Critique of Pastor Keller's promotion of woman deacons, part 3: So, are your male deacons ordained?

(Tim) Pastor Tim Keller recently did a piece promoting woman deacons. It ran in the Presbyterian Church in America's byFaith e-monthly. Section by section, from time to time, I'm critiquing parts of Pastor Keller's article. This is the third installment. (Here are installments one, two, three, four, five, and six.) Readers will note I've not cut any of Pastor Keller's text. His words are indented, mine are not.

The Case for Commissioning (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses

by Tim Keller, published in byFaith, Issue Number 21, August 2008

Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City has since its inception commissioned (but not ordained) deaconesses working alongside male deacons in diaconal work. Why do we do this?

The first note struck is misleading. Reading Pastor Keller's words, we're led to believe that Redeemer is living well within the bounds of PCA polity, making a clear distinction between the men and women who serve in diaconal ministry. This is, of course, the one thing necessary in order to submit to Scripture's doctrine of sexuality--that male and female be clearly delineated in anything approximating authoritative function or office. So, according to Pastor Keller's words, here, he's led his congregation to make a distinction between the men and women serving as deacons. The women are commissioned, the men ordained, right?

That's what I thought when I first read the above. Yet in the back of my mind, a little bell was ringing, causing me to wonder if there wasn't some confusion, here...

But there was much more to read, so I put the questions out of my mind and read on.

Then, this morning when I decided to start a critique of this article, I read the above sentence again and my question returned, this time pertinaciously. Yes, yes; women are commissioned, but what about the men? Are they ordained, making a clear distinction between them and the women assisting them?

So I went looking and found that I, along with most other people who read this article, had been led by these words to a wrong conclusion about Redeemer's practice. Note the difference between these two statements:

Pastor Keller's original precisely as it appeared in byFaith:
Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City has since its inception commissioned (but not ordained) deaconesses working alongside male deacons in diaconal work. Why do we do this?

Pastor Keller's original (in italics), with text added by Tim Bayly (not in italics) to avoid misleading readers:
Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City has since its inception commissioned (but not ordained) deaconesses working alongside male deacons in diaconal work. And to avoid what we believe is an unbiblical distinction between male and female deacons, we do not ordain our male deacons, either. So both men and women serving in diaconal work are commissioned rather than ordained. Why do we do this?

Why leave readers under the mistaken impression that men are still ordained, and that Redeemer makes a distinction between men and women serving in diaconal ministry by ordaining men but only commissioning women? Other readers of Pastor Keller's article were similarly misled. Take, for instance, this comment made by Rick Wheeler of Chester, South Carolina, under Pastor Keller's piece:

A question for clarification: does Redeemer ordain male deacons, and commission women to work alongside them? This was the implication I'd gotten from Pastor Keller's article, but Redeemer's website seems to place them in equal roles.

After Mr. Wheeler asks his question way down in the comments, the answer finally comes: In fact, neither men nor women are ordained to the diaconate. Men and women are treated identically in this regard.

A Personal History

In 1982 the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod (RPCES) joined with the PCA shortly after its 154th Synod had narrowly defeated a motion to ordain women as deacons. But the 156th Synod added, “We also remind churches that they are free to elect Spirit-filled women as deaconesses and set them apart by prayer … . We affirm the right of a local church to have a separate body of unordained women who may be called deaconesses.”

The 1982 PCA General Assembly did not consider the actions of the RPCES Synods to be binding on us, but rather “valuable and significant material which will be used in the perfecting of the Church,” and therefore to be granted respect.

This is the reason that a number of churches with deaconesses, including Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church under Jim Boice, came into the PCA and were accepted by our presbyteries at that time. The understanding in these presbyteries was that, under Book of Church Order (BCO) 9-7, godly women could be appointed to assist the deacons in their work, and this was a valid way for sessions to do so. In addition, many PCA Korean churches, keeping the traditional practices from their home country, have unordained but commissioned women working with the diaconate. In the mid-1980s I often attended Tenth Church. I saw how important strong diaconal work was in urban ministry, and also how crucial women were to an effective diaconate.

When we began Redeemer I encouraged our new session to establish a diaconate that included unordained, commissioned deaconesses. Our practice was debated but upheld by our Northeast Presbytery in 1994. It was deemed the right of local sessions to determine how the women mentioned in BCO 9-7 were to be commissioned and identified. Over the years the work of our diaconate has become one of the most crucial aspects of Redeemer’s effectiveness in the city, and without deaconesses that would have never been the case.

This is all well and fine, but it begs the question why Redeemer refuses to ordain their deacons? In other words, what is there about the work of the deaconesses that requires Redeemer to stop ordaining the male deacons?

