Helpful "Presbyterion" article on Romans 16:1 and woman deacons...

(Tim) The Fall 2008 issue of Covenant Seminary's review, Presbyterion, has an article by Covenant's Dean of Faculty, Jimmy Agan, titled "Deacons, Deaconesses, and Denominational Discussions: Romans 16:1 As a Test Case." Dr. Agan works hard not be viewed as putting his finger on the scale of a greatly controverted issue being weighed by our ecclesiastical association known as the Presbyterian Church in America. He warns his readers not to come to any easy conclusions about the meaning of the texts, but he does seem to have a few conclusions, himself, and they are helpful.

First, this from Footnote 29:

While fuller discussion is beyond the scope of the present article, we may at least name two implications... for the office of deacon if the conclusions summarized above are correct. First, it seems that the ecclesiastical title diakonos was chosen not because of its associations with the service rendered by domestic or table attendants, but because it well suited an arrangement in which "deacons" functioned as "agents" in authority over the congregation and under the authority of the elders, at whose behest they carried out a variety of tasks. Second, if deacons were such" agents," we should not speak of the office as one which was (or is) devoid of authority.

It can't be emphasized often enough that, whatever else deacons may be, they are officers and exercise authority over the believers of their church...

True, their authority is both distinct and subordinate to that of the elders, but authority it most certainly is. So the man who tries any number of a host of techniques to usher women into diaconal resonsibilties should be asked whether he believes it would be wrong for those women (regardless of their title, ordination, commissioning, etc.) to exercise authority over their brothers in Christ? If he agrees they ought not to, he should then be asked what concrete steps he or his congregation have taken to guard against it in the life of the church?

Such probing will quickly reveal whether 1Timothy 2:9-15 is a living reality in the life and commitments of the man and his congregation. Without such probing, we are conniving at the sexual anarchy we dwell in the midst of.

On pp. 105-106 and 108, Dr. Agan writes:

Whatever we conclude, it is evident that we cannot simply assume that "deacon means deacon" or "servant means servant." Rather, we must ask which of the various meanings of the term diakonos is in view in this text. This in turn requires that we pay careful attention to the presence or absence of the kinds of contextual markers indicated in the table above. To return to our earlier analogy, we know as English speakers not to say that "secretary means secretary," nor to assume that a given instance of the word "secretary" must mean "a piece of furniture used for writing" simply because the word may mean this. Rather, we base reasoned interpretive judgments on what we know of the word and its various uses on the one hand, and of the context in which a particular instance occurs on the other.

My own consideration of lexical and contextual factors persuades me that Phoebe was neither a "servant" nor a "deacon" of the church at Cenchrea, but its "emissary," "envoy," or "spokesman." Contextual markers provide the primary evidence for this conclusion; for example, there is nothing in Romans 16:1 or its immediate context to suggest that Paul is using the language of Table or Domestic Attendance, whether figuratively or literally, or that he is discussing church office. What the text does indicate, through the exhortation to "receive her in the Lord, worthily of the saints" (Rom. 16:2), is that Phoebe will be traveling from Cenchrea to Rome. Since reference to travel frequently marks contexts in which diakonos designates Communication/Delivery, and since the contextual markers associated with other uses of the term are absent, we must consider the possibility that Phoebe serves as a travelling representative of her home church when she journeys to Rome...

While no one of these arguments is definitive, the cumulative evidence points toward Phoebe's being neither a "deacon" nor a "servant," but what we today might call a "representative." If this is the case, Romans 16:1 does not shed direct light on the question of women as deacons, though it does give us significant insight into women's involvement in contact between churches in the New Testament era.

Readers wishing to read the original may download it as a PDF linked to the title at the beginning of this post.

Dr. Agan has helped us with this article and I am grateful for that help.

Comments

>It can't be emphasized often enough that, whatever else deacons may be, they are officers and exercise authority over the believers of their church...<

This is key.

One of the concerns in this is that the arguments being made for women deacons is that "deacon" is merely a synonym for "helper" or "servant." That tends to devalue the the high calling of the office, I Timothy 3.

