Brothers, we must not buy into this...

(Tim) Here's an interview with the Rev. Dr. Tim Keller, the senior minister of Manhattan's Redeemer Presbyterian Church which is likely the most influential congregation of our own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. The occasion of the interview was the arrival of Dr. Keller's book at No. 18 on the New York Times bestseller list. The interview was done by Anthony Sacramone, editor of Richard John Neuhaus' First Things to which I'm a charter subscriber. I note this because I'm hopeful it will discourage readers from coming to the wrong conclusion as to why I say the following...

Although many of the pastors I love and respect look to Dr. Keller as the model preacher for our age, I do not. And of course, my purpose in saying this is to warn shepherds of the consequences of accepting Dr. Keller's preaching paradigm so clearly presented in this interview...

Like most evangelical evangelists of the twentieth century, Dr. Keller seems to be convinced that the best method of leading souls to Christ is to avoid calling men and women to repentance at some of the places our cultural idolatries are most evident.

Across the country are ministries that employ very sophisticated rhetoric and the most careful choice of words to communicate well with people in their twenties and thirties and these men point to a track record they claim is stellar in leading these souls to Christ. But, again and again, it's evident such men don't preach on sensitive subjects.

What subjects?

As you read the interview with Dr. Keller, note that Redeemer leads the pack in tightly parsing the PCA's Book of Church Order in such a way as to slip under the wire of non-compliance in her practice of women and men together serving as deacons, and also that Redeemer uses women to serve the Lord's Supper.

Is this wrong because we need to maintain male perquisites and resent churches not doing their part in stemming the tide of feminism sweeping through the church today?

No, not at all.

It's wrong because neither evangelism nor discipleship can be done today without calling men and women to repent of their rebellion against God in all areas of sexuality. Anthropology is our Waterloo and those pastors who keep a safe distance from it are not evangelizing or discipling anyone.

Recently I've been reading an excellent book on missions titled Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? Buy and read it now. You won't be disappointed.

Today, we need to stop fawning over megachurch pastors with rich churches, slick publicity machines, and large book deals. Instead, let's return to the book of Acts and model our ministries after the Apostle Paul. As I've said too many times, now: I find that most men calling attention to themselves and claiming to be effective evangelists are not noteworthy for their conformity to St. Paul's missionary methods, preaching, writing, or pastoral care. Rather, they seem to be more in line with Bishop N. T. Wrong who posits, cavils, suggests, and wonders in a Trinitarian, theistic, and biblical direction.

I'm not against the thoughtful, intelligent, sensitive, and articulate presentation of the Gospel as long as sheep are not left thinking self-congratulatory thoughts about what a privilege it is to sit under such thoughtful, intelligent, sensitive, and articulate preaching. Rather, they should be left with a soul that is covered in dust and ashes and crying out before God, "I'm wicked and hopeless! What must I do to be saved?"

(The Apostle Paul said to the Ephesian elders) "And now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:22-35)


I'm left with the impression you're calling Keller a wolf.

Mistake on my part?

Yes, a mistake.

I'm calling us to hunger after, and follow, the faithfulness of the Apostle Paul in the specifics of his ministry. He sums up that ministry speaking about not hesitating to say to his sheep anything the Lord told him to say. All of us are challenged by the Apostle Paul's claims as we look at our own work in and out of the pulpit. It seems to me that, like the rest of us, Dr. Keller needs to hear the Apostle Paul's exhortation because failure in this matter leaves our sheep exposed and vulnerable.

On the other hand, it seems axiomatic to me that the PCA, like every other denomination ever in existence, has its share of wolves. Isn't this what Augustine meant when he said, "Many sheep without, many wolves within?"

Finally, even in cases where we are left with no faithful option but to defrock a fellow presbyter for his refusal to repent of false doctrine or practice, it seems wise to maintain, and sometimes employ, the distinction between treating a man as a wolf and declaring him a wolf.

I am somewhat puzzled why there is not more response to this post?

I would gander that many are following Keller like little lemmings and are afraid to recognize it.

"many are following Keller like little lemmings and are afraid to recognize it."

Ben, lemmings are just doing what they're told which is far better than what we do.

Knowing very little about Keller, I personally have nothing more to contribute. ;)

I have read the interview with Tim Keller. One point he seemed to be making is that the older cultural apologetics (Chesterton, Lewis, maybe even Schaeffer) are not connecting with the modern generations because the latter's thought patterns are so at a remove from the Gospel. Hence his point about his book being "Mere Christianity for dummies".

