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Posts Tagged ‘ordination’


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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One of the books I’ve been reading is Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History by Diana Lynn Severance. In discussing the early church she has a section on deaconnesses.

There is some debate about whether Phoebe is a servant of the church (Serverance), or held the office of deacon in the church (Calvin).

As Severance has studied the history of the Church, she believes that as an office or position probably developed from the order of widows. These women likely performed the same duties as the widows. This means that they were responsible for “nursing the sick, caring for the poor, dispensing the alms of the Church, and evangelizing pagan women.” (pp. 54) Their ministry was to other women in light of Titus 2. There was also the problem of widows being taken advantage of in many ways (including financially) by predators.

In the 3rd century, the Didascalia provided a “specific ritual for the consecration of widows and deaconesses. A principle work of the deaconesses was to help prepare women for baptism.” (pp. 55). This work continued with the actual baptism of the women. They also counseled women about marriage. Since the early Church often separated the sexes during worship, deaconesses would help the elders distribute communion to women, at church and at home.

We should remember that “the deaconesses worked primarily with other women and under the authority of the presbyter.” (pp. 55) They were women under authority. They exercised shepherding gifts, pastoral gifts, as well as diaconal gifts but did not exercise authority and were not instructing men. They instructed women. Considering their duties, there was no need for female priests contrary to the suppositions of feminist.

The Church became more structured over time, and the widows were placed under the responsibility of the deaconesses. By the 5th century, widows as a position seems to have been abandoned. But the position of deaconess continued for a few more centuries.  Severance notes that in the 6th century, the staff of St. Sophia in Constantinople included “60 priests, one hundred deacons, forty deaconesses and ninety sub-deacons. By the eleventh century, however, the position of deaconess had virtually disappeared.” (pp. 55)

We see the existence of deaconesses as well in ordination services for them. So, at least in this period of church history, while the office of elder and deacon were not open to women, ordination was not limited to men.

Once the institutionalization of the church happened, most baptisms were infants, not converts. The need for deaconesses decreased. The popularity of cloistered societies also decreased the need for deaconesses as well. Eventually this “ordained” office fell into disuse and obsolescence.

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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.

(more…)

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