Monday, July 28, 2008

What Is So Hard About Reading Scripture?

The Lambeth Conference is threatening to come apart over the issue of consecrating gay bishops. (Yes, I know---blessings of same-sex marriages are also a subject of dispute, but tell me: do you really think The Episcopal Church, or the Anglican Church of Canada, would go to the mat and risk their affiliations with the Anglican Communion over some non-liturgical mumbo-jumbo that they regard as "not core doctrine"? Concede their right to elect gay bishops, and same-sex blessings will follow as a matter of course, but the converse is not by any means as true.)

The Windsor Continuation Group has issued a preliminary draft of yet a fourth call for a moratorium on the election of any more gay bishops. Reaction from the bishops who heard it was, not surprisingly, mostly confined to the North Americans (18 out of the 25 who spoke), from both sides of the issue. One witness said in frustration: "They were basically just slagging each other off." (And no wonder, given the long-standing dysfunctionality of our House of Bishops.)

The bishops at Lambeth have been engaging in regular morning Bible study for over a week now. Since they are supposed to be pondering the role of a bishop in the Communion, what I wonder is why they could not leave the Gospel of John for one day and concentrate just on this passage from Titus 1:6-9, which lays down first-century criteria for a person to be an "elder" (Greek presbyteros---"elder," "older/senior"; applied, for example to a member of the Sanhedrin):
An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children who cannot be charged with dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be blameless as one entrusted with God’s work, not arrogant, not prone to anger, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain. Instead he must be hospitable, devoted to what is good, sensible, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must hold firmly to the faithful message as it has been taught, so that he will be able to give exhortation in such healthy teaching and correct those who speak against it.
This is the New English Translation; let's compare it with some others. Here is the more literal English Standard Version (with verse 5 included for context):
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
And now we are ready to look at the familiar King James Version:
5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. 7 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; 8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; 9 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.
Can there be any question as to the meaning of this passage as applied to the case of V. Gene Robinson? (The word "overseer" in verse 7 is, as the KJV has it, the English equivalent of the Greek word "episkopos", or "bishop" in today's language.) From 1611 to today, the translations have not varied: a bishop must be "the husband of one wife". Let us look at the Greek original; it is even clearer. (In the link, you can move your cursor over each Greek word to see its meaning and its form.) It says "mias gynekos aner"---literally, "man of one woman", or phrased in more contemporary language, "a one-woman man".

A "man of one woman," or "a one-woman man," could not be more specific: the phrase cannot be applied to those in a same-sex relationship, however committed, and no matter how long-standing. Thus I have a difficult time with all the debate and anguish over the issue of whether it is in accordance with Scripture to elect an openly gay man to the position of an elder in the Church. Forget about all the arguments over what the Old Testament says about homosexual behavior: Paul in his letter to Titus is absolutely clear that a bishop should not be "married" to a person of the same sex! (It also means---sorry, Christina Rees et al.---that women bishops were by no means sanctioned in the early Church; but see what you think of this argument.)

We do not have to take the testimony of Paul's letter to Titus as the sole example of this teaching. Here it is again, in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 (NET):
The overseer ["bishop"] then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God? He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.
We have the same standard reiterated, plus something further: the prospective bishop "must manage his own household well"---for "if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?" (Whatever else he may be a model of, V. Gene Robinson is not a model head of household.) And there is more: a bishop "must be well thought of by those outside the faith." Again, while Gene Robinson may be well thought of by those in the gay and lesbian community, the bishops at Lambeth heard how he is regarded by Anglicans in the Sudan and other areas in Africa that have to contend with the forces of Islam. Thus it is difficult to reconcile the plain words of Scripture with the elevation of V. Gene Robinson to the episcopacy, even though all the procedures were duly followed. (Don't forget that the Emperor Caligula followed all the prescribed protocols to make his horse Incitatus a Roman senator.)