Women have always been assistants to the Deacons and have always been involved in "helps," "mercy," and "serving." This is the very necessary and has been the historical understanding and practice of the church.

It is the understanding and polity reflected by the PCA constitution, and it is a biblical one.

>It can't be emphasized often enough that, whatever else deacons may be, they are officers and exercise authority over the believers of their church...<

Do they? What can a deacon command a member to do that another member could not command the member to do?

I don't see any authority over people in PCA Book of Church Order section 9. The description of duties is in section 9.2:

"It is the duty of the deacons to minister to those who are in need, to
the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress. It is their duty
also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise
effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these
gifts among the objects to which they are contributed. They shall have the
care of the property of the congregation, both real and personal, and shall
keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings belonging to the
congregation."

That's a very important job, with authority to dispose of property, but does it have even as much authority as a children's Sunday School teacher?

Dr. Agan was my Greek and NT prof when I attended Erskine. If I am not mistaken, the subject of deacons as a whole (i.e., the NT usage of diakonos and related terms) was the subject of his doctoral dissertation. He is a good guy and very fair and thoughtful on these issues.

>What can a deacon command a member to do that another member could not command the member to do? I don't see any authority over people in PCA Book of Church Order section 9...

>(Deacons have) a very important job, with authority to dispose of property, but does it have even as much authority as a children's Sunday School teacher?

Dear Eric,

This question deserves a response, but alas, I'm not able to write one just now. Maybe at a future date. But in the gap, I'll say it's hard for deacons to work with families experiencing financial struggles without exercising some pretty substantial authority, most directly with the father or husband. You might speak with Lucas or Doug to find out what I'm talking about.

And even if Scripture didn't give us instructions about this sort of thing, I can't imagine having a choice of using either a man or a woman to do such work, and not choosing the man ten out of ten times. The work I'm thinking of would be unseemly if it were done by a woman.

I know that's a bare-bones response, but all for now, dear brother.

Love,

A view that says that deacons have no authority misunderstands the nature of deacons, as well as denigrates the office. Why would a man seek the calling, responsibility before God and the office of deacon when he is essentially doing what every other member does?

Deacons are not merely "servants of mercy." All Christians are that. Deacons are called, ordained and empowered to lead the ministry of mercy in a church. Deacons, by the very fact of the office, exercise authority. It is merely in a different sphere from that of elders (who are primarily called to minister in the Word and prayer). Deacons are not "sub-elders" or "junior elders," nor are they "just like everyone else." They are called to lead the church in its mission of mercy.

How that can be done without violating the Scriptural commands against women exercising authority (cf. 1 Timothy 2) is beyond me.

I do see that a woman would have more difficulty giving painful financial advice than a man-- that is a good start at an answer, Tim, and thought-provoking.

My earlier comment could be read two ways, too. I wasn't saying a Deacon has an unimportant job, I was just claiming that it didn't involve authority over people. On the other hand, song leaders (including the organist), Sunday School teachers, and missionary board members do exercise authority over people. Perhaps they should be male. But we do want to make use of women's talents too, and giving someone a formal job and a place at committee meetings helps with that.

>and giving someone a formal job and a place at committee meetings helps with that

What is that assumption based on?

Dear Eric,

Yes, I knew you weren't making any statement about the importance of the diaconate.

Concerning authority, it's ubiquitous in the church as in life. If we're going to reject feminist egalitarianism because we honor God and His Word, there are only a few options left.

One option is to minimalize the connection between sexuality and authority, only applying the Creation Order when it absolutely must be applied with the goal simply being to escape the accusation that one completely rejects that Order. This is the tack taken by churches that repeat the mantra, "A woman can do anything an unordained man can do." This is egalitarian feminism all gussied up to appeal to evangelical/emergents, and it has a bad conscience.

Another option is to follow the old paths without thinking about where they came from, where they lead, why they're as wide or narrow or level or steep as they are, and what it means to "follow" them. In other words, depend upon the sanctity of one's culture and go blindly on depending upon that culture and its traditions to lead you to Christ and His Truth. Of course, that option is a joke, today--almost anywhere in the world.

