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

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 fifteen grandchildren.


I've been thinking this morning on this warning, trying to find the places in my life where I have been corrosively influenced by culture. Guessing where they are is easy, but seeing the details is hard. And working out the implications of what I need to change is harder still.

It's hard to know yourself.

My comment is not related to your larger point, with which I have no issue, but I find it offensive that you would make such a sweeping generalization of the state of the Korean church and of Korean households based on what one Korean congregant may have told you. If some Caucasian person were to say to me that Caucasian people are prone to making sweeping racial generalizations does that make it true? And, for the record, as a Korean American my opinion is that Korean households are not, in general, ruled by the women -- in my experience, the Korean culture is very strongly patriarchal (in both good ways and bad).

Were you offended when Paul made a sweeping generalization about the Cretans?

David, no I was/am not. Is Pastor Tim an apostle?

No, does he need to be? Is what Paul did sinful unless one is an apostle? Were Cretans the only people about whom a generalized statement could be made? Does it matter that it is true or is that irrelevant?

I agree with you that it does make a difference whether the generalized statement is true and/or relevant. I'm not saying that categorically all sweeping statements are out of bounds. My point is that it is highly important that we do our best to ensure that such statements are in fact true before we make them. In the case of Paul, I think holding the office of apostle and speaking words ordained by God to constitute our Scriptures is pretty strong evidence that his sweeping statements were true. Basing such a statement off of the word of one Korean congregant, however, is an altogether different matter is it not?

I would then agree with you that such a sweeping statement is not inherently wrong. Its merit is based on its veracity. I have no idea whether the statement regarding Korean families is essentially correct or not. Depending on who the congregant is I can imagine relying on a single testimony. I would also imagine there were Cretans who were quite sure Paul was in error.

Consequently, if I were you, I'd limit my criticisms to whether the Baylys are right or not, which is a matter open for discussion, rather than criticize them simply for being willing to make such a statement.

Also I'd note that statements regarding Caucasians are substantially more sweeping than those about Koreans. A more corresponding statement to one about Caucasians would be one about Asians. A more corresponding statement to that about Koreans might be one about Scots, Americans or Minnesotans.

I'm afraid you've missed my point. What I thought I was expressing (even from my first comment) was a criticism over a willingness to make a statement as sweeping and as negative as "Korean households are ruled by women" and then draw a conclusion based on that statement ("this helps to explain Korean polity") based on one person's opinion -- even if it turns out that this sister is one of the preeminent experts on the topic of Korean domestic relations. You're correct in stating that the truth of those statements is open to discussion and, in my opinion, not easily determined (further bolstering my point if true). I may be wrong but I believe that such sweeping generalizations ought to be made sparingly and only very thoughtfully. And yes, I understand that Koreans are a subset of Asians and not directly analogous to the category of Caucasians (but struggle to see how that contributes to the conversation).

I am not here to try and score debate points against you or anyone else (nor am I saying that that is your intention). My aim here is simply to try and give you (and whomever else) the perspective of a Korean American reading this post. I don't know that I was successful in that aim but this will be my final post. I look forward to the day when we will enter into glory and all such matters of race will be a thing of the past.

>>> ...such sweeping generalizations ought to be made sparingly and only very thoughtfully

But Mr. Lee, what if such generalizations help the flock see a trend in such a way as to see their sin in its larger systemic context such that they realize that more than their own personal circumstances are at stake? What if such generalizations may help put the terribleness of a whole host of people erring in a certain way into focus? And I think that well chosen and true generalizations can help do just this.

How can you condemn a pastor for using such a tool? If you what you really want to say is, "Well, but *this* particular generalization is false," then let's argue that. But to take a tool away from a pastor saying it is wrong (or almost always wrong, or most often wrong) to use -- especially while using the very same tool yourself! -- how can that be right?

JLee wrote

"And, for the record, as a Korean American my opinion is that Korean households are not, in general, ruled by the women -- in my experience, the Korean culture is very strongly patriarchal (in both good ways and bad)."

One of the chief tactics that feminists use to gain control of a households, churches, and nations is convincing the men they're patriarchal and should be ashamed.

"...even if it turns out that this sister is one of the preeminent experts..."

Which, of course is just a rehashing of the previous argument "But you're not the Apostle Paul." So the only people qualified to generalizations "sparingly and thoughtfully" are preeminent experts or apostles. Better yet, maybe only Jesus should do it.

While this argument provides a wonderfully convenient excuse to never make the kinds of unpleasant distinctions that generalizations inevitably make, it overlooks the glaring obligation we have to imitate Jesus and our fathers in the faith.

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