We also have the testimony of one of the early Church fathers as to the importance of maintaining the apostolic succession according to the guidelines laid down by the apostle Paul:
. . . the Tradition of the Apostles has been manifested to the universal world in the whole Church, and we can enumerate those who have been constituted bishops and successors of the Apostles up to us […] [The apostles] wanted those whom they left as their successors to be 'perfect and irreproachable' in everything (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6-7), to entrust the Magisterium to them in their place: If they act correctly it will be followed by great usefulness, but if they fall, it would be the greatest calamity" (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, III, 3, 1: para. 7,848).
Thus we have two independent passages about the qualifications to be a bishop in the early Christian church, backed up by an explicit citation to both of those passages by a second-century bishop and leader of the early Church. (From the days of the Church fathers, it has also been argued that Paul's language excludes from the episcopacy those who had been divorced, and though I could cite scholarship to that effect, I do not need to---the disqualification of V. Gene Robinson follows not from the fact that he is divorced, but from the fact that he is not a "one-woman man." Moreover, see this thread and its comments.) The question thus arises: how do the supporters of the consecration of V. Gene Robinson defend their actions in light of these two New Testament passages?

It is remarkable that the only defense of the election of V. Gene Robinson against these two passages which I could find on the Web occurs in the publication prepared by The Episcopal Church for presentation at the 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, in response to a request from the Windsor Report (paragraph 141) and the Primates at Dromantine in 2005 (paragraph 16) that The Episcopal Church provide an explanation of "why their proposal meets the criteria of scripture, tradition and reason." This publication, entitled "To Set Our Hope on Christ," avoids the issue by sidestepping it. The document first sets up an elaborate straw man---the candidate for the episcopacy who believes unreservedly in the bodily resurrection of Christ, based on the example of St. Paul:
But then God “crucified” his world, and, in so doing, called him to be an apostle to the very group he had once tried to destroy. St. Paul later describes this as God’s great act of grace and mercy towards him when he himself was an enemy of God without knowing it. He had been absolutely certain that he was doing God’s will, only to find out that he was blocking God’s will instead (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). That experience caused the Apostle Paul to understand apostolic credentials in terms of service to others, not power over others—a service that could only spring from his own life-changing share in Jesus’ death and resurrection. For, as he says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). . . . Over against Cynic philosophers who bullied their followers and ruled as tyrants over them, Paul insists on a model of leadership that imitates the gentleness and kindness of Christ. Real eligibility, indeed real authority, in leadership, he insists, is seen in human willingness to be used by God for the empowerment of others.
What does this have to do with the qualifications Paul elsewhere sets out for a bishop? you ask. Well, just wait---they are getting there, by their own route:
[4.3] Bearing these features of St. Paul’s life and teaching in mind, we can see that what makes leaders fit to serve the whole Church of God is the universality of Christ’s mission—and a minister’s fidelity to Christ’s way of serving that mission. This is the foundational quality that reaches across every human boundary. This is the fundamental ground upon which locally chosen ministers may be servants for the Church throughout the world. Thus the Christian family must, in discerning God’s call to this apostolic ministry, be able to recognize such an authentic witness to the cross and resurrection in a candidate for episcopal service. Within our own Anglican tradition, Archbishop Michael Ramsey affirms that the wellspring of the Church’s life is nothing less than the dying and rising of Christ, and clarifies how this must shape the Church’s new Gospel understanding of reality. Men and women, he writes, are now found to be identified with Christ’s death in such a way that they think of themselves no longer as separate and self-sufficient units, but as centred in Christ who died and rose again. They used to think of Christ as an isolated historical figure (“after the flesh”[2 Cor. 5]); now they think of Him as the inclusive head and centre of a new humanity, wherein a new creation of God is at work.
Still not there yet; but now watch how Archbishop Ramsey (who would be turning over in his grave at this abuse of his teaching!) is called into service:
The implication of this passage is far-reaching. Christ is here defined not as the isolated figure of Galilee and Judea but as one whose people, dead and risen with Him, are His own humanity. [Footnote omitted.] The transforming power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, overcoming every division, unites his faithful people as the living members one Body. Thus the people of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, discern God’s call to episcopal ministry in those in whom they recognize the charism of true, faithful, and, if need be, costly witness to the power of the Lord’s death and resurrection. Such witnesses are notably marked by a deep and continuing conversion to God’s purposes, as St. Paul understood, and by a gentleness, kindness, and humility that corresponds to the way of Christ. Across the centuries and in every region of the globe, the organic life of Christ, in the limbs and members of his Body, has expressed itself in this Spirit-guided authority to discern rightly such calls of God; the bishops of neighboring dioceses, in giving their consent to these elections and participating in the ordination liturgy, have affirmed the faithfulness of these communities in so discerning the call of God. Such, we devoutly believe, was the case in the recent calling to the episcopate of the Bishop of New Hampshire.
The authors of this tract are still not ready to deal with the passages in Titus and 1 Timothy. But note how the criteria in those passages have already been winnowed, and made marginal. What really counts in the election of a bishop is the ability of those electing him to let themselves be "Spirit-guided", and that the candidate's "gentleness, kindness and humility" model the image of our ideal Christ. Now we are ready for the culmination of this disingenuous argument:
Further Qualities to Be Discerned in the Ordained

