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We previously looked at the rationale for the overture from Metro NY Presbytery to amend the Book of Church Order to permit local sessions to determine if their congregation may have women deacons.

The underlying disagreements center on ordination and authority. Those opposed to women deacons regularly cite these issues. First that ordination is only for men. I’m not sure I buy into this presupposition. It is an argument of “good and necessary consequence” and therefore you have to make sure the initial statements are true. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do  we see that only men may fulfill the offices in view and therefore only men can be ordained? Or do we see that ordination is limited to men and therefore only men can fulfill the offices?

IfImage result for deborah and barak we look at the messianic offices of prophet, priest and king I think we have the picture of ordination or appointment to office. Priest and king were, in fact, limited to men. There was a queen mother who usurped the throne after the death of her son the king. But she was an illegitimate authority who would finally be overthrown and executed.

But we see women prophets operating in Israel as well as the NT church. One of them, Deborah, also functioned as a judge since Barak was cowardly. As prophets, however, we see one of the messianic offices filled by women (even in a vibrant NT assembly) even though no books of the Bible were written by them. On this basis, I’m not so convinced that ordination is limited to men. We need to think a bit more deeply about ordination.

Image result for r.c. sproulR.C. Sproul in his older audio series on the Westminster Confession of Faith said that he generally believed in women deacons. Based on the authority granted to deacons in the PCA, however, he stated that there should not be women deacons in the denomination to which he belonged.

This issue of authority is one that is not really settled in the PCA. From the PCA Report on Diaconal Ministries we read:

E. The Authority of the Diaconate.
The BCO gives specific direction regarding the authority level of the diaconate and its relationship to the session of the church.[35] The specific wording is open to interpretation; however, as to the extent to which the deacons, both in authority level and practical function, are to be directed by the session and how much they are to function in a separate sphere close to the level of the session but nevertheless ultimately subordinate to it. The range of viewpoints on this issue is made clear in the following statements.

Coppes (OPC) defines a role of direct subservience of the diaconate to the session: “We conclude, therefore, that the deacons are assistants to the elders. The deacons are part of the ruling office in the New Testament, a subordinate and yet ‘separate office raised up by our Lord.’ “[36] Furthermore, “To them (New Testament Church) a deacon , although an officer in the church, was a servant to the elders. He was not someone who functioned on a par with the elders.”[37] Lee (PCA) reflects a perspective almost at the opposite extreme: “Toward the session, the diaconate is subordinate in ultimate government control but coordinate in ultimate importance… The work of the diaconate is just as important as is the work of the session. The diaconate is ‘sovereign in its own sphere’ of ministering mercy–even over against the session.”[38]

Coppes also addresses the relationship of women to the diaconate. “Women were used (in the church) probably in an auxiliary capacity to the deacons. They were not ordained, but there were stringent requirements to be met before they could be so employed.”[39]

While they may possess authority, as a Body they are under the authority of the Session. I see this as similar to a wife who has authority over children and any servants or contractors employed by the family, even as she is under the authority of her husband. She’s granted authority to discharge or implement the actions approved by her husband. The diaconate is not free to whatever they want, but are to operate under the direction of the Session. I’m not sure the diaconate can decide to help a person or family that the Session says they should not. While the diaconate prepares the budget, it is approved by the Session for the diaconate and treasurer to implement. We don’t want two bodies tearing the Body apart.

We also see that Coppes notes that women were not ordained as deacons, but served to support them. Perhaps, as I noted in the earlier post, this is the solution to our conundrum: shifting from assistants to the deacons to deaconnesses who serve the women of the church under the authority of the deacons. In this way, the widows and single., poor women are not taken advantage of by particular deacons, or form overly intimate mutual relationships (we see this type of protection advocated, I believe in Titus 2 and 1 Timothy 5).

These questions need to be  addressed in the Overture, or they will continue to sabotage discussions. Controversy will be stirred up and no resolution found.

Let’s look at the changes to BCO 5, 7, 9 17,  24 and 25 (a whole new chapter). They forgot to mention 5-9 in the initial therefore even though it appears as the first two emendations.

 

  • THEREFORE, be it resolved to amend BCO 7-2, 9-3, 17-3, chapter 24, and add a chapter 25 in order to allow local sessions to decide whether women are allowed to serve as deacons [Proposed deletions are shown below by strikethrough, and additions are underlined]:
    • 5-9.c. When the temporary government determines that among the members of the mission congregation there are men who appear qualified as officers Elders, the nomination process shall begin and the election conclude following the procedures of BCO 24 so far as they may be applicable.
    • 5-9.i (1) The organizing commission shall ordain and/or install ruling elders and/or deacons according to the provisions of BCO 24-6, and/or install deacons according to the provisions of BCO 25-6 so far as they may be applicable.
    • 7-2. The ordinary and perpetual classes of office in the Church are elders and deacons. Within the class of elder are the two orders of teaching elders and ruling elders. The elders jointly have the government and spiritual oversight of the Church, including teaching. Only those elders who are specially gifted, called and trained by God to preach may serve as teaching elders. The office of deacon is not one of rule, but rather of service both to the physical and spiritual needs of the people. In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only the office of elder is open to men only.
    • 9-3. To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men members of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment.
    • 17-3. As every ecclesiastical office, according to the Scriptures, is a special charge, no man member shall be ordained unless it be to the performance of a definite work.