Forty years ago Francis Schaeffer discussed the need for what he called pre-evangelism, in dealing with what we now call 'post-moderns'. I wonder if it would be more accurate to say that we have to engage in that pre-evangelism before we can engage people with what you describe as "St Paul's missionary methods". This may be what Tim is doing, so would appreciate someone's confirmation or otherwise.

As to the issue of anthropology and men's and women's roles, I suspect that we still need to do a lotta housecleaning amongst ourselves first.

David Gilleran

In answer to your quiry , over the last couple of years I've been too busy dealing with issues that impact the doctrine of "a standing or falling church"- but I havn't been completely unaware of other things going on around us-later this Fall Crossway will release a book the I co-edited with Ron Gleason that will address some of the issues that are reflected in this post.

Well, I am new to this blog, but this post seems rather harsh. I wonder, have you attempted to communicate any of this to Rev. Keller himself? He is a very charitable man and I am sure he would take up any substantive points you may have.

In your attempt to support the claim that Keller does not challenge a given culture on the "sensitive" subjects you cite the issue of Redeemer's practice concerning female deaconesses and the serving of the lord's supper. I must ask, have you heard Keller preach on sex (not gender) at all? He has often challenged the prevailing cultural winds of New York and strongly argued for all sexual activity to be confined to the covenant of marriage. As a former New Yorker, I can assure you that this is a radical claim. In a similar vein, Keller is known as one who preaches dramatically more forcefully than many on the question of suffering and God's redemptive work in such a way as to challenge to commonly held assumption that we (americans, westerners, etc...) should be immune to and insulated from any sort of pain. In fact, I would venture that the growth of Redeemer could be largely attributed to Keller's refusal to dodge the question of suffering in the modern world, even given how difficult a topic it is to face.

Hence, citing these two places wherein Keller preaches with the Scriptures against cultural norms is an attempt to provoke you towards a more precise critique. It seems that what you are ultimately concerned with is the work of women in the liturgical life of Redeemer. If that is the case, I assure you that Keller (and plenty of others) have particular reasons for why they do what they do, and that those reasons can be (and should be) made explicit. That argument is yet to be had, but it is simply not true that Keller avoids preaching on "sensitive" issues.

Is the issue about serving the supper mitigated in a church where the plates of bread are passed down a pew-row? If that is permissable, what's the issue with deaconesses holding the plate in different contexts?

All I see in the BCO is "here the bread is to be distributed". Seems like a lot of liberty on how that happens.

All I see in the BCO is "here the bread is to be distributed". Seems like a lot of liberty on how that happens.

Your critique of Tim sounds a lot like many of the criticisms of the Federal Vision that are made by people who haven't taken the time to understand it.

Steven, who sounds like he has been stranded somewhere on a remote island in the South Pacific for the past couple of years, should be excused for his not knowing that the FV long ago relinquished that excuse in favor of accusing their critics of being 'Bapyterians' and in association 'illegale' with all kinds of foul spirits.

>Forty years ago Francis Schaeffer discussed the need for what he called pre-evangelism, in dealing with what we now call 'post-moderns'. I wonder if it would be more accurate to say that we have to engage in that pre-evangelism before we can engage people with what you describe as "St Paul's missionary methods". This may be what Tim is doing, so would appreciate someone's confirmation or otherwise.

We have replaced evangelism with pre-evangelism.

Pre-evangelism, whatever it is and whatever its value may be, is not evangelism. (Hence the Pre-fix)

The Athenians had all of the characteristics of post-moderns. Did Paul model the pre-evangelism advocated today when he preached to them in the Areopagus? We would never be so unreasonable as to tell our first-time listeners that they were ignorant, that God would not overlook their ignorance, or that they must repent. We would not be willing to endure their sneers when we introduced them to the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead.

Convinced that a good defense is the best offense, we have chosen different approach.

Let the women serve communion. This will prove our reasonableness and help placate them over not being allowed to be elders. Eventually, after being allowed to serve communion for many years, they will begin to call their husbands “lord”.

Don’t acknowledge any judgment/warning from God in abortion, Katrina, and Al Gore. We can use these as opportunities to show our humanitarianism and global sensitivity. People will come to Christ in droves as we give diapers to the crisis pregnancy center, rebuild New Orleans and recycle our bottles.

When will we offend? When will we set the hook? When will we demand absolute obedience to His commands? When will we bear the reproach of association with Him?

(Jeremiah 8:20)

“Harvest is past, summer is ended, And we are not saved.”