[4.4] In addition to this foundational emphasis upon witnessing to the resurrection of Christ, the present ordination rites of the Episcopal Church (following earlier Anglican custom) identify other particular qualities and capacities for service which must be remarkable in one called to episcopal ministry. Among other features, one must be discernibly called “to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church... and to be in all things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for the entire flock of Christ” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 517). These elements in the Examination of the bishop-elect reflect long-standing traditions in the Church’s ritual life, tracing back to the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (c. 215) and behind that to the Pastoral Epistles (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9).
Wow! There are the two passages, openly acknowledged as being "long-standing traditions" in the election of bishops! So how do the authors of "To Set Our Hope in Christ" deal with them? Watch carefully: this is a "bait and switch" carried out right in front of your eyes.
It must be noted here that if the Church had not adopted a canon of interpretation such as the foundational nature of Christ’s death and resurrection, all the personal characteristics called for in the Pastorals would have to be given equal weight: this would most certainly prohibit the episcopal election of anyone married more than once (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6), or of any who have unruly or unbelieving children (1 Timothy 3:4; Titus 1:6), or of any who have a propensity to be quarrelsome, arrogant, or quick-tempered (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7).
". . . if the Church had not adopted a canon of interpretation such as the foundational nature of Christ's death and resurrection . . . this would most certainly prohibit the election of anyone married more than once . . ." What in the world does this mean?? When, exactly, did the Church adopt a "canon of interpretation" that changed the applicability of the criteria set out by Paul in Titus and First Timothy? Please re-read the lead-up of the argument to this stunning assertion. You will have to conclude that the "canon of interpretation" is based on Paul's own life, which witnessed to "the foundational nature of Christ's death and resurrection" (and possibly also as construed by Archbishop Ramsey in recent times). So we have a "canon of interpretation," supposedly drawn from Paul's own life, which contradicts (or makes superfluous) what Paul himself wrote! Could any argument be more specious?

But wait---there's more (I shall now go to a fisking format to deal appropriately with the outrageous assaults upon common sense that now ensue):
[4.5] The history of episcopal ordinations throughout the Church’s history suggests, rather, that the people of God have indeed interpreted all such prescriptions of personal qualities in the light of Christ’s redemptive work.
Oh, really? Just who are "the people of God" to whom you refer? And could you provide some examples from history of how they "interpreted all such prescriptions of 'personal qualities'", as you so quaintly describe Paul's criteria?


Instead, the hand-waving continues:
The Prayer Book calls for the ordination of a bishop to take place on the Lord’s Day (Book of Common Prayer, p. 511); and this reminds us again that all the qualities of the bishop-elect are understood as signifying and testifying to the power of Christ’s resurrection. This is emphasized by the resonance of high priestly language in the ordination rites over time: in the Apostolic Tradition the candidate is called, using sacrificial language, to be blameless, gentle, pure, and humble.
And also to be the husband of one wife!!

