PCA Overture #5

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Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
This is a topic of interest that developed in another thread and can be discussed here.

An "Overture" to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly regarding erecting a Study Committee, broadly charged to examine the "role of women" in the denomination.

It may be helpful to consider the polity, purpose, and practical ramifications of such a proposal, were it to be enacted.

OVERTURE 5 from James River Presbytery (to OC, AC)

“Appoint Study Committee on Role of Women in the Church”
Whereas, The Book of Church Order follows Scripture in forbidding the ordination of
women to positions of authority over men; and
Whereas, the PCA has faithfully held to this standard; and
Whereas, the PCA has struggled with the question of how women in the local church are to
exercise their God-given gifts within the framework of the BCO; and
Whereas, many PCA churches are uncertain about how to use appropriately God’s gifts
among the many capable women within the membership of those churches; and
Whereas, in many PCA churches those gifts are under utilized;
Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the James River Presbytery respectfully overtures the
37th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to authorize the
Moderator to appoint a study committee representing the diversity of opinion within
the PCA to study and report to the 38th General Assembly on the following
questions:
(1) What sorts of roles may women fill in the life of the church?
(2) What are some models of local church practices that have developed as ways
of employing the gifts of women in the lives of their congregations that might
be exemplary and encouraging to other local churches?
(3) What elements of organization and accountability to ordained leadership can
be commended to PCA churches that are consistent with the BCO?
(4) What modifications, if any to the BCO might be desirable for achieving the
best utilization of the gifts of PCA women in light of the teaching of
Scripture?
And be it further resolved, that expenses of the committee, not to exceed $10,000, be paid
out of private contributions.
Adopted by The James River Presbytery at its stated meeting, January 17, 2009
Attested by /s/ RE Thomas A. Taylor, Jr., stated clerk
-----Added 2/26/2009 at 05:05:11 EST-----

Here's an overview of PCA practice as I understand it. Those familiar with polity, please feel free to supplement this with your knowledge.

The denomination is composed of approximately 77 Presbyteries (regional groupings of individual churches) which may, individually propose amendments to the General Assembly of the denomination.

The General Assembly (GA) is considered the highest court of the Church, a place where actual ecclesiastical business is conducted and concluded. In the PCA, the GA is broadly based, with every single "particular church" (individual congregation) able to send voting delegates. There is an aspired goal to allow equalized representation between ruling elders (those who rule in the affairs of a particular church) and teaching elders (those who teach God's Word, administer the sacraments, etc.)

The constitution of the denomination is composed of:

1) Book of Church Order
2) Westminster Standards (Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechism)

To amend the Book of Church order part of the constitution, the following process is required:

1) majority of those present and voting at GA
2) 2/3 of the presbyteries must affirm within the next year
2) the subsequent GA must again confirm by a majority of those present and voting

(To amend the Westminster Confession of Faith requires a 3/4 vote in each case)

"Study Committees" are often created to advise on unfamiliar issues or new applications of familiar issues. While not legally binding, they are to be given "due and serious consideration" by lower church courts- sessions and presbyteries. Procedure allows for both "majority" and "minority" reports. The GA may approve either a "majority" or "minority" report, neither report, or approve both for consideration by local courts.

For example, a couple GA's ago, a study committee approved a report that outlined the serious errors of "Federal Vision" theology and summarized key points of error to help sessions and presbyteries recognize it if it surfaced in their jurisdiction. It concluded with a summary of 9 points in which it is out of accord with the constitution of the denomination (Westminster Standards). The report was supported unanimously by the committee and was approved by an overwhelming majority by the General Assembly.

While Study Committee reports are not absolutely binding, they have the effect of settling issues within the denomination and providing guidance going forward, especially for difficult or complex issues.

“Appoint Study Committee on Role of Women in the Church”
Whereas, The Book of Church Order follows Scripture in forbidding the ordination of
women to positions of authority over men; and
The Book of Church Order reflects doctrine on this point. It uses the phrase, “In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only. (BCO 7-1) and is internally consistent on this as a point of doctrine throughout, which is reflected in several other provisions.

Whereas, the PCA has faithfully held to this standard; and
Yes, the denomination has been.
Whereas, the PCA has struggled with the question of how women in the local church are to exercise their God-given gifts within the framework of the BCO; and
The BCO is clear on this point but for various reasons, a practice exists in a few churches of having an “unordained” position for women only called “deaconess.” As it has gone on unchecked in a few places, it has emboldened a few congregations to go farther.

Keep in mind that while there are now a few high-profile exceptions, most of the few churches that have "deaconesses" had them as a kind of left-over legacy of the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod (RPCES) which merged with the PCA in 1982. The RPCES did not ordain women. These churches, while not completely in accord with the BCO, probably are still laboring under an unclear transitionary impression from that time. Generally, these churches are mostly in compliance with the BCO in that the office is un-ordained, there is a functioning Diaconate (Board of Deacons, qualified per I Timothy 3), and they under the authority of the Board of Deacons.

In a very few instances, particular churches have refused to ordain Deacons and instead substituted an unordained group of women who do the same or a similar function.

This is a serious problem, for many reasons. It denies congregations of those called to the office of Deacon, and denies the men gifted and called by God to the office. It also tends to devalue the doctrine of ordination, and dilute presbyterian church government. It has created an impression of "open defiance" (of our denomination's constitution and connectional nature) that is not being dealt with to the detriment of the peace and purity of the church.

