PCA Study Committee Report » Recommendation #6

The study committee report on the role of women in the ministry of the church, approved by the 45th General Assembly of the PCA, asks its Sessions and presbyteries to consider nine recommendations. With the first and last of these adjudicated at the assembly itself, only the second through the eighth require any reflection now. Previous segments have dealt with recommendations two through five. This article deals with the sixth recommendation from the committee, the revised and approved version of which states:

That sessions and presbyteries select and appoint godly women and men of the congregation to assist the ordained diaconate.

To arrive at its final form, this statement underwent a revision on the floor of the Assembly. Its original version read:

That sessions and presbyteries select and appoint godly women of the congregation to assist the ordained leadership; these godly, unordained women have often historically been referred to as deaconesses. 

The revised statement is a vast improvement over the original for several reasons. First, by removing the exclusive focus on women in the original statement, the revised version focusses instead on all unordained members. Thereby it removes any hint of the fragmentation of the church into groups.

Second, it narrows the scope of appointment of these unordained women and men to the ordained diaconate of the church, not leadership in general. Whereas the original recommendation would be introducing something new, the revised version is already reflected in the existing Book of Church Order of the PCA. In essence, the revised report asks churches to select and appoint women to be assistants to the deacons. This revision is simply a restatement of Chapter 9, Section 7 of the BCO, although its force may be a little stronger. The report moves from the “may” of the BCO to the implied “ought” of the recommendation.

Third, it removes unnecessary controversy from the recommendation. The last clause in the original recommendation inexplicably includes a reference to deaconesses. This inclusion is inexplicable because it is not a recommendation, but a statement. The Assembly deleted this clause in order to remove any potential controversy that including such a statement might produce. The revised recommendation will cause few churches in the PCA any heartburn. However, it still seems a strange recommendation to make. Here are a few observations:

First, it is impossible for any presbytery to be able to carry out this recommendation. The presbytery does not have a diaconate, and therefore cannot select and appoint anyone to it. Perhaps the inclusion of this court is simply an oversight from the floor amendment. Whatever the reason, its inclusion is not significant enough to warrant any further discussion.

Second, this recommendation states the obvious and is therefore unnecessary. I will grant that most of my associations within the PCA are with confessional, conservative men, but I have gotten to know some men whose convictions align themselves more with the progressive proponents in the PCA. Among neither group have I ever encountered any who would say that the unordained men and women of their congregations should not help the ordained diaconate, or Session for that matter. Certainly, there can be no formal appointment for those who help the Session, but the very nature of the shepherding ministry of the church is that men and women be equipped for ministry (Cf. Eph. 4:11-12). It does not seem a necessary observation to make, because it is so basic to the life and ministry of the church.

The original formulation of this recommendation does present problems through its focus on women, its desire to expand the appointment of women from helping the deacons to the leadership more generically, and through its reference to deaconesses, but with these removed very little remains against which objection can arise. Granted, due to the recommendation’s obvious statement, it has very limited value in helping the church working through this issue, but in all this recommendation is relatively benign.

PCA Study Committee Report » Recommendation #5

This post continues the discussion on the recommendations made by the Study Committee on the Role of Women in the Ministry of the Church, approved at the PCA’s 45th General Assembly. This installment will take up recommendation #5, which reads as follows:

That sessions consider how to include non-ordained men and women in the worship of the church so as to maintain faithfulness to Scripture, as well as utilizing the gifts God has poured out to His entire church (see exegesis of 1 Corinthians 14:26 in Chapter Two).

The exegesis of the report on this point, to which the recommendation refers, notes a tension between 1 Cor. 11:5 and 1 Cor. 14:34. The former acknowledges that women prophesy, while the latter commands their silence. The report suggests two solutions to this apparent discrepancy.

The first solution views the setting in 1 Cor. 11 as informal and 1 Cor. 14 as the formal worship of the gathered church. The report suggests this view is untenable because of 1 Cor. 14:26 which says that “each one” contributes to the various aspects of worship. As a result, the report suggests a second solution, which forms the foundation for what they are put forward in recommendation #5.

The second solution suggests there is a limit on the command for silence on the part of women in 1 Cor. 14:34. The report reasons that, since all are described as partaking in all the elements of the corporate worship of the church, and since 1 Cor. 14:26-35 deals with the proper ordering of such participation, it is only in the weighing of prophecy as described in v. 29 that women are to be silent. To bolster this argument, they further state that the Greek word translated as “keep silent” in v. 34 is only a temporary silence to maintain order. This reading is of a recent vintage and leads to the fifth recommendation.

Without the background of the committee’s exegesis of 1 Cor. 14:26ff, the fifth recommendation does not necessarily present a problem. Sessions are simply called to consider how non-ordained members can be biblically used in the worship of the church. However, the committee’s exegesis of 1 Cor. 14 allows a wide interpretation of what is permissible. For example, in the rational given for the fifth recommendation, the committee gives six suggestions as to how Sessions might involve women in the church’s worship. Among these are leading the congregation in prayer and the corporate reading of Scripture. This exegesis and resulting suggestions give me great concern.

