...no opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon the same level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man's opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.
(Preliminary Principle Number Four, 1788 Synod of New York and Philadelphia, 1789 General Assembly; 1973 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America)
(Tim) If a pastor were embarrassed by the Biblical doctrine of sexuality; if he believed God's prohibition of woman exercising authority over man was a hindrance to the furtherance of the Gospel, and that to align himself with it would harm his ability to reach out to the arbiters of culture, winning some for Christ and His Kingdom; if he felt it wise to adopt a halfway covenant on sexuality and so he stood midway between the sexual anarchy of egalitarian feminism and the father-rule created and decreed by God in the perfection of Eden...
if he had a sense that, with a little finesse and nuance, he might be able to appease those hostile to the Gospel because of God making Adam first, and then Eve; if he then set out to find the precise point where his work and witness would be counter-cultural enough to fulfill the minimal commitments necessary to claim Biblical obedience, but also contextualized enough to fulfill the minimal commitments necessary to claim cultural relevance; if what motivated this pastor was not standing in the gap, but avoiding it; not guarding the good deposit, but trimming it; not warning the sheep publicly and from house to house, day and night with tears, but building his own reputation as a profound and thoughtful man perfectly suited to ministry within the modern egalitarian context; if a pastor were to design his preaching and polity around such mollycoddling of the Spirit of the Age, what would it all look like?
It would look just like the trimming of past ages--characterized by just enough obedience to forestall ecclesiastical discipline, but enough rebellion to keep on pretty good terms with the world. It would parade its righteousness while plotting against the very laws it claimed to be honoring.
Concerning sexuality, it would tell the worldlings they needn't worry about the Biblical command of father-rule while safely ensconced in her fellowship; that this gnarly patriarchal narrative had no staying power within their fellowship, although everyone would need a little understanding and patience as they awaited its death; that until it died, there would be some aspects of communal life that would point back, rather than forward; and yet those aspects would be limited to two places, only: formal meetings of church officers (ruling elders) doing discipline and formal meetings of church officers (teaching elders) preaching during corporate worship. Other than those two specific and quite-limited time slots, one's sex had absolutely nothing to do with anything beyond who one was and wasn't able to consider as a marital partner.
Such a pastor would see how useful it could be to have some pithy summary of his halfway covenant--a summary that would stick in people's minds and put them at ease. Quickly such a summary was found and, being released, wormed its way into the minds and hearts of flock:
A woman may do anything an unordained man may do.
Sadly, though, this summary had one problem: whereas much had been made of sexual identity having no application other than the strictly limited contexts of Ruling Elders doing discipline during Session meetings and Teaching Elders doing authoritative sermonizing from the pulpit on Lord's Day mornings during corporate worship, the pithy summary he had chosen didn't speak only of Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders, but rather of those ordained and those unordained. But he'd forgotten there was another class of officers who also were ordained: deacons.
Quickly, then; it was the work of a moment to stop ordaining their deacons.
* * *
Anyone who watches the debate over woman deacons in the PCA today and thinks that debate has anything at all to do with woman deacons; anyone who wonders what the big deal is all about; anyone who thinks that keeping women off the session and out of the pulpit Sunday morning is proof positive of a pastor's Biblical orthodoxy on sexuality; anyone who would approve a PCA teaching elder for ordination who summed up his commitment to Biblical sexuality by the pithy remark, "A woman may do anything an unordained man may do;" is entirely lacking in discernment.
Until we have trained ourselves to recognize our trimming and avoiding the gaps and loving the approval of men and excusing cowardice by speaking of our commitment to contextualization and fleeing when the wolves attack; until we have begun to know ourselves--our strengths, but also our weaknesses--we will not begin to serve as faithful presbyters.
The issue in the PCA today is not woman deacons, nor is it the refusal of some churches to ordain their male deacons.
Rather, the issue is shepherds fleeing danger instead of laying down our lives for Christ's sheep. And if we're going to run when the attack comes, Satan is quite wise in giving us a good excuse. He knows the utility of pointing to the side, away from the hole in the wall, and crying out, "Look at the birdie!"
Woman deacons is the Trojan Horse the Evil One is using to infiltrate the church with rebels against God's order of sexuality. Pawns in his hand, they justify themselves by pointing away from the hole in the wall and crying out, "Calvin believed in deacons! John Piper believes in deacons! We're in good company!"
But of course, the feminist practices pervasive within the PCA churches and presbyteries currently trying to hide inside the debate over woman deacons would receive the instant rebuke of Luther, Calvin, Knox, Machen, Lloyd-Jones, Edwards, or every single one of the Apostles.
If "a woman may do anything an unordained man may do" is a Biblical doctrine of sexuality, then truth and falsehood are upon the same level, there is no connection between faith and practice, truth and duty, and it is of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.