The RPCES heritage in the PCA: Jim Hurley, Joel Belz, Will Barker, Steve Smallman, and Dominic Aquila...

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(Tim) Because Tim Keller sought to use the RPCES heritage of the PCA as a lever to move us toward woman deacons in his recent byFaith article, I've spent a good bit of time the past few weeks immersing myself in RPCES history on the issue. And in the process, I've come to see the RPCES influences still visible within the PCA today.

Note how influential former RPCES men (Will Barker, Dominic Aquila, and Joel Belz, for instance) and institutions (Covenant College and Covenant Seminary) are among us. How will RPCES history influence PCA actions in the next decade or so?

The personal history we bring to a controversy will bear on our convictions and conduct during that controversy.

For myself, this is certainly true. I'm no charter member of the PCA, nor did I spend any time in the RPCES. (I did in the OPC and the RCA.) My own trajectory, then, was through the UPCUSA and then the PC(USA). With my church, Grace Presbyterian in Pardeeville, Wisconsin, I left the PC(USA) back in 1992, transferring into the the PCA's then-Northern Illinois Presbytery.

If we can understand how this influences my own actions and commitments, the same is true of so-called "charter members" of the PCA as well as RPCES men who were received into the PCA.

To help us get our history right, here are some interesting quotes from the RPCES house publication, Mandate. I've pulled these quotes from a hard copy of the Mandate issued immediately following the 155th (1977) RPCES Synod where woman deacons/officers were definitively rejected by Synod members. At the time, Mandate was edited by our own Joel Belz.

These quotes should be helpful to us as we

proceed to have this debate for the umpteenth time, now, within

the PCA. It does seem as if we're simply picking up the debate where it left off when Jim Hurley and his troops lost their effort in their former denomination...

Stephen Smallman, McLean, VA: For

better or for worse it has almost always been the world rubbing against

us that has forced the church to discover exactly what the Scripture

teaches on various subjects. But I don't see it as caving in to

pressure from outside. We resisted that pressure when we voted earlier

to exclude women from the office of elder. Now we have an opportunity

to say that we believe the Scripture teaches that women should be


Smallman served on the Study Committee and voted with its

majority in favor of woman deacons.

William S. Barker, Covenant Seminary: It appears that Warfield was obscurely favorable to the idea of women deacons.

Remembering how Phil Ryken claims Warfield in support of the change he's trying to bring to the PCA today related to woman deacons, it's interesting to see Barker's almost-opposite view of Warfield's position. "It appears Warfield was obscurely favorable" is about right and no strong endorsement.

David Alexander, Albermarle, NC: I

am distressed because this committee is so much the same as the

committee of last year, and they have come in with basically the same

report which Synod rejected last year. There should be more diversity

of opinion on the committee itself.

In his editorial on woman deacons, Mandate editor, Joel Belz, wrote: Perhaps

it is true that some Reformed Presbyterians who were not at Synod in

Colorado will respond to the discussion on women deacons by

saying,"Just like I told you--sooner or later, even our church will go


If that "perhaps" is true,

then perhaps I should also save these few inches for something more

likely to succeed. Yet it is important to point out again and again

that changes which come from time to time in RP position and practice

are very different from some of the changes which have brought many of

the larger denominations to unbelieving ruin.


difference is exactly this: most often, the changes in the larger,

liberal churches have been in direct disregard for the clear teachings

of the Bible, while the suggested change on women deacons (which, of

course, was not adopted) was born of the desire of some people in the

church to be more (emphasis original) Biblical.


everyone will agree, naturally, that to start ordaining women as

deacons is more Biblical. Yet, I think nearly everyone who listened

carefully to the debate at Synod--even the opponents of the proposed

change in the Form of Government--would agree that the suggestion for change was backed with serious exegesis of Scripture. [I've

just looked closely at the Committee's report Joel here commends, and I

would question his strong commendation of Hurley's Majority Report's

exegesis as "serious," if by "serious" he means faithful to the text's

meaning or in line with the historical exegesis of the Church through

two millenia. It's telling how often Hurley's majority distances itself

from what it calls the "traditional" exegesis.]


it is borrowing trouble to assume that we are walking in the footsteps

to unbelief just because one of our feet happened to fall at the same

spot where an unbeliever's foot had earlier stepped. What guides those

footsteps is what is most important, and every evidence at Synod was

that the Scriptures continue to be that guide.