The peace and purity of the church may well be the greatest concern for many of us in the midst of this overall issue.

These procedures are currently being challenged in church court and perhaps by other means such as “church reference” as they violate not only several aspects of the BCO, but implicitly violates the doctrine contained therein. "Reference" is a mechanism for clarifying issues in accordance with the constitution.
.
Whereas, many PCA churches are uncertain about how to use appropriately God’s gifts among the many capable women within the membership of those churches; and The above has created some localized confusion that is surfacing through the courts of the church, the church’s judicial commission and process, and at the General Assembly level.
Whereas, in many PCA churches those gifts are under utilized;
This is probably the case, particularly from time-to-time in some individual churches. It is the responsibility of sessions to lead in involving their people. Ordaining women or giving them a titled office does not have anything to do with not involving them. It is a separate issue involving the doctrine of ordination, church office, and church government.
Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the James River Presbytery respectfully overtures the
37th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to authorize the
Moderator to appoint a study committee representing the diversity of opinion within
the PCA to study and report to the 38th General Assembly on the following
questions:
(1) What sorts of roles may women fill in the life of the church?
This is a subjective, open-ended question that is not sufficiently defined for resolution or to bring clarity by a study committee.
(2) What are some models of local church practices that have developed as ways
of employing the gifts of women in the lives of their congregations that might
be exemplary and encouraging to other local churches?
There are plenty of examples of women being fully involved in their congregations and organizations such as Women in the Church that promote that. One of the benefits of being organized as the PCA is in a connectional system is having exposure to other churches outside of one’s own. Presbyteries are designed to foster that, and help one another. That mechanism exists and it is up to presbyters (elders) to lead in that.
(3) What elements of organization and accountability to ordained leadership can
be commended to PCA churches that are consistent with the BCO?
Same
(4) What modifications, if any to the BCO might be desirable for achieving the
best utilization of the gifts of PCA women in light of the teaching of
Scripture?
The only thing the BCO establishes is based on I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 requirements for qualifying church officers. We must obey God.
And be it further resolved, that expenses of the committee, not to exceed $10,000, be paid
out of private contributions.
The PCA tries not to burden individual churches directly, financially with “study” proposals.
Basically, the PCA, in reflecting the doctrine of the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture, creates a framework for particular churches to be governed by Elders and Deacons and assisted by "laypeople" men and women, with a high level of participation in the life of the congregation as each member uses his or her gifts for His Honor and His Glory.
 
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Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
A few examples of ministry groups focusing on mercy ministry that thrive, involving both women and men, in local PCA congregations:

1) Comfort and Care
2) Stephen's Ministry
3) New Baby Welcome
4) Military mothers
5) Women in the Church (WIC)
6) Pairing older women mature in the faith with younger women.
7) Hospitality committee

It is a beautiful thing to see Christ's Body work together, complementing one another in this way for the Honor and Glory of our God.
 

ColdSilverMoon

Puritan Board Senior
Thanks for this post, Scott. I hope the GA supports a study committee for this important and unfortunately polarizing issue. I think you make some very good comments. I have just a couple of thoughts:

1. Regarding deaconesses - I am torn on this, because I really think the arguments on both sides of this issue are equally valid. My current PCA church has non-ordained female deacons, my former PCA church did not have female deacons. The argument for deaconesses is primarily (though not entirely) grounded in the idea that it is a ministry of service, not authority. So its advocates believe one can affirm the clear Scriptural principles of male headship within the church and still have women in an "official" capacity as servants. The opponents believe that it is an ordained office of the church, and thus should be limited to men only. Looking at both arguments objectively, I think both sides have equally strong cases.

The BCO currently prohibits female deacons but does allow females to serve as assistants to elders in more or less the same capacity as a deacon. So churches with female deacons do not ordain their deaconesses, but do allow them to assist the elders in service roles as de facto deacons. I think the best solution for everyone would be to allow the individual presbytery or session to decide the issue, recognizing that both views are within bounds of the WCF and have well-reasoned Scriptural arguments.

2. Role of women in the church - this is a somewhat more difficult and nebulous issue, because much of the debate and disagreement arises out of semantics problems. First of all, I don't think anyone in the PCA is pushing for female elders, teaching or ruling. This is a crucial and important point, and I'm glad the PCA is sticking to its guns on this. How women fit within the organizational structure below the level of elder is another story. Some believe women shouldn't be in any position beyond basic secretarial-type work. Others believe, as my current church does, that women can do anything an unordained man can do. So obviously there is going to be some people taking probably an overly conservative/traditional view, and others pushing the boundaries of what women should be doing in the church.

This is a huge topic with a lot of side issues, but for me the biggest need is to define terms. Some PCA churches have women "ministers," but these are non-ordained women in roles such as head of children's music and other ancillary roles. While the role itself may be acceptable, the title of minister bring to mind a position of authority, specifically that of an elder, and thus gives the impression that her role is greater than what it actually is. So I would like to see the GA accept the study committee, if for no other reason than to define acceptable terminology for roles of women in the church.

But I would also like to see more clarity as to exactly what the extent of a woman's leadership role should be. Clearly there should be no elders or pastors, and women should not teach both sexes in a formal worship setting or in Sunday School. But should women read Scripture, sing, pray in corporate worship? I think these roles either need to be defined by the GA or explicitly left for the individual sessions to decide. Regardless, I think the study committee would serve a valid and important task on this important issue, for unity's sake if nothing else.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
Thanks much for your input.
A lot of people are thinking this through.

