Redeemer explains its ordination of women: a big, but innocent, mistake...

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"...this action is revelatory of underlying commitments. After all, it’s precisely here that Redeemer has staked her position

against the PCA. This is the point where Redeemer, like the EPC, is

opposed to the Word of God."

(David) Redeemer Manhattan has begun responding to criticism arising from the ordination of a woman deacon in a Redeemer worship service last May.

An email explanation from Senior Pastor Keller—since made public on the GreenBaggins blog—found its way into my email box a week ago. Yesterday I learned via a comment on this site that Redeemer Pastor Scott Sauls, the man who presides over the ordination of women in the recently-discovered YouTube video of the service, emailed an apology to his presbytery for this departure from the Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order

Tim Keller’s explanation can be found here, Scott Sauls’ letter is posted  here. (Incidentally, the response Bob Mattes got from Tim Keller is boiler plate. A week earlier, I received a copy of the same text sent by Tim Keller to another man.)

Tim Keller’s explanation can be summarized:

1) The ordination service was an anomaly. Redeemer doesn’t usually ordain deaconesses or ask its congregation to vow submission to them.

2) The presiding pastor is a newer member of the Redeemer staff.

3) Cut the guy some slack. Every pastor makes mistakes in leading worship.

4) The minister at the center of the action apologized.

5) Those who posted the video acted uncharitably.

Sauls’ explanation adds the following personal observations:

1) Wow, I can’t believe I did that…. Sauls says that upon viewing the video in which he ordains women to office and leads the congregation to vow obedience to those officers, “My own response was, ‘Oh my goodness, how could I have missed that detail?’“

2) I was confused about which denomination I was in…. Sauls writes, “(T)his was my first Deaconess commissioning at Redeemer. It had been five years since I had attended a PCA General Assembly, as I had left the PCA to plant and pastor a church in the EPC, where we did ordain Deaconesses. So up to the time I commissioned the Redeemer Deaconess, for almost five years my own practice had been according to EPC polity, not PCA polity.”

3) My bad. I forgot to do it Pastor Keller’s way.... Sauls writes, “Very unintentionally, I did not modify the vows as Redeemer pastors customarily do for a Deaconess commissioning... if anyone you talk to about this wishes to understand Redeemer’s actual practice with respect to Deacons and Deaconesses, please encourage them to read Tim’s article which is posted at the By Faith Online website.”

In the midst of this concerted effort to minimize Pastor Saul’s offense, the following needs to be said.

First, Pastor Sauls is no downy-cheeked youngster. He graduated from college in 1990 and from Covenant Seminary in 1996—which puts him probably past the age of forty in May of 2009 when he led this service. According to Sauls’ LinkedInprofile, prior to his 2007 call to Redeemer, he had planted and served as senior pastor of two churches, one in the PCA, a second in the EPC; he now serves as “Senior Director of Community Formation and Preaching Pastor” at Redeemer.

Second, far from possessing little acquaintance with PCA diaconal teaching and practice, Sauls oversees Redeemer’s diaconal ministries and supervises Redeemer’s Diaconate Director Jenny Chang. It was Pastor Sauls who explained Redeemer’s dismissal of Pastor Mark Robinson in a congregational letter earlier this year in which he wrote, “ I write to inform you that a decision has been made that Mark’s role at Redeemer is not the best fit ideologically and ecclesially, and that it is best that we part ways in terms of Mark’s employment.” Sauls’ reference to “ecclesial” differences is a direct reference to Pastor Robinson’s refusal to toe the Redeemer line in regard to women deacons, one of the stated reasons for his dismissal.

Keller and Sauls portray the man leading worship in the video as, essentially, an innocent neophyte. Nonsense. He’s a seasoned pastor who participated in the dismissal of a fellow Redeemer pastor for issues directly related to Redeemer’s stance on women deacons just months prior to the service in question.

Third, Keller and Sauls are right: all of us make mistakes in worship. But there are mistakes, and there are mistakes. It’s one thing for a PCA pastor to forget the questions of parents at a baptism. It’s another to neglect to fence the table in accord with the requirements of the BCO. It’s another altogether to lead the congregation in praying to Mary. The first is an innocent error involving no violation of God’s Word and a motiveless violation of the BCO. The second is likely a willful rejection of one of the few mandatory portions of the BCO, though perhaps no violation of Scripture. The third is a direct violation of Scripture itself. Ordaining women to church-wide office and requiring the men of the church to vow submission to those officers is that kind of mistake. It’s not the violation of polity that Sauls suggests but violation of the Word of God. Denominations are divided and created over such disobedience—denominations such as the CRC and the URC, the PCA and the EPC.

Let’s be clear on the unbiblical nature of this ordination: when Reformed luminaries such as B.B. Warfield and John Calvin express support for an ecclesiastical office of deaconess, never in a million years did they envision men of the church vowing submission to such deaconesses. Yet this was precisely the nature of Sauls’ “mistake.” The very fact that Sauls says he “forgot” PCA practice in calling the congregation to vow submission to women suggests he fails to honor Scripture at this point. Note that he freely admits ordaining women and calling men to vow obedience to those women when he served in the EPC. It’s not an issue of obedience to him, it’s a matter of keeping the rules of the game straight: we play soccer in the PCA, not football. In football you use your hands. In soccer you don’t.

Fourth, there’s an obvious distinction between forgetting something in worship (which Keller describes Sauls as having done) and doing something forbidden in worship. It’s easy to omit a portion of a wedding: turn two pages instead of one and you’re past the statement of intent and on to the vows. But require man to vow obedience to woman? Can that ever be the mistake of a pastor committed to the authority of Scripture in the Western world today? Is the honoring of God’s Creation order and the Biblical command that woman is not to teach or exercise authority over a man simply a question of which service and which sanctuary and which denomination a man serves in this or that month? No. Rather, this action is revelatory of underlying commitments.

After all, it’s precisely here that Redeemer has staked her position against the PCA. This is the point where Redeemer, like the EPC, is opposed to the Word of God.

Fifth, Tim Keller notes that Sauls apologized for his mistake. In the interest of accuracy, when did he apologize and to whom? Where is the record of this apology? Did the apology precede or follow public discovery of the video? Was the apology as public as the act apologized for?

Sixth, and a vital point considering Keller’s and Sauls’ protestations that this was an unusual form for the installation of Redeemer deaconesses, who in the congregation objected to this ordination ceremony?

Certainly in most PCA churches such an ordination would produce a firestorm of complaints. How many complaints were received at Redeemer from members who attended this service? If this ceremony differed in obvious ways from a typical Redeemer ordination/installation of deacons, surely members of the congregation noted the fact in complaints to Redeemer leadership.

The truth, as several Redeemer members have stated privately, is that in its central features, this unisex installation service would strike most Redeemer members as boringly normal. Most Redeemer members remain totally unaware of any distinction between the ordination of male and the non-ordination of female deacons at Redeemer.