To David Curell - ten minutes tooling around in Google reveal:

[1] A number of listings of Reformed churches with a concern for pre-evangelism (the term is used variously to include apologetics or sheer relationship-building); and,

[2] A good number of Reformed churches with a concern for mercy ministries. You can view an example here:

Compassion is a more powerful apologetic than you might appreciate.

[3] In terms of pre-evangelism. I spent a couple of years working in a foreign student ministry programme. Our first priority in that ministry was to build relationship, because no-one would have bothered to listen had we 'opened fire' with the approach you suggest. Now, in time, it did lead to sharing the Gospel with a number of people, but we had to do it out of relationship first. Indeed, it is out of relationship with a Christian that most people come to faith in Christ.

[4] I take your point that the Athenians of Paul's have much in common with today's post-moderns; but one critical difference is that Paul did not have to build relationship with the people first in order to get a hearing. We do.

[5] It would be unfortunate indeed if the view of the world that one of the great contradictions in terms in our world, besides Microsoft Works, was "compassionate Calvinist". In what way is compassion mutually exclusive with preaching repentance?


1. This is great if they are actually evangelizing at some point.

2. Compassion is wonderful. I’m all for it. I was ordained through the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati Ohio. They wrote the book (literally) on servant evangelism. My point is that all the mercy and service in the world cannot replace preaching repentance.

3. What do you mean by “open fire”? I told a friend today that if he did not forgive the one who had grievously sinned against him neither would God forgive him. My words were offensive. I’m not sure where this man is on the path of salvation. This is not the first time I have quoted Jesus to him. It is not the first time I have “opened fire” on him. It is not the first time he has been offended. When was my pre-evangelism with him completed so that my evangelism could commence? You might try to say that I am only able to do this because he is my friend. To which I would respond, “When, in the course of our friendship, do you think I started telling him the difficult things?”

4. No, we don’t. At least no more than Paul did. Sometimes I think we Christians secretly love ‘post-modernism’ because it gives us an excuse never to call people to obedience to the commands we find particularly gnarly.

5. Preaching repentance is compassion.



Pastor Johnson, I was not speaking of you in particular. I thought this post would generate some pro and con posts about the whole Redeemer movement within the PCA.

To David C - I understand your point [2] - I actually worship in a Vineyard Church myself - and it seems your concern all along has been that the preaching repentance part of things is being ignored. That I do understand.

On and by the way - I know I have come in late, but why would women serving Communion be an issue? (This to the moderators and David C). I could understand it if it were a case of women leading in a devotional at Communion, but for actual serving of the elements, it is not clear to me why it would be mentioned in your Book of Discipline at all.


The WCF says "IV. There are only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained" (Ch. 27) Now, I take this to mean that the person presiding over the Lord's Table must be the teaching elder. This doesn't mean, however, that he cannot be assisted by others. In our church, the elders always do this. This makes sense, as they are also ordained (but to the office of ruling elder). I think the danger in allowing women to serve communion is that the sex role differences in the church are being blurred by allowing a woman, who cannot be ordained by the church, to serve communion. Moreover, if women cannot exercise authority over men, how could dispensing the body and blood of Jesus Christ not be an act of authority over others? These are my thoughts.


As a younger ministry leader in the PCA, I feel saddened by the tone of your critique, as well as the generalizations about Tim Keller's methods in ministry. Is this the way PCA elders defend the purity of the Church? Do we destroy other men ministering the Gospel in order to make our point without practicing legitimate BCO discipline?

Sad and Hopeful

Yes, I too find this "critique" of Tim Keller uncharitable.

The BCO has an explicit allowance for Churches to be particular Churches without having deacons. You may see using this provision in Tim's (or Jim Boice's) case to be exploitative, but I would think you would be in the minority. Tim's diaconal practice (along with other variations) has been informally allowed in dozens if not hundreds of PCA Churches for decades with only certain individuals and rare Presbyteries thinking that these practices were specifically disallowed by a good-faith reading of the BCO. The Korean Presbytery Churches make this allowance, as do most of the former RCPUS, and a growing number of younger Churches.

But, what should be remembered, and what should enable us to be charitable to others (especially those who have taken the same ministerial vows as us) is to remember that those who limit the diaconal office to males only, and those who do not, do so for good biblical reasons. I would be asking you to violate your conscience to force you to ordain (or even commission) a female deacon. But, the same would be true in the other direction.

