Women’s Issues in the PCA

If the intent of this recommendation was merely to explore the ways in which non-ordained women can engage in ministry without violating the BCO, then this recommendation chose perhaps the most exceedingly poor way of communicating that idea.

Actually, far more alarming to me now is the wording of the suggestion regarding the pastoral letter. The language of women serving alongside elders in the pastoral work of the church already suggests that the substance of what elders do is something that women can do. It is not a long step from that perspective to one of giving the ordination of elder to women because, after all, they are already doing that work anyway.

 

This year’s General Assembly passed a recommendation from the Administration Committee (who got it in turn from the Cooperative Ministries Committee) to erect a study committee on women’s issues. Here is the text of the recommendation minus the RAO and BCO references:

That-
• The Assembly form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church. 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.
• The committee should give particular attention to the issues of:
(1) The biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination;
(2) The biblical nature and function of the office of deacons
(3) Clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses
(4) 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.
• 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. 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 of women serving in the church) and CDM to bring to the Assembly. End of recommendation.

We were told by many men of integrity on the floor of GA that women’s ordination was not on the table. By this, they probably meant ordination of women as elders, either ruling or teaching. However, by the recommendation’s own wording, ordination of women to the office of deacon is definitely on the table with this study committee. It is explicit in the recommendation in two places. The first is section 3, which says “Clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses.” How, precisely, could this be clearer that ordination of deaconesses is on the table with this study committee?

Actually, far more alarming to me now is the wording of the suggestion regarding the pastoral letter. The language of women serving alongside elders in the pastoral work of the church already suggests that the substance of what elders do is something that women can do. It is not a long step from that perspective to one of giving the ordination of elder to women because, after all, they are already doing that work anyway.

It should be acknowledged from the get go that there are two denominations that ordain women as deacons that have (so far) resisted egalitarian impulses to ordain women to the office of elder: the ARP and the RPCNA. However, as it seems to me, the impulse for this recommendation in the PCA comes from a different source, a more progressive source.

It was pointed out on the floor of GA that the CMC has no authority to initiate anything. This is true. The recommendation should have been ruled out of order as not properly before us.

Interestingly, the makeup of the committee has a majority of complementarians on it. My concern, however, is that a minority egalitarian report will be filed. If that happens, many people will rush to say that such a minority report legitimates egalitarian practice in the PCA, whether or not the minority report is adopted. Of course, this is not sound reasoning, but that hasn’t stopped the progressives in the past. This conclusion will, in turn, prompt the progressives to push the boundaries by having women preach (or other ways of pushing the boundaries), and thus, BCO changes will follow practice, instead of the way it should be, which is the BCO change first.

No doubt many will cry foul, claiming that I am misreading motives, reading in an overly suspicious manner, and impugning men of good character. The fact is, however, that I devoutly wish I was wrong, but am very much afraid that I am right. If the intent of this recommendation was merely to explore the ways in which non-ordained women can engage in ministry without violating the BCO, then this recommendation chose perhaps the most exceedingly poor way of communicating that idea. It communicated this so poorly, in fact, that there is a profound disconnect between what is said in this recommendation, and what was said on the floor of GA.

I am willing, of course, to wait and see, which is what I advise all conservatives who are alarmed at this development. A study committee, after all, does not actually effect changes. They can only recommend. I pray that people on this committee will study the peace and purity of the church, and not push the boundaries. Pushing the boundaries here will be an inherently divisive action, which will be a violation of vows taken before God.

Lane Keister is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.