It took me a year or so to come to terms with this and understand the biblical issues as well as the context of the way our denomination does things. My comments below are intended only to reflect my thinking now in response to the points you make well here, as these points are being made elsewhere and will be made this General Assembly.


Thanks for this post, Scott. I hope the GA supports a study committee for this important and unfortunately polarizing issue. I think you make some very good comments. I have just a couple of thoughts:

1. Regarding deaconesses - I am torn on this, because I really think the arguments on both sides of this issue are equally valid.
As I survey the Scriptural basis for Deacons, I see by analogy, all men in Acts 6. Qualifications for the office are directed at men with examination of a deacon’s wife in I Timothy 3, and elders and deacons mentioned together as ordinary leaders together in church office in Philippians 1. In addition, Titus 1 qualifies elders, and I think by inference, deacons as men.

So the case biblically that God has appointed deacons as a basic part of the governing structure of His Church and that he has appointed men for this office seems to me, overwhelming.


My current PCA church has non-ordained female deacons, my former PCA church did not have female deacons. The argument for deaconesses is primarily (though not entirely) grounded in the idea that it is a ministry of service, not authority.

All offices are “ministries” in a sense, and lots of un-ordained people, men and women “minister.” That is not the same thing as holding an office.

Remember also, the BCO outlines vows the congregation takes when it receives deacons and elders. Those vows involve submitting to their authority. It the same for deacons and elders. So, the BCO both explicitly and implicitly does not view the office of Deacon as being without authority (it's the exact opposite).

The more I have studied Scripture, the more I do see the office of Deacon as a high, honorable calling of office in the basic governance of Christ's church.



So its advocates believe one can affirm the clear Scriptural principles of male headship within the church and still have women in an "official" capacity as servants. The opponents believe that it is an ordained office of the church, and thus should be limited to men only. Looking at both arguments objectively, I think both sides have equally strong cases.

The BCO currently prohibits female deacons but does allow females to serve as assistants to elders in more or less the same capacity as a deacon.
Not really.

There has been some misinformation about this.
BCO 9-7 says:

“It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and
appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in
caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who
may be in any distress or need.”
It provides for men and women to be appointed to assist the deacons… appointed by session, not elected by the congregation, not “commissioned” and “to assist the deacons,” an office clearly established in the BCO in 9-1 to 9-6.

One presbytery last general assembly was cited for taking this language and not ordaining any deacons and then electing “deaconesses,” a group of women only, and substituting that for the Board of Deacons laid out in the BCO as an integral part of the governance of the church.

Remember, this provision is for unordained men AND women, to assist the [board of] deacons.


So churches with female deacons do not ordain their deaconesses, but do allow them to assist the elders in service roles as de facto deacons. I think the best solution for everyone would be to allow the individual presbytery or session to decide the issue, recognizing that both views are within bounds of the WCF and have well-reasoned Scriptural arguments.

Unfortunately, this would seem to greatly disrupt the peace and purity of our denomination. Look at how many people on Puritan Board have said ordaining women would be a ‘deal breaker” for even becoming members of our denomination.

The doctrine expressed by the founding fathers of our denomination is that of a doctrine that the office of Deacon is an important one, an integral part of the governance of the church. That’s not something that could be avoided through “local option.”


2. Role of women in the church - this is a somewhat more difficult and nebulous issue,

You’re right. That kind of generality is not what our study committees are for.

because much of the debate and disagreement arises out of semantics problems. First of all, I don't think anyone in the PCA is pushing for female elders, teaching or ruling.

Not openly… yet. Once they get women deacons, it will follow. This was the pattern in the denomination we separated from (PCUSA). It went from “local option” on trustees, to “local option” on deacons to mandatory women deacon, then “local option” elders, then “presbytery option” on elders but not general assembly delegates, then to general assembly delegates but women had “no voice” (vote) then to voting for women as delegates at the highest court. Then it went to something like affirmative action recruitment for women’s ordination.

We would be foolish to not believe the same pattern will play out again.

This is a crucial and important point, and I'm glad the PCA is sticking to its guns on this. How women fit within the organizational structure below the level of elder is another story. Some believe women shouldn't be in any position beyond basic secretarial-type work. Others believe, as my current church does, that women can do anything an unordained man can do. So obviously there is going to be some people taking probably an overly conservative/traditional view, and others pushing the boundaries of what women should be doing in the church.

Women and men, un-ordained have a huge role to play in the life of the church (including assisting the deacons in delivering mercy ministry in the church). There is no shortage of opportunity and local sessions are responsible to cultivate that and Deacons to develop that kind of liberality in the local church.

This is a huge topic with a lot of side issues, but for me the biggest need is to define terms. Some PCA churches have women "ministers," but these are non-ordained women in roles such as head of children's music and other ancillary roles. While the role itself may be acceptable, the title of minister bring to mind a position of authority, specifically that of an elder, and thus gives the impression that her role is greater than what it actually is. So I would like to see the GA accept the study committee, if for no other reason than to define acceptable terminology for roles of women in the church.

But I would also like to see more clarity as to exactly what the extent of a woman's leadership role should be. Clearly there should be no elders or pastors, and women should not teach both sexes in a formal worship setting or in Sunday School. But should women read Scripture, sing, pray in corporate worship?