Those of us who hold positions different from yours don't do so to "make a point" but because we believe we have good biblical and symbolic reasons to do so. Our Church does not ordain either male of female deacons, not because we want to blur gender distinctions, but because the ordination vows for the office of deacon in the BCO blurs authority/leadership distinctions. Even if we had no qualified females for deacon, we would not ordain the males using the current BCO vows because they ask the congregation to take a vow of submission to the deacons that elevates the concept of deacon to an extra-biblical understanding on one hand, and lowers the biblical idea of ordination on the other.

Yet, while I strenuously disagree with the Waterloo analogy, I do think anthropology is an important issue for Evangelical Churches to confront. But, I think the "battle" if you could call it that, needs to be waged in the larger culture, dealing with the presuppositions of power politics, individual rights, appropriate pathways of justice for marginalized classes, etc., not by waging a scorched-earth campaign within the walls of the Church and being dismissive towards Pastors who agree with us on 99% of our doctrinal positions. I think that we can come to different positions on the intramural ecclesiastical debate and still lock arms in the Gospel and present a unified voice for the Gospel into the unbelieving culture. There are some unbelievers who will dismiss us because of our "antiquated" or "misogynistic" views on gender (yes, they will dismiss me too because I don't think females can be ordained to the Pastoral office so I certainly don't want to have female deacons to show how "progressive" I am) but almost all will dismiss us if they hear us talking to each other in uncharitable ways. In other words, as we converse in public (and private) forums, and argue about biblical data and practices, we should ask whether the average non-believer would sense the aroma of Christ in our interaction...would they believe that we love one another.

As for the issue of women "serving" communion, it's difficult for me to relate to thinking this is a problem. My 6 year old son, who is not even a communicant member "serves" communion when he walks it down the aisle of the pew we are sitting on and hands off the tray to the person next to him. After a Pastor has set apart the elements, according to BCO, the person who then distributes it should be of little consequence. If we were to limit the distribution, the only logical limitation, should not refer to gender but ordination. The only person rightfully ordained to administer the sacraments is the Pastor, not the Ruling Elder. So, if in your mind distributing is conflated with administering, then ONLY the Pastor should do it not any male. An RE is no more qualified by his ordination vows to distribute the elements by this definition than a non-ordained male or female. (I think any should be able to distribute but not administer the Lord's Supper.) Someone above said that it blurs gender distinctions for a female to distribute the elements because she is not able to be ordained to the office of RE but 95% of the males in your congregation are not able to be ordained as an RE because of other qualifications. From my perspective, it sounds very subjective to say that because a woman cannot be an RE that she should therefore not distribute the elements because it blurs gender roles. By this reasoning, it would blur maturity, character, parenting, and reputation distinctions to allow a non-ordained male to do it.

Dear Brian,

A couple of things you have said are problematic.

First, you have been very confusing with your discussion in the first 2 paragraphs. You to have said (correct me if I'm wrong):

1. The BCO states *explicitly allows* churches to not have deacons

2. Tim's (and others') diaconal practice is *informally allowed* and almost everyone thinks it is ok

3. There are good biblical positions stating both that the *office* of deacon is open and that it is closed to women.

4. You would be asking us to violate our consciences if you forced us to ordain women to the office of deacon. Similarly we would be asking you to violate your conscience if we forced you to *not* ordain women to the office of deacon.

1 & 2 above at best have nothing to do with each other. In fact it seems evident to me that they are contradictory. By putting 1 first, you imply that Tim Keller's practice is to not have deacons, which is explicitly allowed by the BCO. When in reality his practice is to have both men and women serve as deacons. You then say that this practice is "informally allowed." Which is it, informal or explicit? Well of course, it depends on which practice you are talking about. What we are talking about has nothing to do with not having deacons, and everything to do with having men and women serve as deacons, which is at best "informally allowed" and is certainly contrary to the intent of the BCO.

3 & 4 are similarly messy. Setting aside your use of the word "office" I think I agree with #3. However, you bring in #4 and I just have to laugh. This is not about people forcing others to ordain or not ordain women to the office of deacon. This is about the fact that the BCO specifically forbids it! The only way that Keller et al have been able to get around their problem is by refusing to ordain deacons at all! Which leads me to ask why one would call it an office?

As for your fourth paragraph, if anthropology is an important issue that needs to be addressed in the culture and that we need to "present a unified voice for the Gospel into the unbelieving culture", how do you expect us to do that if Tim Keller never speaks into the culture on the issue of anthropology? You're begging the question.

Finally, your last paragraph. I have a couple of questions. Do you believe in church discipline which could result in the barring of a member from the Lord's table? If so, whose responsibility is it to bar that person? If the ruling elders have nothing to do with the administration of the sacraments then why are they the ones who determine whether a person is fit or not to partake in those sacraments?

