Archive for May, 2017

The 2nd chapter of the PCA study report continues with a section on “Coherence Between the Roles of Women During the Ministry Earthly of Jesus and the Pauline Epistles”. That is quite the lengthy section title. It exists because evangelical egalitarians tend to minimize the fact that despite Jesus’ positive relationship with women, He chose only men to be apostles. They sometimes admit women wouldn’t be received as apostles in that day and in that culture, but in our day and our culture they would. I guess they’d say Jesus became a 1st century Jew to 1st century Jews, but if He was engaged in earthly ministry today He become a 21st century westerner (feminist?) to 21st century westerners.

However, Jesus violated a number of cultural conventions. “He touched lepers. He called tax-collectors and prostitutes His friends. He healed Gentiles. He violated customs for the Sabbath.” So, while in many ways He was a 1st century Jew He was in many ways not a 1st century Jew. Jesus was concerned with what to true, not what to convenient. He didn’t bend to cultural pressure.

It was not because of their lack of education. Paul was the only Apostle with theological training (formal training was not  and should not be a requirement for ministry- the requirement is holding to the deep things of the faith). Travel was dangerous for everyone (keep Paul’s many trials in mind). Some argue that His choosing only Jewish men should mean we only choose Jewish men for leadership. By this line of reasoning we should omit Luke and Acts since they were clearly written by a Gentile.

The egalitarian argument rests on analogy. Since the appointment of Jewish leaders was temporary, the appointment of men was too. However, as the study report notes, Israel’s privileges were temporary and about to end. As the gospel goes to the nations, the Gentiles begin to lead. We are not given any instruction about their ethnic background in 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1. Titus himself was … a Gentile.

They then move into the question of submission of wives to their husbands. As we recall Paul’s command to husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church “the submission of wives does not imply domination by husbands.” The issue for many is not wanting to submit to anyone at any time. It isn’t about wives and husbands. This command is an application of two broader commands “Be imitators of God” and “be filled with the Spirit.” Christ loved us and give Himself for us. Submission is connected to love, and it is one of the verbs describing what it means to be filled with the Spirit. The first relationship of submission mentioned is wives to husbands, but not the last. And those relationships are not reversible. Parents don’t submit to children, and masters don’t submit to slaves. Sometimes my children try to tell me what to do, but I don’t listen to them.

Some argue that the NT relativizes authority so no one has the right to exercise authority except by “temporary necessity or mutual agreement.” So life is about social contracts that can change at any time.

The context of Ephesians 5-6, submit to one another, does not teach mutual submission, but moves into the relationships where authority exists and submission is required.

“Therefore, to ‘submit to one another’ does not mean that all Christians submit to everyone, it means they submit to whatever authorities are appropriate. That is, ‘submit to one another’ means submit whenever there is rightful authority.”

They also note that “in English, ‘one another’ implies full reciprocity, but the Greek does not.” Sometimes there is full reciprocity, like in Philippians 2:3 “consider one another better than yourselves.” At other times there isn’t, like in Galatians 6:2 where bearing one another’s burdens is not about swapping burdens but carrying them together. The context of Ephesians 5 is one of wives submitting to husbands and husbands loving sacrificially.

Wives are to submit to husbands, not women to men. The study report implicitly rejects patriarchy.

In Paul’s other letters we see that authority still remains. For instance, government in Romans 13. Should we argue that such a command was temporary and now people are free to ignore the government? Are Christians really called to be anarchists? Certainly not.

“Authorities remain. Yet, if they lead benevolently, their authority will appear to fade.”

Yet, as a one-flesh relationship marriage is different from other authority relationships. It is more nearly reciprocal than the other relationships. It is king & queen, not king & subject, master & servant/slave, parent & child. How a husband exercises his authority is also significantly different, sacrificial love not self-interest.

From here the study report will move into questions concerning ordination.

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The question of deacons then comes to the forefront. They looked at Acts 6. The men were chosen by the congregation, and seem to be accountable to the apostles and the whole church. They were people the congregation trusted to serve well. While never called deacons, they did “deacon” leading many to think they were in fact deacons. They took one aspect of Levitical work: caring for the poor and widows.

“More importantly, it is clear that the men 1) distributed material resources to meet ongoing needs in the church, 2) met spiritual qualifications, 3) were set apart by prayer and by the laying on of hands, and 4) received the blessing of the apostles and the whole church.”