I think the BCO is clear, reformed theology, and scripture is clear- reading Scripture in corporate worship is the function of Elders. It is an ordinance of worship, clearly so in all of reformed theology.

There are a few individual practices that there might be some question on (in light of our constitution, the Book of Church Order). Thankfully, there is a process to handle that by “reference.” If a congregation is not sure whether a woman can read Scripture as part of corporate worship (they are not permitted to by our BCO), they can get a quick answer by filing a “reference” and they will get a quick answer.

But, you are right there are a few unclear tasks. That’s why in a connectional church we have the “reference” process.

I think these roles either need to be defined by the GA or explicitly left for the individual sessions to decide. Regardless, I think the study committee would serve a valid and important task on this important issue, for unity's sake if nothing else.
I’m afraid a “study committee” with a vague mandate, composed of people known to have different views would only harden opinion, not bring clarity to practice. It would create more confusion as to authority to follow, and lessen the peace and purity of the church.

Imagine, Mason,
if we tasked a study committee to study the "five points of Calvinism" and produced a majority and minority report. Just imagine what the effect of that would be on the unity (and theology) of our reformed denomination!


Again, if a church really believes there is a question about whether, the BCO allows, for example, refusing to constitute the church with a Board of Deacons, and substitute a non-ordained group of women, elect them by the congregation, and have them take similar vows to the ordained office, they can send up a reference and get a clear answer… the BCO clearly does not permit this.
 
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Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
I have a couple view points on this...

1) All TE's should have a clear view of what THEIR view is on the issue of women in the Church. Especially as it has to do with deaconesses. All have been through seminary, all have been given the tools to exegete and form conclusions from Scripture. Therefore, I don't believe anyone (I could be wrong) who is a TE can actually say, 'we need a study committee to study women in the church, I really don't know what they should be doing'. And if RE's are having difficulty then they should ask their TE or one in their presbytery to teach them what Scripture says, or at least persuade them to the wrong opinion. A Study Committee is not needed as it has to do with Deaconesses or the role of women. Scripture for one is clear, our standards are clear.

2) All TE's and RE's have vowed to submit to the BCO and West. Standards. Both are clear as to the teaching on women as deaconesses. Even in Good Faith subscription, don't they have to at least state their differences with both? If they have not then there should be no problem.

3) If TE's and RE's are sure that Scripture teaches that women are to be deaconesses than the only thing a presbytery needs to do is overture the GA to change the BCO, and change the Standards. Let the GA handle it and make a decision on the matter.
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
Kevin,

How long will debate last this year? Whoever is closer receives a complimentary beverage by the other. I'll time it!
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
There is so much valuable, necessary ministry being done by un-ordained men and women. The church could not properly function without it. In fact it is part of church leadership (especially Elders and Deacons) to, by God's grace, create a culture where giftings of the congregation are called out and used for God's Honor and Glory. One of the examinations of the office of Deacon in the PCA is "encouraging others in liberality." That's part of how God qualifies a man to serve in the office of Deacon. He is to lead in encouraging the congregation generally (un-ordained men and women) to develop in that.

Let me give an example from my church experience.

A certain ministry group is a full time ministry group at our church. There are many women in this ministry group, some men, but many women.

They work with and assist the Board of Deacons in delivering mercy ministry in an incredible way. Quietly, they go alongside people in distress and grief. Make meals, visit, pray with and for, run errands, hug them, cry with them.

It is amazing what they do, and there is great reward in Heaven for this (men and women). I really sense those I see have the spiritual maturity to realize that. What's amazing is that some people who were ministered to end up volunteering and then ministering too- sometimes in incredibly difficult situations.

I'm afraid we lose the great spiritual truths and purpose in all of this when we argue:

1) "deacon" is merely a synonym for "helper"
2) "ordination" is no different than "serving"
3) "people cannot feel esteemed unless they have a title"

Unfortunately, in the attempt to ordain women to ecclesiastical office, albeit in steps, these are the arguments that are being made. I believe they are superficial, and biblically wrong, and very damaging to Christ's church.

There is no way a Board of Deacons could possibly meet every mercy need. It is not supposed to. Living a compassionate, generous, merciful life is the calling of every person growing in Christ. There are instances where it is more appropriate for a woman to assist. So women and men assist the Deacons, the deacons oversee and are really administratively responsible to see it is getting done in the congregation of believers. This is part of their calling to the high office.

Also, the wives of deacons, for those who are married, are a great aid and comfort, not only to their husband's as they give themselves to the high calling of the office of Deacon but they end up assisting their husband's in their tasks too. And there is great reward for their faithfulness and service too.

This is a beautiful thing to see working in the Body of Christ. It is a powerful witness for our Lord and it involves really every member of the congregation.
 

ColdSilverMoon

Puritan Board Senior
Thanks Scott, for bringing this up and for the good discussion. Just a few points:

As I survey the Scriptural basis for Deacons, I see by analogy, all men in Acts 6. Qualifications for the office are directed at men with examination of a deacon’s wife in I Timothy 3, and elders and deacons mentioned together as ordinary leaders together in church office in Philippians 1. In addition, Titus 1 qualifies elders, and I think by inference, deacons as men.
As I said, I'm not sure of this myself. You present the argument against deaconesses well, but in my view the opposing view is just as strong. That is for another thread, I think.


