PCA Study Committee Report: Recommendation #4

The 4th recommendation: “That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men.”

By removing everything except the first sentence of this recommendation, the Assembly made it possible that exactly nothing will change in the congregations where refusing to ordain is the current practice. Basically, the churches of the PCA are urged to ordain deacons “if possible.” It is far too easy to say something is not possible, especially when gauging the possibility of an action is left to the discretion of the churches already not ordaining deacons.

 

At the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a study committee was formed and charged with examining the role of women in the ministry of the church. The committee report was presented to the 45th General Assembly and included 9 recommendations. I have dealt with recommendations two and three in previous posts. I look now at the 4th recommendation. The 4th recommendation reads as follows:

“That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men.”

However, to fully understand what happened with this recommendation we have to look at how it was originally presented to the body. The recommendation approved by the Assembly was not the recommendation suggested by the committee. It original recommendation read:

“That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men. Though The Book of Church Order does not specifically prohibit the practice of going without ordained deacons, it seems poorly aligned with the spirit of the principle of the two church offices outlined in The Book of Church Order.

This original statement enjoyed additional amendments prior to the final version, but since these were not implemented, we will simply deal with the original and final versions. Perhaps at first reading this recommendation seems obvious. However, current practice in the PCA made such a recommendation necessary. Part of the report’s section of recommendations contains the explanation for the various recommendations presented to the assembly.

The committee, in this recommendation, sought to address a practice described in the report as “choosing not to establish an ordained diaconate, even with qualified candidates, because the church wishes to be free to establish a body of unordained servants, both male and female (BCO 9-7)” (page 2460). In other words, some churches in the PCA currently do not establish ordained deacons so their diaconate can be made up of men and women. The study committee, in a gracious and fairly mild way, rebuked this practice, urging people to follow the commands of Scripture in establishing both the ordained office of elder and deacon in their congregations. If followed, this practice would eliminate women from the diaconate, restoring the proper structure for this body within the church.

In explaining why this should be so, the report describes the foundation for this rebuke as based on Philippians 1:1 where deacons are addressed as part of Paul’s introduction; on 1 Timothy 3 where the description of qualifications assumes a diaconate; and Acts 6 where seven godly men are set apart for service, forming a diaconate prototype of sorts.

The report points out these biblical texts all undergird the PCA’s BCO 9-4 which says that, “The deacons of a particular church shall be organized as a Board” (page 2460). The committee’s rationale is sound and biblical. However, in the debate on the floor the mild rebuke was removed and all that is left is a toothless statement that will change nothing regarding a disturbing practice that, at best, plays games with God’s Word and the BCO.

By removing everything except the first sentence of this recommendation, the Assembly made it possible that exactly nothing will change in the congregations where refusing to ordain is the current practice. Basically, the churches of the PCA are urged to ordain deacons “if possible.” It is far too easy to say something is not possible, especially when gauging the possibility of an action is left to the discretion of the churches already not ordaining deacons.

I very much appreciated what the committee sought to accomplish with this fourth recommendation. If passed, it would have been helpful to the PCA and strengthened our denomination’s ecclesiology, or our theology of the structure of the church. Instead we are left with a statement that removes a necessary rebuke and makes any corrections highly unlikely. I think the adoption of the revised recommendation was the wrong decision.

Geoff Gleason is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Cliffwood PCA in Augusta, Ga.  This article is used with permission.

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