Clearly, the answer to this question is that, by refusing to ordain her men holding the office of deacon, Redeemer is making a principled stand against our PCA Book of Church Order. It's really quite simple: The PCA Book of Church Order makes a clear distinction between male deacons and those serving in an ancillary capacity assisting those male officers, whether male or female:

It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need. (Book of Church Order 9-7)

Redeemer believes this distinction outlined by the PCA Book of Church Order has no biblical basis, so they conscientiously object and seek to blur that distinction by refusing to ordain their male diaconal officers. Instead, they commission the men just as they commission the women.

Then, the fancy footwork begins to make it all fit with the Book of Church Order so Redeemer will not become subject to ecclesiastical disciplinary action. This is the context from which to interpret all the talk by Redeemer and her daughter churches of the Book of Church Order not requiring male deacons to be ordained, the Book of Church Order allowing congregations to elect or appoint men or women to assist ordained male deacons in their work, and so on.

Think of how helpful it would be to the unity and peace of the PCA if Pastor Keller were to give up the fancy footwork and forthrightly state the truth:

We disagree with the Book of Church Order concerning woman deacons, and are engaging in civil disobedience because our consciences are bound by the Word of God. We believe "there is no Scriptural basis to differentiate between men and women serving as Deacons under the authority of the Session," so here we stand. We can do no other.

Comments

Do you think the deception is self conscious?

Likely not, although I'm capable of such deception myself, I'm sure. So I have no problem with you asking the question.

Meanwhile, I've been sobered by the almost complete lack of response to my posts about Phil Ryken's refusal to issue a correction given the seriousness of his errors. It's as if rock star pastoral status trumps truth (or makes it irrelevant).

Readership hasn't dropped, but I've noticed when we write critically of PCA celebrities, everyone becomes a small-mouth frog. You know, lips tightly pursed as an almost inaudible "You don't say" escapes.

Were I posting on McCain, Obama, or Palin right now, the comments would be flying.

Never been accused of being a frog.

Been accused of being a ....

Nevermind

>when we write critically of PCA celebrities, everyone becomes a small-mouth frog

I think it is because generally the posts are so evidently true that all I could add would be an "Amen"...

Hi Pastor Bayly,

I would have to agree with David. I have followed the articles with great interest as I was involved in the Redeemer model church plant here in Toronto and was present at their recent "re-launch". The compromise with feminist thought was very clear to my wife and me. Women leading the congregation in prayer, women leading the congregation in Scripture reading. All under the leadership of PCA celebrities. I'm thankful you continue to draw our attention to it.

Geoff

"It's as if rock star pastoral status trumps truth (or makes it irrelevant)."

Amen. This doesn't just describe the PCA. Our generation would listen to Jonah over Jeremiah any day of the week.

Tim,

I'm confused about Pastor Keller's original and his corrected original. Are you saying that there is a difference between what was emailed to you and what was posted on the PCA website? Please clarify.

Thanks,

Dave

Pretty sure the correction is just from Pastor Bayly. He's saying the corrected form is what Pastor Keller *should* have said if he wanted to be clear.

>Are you saying that there is a difference between what was emailed to you and what was posted on the PCA website? Please clarify.

Sorry, I'll edit to make it more clear.

What I put first is the text as it appeared in Pastor Keller's byFaith article. What I put second is my own construction. I added some text to make it clear what he was not saying that should have been said if his goal was not to mislead people.

Makes sense.

Thanks!

Tim,

I agree, the lack of response has been sobering. It feels like these things have to relevance to those that matter in the PCA.

But how should the rest of us respond? What should we do? I suspect that many of us, who don't have any power to bring pressure on Rev. Keller or Rev. Ryken, are somewhat lost as to what we should do.

Help us think through some obvious applications, recognizing that we are generally cowardly, and we excuse ourselves of responsibility habitually. How can we carry some of the load? How do we fight in the fight? How do we do more than hope for repentance?

Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City has since its inception commissioned (but not ordained) deaconesses working alongside male deacons in diaconal work.

Well, okay -- just as long as the women are serving quietly.

So both men and women serving in diaconal work are commissioned rather than ordained.

Wow -- so the men are demoted so the women can be promoted? They're farther down Broadway than I thought. There doesn't even seem to be the sense that the deaconnesses are "helping" the deacons. They are merely working alongside.

Why do we do this?

Good question. Here's another...

