Sexuality and the PCA: A proposal to add to our Standards...
NOTE: (Tim) The documents promised yesterday have now been added: One by Alan Foster of East Lanier PCA outside Atlanta, another by Sam Downing of City Church plant PCA in Denver (not yet changed to RCA), and the third by Tim Keller of Redeemer PCA (New York). Links to each document may be found near the end of this post's second page.
Some Personal History:
Fifteen years ago now, when our session was choosing a denomination to present to the congregation for its approval and affiliation as we left the Presbyterian Church (USA), we had narrowed the selection to three choices: the Christian Reformed Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and the Presbyterian Church in America. The women of the church had served as elders for decades, but recently had come to understand it was contrary to the order of creation and command of Scripture, and were now committed to not holding office again. Thus it was that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church was eventually ruled out of consideration. It seemed apparent that their constitutional ambivalence on women exercising authority over men, particularly as church officers, was incompatible with our repentance in this matter. We had come to see father-rule to be foundational for the spiritual and theological integrity of the church.
That left us with the CRC and the PCA. We had a number of Dutch families and some in our congregation had grown up in the CRC. Since our town adjoined the town of Friesland, we had fellowship with many friends and relatives from CRC churches and many of us had been watching their theological battles for years. One night, the elders decided the CRC was out. I distinctly remember one elder summarizing what all of us were thinking: "The CRC will be exactly where the PC(USA) is now in twenty years. Then where will we be?" We all nodded in agreement and moved on to the PCA.
So the choice of the PCA was as much a rejection of the feminist commitments of the EPC and CRC as it was trust in the PCA's submission to Scripture in the matter. Still, the PCA wasn't discussing women officers then, so we felt somewhat secure.
Now, fifteen years later...
we're wondering how many years our choice of the PCA bought us? We look around to find some constitutional anchors that will serve as a bulwark against the world's attack upon God's Fatherhood and the father-rule He ordained, and they're hard to find.
So what's the best case to be made from the PCA's constitutional documents?
Although the Westminster Confession's chapters “Of Marriage and Divorce” and “Of the Church” do not explicitly lay out the Biblical doctrine of father-rule, it would be improper to say the Standards are silent on this point. The Standards were written in the context of the unanimous witness of the Church through the ages—that men are called by God to rule men, and that it is contrary to God's created order for women to do so. Every member of the Assembly was familiar with the explicit texts dealing with the meaning of the created order of the sexes. None of them had any question concerning the perspicuity of these texts in decreeing male headship, and barring female headship, over men.
One incidental, and therefore telling, indicator of the Divines' commitment is the following section from the Confession's chapter “Of Lawful Oaths and Vows”:
No man may vow to do anything forbidden in the Word of God, or what would hinder any duty therein commanded, or which is not in his own power, and for the performance whereof he hath no promise of ability from God.
Note well this Scripture proof inserted at this point, from Numbers 30:
But if her father should forbid her on the day he hears of it, none of her vows or her obligations by which she has bound herself shall stand; and the LORD will forgive her because her father had forbidden her... But if on the day her husband hears of it, he forbids her, then he shall annul her vow which she is under and the rash statement of her lips by which she has bound herself; and the LORD will forgive her... But if her husband indeed annuls them on the day he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning the obligation of herself shall not stand; her husband has annulled them, and the LORD will forgive her. Every vow and every binding oath to humble herself, her husband may confirm it or her husband may annul it (Numbers 30:5,8,12,13).
Here the Divines record their submission to the Biblical doctrine of male headship, citing this Biblical text to indicate one place where a person may properly be barred from taking or fulfilling a vow due to a prior subordinate relationship—in this case, that of a wife who by virtue of Creation order is under the authority of her husband. Thus the wife’s subordination to her husband gives her husband what we might refer to in our own day as veto power over his wife’s oaths and vows.
Some would object, pointing out that the Scripture proofs were not adopted at the same time as the Westminster Standards, but slightly later, and that these proofs are not what we affirm when we subscribe to the Standards. True enough, but these proofs were developed in the historical context of the Assembly; they were prepared and added by a select group of the Assembly’s divines, and as such they accurately establish the mind of the Assembly in the matters they address.
Westminster Larger Catechism:
The Larger Catechism gives instructions on both the duties required and sins forbidden by each of the Ten Commandments. In the Larger Catechism’s treatment of the Fifth Commandment regarding the honor children owe to their parents, we are told that the scope of this Commandment relates to the duties of superiors, inferiors, and equals. Then the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the duties of superiors towards inferiors?” Among the answers given, superiors are commanded to “love, pray for, and bless their inferiors.” And, as proof of this injunction, Colossians 3:19 is cited: “Husbands love your wives and be not bitter against them.”
Directory for the Public Worship of God:
In the Directory for the Public Worship of God, instructions on the solemnization of marriage are given, including proper vows for husbands and wives. The vow the wife is to take reads:
I N. do take thee N. to be my married husband, and I do, in the presence of God, and before this congregation, promise and covenant to be a loving, faithful, and obedient wife unto thee, until God shall separate us by death.
Biblical marriage vows will always include the wife's promise of subjection to her husband. True, the Directory for Public Worship is not binding in our own PCA, either in its older form (cited above) or in the new form included in the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO). But again, the Directory is indicative of the mind of the Westminster Assembly, demonstrating that each wife was to vow to uphold 1Peter 3:3-6a:
Your adornment must not be merely external-braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way, in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord... (1 Pet 3:3-6a)
As a side note, the current edition of our own PCA’s Book of Church Order, "Appendix A," contains a suggested Marriage Service which includes the following vow for the bride:
Do you, N--, take M--, whom you now hold by the hand to be your lawful and wedded husband and do you promise in the presence of God and these witnesses to be to him a faithful, loving, and obedient wife, so long as you both shall live?
