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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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Someone recently sent me a link to R.C. Sproul’s lesson on The Role of Women in the Church. She had only a little info about the PCA study committee and was concerned. I allayed some fears, but since this is probably one of the few older Sproul lessons I haven’t heard I decided to listen to it with the officers of our congregation at a combined meeting.

This is so old that Bill Hybels made a guest appearance. I believe the context is that R.C. was asked to talk to a group of people at Willow Creek. In the intervening years, it would be safe to say that they have probably changed their position on this subject.

Here is something of a summary from the notes that I took.

Protest movements have real pain behind them at their roots despite their sometimes illegitimate actions. The Feminist movement is no different. It is a response to patronizing attitudes and exploitation. Women have not been treated well by men in society, and in the church.

On the other hand, the church has not missed the truth about women and ministry for 2,000 years. The question of who may be ordained is either determined by God, or my subjective evaluation of who is gifted to serve. The qualifications, particularly with regard to character, either matter or they don’t.

R.C. alluded to when he was in the United Presbyterian Church. The largely egalitarian denomination permitted men to hold the complementarian position. This changed after an ecclesiastical court case and officers like R.C. were told to change their views, leave for another denomination or face disciplinary action.

R.C. noted that he wrote a minority report for the PCA favoring the ordination of women. This requires some explanation, obviously. He has no prejudice against women. He wants to be as liberal on this question as the Scriptures allow him to be. In this context he mentioned a debate at Gordon-Conwell (or perhaps he said Gordon College where he taught for a time) years earlier when he was the only faculty member willing to take up the complementarian position. For him, the question always traces back to 1 Timothy 2.

11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

This passage, he believes and I concur, does not allow women in positions of authority in the church. Some kind of teaching and some kind of authority are prohibited. He noted there were different kinds of “authority”. There can the authority of expertise or influence. The type in question is judicial or governing authority.

Judicial authority is the right to command and demand the actions of others. Paul restricts judicial authority over men in the church. The context is ecclesiastical, so this is limited by that context. Women may have authority in the workplace or school and other contexts. He rejects patriarchy.

There is also the general vs. technical sense of teaching. He believes this refers to teaching with ecclesiastical authority.

The general term for office is diaconos- service. Church office is an office of service. We do not lord it over others like the Gentiles do.

Women are not allowed to sit in judicial power- to be on the session or an elder.

The PCA ties government to ministry in what he thinks is an unbiblical way. This is why he generally supports women deacons, but doesn’t in the PCA. The BOCO indicates that though an office of service, it has power or authority (though not a court so it is fairly confusing and one of those things I’d love to see clarified in the BOCO). Sproul thinks that preaching does not necessarily have governmental authority because the court is not in session during preaching. At this point R.C. and Bill discussed Elizabeth Elliot who refused to preach at Willow Creek on a Sunday morning. Bill invited her to come during the week. R.C. had her “speak” a few times at Ligonier c0nferences (that is not a local church and does not have an ecclesiastical governing body).

Our officers commented that perhaps this means a woman could be an assistant pastor since they don’t serve on the Session. But they do serve in the courts of presbytery and General Assembly so don’t take the joke seriously.

R.C. noted that he sometimes worries that his position is too liberal (and some PCA pastors would agree). But he needs to be faithful to the text, which is opponent in the aforementioned debate agreed supports the complementarian position. P.K. Jewett agreed that the complementarian interpretation of the text was correct. As a result, Jewett denied the authority of the text in his defense of women’s ordination.

Different denominations have different working definitions of ordination. All it means is to be consecrated to an purpose or office. Scripture nowhere explicitly says women are not to be ordained. We have to talk about the particular office in question, and build an implicit argument regarding ordination in general.

He main principle was that the parameter are to be those set forth in Scripture, not culture or the “light of nature.”

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At this year’s General Assembly they decided to have a study committee on women in the church. This was met with mixed reviews. Some were glad. I was glad, but I will not impute the reason for my joy to others. I want to better understand the Scriptures, in particular one text of Scripture, and for our church life to be more fully conformed to those Scriptures. In other words, I believe that notion of Reformed and reforming.

Some were upset seeing this as a move toward liberalism. They believe they fully understand the Scriptures and haven’t imported any erroneous cultural notions into our understanding of the Scriptures.

I don’t see this as the on ramp to women elders. This is especially true when I look at the people on the study committee. We’re talking Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt for Pete’s sake.