When are they going to stop ordaining elders so the women are qualified? Smart women today cannot be fooled like their grandmothers to believe they are equal to men until there are zero stained glass ceilings remaining. Aren't they just as spiritual and qualified as males? Yet, they remain obviously second class saints at Redeemer for no legitimate reason. Doesn't Pastor Keller understand that the Bible clearly speaks of the absolute ontological equality of men and women? This is an intolerable situation. Pastor Keller should repent of his syncretism: mixing some aspects of "Traditional Idolatry" with the pure and undefiled religion of biblical egalitarianism. He should desist his destructive, non-Biblical teaching which is hurting people spiritually by defining concrete roles for men and women, like elder. He should confess to feeling threatened by feminism and the infiltration of egalitarianism, and stop limiting women based upon roles (in home and church) that are based not in the teaching of the Bible but based on traditional cultural perspectives.

Why leave readers under the mistaken impression that men are still ordained, and that Redeemer makes a distinction between men and women serving in diaconal ministry by ordaining men but only commissioning women?

Because deeper submerging is possible when sounding superficially orthodox than when waving a big red flag in outright defiance. Verrrrry sneaky.

It's as if rock star pastoral status trumps truth (or makes it irrelevant).

Hey, if they can question the Really Big Boys --the apostles and prophets-- I say we can do the same with these lesser folks.

Were I posting on McCain, Obama, or Palin right now, the comments would be flying.

Ribbet, ribbet!

>>How can we carry some of the load? How do we fight in the fight? How do we do more than hope for repentance?

Would the Pharisees have paid attention to John or Jesus if they were just another pair of dissenting voices? The Pharisees were forced to deal with them because they won the hearts of the people. They were threatened. They came to John in the wilderness and they crucified Jesus because they had to.

Would the pope have given a rip about Martin Luther if Luther didn't get the attention of the masses? If Luther hadn't used the printing press? They were forced to deal with Luther because Luther had the people.

What will make Tim Keller give any one of us the time of day on this issue? Someone has to take it to the people. Until he's threatened by the possibility of losing his seat of privilege among the people, I doubt these ripples will do anything more than bounce off of him.

So what can we do? The work of changing the landscape--go for the sheep.

At a recent Presbytery meeting, I raised this issue as an example while arguing against a motion. No one else touched it with ten-foot pole but the debate immediately heated up. The older men began talking about the dark times 35 years ago (when they as young men decided to leave the PCUS) and the younger men began talking about fear, suspicion and relevance. The vote wound up pretty lopsided but the discussion was an eye-opener.

The Case for Commissioning (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses

First, where's his "case" for not ordaining deacons?

And exactly how is a commissioning different than an ordination at Redeemer, besides the words themselves?

Why must there always be someone to push the envelope?

I guess since the FV and NPP have been ruled on, we need some other controversy to argue about.

>The older men began talking about the dark times 35 years ago (when they as young men decided to leave the PCUS) and the younger men began talking about fear, suspicion and relevance.

Yes, yes; it's always the most fearful and irrelevant who accuse others of being fearful and irrelevant. I mean, what precisely would motivate pastors to have women serve the Lord's Supper, teach men doctrine and Scripture, disciple men, and lead mixed-sex small groups but fear of how they'd be perceived and who would leave their churches if they didn't allow these things?

And talk about irrelevant. Look at our world today and ask yourself which side of the PCA understands our cultural idolatries and sees them as entry points for the Gospel--Pastor Keller and his "women may do anything a non-ordained man may do" side, or those opposing Pastor Keller's feminism?

Yes, " a woman may do anything a non-ordained man may do" is feminism. Try to explain women serving the Lord's Supper because a woman may do anything a non-ordained man may do to John Calvin, and he'd think you'd gone stark raving mad.

Furthermore, when he realized you were serious, he'd not start to correct you with Sacramentology, but with the most simplistic explanation of the Order of Creation.

I mean, what precisely would motivate pastors to have women serve the Lord's Supper, teach men doctrine and Scripture, disciple men, and lead mixed-sex small groups but fear of how they'd be perceived and who would leave their churches if they didn't allow these things?

$$$

They know which side their bread is buttered on. This is one of the problems with hired, professional clergy. Gotta keep the customer satisfied.

Look at our world today and ask yourself which side of the PCA understands our cultural idolatries and sees them as entry points for the Gospel...

Amen! Keller says egalitarianism ain't broke, so he's not going to fix it. In fact, he's going to defend the trendy against the traditional, and call those who don't jump on the bandwagon idolaters! Who's doing the bowing before the culture's golden image on cue?

These folks think it is the Church which is/always has been wrong and that it should learn from the God-hating, humanistic World. Astonishing.

>And talk about irrelevant. Look at our world today and ask yourself which side of the PCA understands our cultural idolatries and sees them as entry points for the Gospel--Pastor Keller and his "women may do anything a non-ordained man may do" side, or those opposing Pastor Keller's feminism?

Right--the trouble is that most of Pastor Keller's side probably does see their view as an entry point (look! we're not all that different from you--come on in!) and most of those opposing our cultural idolatries see this as something to be apologetic about.