The reality is that you're being quite cute when you say that your six year old "serves" communion. Nobody would confuse him with the person standing at the end of the aisle watching who is and who isn't taking communion, and you know it. By removing the elders from distributing the elements, even if you believe in church discipline you end up saying "but we aren't watching over the table as an elders board, so we'll never know if you take communion anyway." Quite the contrast to Calvin, who was willing to risk his life and defy the civil government in order to protect the purity of the table and the soul of the man who had been barred from the table. Instead today, we don't fence the table and we don't even know who is taking communion. We just hand the stuff off to any old group of individuals and that's that. What do we do when the man under discipline looks defiantly at the teenage girl who just handed him the plate and he takes bread and eats? Nothing. We'll never know. So much for administering the Lord's Supper.

There is a dimension to one issue under discussion here that most seem studiously to ignore: the iconography, we might call it, of the sex of those in worship. This aspect of worship in ostensibly non-liturgical, anti-sacramental enviornments nevertheless generates voltage which can jump the shorts in the congregation's spiritual wiring, delivering unpleasant shocks.

The service of communion, discussed above, provides unpleasant shocks. I suspect that one reason folks end up talking past one another, to everyone's frustration, is this: the terms of reference are muddy, or various proponents of this or that practice dismiss the unexpressed notions of those whom they critique.

If the sex of the minister is iconic in ANY way, it is mandatory for the community to have a common understanding about how/why/when his iconic function affects a ritual which so closely follows the pattern our Lord expressly delivered to the leaders of the Church (i.e. the Supper). In lesser ways, other iconic dimensions to the minister's ministry (preaching, for example) must clearly be understood.

Lex orandi lex credendi exerts its power most powerfully among those who ignore it, usually to their own harm.

I'd like to point out that, while the BCO does state that women are forbidden from holding the office of deacon in Scripture, it is almost certainly wrong. Women are forbidden to "teach or have authority over a man." There is not a positive statement in Scripture identifying deacons as teachers or rulers. There is not a positive statement which restricts women from the diaconate. The arguments against women in the diaconate are either from inference (Scripture seems to have and expect only male deacons) or from ecclesiology (we make the congregation vow to obey them). While Keller might be violating the spirit of the BCO, he is arguably within Scriptural bounds.

As for women serving the elements in communion, I just don't see how it makes a difference when it comes to discipline. The way the BCO is written, the ultimate authority in the Lord's Supper is the pastor, not RE's. And even if we assume that the RE's are actively fencing the table, the issue under discussion here is NOT that the women are not RE's but that they're WOMEN. No one notices if I pull one of our deacons to help serve communion (he doesn't have disciplinary authority).

Has anyone noticed that Scripture is completely silent on who serves communion? If Keller ever gets brought up on charges (and I'm not suggesting that) it will be for something like this rather than selling his sermons (which the Word seems to directly address). Sigh.

The pastors here lay down the biblical law. From a purely objective view of the text (I am a heathenus unbeliever), St. Paul states absolutely clearly that women should not even speak in church. It is disgraceful for them to do so. He was not even referring to women teaching, he was flat out saying women should put a sock in it in the house of the lord. In Timothy it is stated that women should learn in all submissiveness. This again is unambiguous. Taking any part of the ceremony, any position beyond strictly being present is a violation of Pauline teaching. The opression of women is one area, one of the few, in which the bible is reasonably consistant. Hardly surprising though. It was written by a bunch of mysoginists who wanted power over others and claimed divine inspiration to get it. Poor Cheryl got quite the rebuke a while back for having the gall to do exactly what male pastors do. Voice an opinion. In the grandiose land of the lord, having a penis gives you special powers. Laughable. You fellows go right ahead and keep arguing about who gets where what costume and who gets to feed flesh and blood to the congregation in some twisted cannabalistic ritual. Your voices will grow dim as the world leaves you behind.

[To get us back on theme]:

In the Anglican church I frequently visit, the priest leads at Communion, serves a team, who then serve us - and we then serve each other. Would the young woman seated next to me, who presented me with the elements the last time I was there, therefore be out of order in terms of the BCO?

In my Pentecostal days (and this was in a fairly complementarian church), serving communion was all about whoever happened to be around and handy. I think the real question lies in the way that the BCO is cast in this matter, and whether it needs to be written in the way it is. But then, I am not Presbyterian, and do not come from a background where access (or otherwise) to Communion is treated as a disciplinary issue.

