Under the recent post, Feminist Influences in the Presbyterian Church in America, the following comment appeared:
…I disagree with the post’s saying that discipling, shepherding, and counselling requires authority. To guide someone along the right path requires only care by the guide and willingness by the straying person to listen and try to stay on the path. One Christian can do that for another without any authority. He can do that without any title, in fact, which goes back to the question of why the guides should be called Deacons instead of, say Guides, or Helpers.…
Yes, “one Christian can do (these things) for another without any authority.” But we must consider the context of the Kellers’ use of these words ‘discipling’, ‘shepherding’, and ‘counselling.’
The context for the Kellers’ paper and their congregation’s actions is twofold: first, the Manhattan cultural context in which feminism long has ceased being argued, and is simply understood—think Columbia University, Manhattan, Woody Allen, the New York Times, etc.; and second, a denomination whose identity and confession is inseparable from its polity which, among other things, is defined by authoritative church officers (yes, deacons exercise authority) who, submitting to the Word of God, are men only.
So yes, in another institution, place, or denomination we might talk about “guides” who come alongside fellow travelers and make astute observations (or even recommendations) that their companions are free to take or leave.
This is the typical understanding of church office in evangelical churches and denominations today, and is not an uncommon understanding of church office even within the Presbyterian Church in America. Yet Scripture and PCA constitutional documents make clear...
that those holding office in PCA judicatories and churches have been delegated authority from the Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, and will one day give an account for the exercise of that authority in building up and protecting the flock of God.
The entire New Testament repudiates the fellow-traveler view of church office so prevalent today. Moderns might say the New Testament reeks of authority, starting with the Lordship of Jesus Christ central to the Gospel proclamation in the book of Acts, and continuing through all the epistles—including the pastorals. Thus Titus is commanded, “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15). Such authority is the context for the work of counselors, teachers, and shepherds in the New Testament church. And it is precisely this authority women are barred from exercising over men: “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve” (1Timothy 2:12, 13).
So when we consider the words and actions of the Kellers and the church they both lead, we must see what we see. This congregation is blurring the distinction between those who are and are not officeholders (Are “elected” women officers or not? Are deacons officers or not?), and therefore those who have and those who do not have authority delegated to them for the protection and building up of the flock. And the words they use to describe the work of their crypto officers obfuscate matters by being the same words normally used to refer to the work of male pastors, elders, and deacons in the PCA. Thus we end up with female crypto officers who “teach” and “shepherd” men.
I would yawn if all the Kellers were accomplishing was to downgrade the language and responsibilities of pastors, deacons, and elders so that their exercise of authority within the flock was understood to be needed only in extraordinary circumstances, and the normal state for officers in the PCA became fellow-struggling-traveler -coming-alongside-other-pilgrims-with-wisdom-for-the-journey. This is just one more victory for the hatred of authority at the center of our culture. And really, it’s so common within the PCA that it’s just another day at the salt mines.
What is not just another day’s work, though, is the flagship northern church of the PCA situated at the center of the Mecca of our chattering class and looked to for leadership by all the young dudes who carry the news of Tim Keller’s stellar success with real sophisticates declaring that news to be “women doing anything a non-ordained man can do" including “discipling, counseling, shepherding (and teaching) in the church, particularly among the women.”
OK, I’ll bite: Why “particularly among women?” Why not simply “in the church?” Is their conscience bad, hence the somewhat limiting statement of these female crypto officers exercising most of their authority "among women?" Or, is the point really that these female crypto officers will not be limited to exercising authority over women, but will also be exercising authority over men?
The question is the answer.
This is the very old game of picking around the edges of rules we don’t like and want to see repealed until the authority, having avoided confronting our rebellion, gives in to it and slightly modifies the rules so the defiance is brought back into the house and we’re all one big happy family again. But of course, it absolutely never ends there.
And reading Tim and Kathy Keller’s position paper adopted by their church, we can make an informed guess that the identity of the Kellers and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City is integrally tied to a principled stand for a fuller participation of elected crypto officers within a hidebound southern, parochial denomination that hasn’t yet gotten it.
That God is doing a new thing through women, and that anyone wanting to reach the generations of today or tomorrow will get with the program. Women officers will be “elected” and for now will be called “deaconesses.” And these elected women will serve the Lord’s Supper to the congregation—not “administrate,” you understand; they will “counsel,” “teach,” and “shepherd” men; they will do anything a non-ordained man can do.
Foolish men think this is hip, engaged, relevant, astute, missional, suave, cool, like-totally-awesome, emergent, contextualized—maybe even prophetic. And what do wise men think?
Time will tell.