I remember hearing a professor "defend" the orthodox position as though he were genuinely sorry for the Bible's clarity. It was a big help in deciding to attend the other seminary on my list.

So now I'm preparing to preach Genesis 2:18 this week. The flesh is conditioned to make me wince the whole way, as though I'm being asked to throw myself on a live grenade and wait. But this is an opportunity to plainly deal with God's truth--which is always more beautiful than the lying veneer we've used to cover it up.

Van Til's "Mr. Black, Mr. Gray, and Mr. White" would be an appropriate read when it comes to the issue of relevance.

While I am not in the PCA I applaud and pray for your efforts and all those striving for Biblical Christianity Rev's Bayly.

I attend Redeemer (for the last 4 years) and the Lord has used the ministry to speak to me in many ways especially in identifying our idols that we serve instead of the Lord. I do love Redeemer it is a great church for seekers & for reminding myself about the daily need for the gospel however I can see the trend of the church becoming slightly cultured to NYC than to Christianity. In my small group at Redeemer- I am a sole republican and among believers who think abortion is fine/or Obama's reduction plan is more effective than McCain's and instead of hearing about the unredemptiveness of abortion as legal-we hear from Tim how democrats and republicans should get along. About the diaconal ministry, i think that our church (Redeemer) should look into the role of the diaconal ministry. I think the role they play at church is one where in masses of people someone who needs prayer or support can recognize someone to care for them. In smaller churches woman/men play that role naturally. Maybe they should be termed deaconate assistants & men who are ordained as deacons are the overseers of the ministry. However I don't think it is right for our church to change the policy on this, we should change our behavior or leave the denomination. Thanks for keeping Tim accountable!

I am ...among believers who think abortion is fine

Is it possible for a believer to think abortion is fine? Shouldn't that be "I am ... among "believers" who think abortion is fine?

Were I the pastor of such a group I would be saying that one can not believe abortion is fine and be a Christian.

"Were I posting on McCain, Obama, or Palin right now, the comments would be flying."

Yeah, but why should this surprise you?

I do have a question I had asked it here a few years back and it probably sounded sarcastic. So the PCA doesn't ordain deaconesses? I was surprised to learn this since the RPCNA does ordain them.

I think the verse they use to allow this is 1 Tim 3:11 which I didn't realize was shaky since NASB uses the word "women" implying female deacons, when NIV and ESV uses "their wives" talking about the wives of deacons.

Hmm, I think I'm starting to see the reason to use ESV.

Is there any other scriptural support for female deacons? It's shocking if churches use verses like this as their main support. I guess the question is what does "diakonos" mean in that context?

My old church just ordained a female deacon this week.

Mr. Mahoney, thanks for pointing-out the information regarding 1 Tim 3:11.

On the ESV, here's a decent examination that's very considerate, detailed, and not afraid to step on cultural icons:

http://bible-researcher.com/esv.html

As for "ordaining" deacons, can anyone point that out to me from scripture? I'm not challenging what Tim is saying, as I agree, but as far as the scripture's use of "ordain" vs. the sense(s?) in ecclesiastical developments, were deacons ever to be ordained, or recognized by the congregation? And made to "be your slave"?

But as for the ways these terms are getting used, and the subtly way they've tried to hide that they're not distinguishing the sexes according to the word, or obeying the prohibition against women having any authority over men, it's sad.

Keep up the good work Tim;

>Is there any other scriptural support for female deacons?

Dear Clint,

When you asked the question last July, I thought I answered it by pointing you to a good book by Brian Schwertley. Here's the link--search for Schwertley and you'll see your question and my response:

http://www.baylyblog.com/2007/07/feminist-influe.html

Then, more recently, I've also recommended another excellent treatment of the issue by Martimort: http://www.baylyblog.com/2008/07/martomort-on-wo.html.

These books will give you the information you're seeking.

>As for "ordaining" deacons, can anyone point that out to me from scripture?

Dear John,

Two responses: first, churches in the PCA should follow PCA polity, which includes ordination of deacons.

Second, the doctrinal support for what we call "ordination," as well as other matters of presbyterian practice, ecclesiastically, will be found in a book David and I have recommended a few times here, titled "The Church of Christ" by James Bannerman. Have fun finding it. (Someone needs to scan it and put it up on the web. It's in the public domain.)

Warmly,

Bannerman's book is going to be offer through Logos if they get enough interest. Check it out here:

http://www.logos.com/communitypricing/details/3352#details

Dear Michael,

Yes, I saw that.

Why give money to Logos for a public domain work that could be scanned and on the web with just a few hours work with a scanner, and then free to all forever? Anyone willing to do the few hours work in order to make it free, forever?

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