Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Women Bishops - a Biblical Concept?

I wonder if you have taken any notice of the major issue in the Church of England this past week? There has been a vote to create 'women bishops' in the Church and it just failed to achieve the necessary number of votes to become law. The fact that the vote occurred was no surprise to me because since 1992 when the CofE allowed 'women priests', with the promise that they would seek no further advancement in the system, I knew that 'given an inch, they'd take a yard'. Sometimes people have asked me if I agree with women priests? I answer in the affirmative, which shocks a lot of people until they think about what the scripture teaches. As any reference to the Bible at all seems to be totally absent from anybody's comments, from the ArchBishop downwards, it might be helpful to consider again the matter of Bishops and Priests from the Word of God in

It is a human trait that demands an order of superiority. Luk 22:24  And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. It is interesting to note that a woman sought the position for her sons which enabled the relevant message of humility to be written on the page of scripture. Mat 20:20-28  Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. 
And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 
But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. 

The Lord Himself demonstrated that the path of lowly service was the acknowledged way before the face of God. As usual, man doesn't think like God and devises tiers of governance and superiority, then creates qualifications and titles to define what he has constructed and then seeks to exclude others from a self-created organisation. The simple mustard seed of Matt 13 grows into an abnormal growth which becomes a haven for wickedness as depicted by the birds, the very ones which snatch away the seed sown by the sower in the first parable. The established Church is not at all ashamed to deny, corrupt and disavow the Word of God because it is a religion of man's making yet purporting to be the mechanism to bring God to the people. The idea of a distinction between laity (the man in the pew) and clergy (the man in the pulpit) seems to be spoken of in Rev 2 in the messages to the seven churches. Rev 2:6  But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Rev 2:15  So hast thou also some that hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner. The name Νικόλαος Nikolaos means victorious over the people and has been linked to the OT character Balaam whose name means failure of the people. The two are linked in Rev 2:14,15  But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Balaam was an apostate prophet 2Pe 2:15,16 Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet. 

The modern apostate speaks clever words as, supposedly, the mouthpiece of God but always in order to deceive the people. Note that the works come first then the actions are legitimised by doctrine. Clerisy and clergy, layers of qualified, licensed, ordained people who are superior to the man in the pew, came about through men dominating others, like Diotrephes. 3 Jn 1:9,10 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.  Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. 

This wrong action later became legitimised through doctrine which is now 'mainstream church' policy. A pre-eminent individual who has attained a position of status in the church order rules what can and can't be done, who should be received and who should be excommunicated. They can decide the interpretation of the Bible and direct the activities which are then further endorsed by more doctrine. This is what has happened in the CofE so that a synod, which is defined as "an ecclesiastical governing or advisory council" can vote on anything the individual wants without any recourse to Scripture and the majority wins! It is ironic that the ones who claim to represent the people , vicars [from the Latin vicarius, a substitute for the people] who receive a stipend [a fixed sum of money paid periodically for services] are no different from Balaam and, in the pursuit of the next rung up the clerical ladder, put gross error in the way of the people.

Priesthood is not an academic qualification, it is a spiritual privilege for all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, both male and female. 
1Pe 2:5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 1Pe 2:9  But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 

This joint aspect is confirmed by John in Rev 1:6  And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 

This collective ability to be a kingdom of priests was God's design and intent for the people Exo 19:5,6a Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. 

It was the idolatrous practice and the breaking of the word of God which spoiled that intent. The golden calf was set up while Moses received the Commandments. When Moses witnessed the idolatry he appealed to the whole nation Exo 32:26  Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD'S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. 

This was the defining moment as to who would be priests for God, those who gathered out to be identified as on the Lord's side. When the Tabernacle was set up for the worship of God in the wilderness God appointed the order of the priests Num 3:5-10  And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him. And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle. And they shall keep all the instruments of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle. And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel. And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest's office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.

Thus, instead of being a nation of priests, the priesthood was fiercely guarded on God's command. Men soon set up an alternative to challenge the authority of God's order and we read of Korah and his fellow accusers in Num 16:3  And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD? 

Verses 24 and 27 show that Korah had set up a rival tabernacle and God dealt with them in a terrible and public demonstration of His appointment of the priestly order. Try to imagine that scene where the people of God stood separated from the rebellious multitude waiting for God to act. Num 16:27  So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children

These defiant men were the heads of their families; the wives holding the hands of the little children looking back at the congregation which stood on the solid ground of the Word of God. And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation. 

Num 16:31-33. There should be no doubt at all about the importance of God-appointed priesthood. Equally, when through the obedience of faith in Christ in the Church Age every believer has been appointed a priest among the kingdom of priests, God hates the practice of clerisy and any suppression of an individual to worship God. We should be like the Ephesian church in Rev 2 that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate [μισέω miseō to detest]

So what about our practice of having elders in a local assembly? It is scripturally right and proper that there should be a plurality of elders in a local gathering, although it is acknowledged that this is the ideal and some assemblies are not able to achieve this - the Lord knows. As identified recently we know that the translators of the KJV used ecclesiastical titles of their day to support the offices and the man-made titles that they had constructed. 
1Ti 3:1-5  This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 

Should a bishop be a male or female? The second qualification is the husband of one wife [literally 'man one woman, specifically wife']. End of argument! So what must this man do? The Greek word for 'the office of a bishop' is ἐπισκοπή episkopē and means to superintend so he has a watching brief to rule [to stand before, to preside] for the purpose of taking care of the Lord's people, physically, spiritually and in every respect in the manner which he has proven in his own home. The responsibility is to Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 1Pe 5:2,3  So the 'bishop's' role is not for money nor to control but it is to tend and care for the Lord's people and to set the example for the people to follow. In response those who are led are exhorted  And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour [lit. to the point of exhaustion]  among you, and are over you [to preside] in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. 1Th 5:12,13

The practice of establishing men to preside over gatherings of believers is stated to Titus. Tit 1:5-9  For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders[πρεσβύτερος presbuteros, from whence the ecclesiastical term presbyter - older,senior ] in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. Herein lies the key role of the older men who are looking out for the welfare of the gathered saints. They must hold fast, be glued to the Word of God, so that by adhering to healthy teaching they can knock for six the ἀντίλεγω
antilegō literally against the word - disputer. I have not heard one single CofE 'bishop' speak out, let alone confute the disputers! Shame on them, they are no better than Balaam and are in the ranks of the Nicolaitans! Jude vv11-13. Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.  

We've already thought of Core (Korah) and Balaam but Cain is mentioned too. He was the first man of a new time period [conscience] who decided not to be obedient to the direction of the word of God and set up his own religion of works and sought acceptance before God. God's word to him was   If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. Gen 4:7. There is only one way that is right and that is God's way. Pro 14:12  There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. 

The role of a Bishop therefore is for a godly, mature man who is absorbed in the word of God and has a heart for the people of God. There is often grumbling about elders as it was in the days of Moses. But if things aren't as good as they should be locally, isn't it a joy to think of our Lord Jesus Christ Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1Pe 2:22-25 Praise God for the One Who is the Pastor and Superintendent of our vital breath, physical and spiritual. 

Let us use our God-given priestly position to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. And, if the matter of women bishops comes up in the new week, you may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

Prepared by Danny Coulson, Denmark

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