I wonder if Tim Keller's real problem, being in New York, is in being able to present to the women there a Biblical expression of women's ministry which does not turn on them being wives and mothers, as so many of them will not be. Any ideas as to how he should go about it?


Thanks for your comments and challenges, they're helpful.

I am much more concerned with the 'tone' of the rhetoric surrounding this debate in the next year and a half than I am with a specific outcome. It is important that we learn to have substantial debate while displaying charity and obvious kindness to those we disagree with, and I hope this blog, which seems to have so much invested in this debate, will model charitable debate by keeping the interaction about the issues rather than assumed motivations or presumed implications.

Now, let me interact with your comments a bit because from reading your response to mine, I think I must have been less clear on a few points than I thought I was. You summarized my points:

"1. The BCO states *explicitly allows* churches to not have deacons

2. Tim's (and others') diaconal practice is *informally allowed* and almost everyone thinks it is ok

3. There are good biblical positions stating both that the *office* of deacon is open and that it is closed to women.

4. You would be asking us to violate our consciences if you forced us to ordain women to the office of deacon. Similarly we would be asking you to violate your conscience if we forced you to *not* ordain women to the office of deacon."

1. Let me withdraw "explicit" as it is not the correct term. The allowance I speak of is from silence in that a particularized Church does not have to have deacons in order to be a functioning Church. In other words, the BCO does have a category for Churches who do not have BCO-9 deacons. I know of at least a few Churches who have been particularized for decades who have a ministry arm whose function is basically that of a diaconate but are called "Stephen's Ministers" or something similar. I am not saying this is the best ecclesiology, but it's certainly allowable under the BCO.

2. I'm not sure that your summary is entirely faithful; it seems to magnify my point a bit. There are 5 basic categories in the PCA that I have heard articulated regarding having an unordained, mixed-gender diaconate: 1) those who think the practice is unbiblical and specifically proscribed by the BCO and should therefore be eradicated 2) those who think the practice is unbiblical but that the BCO was written in such a way to allow a reasonable variation of practice. 3) those who think that the BCO is unbiblical in this area but has historically allowed a reasonable variation of practice and so needn't be changed. 4) those who think that the BCO is unbiblical in this area, and as such should be altered to explicitly allow for a reasonable variation of practice and an alternative ordination vow. 5) those who think the whole question is mute and that we should really be debating two office vs. three office question and/or the ordination of women to elder and/or pastor. This blog seems to advocate position 1 (and posits grave consequences otherwise). I am #4. My unscientific polling suggests that neither #1 or #4 (and definitely not #5) are the majority position of the PCA. The arc of the Bell Curve on this question (maybe 60-70% among TE's and RE's, greater among TE's) is made up of #2 and #3. I could be way off on this, but I think we're both in the minority.

3. I don't think that the Bible is as clear on the deacons issue that those in camp #1 argue. Thus I think a strict-substrictionist reading of BCO-9 is unwarranted on biblical grounds. But, I think the PCA has generally read the BCO in this way and thus has allowed Korean Churches, former RCPUS Churches, and others to practice a reasonable variety of views. But, with regard to the thing you took issue with, that *both* views have good biblical grounding, I don't mean that both are equally valid but that both are easily deducible from scant biblical data. Both you and I, as we look at the few biblical passages that address purpose and place of the diaconate, and even fewer that relate to the gender of the diaconate, both of us are reaching opposing conclusions that we each think are biblically valid. Now, only ONE of us is actually correct, or NEITHER of us, if we could actually hold our views and practice up to the mind of God. But, not being able to do that, keeping in mind the actual variations of informally allowed practices already present in the PCA, the limited attention that the Bible gives to this issue, and because it is not addressed in the ecumenical creeds or the Confession (ie, it's a secondary or tertiary issue), I think that there is room in the PCA (and certainly the Church) for a variety of practices.

4. I'm not sure why you find #4 laughable (and I'm quite sure it's not helpful or loving to treat someone's views in this way). But, I'm very serious when I frame the issue in this way. Because those in camps #2-5 above are willing to live with camp #1 in the Church, but it seems for some reason that camp #1 can't abide camps #2-5. Asking someone to violate their conscience is indeed a serious matter, it must be reserved for the most essential matters. But, it seems that those in camp #1 are not only absolutely certain of their views, but also see a male-only diaconate as being of utmost priority to the purity of the Church, and are thus willing to ask their brothers to violate their conscience in order to comply to a narrow view of the BCO held by a minority. For me, I believe it is unbiblical to disallow women from serving on the diaconate, but I also realize that you would be violating your conscience to have a mixed gender diaconate in your Church, so I'm not going to ask you to do it. But, not content with being allowed your minority view, you are asking me to not only allow you freedom of practice, but to adopt your practice. Alternatively, I think there's room for both of us in the PCA.

