The Church of England is expected to ordain women bishops in seven years. Senior churchmen seem determined to press ahead although it may prove even more divisive than ordaining women “priests”. The chairman of a working party on the subject has stated, “The unity of the Church is very important but it can never contradict the Church’s basic commitment to justice”.
Even more important for a Christian Church, one would have thought, is a commitment to the authority of Scripture. Paul, speaking under divine inspiration, said, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man” (1 Tim 2:12). We ought to bear in mind that the Lord knows what is right for men and women; so the fact that He has forbidden the latter to exercise the office of the ministry cannot possibly contradict justice.
However, the ordination of women as bishops is not the issue of fundamental concern; the fundamental issue is the ordination of women as ministers. The office of diocesan bishop has no scriptural authority; in the New Testament a bishop is exactly the same as an elder. Accordingly, the critical turning point was passed a number of years ago when the decision was made to ordain women as ministers in the Church of England.
On the other hand, it is important to stress that women do have a valuable role in the Church as individuals. How vital, for instance, have the prayers of women been in every generation!
The Free Church and the Sabbath
A recent debate about Sabbath observance on the Free Church website raises disturbing questions about attitudes on this issue which are being tolerated within their ministry. The Free Church attitude to travelling on public transport on Sabbaths has long been one of the unsatisfactory aspects of its stance. But now a Free Church minister, Rev David Robertson of Dundee, has written, “We do not live in a Christian society. An increasing number of people are being forced on the Lord’s Day to do ‘unnecessary’ work. Should they give up their jobs? Or should the Church try and make provision for them by having services for them outwith their work hours? . . . As part of that job they are compelled to work on the Lord’s Day. Personally I think we should be very careful before we start condemning them as unbelievers because they are footballers who have to work on a Sunday. What about all the other people who are being compelled to work?”
Mr Robertson later makes the confession, “A number of my congregation work on a Sunday because their job requires them to. Most of them are not in what you would consider to be essential services, should I tell them they are not Christian?”
Now Mr Robertson is absolutely right to say that we do not live in a Christian society, and serious difficulties obviously arise for individuals who have to earn their livelihood in such a society. Yet God’s commands come before everything else. If God has spoken, and He has, who are we to suggest that these commands do not apply in certain situations? If we realise that our present employment is making impossible demands, is it impossible to look to the God of providence to provide for us? After all, God’s Word is still relevant: “Them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam 2:30).
A further point. professional football is not a suitable employment for a professing Christian. Apart from the ever-increasing frequency of Sabbath football matches, how can this employment possibly be consistent with the Scripture requirement: “Redeeming the time because the days are evil”?
Jack McConnell, Scotland’s education minister has unveiled the Scottish Executive’s new guidelines for sex education. When Clause 2a, which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality in schools, was repealed last year, we were promised that provision would be made in these guidelines for teaching about marriage. Well, the word marriage does appear – but in this context: pupils are to appreciate the “value placed on marriage by religious groups and others in society”. The concept is given no absolute value, it is just that some people think it is important. And of course the Word of God is not mentioned; that would be regarded by the Scottish Executive as too divisive.
Although the guidelines themselves are somewhat bland, they allow much to be taught that is thoroughly unsatisfactory. What gives rise to even more concern is the materials which may be used in schools. A teaching guide on a reading list approved by the Scottish Executive for children as young as 11 has been denounced for “encouraging perversion in schools”. The Scotsman has commented on a section of this guide: “It reads like the lurid index of a pornographic magazine”.
It is absolutely appalling that such material should be commissioned for use with any age-group, but especially with school children. God has given absolute guidelines for relationships between the sexes. Parents have a duty to pass God’s guidelines on to their children, and to show them a proper example in this area of life. Governments also have a responsibility to pass them on to the next generation – according to the Establishment Principle.
When God’s commandments are not followed, we can expect serious consequences. The high incidence of marriage breakdown is a consequence we are already experiencing. Earlier societies, ancient Rome for instance, have broken down completely because of rampant immorality. May God spare us from such a disaster by an outpouring of His Spirit on the whole of society, so that both law and gospel would be applied to the hearts of the people – and that everyone would be made willing to come and listen to the truth.
It is solemn that the Scottish Executive should announce their guidelines at a time when there are clear indications that God’s blessing does not rest on us as a nation – when the country is suffering a severe outbreak of disease, resulting in the slaughter of a million animals by early April, with serious repercussions for other part parts of the economy.
However, it should be noted that schools have been directed to consult with parents on this area of education, and parents should take advantage of this provision. It is clearly laid down that they have the right to withdraw their children from these classes.