Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Representing God

In C.S.Lewis’ article ‘Priestesses in the Church’, Lewis presents an argument where he picks an analogy of Church and uses it as an example of his opposition to women’s ministry. His analogy is the conversation in Pride and Prejudice:

‘I should like Balls infinitely better,’ said Caroline Bingley, "if they were carried on in a different manner ... It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day."

‘Much more rational, I dare say,’ replied her brother, ‘but it would not be near so much like a Ball.’"

Lewis then argues that this argument translates to the situation in the church, that if women priests were allowed, it may be more rational but it wouldn't be near so much like a church any more.

A Ball by definition is about dancing, so if you remove the dancing it is no longer a Ball. The question is: what is the definition of a church, without which, it would not be church any more. I do not accept, as Lewis accepts, that church is defined by a man standing in front of the congregation, representing God to us. For me, a church is about God Himself, and the worship of Him by the whole congregation. It is that worship which, if removed, stops church from being church. Not the gender of the person presiding over the worship.

The argument stands if you decide that gender is integral to the efficacy of the worship, as though God only listens to or appreciates worship if it is conducted or overseen by men. This was indeed the case in the Old Testament, where worship and temple sacrifice had to be conducted in a prescribed manner, by prescribed people, otherwise God would not accept it.

Lewis argues that the man at the front of the congregation is more than a director of worship. For him, this man takes the place of God for the congregation, speaks to God for us, and speaks to us, for God. This man represents God to us. And this representation is his true function, and the definition of Church, that it represents God to us in the person and form of the male priest. And since God has chosen the ‘masculine uniform’ as his representation, we should respect that, and not seek to alter that representation of God.

I believe the Bible is clear though, that after Christ redeemed us, he tore the curtain away that separates us from God, the function of the temple priesthood and the temple law was fulfilled, and their mediation was no longer needed to bring us into His presence. From that point on, we have no need of prescribed rituals to worship God, or oversight by a male priesthood, we are all free to worship God, his law written on our hearts, not on tablets of stone in the hands of an elite. So Paul can write in 1 Timothy 2:5: “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. And in 1 Peter, we, as believers, are called a 'royal priesthood'.

Lewis has a very high view of the priesthood and this is not one that matches with scripture as I understand it. Firstly, I believe scripture reveals that no one is God but God, we have no representative of God but Christ, and every believer is adopted by God as a priest and co-heir in Christ. This is the great message of the New Testament, the good news itself!

Secondly, God did not choose the masculine uniform as his representation, he is quite clear that we should not seek to represent him at all, by creating idols of anything in heaven or on earth. God has only ever chosen one to represent Him, that of Christ who claimed, ‘If you knew me, you would know the Father also’. But God’s chosen representation in Christ is not that Christ is male, but that He is sinless, holy and self-sacrificially loving.

For me Lewis’ view borders on blasphemy, and seems worryingly close to idolising the form of the priest as a representation of the male-like qualities of God, just as the Israelites foolishly idolised the golden calf as a representation of the bull-like qualities of God. God of course is greater than both, stronger than the strongest bull, more creative and intelligent than the greatest human that ever lived. To reduce Him to such representations, on however grand a scale, necessitates excluding vastly more from our understanding of Him.

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