Our Session decided we wanted to study this subject for ourselves so we can better evaluate any majority and minority reports. In fact, our men’s ministry has decided to look at this too. So I’ve done some shopping to add to the books I own and have read on this subject. One of the books I added was Jesus, Justice, & Gender Roles by Kathy Keller. Kathy is also on this study committee and this was a book I wanted to read anyway.

In addition to being the wife of Tim Keller, Kathy has an MA in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell and spent some time as an editor for Great Commission Publications.

To call this a book is generous. It is more like a booklet, being 39 pages (plus a few pages of end notes). This increases the likelihood of it being read by my very busy elders. It also means that it won’t cover everything I might want it to cover or as in depth as I might want it covered.

Let’s lay the card on the table first. She is a complementarian. This is a broad term, and there are a few differences of opinion within this movement. Many want to claim their version as the only version. This, in fact, is one of the reasons for this book. She tries to nail down the essential point of complementarianism.

She divides the book into two chapters. The first focuses on hermeneutical issues and two key texts. The second focuses on how this plays out as she feels pressure from both egalitarians and more “conservative” complementarians (or those who may actually hold to a view of patriarchialism).

She begins by describing how she arrived at these conclusions (and to hold to the inspiration, infallibility and authority of the Scriptures) though she didn’t grow up believing them and they threatened her career ambitions. Hermeneutically she affirms that the analogy of Scripture (clear texts interpret unclear texts) and each text has a context (historical, cultural, social, and I might add theological) that affects its meaning. The two texts she focuses on are 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. In some ways she views the first as less clear and the second as more clear such that 1 Timothy helps us understand 1 Corinthians.

We cannot isolate 1 Corinthians 14 from the rest of 1 Corinthians. This means that we cannot use it to mean that women must be absolutely silent in a worship service. For instance, 1 Corinthians 11:5 mentions women praying and prophesying in the public worship service. While we might claim the prayer is silent, clearly the prophesying is not. As a result she notes “Paul in 1 Corinthians is not condemning the public ministry of women, but regulating it.” In other words, public exercise of spiritual gifts is to retain “divinely ordained gender roles.”

She does mention Miriam, Deborah and Huldah as women leaders. She, unfortunately, just mentions this in passing. Since these women are used by egalitarians like Sarah Sumner to justify their views, I think this bore more attention. Miriam, for instance, while publicly leading, was publicly leading women in the chorus of the song.

In its context, she understands (quite reasonably) this text to be about the elders evaluating and judging the content of prophecy in the worship service. They were discussing it and speaking authoritatively upon it. Women were not to be interjecting and disrupting this process which involved only the elders. This happened prior to the completion of the canon and the elders were to guard the deposit of truth they had (and were still receiving). We do this less formally now that the canon is complete by holding pastors to confessional standards. If I begin to preach deviant views, the elders are charged with admonishing me, and presbytery will be involved if I persist.

These view is supported by what we find in 1 Timothy 2. Debate has raged over whether “teach or have authority” (NIV), “teach or exercise authority” (ESV),  refers to two separate functions or one function (teaching in a position of authority). She, following James Hurley (who used to teach at RTS Jackson), Craig Blomberg and Philip Payne believes this is a hendiadys in which the conjunction connects the two verbs so they are mutually defining.

“So what is being forbidden to women in 1 Timothy 2 (and by extension in 1 Corinthians 14) is authoritative teaching- some kind of teaching that carried with it an authority not found in other, allowable forms of oral discourse.”

In her understanding there are times when a teacher doesn’t have authority. You can disagree with a SS teacher or small group leader but it isn’t a problem. The problem is if we disagree with the elders on an important issue (it may be prompted by the disagreement with the SS teacher). The SS teacher can’t excommunicate you, but the Session can!

The main tenant of complementarianism is male headship in the church (and home). In the church it is male elders (there is disagreement on the question of deacons which means we have disagreements on the nature of a deacon or “ordination” behind the scenes).

Keller than briefly mentions the common reasons why people think we don’t have to obey these instructions by Paul: misogyny by Paul, only binding on the church then, and outdated commands. She notes how unconventional Paul was in his relationships with women and how the charge of misogyny really doesn’t have any legs. The second charge is based on a fallacy since every part of Scripture is written to a specific group at a specific time for a specific reason. We do distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive passages however. Scripture describes polygamous marriages, for instance, but never prescribes or affirms them. This second excuse also denies Paul’s instruction about Scripture in 2 Timothy 3. The third excuse essentially is that we have more light now. Another version of this would be the trajectory hermeneutic of some progressives like Rob Bell where we try to project what Paul might think & say today.