It provides for men and women to be appointed to assist the deacons… appointed by session, not elected by the congregation, not “commissioned” and “to assist the deacons,” an office clearly established in the BCO in 9-1 to 9-6.

One presbytery last general assembly was cited for taking this language and not ordaining any deacons and then electing “deaconesses,” a group of women only, and substituting that for the Board of Deacons laid out in the BCO as an integral part of the governance of the church.
The problem is that the BCO (9-2) makes provisions for a church without ordained deacons "for any reason." In that case, the ruling elders take the role of the the diaconate, and may appoint men and women to assist them as you note in section 9-7. Again, this is an area where a study committee may help bring more clarity, regardless of how they decide.

Unfortunately, this would seem to greatly disrupt the peace and purity of our denomination. Look at how many people on Puritan Board have said ordaining women would be a ‘deal breaker” for even becoming members of our denomination.
I would have to disagree with this, and would add that the BCO shouldn't reflect a desire to keep people in the church, regardless of the reason - it should be based on Scriptural principles alone. The PCA is a diverse group of 400,000+ members, and the 1,200+ congregations with very different styles. I seriously doubt allowing each session to decide the issue of deaconesses would disrupt the peace and purity of the denomination.

I’m afraid a “study committee” with a vague mandate, composed of people known to have different views would only harden opinion, not bring clarity to practice. It would create more confusion as to authority to follow, and lessen the peace and purity of the church.
Again, I'm not sure I agree with this. The purpose of the study committee is to bring MORE clarity to this issue, especially the role of women in the church in general. Would you not agree there is a large disparity from church to church in terms of the the role of women (other than as elders and ordained deacons, which are clearly not acceptable practices)? It seems we should draw the line somewhere, or explicitly leave it to the individual sessions to decide. Otherwise there is just confusion as to what is or isn't allowed and which congregations are or are not in violation of the BCO.

Imagine, Mason,
if we tasked a study committee to study the "five points of Calvinism" and produced a majority and minority report. Just imagine what the effect of that would be on the unity (and theology) of our reformed denomination!
The difference is that the five points are explicit in the WCF, whereas the issue of deaconesses and women in the church is not (outside clearly defined roles of male-only authority). Debating the WCF should only occur within the context of developing a new confession, not in the practice of each individual church. No one is arguing for a change or re-evaluation of the WCF, just a clarification where the WCF is silent. This seems like a promotion of unity and purity of the church, rather than a harm to unity and purity.

Either way and regardless of my opinion, I hope the GA and PCA in general continue to make firm decisions based on sound biblical principles. I love the PCA as a denomination and hope the Lord continues to make it prosper. I pray He will give the elders guidance and discernment on these and other issues at the GA this summer.

Thanks again for a good discussion, Scott!
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
If the PCA would approve deaconesses, the denomination would split.

Mason, does redeemer ny, ordain male deacons?
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
My comments.

Thanks Scott, for bringing this up and for the good discussion. Just a few points:

As I survey the Scriptural basis for Deacons, I see by analogy, all men in Acts 6. Qualifications for the office are directed at men with examination of a deacon’s wife in I Timothy 3, and elders and deacons mentioned together as ordinary leaders together in church office in Philippians 1. In addition, Titus 1 qualifies elders, and I think by inference, deacons as men.
As I said, I'm not sure of this myself. You present the argument against deaconesses well, but in my view the opposing view is just as strong. That is for another thread, I think.


It provides for men and women to be appointed to assist the deacons… appointed by session, not elected by the congregation, not “commissioned” and “to assist the deacons,” an office clearly established in the BCO in 9-1 to 9-6.

One presbytery last general assembly was cited for taking this language and not ordaining any deacons and then electing “deaconesses,” a group of women only, and substituting that for the Board of Deacons laid out in the BCO as an integral part of the governance of the church.
The problem is that the BCO (9-2) makes provisions for a church without ordained deacons "for any reason." In that case, the ruling elders take the role of the the diaconate, and may appoint men and women to assist them as you note in section 9-7. Again, this is an area where a study committee may help bring more clarity, regardless of how they decide.

Actually, BCO 9-2 says:

...In a church in which it is impossible for any reason to secure deacons, the duties of the office shall devolve upon the ruling elders.
[emphasis added]


Since all of chapters 7,8 and 9 lay out the doctrine of church office, it is contemplating deacons and elders constituting the basic governing structure of the church. A very small church might only have two elders only to form a church but not yet have deacons. That's what this section is speaking of.

Also, it doesn't say the Elders may delegate away the office of Deacon duties, only that the duties of the office of Deacon would then fall on the Elders (a lot of work, even in a small church)!

Again, the 9-7 says "to assist the deacons..." It does not say replace them.



I would have to disagree with this, and would add that the BCO shouldn't reflect a desire to keep people in the church, regardless of the reason - it should be based on Scriptural principles alone.
Absolutely, it should be based on Scripture. That's why men only are qualified to the office. Un-ordained women and men assist them.

The PCA is a diverse group of 400,000+ members, and the 1,200+ congregations with very different styles. I seriously doubt allowing each session to decide the issue of deaconesses would disrupt the peace and purity of the denomination.

Look at the PCA response right here on Puritan Board! This is almost the most single divisive thing that could be done.