First, the position taken by the report, that 1 Cor. 14:26-35 deals with a limited command to silence, has a significant problem. The paragraphs in this chapter delineate blocks of thought. Therefore, when we see a paragraph between 14:33a and 33b, the change of topic should be noted. Verses 26-33a deal with the general order in the public worship services of the church. Verses 33b-35 deal specifically with the ordering of women in the public worship services of the church. To join these paragraphs into one thought is a mistake.

Second, the committee’s report suggests that Paul’s word for “keep silent” (sigatosan) in v. 34 is a limited and temporary silence. However, that is not the only word Paul uses during his instructions on this point. Later in verse 34 Paul states women “are not permitted to speak,” a different Greek word (lalein) to impress the need for silence. This same word is repeated in verse 35 when Paul states it is “shameful for a woman to speak in church.” Neither instance carries with it any indication of a temporary silence. This poor exegesis in the report leads to the encouragement of a flawed practice that will ultimate harm and damage the church.

Third, the limit to simply weighing of prophecy would remove any basis for forbidding women from preaching in church. So long as men weigh whether what she says is true, women should be able to do anything else. I am not contending this is what the committee suggests, but the pathway certainly has been opened.

The committee dismissed the first solution for the apparent discrepancy between 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Cor. 14 too quickly. There are explanations as to why this supposed tension is really no tension at all. For example, it is possible that the report misses the mark regarding its assignment of “each one” to address men and women. In verse 31 when Paul says they can “all” prophesy, the “all” is limited to those who were given that spiritual gift, which not everyone had (Cf. 1 Cor. 12:29). Therefore, care should be taken not to assign Paul’s “all” to a category he did not intend to include. Another option suggested by Calvin states that in 1 Cor. 11:5 Paul is describing current practice, which he later forbids in 1 Cor. 14:34. If true, the tension suggested by the authors of the report is removed.

So what is the biblical role of women in the worship of the church? As with all God’s people, women participate in the songs of the congregation. They lift up their prayers to God Almighty by their assent to the prayers the elders lead the congregation in. They are fed through the instruction of God’s word. They declare the death of Christ through their participation in the Lord’s Supper. These are the proper and normal boundaries established in God’s word for their participation. It is not a statement of their value in the sight of God. It is simply following God’s recorded instructions for his people.

 

PCA Study Committee Report » Recommendation #4

At the 44th General Assembly, a study committee was formed and charged with examining the role of women in the ministry of the church. Their ad-interim report was presented to the 45th General Assembly and included 9 recommendations. I have dealt with recommendations two and three in previous posts. Today I will look at the 4th recommendation. The 4th recommendation reads as follows:

“That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men.”

However, to fully understand what happened with this recommendation we have to look at how it was originally presented to the body. The recommendation approved by the Assembly was not the recommendation suggested by the committee. It read:

“That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men. Though The Book of Church Order does not specifically prohibit the practice of going without ordained deacons, it seems poorly aligned with the spirit of the principle of the two church offices outlined in The Book of Church Order.

This original statement enjoyed additional amendments prior to the final version, but since these were not implemented, we will simply deal with the original and final recommendations. Perhaps at first reading this recommendation seems obvious. However, current practice in the PCA made such a recommendation necessary. Part of the report’s section of recommendations contains the explanation for the various recommendations presented to the assembly. The committee, in this recommendation, sought to address a practice described in the report as “choosing not to establish an ordained diaconate, even with qualified candidates, because the church wishes to be free to establish a body of unordained servants, both male and female (BCO 9-7).” (page 2460) In other words, some churches in the PCA currently do not establish ordained deacons so their diaconate can be made up of men and women. The study committee, in a gracious and fairly mild way, rebuked this practice, urging people to follow the commands of Scripture in establishing both the ordained office of elder and deacon in their congregations. If followed, this practice would eliminate women from the diaconate, restoring the proper structure for this body within the church.

In explaining why this should be so, the report describes the foundation for this rebuke as based on Philippians 1:1 where deacons are addressed as part of Paul’s introduction, on 1 Timothy 3 where the description of qualifications assumes a diaconate, and Acts 6 where seven godly men are set apart for service, forming a diaconate prototype of sorts. The report points out these biblical texts all undergird the PCA’s BCO 9-4 which says that “The deacons of a particular church shall be organized as a Board.” (page 2460). The committee’s rationale is sound and biblical. However, in the debate on the floor the mild rebuke was removed and all that is left is a toothless statement that will change nothing regarding a disturbing practice that, at best, plays games with God’s word and the BCO.

By removing everything except the first sentence of this recommendation, the Assembly made it possible that exactly nothing will change in the congregations where refusing to ordain is the current practice. Basically, the churches of the PCA are urged to ordain deacons “if possible”. It is far too easy to say something is not possible, especially when gauging the possibility of an action is left to the discretion of the churches already not ordaining deacons.

I very much appreciated what the committee sought to accomplish with this fourth recommendation. If passed, it would have been helpful to the PCA and strengthened our denomination’s ecclesiology, or our theology of the structure of the church. Instead we are left with a statement that removes a necessary rebuke, and makes any corrections highly unlikely. I think the adoption of the revised recommendation was the wrong decision.