Feminist influences in the Presbyterian Church in America II...

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.

Gotten what?

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.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.



The EPC is in the process of receiving a good number of PCUSA congregations, large and evangelical. I predict that the EPC will also begin to gradually receive some larger evangelical PCA churches. No time frame, but I think it is coming, because of the feminist issue.


I don't know how or why you haven't gotten tired of contending for the gospel. After just reading this blog for the past few months I have grown weary of all the feminist attacks and rejections of authority. I ask myself, when will they get it? why don't they see? I thank God that I can submit to you as my pastor, and hopefully follow in the path you are trudging. May God continue to give you steadfastness in standing firm for the truth.

Hey Lane, trudge rhymes with drudge and slog with bog, but run rhymes with fun and skip with hip (as in super-neat or cool). We look at the Lord and the great cloud of witnesses, thinking of the honor of following in their footsteps. Then too, the heterodoxies and heresies surrounding us are so banal, whereas biblical orthodoxy is generous, beautiful, liberating, dead-on exciting--and sanctifying, to boot!

So skip and run with me, dear brother. The Holy Spirit has put us on a grand adventure. And what wonderful brothers and sisters He surrounds us with on His way!

Or, in the words of one of my (albeit, posthumously) mentors:

The dogma IS the drama. . . . .


Smiling, smiling, smiling over:

"Then too, the heterodoxies and heresies surrounding us are so banal, whereas biblical orthodoxy is generous, beautiful, liberating, dead-on exciting--and sanctifying, to boot!"

I've lived in both worlds, brothers, and I can tell you that the world of biblical orthodoxy is absolutely delicious and delightful, even more so when compared to the drab dullness that exists everywhere else.

I second Barbara!


I read this post but I haven't combed through all the other info. I'm not completely sure what you're saying here, does CGS have deaconesses? My church, which is a very conservative church that is doctrinally very similar to yours (Westminster confession etc.), has deaconesses as well and they do not have the same authority as any non-elder male. Women are not allowed to teach men in our church and do not speak in church except for prayer requests yet they serve in many capacities. Also, just having the office of deaconess doesn't mean you'll have them, the church must end up voting for them, currently we have none.

What do you think is the proper role for women in church? It seems to me that biblically deaconesses are allowed but today anything less than pastor would be politically incorrect.

Dear Clint,

No, Church of the Good Shepherd doesn't have deaconesses, but if we did, they wouldn't be elected, nor would they blur the distinction between the utopian egalitarianism of the world and the eternal father-rule of the Kingdom of God. Yet this is the effect of the movement in the PCA to elect women deaconesses. Every case I know of, those women serve alongside the male deacons, sitting on the same board and fulfilling the same duties the men fulfill. And as in the case of the deacons at Redeemer spoken of above, there isn't an effort made to clarify with the congregation that these women will be careful not to exercise authority over men as they fulfill their duties.

Contrast this with what I believe were the deaconesses who served in the early church whose responsibilies included meeting with the pastor when he counselled women to guard against impurity, baptizing women, nursing the infirm and dying, etc. and the distinction between what's happening in the PCA today and what happened in the early church becomes clear.

As I've said before, if there were a movement in the PCA to change our "Book of Church Order" to allow deaconesses, I'd support that movement, but only if it were clear that these women are not serving in the office of deacon and may not exercise authority over men.

Finally, it must be clearly stated that those PCA churches that do have deaconesses currently are, in my judgment, in violation of our Constitution. Yes, they have justifications aplenty, but those justifications don't hold water, constitutionally.

As for our own congregation, although I'm a member of the PCA, my church is not, so we would be able to have deaconesses without violating the Constitution. But currently, we don't.

May I direct you to an article I did back in 1998 for Sproul's "Table Talk." The article titled "Service and Silence" is available at this link on Monergism:


An excellent resource on the service of deaconesses in the early church is Brian Schwertley's "A Historical and Biblical Examination of Women Deacons" which is available here:


Clint, just curious, how does the concept of women being silent in church play out at yours? How does this work? I have never been to a church where they had this. At my church, there isn't much speaking by either sex. We walk in, sit down, sing, respond, a little chitchat after, then leave. What does no speaking in church mean?

The PCA is not alone in facing these trends. Other conservative denominations are experiencing the same thing.

A Lutheran friend sent me the following link to an article in the American Spectator that illustrates where this is heading:

Pastoral Letter From the Future II

By Lars Walker

The Rev. Dr. Judith Hardanger-Hansen returns to address what was once called ''the gender divide.''


Seeing this article reminded me of something I saw at this year's PCA General Assembly. I served on the Committee to Review Presbytery Minutes and we found two instances in the last year of churches installing deacons and deaconnesses (Northern California Presbytery and Philadelphia Presbytery, pages 1224 and 1233 of the RPR report). In both cases our committee noted these matters as exceptions of substance (see BCO 9-2 and 9-3) which requires a response to next year's General Assembly. It should be noted that both of these instances involved the particularization of a church (a commission from the presbytery ordains and installs elders including the pastor, then the commission steps aside so that the new session can "commission" men and women to serve as deacons). Of course this is an end run around the BCO (chapter 17 re. ordination, and BCO 24 re. election, ordination and installation of officers). The Session's explanation will go something like this: "We aren't violating the BCO because we aren't following what is set forth in BCO 17 and 24 for the office of deacon." That is a true statement. What they are doing is inventing a new office!

I find this to be an isidious practice. It completely skirts the BCO and the biblical basis for the office of deacon. It allows a church to benefit from the work of deacons while calling them something else and it provides women a place of leadership and authority that is not granted by Scripture.

While this practice gives the appearance of being hip and sensitive it undercuts the office of deacon and sows confusion in the church. Indeed time will tell where this will lead.

Hey, at least they aren't advocating any Federal Vision stuff!

Whether deacons are elected is important. If they are, then they can't be "fired" by the elders and have independent authority. If they are appointed, then they more clearly have no authority not delegated, in the same way as the church secretary does not.

I'm not sure that Keller's Manhattan environs tell the full story. The practice seems to be perfectly consistent with a church that holds to a strong three-office view of church leadership.

As far as I know, the PCA permits churches to choose between two-office and three-office practices. I've not studied Keller's views carefully. Nevertheless, it's unfair to criticize his practices without giving proper weight to the differences between two-office and three-office Presbyterianism.

As an OPCer, I see the two-office view as problematic (i.e., a revivalistic pollution of historic Reformed practice). From what you've described, I don't see Keller's practices as falling outside of what would be permitted in traditional three-office Presbyterianism.

Also, it does seem to me that you both likely hold to a two-office view.

Sorry, Rob, but I don't follow you. Neither I nor another PCA pastor more knowledgeable than I see any connection between women being elected to the diaconate (contrary to the PCA "Book of Church Order") and the debate over two or three office views. The office of deacons is the same in either system; it's the offices of pastor and elder at issue. So why you think the Kellers' practice is consistent with a three office view is beyond me.

But if, having read the above two posts and the Kellers' position paper, you're left thinking I've been unfair in not appreciating enough how a three office view justifies women shepherding and teaching and discipling and exercising authority over men, I'll move on. But sadly.

As to my own convictions, back in the late seventies and early eighties I was a member of the OPC. Then, as now, I held to a three office view, which I'd guess the Rev. Dr. Tim Keller shares.

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