I understand what you mean when using the term "diverse." But it does not mean "diverse theology." Reformed theology itself is not "diverse." It is confessional. One of the fundamental tenants of reformed theology is:

The unity of the church must be grounded in doctrinal agreement. That's not necessarily true outside of "reformed theology"- that's one thing that makes us, and the PCA different than the majority "broadly evangelical" churches out there.

I’m afraid a “study committee” with a vague mandate, composed of people known to have different views would only harden opinion, not bring clarity to practice. It would create more confusion as to authority to follow, and lessen the peace and purity of the church.
Again, I'm not sure I agree with this. The purpose of the study committee is to bring MORE clarity to this issue, especially the role of women in the church in general.
However, the overture (now two of them) are deliberately designed to produce majority and minority reports. This makes all points of view feel heard, but it does not bring doctrinal or practice clarity. The opposite.

Would you not agree there is a large disparity from church to church in terms of the the role of women (other than as elders and ordained deacons, which are clearly not acceptable practices)? It seems we should draw the line somewhere, or explicitly leave it to the individual sessions to decide. Otherwise there is just confusion as to what is or isn't allowed and which congregations are or are not in violation of the BCO.

I really only know what a few sessions are doing. Most, by God's grace, go through cycles of more and less effectiveness in involving their people, men and women. But they have great freedom and great responsibility in doing so (that's why PCA elects officers and has so many appeal mechanisms)

All I know is that we need more men and women to assist the Deacons in mercy ministry. The opportunities abound, while we have good overall participation, we need more to do the Lord's work.


Imagine, Mason,
if we tasked a study committee to study the "five points of Calvinism" and produced a majority and minority report. Just imagine what the effect of that would be on the unity (and theology) of our reformed denomination!
The difference is that the five points are explicit in the WCF,
Actually, the "five points" are implicit in our Standards, but you are right they are there.

In our BCO the doctrine of the ordination, the office of Deacon, and the qualifications of the office of Deacon (men only) is explicit.

There are some tasks outside the ordained offices governing the church (Elder and Deacon) that may need clarification- that's why there is a "reference" process.


whereas the issue of deaconesses and women in the church is not (outside clearly defined roles of male-only authority). Debating the WCF should only occur within the context of developing a new confession, not in the practice of each individual church. No one is arguing for a change or re-evaluation of the WCF,
Actually, Mason there are a couple places in the Westminster Catechisms that would prevent women from reading Scripture as an ordinance of corporate worship, but that would be another discussion. In terms of application, it could be settled by "reference."

just a clarification where the WCF is silent. This seems like a promotion of unity and purity of the church, rather than a harm to unity and purity.

Either way and regardless of my opinion, I hope the GA and PCA in general continue to make firm decisions based on sound biblical principles.
I pray that as well, particularly now that I am being installed as a deacon.

I love the PCA as a denomination and hope the Lord continues to make it prosper. I pray He will give the elders guidance and discernment on these and other issues at the GA this summer.
Amen

Thanks again for a good discussion, Scott!
Thank you for your gracious interaction. May God grant us discernment- for His Honor and His Glory.
 
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JBaldwin

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Kevin,

How long will debate last this year? Whoever is closer receives a complimentary beverage by the other. I'll time it!
Is this overature really another round of debate on women deacons? While I can see that issue being addressed, I don't read it that way.

I don't even care about being a deacon, but being a woman and having been in both the PCUSA and the PCA, I can see that there is a completely different understanding of what is allowed in many churches outside the role of deacon and elder.

For example, I know a woman who was a gifted Bible teacher and counselor who felt God was leading her to have a ministry in the church. She was not interested in becoming a pastor, she didn't want to be an elder nor a deacon. She wanted to teach and counsel women within the church.

She went to the pastor of her PCA church who felt that church had a real need for a woman on staff with those gifts, so he took it to the elders who agreed to pay for her to have one year of further training and hire her when her training was completed. When she completed the training, and it was time to hire her, many of the elders backed out of the deal, because they said they didn't believe a woman should be functioning in that role in the church. They then told her to go get a job working with a counseling ministry.

If this overture will help address some of these kinds of areas, I think they should go ahead with it.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
I think the study committee would serve a valid and important task on this important issue, for unity's sake if nothing else.
So, you've joined a denomination that says all Deacons have to be ordained, and women, baptists and arminians can't be Deacons.

So, for unity's sake (otherwise you'll think we're big, fat, meanies) we should be open to the baggage you've brought in which are contrary to the rules of the church you've joined.

Like the man who promised to be loyal to his wife if she'd marry him, but came from an adulterous background, you insist that your wife be open to his sleeping around, for unity's sake.

Your argument really sounds persuasive! I mean for unity's sake we should all stop being big, fat, meanies.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
JBaldwin
She went to the pastor of her PCA church who felt that church had a real need for a woman on staff with those gifts, so he took it to the elders who agreed to pay for her to have one year of further training and hire her when her training was completed. When she completed the training, and it was time to hire her, many of the elders backed out of the deal, because they said they didn't believe a woman should be functioning in that role in the church. They then told her to go get a job working with a counseling ministry.

If this overture will help address some of these kinds of areas, I think they should go ahead with it.
A matter like this would ordinarily and I think biblically first go to the people directly involved, then session, and perhaps appeal to presbytery. Those mechanisms are available- they take courage and humility to use, but they are there.

