‘all are equal’ means ‘all are equally part of the body of Christ,’ that is, all by being in Christ share in his fundamental relationship of sonship with the Father [Romans 8.15; Galatians 4.6]? As Paul makes clear [1 Corinthians 12], if we speak of equality in terms of equally being part of the body of Christ ‘all are equal’ has to mean ‘all are different.’

So it seems that Christina Rees’ argument fails. Being a part of the body of Christ does not of itself mean that we can be every part. ‘Are all apostles?’ No they are not. Who then is eligible to be such a part of the body of Christ?

We need to see how God in Christ has appointed that body to be, for only ‘God appoints’ to the apostolic ministry [1 Corinthians 12.28]. God’s appointment does not come from ‘human commission nor from human authorities (General Synod please note), but through Jesus Christ’ [Galatians 1.1]. And the example God shows us through Jesus Christ is to appoint men only to that part of the body of Christ that is the apostolic ministry. In Rees’ words, ‘I would like to think that we can begin to trust God more.’

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