Women deacons for the PCA: the nub of the issue, along with a proposal...

(Tim) In the discussion of the common practice of women serving alongside men as deacons within the PCA, one man comments, “I’m trying to figure out under what circumstances I’d need to think about submitting to a deacon.”

This is the nub of the issue and the fact that it’s so rarely discussed indicates either ignorance concerning the teaching of Scripture about the order of creation of man and woman, or a deliberate clouding of the issue by those opposed to that order. No doubt both are present across our denomination.

Authority isn’t the heart of the office as it is with elders, but to say the office of deacon is not one of authority, but service, is not to say the sex of the one being promised submission is immaterial to congregational vows.

If those pushing women deacons in the PCA were simply to call them “deaconesses” and make it clear that the implementation of the calling would be hedged about with clear lines of demarcation between deaconesses and deacons--all centered on the issue of reserving to men only the exercise of substantive authority over men--many of us would make common cause with them. The fact that this is precisely not what’s being practiced or argued for is most telling. Is this clear?

In other words, if an overture were submitted to general assembly laying out the practice of the early church and calling the PCA to affirm such a ministry of deaconesses, some of us might be on board. The ministry could be described in terms similar to those Brian Schwertley uses describing Calvin’s thoughts on the matter:

For Calvin, the authoritative aspects of being a deacon (i.e., taking care of the financial affairs of the church, and the counseling-judicial aspect) are reserved for the men deacons alone. The women deacons function somewhat like nurses. The food, water, clothing, and medicine, etc., set aside by the deacons are delivered and administered by the deaconesses. This does not mean that deacons were not involved in similar activities. It only means that deaconesses were limited to separate non-authoritative activities” (Schwertley, p. 32; here's a good review of Schwertley's work).

If this is the proposal, I’m guessing it would conform to the past practice of RPCES and would receive the assembly’s support.

Sadly, that’s not what’s being proposed, so I have little hope for our being able to regularize the work of deaconesses within the PCA anytime soon—unless, of course, the many egalitarians within our midst are successful in their efforts to obliterate the creation order of man and woman anywhere outside the session and to get the approval of general assembly for women and men serving as deacons together. (And it must be said that, historically, this has almost universally been the first step toward women elders in reformed ecclesiastical bodies around the world.)

So here’s a proposal: Each time someone brings up the question of women serving in the deaconate, immediately inquire whether they’re speaking of women deacons or deaconesses? And if they respond, “What’s the difference,” simply explain that women deacons are interchangeable with men deacons, and therefore are promised submission by the men of the church and exercise authority over those men once in office. But deaconesses are not promised submission and don’t exercise substantive authority over men.

At that point, ask them once more whether they’re proposing that women serve as deacons or deaconesses? Do they, or do they not, want women to be vowed submission and empowered to exercise authority over the men of the church?

If they still cavil and you’re able to read the clouds, you should know you’re not dealing with an agent of reformation, but deformation.

Here as everywhere else, a return to first principles brings clarity. The Apostle Paul is dealing with teaching and the exercise of authority in the church and he applies the order of creation to the problem with this perspicuous declaration: “For Adam was created first, and then Eve.”

How complicated is that?

* * *

(A Historical and Biblical Examination of Women Deacons, by Brian M. Schwertley, 1998, 155 pages is published by Reformed Witness, 26550 Evergreen Road, Southfield, MI 48076. E-text of the work is available here. Hard copy may be available from Reformation Forum, Post Office Box 306, Holt, MI 48842.)


Lots of stuff to chew on from Schwertly. Thanks.

I'd have to say that contemporary deaconal task-designation seems alot more ad-hoc. But then again, I'm not a deacon and I'm sure lots goes on behind the scenes I'm not privy to.

OK, that answers my question from yesterday on what's the history. It looks like deaconesses in Calvin's church functioned like deaconesses in the Anabaptist tradition. Here's Dordrecht:


That they [elders] should also see diligently to it, particularly each among his own over whom he has the oversight, that all places be well provided with deacons (to look after and care for the poor), who may receive the contributions and alms, in order to dispense them faithfully and with all propriety to the poor and needy saints. Acts 6:3-6.

