In light of our denomination’s study committee on women in the church, our Session decided to study the question as well so that we are better able to understand and express our convictions, and evaluate the work of the denominational committee when it is revealed.
We noted the wisdom of Zach Eswine, from his lectures to presbytery, in bringing the along as we go instead of dumping our conclusions on them all at once. So, the fruit of our labor will be released periodically for our members to consider so they can wrestle along with us.
Study Committee on Women Approved by Richard Doster (ByFaith Magazine, 53, p. 14-15.)
We noted that this overture (request) came from the Administrative Committee, not from a presbytery via overture. In the past there have been attempts by presbyteries to have a study committee. It is likely, due to the disparity and diversity of practices within the PCA, the peace of the church becomes an issue due to disagreement. This is evident when one looks at the blogs of some PCA pastors.
The motion focuses on the issues of ordination and deacons. If warranted, they may recommend changes to the BCO. They may close some of the loop holes utilized by some congregations in the PCA, for example the commissioning of deacons. The discussion on the floor of GA, however, focused on other issues. Perhaps boundaries need to be established on these secondary issues with freedom granted for differing practices within those boundaries.
We then turned our attention to the lengthy report from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the 1980’s.
Report of the Committee on Women in Church Office (OPC)
1984- Hermeneutical Issues
1985- Exegetical Issues
1986- Women and the Office of Deacons
1987- Re-writing the whole report
“In considering the question of women in office we need to be especially careful not to yield to the Zeitgeist of either feminism or male chauvinism which dominate our humanistic age.” (OPC, pp. 3)
If you are a chauvinist, it is hard to recognize your chauvinism (bias). They are like the log in our eyes that we cannot see. A recent episode of Bull addressed the bias against female pilots, that people saw them as less competent than male pilots, even though the particular pilot was a combat veteran. We are ordinarily blind to our biases and prejudices.
The Regulative Principle
This is the application of Sola Scriptura to the issue worship and government.
If your view denies the authority of Scripture it needs to be rejected.
“In the areas of church government and worship, Luther, along with the Anglican Reformers, allowed practices not warranted by Scripture as long as they were not expressly prohibited, placing the onus probani upon those who would oppose such unwarranted practices.” (OPC, pp. 3)
The Lutheran view of worship is contrary to the Regulative Principle, which requires divine sanction for our practices. We must prove an element of worship is permitted, not that it is prohibited. “I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by his Word (Calvin).” This is true of moral standards as well, as one elder noted.
It is important that we follow the Regulative Principle, looking for Scriptural commands, prohibitions and “good and necessary consequence.”
The Standards provide a boundary for the interpretations one may reach. We see here the Regulative Principle expressed.
“A divine warrant is necessary for every element of doctrine, government and worship in the church; that is, whatsoever in these spheres is not commanded in the Scriptures, either expressly or by good and necessary consequence from their statements is forbidden.” (Girardeau, quoted in OPC pp. 4).
Here are some relevant passages from our the Westminster Confession of Faith:
- The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed. WCF, I
We see here the Regulative Principle, the place of “good and necessary consequence”, but also the “light of nature.” For instance, we don’t have any instruction about style of music, or the time of the worship service and its duration. There may be some aspects in this discussion of the government of the church that are not clear and are ordered by the light of reason.
- The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly. WCF, I
We see here that Scripture interprets Scripture. We use clear passages to understand the unclear passages. There will be passages that need to be interpreted in light of other passages.
- The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. WCF, I
We are not prohibited from looking at councils, ancient (and contemporary) writers as well as the example of church history, but they must be examined or evaluated by Scripture.
- The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture. WCF, XXI
This is an application of the principle seen in chapter 1 to religious worship.
Here we have examined some of the boundaries of our study.
We affirm the authority of the Scriptures. We also recognize the proper place of our Confession of Faith as our summary of the teaching of Scripture.
We recognize that we may have biases, and need to rely on the Spirit to make them clear to us as He illumines the Scriptures in our study.
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