A (divided) report "study committee" would not really impact a situation like you describe. The situation you describe sounds like it was also a financial decision and the session makes final decisions regarding spending.
 

ColdSilverMoon

Puritan Board Senior
I think the study committee would serve a valid and important task on this important issue, for unity's sake if nothing else.
So, you've joined a denomination that says all Deacons have to be ordained, and women, baptists and arminians can't be Deacons.

So, for unity's sake (otherwise you'll think we're big, fat, meanies) we should be open to the baggage you've brought in which are contrary to the rules of the church you've joined.

Like the man who promised to be loyal to his wife if she'd marry him, but came from an adulterous background, you insist that your wife be open to his sleeping around, for unity's sake.

Your argument really sounds persuasive! I mean for unity's sake we should all stop being big, fat, meanies.
Tim, I said no such thing. That's a classic straw man argument. Please quote me in context:

But should women read Scripture, sing, pray in corporate worship? I think these roles either need to be defined by the GA or explicitly left for the individual sessions to decide. Regardless, I think the study committee would serve a valid and important task on this important issue, for unity's sake if nothing else.
I never said the PCA should change or amend their views for unity's sake. I clearly said the committee would be valuable for defining the exact role of women outside of the the role of pastor/elder. And I don't believe women, Arminians, or Baptists should be ordained in any capacity. Have I ever said otherwise? Why do you think this is my "baggage?" Please don't attribute things to me that I clearly don't believe and have never advocated. I'm sure you appreciate the same courtesy.

I'm not advocating for female deacons - as I said very plainly, I'm undecided on the issue. My point is that a study committee may help clarify the issue one way or another.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
I never said the PCA should change or amend their views for unity's sake. I clearly said the committee would be valuable for defining the exact role of women outside of the the role of pastor/elder. And I don't believe women, Arminians, or Baptists should be ordained in any capacity. Have I ever said otherwise?
Yes, in the same post


I'm not advocating for female deacons - as I said very plainly, I'm undecided on the issue. My point is that a study committee may help clarify the issue one way or another.
Sorry for being terse, Mason. It's just that I came out of a very difficult situation in the PCA where the Session thought the BCO was just an advice manual.

In the PCA all Deacons have to be ordained. You can't call someone a Deacon unless they are ordained. You go to a church that has women Deacons. You yourself are undecided, which means you think that it may be fine for you to have Deacons that are not ordained, and that is contrary to the BCO.

This isn't a matter for debate. It is a matter of submitting to the church that you've joined, whether the local church or the Presbytery.

By putting this issue into the realm of debate, you give it credibility. For the sake of unity, someone in your Church should write a letter to the Session asking for clarification as to why they are calling people Deacons without ordaining them. And if the answer isn't clear, then the matter should be brought to the Presbytery.
 

JBaldwin

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
JBaldwin
She went to the pastor of her PCA church who felt that church had a real need for a woman on staff with those gifts, so he took it to the elders who agreed to pay for her to have one year of further training and hire her when her training was completed. When she completed the training, and it was time to hire her, many of the elders backed out of the deal, because they said they didn't believe a woman should be functioning in that role in the church. They then told her to go get a job working with a counseling ministry.

If this overture will help address some of these kinds of areas, I think they should go ahead with it.
A matter like this would ordinarily and I think biblically first go to the people directly involved, then session, and perhaps appeal to presbytery. Those mechanisms are available- they take courage and humility to use, but they are there.

A (divided) report "study committee" would not really impact a situation like you describe. The situation you describe sounds like it was also a financial decision and the session makes final decisions regarding spending.
In this case it was not a matter of money, because shortly after this, they hired a man and then kicked out the one other woman on staff and replaced her with a man.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
One of many reasons why I am glad to be joining a denomination that does not allow "Good Faith" or "System" Subscription.
I realize this is not the topic on this thread. However, I don't think this is really a cause or basis for the general views arising from the present debate. Also, it doesn't seem to completely describe the system the PCA has.

BCO 21-4

While our Constitution does not require the candidate’s affirmation
of every statement and/or proposition of doctrine in our Confession of Faith
and Catechisms, it is the right and responsibility of the Presbytery to
determine if the candidate is out of accord with any of the fundamentals of
these doctrinal standards and, as a consequence, may not be able in good
faith sincerely to receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms
of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy
Scriptures (cf. BCO 21-5, Q.2; 24-6, Q.2).
Therefore, in examining a candidate for ordination, the Presbytery
shall inquire not only into the candidate’s knowledge and views in the areas
specified above, but also shall require the candidate to state the specific
instances in which he may differ with the Confession of Faith and
Catechisms in any of their statements and/or propositions.
The court may
grant an exception to any difference of doctrine only if in the court’s
judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any
fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither
hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion[
/B].



An officer takes a vow that every single statement and proposition of the Westminster standards must be agreed (and implicitly, understood) unless a peer-reviewed "exception" is granted. In many cases, the "exception" may not be taught. In my limited experience, there are very few things "excepted." Many candidates are turned down because of them. We are a confessional church, after all.

I'm not sure what we call this, but it seems like full subscription, allowing for the "scruples" presbyterianism has historically allowed for. It seems like it holds the Westminster Standards in the highest possible regard, guards every single word and doctrine, while acknowledging they are not infallible, and still allows the possibility of conscience-based exception to be judged by a high court of those gifted and called to teach doctrine.