Directions for Family Worship:
This part of the Westminster Standards, like the Directory for the Public Worship of God, is not binding on those who subscribe to the Westminster Standards. But here again we learn of the Assembly’s unanimous acceptance of, and submission to, Scripture’s commands concerning father-rule: the husband is the head of the home and is responsible for leading worship in that home.
In sections two and three, the kinds of duties enjoined upon families for their family worship are described including teaching, praying, singing, and catechizing. These duties are then placed at the feet of the husband. The Assembly writes, “In all which the master of the family is to have the chief hand…” Note--not "exclusive" but “chief hand.”
The head of the family is to take care that none withdraw himself from any part of family-worship: and seeing the ordinary performance of all the parts of family-worship belongeth properly to the head of the family, the minister is to stir up such as are lazy, and train up such as are weak, to a fitness to these exercises; it being always free to persons of quality to entertain one approved by the presbytery for performing family exercise. And in all other families, where the head of the home is unfit, that another, constantly reading in the family, approved by the minister and the session, may be employed in that service…
Families are to be led by the master, the head of the household, and that person is the man, the husband.
PCA Book of Church Order:
Within our own denomination, who is to lead the Church?
BCO 8-1 This office is one of dignity and usefulness. The man who fills it has in Scripture different titles expressive of his various duties…
BCO 8-2 He that fills this office should possess a competency of human learning, be blameless in life, sound in the faith, and apt to teach.
BCO 9-3 To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment.
PCA General Assembly:
In the minutes of the Seventh General Assembly, from the Report of the Ad-Interim Committee on Number of Offices (PCA Digest Position Papers, 1973-1993, pp. 455-97), we read the following recommendations:
Recommendation No. 4:
That the General Assembly reaffirm the historic Presbyterian position expressed in Larger Catechism 158, that none should preach the Gospel but those who are called and gifted of God; and therefore only those men who are properly ordained or licensed may preach in the pulpits of the PCA; and that Ruling Elders be allowed and encouraged to renew the historic practice of exhorting the people of God. Adopted.
And from the Committee of Commissioners on Interchurch Relations, 25th General Assembly, 1997, (Minutes pages 57-58), we read:
That the General Assembly terminate our recognition of the Christian Reformed Church as a church in ecclesiastical fellowship with the PCA effective immediately and the Interchurch Relations Committee be instructed to initiate conversations with the CRC with a view toward making a recommendation to the 26th General Assembly concerning the future relationship between the two denominations but that presbyteries and sessions be encouraged to develop fellowship with the classes and congregations of the CRC which do not ordain women to ruling office. Adopted as amended.
...That the General Assembly instruct the IRC not to propose or vote for
admission of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church to NAPARC unless and until the EPC changes its official position on women in office.
Yes, a fair-minded man can say that our own Protestant, reformed, presbyterian and PCA household reflects the unanimous witness of the Church through history concerning patriarchy. But after surveying the literature, it's clear we can't rest on our laurels, can we?
So where to now?
From Past to Present:
All of life is under the Word of God, and every authority exalting itself must be taken captive to God the Father Who made us first male, and then female, and Who decreed that this order of creation shall always be witnessed to by man (not woman) ruling man.
Modern downgraders who strictly limit Scripture’s doctrine of male headship in the home to "tie-breaking authority," who put it in a straitjacket in the church such that it only applies to elders disciplining someone in a session meeting and some forms of preaching, and who altogether deny it any significance or application in the world, are declaring all the reformed fathers and mothers who went before us to be in error in their understanding and submission to God's Word.
Actually, though, not only our reformed fathers and mothers but the entire Church of Jesus Christ since the Day of Pentecost.
Speaking for the Church across her history, we have consensus and few things demonstrate our consensus more clearly than the entirely incidental nature of the appearance of the doctrine of patriarchy in the Westminster Standards. No one questioned, sought to minimize, or rebelled against it.
But today, everyone hates authority and, going the way of the world, the PCA is pussyfooting around that hatred. Read these documents and ask yourself if you recognize where we're headed?
Would any reformed mother or father--indeed, any orthodox Christian across twenty centuries of Church history--recognize the biblical doctrine and practice of father-rule from these statements of principle made by PCA teaching elders?
No. These documents are notable for how little resemblance they bear to the biblical doctrine of sexuality preached and taught by our fathers in the faith.
And reading them, we're left with two choices: Either we come to agree with these men, that all who went before us were blinded by the darkness of male chauvinism and oppression, and therefore incapable of seeing the truth we of the modern evolved, progressive, enlightened world are free to affirm; or, that our own world is sick and we are the ones who will live on in infamy with our age a byword for the oppression of women. Oppression of women?
Yes, start with abortion and move on from there.
So which is it, dear brothers? Are we the enlightened ones? Is it our wives who have finally been liberated, and the wives of Luther, Calvin, Knox, Edwards, and Sproul (you know, dear Vesta with her head-covering in worship Sunday mornings) who are oppressed?
I speak of the PCA for reasons that should be obvious: Repenting of the corruption of our homes and church by egalitarian feminist rebellion, we entered the PCA believing it was the single reformed denomination most likely to stand faithful. Is it, or will we also cave to the Spirit of the Age?
A Proposal to Add to Our Standards:
The time has come for us to shore up this breach in the wall and it seems apparent our confessional standards are the place to start. Let's put together an assembly of divines who will come together and write a new chapter to be added to the Westminster Standards--a chapter that teaches everything our fathers and mothers in the faith took for godly granted concerning sexuality. If Joe Brown was right concerning the work of the Holy Spirit across the ages in dealing with heresies, the time has come.
It may not be the only chapter that needs to be added, but it's a good and necessary place to start.