Debate over the approval of woman officers continues within the PCA...

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At a blog frequented by Reformed pastors holding membership in the PCA, there's been a discussion of whether or not the PCA's polity should be changed to allow women to serve alongside men in the office of deacon. In the midst of comments back and forth, one man warned the others that they should not allow culture to determine their position. This led to another men having something close to a hissy-fit over anyone at all--anyone! mind you!--questioning his integrity by implying he was influenced by our feminist culture.

As a rule, I don't comment on other blogs. In this case, though, I did and here's the text of what I said...

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Interesting discussion I'd like to add a couple things to.

I've been told by a Korean sister who was in our congregation that Korean households are ruled by women. This helps to explain Korean polity. Clearly the Korean church needs to be reformed in this matter and we must not be faithless approaching that work. Also, those working with the church in Africa should take note of this fruit within the Korean church as they consider the influence of outsiders on their continent: for instance, that ninety-five percent of microfinance loans go to women.

The corrosive influence of culture on this discussion is so clear as to be hum-drum and any of us who consider ourselves to be beyond this sort of sin are quite inadequate in our self-knowledge and need to bone up on original sin and total depravity. In one of his essays on deaconesses, Warfield demonstrates how carefully culture should be considered in any changes related to woman officeholders: 

We need not doubt, then, that the church has a distinct right to organize the work of woman after either of the fashions toward which the minds of Presbyterians turn when they speak of “deaconesses.” Bare right, however, does not vindicate wisdom. And it is to be hoped that there will be careful consideration of all the implications and, we may add, complications of the proposed action before the churches commit themselves irrevocably. Meanwhile, there is rapidly arising, in the natural course of affairs, a strong incitement toward in some way reducing to churchly character and to some sufficient form of ecclesiastical oversight, the whole sphere of woman’s work. Woman’s work does not wait to be organized. Women have already organized their own work in the church; and with a zeal and success which shame the prevailing apathy of Christian men, women have worked out for themselves a whole series of institutions which, while the church sleeps, may perchance grow fatally to overshadow its official and authorized agencies. To shut our eyes to the dangers inherent in these gigantic voluntary associations would be as silly as it might prove to be suicidal. Nor is it an adequate annulment of these dangers to plead that the loving loyalty of our women to our church system has shown itself to be as great as their loving zeal for God’s work. This is true, and deserves highest praise. But we must bear in mind the important principle pointed out by one of the brothers Hare--that the essential character of no theory or institution is adequately expressed in its inaugurates, since they make the institution, while it is the institution that makes the next generation of its administrators. The essential principle of every organization comes out sooner or later in its working; and independent and voluntary agencies show sooner or later that they have both independence and will of their own. There lie within the bosom of the great beneficent organizations of woman’s work, as they are at present developing without adequate points of union with the official church machinery, many hidden dangers to the church’s whole structure and efficiency, some of which can scarcely fail to shake the church of the next age, unless some way be now discovered by which the whole system may be not merely recognized, but, in a Scriptural manner, incorporated into the body of the church’s own activities, subjected to its lawful courts, and organized in accordance with its essential structure, so that it may become a harmoniously working part of the one organic whole. The simple revival of the congregational deaconess seems scarcely able to meet all the necessities of the case. And hence Dr. McGill, working on that conception of what a deaconess should be, no less than Dr. Charteris, working on the other, provided for a broader scheme. The real question is, How may woman’s work be organized so as to make it part of the church work and not extra-ecclesiastical? ...The practical wisdom of the church is face to face with a real problem, to settle which, with loyalty to God’s word, to his church, and to all the interests that are involved, will test its quality. Meanwhile, we counsel patience and prudence, and look on with much interest and many doubts.

Many of Warfield's observations above, including his accusations of "the prevailing apathy of Christian men" and the church "sleeping," are instructive concerning the freedom with which Christian men in such debates have accused one another of sinful influences and tendencies. To react by protesting that I could never sin in such a way and I abhor such insinuations against my lily-white pristine character simply demonstrates spiritual immaturity. We need to read dead fathers; but more, to study up on original sin and total depravity and sanctification.

It would purify this debate over woman officers if Reformed men would discipline themselves to indicate and inquire of others if they are promoting a change in polity which would result in woman "deacons," or woman "deaconesses;" and if woman deaconesses, whether those woman deaconesses would serve under the authority of the church's male deacons and would be guarded from the exercise of authority over men? A refusal to make these distinctions is the heart of the equivocation that allows Tim Keller and his Redeemer churches to cloak themselves with the authority of Early Church practice and Calvin and Warfield principle. But anyone who spends two seconds studying Early Church practice or Calvin and Warfield knows what Tim Keller is doing and promoting is unprecedented across church history. A woman is the director of his diaconate, presiding over all his deacons--that should be a clue, men.

Finally, there's no question the ordination of women to the office of deacon is the necessary step in the process of ordaining women to the office of elder and pastor. Years ago when I was serving in the PC(USA), I was subscribed to a journal of Reformed Theology (if you could dignify the publication with the word 'theology') that ran an article by a feminist summarizing the history of the ordination of woman pastors in Reformed denominations worldwide. I still have the article although I'm in Pittsburgh right now and can't provide the citation. But I found two things instructive: first, she said that every church that opened the offices of pastor and elder to women first opened the office of deacon to women. There were simply no exceptions to this rule; and second, that when she interviewed leaders of Reformed ecclesiastical bodies still prohibiting women from holding the offices of pastor and elder and asked them why they had not yet taken the step, not one of them responded citing Scripture. Rather, every one of them pointed to cultural presssures and prejudices as the determinant of their polity.

Now of course it is true we all easily mistake subsequence for consequence. It is also true that interviewers hear what they want to hear. But I left that article wiser, I think, and have never forgotten the feminist's observations.

Today in the PCA as everywhere else across all man's history, we are easily duped by Satan and we know not ourselves. If true religion is, as Calvin puts it, self-knowledge combined with the knowledge of God, the more we grow in our knowledge of God, the more we will grow in our own self-knowledge, and therefore the more we will grow in our ability to echo the (older) Apostle Paul when he testified that he was the chief of sinners.

What has this to do with this debate?

Everything. We are duplicitous. We are conniving. We are equivocators. We are timid. We are faithless. We are blind. And every last one of us is seized with a desperate fear of not appearing sufficiently progressive.

We have many pieces and sources concerning woman deacons/deaconesses. Check them out here.

With love,

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!