A third option is to apply Scripture to life from the posture or orientation or commitment of faith, believing that God's Word reveals our Maker's purposes. Seeing sexuality as He made it, then--not "gender" as we corporately or individually "construct" it--we joyfully embrace his plan and purpose, discovering with great anticipation and trust every way we're able to manifest and embrace this wonderful, foundational diversity. And getting back to the matter you raised, this means we discover the nature and boundaries of authority between the sexes.

So, we know from the Creation Order and the New Testament's application of that Order that woman is not to exercise authority over man. Is that a prohibition only of women being senior pastors or elders doing church discipline?

No, that's a laughably minimalistic conclusion to what Scripture teaches and demonstrates concerning the Creation Order.

Is it then a prohibition of women calling men to the dinner table--you know, something like, "It's time to eat, honey?"

No, that's a laughably maximalistic conclusion to what Scripture teaches and demonstrates concerning the Creation Order.

I would say neither of the options above have any intention to joyfully embrace the Creation Order or the beauty of sexuality. The first because it's obviously the culture leading the church by the nose. The second because it's obviously a straw man set up by feminist egalitarians to poke fun at those who love God's Creation Order.

So on to the third option, which is to give ourselves to careful thinking about sexuality and authority, praying and debating the matter until we come to a set of guidelines we believe are a good interface between the Word of God and life today.

And what would make it "good"?

An obviously joyful affirmation of sexual diversity and its significance, as God made and described it in His Word--particularly that part of His Order and description we hate today; namely, Adam was created first, and then Eve.

For a view of what our church has come to on the application of the Creation Order to our church life, you might check out this earlier post:

http://www.baylyblog.com/2005/04/a_statement_on_.html

Love,

I read this section from Boenhoffer's "Life Together" this morning and think it might give us a clue about minimizing, maximizing, or giving each their due and joyfully embracing the Creation Order. From the section entitled, "The Day's Work":

"And only where each receives its specific due will it become clear that both belong inseparably together. Without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer, and without prayer work is not work. This only the Christian knows. Thus, it is precisely in the clear distinction between them that their oneness becomes manifest."

Kamilla

>I don't see any authority over people in PCA Book of Church Order section 9. The description of duties is in section 9.2: >

Eric,

BCO 24-6

(Vows by the congregation when an Elder or Deacon is installed):

"The ruling elder or deacon elect having answered in the affirmative,the minister shall address to the members of the church the following question:

Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive this brother as a ruling elder (or deacon), and do you promise to yield him all that honor, encouragement and obedience in the Lord to which his office, according to the Word of God and the Constitution of this Church, entitles him?"

The Book of Church Order clearly contemplates some authority (over people)as that is the vow the congregation takes (to submit to that authority).

Deacons are part of the basic (authoritative) governing structure of the church. Special honor is accorded Deacons who "use the office well"(cf I Timothy 3:13)

While "servants" and service generally is commended and promised reward in other contexts, it is not the same thing as the I Timothy 3 office of Deacon, which God has qualified for men to serve.

Also, let's not loose sight of the fact God's Word clearly qualifies men for this office. (cf I Timothy 3:12)

I'm not opposing the Creation Order idea, and I quite agree that we
need to go beyond minimal, explicit, biblical mandates. (By the
way, such minimalism is just a special form of legalism-- the
pharisaic form which makes the law smaller rather than bigger.)
What I am skeptical about is whether it says that women should not be
deacons. I am suggesting that even someone who goes so far as to
believe that women should not hold elected office or work outside the
home should be open to the idea of women being deacons, because the
office of deacon is more compatible with a woman's traditional role
and special talents.

It's interesting that the ordination vows require the congregation to
yield a deacon all that obedience to which his office entitles
him. What I was saying in the comment above was that under PCA rules,
"all that obedience to which his office entitles him" seems to
be an empty set, something like "all that obedience to which the
office of church secretary entitles him". The word "obedience" might
have just slipped in because the vows for elder were used for deacons
too, without thought.

