(Tim) A year ago, we published a critique of a paper by then-PCA pastor Sam Downing of City Church (Denver) defending his decision to call a woman with an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary to serve on his staff as Minister of Church Life. (Pastor Downing's congregation recently voted to affiliate with the Reformed Church in America and Rocky Mountain Presbytery will act on the matter at their April 24/25 meeting.)
As a defense of most things feminist and the necessity of urban PCA church plants following his lead in this direction, Pastor Downing's paper left the men of Rocky Mountain Presbtytery little choice but to initiate discipline aimed at bringing Pastor Downing and his mission church back within the fold of biblical orthodoxy on sexuality. What wasn't so clear was the best tack to take.
Those with a biblical commitment to church discipline know how often disciplinary cases are decided on technical and procedural matters that seem, in the final analysis, to have little to do with the point at issue. So it has been with this case...
Taken in its entirety, Pastor Downing's paper is a technicolor demonstration of how far a PCA teaching elder can move from biblical orthodoxy in matters of sexuality, at least, without having to leave the denomination. And it's particularly telling that Pastor Downing has been able to do this as the pastor of a mission church, given the greater accountability of such men to the denomination's church planting arm (Mission to North America) and their own presbytery prior to particularization.
Nevertheless, slippery doctrine and polity are, after all, slippery, and Rocky Mountain Presbytery was of two minds in addressing Pastor Downing's practice. As it turned out, the heart of the issue the presbytery adjudicated was whether it was within the bounds of our Westminster Standards and denominational polity to have a woman serving in a pastoral position holding the title "Minister." With most decisions dealing with Pastor Downing and his mission church being decided by a couple votes, Rocky Mountain Presbytery voted to allow the title “minister” to be used for any church staff member, whether male or female. Thus Pastor Downing escaped censure.
A member of presbytery then appealed their presbytery's decision to the PCA's Standing Judicial Commission. Receiving the appeal, the SJC appointed three of its members to serve on a Judicial Panel which would study the case and bring back a Proposed Decision to be received and acted on at a meeting of the full SJC this coming October.
Here then are the proposed Majority and Minority Decisions issued by the Judicial Panel earlier this week. The Panel recommends the SJC dismiss the complaint, finding no fault with Rocky Mountain Presbytery's action.
However, a proposed Minority Decision has also been submitted to the SJC by Pastor Bill Lyle and Ruling Elder Jay Neikirk (Pastor Lyle was one of the two Panel members voting in the majority). The proposed Minority Decision recommends the complaint be sustained, thus overturning the Presbytery’s decision. Both the proposed Majority and Minority Decisions will be presented to the full SJC October 16-17. After discussion, the SJC will vote on which to approve. With amendments, it's possible the SJC's final decision will not look anything like either of the present documents.
There are many churches and pastors within the PCA sympathetic to Pastor Downing's kinder, gentler feminism. This year, the test of our church's will in such matters will come in the form of an overture from Philadelphia Presbytery asking General Assembly to reconsider our Book of Church Order's prohibition of women deacons.
Yes, I can make a case for deaconesses (not women deacons) as well as non-ordained men and women being called "Minister" in a local congregation. But men of discernment should know what's going on among us, seeing how closely it parallels what's going on in the world in which we live. Predictably, there are pastors and elders within the PCA who are undermining our ecclesiastical confession of God's order of creation. Love for them, their congregations, and the glorious Bride of Christ should cause us to tell them "No."