They move into 1 Timothy 3. While all Christians are intended to be servants, some are set apart and commissioned to serve the church and organize the service of others. We see that compared to elders, the character of deacons is marked by service. They list the uses of diakonos in which it is used not only for the office, but servants in general. It refers to someone who serves or performs a ministry to others.

“A church has two classes of leader- elder/overseer and deacon.”

I’m not sure about word choice there. Leaders is not the same as officers. Not all leaders in a church are ordained, nor officers. So I think this is some poor use of language which can confuse the matter.

Paul lists two desirable and two undesirable characteristics for deacons. They are “worthy of respect” or noble people. They are not deceitful, addicted to win or greedy for dishonest gain. Deacons are to be generous people, not out for money. They should not hoard church resources, but wisely disburse them.

Deacons are also supposed to hold to the mysteries of the faith with a clear conscience. They are doctrinally solid and secure. They are tested people.

They move to 1 Timothy 3:11 noting some translations view these as qualifications for “their wives” (NIV, ESV). Others translate it as women (ASV, RSV, NASB, NRSV, CEV) possibly referring to female deacons or assistants to the deacons. They note this is open to various interpretations, and that the flow of thought is difficult. Is Paul moving from deacons to deaconesses or to their wives?

Though B.B. Warfield was an advocate of female deacons, he doesn’t think Paul is speaking of deaconesses here. He rests his case on Phoebe, which is just as uncertain as this text. He also points to lists of female deacons in the early church.

Interpretations Throughout Church History

The Study Committee notes that in addition to Warfield, advocates of female deacons include John Calvin and the RPCNA (what, no mention of the ARP???). Chrysostom described an “order of deaconesses” in the church. In Geneva, deaconesses had a limited role. Pliny the Younger mentions in a letter to Emperor Trajan that he tortured two women, called deaconesses, to learn the facts about Christianity.

Possible Interpretations

  1. Women may be members of the general order of deacons. The “likewise” connects this to the qualifications of elders and deacons.
  2. The women are deaconesses who correspond to the deacons, but are not identical to them.
  3. Paul has a separate office in mind. Just as “likewise” indicates a new office in vv. 8, it does here in vv. 11 as well. They are generally understood to be assistants to the deacons, working with women on their behalf.
  4. They are wives of deacons who assist them in their work to women.

They lean toward this last interpretation.

“All for positions agree women should be involved in diaconal work. How their work should be construed ecclesiastically is another matter. If deacons have authority in the church, roughly on par with elders, so that church members rightly promise to submit to them and obey them, then 1 Timothy 2:12 prohibits female deacons. If deacons do not exercise authority, if they lead by example and by service, then female deacons or deaconesses are conceivable. Most leadership occurs by service and example, by experience and persuasion.”

Here is one of the places I scratch my head. Why do we think or would we think they have authority roughly on par with the elders? The Session forms a court of the church and handles discipline. The authority of the diaconate, if it rightly exists, is not on par with that. One problem we have as a denomination is that there are not different vows for the different offices. Let us remember, the vows are not in the Bible, and as part of our constitution may be changed if we think they wrong rather than affirmed simply because they exist.

Let’s think about the family for a moment. I am the head of the house. I have authority. Does my wife have authority? Yes. Over men? At times. In days of old, the woman of the home had authority over the domestics, free or slave, in the house. If we hire someone to work for us at home, my wife can tell them what to do. She operates under may authority to accomplish agreed upon goals. The valiant woman of Proverbs 31 was not a shrinking violet. She was engaged in much of what we would consider diaconal duties: helping the poor, buying and selling property…

How is this different from the diaconate? They are under the authority of the Session in order to accomplish agreed upon goals. The diaconate prepares the budget, but the Session approves the budget (and perhaps not the one proposed). So, any authority they have is quite different from that of the Session.

While they think BCO 9-2 may “sound authoritative” I’m not sure the logistics of collecting tithes and offerings is exercising authority.

I’m not overly enthused about this section of the report. It leaves unanswered some of the important questions germane to this discussion. It should not accept the BCO as unquestionable. Only Scripture has that benefit.


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Sometimes you buy a book based on the title or topic. You are not familiar with the author. Gospel Fluency is one of those books for me. I was not familiar with Jeff Vanderstelt (I was vaguely familiar with the Soma church through others). As a result I didn’t have (many) expectations.

