Didn’t We Just Do This? Recent PCA Proposals to Ordain Women to Church Office – Part 3

“The question of the role of women in the Church is not a new or unstudied issue….the proposed study committee is unlikely to break new ground or shed new insights” (37th GA, 2009).

One of the contentions of the CMC is that the PCA has a history of passivity and even resistance to discussing the role of women in the church. However, a review of recent history will attest to the fact that the PCA does not have a history of passivity in discussing the role of women in the church; in fact, quite the opposite. The issues of the role of women in the church and women in office were occasions for long and serious debates, especially between 2000-2011.

 

The Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has proposed a recommendation to the 44th General Assembly that it form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church.

Here is the proposed recommendation that is being presented through the Administrative Committee (AC) to the PCA GA:

That –

  • The Assembly form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church (RAO 9-1; 9-3). The Assembly authorizes the Moderator to appoint the study committee. The study committee should be made up of competent men and women representing the diversity of opinions within the PCA (RAO 9-1; Robert’s Rules of Order [11th edition], §13, pp. 174-175, §50, pp.495- 496, §50, pp. 497-498 §56, p. 579]).
  • The committee should give particular attention to the issues of:
  • The biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination;
  • The biblical nature and function of the office of deacon;
  • Clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses;
  • Should the findings of the study committee warrant BCO changes, the study committee will propose such changes for the General Assembly to consider.
  • The committee will have a budget of $15,000 that is funded by designated donations to the AC from churches and individuals (RAO 9-2).
  • A Pastoral Letter to be proposed by the ad interim study committee and approved by the General Assembly be sent to all churches, encouraging them to (1) promote the practice of women in ministry, (2) appoint women to serve alongside elders and deacons in the pastoral work of the church, and (3) hire women on church staff in appropriate ministries.

Grounds: The Cooperative Ministries Committee may not make recommendations directly to the General Assembly but must do so through an appropriate committee or agency (RAO 7-3 c; 7-6). The CMC has had a subcommittee on the role of women and has sent several recommendations to the AC (including a proposal for a study committee on the issue women serving in the church) and CDM to bring to the Assembly[1].

One of the contentions of the CMC is that the PCA has a history of passivity and even resistance to discussing the role of women in the church. However, a review of recent history will attest to the fact that the PCA does not have a history of passivity in discussing the role of women in the church; in fact, quite the opposite. The issues of the role of women in the church and women in office were occasions for long and serious debates, especially between 2000-2011.

The PCA had numerous discussions at each level of its church courts. The following from General Assembly minutes highlights the debate on the role of women in the church’s ministry and women in office.

General Assembly 2010, (Min38 GA, p. 379) in answer to Overture #7 (and all other related overtures were answered by reference to this one, see p. 386[2])

That Overture 7 from Evangel Presbytery (“Amend BCO 9-7 to Specify that Persons Who Assist Deacons May Not Be Ordained”), be answered in the affirmative as amended (proposed changes to BCO 9-7) as follows (strike-through for deletions; underscore for additions):

9-7. It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and appoint godly men and women of the congregation, to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need. These assistants to the deacons are not officers of the church (BCO 7-2) and, as such, are not subjects for ordination (BCO 17). so that as amended the provision reads:

9-7. It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and appoint godly men and women of the congregation, to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need. These assistants to the deacons are not officers of the church (BCO 7-2) and, as such, are not subjects for ordination (BCO 17).                                              Adopted

Grounds: There was general consensus on the Overtures committee that we are committed to two ordained offices, elder and deacon, to be held by men only. There was much discussion, however, regarding different models and terminology for women’s ministry occurring alongside the deacons in accord with BCO 9-7. The opinion was generally expressed that we should neither create new terminology nor forbid terminology presently in use in many churches, such as “deacon’s assistant”, “deaconess”, or “kwonsa” (in use in the Korean churches), as long as it is made explicit that none of these terms should be interpreted as corresponding to a church office in the sense of BCO 7-2. The original language of the overture had some of this effect, but the revised language was deemed to more clearly state that these assistants should not be confused with ordained officers of the church. References to BCO 7-2 and BCO 17 were inserted to define what is meant by the terms “officer” and “ordination.” The wording in the original overture specifying that deacon’s assistants shall be chosen in the method determined by session was deemed to be unnecessary because BCO 9-7 already specifies that the session should select and appoint the assistants to the deacons.

OVERTURE 7 from Evangel Presbytery “Amend BCO 9-7 to Specify that Persons Who Assist Deacons May Not Be Ordained”

Whereas, the biblical office of elder was instituted by a divine commandment, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather for me seventy men whom you know to be elders of the people and officers over them and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you so that you may not bear it yourself alone.’” (Numbers 11:16-17. See also I Timothy 5:17 and Hebrews 13:7-17); and

Whereas, this plurality of elders was continued in the development of synagogues into the Second Temple Era and into the New Testament; and

Whereas, Scriptures specify that Elders are set apart and necessary for every local church and the broader Church, 1) Acts 14:23: “And when they [Paul and Barnabas] had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” 2) Titus 1:5: “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you…” (See also Acts 11:30; 13:1; 15:2, 4, 22; 20:17; I Timothy 4:14; James 5:14; I Peter 5:1-2; and Philippians 1:1); and

