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Posts Tagged ‘Book of Church Order’


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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One of the joys of being a Presbyterian pastor is voting on changes in the Book of Church Order. While I was a member of the ARP this was a joy I had infrequently. As a member of the PCA, it is one I have more often than I would like.

This summer at General Assembly, we had an Overture to explicitly prohibit the practice of intinction, or dipping the bread into the wine (or more commonly grape juice) when administering communion. I have had some experience in my life with the practice. At times in my youth, the Roman Catholic Church would practice it. How they administered communion kept changing. If you were away for awhile you could safely wonder how it was being done “now”.

http://ts3.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4547422006740054&pid=15.1I personally do not like intinction. We did dip one Sunday in the church in which I am pastor because we thought we had run out of communion cups. We celebrate weekly communion. It was a pragmatic decision based on our circumstances. It seemed less problematic than withholding the means of grace from the congregation. We actually had a new box of cups tucked away in the Administrative Assistant’s office. Surely the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover our numerous failings that day.

I view intinction as irregular. I refrain from using the term novelty, though in some senses it is appropriate. It is not taught in Scripture, and therefore a novelty. But it is not new. The Eastern Church has practiced it for many a century. It has been practiced at times in the Church of Rome. It does not have an extensive history, as far as I know, among Protestants. Therefore another word we could use is heteropraxy.

The issue for me is this: is it so irregular that we should censure those who practice it?

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If you think I’m about to do a political rant, this is not it aside from saying I’m tired of the ad hominem arguments already.  I’m talking about those books that pastors and elders use that provide the instruction necessary for the church and denomination to run smoothly.  They outline procedures that are to be followed.

I spent over 10 years in the ARP.  The Form of Government was called the FOG, for a reason.  There were certain things that weren’t as clear as you’d want them to be.  Latitude was granted in particular areas.  It was not designed to spell out everything, just the necessary things.  For 10 years I used this book and got to know it fairly well.  I pretty much knew where to look for the information I needed at particular times and in particular circumstances.

I spent all that time in the same presbytery.  I had a leadership roll, chairing 2 different committees at different times.  I was “somebody”, for the lack of a better term.

Then things changed.  I moved into the PCA.  I am a “nobody” again.  I haven’t gained any trust and respect.  Sometimes that is painfully obvious- like at our last meeting.  But maybe I’m just being too sensitive. They have no obligation to listen to me, much less to follow my advice.  It is just tough being low guy on the totem pole after all these years.

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In order to continue preaching regularly at the church we attend, I will have to be approved by the Presbytery to which they belong.  It is a sister denomination.  It is odd- I’m not receiving a call so I am not transferring into their Presbytery.  But in accordance with their Book of Church Order, I have to be licensed to preach the gospel in their Presbytery.

So, I have to be examined by them.  I will have something like an associate membership in their Presbytery, should I pass.

I’ve got 2 weeks to brush up for a written exam which must be done by the end of next week, and an oral exam on the 22nd.  Should I pass through the Committee, I will then be examined on the floor and preach for them.  If I had received a call to this church, I’d have fewer hoops.  It makes no sense to me- more work for less responsibility- but such is life.

My friends in that Presbytery tell me not to worry.  But I feel sucked into caring (inordinately?) about how I do.  I’m not a theological student, but a seasoned pastor.  I should have a more mature theological mind, and more developed pulpit skills than a student.  So I put pressure on myself.  Obviously I need their approval- but am I being driven by the approval of men?  Interesting question.

It might be the list of 300+ sample questions I got that I could be asked in my oral examinations.  Yes, and that is just theology.  So, I’ve got plenty of work ahead.  Since my “Theological Convictions” will be on public record, I may put them up here after the Committee.  Some people might find that interesting since they aren’t familiar with this whole process.  It shouldn’t be a mystery to people.  Between that additional work, and the playoffs, I’m not sure how much you’ll hear from me in the next few weeks.

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