Here is my one word review: uneven.

There are some very good and helpful chapters. There were also some that I thought were snoozers and not particularly helpful.

The subtitle is: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life. The purpose of the book is to help people to become fluent in the gospel so they see life and its problems, and therefore solutions, in terms of the gospel.

He begins with the fact that we still struggle with unbelief. He sort of overstates his case by saying everyone is an unbeliever. I get his point but don’t necessarily like his terminology.

“We all face daily struggles and battles, sometimes from enemies we can’t even see. We hear lies and accusations. We struggle with temptations and we are often deceived.”

We need truth to grow up into Christ, to believe in Christ. We don’t simply need the Scriptures and “scriptural principles” but we need the Jesus of the Bible. The Scriptures point us to Jesus. In our struggles, we need Jesus. Not 7 steps or principles. This book wants to help us connect our real life to Jesus. Or rather Jesus to real life.

Vanderstelt brings us to the realities of learning another language, and the necessity for immersion. We aren’t fluent when we are translating in our head. We are fluent when we begin to think in the other language, slipping easily between the two languages. To become fluent in the gospel, we need to be immersed in a community that speaks it. You begin to see it every where and connect it to every thing.

“You become fluent through immersion in a gospel-speaking community and through ongoing practice.”

I remember when I was getting my counseling degree. Every movie I watched, novel I read, relationship I had was analyzed from a counseling perspective (and a theological one). Movie watching was more fun, not less fun. I saw different levels of meaning opening up. This is what we want, so see different levels of meaning open up not simply in a movie but as we talk to a person.

One of the problems for me, was some material that is similar to my book. I compared it to my book as I sum up the Story and how Jesus saves us. It was impossible to avoid particularly as I prepared a seminar based on my book while reading this book.

I think the strength of the book is the section, The Gospel in Me. Particularly The War of the Mind and Fruit to Root. Some of this material has already shown up as I talk about discipleship. The section The Gospel to Others is also particularly helpful. These two sandwich The Gospel with Us which seemed on of the weaker ones for me.

While I found it uneven, it was helpful and sparks a desire to see my church community grow in gospel fluency. It is worth reading.

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The second chapter of the Study Report focuses on the biblical foundation for the roles of women (and men) in the church.

“Women are invaluable assets to Christ’s church”

The report is trying to function within the tension we find in society, and the church. Some rightfully acknowledge the key role that women play in Scripture. Some conservatives, more aligned with patriarchy than complementarianism, seem to ignore, avoid or dismiss these passages. One the other hand, egalitarians seem to ignore, avoid or dismiss the passages that affirm differences in roles between men and women. We tend to move toward extremes each of which ends up denying an important teaching of Scripture. So, this study has a difficult task and is therefore sure to anger plenty of people.

Survey of Scripture

In Scripture, women are not barefoot and pregnant, seen and not heard. They are active in God’s unfolding Story. It is not often that Protestants mention “theotokos” but this report does. In addition to Mary it refers to Huldah the prophetess, Phoebe and other women found in the Scriptures that are noted for their service within the church.

In both testaments we see women prophets. We see Deborah in Judges, whom the people sought for wisdom. God used her to call Barak to lead Israel into battle. The report makes much of Huldah, a contemporary of Jeremiah’s. This is interesting in that Josiah sought her out, not Jeremiah or the other prophets. Since her husband was a royal officer (2 Kings 22:14) she may have been known personally and trusted.

“She influenced the course of events. She neither initiated the action, nor determined the action, but she did influence the action.”

In the NT, Philip the Evangelist had 4 daughters who prophesied (Acts 8). In 1 Corinthians 11 we see that women prophesied (and led prayer) in corporate worship.

We see as well that there are times when we are instructed by women through Scripture. Scripture records their words to instruct us. We see Priscilla and her husband Aquila instructing Apollos privately.

The status of Phoebe is also examined. In Romans 16 she is called a servant or deacon. Calvin, in his commentary, thought she had the office of deacon. This does not settle the question at all, but merely illustrates that conservative scholars have and do believe she had the office. It may simply point to her service to the church and the fact that many recognized her service. She may even have been the person who carried the letter to Rome for Paul.

“Huldah, Zipporah, Miriam, and Esther testify to the God-given talent and leadership ability of women in the Lord’s church.”

