Critique of Pastor Keller's promotion of woman deacons, part 5: RPCES history in need of correction...

(Tim) The Presbyterian Church in America's magazine, byFaith, recently published an article by Tim Keller arguing that we should change our Book of Church Order to allow woman deacons. We have had a series of posts critiquing Tim Keller's article and this is the fifth in that series. (Here are installments one, two, three, four, five, and six.)

First, this excerpt from Keller's article which we'll see is in need of correction:

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.

In this first paragraph of his "Personal History," Tim Keller tells us the 154th (1976) RPCES Synod "narrowly defeated a motion to ordain women as deacons."

In fact, the request made by the Study Committee on Role of Women in the Church, that the Synod change its polity to "ordain woman as deacons," received the following response...

Action:
Affirmations (a) to (e) were approved. With regard to affirmation (f) and recommendation (a), it was moved, seconded and passed to recommit and request that the study committee on the Role of Women in the Church be continued, and enlarged by including more of those with divergent viewpoints; that the minority report be written and submitted to the committee for study; and that the committee clarify what is meant by the ordination of elders and deacons. After lengthy discussion on recommendation (b), the motion was put to a vote and lost by show of hands, 65-67. (154th RPCES Synod Minutes)

To explain the above, Affirmations (a-e) did not mention woman deacons and each of these Affirmations was approved.

Affirmation (f) and Recommendation (a) sought to change RPCES polity to allow for woman deacons and these two items were not voted on.

Thus, rather than the motion in favor of woman deacons being "narrowly defeated," the Synod recommitted the matter to the Committee with the stipulation that the Committee be "enlarged by including more of those with divergent viewpoints." (NOTE: Researching this matter, I've spoken to one of the RPCES fathers added to the Committee and he's confirmed the record of the Minutes, saying he remembers no vote on women deacons at the 154th Synod, let alone a motion approving women deacons being "narrowly defeated." The matter was recommitted. It was the motion to add women to denominational boards and committees that was "narrowly defeated.")

Had the 154th Synod voted against the Committee's recommendation for woman deacons, a motion to recommit would have been out of order. A committee's report or recommendations can't be recommitted after they have been rejected by the assembly. The motion to recommit is a last opportunity for amendments to save the bill or motion.

We see there's no record the RPCES 154th Synod "narrowly defeated a motion to ordain women as deacons."

So what was the motion that was "narrowly defeated?"

The motion "narrowly defeated" was women serving on the board of RPCES denominational agencies. Synod rejected the Committee's Recommendation (b), that RPCES denominational agencies "be permitted to have women as members of their boards." There was a call for the division of the house on that matter and the Minutes reflect that it was "narrowly defeated" by the vote of 65-67.

What is the next thing Tim Keller tells his readers concerning the actions of the RPCES Synods?

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.”

Again, Tim Keller is in error. Here is the action of the 156th Synod taken from its minutes:

That in light of the action of the 155th General Synod, we do not recommend allowing each particular church within the denomination to determine whether its diaconate shall include women as well as men, nor that they be allowed to ordain a woman as a deacon. We also remind churches that they are free to elect Spirit-filled women as deaconnesses and set them apart by prayer.(156th RPCES Minutes)

So the 156th Synod expressly rejects the practice and ordination of woman deacons, instead reminding "churches that they are free to elect Spirit-filled women as deaconesses and (to) set them apart by prayer." But nowhere in the 156th Synod's minutes do we find the other half of the text Keller puts in quotes:

We affirm the right of a local church to have a separate body of unordained women who may be called deaconesses.

Where did Tim Keller get this text?

It's the text of a motion adopted the previous year by the RPCES 155th (1977) Synod which read:

We affirm in the absence of any compelling biblical evidence to support the ordination of women to the special office of deacon, that this office be limited to qualified men. At the same time acknowledging that the Scriptures contain many examples of women who serve, we affirm the right of a local church to have a separate body of unordained women who may be called deaconesses. (155th RPCES Minutes)

Tim Keller's summaries of prior RPCES actions are wrong. The recommendation of woman deacons brought to the 154th Synod of the RPCES by its Committee on the Role of Woman in the Church was recommitted. And contrary to what Tim Keller reported above, the 156th Synod of the RPCES did not adopt the statement, "We affirm the right of a local church to have a separate body of unordained women who may be called deaconesses." Rather, it was the 155th Synod that adopted this statement, and they adopted it in the immediate context of another statement mandating that, within the RPCES, "this office (of deacon) be limited to qualified men."

So now, let's redo Tim's paragraph, correcting the errors:

A Personal History
In 1982 the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod (RPCES) joined with the PCA shortly after its 154th Synod had narrowly defeated recommitted a motion to ordain women as deacons. When this reconstituted Committee again tried to get the 156th Synod to approve woman deacons, that Synod responded: “...we do not recommend allowing each particular church within the denomination to determine whether its diaconate shall include women as well as men, nor that they be allowed to ordain a woman as a deacon. We also remind churches that they are free to elect Spirit-filled women as deaconesses and set them apart by prayer.” Thus when 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, we rejoice to see this respect for RPCES doctrine and practice concerning woman deacons today within the PCA as our denomination continues to prohibit women serving in a local church's diaconate or being ordained to the office of deacon.

But of course, this paragraph here corrected would never get into Tim Keller's article since it does just the opposite of what he was trying to use RPCES history to do. Instead of calling for change in PCA practice concerning woman deacons, it confirms our polity as it now stands and condemns the "local option" practiced by Tim Keller himself, and other churches following his bad example.

Yes, the RPCES brought in to the PCA "valuable and significant material," and we're happy for it to be "granted respect" within the PCA. But we need to check for ourselves what that material is.

Once again, we learn not to depend on secondary sources, but to go back to the primary sources.

* * *

(See the PCA Historical Archives for documents of the RPCES.)

Comments

Excellent work, brother. None of us should distort the historical facts in order to justify ourselves. Thank you for setting the record straight.

"we do not recommend allowing each particular church within the denomination to determine whether its diaconate shall include women as well as men, nor that they be allowed to ordain a woman as a deacon. We also remind churches that they are free to elect Spirit-filled women as deaconesses and set them apart by prayer.”

Can you clarify this language? It appears to say no session option to have deaconess but yet sessions are free to elect and set them apart by prayer?

Feminist churches today push to have women and men serving together on the same board of deacons, without distinction, as a method of proving sex doesn't matter other than in the elders meeting and pulpit. This was what the RPCES rejected, regularly.

So, churches were not allowed to have women and men serve on the same deacons board, indiscrimately, with both ordained to the same office. What was allowed was congregations choosing to have a group of nonordained women serving as deaconesses in a subordinate capacity to the male-only deacons who were always ordained.

This is not what Tim Keller and his churches do or are pushing for in the PCA.

"What was allowed was congregations choosing to have a group of nonordained women serving as deaconesses in a subordinate capacity to the male-only deacons who were always ordained."

So what was allowed in the RPCES was:

1)using title "deaconess"

2)election to that office

3)set apart by prayer (commissioning)?

but not

4)ordained

5)installed

6)vows by them

7)vows from congregation to submit

and they were

clearly under the direction and control of the board of deacons

???

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