“Consider the enormous hubris in appointing our present cultural moment as the yardstick against which God’s Word must be measured.”

We should not give into the impulse to fall back onto “love” since the issue is so “complicated and confusing.” She reminds us that the great creeds and confessions of the church were the produces of (often) vigorous debate. It is better to dig deeper into the Scriptures and submit ourselves to what they say. This is not simply a personal project but a community project (regarding both time and space).

“I have found it fruitless, leading only to self-pity and anger in my own life, to question God’s disposition of things when I do not understand. Confidence in his goodness has been a better choice.”

The second section is really about trying to address those who disagree with her, both the women who are egalitarian and the men who are more patriarchical (my term) or those who have a more restrictive view of women in the church. She distinguishes between gifts and roles. We tend to conflate them. A woman can have a shepherding gift and she can exercise it, but not in the role of pastor. She brings up her now deceased professor Elizabeth Elliot in discussing this. We should want women to fully exercise their gifts even as we recognize that there is a role (or two?) they cannot fulfill. She puts forward a common formulation that a woman can do anything an unordained man do.

This is a SHORT book, as I mentioned. As a result there are a number of things I thought went unaddressed. I would have preferred some discussion about deacons. That was beyond her scope and is really not an egalitarian vs. complementarian question.

She does affirm the voluntary submission of the Son as Mediator in the economic Trinity. In the footnote in that paragraph she clearly denies Eternal Submission of the Son, which is proposed by some complementarians or at least seems to be. She rightly calls this, in my opinion, a heresy. Some people, like Wayne Grudem, keep doubling down on their ESS views (which are also found in the ESV Study Bible). Frame’s comments are quite tentative on this issue.

Anyway, this was a helpful booklet to read even though its scope was limited. Reading this I see no reason for my more “conservative” brothers (I am a conservative, by the way) to fear the PCA sliding into liberalism with Kathy’s inclusion on the study committee.

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Session meetings are not often the highlight of a week. I enjoy being with the men, and I enjoy talking about church life and how we can be more faithful. The problem is that our meetings end late and some of us have a hard time the next day at work. I need time to decompress from a meeting, and even if they are held in my home, I don’t go to bed right away.

We have two options: have more but shorter meetings, or have more efficient meetings.

These are men who are already too busy so the first option really doesn’t seem to be an option. A few books were recommended to me. One of them was Meetings that Work by Alexander Strauch. One reason I bought it was that it was specifically about elders’ meetings. I had already read Strauch’s book Biblical Eldership. The third reason was it wasn’t very long. It was accessible for very busy men (I bought one for each elder too).

Our issues are not about character (though he mentions that), which seemed to be the thrust of some of the other recommendations. We have good men, who want to do a good job who just need help doing it quicker.

One thing is evident to me as I read this book: his gifting is kingly. He is all about efficiency, order etc. My gifting is prophetic and priestly, so I could use a bit more organization. But it didn’t make for an enjoyable read. It was informative. It was helpful. I’m not sure how to make this subject interesting. I, however, did not need interesting.

Another thing that became clear to me was how thankful I should be that I am in a confessional church. He often talks about discussing doctrinal issues. In over 15 years in ministry, I have not given very much time to doctrinal discussions in meetings. I am a doctrinally oriented person and read lots of theology. But the Westminster Confession of Faith means that we don’t have to spend time hammering out very many doctrinal issues.

Some of the issues require some wisdom and balance. In my first pastorate, EVERY conversation seemed to prompt an historical dissertation that bogged us down. A church’s history does matter. It does need to be discussed, but it cannot dominate the conversation or bog it down. I took his comments to almost exclude them. A wise moderator will begin to develop a sense of when it is helpful and when it isn’t.

There were, however, a number of very helpful ideas to help make meetings happen more efficiently. This brief book accomplished its purpose. This week we will discuss some of the ideas that we want to implement. Strauch’s book is well worth the investment of your time.

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Recently there have been books released that deal with the heart of the pastor. They aren’t books about how to do ministry but how a minister should be. Jared Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification is the second of these books I have read. Earlier I had read Paul Tripp’s Dangerous Calling.