In the OT (as well as the NT) we see the limited authority of the prophet. The Law was the source of authority, and the prophets were to be examined by the Law (see Deut. 13:1-5; 18:20-22; Is. 8:20). This continues in the NT (see 1 Cor. 14:29). The teaching office was the priesthood who were men. But some prophets were women, applying the law to the circumstances of the people. At times women instructed men in private settings.

In the NT we see that Jesus often laid aside Jewish traditions to interact freely with women. He did not observe the Billy Graham rule. Yet, Jesus did not call any women to be Apostles. We see this tension which I suspect wouldn’t exist if the Apostles redacted the Scriptures to exclude women from office as some claim.

During the Apostolic era the Spirit is poured out upon men and women (as prophesied by Joel). We see that in corporate worship women could pray, prophecy, offer a hymn or an interpretation. The question is: when they were to be silent (which can’t be absolute if permitted to do any of those things)?

Some have argued that 1 Cor. 11 is about personal worship and 1 Cor. 14 is about public worship. Except of course that 1 Cor. 11 addresses a problem with communion in public worship. This view also struggles to harmonize 14:26 and 14:35. The best solution is to hold that they are silent when the prophecy is tested, not all the time. There is no direct citation of the Law in 14:35, and no law that says women can’t speak. The inference seems to be regarding creation and how Adam was created first and given the instructions and prohibition. Paul referred to creation in 1 Cor. 11.

The report says Paul’s word choice also points us in this direction. Sigao (like WordPress, they couldn’t seem to find a Greek font which was frustrating) does not mean “total speechlessness” in most contexts (Luke 9:36;20:26; Acts 15:12-13). It is also used in 1 Cor. 14:28, 30 and 34. It seems to mean “temporarily stop speaking” in this context.

“Outside the testing, women may pray, prophesy, sing, and provide a lesson.”

Just as in the OT, the prophets were not the primary authorities. Authority in the early church rested in the Apostles and elders, not prophetic activity. The words of the prophets were to be weighed carefully (1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1). (Maybe Grudem has a point here.) This implies that the Puritan understanding of prophecy as preaching does not really fit the context of 1 Corinthians.

The report then moves into 1 Timothy 2. Women were to be adorned with good works, not extravagant dress. Some scholars (they footnote David Scholer) argue that such dress was a sign of promiscuity and disregarding a husband’s authority.

“Modesty is the principle. When Paul cited braided hair, gold, and pearls, the point is not that pigtails are sinful, but that elaborate displays of wealth take attention from God who is worshiped and place attention upon a well-dressed worshiper. If men were prone to disrupt the church through angry disputes, women were prone to disrupt it through physical displays.”

Generalizations exist for a reason. This does not mean they are true for every person. Some men seek attention through how they dress. Some women disrupt the church through anger.

Paul wanted women to learn, but not to teach men. They were to learn quietly. Not absolute silence, but not constant questioning. Egalitarianism holds that the prohibition on teaching is temporary, until they learn. Such a caveat doesn’t appear in the text. Paul does note creation as his justification, not a lack of education or maturity. Whatever this means, it cannot mean that women couldn’t be prophets or talk to men about the Scriptures and theology.

“Complementarianism suggests Paul’s prohibition is permanent but partial. … Paul’s language suggests that he forbids women to teach doctrine and to exercise ruling authority in the church.”

Men, primarily, who are called, tested, approved, and consecrated are those who are to preach, teach, and defend the gospel. But men are not the only teachers. Women may teach in a variety of contexts.

“There are differences of opinion in the PCA on the proper definition and exercise of ‘authoritative teaching.’ The committee urges presbyteries and sessions to study this matter diligently and to practice their convictions.”

They are refusing to place guidelines for every church and presbytery. There may be principled differences and different practices between presbyteries and congregations. Contrary to the desire of some, there will be no “one size fits all” solution.

They make a brief but necessary distinction. The submission of women does not mean they are “subservient ontologically” or inferior. It does not mean they have lessor capabilities or gifts. There is equality in dignity (Gen. 1), in access to God (Gal. 3:28) and in purpose. But roles are rooted in creation and not removed in redemption. The corruptions of those roles due to the Fall are removed: patriarchy, feminism etc.