Whereas, the Presbyterian Church in America Book of Church Order, in obedience to Scripture, therefore, requires a plurality of elders for the particularization of a local church (BCO 5-9) and for the ongoing functioning of a local church (BCO 12-1); and

Whereas, the office of elder is that of spiritual and ecclesiastical governance, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (I Timothy 5:17). (See also Acts 20:28; [BCO 12-5]); and

Whereas, the New Testament office of deacon was established, not by the direct revelation of a divine command, but by apostolic prudence, and not in a governing office but as an office of service, Acts 6:2–4 “‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.’”; and

Whereas, Scripture establishes standards for deacons, 1 Timothy 3:8: “Deacons likewise, must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain”; and

Whereas, Scripture reveals that only the churches of Philippi (Philippians 1:1), Ephesus (I Timothy 3:8-13) and Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-6) are specified as having deacons, though Phoebe in the church at Cenchreae was called a deacon by Paul in Romans 16:1: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [Greek: diakonos] of the church at Cenchre . . .”; and,

Whereas, the diaconal ministry is that of sympathy and service, not of spiritual and ecclesiastical governance, and any authority that may be attached to the office of deacon is a derivative authority, with plurality of elders serving as the final authority in a local church (BCO 9-1; 9-2; 9-6); and,

Whereas, though the office of deacon is “ordinary and perpetual” (BCO 9-1), it is not one that is an absolute necessity for the particularization (BCO 5-10) or ongoing ministry (BCO 9-2) of a local church; and,

Whereas, in the PCA, individuals at all levels of the church, including missionaries, vacation Bible school workers, Sunday school teachers, Women in the Church officers, and countless other church workers (both men and women) have been commissioned throughout the entire history of the PCA and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod; and,

Whereas, upon completion of Joining and Receiving (J & R), the RPCES practice of commissioning deaconesses was carried over to the PCA (Minutes of the Ninth General Assembly, PCA, 1981, p. 305); and,

Whereas, the RPCES had conducted a detailed study of the issue of deaconesses during the period 1974-8 and adopted the following resolution:

Resolved: that in light of the action of the 155th General Synod, we do not recommend allowing each particular church within the denomination to determine whether its diaconate shall include men as well as women, nor that they be allowed to ordain a woman as a deacon. We also remind churches that they are free to elect Spirit filled women as deaconesses and to set them apart by prayer (156th General Synod Minutes of the RPCES, 1978, pp. 133-134, see Attachment.) [For the full 1976 study report, go to http://www.pcahistory.org/ findingaids/rpces /docsynod/390.html] and,

Whereas, in connection with J & R, the PCA acknowledged the practices of denominations so received by stating, “In receiving these denominations, the Presbyterian Church in America recognizes the history of the respective denominations as part of her total history and receives their historical documents as valuable and significant material which will be used in the perfecting of the Church (Minutes of the Ninth General Assembly, PCA, 1981, p. 305); and,

Whereas, the PCA Book of Church Order, (since its First Edition, published in 1975, and continuing to the present in the Sixth Edition) authorizes its church Sessions to appoint “godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need” (Emphasis added);

Now, be it therefore resolved, that Evangel Presbytery hereby overtures the 38th

General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to amend Book of Church Order 9-7 to include the following sentence to be placed at the end of the section:  These individuals who assist the deacons, selected by means determined by each Session, are not subjects for ordination. The entire section 9-7, therefore, would read: 9-7. It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need. These individuals who assist the deacons, selected by means determined by each Session, are not subjects for ordination.”

That same 2010 Assembly answered (pp. 391-392) other overtures as follows: That Overture 10 from Northern California Presbytery (“Amend BCO 1-4, 4-2, 5-10, 7-2, 9-2, 9-7 & Add a BCO 9-8 to Appoint Unordained Men and Women to Carry Out Diaconal Ministry”), be answered in the negative.                             Adopted

Grounds: The Overtures Committee references the advice from the CCB (p. 268) that parts of Overture 10 are in conflict with other parts of the Constitution.

OVERTURE 10  from Northern California Presbytery “Amend  BCO 1-4, 4-2, 5-10, 7-2, 9-2, 9-7 & Add a BCO 9-8 to Appoint Unordained Men and Women to Carry Out Diaconal Ministry”

[1] PCA 44th General Assembly Commissioner’s Handbook. Pgs. 306-307.

[2] P. 386 from the 2010 Assembly: That the following overtures be answered by reference to the General Assembly’s action on Overture 7:

  • Overture 2 from Central Carolina Presbytery (“Amend BCO 9-7 to Prohibit Deaconesses”), p. 36 in the Handbook, Overture 9 from Eastern Carolina Presbytery (“Revise BCO 9-7 to Prohibit Assistants to the Deacons from Being Commissioned or
  • Installed as Office Bearers”), pp. 48-49 in the Handbook,
  • Overture 13 from Westminster Presbytery (“Assistants to the Deacons not to be Elected, Ordained, or Installed as if they were Office Bearers”), p. 55 in the Handbook, and
  • Overture 16 from the Presbytery of Tennessee Valley (“Affirm Unordained Deaconesses”), pp. 68-69 in the Handbook. Adopted