And that also honorable aged widows should be chosen and ordained deaconesses, that they with the deacons may visit, comfort, and care for, the poor, feeble, sick, sorrowing and needy, as also the widows and orphans, and assist in attending to other wants and necessities of the church to the best of their ability. I Tim. 5:9; Rom. 16:1; Jas. 1:27.

Furthermore, concerning deacons, that they, especially when they are fit, and chosen and ordained thereto by the church, for the assistance and relief of the elders, may exhort the church (since they, as has been said, are chosen thereto), and labor also in the Word and in teaching; that each may minister unto the other with the gift he has received of the Lord, so that through mutual service and the assistance of every member, each in his measure, the body of Christ may be improved, and the vine and church of the Lord continue to grow, increase, and be built up, according as it is proper.

Our Lord Jesus said, "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10.35). In addition to highlighting the truthfulness and eternality of God's Word, this also, I think, points to what we know as the 'analogy of Scripture.' There can be no expendable or 'orphaned' verses. We can ignore none.

I say this, because I am continually amazed, in the discussion/debate over whether Scripture allows for women to serve as Deacons, at the general absence of reference to 1 Timothy 3.12. It is as though the verse isn't there, or has been, somehow, discounted, or "explained away."

Brian Schwertley, in his essay on this general topic, writes that “the Bible explicitly teaches that only men are to be ordained as deacons (cf. Acts 6:3; 1 Tim. 3:12)” and “Those who believe that women should be ordained deacons in the same office as men deacons have always had difficulty dealing with Acts 6:3 and 1 Timothy 3:12.” You might say that it (along with 3:2) is ‘an inconvenient verse.’

Look at the verse (which mirrors v. 2, which there refers to Elders in a local church). It reads: “Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households” (NASB). There’s no confusion over the subject, diakonoi (masculine nom. pl.), meaning “Deacons.” They are to be the ‘WHAT’ of one ‘WHAT’? They “must be” andres “of one” gunaikos. Literally, the verse reads that ‘Deacons must be men of one woman.’

This speaks first to the moral and sexual purity of the man, which adds to his being “beyond reproach” (3.2, 10). But, the very way it is phrased also presupposes that the person (the ‘Deacon”) in question is a MAN. The Greek words andres and gunaikos are gender-specific, not translatable as the opposite sex or as ‘person.’

Now, using the analogy of Scripture, the teaching of this verse can inform the exegete and other readers as they come to other verses, which refer to Deacons/servants. The translator has guidance for translation, and other readers have more accurate understandings of other verses.

What to do with 1 Tim. 3:11? George Knight (no slouch in his understanding of the Greek) argues for “Deacon’s wives” as a translation of gunaikas, and reads this as a prescription for their behavior. What to do with 1 Tim. 5:3-16? Well, these widowed women over 60 years old, with no available supporting family, may have designated roles as servants in the church (5:9-10), but, while we may see their role as servants, we know that we can’t call them ‘deacons’ (or ‘deaconesses,’ I would argue, as they would normally be seen simply as the female version of Deacon), since God, in His Word, 1 Tim. 3:12, tells us that we CANNOT.

We may have a task, in Christ’s church, in properly understanding what roles that God, in His Word, has set aside for women in His Body. We must seek to obey Him in this regard. However, we must be sure that we don’t, in such desire, go against what He clearly teaches.

Which comes back to the point I made on the other thread: how do we acknowledge, and indeed structure, the various women's ministries in our midst? It's all very well to criticise the proposals to have ordained deaconesses, but this begs the question as to what we should be doing instead.

Ross (& Garver from the previous thread),

I cannot understand why we think of the WIC as dinosaurs--or, dinosauresses. It may very well have been the case that Philly Presbytery has had deaconesses--I understood from Jim Boice that 10th carried them over from Barnhouse's time. That notwithstanding, I left a church with deaconesses and when I read the BCO--that is a pre-requisite for taking vows, right?--it was very clear that the BCO, like Scripture, was "gender specific." On the previous thread I cited BCO 9-3, so here I'll cite the end of 7-2: "In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only."

Our WIC Board works well with our Deacons and they are wonderfully godly women. Doesn't it seem that the current debate/discussion is looking for something different? Something more?


You raise a fair and frequently heard question when you say:

"how do we acknowledge, and indeed structure, the various women's ministries in our midst? It's all very well to criticise the proposals to have ordained deaconesses, but this begs the question as to what we should be doing instead."