Cav Commentary: Many of the changes are shifting from the general language of officers to the specific language of elders. What is currently being said about church officers is now being largely directed to or limited to elders in these paragraphs.

In a quick read 5-9 it seems to be indicating that we would no longer ordain deacons. This would be an important move. It would take some of the obstacles away. One of the big impediments is “ordaining women”. The language of ordination is a deal-killer for some people. No longer ordaining deacons change at least some of the geography upon which this debate takes place.

This interpretation is rendered null and void by 17-3 however. It extends ordination to members, not simply men. 7-2 still treats deacon as an office in the church. The office of elder is open only to men, but the office of deacon is open to members. But said offices are apparently ordained.

5-9i was not as clear as it could and should be. A more thorough reading indicates that the earlier mentioning of ordain is to be understood as also pertaining to deacons due to the “and/or”. All that changes is the chapter of the BCO in which we find the provisions for ordination of deacons. Ordination is a loaded term in the PCA, and while this is used of all deacons, I don’t see this or any overture passing. But let’s move on to BCO 24.

CHAPTER 24

Election, Ordination and Installation of Ruling Elders and Deacons

Election

24-1.       Every church shall elect persons to the offices of ruling elder and deacon in the following manner: At such times as determined by the Session, communicant members of the congregation may submit names to the Session, keeping in mind that each prospective officer should be an active male member who meets the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  After the close of the nomination period nominees for the office of ruling elder and/or deacon shall receive instruction in the qualifications and work of the office. Each nominee shall then be examined in:

  1. his Christian experience, especially his personal character and family management (based on the qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9),
  2. his knowledge of Bible content,
  3. his knowledge of the system of doctrine, government, discipline contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America (BCO Preface III, The Constitution Defined),
  4. the duties of the office to which he has been nominated, and
  5. his willingness to give assent to the questions required for ordination. (BCO 24-6)

If there are candidates eligible for the election, the Session shall report to the congregation those eligible, giving at least thirty (30) days prior notice of the time and place of a congregational meeting for elections.

If one-fourth (1/4) of the persons entitled to vote shall at any time request the Session to call a congregational meeting for the purpose of electing additional officers, it shall be the duty of the Session to call such a meeting on the above procedure. The number of officers to be elected shall be determined by the congregation after hearing the Session’s recommendation.

24-2.       The pastor is, by virtue of his office, moderator of congregational meetings. If there is no pastor, the Session shall appoint one of their number to call the meeting to order and to preside until the congregation shall elect their presiding officer, who may be a minister or ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church in America or any male member of that particular church.

24-3.       All communing members in good and regular standing, but no others, are entitled to vote in the election of church officers in the churches to which they respectively belong. A majority vote of those present is required for election.

24-4.       The voters being convened, the moderator shall explain the purpose of the meeting and then put the question:

Are you now ready to proceed to the election of additional ruling elders (or deacons) from the slate presented?

If they declare themselves ready, the election may proceed by private ballot without nomination. In every case a majority of all the voters present shall be required to elect.

24-5.       On the election of a ruling elder or deacon, if it appears that a large minority of the voters are averse to a candidate, and cannot be induced to concur in the choice, the moderator shall endeavor to dissuade the majority from prosecuting it further; but if the electors are nearly or quite unanimous, or if the majority insist upon their right to choose their officers, the election shall stand.

Ordination and Installation

24-6.       The day having arrived, and the Session being convened in the presence of the congregation, a sermon shall be preached after which the presiding minister shall state in a concise manner the warrant and nature of the office of ruling elder, or deacon, together with the character proper to be sustained and the duties to be fulfilled. Having done this, he shall propose to the candidate, in the presence of the church, the following questions, namely:

  1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
  2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
  3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity?
  4. Do you accept the office of ruling elder (or deacon, as the case may be) in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?
  5. Do you promise subjection to the Session?
  6. Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church?

The ruling elder or deacon elect having answered in the affirmative, the minister shall address to the members of the church the following question:

Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive this brother as a ruling elder (or deacon), and do you promise to yield him all that honor, encouragement and obedience in the Lord to which his office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles him?