Now that the difficulties presented by Titus and First Timothy have been swept under the rug, the dissimulation continues apace:
[4.6] In this way, the prayer for the ordained to be filled with the love of God points us again to the new bishop’s identity as a witness to the death and resurrection of Christ: the whole of the episcopal ministry is to exemplify the sacrifice of Christ, and the qualities of purity, gentleness, and holiness are not the new bishop’s own possessions but can only be the continual outpouring of Christ who “loved us, and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This means that the electing community must be able to discern in a candidate for episcopal ministry an authentic obedience to the love of Christ and a capacity to point, as St. Paul teaches us, not to the candidate’s own self but to Christ at work in the full power of his sacrificial holiness. And this is the testimony of the people of God in New Hampshire—laity, priests, and deacons—and of the bishops and deputies from every diocese consenting.

[4.7] So while there may be differing forms in which the sacrificial holiness of Christ embodies itself in differing circumstances, there can be no doubt that the electing local community must be able, by power of the Holy Spirit, and confirmed by the consents of neighboring bishops along with clergy and laity from every diocese, to discern in candidates for episcopal office genuine charisms of obedience to Christ and so of authentic disposal of self to the service of Christ’s sacrificial love. In the Examination of bishops-elect, after they confirm that they believe themselves to be called by God to episcopal ministry, the very first question asked is, “Will you accept this call and fulfill this trust in obedience to Christ?” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 518). It is by means of this fundamental orientation of their entire being “in obedience to Christ” that bishops may bear witness in all their words and deeds not to their own particular qualities but to the power of the crucified and risen Lord whom they serve. While a bishop is, necessarily, recognized locally as called of God, it is precisely this obedience to the universal mission of Christ that fits the bishop to serve the universal Church. Again, it is their testimony that this is what the people of God in New Hampshire and the bishops and deputies consenting have discerned in electing their bishop.
I defy anyone reading this to demonstrate how these arguments could not also be used to justify the election of a confirmed polygamist to be a bishop of The Episcopal Church, provided only that he sincerely answers "Yes" to the question: "Will you accept this call and fulfill this trust in obedience to Christ?"

The argument goes on for pages more, and uses every rhetorical trick that can be mustered. (Those who want to see for themselves can follow the link given above.) Is it any wonder that, given such blatant dishonesty to the word of God as expressed by the Apostle Paul, no one continues to defend this propaganda today, or to cite it as a rationale for what TEC is doing?

It all comes down to this: either The Episcopal Church honors the Anglican Communion by respecting the consensus of its bishops that Scripture plainly does not sanction the election as a bishop of those who serve as a model for the gay lifestyle, or it decides to walk apart, in pursuit of its ideals that contradict the Scripture it claims to honor and uphold. Like the authors of "To Set Our Hope on Christ," its bishops can resort to elaborate evasions that fail to engage those who study their Bibles and endeavor to apply its precepts in their own lives. They may be successful, for a time, in satisfying the self-indulgent cravings of those who cannot bother to go back to the source. Eventually, however, they will be swallowed up, along with their church, in the great Sea of Irrelevancy. For if Scripture can be so easily set aside, then what more substantial is there that could possibly take its place? Even if they are accompanied by all the pomp and ceremony in the world, babbled untruths are scarcely the rock on which a church may be founded.


  1. Wonderful exegesis. Thanks for your work and for posting it!

  2. Excellent discussion.

    These Pastoral epistles are difficult for religious leaders to live up to, so it is not surprising that they will try to find wriggle room to justify their own and their friend's "lifestyles."

    Are the pickings so slim for the priestly class, that no candidates can be found who would live up to Paul's standards? If so, a root cause analysis will lead to the conclusion that errors in teaching, training, selection, discernment, ordination all contribute to the problem.

    They have to find a way to include women bishops in the Pastoral Epistles. Do the scriptures also apply to women, are they meant to be "one man women?"

    It is remarkable how many pages it takes to come up with a convoluted rationale for a new interpretation of those passages that are difficult rather than simply facing up to the fact that one is not being faithful to them.

    The next step in the process is the process of elimination.
    Watch for the references to the Pastoral Epistles to be deleted from or made optional in the next Prayer Book.