If the Bible is our rule of faith and practice, the answer is that we do not have to create quasi-office structures for women, any more than we have to create quasi-offices for non-ordained men and children. We often hear that if we are not going to ordain women to preach or serve as elders, then we have an obligation to tell them what they can do. But the biblical answer is to say that Christians do not need ministry positions in the church in order to have opportunities for ministry. The women are to act and serve like Christians, with abundant biblical examples and precepts to guide them.

We may, of course, establish any number of non-ordained structures for men's, women's, and children's ministry, according to prudence and the general rules of biblical practice. My experience is that most of our churches have formal and semi-formal committee structures where women's gifts are being widely used and where women are vital partners along with the men in the church. My church has women serving effectively in a wide variety of capacities, and the elders receive a great deal of help from women in pastoral care issues that warrant it -- and we do not have deaconesses. So the answer is, I believe, that the church is not required to create offices and structures not mandated by the Bible, that we may create committees and such within which women may have their contributions especially channelled, and that our actions should be guided by biblical principles. One of these principles is the male leadership of the church, which could hardly be more clearly articulated in the Bible than it already is.

We need to be pastorally wise. On the one hand, we need to realize that many women have experiences that make them wonder if their gifts and abilities are really valued by the church. We need to communicate to them that they are full church members and that their contributions are vitally needed and important. Most of us will find that non-ordained positions and committees are useful to this end. But on the other hand, we also need to realize that our society is vastly confused with respect to gender roles and identity, to its great harm. Therefore, we are not serving our churches well if we court ambiguity when it comes to the biblical teaching on gender. It is for this reason that I prefer that we not have deaconesses (much less female deacons). Here, the duck rule is helpful: if it walks like a duck, acts like a duck, is treated like a duck, etc., many people will draw the conclusion that it is a duck. I think the Bible's wholesome teaching on gender distinctions is best served if we do not court ambiguity when it comes to church offices and gender. But, as Tim said in the piece above, I can respect others' difference of opinion on this when they think it better to have deaconesses who function within biblical parameters.

I was a Tenth Presbyterian member and then minister for eleven years. Tenth's approach to deaconesses was exactly as Tim outlined above and there was no real problem with it. The deacons and the deaconesses worked together, and the president and secretary of the diaconale board were men. I can't think of any reason to go beyond this practice -- unless one intends it as a foot-in-the-door challenge to male-only ordination.

Hi Rick, OK, I now see what you are getting at, but we seem happy enough to commission single women as missionaries (or does the PCA's mileage vary here as well?)

Anyway, here's a cautionary tale about how not to do things. Years ago, we had a new deputy pastor at church, who ended up organising a lunch to meet all the singles, plus the marrieds without children. He then told us that the main reason he had for organising the day, was that, "there are a lot of jobs that need doing round the church that aren't being done and the marrieds are too busy. You people have time on your hands - can you help?"

This went down with us like pork roast in a synagogue. Many of us were pretty busy serving in the church anyway, and most of the rest of us were serving elsewhere. So, whatever the church's official rhetoric was about "valuing singles' contributions", what we heard from the leadership was something very different - the main priority the leadership had for us, was simply to consider us as beasts of burden for the leftover jobs that needed doing. Somehow, our own skillsets, and what our own passions for service were, didn't come into it. This applied also to church leadership - the thought of having a single man in leadership was especially out of court, for a whole set of reasons we all knew about but which no-one talked about.

While this concerns singles' ministry, one would not want to see the same mistake made again in women's ministry. You see what I mean? If your rhetoric goes in one direction, but the 'service oppportunities' you provide bear no relation to what the women (in particular) can do, you will eventually have people shift out, to where they think - and where they probably can - serve the Kingdom a lot better. Now, if you have avoided that in the past, great; but others have not.

>So, whatever the church's official rhetoric was about "valuing singles' contributions", what we heard from the leadership was something very different - the main priority the leadership had for us, was simply to consider us as beasts of burden for the leftover jobs that needed doing. Somehow, our own skillsets, and what our own passions for service were, didn't come into it.

Feeding stereotypes about singles being shallow and self-centered doesn't seem very helpful.

