By Julian Mann
A serious doctrinal allegation was levelled against conservative evangelicals at Sheffield Diocesan Synod during its March 8th debate on women bishops. The speaker concluding the debate alleged that our complementary view of the inter-relationship between the divine Persons of the Holy Trinity goes against the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion.
Earlier on, General Synod and Crown Nominations Commission member Jane Patterson, who belongs to Christ Church Fulwood in south-west Sheffield, had articulated very clearly and courageously the complementarian view against women bishops. She said: ‘I and many others believe that, in creation, in the family and in His church God made men and women to reflect the relationship and roles of the Trinity, equal but different, the so-called complementarian or headship view. This ordering of relationship is for all time, not changing with the times or culture, and despite what “England Expects”.’
But conservative evangelicals like her were accused of adopting a ‘recent’ view of the Trinity contrary to the 39 Articles. This allegation calls for an answer.
Article I – Of Faith in the Holy Trinity- proclaims that ‘in the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost’. That clearly upholds the equality of each Person within the Trinity, and with that no conservative evangelical Anglican should or would disagree.
But the 39 Articles with equal clarity uphold the differences in role or function between the Persons of the Trinity. Article II is very specific which Person within the Godhead became incarnate: ‘The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance; so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and the Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man’.
It was the incarnate Son, Article II insists, who ‘truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men’.
Furthermore, Article V on the Holy Spirit states clearly His full divinity but also highlights His particular role within the Trinity in that it describes Him as ‘proceeding from the Father and the Son’.
This complementarian understanding of the Trinity, presented by the 39 Articles, can be and is fully upheld by Nicene Christians who disagree with us on the ordination of women to the presbyterate and episcopate. It would be quite wrong of conservative evangelicals or traditional Catholics to accuse Christian brothers and sisters in the Church of England who support women’s ordination of not upholding Articles I, II and V.
But it is crystal clear that those three articles are fully compatible with our conservative evangelical view that men and women are created equal but different with complementary God-given roles in the family and in the church. It is therefore disgraceful to accuse faithful conservative evangelical Anglicans of violating the 39 Articles in their understanding of the theological connection between the nature of God as Trinity and the New Testament’s teaching on male headship.
In the Sheffield vote on the motion ‘that this Synod approve the proposals embodied in the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure and draft Amending Canon No 33’, both bishops voted for; 24 clergy were for with 8 against and 1 abstention; 29 laity were for, 8 against with 0 abstentions.
Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, and represents Ecclesfield Deanery on Sheffield Diocesan Synod.