In my opinion, while not a perfect system, it is an excellent one, and protects all the vital biblical interests.


-----Added 2/27/2009 at 07:35:43 EST-----

JBaldwin
She went to the pastor of her PCA church who felt that church had a real need for a woman on staff with those gifts, so he took it to the elders who agreed to pay for her to have one year of further training and hire her when her training was completed. When she completed the training, and it was time to hire her, many of the elders backed out of the deal, because they said they didn't believe a woman should be functioning in that role in the church. They then told her to go get a job working with a counseling ministry.

If this overture will help address some of these kinds of areas, I think they should go ahead with it.
A matter like this would ordinarily and I think biblically first go to the people directly involved, then session, and perhaps appeal to presbytery. Those mechanisms are available- they take courage and humility to use, but they are there.

A (divided) report "study committee" would not really impact a situation like you describe. The situation you describe sounds like it was also a financial decision and the session makes final decisions regarding spending.
In this case it was not a matter of money, because shortly after this, they hired a man and then kicked out the one other woman on staff and replaced her with a man.
I understand your concern about what happened in an individual case.

Looking from outside, it's hard to know the points of view, including the elders who have authority and responsibility before God and to whose visible authority we submit to as part of our vows.

We just don't want to create a false expectation regarding what a (divided) "study" does.

There are many ways to redress, appeal and have input in the PCA, even in the context of submitting to the authority God has put in place. "Appealing" is very presbyterian, and I'm thankful for that.
 

ColdSilverMoon

Puritan Board Senior
Sorry for being terse, Mason. It's just that I came out of a very difficult situation in the PCA where the Session thought the BCO was just an advice manual.

In the PCA all Deacons have to be ordained. You can't call someone a Deacon unless they are ordained. You go to a church that has women Deacons. You yourself are undecided, which means you think that it may be fine for you to have Deacons that are not ordained, and that is contrary to the BCO.

This isn't a matter for debate. It is a matter of submitting to the church that you've joined, whether the local church or the Presbytery.

By putting this issue into the realm of debate, you give it credibility. For the sake of unity, someone in your Church should write a letter to the Session asking for clarification as to why they are calling people Deacons without ordaining them. And if the answer isn't clear, then the matter should be brought to the Presbytery.
I can understand where you're coming from, Tim. I remember you having a bad experience with a PCA church over similar issues, which is unfortunate. I just don't want ideas attributed to me (or my church) that I am completely against.

Just to clarify, Redeemer does not call people "Deacons" without ordaining them. They call them "deacons" in the generic sense of a servant, not in the office of the church. The church's stance is that in the absence of an ordained diaconate, generic "deacons," or servants, of either sex assist the elders in that capacity as the BCO provides. I understand why many people disagree with this interpretation of the BCO, but I think it's a good faith interpretation. No one, to my knowledge, has ever challenged the church on this.

But really I don't think discussing that is the point of this thead. I think Scott wanted to discuss the overture for a study to further define the role of women in the church. I am somewhat surprised that Scott is opposed to it, though I understand his reasoning. I think such a study would be very helpful in defining common terms, avoiding misunderstandings, and thus promoting peace and unity within the church.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
Just to clarify, Redeemer does not call people "Deacons" without ordaining them. They call them "deacons" in the generic sense of a servant, not in the office of the church.
Mason, that simply is a false statement. I went to your church website and in 15 seconds found:

As the church continues to grow, so does the need for Elders, Deacons, and Deaconesses. Once a year, we accept nominations for these offices.
 

Scott1

Puritanboard Commissioner
ColdSilverMoon

But really I don't think discussing that is the point of this thead. I think Scott wanted to discuss the overture for a study to further define the role of women in the church. I am somewhat surprised that Scott is opposed to it, though I understand his reasoning. I think such a study would be very helpful in defining common terms, avoiding misunderstandings, and thus promoting peace and unity within the church.
Hopefully, it is not surprising.

After all, a large majority saw it the same way at last year's general assembly...

In our system, a "study" with a pre-determined split result does not bring clarity, it divides. Study reports are a mechanism that can be helpful in bringing a settling peace on new and complex issues and for new applications of original issues...

This is not one of those at all,

and

studies are not used to interpret clear BCO provisions (in our system "references" do that)

nor to change our BCO (proposing amendments does that).

Nor are vague, generalized mandates appropriate for "studies," financially for the church or otherwise, and I think you acknowledged that.:)
 

ColdSilverMoon

Puritan Board Senior
Just to clarify, Redeemer does not call people "Deacons" without ordaining them. They call them "deacons" in the generic sense of a servant, not in the office of the church.
Mason, that simply is a false statement. I went to your church website and in 15 seconds found:

As the church continues to grow, so does the need for Elders, Deacons, and Deaconesses. Once a year, we accept nominations for these offices.
Well, I searched for about 10 minutes and couldn't find that statement. Regardless, it's probably a mis-statement of the webmaster - deacons are elected, but are not ordained. Go to the diaconate section and it is very clearly explained.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Mason,

I appreciate your desire to be precise and to uphold the good name of your church.

I would say to you (as someone who also does appreciate Tim Keller and Redeemer's ministry) that the only observable difference (to the outside (and PCA) world) between deacons and deaconesses at Redeemer is the actual physical laying on of hands during the service. Every other effort (it appears) as here seems to indicate a similarity/identity.
 
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