The members of the church having answered this question in the affirmative, by holding up their right hands, the candidate shall then be set apart, with prayer by the minister or any other Session member and the laying on of the hands of the Session, to the office of ruling elder (or deacon). Prayer being ended, the members of the Session (and the deacons, if the case be that of a deacon) shall take the newly ordained officer by the hand, saying in words to this effect:

We give you the right hand of fellowship, to take part in this office with us.

The minister shall then say:

I now pronounce and declare that ____________________ has been regularly elected, ordained and installed a ruling elder (or deacon) in this church, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he is entitled to all encouragement, honor and obedience in the Lord: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

After which the minister or any other member of the Session shall give to the ruling elder (or deacon) and to the church an exhortation suited to the occasion.

24-7.       Ordination to the offices of ruling elder or deacon is perpetual; nor can such offices be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from either the office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a ruling elder or deacon may have reasons which he deems valid for being released from the active duties of his office. In such a case the Session, after conference with him and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him and the church.

The ruling elder or deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his official capacity to a majority of the church which he serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. The Session, after conference with the ruling elder or deacon, and after careful consideration, may use its discretion as to dissolving the official relationship. In either case the Session shall report its action to the congregation. If the Session fails or refuses to report to the congregation within sixty (60) days from the date of the congregational meeting or if the Session reports to the congregation that it declined to dissolve such relationship, then any member or members in good standing may file a complaint against the Session in accordance with the provisions of BCO 43.

24-8.       When a ruling elder or deacon who has been released from his official relation is again elected to his office in the same or another church, he shall be installed after the above form with the omission of ordination.

24-9.       When a ruling elder or deacon cannot or does not for a period of one year perform the duties of his office, his official relationship shall be dissolved by the Session and the action reported to the congregation.

24-10.    When a deacon or ruling elder by reason of age or infirmity desires to be released from the active duties of the office, he may at his request and with the approval of the Session be designated deacon or elder emeritus. When so designated, he is no longer required to perform the regular duties of his office, but may continue to perform certain of these duties on a voluntary basis, if requested by the Session or a higher court. He may attend Diaconate or Session meetings, if he so desires, and may participate fully in the discussion of any issues, but may not vote.

Editorial Comment:  The General Assembly explicitly provided that those Elders and Deacons granted emeritus status prior to June 22, 1984, retain the privilege of vote. (By order of the Fifteenth General Assembly 15-83,III, 31).

Cav Commentary: Essentially all this does is scrub deacons from the chapter. It now only pertains to the elder. This is to maintain, however, the masculine language of the material pertaining to elders. This is because Scripture permits only men to serve as elders as is clear from 1 Tim. 2-3 and Titus 1. They necessarily teach and exercise authority. As a Session they evaluate the doctrine and exercise church discipline.

CHAPTER 25

Election, Ordination and Installation of Deacons

Election

25-1.       Every church shall elect persons to the offices of deacon in the following manner: At such times as determined by the Session, communicant members of the congregation may submit names to the Session, keeping in mind that each prospective officer should be an active member who meets the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3. While the Church shall not neglect the raising up of qualified men to serve in this position, particular sessions may determine whether women can serve as deacons in their own particular congregation. After the close of the nomination period nominees for the office of deacon shall receive instruction in the qualifications and work of the office. Each nominee shall then be examined in:

  1. His/Her Christian experience, especially their personal character and family management (based on the qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3:8-13)
  2. His/Her knowledge of Bible content,
  3. His/Her knowledge of the system of doctrine, government, discipline contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America (BCO Preface III, The Constitution Defined),
  4. the duties of the office to which he/she has been nominated, and
  5. His/Her willingness to give assent to the questions required for ordination. (BCO 24-6)

If there are candidates eligible for the election, the Session shall report to the congregation those eligible, giving at least thirty (30) days prior notice of the time and place of a congregational meeting for elections.

If one-fourth (1/4) of the persons entitled to vote shall at any time request the Session to call a congregational meeting for the purpose of electing additional officers, it shall be the duty of the Session to call such a meeting on the above procedure. The number of officers to be elected shall be determined by the congregation after hearing the Session’s recommendation.

25-2.       The pastor is, by virtue of his office, moderator of congregational meetings. If there is no pastor, the Session shall appoint one of their number to call the meeting to order and to preside until the congregation shall elect their presiding officer, who may be a minister or ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church in America or any male member of that particular church.

25-3.       All communing members in good and regular standing, but no others, are entitled to vote in the election of church officers in the churches to which they respectively belong. A majority vote of those present is required for election.

25-4.       The voters being convened, the moderator shall explain the purpose of the meeting and then put the question:

Are you now ready to proceed to the election of additional deacons from the slate presented?

If they declare themselves ready, the election may proceed by private ballot without nomination. In every case a majority of all the voters present shall be required to elect.

25-5.       On the election of a deacon, if it appears that a large minority of the voters are averse to a candidate, and cannot be induced to concur in the choice, the moderator shall endeavor to dissuade the majority from prosecuting it further; but if the electors are nearly or quite unanimous, or if the majority insist upon their right to choose their officers, the election shall stand.

