Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Bishops & Authority

For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:29)

I simply cannot understand why compromise is not possible on the question of the Ordination of women to the Episcopacy.

The argument goes, if I have correctly understood it, that if the authority of “male only succession” Bishops is derived from the Measure that would somehow undermine the authority of any woman Diocesan Bishop.

The argument seems to suggest an absolute authority vested in a Diocesan Bishop but, honestly, if that is the view of a Bishop’s authority held by those who take this position then, for heaven’s sake, don’t ordain them to any ministry in the church!

For all authority in the Church is both derived and shared. The most Ultramane RC knows that even the Pope’s authority is derived from Jesus Christ and shared with the Apostles and Bishops of the past, present and future. As the Pope doesn’t run the church single handed, nor should or could any Diocesan Bishop. (In any case, no Bishop in the Church of England has any executive power to speak of). 

His authority is the authority of the good shepherd, the authority of the one who comes amongst us as one who serves and so it is never about power and is never absolute. So from the very beginning the Apostles shared their ministry and gave others authority: Deacons, Elders, prophets, evangelists all shared the task of proclaiming the Good News “with authority”.

And all Christian ministry and authority is a shared venture. No wise Dean of a Cathedral would risk undermining the role of the Precentor, only a very foolish parish priest would not listen to the advice of his or her churchwardens and no Diocesan Bishop would interfere with an appointment made by one of his Archdeacons.

And this “sharing” of authority is intrinsic. The Bishop, Dean, Vicar or whoever does not share his or her authority because of a whim but because that sharing is essential to the very nature of the authority we are discussing. Ecclesiastical authority, because it is derived from Jesus Christ, is never absolutely held by one person.

As the preamble to the Manchester Motion suggests, Area Bishops have their authority by virtue of the Measure which established the Area System in the Diocese. Has anybody ever seriously suggested that the Diocesan’s authority is thereby compromised? 

To be a Bishop is to be engaged in a shared endeavour. Women Bishops will be sharing their work with many other ministers – and not because they are delegating some absolute right to rule but because that is the very nature of the ministry to which they will be called. I do hope that they will share their ministry with some form of “male only succession” Bishops too.