David Banting commends Bishop Rod Thomas upon his retirement
Rod Thomas has retired as the Bishop of Maidstone after seven distinguished years of pioneering episcopacy. Traditional Catholics have had episcopal representation and cover since 1992 with three Provincial Episcopal Visitors, but conservative Evangelicals had to wait till the Women Bishops Settlement and the House of Bishops’ Declaration of 2014 for the integrity of their convictions and conscience to receive provision. If the issue for traditional Catholics was sacramental assurance, the issue for conservative Evangelicals might be described as ‘headship or oversight assurance’.
Bishop Rod was accorded an uplifting Thanksgiving and Farewell Service at Oak Hill Theological College on October 1. A highlight, that the whole Church would do well to hear, was the Bishop of London’s moving personal tribute to all that Rod has been and done. The service is still available online from the website www.bishopofmaidstone.org (while it lasts), as is also the illuminating Five-Year Review (2015-2020) of his ministry.
Bishop Rod was elected to General Synod in 2000 and become national Chairman of Reform in 2007. He played a significant part in the first GAFCON meeting in 2008. However, it was his consistency and wisdom through the Synod debates that led the CofE in 2014 to admit women to the episcopate that ensured recognition of the need for proper provision for conservative, that is complementarian, Evangelicals. The House of Bishops’ Declaration of 2014 (para 30) stated the need for ‘at least one Bishop’ with headship convictions in the overall College of Bishops to maintain the ‘necessary climate of trust’.
In his seven episcopal years he has overseen some 160 Resolution Parishes (though a handful have now ‘left the CofE’), with around 250 clergy and 150+ full-time women in ministry. If the Electoral Roll numbers of 23,000+ are taken into account, Rod has served what has been described in high places as ‘the equivalent of a medium-sized diocese’. He has been appointed Assistant Bishop in 15 dioceses and exercised ministry in 31 different dioceses around the country. In 2018, his travel amounted to 30,000 miles in the car and £10,000 worth of rail fares.
The foundation for such a role has always been theological and Biblical. Back in the 1992 debate, the then Bishop of Chester, Michael Baughen, stated that for conservative Evangelicals the issue would always be headship or oversight in the human family and the household of God and therefore for the Church in the exercise of episcope. While for traditional Catholics women priests and Bishops are theologically invalid, for conservative/ complementarian Evangelicals women in the oversight roles of incumbent in the local church and Bishop in the wider Church are Biblically inappropriate – as Reform had always stated was its conviction in its original Covenant of 1993. Twenty years later the HoB Declaration of 2014 made it clear that the provision of extended episcopal oversight alongside that of the Diocesan Bishop was to be made in order to build trust with those whose understanding of ministry is rooted in the complementarian theology of headship. This has been re-affirmed in 2022 for the successor to the Bishop of Maidstone who will be the next Bishop of … Ebbsfleet.
Complementarian Evangelicals in the CofE have a new focus and impetus for how they perceive and integrate themselves and how they are understood and integrated by others. The Role and Person Specification for the new Bishop of Ebbsfleet includes this:
‘Complementarian theology arises from within a rich theological and Biblical vision, encompassing the Trinity, Creation and the Church in which complementarity is recognised and celebrated. Within the ordering of God’s triune life, full equality and difference are observed. This is reflected in the whole created order and highlighted in the creation of men and women as full equal and different. Complementarians recognise in the New Testament such equality and difference, both in the family in terms of the ordering of men and women within marriage, and in the family of the Church in terms of ordering within leadership.’
Complementarians (and it is hoped a very wide range of others) say a big Thank You to Bishop Rod for all he has shared of the gospel and of himself in pioneering and establishing this unique role. It is understood that his successor will be announced after due process in early November and consecrated in early February. The new Bishop of Ebbsfleet will have many challenges, but he builds on a secure platform of ministry in exercise and example that under God Bishop Rod has achieved. Laus Deo.
The Revd Canon David Banting is Pastoral Advisor to the Bishop of Maidstone (sine die).