Ordination and Installation

25-6.       The day having arrived, and the Session being convened in the presence of the congregation, a sermon shall be preached after which the presiding minister shall state in a concise manner the warrant and nature of the office of deacon, together with the character proper to be sustained and the duties to be fulfilled. Having done this, he shall propose to the candidate, in the presence of the church, the following questions, namely:

  1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
  2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
  3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity?
  4. Do you accept the office of deacon in this church, and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the Church of which God has made you an officer?
  5. Do you promise subjection to the Session?
  6. Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church?

The deacon elect having answered in the affirmative, the minister shall address to the members of the church the following question:

Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive this brother (or sister, as the case may be) as a deacon, and do you promise to yield him/her all that honor and encouragement in the Lord to which his/her office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles him/her?

The members of the church having answered this question in the affirmative, by holding up their right hands, the candidate shall then be set apart, with prayer by the minister or any other Session member and the laying on of the hands of the Session, to the office of deacon. Prayer being ended, the members of the Session and deacons shall take the newly ordained officer by the hand, saying in words to this effect:

We give you the right hand of fellowship, to take part in this office with us.

The minister shall then say:

I now pronounce and declare that ____________________ has been regularly elected, ordained and installed a deacon in this church, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he/she is entitled to all encouragement and honor in the Lord: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

After which the minister or any other member of the Session shall give to the deacon and to the church an exhortation suited to the occasion.

25-7.       Ordination to the office of deacon is perpetual; nor can such office be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from the office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a deacon may have reasons which he/she deems valid for being released from the active duties of the office. In such a case the Session, after conference with him/her and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his/her resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him/her and the church.

The deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his/her official capacity to a majority of the church which he/she serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. The Session, after conference with the deacon, and after careful consideration, may use its discretion as to dissolving the official relationship. In either case the Session shall report its action to the congregation. If the Session fails or refuses to report to the congregation within sixty (60) days from the date of the congregational meeting or if the Session reports to the congregation that it declined to dissolve such relationship, then any member or members in good standing may file a complaint against the Session in accordance with the provisions of BCO 43.

25-8.       When a deacon who has been released from his/her official relation is again elected to the office in the same or another church, he/she shall be installed after the above form with the omission of ordination.

25-9.       When a deacon cannot or does not for a period of one year perform the duties of his/her office, his/her official relationship shall be dissolved by the Session and the action reported to the congregation.

25-10.    When a deacon by reason of age or infirmity desires to be released from the active duties of the office, he/she may at his/her request and with the approval of the Session be designated deacon emeritus. When so designated, he/she is no longer required to perform the regular duties of his/her office, but may continue to perform certain of these duties on a voluntary basis, if requested by the Session or a higher court. He/She may attend Diaconate meetings, if he/she so desires, and may participate fully in the discussion of any issues, but may not vote.

Editorial Comment:  The General Assembly explicitly provided that those Elders and Deacons granted emeritus status prior to June 22, 1984, retain the privilege of vote. (By order of the Fifteenth General Assembly 15-83,III, 31).

Cav Commentary: This new chapter pertaining to the election, ordination and installation of deacons is essentially the same as the previous chapter pertaining to elders, but with both masculine and feminine pronouns used. 25-1 grants local sessions the right to determine whether women are permitted to serve as deacons in their congregation. It expressly states we should seek to raise up men for this office. It should not degenerate into a body comprised of women, but either men alone or a mixed body.

One question that emerges for me is whether this would require a separate service since now each paragraph indicates a sermon warrant and nature of the offices as well as the character necessary to perform them. I’m assuming that the separate votes can take place at the same meeting. Presumably the sermon could concisely state the necessary information for both offices, but some may quibble and follow the letter of the law.

One significant and meaningful change is the vow of the congregation. Obedience to the deacon-elect is removed. The authority of the diaconate is lessened, but how much is not clear. This is an important change, reflecting that “the office is one of sympathy and service” (9-1).

The pronouncement also removed obedience,and therefore lessens the authority of the office.

While this overture deals with the question of authority (though perhaps not as clear as it should), it does not deal with the issue of ordination (what it is really?) and particularly the powder keg of women’s ordination.

The better routes would be to either no longer ordain deacons or to create the role (not office!) of deaconness to work with the diaconate among the women in the church. Perhaps this means we get rid of the assistant to the deacons. For the foreseeable future I see this issue continuing to churn and frustrate both sides. Perhaps we will continue to deal with issues like this until we learn a better way to handle them, and begin to treat each other better when we disagree.

 

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Recently new of the overture from Metro NY Presbytery has been burning up the internet and PCA pastor & elder groups on Facebook. I assume the same is true on Twitter and other social media.

