As I read the latest outburst from AMiE (it seems more charitable to account for its incoherence by regarding it as an outburst of frustration rather than a carefully thought-out statement) in today’s Church Times, I was struck by how far removed from classical evangelicalism the AMiE spokesmen are. Read the whole thing here. At the end of a paragraph about the events that led to the ‘Arab Spring’ comes the statement ‘In the C of E, following years of similar problems, a bishop refused to say he would teach that homosexual practice was a sin and thus young men were unable to accept ordination from him.’ I am resisting the temptation to explore the similarities between the sufferings of people in Egypt under Mubarak with those of Evangelicals in the Church of England ‘under’ Rowan Williams, but cannot let pass the suggestion that because a bishop refuses to accept the biblical teaching on sexuality, he cannot ordain faithful biblical people for ministry in the church.
This suggestion can only be made by one who does not accept the classical evangelical position on ordination, which is that it is functional rather than ontological. A brief description of the difference, along with a commendation of the ontological position, can be found on Leander Harding‘s blog, here. Leander talks about the difference mostly in terms of the function to be exercised by the person ordained, but the important element in the case quoted by AMiE is the function of the bishop in ordaining. Surely no Evangelical could believe for a minute that the bishop is conveying to the ordinand anything but permission to function as a minister in the church. The classical evangelical understanding is that in ordination the bishop functions on behalf of the church, and that his own holiness, let alone his theological acumen, are beside the point. The bishop is an officer in the church with certain duties, and he can carry them out efficiently for Evangelicals even if he is an Anglo-Catholic or a Liberal.
Not only is this the classical evangelical view, which AMiE claims to uphold, but it is also the position of the Thirty Nine Articles, which AMiE also claims to uphold. ‘In the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry’—Article XXVI.
If faithful biblical people cannot be ordained by unfaithful or unbiblical bishops, there will soon be no faithful biblical ministry in the church. Evangelicals who undermine the functional view of ordination are undermining the ability of their own church to attract Evangelicals into ministry, and will end up in a church that promotes the ontological view. I wish they would reconsider their position.