Here are a few excerpts from Hurley's Committee's Majority Report which

ought to give some indication of the tendentious nature of much of the

Committee's exegesis--an exegesis that frequently puts itself in

opposition to what it refers to as the Church's "traditional" exegesis:

On 1Timothy 2:13,14:

Paul's appeal to the prior formation of Adam is often difficult

for modern exegetes to understand. Paul does not elaborate to explain

how the priority of Adam's formation relates to men's priority of

authority in ecclesiastical settings. Any explanation which we offer

must, therefore, be inferential. 

On 1Corinthians 11 and 1Timothy 2:

In (these passages) Paul indicates

that the prior formation of Adam and the derivative formation of

Eve are reasons for the subordinate roles of women in marriage and

in the church.


that, according to Hurley, the Creation Order is strictly limited in

its application to the Church and the home. This modern exegetical

invention occurs repeatedly in Hurley's Majority Report.]

On the statement of 1Timothy 2 that it was not Adam, but Eve who was deceived, Hurley's Majority Report says:

Paul's words are cryptic and it is not possible from

the actual language to discern his precise meaning.... It is more difficult to assess whether Paul intended to say that

all women are as gullible as was Eve. Titus 2:3 offers some help,

however, in that it directs the older women to teach the younger.

It would appear that Paul did not consider that women were too gullible

to be able to teach! ...Our discussion above has suggested that Paul's point was not that

the woman was gullible, but that theological authority did not belong

to her.

Hurley's Majority Report

makes no positive application of the Holy Spirit's statement concerning

Eve's deception, but only this denunciation of any suggestion of women

being "gullible."

Summing up their conclusions concerning 1Timothy 2:

We have found nothing at all in Paul's discussion of subject

matter for prayer (vv. 1,2), the manner in which men and women should

pray (vv. 8-10), or the manner of women's reception of public instruction

which even vaguely suggests that Paul's words are culturally limited.

On the contrary, we have found that Paul's defense of his position

is not in the least grounded in the then present culture, but is

rather squarely based on the pre-fall situation which he felt normative.

We conclude that 1Timothy 2 is indeed an appropriate place to begin

a study of the NT teaching on the role of women.

The Apostle Paul "felt" the pre-fall situation was normative? Really? He "felt" that way?

Further, to write that 1Timothy is only "an appropriate place to begin a study of the New Testament's teaching on the role of women" is rather silly. This is not one place to begin, but the New Testament's locus classicus.


summing up their exegesis, Hurley's majority presents this paraphrase

of 1Timothy 2 as a summary of their new exegetical understanding of the

text's meaning:

Although women may enter vocally into public

prayer, they must not enter vocally into the teaching or other

authoritative exercises in the service. A woman should learn

in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman

to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent.

The order of creation is not an accident; there are things

to be learned from it. Adam was formed first, then Eve. His

priority of creation reflects a divinely established headship

in the house and in religious matters. Within those relations

the theological decisions rested with the man. Thus although

Adam was not deceived but deliberately chose to sin, Eve was

quite deceived and became a transgressor.

Just for the record, here is what 1Timothy 2:11-14 actually says--in its entirety:


woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But

I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but

to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.

And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived,

fell into transgression.