Image result for phoebe in romansFor many this is a very controversial request for the General Assembly to consider this June in Dallas. The issue of women deacons has been churning since before I entered the PCA back in 2010. The issue has more layers than an onion, and just as many presuppositions that drive the (lack of) discussion. Sadly, the discussion quickly degenerates into accusations of being feminists or egalitarians, modernists, progressives etc. and people are told to leave for a denomination that permits women deacons. It is kind of wearisome for me as I grow older (wiser?) and read more John Newton. It is wearisome because we never really get to the root of the issue (those presuppositions) like the nature of ordination and authority, particularly in connection with the office of deacon.

My first decade in ministry was spent in the ARP, which allows each Session to decide if they will have women deacons. As a result, much of this overture is familiar with me. It is not forcing women deacons on churches, but permits those having that conviction to exercise it. This does not affect the courts of the church since women elders are not (and should not) be up for discussion. The issue of the courts of the church is precisely why most of these ‘women deacon-loving’ guys don’t go into denominations like the ECO and EPC as advised by some.

To the overture!

 

  • WHEREAS there has long been a sincere diversity of views among Reformed churches as to what Scripture says about the role of women in diaconal ministry…
  • WHEREAS conservative, complementarian scholars differ in their understanding of biblical texts that touch on the role of women in diaconal ministry, specifically 1 Timothy 3:11 and Romans 16:1…
  • WHEREAS there seems to be strong evidence that the word διάκονον in Romans 16:1 is used in a technical manner to describe an office Phobebe holds rather than in a general descriptive manner…
  • WHEREAS the Westminster Confession does not specifically address the office of deacon…
  • WHEREAS the Westminster Confession 20.2 does speak of Christian liberty and not unnecessarily binding the consciences of men…
  • WHEREAS it is in line with the historical spirit of the PCA to be a grassroots denomination and to defer to the judgment of local sessions in decisions regarding congregational ministry…
  • WHEREAS several conservative, reformed denominations within NAPARC allow women to serve as deacons (i.e. Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, The Reformed Church of Quebec (ERQ), and The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America)

The rationale for the overture begins with acknowledging that for quite some time there has been a diversity of opinion in the PCA and Reformed churches as to what the Scriptures teach regarding this issue. That is a key point, “what Scripture says”! This is not about culture, but about trying to rightly divide the Word.

The WCF in the first chapter recognizes the following:

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.

This is an issue that is not as clear as whether or not women may be elders. To me that is crystal clear. Deacons is far less so, which to me means we should be less dogmatic. This is a topic that is not necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation. This hits the well-being, not the essence of the church. It is important we put this in the right compartment so we don’t treat those with whom we disagree as heretics or unworthy of our fellowship. This isn’t the hill worth dying on. But we can discuss it, challenge each other and see this in the ‘reformed and reforming’ category as opposed to the ‘faith handed down by the saints’ category.

Image result for r.c. sproulConservative complementarian scholars do differ on this question. Some live in some sort of denial on this issue. John Piper is surely not a feminist. R.C. Sproul was not a liberal (though he thought the PCA should not have women deacons because of its views of deacons and authority). There are others as well. For instance, you can read the OPC Minority Report on this issue. You can’t get more conservative and complementarian than the OPC (yes, it was a minority report and was not approved, but some there held to that view).

TImage result for john calvinhe rationale brings up Phoebe in Romans 16. It mentions that she may have held an office rather than merely being a servant of the church. This is because of a lack agreement in gender; Phoebe being feminine and the word for deacon being masculine. That great liberal egalitarian John Calvin (tongue firmly in cheek) says about Paul’s mention of her: “he commends her on account of her office, for she performed a most honorable and a most holy function in the Church…” (Commentary on Romans, chapter 16, verse 1). Chrysostom, according to the footnote, considered her a deaconess (as did Origen which isn’t so great).

In his practice, Calvin did have a separate order of deaconness to assist the deacons. Through most of church history they were separate, with the deaconnesses helping the widows, poor women and quite early instructing female catechumens prior to baptism. Some have mentioned this, and perhaps this is a better option that will result in less upheaval.

The PCA currently has provision for assistants to the deacons (9-7), both male and female to be appointed by the Session. I wonder how many churches utilize this provision. I suspect not many do. When I mentioned this as an option for our congregation, I heard crickets. It seems to be another layer of bureaucracy. And it reminds us of Dwight Schrute and Michael Scott going round and round about assistant to the manager vs. assistant manager.

Women deacons, this rationale asserts, is not contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith. We are not violating our confessional standards if we do this. We are merely changing our BCO which while is also part of our constitution is about how we enact our polity, not the system of theology to which we subscribe. As a result, while there are theological presuppositions at play this is a polity shift, not a move to reject our Confession of Faith, or Scripture (as noted above). This is a different category of disagreement.