The Study then refers back to the Fall and how the created order was inverted. Adam & Eve were to exercise dominion over creation, including the animals, but listened/obeyed an animal. Adam listened to God and spoke to his wife, but then obeyed/listened to his wife (see the curse upon Adam in Gen. 3). So, the problem was not simply the breaking of the prohibition but also the inversion of the created order. This brings about disorder and error: sin & misery.

Paul did not expect women to be barefoot and pregnant. We see him affirming the roles of Lydia and Pricilla in business rather than rebuking them. Paul affirmed people’s status as single or unmarried adults unless they couldn’t control themselves.

They summarize their understanding of these texts as follows:

“Because 1 Timothy 2 occupies a central place in all discussions of women and ministry, it was examined in detail. Women should learn the faith, and share their knowledge in some settings (Titus 2:4). They should not become the principle instructors and defenders of the faith in the institutional church. This has been God’s plan and order from the beginning, one in which women thrive as they live out their faith.”


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While I was in a Presbytery meeting our denomination “dropped” the study report on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church that is going to be presented at General Assembly this June. I’ve seen some very critical statements about this report. I wonder if we are reading the same report. I am not done reading it, but so far I’ve found it to be edifying. In light of that, let’s look at the first chapter which serves as an introduction.

The report begins by laying out their commitments and affirmations that form the presuppositions of our denomination and this study report.  This includes:

  • Confessional commitment to the complementarity of men and women.
  • The full dignity of men AND women as created in God’s image.
  • The Scriptures teach that eldership is comprised of qualified men (they embrace this “humbly and happily”).
  • Marriage should display mutually-edifying complementarity.
  • Male headship is to be expressed in sacrificial love to his wife.
  • It is expressed when a wife “welcomes her husband’s headship with respect”.

This means they are laying out the boundaries, biblical and confessional, that exist for our denomination and this study. The purpose is not to examine things outside of the boundary markers, or to change the boundary markers. The purpose is to examine questions that lie within these boundaries. Within these boundaries there are some differences of opinions. Another way of saying this (as I’ve said before) is that complementarianism is not a monolithic movement. There are a continuum of views that exist within the bounds of biblical and confessional complementarianism. These are the differences in view. The goal was not to ordain women elders as some have asserted (and have intentionally or unintentionally stirred up fear).

At least half of the adult membership of the church are women. How they can serve, and how we can empower them, are important questions to ask if we actually want to see them serve God to the fullest as God permits.

They note that in BCO 9-7, both men and women may be appointed by the Session to assist the diaconate in their work. There are elders in the PCA who think that the PCA should permit women to be deacons. Some others favor an office of deaconness which supports the diaconate particularly in its ministry to women. Some see this as a position, not a church office. Others have an unordained diaconate so women may be deacons. So, recognizing these big differences in opinion we ought to consider the question more carefully.

“The committee is not recommending any Book of Church Order changes.” page 2, line 44

Historically they note that the PCA was formed during a time in which the women’s rights movement was popular, and many denominations, including the PC (US), were beginning to ordain women to the office of elder (including teaching elders). The PCA affirmed complementarianism then and still does now. However, “members and ministers are asking how to equip, encourage, and utilize women in the church’s ministry in ways that are consistent with our confessional and theological commitments to complementarianism.” This, I think, is a worthwhile project.

I recently saw some of the Overtures that have been made to the upcoming General Assembly. One is Overture 3 from Westminster Presbytery which calls for the dismissal of the study committee. The report responds to this overture recommending that GA answer it in the negative. It deals point by point with the objections (except that it has reported disturbed the peace in Westminster Presbytery which was vague- are they fighting among themselves or just in existential agony because we’re considering how women may serve within the boundaries of our biblical and confessional commitments?).

One idea put forth by the Overture is that it is improper for women to serve on voting committees since this might involve “having authority over men.” I’m confused. Don’t women vote in congregational meetings? While we don’t recognize it as a court, congregational meetings function like a court and decisions are made by vote, like whether or not to call a particular man as teaching elder. Additionally, as the Study Report notes, committees made recommendations that must be voted on by the Assembly. It has no authority, the authority lies with the Assembly to approve or deny the report  and its recommendations.

To summarize: this report is addressing questions within our denominational boundaries, and not trying to make us PC(USA)-lite. This study committee was properly called, and women may serve on such a committee.

May God use this process to further the purity, peace and prosperity of the Church (and churches) through this process.

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