At the risk of being the unwelcome guest, I'll raise a question about this notion that the church needs to recognize the gifts of its members. I'm betting there were lots of Christians with gifts whom Paul never mentioned in his letters. So is the idea of recognizing gifts really a matter of desiring publicity, or of wanting therapeutically to be affirmed and empowered?

I think there is a danger here of letting the world and life view mindset swamp the church and become the church with the world and life reach. If the church's ministry is limited to word, sacrament and discipline, then believers gifts may not find an outlet in the formal ministry of the church. That's why God gave us the other spheres -- the state (which could extend to neighborhood, community and little league baseball) and the family. Does the church have to have its nose in everything? Can't Christians get a life apart from the church? (Having to ask these questions makes me feel like I'm back in my fundamentalist home church where the church was everything and the world was "other".)

For the last post -- Darryl Harg should be confused with Darryl Hart. Darned consonants.

>If the church's ministry is limited to word, sacrament and discipline, then believers gifts may not find an outlet in the formal ministry of the church.

Makes me think we should spend more time with Luther's writings on vocation.

No, David Gray, don't you understand? If its not a spiritual ministry, you only have a "common grace" gift, not like the special grace gifts the pastors get. Mike Horton said so.

That was a bit snarky, and unsupportable. Sorry. For a less tendentious reading of Horton, is what I blogged a while back


Mr. Hart,

While I think I understand the point you are making about the role of different gifts and the spheres of their utilization, I'm confused by your definition of the scope of the ministry of the church. If the ministry of the church is limited to word, sacrament and discipline, where does the diaconate fit? Where does 1 Peter 1:10-11 fit into your understanding?

Sorry, that should be 1 Peter 4:10,11


You see what I mean?>>>


Ross, yes I do see what you mean. I have vivid memories of being a single Christian myself. Yes, I do know what you mean.


What the church leadership did may have been well-intentioned, but it was handled in a ham-handed way.


Which comes back to the point I made on the other thread: how do we acknowledge, and indeed structure, the various women's ministries in our midst? >>>>


Ross, it is easy to structure women's ministries, or for women to serve on the mission field, when women know who they are created to be as women. If Christian women are listening to the voice of the goddess within them - as feminism teaches women to do - then they will not be happy until the divine feminine is venerated.


I think that herein lies the problem. Remember that the devil is the first one to whisper the lie in Eve's ear, "ye shall be as gods." Daughters of Eve have been atuned to that lie ever since then.


Christian women must be taught first to listen to the voice of their Father, in whose image women are made. He is speaking through His Son, by the supernatural influences of the Holy Spirit as every thought is being brought captive to the obedience of Christ, as revealed in His Word, then the rest is easy.


The issue of whose voice Eve is listening to must be settled first.

I'm all over David Gray's suggestion about Luther on vocation. It would eliminate so much rubbish about kingdom work, every member ministry, and transformationalism.

As far as the gifts that Peter and Paul recommend for the good of the body, I'm just not sure how to understand their instruction in the context of a high differentiated society where members of urban and suburban congregations only see each other naturally one day a week. If we lived in neighborhoods and interacted as members of a community I think Peter and Paul would make more sense. Christians would be pitching in with each other the way that my neighbors (most of whom are not Christian) do on my block in Philadelphia. In other words, I think we should get rid of the automobile and live closer together. Then all of our gifts would find natural outlets in our communities and not need to be blessed by the church. But I'm a dreamer (and too old for it).

Oops. I forgot to add. I do think the diaconate is a necessary part of the church. And I think that congregations that don't try to take care of their own are not being as faithful as they should. But I don't think the diaconate is the wedge by which we transform society. I think the NT and OT are fairly clear that believers are to take care of their own in diaconal ways. (How Christians as individuals treat their neighbors is a different matter.) I also think it's important to remember that word, sacrament and discipline have been the marks of the church in classic Reformed thought. The diaconate never was. So to elevate mercy ministries through word and deed to the status of one of the marks seems to miss the point of Acts 6 and the Reformed tradition.

Aren't the "marks" something that arises to distinguish true Christian bodies from false?

If you have a diaconate (RCs are great at mercy ministry) but corrupt word, sacrament, and discipline, you have no church.

But the bible also says that if we say we love God (Word? Sacrament? discipline?) and don't love our neighbor, we're liars (and the WS&D are false).

