Yes, but it leads nowither...

Error message

(Tim) Adding to the historical record, here's another article on deaconesses by Princeton theologian, B. B. Warfield. As an explanation for the way we label such things, please note that not all who argue for deaconesses agree with the thrust of Tim Keller and his followers who are seeking to have the PCA change her polity to allow men and women to serve indiscriminately together in the diaconate.

B. B. Warfield here describes the work of deaconesses. And the one thing we can say about deaconesses is that they are not deacons. When Warfield asks "What is a deaconess?" he doesn't respond, "A deaconess is a deacon."

Unordained men and women serving in the same diaconate, on the same deacon board of a church with no distinction in their duties or authority, are what is being sought today by men like Pastor Keller. This is precisely what is contrary to the historic practice of the Church.

For this reason, when we refer to the change in polity sought by Keller and his followers, we call it "woman deacons." Woman deacons are not deaconesses.

If you finish this article more confused than ever, you'll understand the title of this post. Warfield seems to have slipped into an uncharacteristic obtuseness...

with this one.

* * *

The Deaconess as a Part of the Church

What is a “Deaconess”? An organ of the Church of Christ for doing good. When we say “organ,” we say two other things. We say “organism.” And we say “organization.”

We say “organism.” An organism is a thing all of whose parts and portions are organs. A pile of sand is not an organism. Its parts or portions are not organs-nothing but parts and portions of a heap of sand. They do nothing but help to make up the heap of sand. A human body, on the other hand, is an organism. Each of its parts is an organ through which the body does something. When we say organism, accordingly we say life. Nothing but a living being is an organism; and living beings are all organisms. All the parts of living things are organs, through which the organism performs its functions. If the church is a dead thing, like a heap of sand, its members-miscalled, then “members,” since “members” can belong only to organisms-may, like grains of sand, have no other function than to help make up the dead heap. But if the church is alive, it will be an organism; and because it is an organism, all its members will be organs, through which it per- forms its functions. Now, the Deaconess is an organ through which the Church performs its function of doing good.

When we say “organ,” again, we say “organization.” What is the need of organization? Why not act independently, on your own motion? A soldier is an organ through which the army does execution. What is the need of a soldier? Cannot a man do as much-sometimes much more-execution, of his own motion? Yes; but it leads nowither. No country was ever subdued by a hundred thousand or so of men killing and destroying, each of his own motion. But an army of a hundred thousand or so of men may kill and destroy to some purpose. Therein lies the difference. The Church has been sent into the world to subdue the world to Christ. It is one thing for its members-then surely miscalled “members,” for who ever heard of “members” acting each independently for itself, and not all for the body? To seek to do what good they can, of his or her own motion. It is another thing for them to be the organs of the church in performing its function of doing good in the world. In the one case much scattered-shall we say, aimless, and hence resultless?-good will, no doubt, be done. In the other case substantial advance will be made in conquering an evil in the world. Now the Deaconess is the organ of the Church through which it performs its function of doing good.

A living Church cannot do without Deaconesses as its organs for doing good. Deaconesses cannot do without the Church as the appointed organization for doing good in the world. Is it not time that Presbyterians should realize these things?                                                 


[Transcribed by Wayne Sparkman, director of the PCA Historical Center, working from a photocopy of Our Church Work, a monthly organ of The First Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, Maryland, November 1903. An original copy of this article is preserved in volume 5 of B.B. Warfield's scrapbooks at the Princeton Theological Seminary Archives. Our photocopy was provided by Dr. Bradley J. Gundlach, Associate Professor at Trinity College, Deerfield, IL. Transcription date, 20 November 2008. This transcription duplicates the formatting of the original article.]

(Note from Tim Bayly: The only change in formatting here from that reproduced by our PCA Archivist, Wayne Sparkman, is ragged right side justification.)