The issue of binding the consciences of others is important. Currently, those congregations which believe the Scriptures permit women deacons are not able to practice their beliefs and convictions. Unlike issues like paedocommunion, this is not a confessional issue and perhaps more leeway and charity ought to be practiced. A solution similar to that of the ARP “principled compromise” may be a good way to move. Congregations opposed to women deacons don’t have to have them. Their freedom of conscience is preserved, though that of an individual may not. This argument can cut both ways, and should be only a supporting and not a main argument.

Because this issue is not directly related to the courts of the church- who gets to exercise judicial authority- it is about how a local congregation goes about its ministry (women elders necessarily affect the higher courts and aren’t simply about how a local congregation functions), it should be handled as a local matter. If your church has women deacons, it doesn’t affect mine unless people shift from one to another on the basis of that decision. As a grassroots denomination, this may be best made a local decision.

While not addressing the ‘slippery slope’ argument explicitly, they do by mentioning other NAPARC denominations which have women deacons. Those denominations have not slipped down the slope. Those that did previously rejected the authority of Scripture (for instance the CRC which rooted their decision in the giftedness of women despite what Scripture said) or just jumped off (the PC(US) which permitted both women deacons and elders at the same General Assembly). Yes, there are some in the ARP and RPCNA who would like to get rid of them.  Not too long ago, however, the ARP affirmed their ‘compromise’. We cannot know what will be, but only what has been and is. And those denominations have had women deacons for decades without slipping down that slope.

That is the rationale for the requested changes to the Book of Church Order. I’ll address those changes in future posts.

 

 

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The internet is filled with arguing, debate and “discussion”. Whether on Twitter, in a Facebook group or the comments on a blog piece or article, there you find it and it often degenerates into a dumpster fire.

I can often be discouraged by that, particularly when it occurs among pastors and elders. I expect worldly people to act like a dumpster fire. I understand that as a sinner, I am seconds away from starting dumpster fires. But I also grasp something of the grace of God, the love for the saints and other safety nets to keep me from stumbling and hopefully not put a stumbling block before others. It is a process, and part of my sanctification (becoming more like Jesus).

In one of his letters (Works, Vol. 1 pp. 252-257), John Newton discusses candor (or candour for the Brits) in a way that I thought helpful in processing some of the debates I have been a part of in the last year or so.