Deeds of mercy are the soul that animates the outward display of Word, Sacrament, and discipline (James 2:26)

You could put deeds of mercy under "discipline" anyway, if you had to. What kind of undisciplined church doesn't have people acting on James 2 and 1 John 3

Mr. Hart,

Is there a writing that expand on your points re: vocation in the preceding post, particularly a comparison of the doctrine of vocation to modern ministry methods? It's really off the point of the original post, but I'd be interested in reading more on this topic if you could provide a link or book.

By the way if one wants a good defense of Deaconesses I would point you to look at the paper on Women and Ministry on the ARP’s website under position statements.

Here is the PDF:


Pduggie, are you suggesting that we no longer have true and false churches and so marks aren't necessary. If deeds of mercy are as important as you say, then why aren't they mentioned when Jesus is telling his apostles what they are supposed to minister? I'm refering to the keys of the kingdom and the Great Commission. The answer could be that the fruit of deeds of mercy will perish. Forgiveness of sins and opening up the kingdom of heaven won't.

Anyway, I'm not sure you can build a case for the diaconate from James 2. You can make a case that all believers are called to love their neighbors and fellow believers. Does that make us all deacons?

Jack's Pipe, in Recovering Mother Kirk I think you'll find an essay or two that unearth what I believe to the Reformed understanding of the Christian ministry. One essay that comes to mind is "Recovering the Keys of the Kingdom in an Age of Equipped Saints."

For anyone who hasn't seen it yet, I posted a long piece on this over at http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2008/02/23/deaconesses-in-the-pca/

I didn't mean to suggest that.

I don't know specifically why jesus doesn't mention them. He does mention deeds of mercy in his warnings about the last judgement. So they are "important". And I think what Jesus sasy about deeds of mercy there indicates that they certainly won't perish, at least in the important sense that Jesus receives them as done unto him.

I'm not meaning to say a formal "diaconate" is the mark of the true church. But the church producing deeds of mercy is a mark of a living church.

Dead orthodoxy exists, and deeds of mercy exits in heterodoxy. So it is not a sufficient mark, but its some kind of indicator. I don't want to decrease its importance by poo pooing it as lacking "mark" status. "mark" status has a narrow applicability.

OR forget everything I said and just fit deeds of mercy under right discipline.

After looking at some of the comments on this thread about mercy ministries, I am beginning to understand why Calvin was known to his students in Geneva, as the "accusative case".


Works of mercy are not the Gospel, but they frequently accompany the Gospel's preaching. As Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy". Do we need any more mandate than that?

I worship in the Vineyard movement. As a movement, it places a high value on works of mercy, because of what those works communicate to the world about the values of the Kingdom and its King.

>I worship in the Vineyard movement.

They are currently in rebellion regarding women holding authority over men in the church...

To David Gray, you wrote about Vineyard:

They are currently in rebellion regarding women holding authority over men in the church...

(a) This is not an issue in the fellowship I am part of.

(b) How does the fact that some Vineyards allow women in leadership, take away from my point about mercy ministries?

>(a) This is not an issue in the fellowship I am part of.

You have placed yourself under the authority of people who are at ease in rebelling against God in this matter.

>(b) How does the fact that some Vineyards allow women in leadership, take away from my point about mercy ministries?

Invoking church bodies that are in overt rebellion is not a powerful way to make a point.

Ross, I believe it is Thomas Aquanis who was known as the "accusative case" not Calvin. Aquanis picked up the nickname as a student.

To David Gray - I think the calling to mercy ministries is independent of the church movement we are placed in. No doubt if I had more time, I could find a more reliable church tradition with a commitment to mercy ministries. Should I infer from your comments that mercy doesn't matter?

David Gilleran - I don't know if Aquinas was ever called the "accusative case" (can't find it in Google) - his nickname was the "dumb ox"! The other point is that if it is only legend that Calvin attracted the nickname he did, it still begs the question as to why he got it at all. Actually, it was a Reformed pastor in NZ who first told me that story about Calvin.

Further to earlier, have a look at this URL, which shows Reformed churches with a commitment to mercy ministries:


And better still:


Ross-Aquanis picked up the nickname 'the accusative case" when he was 12 for the way he questioned everything. That is what given out in my class in seminary on church history in the Middle Ages. I do not think the prof gave a citation, so take it for what it is worth.

