Last night our men began the same project the Session is working on. We spent most of our time focusing on why there was a study committee as well as the authority of Scripture.
One issue that has created some confusion and conflict in the PCA is the practice of some churches to have non-ordained deaconesses. Some others commission deacons, which include women. Technically they are not ordaining women. In the case of the former, the women may be considered to be among the helpers to the diaconate mentioned in FOG 9-7:
“It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress and need. These assistants to the deacons are not officers of the church and, as such, are not subjects for ordination.”
Some PCA pastors take a strict subscription view of the BOCO such that if it isn’t mentioned it cannot be done. Others take a more “Lutheran” approach that silence grants permission. For instance, the BOCO (FOG) mentions that ordination is permanent but makes no mention of a rotating session aka term limits for Ruling Elders and Deacons. The ARP FOG explicitly mentioned that the Session was to be either permanent or rotating. As a result, when I became a PCA pastor, I thought there were no rotating sessions. I was surprised when a presbytery commission recommended a rotating session to a church experiencing some trouble.
The overture focused 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. 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.
The proposal the Assembly adopted includes the following provisions:
- The study committee should be made up of competent men and women representing the diversity of opinions within the PCA
- The committee should give particular attention to the issues of:
(1) The biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination;
(2) The biblical nature and function of the office of deacon;
(3) Clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses;
(4) Should the findings of the study committee warrant BCO changes, the study committee will propose such changes for the General Assembly to consider.
We talked about the role of the Confession in this study. One thing I added to the discussion by the Session was WCF, I, 7.
- All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
We see here that not all texts are as clear as we may want them to be. Particularly in this study which is looking at issues pertaining to the bene esse (well-being), not the esse (essence or being) of the church. For instance, in 1 Timothy 2:12 we are not sure if Paul is addressing one thing or two (exercise authority and teach). This is a fork in the road within complementarianism. The tension within the PCA is largely within groups on the complementarian spectrum. Some complementarians affirm the position that women can be deacons (people like Piper, Schreiner, Boice and even Sproul). While Sproul generally supports women deacons, he believes that the way the PCA has defined the office (exercising authority) means they shouldn’t have female deacons. In my opinion the FOG is foggy on this issue, in one place saying it is an office of service, and others that it exercises authority. This is a good reason to study the office of deacon and resolve this apparent disagreement. Another unclear text is 1 Timothy 3:11. Some people I’ve talked about this with point to the clarity of verse 12, but how we interpret verse 11 affects 12, but we’ll get to that later.
Next we will look at creation in Genesis 1-2.