The Bishop of Maidstone is not personally eccentric but his role in the Church of England positively is.
Rod Thomas was consecrated in 2015 to provide pastoral oversight for conservative evangelical churches around England which are opposed to women bishops on theological grounds. The number of churches that have passed the necessary resolutions to come under his oversight is growing apace. He is now an assistant bishops in various dioceses.
Why is his role eccentric within the constituency he belongs to? Because conservative evangelicals have tended to sit loose to episcopal oversight. In some cases, accountability has been problematic because the local bishop has been downright unsupportive of authentic gospel ministry.
But there is also a sociological reason. The relationship to the local bishop of the large and wealthy suburban, city-centre and university churches in the vanguard of English conservative evangelicalism is bound to be different from that of smaller churches whose ministry is subsidised through the parish share system.
Sometimes, pride has taken root in a large ‘successful’ church which has militated against proper accountability, with theological differences with the local bishop being used as a pretext.
But now conservative evangelicals have a godly bishop who is as sound as a pre-decimal pound on the gospel and clear as a bell on his biblical convictions. How will they relate to him?
That remains to be seen, but what is clear is the fact that, as a bishop, he has a degree of ministerial independence from the churches he oversees. He has an intrinsically different relationship to large, wealthy churches than he had when he was chairman of the volunteerist conservative evangelical network, Reform.
Rod Thomas is now not a piper whose tune the larger churches can expect to call every time. In fact, their ministers are supposed to be accountable to him as their bishop, as ordained presbyters promise to be in the Church of England’s Ordinal: ‘Will you reverently obey your Ordinary (Bishop), and other chief Ministers unto whom is committed the charge and government over you; following with a glad mind and will their godly admonitions, and submitting yourselves to their godly judgements?’
That, of course, does not give the bishop a mandate to be high-handed and arrogant. Just the opposite. The Lord Jesus Christ commands him to be a servant of the churches he oversees (see Mark 10v35-45).
But the constitution of Rod Thomas’s role means he can be prophetic towards the churches he serves and can challenge them if they behave unchristianly. For example, he can challenge any imperial behaviour by large churches towards the small churches he also looks after and any chip-on-the-shoulder attitudes among smaller churches..
So, the eccentricity of the Bishop of Maidstone’s role in the constituency he serves could prove to be very positive for local churches of all shapes and sizes, which is why he deserves the prayers and active support of all conservative evangelical Anglicans across the country.