Candor- noun

  1. the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; candidness: The candor of the speech impressed the audience.
  2. freedom from bias; fairness; impartiality: to consider an issue with candor. (Dictionary.com)
He recognizes both true and counterfeit candor or open, sincere speech. He asserts that “true candor is a Christian grace, and will grow in no soul but a believing heart.” As a grace, it is a fruit of the Spirit, not our own effort though we are also responsible to seek such candor. If you are a Christian, especially an elder or pastor, you should be marked by increasing candor.
I see some claiming candor, though they don’t use the word, though they don’t seem to know what it means. I’ll get back to this later.
This true candor which is a Christian grace is like this:
“It forms the most favorable judgment of persons and characters, and puts the kindest construction upon the conduct of others that it possibly can, consistent with a love of the truth. It makes due allowances for the infirmities of human nature, will not listen with pleasure to what is said to the disadvantage of any, nor repeat it without a justifiable cause.”
This gives me some hope as I’ve seen signs of growth in me. Newton sounds like he’s talking about charity or love. He’s not. He’s talking about speaking the truth in love rather than divorced from love. “Open rebuke” is often claimed to say the most unloving things to others.
Why do I, as I have been accused by others, “make excuses” for others? I try to form the most favorable judgment of them, unless they prove otherwise (by repeatedly berating or accusing others, as an example). Love should move us to see the best, not the worst, in our brothers. This is most important when information is lacking, when we don’t have the whole picture. What do you fill that in with- the worst you could imagine your brother doing, or the best? Are we being charitable or giving way to the inner Pharisee who loves to condemn all who dare differ from us?
This is to be consistent with a love of the truth. We don’t sweep facts under the rug. It is about seeing facts in context, and allowing the person to speak for themselves. Newton is not wanting us to avoid accusation of sin, but to be clear that what we are calling sin is actually sin, and they are actually committing it.
We also make proper allowances for human frailty. We don’t expect people to be perfect, nor express everything perfectly. I sometimes get frustrated with CavWife because she doesn’t express things the way I would, and then I misunderstand her. We talk about that, about how we can communicate more clearly. But I don’t accuse her of being a liar! (Or a liberal/progressive/fundamentalist/Pharisee, poopy head, idiot, jerk etc.)That starts a dumpster fire.
Recently we had one of these discussions, and a child asked if we were getting a divorce (likely because some extended family is, not because this is an everyday event). My reply was that this was so we didn’t divorce, but talked through our issues. And we do it without name-calling. But I digress.
To use today’s jargon, this is a gospel-driven (or centered) candor. Newton wants to derive such candor from the gospel. He recognizes the power of sin even in the best of us.
“There is an unhappy propensity, even in good men, to a selfish, narrow, censorious turn of mind; and the best are more under the power of prejudice than they are aware.”
Yes, even the best of us have prejudices or blind spots. We will deny it, but sometimes the charge is true. Some men get particularly exercised over certain subjects. So exercised that they are unreasonable and express themselves with great flair, as one friend noted recently.
Newton continues to describe what this gospel-centered candor looks like.
“A truly candid person will acknowledge what is right and excellent in those from whom he may be obliged to differ: he will not charge the faults or extravagances of a few upon a whole party or denomination: if he thinks it is his duty to point out or refute the errors of any persons, he will not impute to them such consequences of their tenets as they expressly disavow; he will not willfully misrepresent or aggravate their mistakes, or make them offenders for a word: he will keep in view the distinction between those things which are fundamental and essential to the Christian life, and those concerning which a difference of sentiment may and often has obtained among true believers.”
In controversy, we often ignore the common ground. Perhaps we assume it, but based on the accusations I often see flying about we aren’t. We are ignoring the common ground and focusing on the points of supposed disagreement as though that was all that mattered. Then we begin to accuse people of ideas and actions they haven’t thought or committed.
Too often the actions of a few are imputed to the “whole”. For example, a conference like Revoice means that the PCA is turning into the PC(USA), a group of compromising people one step away from liberalism. That’s the stuff I push back against but, frankly, it isn’t true.
True candor doesn’t put words in other people’s mouth, and it accepts what people say. The issue of identity was huge in the Revoice dumpster fire. I found a stubborn refusal by many to accept what they meant by key phrases on the controversy, and a stubborn demand that others use “my terminology”. Candor can say, “not the way I’d put it, but I can understand what you are trying to say.” It doesn’t burn down the house over a word or phrase someone knowingly uses differently.
True candor also recognizes that good Christians disagree on things not essential to the Christian life. Scripture is not equally clear on all issues. There are some disagreements (many?) that don’t strike at the vitals of Christianity. As a result, we shouldn’t draw lines in the sand over them. Acknowledge you disagree, be honest about that, but don’t make the other person into a damnable heretic as a result. They aren’t Servetus just because you disagree with them on a finer, less clear point.
Newton provides us with another remind that should dampen our desire to set the dumpster on fire.
“Let us, my friend, be candid: let us remember who totally ignorant we ourselves once were, how often we have changed sentiments in one particular or other, since we first engaged in the search of truth; how often we have been imposed upon by appearances; ….”
Remember that you grew into your positions, and they may need time to grow into them as well. I don’t get angry because my 8 year-old can’t do algebra yet. While, for instance, all elders have the same office, they don’t have the same maturity and experience. While God may want to use you to help them grow, accusations, name-calling etc. is not how He intends that to happen. Can you imagine how the conversation with Apollos would have gone if Priscilla and Aquila started with “Apollos, you ignorant mimbo…”? A different, better conversation is “I think you are right here, and have some qualms about these things.”
Newton does warn against false candor, which “springs from an indifference to the truth, and is governed by the fear of men and the love of praise.” Make sure there is an indifference to the truth rather than a greater emphasis on one truth than you put. I’ve heard such accusations about the fear of men that wasn’t necessarily true. For instance, when I joined in repenting of our denomination’s past racism, it wasn’t because I was afraid of others or I was virtue signalling. I believed it was the right, biblical way to deal with our history even if I wasn’t a part of it (I’ve only been here 10 years). I chose a path of reconciliation. So, I think candor doesn’t assume motives and accuse but asks about them.
True candor doesn’t divorce itself from truth or minimize truth. It grapples with truth, and sometimes that can be hard to do in our world in light of our human limitations and sinfulness.
“Far be that candor from us which represents the Scripture as a nose of wax, so that a person may reject or elude the testimonies there given to the Deity and atonement of Christ, and the all-powerful agency of the Holy Spirit, with impunity.”
To be Christian candor is to maintain essential Christian doctrines. In the context of the letter, he affirms the gifts of non-Christians in their areas of expertise (doctors, lawyers, engineers etc.) without commending them in theology. So, we see here another boundary placed upon true candor. It recognizes the limitations of others, as well as their strengths.
“Then the strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and believers would receive each other without doubtful disputation.”
There are strong and weak brothers. Mature and immature brothers. The strong and mature should bear with, rather than condemn, the weak and immature. Far too often we doubt another’s relation to Christ because they don’t align with our theology or method of ministry perfectly. We play the role of judge which is reserved for God. I’m not saying you can’t disagree, or express that disagreement and say something is wrong. What I’m saying is that our tendency to declare someone who holds to basic Christian tenets and evidences grace to not be a Christian because we disagree.
True candor doesn’t just happen. Newton ends this letter with this recognition.
“… we ought to cultivate a candid spirit, and learn from the experience of our own weakness, to be gentle and tender to other; avoiding at the same time that indifference and cowardice, which, under the name of candor, countenances error, extenuates sin, and derogates from the authority of Scripture.”
Discernment and candor are not simply about recognizing what is wrong, but also about recognizing what is right. The people we interact with have both right and wrong ideas. I am not 100% right and they 100% wrong. When we act like that, we start dumpster fires and destroy relationships with people who are our brothers. May God help us to learn how to disagree with one another so that we grow together, before it is too late.