Putting deeds of mercy under discipline? Why wouldn't that conflate elders and deacons? Isn't that exactly what Baptists do, who don't have three offices?

I agree that churches that are faithful -- the word "living" is too pietistic for my tastes, as if we can see the condition of the heart -- perform works of mercy. The question these days is what counts as deeds of mercy. Is it low income housing? Is it disabled accessible parking? Is it holding the door for a woman or an elderly man? These days I fear you need to be in an urban church with some sort of program for inner-city poor to obtain the Redeemer-like seal of approval.

One of the head-scratching oddities of this discussion over deacons/deaconesses is that we never seem to consider the actual duties of Biblical deacons. We're reconstructing the diaconal wheel from scratch, going into tabula rasa form when Scripture is actually quite clear on what constitute diaconal works of mercy.

Deacons, both in Acts 6 and in 1 Timothy 5, maintain the list of recipients of church funds. This, besides the ministry of the seven in Acts 6 being described as "diaconal", is the strongest evidence that the seven served in the same office described by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and 5.

The maintenance of such a list inevitably requires the exercise of authority. In fact, truly dealing with diaconal needs demands more consistent exercise of authority than almost anything else done in the normal life of a church. For this reason I suspect our deacons exercise disciplinary authority more regularly than our elders.

Of course, if mercy ministry is doing nice things so the world will like us rather than the ecclesiastical works of mercy described in 1 Timothy 5, then no such authority is necessary.

It makes sense that we would lose sight of who should be a deacon when we've lost sight of the primary Biblical duties of deacons. If we're making up diaconal duties from whole cloth we may as well go ahead and make it an office which women can inhabit. But in the context of 1 Timothy 5 any attempt to divorce diaconal service from the exercise of authority seems ludicrous. Try this experiment: read 1 Timothy 5 and, as you read its description of diaconal duties, consistently ask yourself how the officers making such decisions could possibly be viewed as non-authoritative in the life of the church.

Deacons need to be judging whether widows are deserving or not, whether younger widows should remarry rather than receive assistance from the church, whether children are helping parents as the Bible commands. But no, this isn't authority. This isn't discipline. This is just wonderful diaconal niceness....

David Bayly

But 1 Tim. 5 isn't written as a separate chapter for Deacons. It's written to Timothy, a minister of the word. He's the one who's supposed to figure out who is and who is not a deserving widow. Acts 6 gives no greater basis for saying that deacons did more than served. I'm not denying that deacons may have some authority but in my own experience, deacons in the Presbyterian world generally conduct their work in consultation with session. In contrast, in communions like the CRC the deacons and elders sit together on Council which has emerged as a kind of super ruling body that covers all aspects of congregational life.

>These days I fear you need to be in an urban church with some sort of program for inner-city poor to obtain the Redeemer-like seal of approval.


Dear Darryl,

Because I think we are generally aligned on this issue, may I attempt a degree of friendly asperity in my response?

Sure, we can say that the instructions in 1 Timothy are only meant only for Timothy personally. Therefore when (a few verses after he commands Timothy personally to make up a list of widows) he writes, "Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled," he does so because Timothy's a slave.

Paul tells Timothy how to enroll widows because Timothy's enrolling widows. Paul tells Timothy how to live as a slave because Timothy's a slave.

But Timothy is neither enrolling widows himself, nor is he a slave. He is teaching and leading those who are distributing bread and determining lists and those who are slaves.

This is the key point of identification between Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3 and 6: the apostles (and those sent in the apostles' stead) are not to be serving tables and becoming embroiled in the disputes and judgments such service entails, they are to raise up others for the task.

In Christ,


David, I agree with your last post. Those serving tables or administering such service are different from elders. That's why I have difficulty with your previous post regarding deacons being engaged in discipline of the formal church variety. If you mean the diaconate assists members with the discipline of living within their means, of course. But I sensed you wanted to elevate the diaconate to a level on a part with elders and pastors.

