PCA debate over woman deacons: It’s about rebellion--not exegesis...
(Note from DB: This post is by David Wegener, a teaching elder in Central Indiana Presbytery of the PCA.)
I’ve lived and worked in Zambia for the last decade. One of the delightful things about Zambian life is the importance of the non-verbal. Body language is carefully observed. My students watch me for cues as to what I’m really saying, regardless of my words.
We’ve all seen a rebellious teen-ager or wife. Wise pastors and elders have learned to pick up the non-verbal cues that show this rebellion. Usually you can see it in the eyes or the expression on the lips. God made us this way and it is only through a cultivated ignorance that officers of the church are unaware of the obvious signs. I wish I could pick up the cues as easily as my African students do.
Many blog posts and emails document the culture of rebellion that exists today in the PCA. Only a carefully cultivated ignorance will miss the signs. And they’re not simply non-verbal. They’re written down and clear for all to see. Sam Wheatley’s paper is only the most recent example.
Vast sections of our denomination are in rebellion against what our Book of Church Order says about the ordination of women as deacons.
The trails of our “winsome” rebellion are various and devious. We show this deviousness by contriving ways to have women function as deacons while still holding to the language of the BCO. This allows us to cop a posture of submission to our “fathers and brothers” while we defy them. Sometimes we refuse to ordain anyone as a deacon, and then have a board of men and women who do everything a deacon should; it’s just that they’re not ordained to that office and we don’t call them “deacons.” We call them “deeks.” Sometimes our rebellion finds other trails to make us look good, while in fact we are undermining the government of our church.
Meanwhile, liberal sessions and presbyteries overture our General Assembly time and again asking, “Can’t we please change the BCO’s ban against woman officers? We want deeks! Can’t we please have them?”
Sometimes, when they are defeated, they feign submission, yet continue to do things in the same way. Sometimes they tell us this is the way we’re going to do things no matter what.
Rarely do men have the integrity to realize they are out of accord with the government of our church and leave for "more missional environs," as they in their conceit would put it. That's the hard thing to do and we all like holding onto the PCA trademark.
This is one of the presiding myths on the topic: women in the diaconate is an exegetical issue and must be dealt with on that level. I can feel some of my readers becoming nervous at this point. What about the authority of Scripture? What about the primacy of exegesis?
Does anyone really think this issue is about what Scripture actually says? Would that it were true. Why is it that men all over the PCA are bringing up this topic at this particular moment in history? Might it have something to do with the air we breathe every day?
Women run for president and vice-president; they serve as CEOs and they are our supervisors and bosses, our teachers and principals and cell group leaders and spiritual directors.
Our pastors preach through books like Ephesians and Colossians and sweat bullets as they approach Ephesians 5:22-24 and Colossians 3:18. And if they do preach on the topic, they talk mostly about what submission does not mean. So the final result is, “wives, be nice to your husbands.”
Afterwards, when they greet the congregation, their mouth shows the same expression as a dog cowed into submission by the pack's alpha dog. The non-verbal communication is obvious.
In spite of what I’ve said, I’m grateful for excellent exegetical treatments of this topic. I’m also thankful for those who have pointed out the factual and historical errors in Pastor Wheatley’s paper and President Ryken’s commentary.
But the roots of this rebellion are not in exegesis, and so we must not fight this battle only on that level. The roots lie in our sin. We don’t love our wives and sometimes they become a seething cauldron of bitterness. We love pornography or commit adultery and so we refuse to call our wives to submit (in any area of their lives). Guilt over our compromised state eviscerates our authority. Fathers sexually molest their daughters and bring rebellion into the church for generations to come. Fathers hold their darling on their lap and tell her how she can become president someday. Mothers push their daughters to get the education she’ll need so that she can earn a good living after her husband divorces her and leaves her with three children. Single women, whose fathers and mothers have failed to teach feminine deference, whine about lacking a voice in the church. Wives of elders “get headaches” when their husbands come home and tell them of the latest action of the session. Why do our youth pastors make young women who muster the courage to say they’d like to become a wife and mother feel like idiots?
Far more than a determination of what role Phoebe played in the church at Cenchrea or whether deacons exercise authority in their work, these are the roots of our rebellion.
This kind of rebellion needs to be dealt with just like any other persistent sin. Warnings need to be given and given and given. If these are unheeded (no matter the outward displays), then charges need to be brought and men need to be put under discipline. This is the only gracious way to deal with your rebellion and mine. Yes, this will mean that we won’t “guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride,” but it is the Bible way and it’s good.
It doesn’t matter who is guilty of this sin. Even if he is a man known for his expert grasp of justification by grace alone, through Christ alone, received by faith alone, then he needs to be disciplined if he has women serving and functioning as deacons (no matter what he calls them). Even if his church gives the other churches in his network $25,000 a year, then he needs the loving correction of church discipline if he has “deeks” (or his rebellion will only grow). Even if he’s a feather in the PCA’s cap (or the whole cap itself) or your close friend and confidant, if we don’t discipline him, we don’t love him. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. This is Church Government 101.
Only in this way will we preserve the peace and purity of the church and restore its unity. Only in this way will we guard the flock over which Christ has made us over-seers. Only in this way will we be an example to our sons as they wait to take their seat at the table. Only in this way will we show our wives that we love Christ more than money. Only in this way will we call our competent, capable, theologically astute and eminently qualified daughters to the modesty of Sarah who was not ashamed to call Abraham, “lord.”
It’s long past time to command the rebels (those guilty of persistent rebellion) to return to their vows and submit to their fathers and brothers, their constitution and Scripture.