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It started with an ad in Discipleship Magazine. I was a relatively young Christian and noticed the ad from Ligonier Ministries for a free copy of R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God series on VHS. Yes, this was the late 80’s.

I really didn’t know what to expect. My only experience with “Reformed Theology” was “Reformed” or Liberal Judaism. I was still a bit frightened of that word ‘holiness’. As many discovered, it was a great series. I began to buy books and tape series for my cassette player in the car. R.C. taught me a whole lot of theology before I went to seminary. He didn’t just introduce me to Reformed Theology but also (along with John Piper) to the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards.

When I was looking at seminaries the ad for RTS caught my eye. Jackson, MS? Me? Perhaps it was too many viewings of Mississippi Burning on the Movie Channel, but I didn’t see this Yankee doing well in Jackson, MS.

Later there was a new ad for a new campus with R.C. as one of the professors. I could handle Orlando. I was looking to get away from the snow. When I got information from RTS they offered a prospective student offer that included free admission to the 1991 National Conference in Orlando. So I made a call, booked a flight and discovered Orlando was the place for me. Somehow at one session I ended up in the front row talking to Vesta.

While I was there I had R.C. for Systematic Theology III (Christology, Soteriology and Eschatology) and a seminar on The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. For one class, John Gerster was in town and led our discussion for his former pupil. Most of the time, there was Vesta sitting in the back with his soda while R.C. taught.

It was not all bliss. There were some conflicts on campus. It was a little like Corinth at times. It was mostly the students, but it was apparently there was some friction in the faculty. Somehow I didn’t get very caught up in that (I’m often loyal to a fault).

After seminary I ended up working for Ligonier Ministries. I was in the phone room during the era when they wanted seminary trained people answering the phone to answer theological questions as well as take orders. In many ways it was a great time. I worked with some people I knew from seminary, and some other great folks. I got to travel to Memphis, Atlanta, Anaheim, St. Louis and Detroit to work conferences. I have fond memories of frisbee golf, a rotating restaurant in St. Louis, meeting John Piper, sharing an elevator with R.C. and going to the occasional taping. R.C. would warm up the crowd with baseball trivia. Before they built the studio on site, they recorded at Greg Rike Studios where I discovered the signatures of Deep Purple’s members since they recorded Slaves and Masters there.

I had the privilege of writing some articles and reviews for Tabletalk Magazine while I was there. I also had the privilege of preaching at the chapel for the 25th anniversary of Ligonier Ministries.

Nothing lasts forever. I wanted to be in pastoral ministry. I decided to go to seminary for a Masters in Counseling to increase my skill set. Having recently joined a PCA church, I came under care of the Central FL Presbytery. This was the meeting when R.C. requested to “labor outside of bounds” for the new church called St. Andrews. It was a politically charged meeting due to some controversial statements and the fact that he wasn’t physically present.

Shortly thereafter there was a change in philosophy regarding my job description. I had reservations but didn’t get to find out how it would go as I was laid off that afternoon. I’d made the wrong guy angry (not R.C.).

R.C. was very personable, but not very accessible. Keep in mind, I was nobody. Still am. He was a very busy man and I think he still worked at the golf club at the time. It can be hard to meet your heroes. He was a man who needed Jesus, just like me. The sanctifying grace of God was at work in R.C.. Years later I discovered that he and the other professor had reconciled and did some work together. The last time I saw him I wondered if he would recognize me. There was no “hey, Steve” but that’s okay. I was not an important person in his life. He was already on oxygen and likely distracted with his own limitations.

If you listen to his sermons and audio series you’ll learn a lot of theology, and a lot about his life. Perhaps that is one reason I use personal illustrations. There are some issues I disagree with R.C. on, like apologetics. But on the main issues we are in sync.

The church owes him a great debt. He was one of the main figures in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. He made theology accessible to ordinary people. He was one of the key figures in the revival of Calvinism and Reformed Theology in the American church. He was greatly used by God.

I owe R.C. a great debt. I’m trying to pay it forward like I should.

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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 deacons. 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.

Image result for rc sproulThe PCA ties government to ministry in way he thinks is an unbiblical way. This is why he generally supports women deacons, but doesn’t in the PCA. The BCO 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 BCO). 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 (this was largely sarcastic since we don’t like the assistant pastor position). 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 his 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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