Now, you asked "why call it an office?" Because it is an office. The only reason Churches like ours (or Redeemer I presume) do not ordain our diaconate is not because we do not think it is an office but because the ordination vows for the deacons in the BCO are inappropriate. I'd be happy to ordain a woman to the diaconate with a differently worded vow, but I'm not going to ordain either male or female with the current vows because there's no differentiation of vows between elder and deacon - the congregation is asked to obey both in the same way! The deacon is an officeholder, but it is a different officeholder from elder or pastor.

Finally, you asked, "do you think that Church discipline could result in barring a person from receiving the Lord's Supper?" Yes, and I'm not sure what in my post would have led you to believe otherwise. Though, I think in this section you inadvertently make my point for me that if we are going to restrict the distribution of the Lord's Supper then it should not be restricted along gender lines but along ordination lines. A male who is not an RE cannot stand at the end of the pew and "bar" anyone from the Lord's Supper because they do not know who is under Church discipline anymore than a female. So, if you are entrusting the "barring" to those who are distributing the elements around the congregation, then only TE/RE's should distribute because they're the only ones in a position to know who is an isn't a communicant member and who is under Church discipline. But, I don't think this is necessary or even appropriate. The only "fencing" or "barring" prescribed by the BCO is in the minister's setting the elements apart and describing the purpose and nature of the supper. If someone partakes of the elements after having been specifically told not to by previous communication from the Session and now by the minister's remarks, they eat to their own destruction, and this should be preventative enough. Besides, even if you practiced some "bouncer" type of fencing where the RE's physically prevented someone from eating, this doesn't ensure the purity of the table. A person under discipline from another Church could come to your Church and eat and no one would ever know. A person who is in the midst of an adulterous affair but attends a Church that doesn't practice Church discipline could be visiting. Or parents who believe their young child should receive communion might secretly allow them to eat. Having "bouncers" at the end of the row, male or female, doesn't prevent any of this.

Now, I would love to think that you will read all of my wonderfully wise and coherent thoughts and change your views, but of course this will not happen. And it might be because my views are not perfectly sound, but infected with my own finitude and even sin. But, we should both be able to first of all, be charitable with one another's views, putting the best "spin" on them. And secondly, we ought to realize that having a difference of opinion on the makeup of the diaconate should not prevent us from locking arms together as we minister to our people and into the culture. You ask, "how?" Well, the same way PCA types, even the most conservative among us are able to lock arms with Baptists like Mark Dever and John Piper. Our disagreements with them are tremendously more significant than a disagreement about the gender of the diaconate, yet there are all sorts of "conversations" and working partnerships with people like them for the forward progress of the Gospel. There is a "unified voice" in the midst of theological and ecclesiastical diversity. (John Frame's Evangelical Reunion is instructive here.)

Oh, and sorry for being "cute", it's not deliberate, I was just born this way. :)

Dear Brian,

It's my conviction that the difference over deaconesses between many of us in the PCA is actually a much deeper difference over the nature and meaning of sex. In other words, churches and pastors who believe the proper understanding of the order of creation can be accurately summarized within the Church as "women can do anything non-ordained men can do" are now eating away at the nature of ordained office, and it will never--I repeat, never--end there. Mark my words.

That is the reason for my concern and I stand by it. It's no secret sex is a battleground in our culture and it would be an historical novelty if cultural battlegrounds stayed out of the church--even a nice, orthodox, presbyterian, reformed church with biblical commitments like... the CRC?


I agree with you that sex is a battleground, but I wonder if the women are getting shot to pieces here. I have to agree with Brian about the issue of discipline. Discipline is not about physically keeping someone from the table, it's about proper bringing of the Word to bear in adminstering the Supper and responding (mostly privately) as a Session to the needs of a sinner. I've barred a fair amount of people from the Table, and never done it once in the Supper itself. We do it in private and it holds.

As a lay-historian, I find the whole female deacon thing a little nauseating. While there have been periods and places when the Church didn't have deaconesses between the apostolic period and the 20th century, we didn't discover that women were barred from the diaconate until the rise of feminism. The two women that Pliny tortured to death in 117 weren't feminists, they were martyrs. The Church had deaconesses because is wasn't proper for men to have the kind of interactions with women that most pastors have nowadays.