  3. Thank you for the encouragement, gentlemen. Pewster, in the article I give a link to a post (it's actually the fourth in a six-part series, whose links are all here, written by Paul Kirk, which makes the counter-argument to Paul for women bishops as follows (somewhat simplified; I refer you to the original):

    1. It is true that in Titus 1:7 and 1 Timothy 3:2 Paul says that a bishop must be the "husband of one wife."

    2. But in 1 Timothy 3:12, Paul says the same thing about deacons---they, too, must be the "husband of one wife."

    3. We know from Romans 16:1, for example, that women served as deacons in the early Church.

    4. Therefore, the language of 1 Timothy 3:12 must not be normative for all deacons, so the language of 1 Timothy 3:2 (and by extension, the language of Titus 1:7) must not be normative for all bishops.

    However, I would like to point out that once you accept this reading, you have left Paul's fixed moorings and headed out for the open sea. If those passages are not normative for all bishops, then they do not prohibit V. Gene Robinson from being a bishop either.

  4. tupewster - any candidate will have deficiency in one or more areas - but "when we are weak, then we are strong." They are things of which one can repent and with which one can grapple, seeking Christ's help while admitting that they are defects.

    VGR is just the opposite - he is arguing that his sexual conduct is blessed and above question. And he is leading others into error thereby.

    And not just to pick on the "left", I would argue that the affluent "health and wealth" preachers on "the right" are unsuitable for church leadership.

  5. Thanks for the links and the summary of my argument - or at least one of the several strands of it. I do recommend that you read it all. It's Peter Kirk, by the way.

    Let me make it clear that I entirely support your conclusions, that bishops should not be active homosexuals. I do this on the basis of Romans 1 etc which clearly teach that homosexual activity is sinful, and therefore not something which any kind of minister in the church should be indulging in. But I do not find this clearly taught in the Timothy and Titus passages you quote.

    I strongly dispute your claim that by comparing Scripture with Scripture to decide on its meaning in an obscure context I have "left Paul's fixed moorings and headed out for the open sea". All I have left behind is the fundamentalists' fixed but poorly founded moorings, which are based on selective reading of the Bible, for example their rejection of the clear teaching that Phoebe was a "deacon". A responsible reading of the Bible may lead us from safe moorings into the open sea, but it is only there that we can be moved ahead by the wind of the Holy Spirit.

  6. My apologies, Peter Kirk---I had Paul on the brain when I wrote my earlier comment, and unlike the posts themselves, I am unable to edit the comments once they are up.

    Since you do not agree that the passages cited from Titus and 1 Timothy "clearly teach" against homosexual bishops, you also do not see how your argument for women bishops undercuts the point I am making, which is simply that if the Church followed Paul's prescriptions, no one could say that a man who was "married" to another man could ever be a bishop. Rather than see such passages as "obscure," I think they are about as plain as Paul ever gets.

    That still does not answer your argument about women deacons=>women bishops. The way I reconcile the clear teaching that Phoebe was a deaconess with 1 Timothy 3:12 is simple: I read the latter passage, which follows verse 11 in which Paul talks about the "wives" of deacons, to be talking only about deacons, not deaconesses. (See also the note in the NET Bible text on that interpretation, with which I concur.) Deacons must, like bishops, be "the husbands of one wife"; there is no similar prescriptive passage about deaconesses, or about female elders, so we cannot use those texts to draw any conclusions on that topic. There is no need to think I am attacking your approach; I just prefer one that does not undercut the rest of my argument.

  7. Thanks for the clarification. So you would have no objection to "married" lesbian deacons? Only kidding.

  8. Peter - sorry I haven't read any of your blogging until now. I picked out the Charismatic subset of postings and found myself reading many of my own thoughts, many not articulated. I'll pay a little more attention to your Gentle Wisdom blog.

    Curmudgeon -- thanks for making the reference. Your reading and writing is voluminous, and shared well.

  9. Rob, thanks for dropping by my blog. It is always good to get new readers. Please feel free to comment there.