(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:
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...
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?
Again, Tim Keller is in error. Here is the action of the 156th Synod taken from its 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.
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(See the PCA Historical Archives for documents of the RPCES.)