Dear Darryl,

No, I don't want to elevate it that far. But there is still the untouched question in this debate of what constitutes the nature of the office of overseer that immediately precedes Paul's commands about deacons in 1 Timothy 3. That an "overseer" is also an elder seems clear Scripturally (Titus 1, Acts 20, 1 Peter 5). But what the overseer/elder does is unclear--beyond the fact that it is distinct from the deacon in requiring the ability to teach.

Could the Biblical diaconate be the RE of Presbyterian tradition? Presbyterians have traditionally opposed the Baptists in this. But the Westminster Divines are refreshingly unopinionated on this issue (in comparison with many Presbyterians today) when they address the office of ruling elder in the addendum to the Confession, "The Presbyterial Form of Church Government":

"AS there were in the Jewish church elders of the people joined with the priests and Levites in the government of the church; so Christ, who hath instituted government, and governors ecclesiastical in the church, hath furnished some in his church, beside the ministers of the word, with gifts for government, and with commission to execute the same when called thereunto, who are to join with the minister in the government of the church. Which officers reformed churches commonly call Elders."

They appeal to the OT and tradition rather than 1 Timothy 3 or any other NT passage to confirm the RE position.

But it remains a distinct possibility that the deacons of 1 Timothy 3 correspond to the REs of presbyterian poility today. And for this reason we should be loath to diminish the real authority of the office.

Scripture never describes who wields ultimate disciplinary authority in the Church. Paul himself delivers over to Satan and encourages Timothy to do likewise. Do the pastors do it? Do the elders, the deacons, the whole church?

Interestingly, the calling of elder/overseer demands the ability to manage a household well with all dignity because the man who can't manage his own household won't be capable of caring for the Church of Christ. But though we view this as a specific statement of the authority of elders, we tend to ignore the requirement a few verses on that deacons "likewise" be men of dignity who also manage their households well. It seems arbitrary to acknowledge the need to manage a household well as connoting authority for the elder but not for the deacon.

In Christ,



You said, "Acts 6 gives no greater basis for saying that deacons did more than served."

The apostles did not appoint deacons in order to do the footwork of handing out food. They appointed them to decide who to hand out food to. The problem was not that the daily distribution was becoming too much work for the apostles. The problem was that a complaint was being brought to them about fairness in the daily distribution, and that they did not have the time to do table-serving-logistics. Are you claiming that up until this point, the 12 apostles were doing all the daily distribution for all the widows in Jerusalem? And furthermore, that 7 men were going to do it hereafter?

...and furthermore, that these men needed to be "full of the Holy Spirit..." in order to do it?

Just a quick note, in case people wonder, as to how the terms 'elder' and 'deacon' are used in the baptistic traditions.

[1] In the Southern baptist and Pentecostal churches, the term 'elder' was for many years a synonym for 'pastor' - ie, your paid clergyman. 'Deacon' was used for a member of the lay leadership, generally elected onto a church board.

[2] Now, the term 'elder' has morphed into something very like its Presbyterian or Plymouth Brethren meaning: senior lay leaders of a church, sometimes chosen by the pastor or the current eldership team. It is not unknown for such positions to be then subject to a ratification vote. The remaining positions on a leadership or board may then be elected, and these people are often called 'deacons', although the spiritual leadership is assigned to the elders. This was how the leadership in the Anglican church I was part of, functioned, although not with that set of job titles. Neither elder nor deacon are considered to be ordained ministries.

I also am interested about Rich's comment above about being "full of the Spirit" - perhaps that qualification needs more attention?

A church I used to attend is probably going to leave the PCA over the issue of roles for women. Is this an honorable thing to do, or shameful?

Here's my spin: I liken this to church discipline, only the discipliner is the denomination, and the member being disciplined is the church in question. The member can accept the discipline and be better for it, or he can avoid the discipline by leaving. Most of us wouldn't think too highly of the latter choice for an actual person, but what of a church?

I am troubled and saddened by this matter.

It is not necessarily shameful if the church is leaving the PCA because of its own convictions, or because those convictions have shifted. If we want the right to exercise our convictions, then we must be prepared to extend that right to others. There is a possible parallel in Paul and Barnabas, at one point, parting company over the "discipline issue" of John Mark.

So do convictions legitimize our choices? Or just explain them?

Wayside PCA has begun sponsoring a web site to organize all the links and documents dealing with female deacons or deaconesses in the PCA. Any links you can send us will be added to the site.


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