We've let our response to radical feminism define how we treat our women and how we frame our ecclesiology. The question that many educated women in the PCA are asking is what can they do without condemnation. If our answer is "be stay at home moms and bake cookies" they're going to look for churches that have a place for a Phoebe and a Lydia.

Is is possible to agree with the Church Fathers and Calvin on deaconesses and not be a sell-out to feminism?

Thank you - this has needed saying for a while. Travis' point about what some women will do if they are told to be "stay at home moms and bake cookies" is even more true for educated single women - who, because they do not have a husband connecting them to the church, will be even more ready to look for churches who can make use of their gifts - even in an appropriately complementarian way.

I come back to my original point, that we still need recognition for women's ministries; and having deaconesses is not the sellout to feminism that some here seem to regard it as.

Sorry, I was only wanting to leave the word "not" in italic, not to emphasise the whole final sentence.

>Is is possible to agree with the Church Fathers and Calvin on deaconesses and not be a sell-out to feminism?

Well, I'd hope so since that's my own position. I've said it a number of times, here.

But it's naive to think that the movement to make women officers in the PCA is in harmony with what deaconesses have been, historically. Just imagine Calvin writing "women need to be recognized."

And to be biblical, let's remember what Scripture says about the recognition of women: " A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work" (1 Timothy 5:9, 10).

We may never mention it (and that is to despise it), but there it stands in all its glory. Recognition of women is dealt with in Scripture, but that recognition is precisely not what's pushing the deaconess movement in the PCA.

Honestly, it's my guess that the more people talk about women needing to be recognized in a church, the weaker the women of that church are in terms of the honorable character God commands of their sex. And also, the weaker their men are in honoring such women.

Oppositely, the church where women have obeyed God's sex-specific commands will have the the most competent female Bible scholars.


I don't disagree with you completely, but the problem for me is the way that we frame things. There are several passages about women in ministry in the NT, you picked ONE and used to to frame the discussion in terms of "recognition." I'm not concerned with "recognizing" anyone, that would be wrong for men or women. I'm concerned with equipping and encouraging women for service in the Kingdom.

While there are certainly people who wish to create an office for women in the PCA which doesn't accord with Scripture, why are the rest of us not trying to create a system which DOES accord with Scripture? Why are we (seemingly) so comfortable with WIC, which to my mind violates biblical polity all over the place, and violently opposed to examining what it would mean to have bibilical women-deacons?

>While there are certainly people who wish to create an office for women in the PCA which doesn't accord with Scripture, why are the rest of us not trying to create a system which DOES accord with Scripture?

Well, I can't speak for others but we are working hard to make our congregation biblical in these matters. Still, in this day of sexual anarchy and self-promotion, it's hard work.

I'm convinced, though, that in order for the work to proceed positively, we must recognize there are those among us who are enemies of the biblical doctrine of sexuality. Such men may well claim they want to help us rebuild the wall when actually they are contributng to its destruction.

And it's not easy to do the work of discerning those who really don't hold to the biblical doctrine of sexuality and to call them back to that doctrine prior to allowing them to join us in repairing the wall's breaches.

Yet we can't turn a blind eye to this and expect the Lord to bless our repair work.

>Why are we (seemingly) so ...violently opposed to examining what it would mean to have biblical women-deacons?

We're not opposed to this at all: I published an article supportive of deaconesses about ten years ago, now.

But what I hear from some pastors of the PCA in their advocacy of deaconesses is almost the opposite of what deaconesses were, historically.

Until men begin to acknowledge this and make it clear that not everyone in the PCA advocating deaconesses is advocating a position or office that is in conformity with the biblical doctrine of sexuality, the water will be so muddied no one will have the slightest idea how to set about the work. And in such muddied waters and muddled doctrine, it's inevitable our culture's rebellion will proceed apace in the PCA. If the terms of the debate aren't clarified, the wreckers will have a heyday.

Ground zero of those not to be trusted concerning sexuality are those who limit the application of God's order of creation solely to who sits on the elders board; and those who, outside that board, summarize biblical sexuality everywhere else in the church with the statement, "A woman can do anything a non-ordained man can do."

It is precisely there that men of the Word need to focus their discernment at this time.


I wonder how I might be able to take a look at your article on deaconesses? I don't see a label for that subject.


Dear Travis,

Actually, I just went back and read the 1998 article and it's not as clear as I'd remembered it being on my support for deaconesses. However, here's another link that does the job. It's a comment posted on July 5, 2007, found a little over halfway down this page:

Also, this post:


Thanks. Happy Easter.

Christos Anesti!


Alithos Anesti!

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