A few years ago, the ARP was in the process of evaluating (and eventually affirming) our statement on Women in the Church when explained why we do not ordain women as elders, and why the issue of women deacons is left up to the Session of each congregation. There are some in the ARP that strongly oppose women deacons. One of the hang ups I identified was the word “ordained”. In talking with some men in my Presbytery I stated we probably ought to take the stumbling block out of the way and commission deacons rather than ordain them.
With this issue briefly addressed in the PCA this summer (sadly they decided to send it back to the Presbyteries rather than study it) Tim Keller has written an article entitled The Case of Commissioning (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses. His article explains this much better than I ever could.
This is a view that upholds male headship (complementarianism) while seeking to honestly understand Scripture on this issue. He presents historical as well as biblical and theological evidence that we have to deal with before making a wise decision in this matter.
I particularly like this section:
Many opponents of deaconesses today are operating out of a “decline narrative.” They claim that having deaconesses is the first step on the way to liberalism. But Jim Boice and John Piper, the RPCNA and the ARP, B.B. Warfield and John Calvin, believed in deaconing women or deaconesses. Are (or were) all these men or churches on the way to liberalism? I don’t think so. Nevertheless, one person put it to me like this recently: “Sure, the RPCNA has had women deacons for over a century. Sure, a biblical case can be made. But in our cultural climate, allowing deaconesses would be disastrous. It’s a slippery slope.”
In other words, the Bible probably allows it, but let’s not do it because of the culture. Isn’t that also responding to the culture rather than to the text? If the PCA is driven either by reaction to or adaptation to the culture, it is being controlled by the culture instead of the Word. Let’s allow presbyteries and sessions to use women in diaconal work with the freedom they have historically had in our communion.
I agree completely with Ligon Duncan when he says that the current debate in the PCA is “to determine what its complementarianism is going to look like in the future.” That’s right. His article and mine represent an intramural debate within a strong commitment to biblical complementarianism. While we argue and discuss this let’s keep that in mind.
As those who claim to be “reformed and reforming” we should not dismiss this under the accusation of feminism or liberalism. Let’s try to work together to better understand what the Bible really does teach on this matter and how best to implement it in our communities of faith.