I could well be wrong. Tim Bayly's earlier commented suggested one
reason; a deacon might tell a needy family to reform their
borrowing habits with authority that an unofficed senior member
wouldn't have. I'd be interested in hearing more about what
obedience a member owes to a deacon.

In a full discussion of whether women should be deacons, too, we
need to worry about what a *change* in the policy signifies. Even if
not motivated by feminism, it might unintentionally signal something
bad about a church. I heard that this is why one church in Bloomington
chose not to change to having female elders.

David Gray asked why "giving someone a formal job and a place at
committee meetings helps". Having a formal job means that the person
has clear responsibility. That helps because that person and others
know that the person is the one to do a job, avoiding both duplication
and falling between the cracks. Also, it can shame someone into doing
something he ought to do anyway but might not. We might expect a
deacon's wife, for example, to pick up the slack when a deacon fails
to do a task, but if she has the formal job she has less excuse to
shirk.

"A place at committee meetings" helps because useful deliberation and
information exchange happens at meetings. Suppose a deacon is not very
smart, but his wife is. He can rely on her advice for his own
decisions. But if she doesn't go to meetings, all her information is
second-hand. That's why it's common in business and politics for
staffers to attend meetings along with their bosses. The staffers have
zero formal authority, but it's useful for them to hear what's going
on, and even sometimes to speak.

Eric,

>The word "obedience" might have just slipped in because the vows for elder were used for deacons
too, without thought.>

The words of your Book of Church Order are carefully chosen. You should know better than to say that.

While you may need to resolve biblically in your own thinking whether the I Timothy 3 office of Deacon is appointed by God for women,

you can longer say our Book of Church Order is ambiguous on this point.

All these issues were considered when the denomination was founded and the doctrine reflected is that the I Timothy 3 office of Deacon is a basic part of the authoritative governance of the church, appointed to men, in accordance with Scripture. Women (and other men) are encouraged to assist the deacons in mercy ministry, and there is spiritual reward in all this service.

Blessings.

Tim and David,

I'm not sure if you are aware of it, or if it has been mentioned before, but I recently finished Gordon Clark's commentaries on the pastoral epistles, in which volume are two appendices on the ordination of women and the presbyterian doctrine of ordination, respectively. The articles are Clark's response to the 1976 attempt to ordain women deaconnesses, which occurred in the RPCES.

The two articles are great resources in the present debate going on in the PCA about the non-ordination appointment of female deacons.

Dear Joshua,

Yes, I have that commentary. Thanks for the reminder.

> the present debate going on in the PCA about the non-ordination appointment of female deacons.

Where? What debate? You mean that "my esteemed colleague" love-fest between Tim and Ligon that ran in "byFaith"? You're kidding me, right?

As I said in another comment just posted, the PCA has no will for anything approximating a confession of faith in matters sexual. Simple votes up and down on surgical matters, yes. But nothing approximating guarding the good deposit.

It was apparent to me that the purpose of the "byFaith" exchange was to assure Tim Keller that the PCA is a big-tent party with more than enough room for feminist northerners (who don't believe in preaching against abortion, by the way).

A new day has arrived when Tim Keller is told to bring his views and his church's practice into conformity with Scripture; and that if he doesn't, he will be disciplined for those views and practice.

Instead, I predict that, in time, he and his denomination will leave the PCA. And as he departs, he will lauded for his large heart and brilliant mind and sincere desire to protect the peace and unity of the church.

Quite sincerely,

>Instead, I predict that, in time, he and his denomination will leave the PCA.

The PCA will be lucky if that comes to pass. The alternative is the PCA increasingly resembles that lot...

>The PCA will be lucky if that comes to pass. The alternative is the PCA increasingly resembles that lot...

Yes, David; you're right to correct me. The vote against woman officers at this last GA was purely symbolic, I think. Without the discipline of views and actions beyond woman deacons, the battle is lost.

Tim,

Debate was a poor word choice on my part. I repent in dust and ashes. :)

Smile...

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