Both books are very good but quite different from one another. They form a good “Good Cop, Bad Cop Routine” when read in tandem. Tripp’s book is a dangerous read. Perhaps I should say a hard read because he is ruthless. This doesn’t mean he’s legalistic or avoids the gospel. In addressing our sin he does bring us back to the gospel regularly. His concerns, reaped from talking the numerous pastors, center on the gaps in their preparation and a sense of having arrived that cripples men spiritually. He puts his finger on many common struggles for pastors.

“The primary problem in pastoral ministry, brother pastor, is not them. It’s you. You are your biggest problem.”

Jared’s book is kinder and gentler. This doesn’t mean he ignores sin because he doesn’t (see the above quote). You will feel the sting of conviction here as well. He also keeps bringing us back to the gospel regularly. The point of Jared’s book is one that I got from Tim Keller a few years ago: preach as a justified man. Of course it is about more than preaching.

[This book is not just for pastors though. Missionaries would likely benefit and see a great deal of overlap. It would be a helpful read for elders and ministry leaders as well. They will experience many of the same temptations and need to find the same freedom in Christ pastors need.]

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Lay leaders are often very busy. They can often work long hours and have kids to raise. This can make on-going training difficult. This can be frustrating for the pastor, and the elders and other leaders. They often want to learn more but find the realities of life an obstacle.

“In any group of any size, a leader will emerge. Someone who takes initiative, assumes responsibility for the activity and direction of that group. … But in the end, I have a deep and enduring conviction that it is the gospel that should shape my attitude to and practice of leadership.”

Steve Timmis’ new book, Gospel Centered Leadership, is an answer to some of that frustration. It is a short book with short chapters on important subjects that encourage and challenged leaders new and old. He includes questions to help you think through the implications of the material. His fundamental position is that church leaders lead from an on-going faith and repentance. Apart from this, their hearts become hardened by sin and they will inevitably be unable to counsel, guide and direct the sheep.

Leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in the context of Jesus as the Head of the Church. Gospel centered leaders submit to His authority and recognize that they are merely under-shepherds. It also happens in the context of culture. Each culture has definite ideas about leadership. The church will usually follow that style of leadership, but should repent of unbiblical notions of leadership within that culture. For instance, Korean churches in the US often have a more autocratic style of leadership then other churches in the U.S. This is not a problem as long as they don’t “lord it over” the people.

“In simple terms, headship is all about creating an environment in which those in our care are able to flourish and thrive.”

Christ rules through His Word, and thru fallible, sinful people. Timmis notes the numerous failures of biblical leaders. They all anticipated Christ in what they did right and in their failures. We will also fail at times. The gospel enables us to receive forgiveness, get back up again and keep leading. It keeps us humble regarding our skills and abilities, and confident in God’s love and provision to us in Christ. While he recognizes that all Christians should minister to others, he does hold that the office of elder is restricted to men.

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In a recent Session meeting, one of the elders asked a particular question that related to the issue of men and women in the church. It was a question about which people have differing opinions, even if they are in general agreement regarding the larger issue.

I sent him some exegetical and historical work I’d done on the pertinent texts in years past. I also sent him links to a few books on the topic. One was a book I had not seen before, and decided to read for myself. That was Kevin DeYoung’s Freedom and Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church.  I was particularly interested because DeYoung serves in the RCA, a denomination in which many egalitarians have found a home. He is a complementarian, so I wondered how he handled this particular issue.

He wrote the book (published in 2006) for congregations similar to his own which did not have “official” positions on the subject. He wanted the book to be understandable for lay people. He wanted to display an irenic spirit. The goal was not to bash those who disagree with him. He did not want to descend into vitriol or presenting strawman arguments (how a view is presented would not be recognizable to those who hold the view).

I believe he succeeded in both cases.

Much of the book is taken up with looking at the passages at the heart of this discussion (Genesis 1-3; 1 Corinthians 11; 1 Corinthians 14; 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Timothy 3. He also handles some common objections as well as briefly outlining the many things he believes women can do in the church. In the appendices he includes his sermon on Ephesians 5 and the similarity in arguments for those espousing egalitarianism and the acceptance of homosexual behavior in the church.

“Controversy, because it makes us think more carefully and support our ideas more substantially, can actually strengthen the church.”

He begins with a series of questions to “set the stage” for the larger discussion. He affirms that this is not a “salvation” issue (I disagreed with one of my favorite professors in this issue, and have friends with whom I disagree). It is a question for the well-being of the church. As such, we should investigate it.

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