Compare the above

paraphrase of Hurley's majority with what the Holy Spirit Himself said

and it will be clear that what Joel Belz commended as the "serious

exegesis" of Hurley's Majority Report is serious in moving us

from the historic exegesis of the Church into a new era of progressive

exegesis ever so careful while it pushes to be scrupulous in holding

the line at women moving onto the church's Session or getting up in the

pulpit and preaching Sunday morning. Other than these two places,

Hurley's majority leads us into the new day dawning.


their novel interpretation of the application of the Creation account

in Genesis 2, as well as the Holy Spirit's exegesis of that account as

it relates to the exercise of authority by woman over man found in

1Timothy 2, Hurley's Majority Report says this about woman teaching and exercising authority over man outside the church and home:

The scripture delineates three great societal institutions: family,

church, and state. We have argued for the continuing subordination

of woman to men in two of the three (family and church). Does the

Scripture also teach the subordination of women in the social order?

It is an impossible task to answer this question with respect to

Adam and Eve. We cannot distinguish a social order between them.

We can, however, examine this theme at later points in the history

of redemption. We note that women were generally under paternal

or marital authority in the Old Testament and that it is therefore

hard to assess whether they might also have independent social status.

There are, however, sufficient examples of women who were not under

such authority that we can answer our question. Three great women

of the Old Testament stand out as having played major social roles:

Miriam, Deborah, Hulda. The case of Deborah is perhaps the clearest

for our purposes. If it is immoral for a woman to rule over men

in the social realm, God is surely at fault in establishing Deborah

as judge over Israel. It must be noted that this role was not at

all typical for Israelite women. Typically it was men who had the

role of prophet or judge. The most common occurrence cannot, however,

be determinative for principle. The question of principle is established

by the appointment by God of a woman judge.

We conclude that women are not by creation design subordinate in

the social sphere. Were there more space, it would be possible to

examine the role of the wife in Proverbs 31 who clearly ruled over

a fleet of servants and who was engaged in buying land (birthrights!),

the rights of a widow to stand on equal footing with men, the role

of women in the ministries of Paul and Jesus. We conclude that the

nature of Adam and Eve's situation was such as to preclude clear

differentiation of roles within the spheres of family, church, and

society. Examination of further biblical information strongly indicates

that in the spheres of family and church, female subordination continues

to the present. In the sphere of society, there is little early

information, but there is clear later example establishing that

it is not a matter of divine principle that women should be excluded

from equal participation with men in the sphere of society [emphasis in original].

It must, however, be further noted that certain situations might

make it unwise for a given woman to take social authority over a

given man (e.g.., a wife over her own husband).

At the conclusion of Hurley's Majority Report, the majority sums up their exegesis of Genesis 2, 1Timothy 2:11-15, 1 Corinthians 11:8,9 and 1

Corinthians 14:35:

Paul consistently and legitimately employed the early chapters

of Genesis and, on theological grounds, considered them normative

in his own day. We see no reason that the present church should

not continue to consider them relevant.


considered the early chapters of Genesis "normative" and Hurley's

majority tell us they "see no reason" we today "should not continue to

consider them relevant" today? Well that's a huge relief.

* * *

Studying this Majority Report

brought to the RPCES Synod, it's striking how formative its new

exegetical positions and hermeneutics continue to be for many within

the PCA in our own time. For instance, read this statement from the

Majority Report (which was firmly rejected by Synod) and the origin of Tim Keller's statement, "A woman may

do anything an unordained man may do," becomes quite clear.

With respect to authority, it must be

stressed that women are under their husbands' authority in marriage

and under the elders' authority in the church. Apart from these

structures of family and church (i.e., in society), they are not

by creational role subordinate to men. "Women-in-general" are not

under the authority of "men-in-general"; neither are women somehow

of lesser rank than those men within the congregation who are not

elders. A central principle, therefore, regarding the role of

women within the church is that with respect to ecclesiastical authority,

there are but two groups within the church: elders and non-elders [emphasis in the original].

On this basis, the debate over whether or not "women" may undertake

a given activity within the church is seen to be basically misguided,

for it presumes that there are not only elders and non-elders, but

also that male non-elders (men-in-general) are of greater authority

than female non-elders (women-in-general).