Women’s roles/deaconesses in the PCA revisited

Posted by Bob Mattes

Things have been a bit busy since returning from the 37th PCA General Assembly. A lot of the post-assembly talk has centered on the the overtures considering women’s role in the church. You may recall that last year, Philadelphia Presbytery put forward an overture to study the issue of deaconesses in the PCA which was rejected by the Assembly. As I reported in this post, James River and Susquehanna Valley Presbyteries submitted identical overtures calling for a more general study committee to study the role of women in the church. Although this apparently was thought more palatable than an outright call for deaconesses, most commissioners saw through the thin veneer.

The Overtures Committee debated these overtures at some length. I tip my hat to TE Phil Ryken who chaired the committee this year. Although his church, 10th Presbyterian in Philadelphia, has deaconesses, you would never have guessed that from his moderation of the debate. TE Ryken did an excellent job of keeping things moving and on track.

Many who argued for the committee relied on the unproven premises in the “Whereas” clauses of the overtures. These primarily included the unsupported assumptions that:

Whereas, the PCA has struggled with the question of how women in the local church are to exercise their God-given gifts within the framework of the BCO; and

Whereas, many PCA churches are uncertain about how to use appropriately God’s gifts among the many capable women within the membership of those churches; and

Whereas, in many PCA churches those gifts are under utilized;

Personally, I’ve never seen or been in those churches though I traveled widely. Do they exist? Perhaps, but proponents offered no specific evidence. These were just emotion-based, unsupported assertions for which no one in the debate could/would offer evidence.

What could have been offered into evidence is that there are PCA churches skirting the BCO by commissioning women as deaconesses. There are PCA churches who, while commissioning women and men to a parallel “diaconate”, refuse to ordain men as deacons as required by the BCO. The Assembly spoke against this practice last year through the Review of Presbytery Records. That there are churches skirting around the BCO or defying it is clear. I doubt that this is out of confusion, but am open to correction.

The other major argument offered was that some past studies had been helpful. The few studies mentioned included the ones on Freemasonry and creation. Of course, these did not concern BCO changes or daily practices in the church. What proponents didn’t mention were the numerous other studies that didn’t provide the catharsis desired. Take the Federal Vision study. Although approved by over 95% of the 35th General Assembly, Federal Visionists are still tolerated in some PCA presbyteries. They simply will not submit to the decision of their brothers.

So would it be with a study on deaconesses or women’s role in general. Such a committee would certainly produce a minority report just at the Overtures Committee did. Proponents of each side would latch onto the version they like and the debate would continue unabated. We already see this with the OPC’s minority report on women in the church. Although rejected by the OPC, it is still widely used by proponents of deaconesses. Study reports rarely solve anything, which opponents of this proposed study skillfully argued.

Proponents also argued that a significant percentage of overtures and SJC cases this year involved the issue of women’s roles in the church. However, when actually examining the overtures, eliminating duplicates, and considering the details of the SJC cases, the assertion didn’t hold water. The argument seemed to be based on a cursory count of titles rather than actual content.

Those who opposed the study believed that the Scriptures and the BCO provide ample clarity. I’ve posted on the applicable Scriptures and the BCO previously. The problem isn’t clarity in our only rule for faith and practice, but with our confusion and lack of resolve in an egalitarian culture.

Another argument presented against the study was that polity study reports such as this tend to be elevated to constitutional status in practice. The way to affect changes to the BCO or Confession isn’t through study reports or pastoral letters, but overtures to the GA proposing such changes. Although studies don’t have constitutional force, they sometimes take on that role by default.

Further, the overtures as written seem to seek a checklist of what women can and can’t do in the PCA. This removes the flexibility of local sessions to minister in their local circumstances, always within the boundaries of our theology and polity. As I argued later on the floor of the Assembly, the last thing a unit in the field needs to accomplish its mission is more guidance from headquarters. The current guidance conforms to Scripture while allowing flexibility for local implementation.

Proponents attempted to soften the overtures through amendments, even changing the final product from a report to a pastoral letter. On the other side, one opponent put forth an amendment to change the study to explicitly address deaconesses. That particular amendment was defeated.

After considerable debate, the Overtures Committee recommended answering the overtures in the negative by 40-34-2. Of course, the minority wished to produce their own report to support the overtures.

TE Dave Coffin presented the committee report to the Assembly and RE E. J. Nusbaum delivered the minority one. TE Coffin’s arguments were excellent and centered on much of what I reported above. RE Nusbaum’s minority presentation rehashed the same arguments made in committee. The debate lasted an hour and produced no new insights. In the end, the Assembly voted against a study committee by a narrow 446-427 margin, which required a carefully counted vote.

What does it all mean? Well, as TE Ligon Duncan posited the day before, there were at least four camps in the debate. Just considering the core issue, some wanted the study to expand the permissible roles of women, perhaps to include commissioning deaconesses. Others wanted the study to close the door on deaconesses. Some opposed the study because they feared that it would close the door on deaconesses or expanding the permissible roles of women. Others opposed the study because they feared it may take a step in the direction of egalitarianism. So, with competing interests on both sides of the study issue, it’s hard to say what the vote really means overall in relation to the core issue. My guess is that it doesn’t necessarily much at all.

My opposition to the study haven’t changed since last year. It would have wasted $10,000 (or $15,000 as approved during the Admin Committee votes) and solved nothing. As I argued on the floor last year and again this year, I think that the honest approach is for those who want change to put forth an overture to make specific changes the BCO. Let’s put our cards on the table and debate specifics rather ask for studies on the basis of unsupported generalities.

Posted by Bob Mattes


  1. June 27, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    […] the proceedings of the 37th PCA General Assembly relative to the role of women in the PCA over at Greenbaggins. I will follow up with more details on this and other topics at […]

  2. Reed Here said,

    June 27, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Suggestion clarification Bob: Coffin stated that it was technically incorrect to refer to his as the majority report. Rather it is the committee’s report. Using the majority label suggests a parity that actually does not exist.

    Maybe a minor technicality, and one which others may object to, but it sounded dead on to me. What do you think/

  3. June 27, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Thanks, Reed. Not a minor technicality at all. You are correct and I fixed the post accordingly.

  4. Fred Greco said,

    June 27, 2009 at 8:49 pm


    The vote was indeed close. I believe it would have been even closer, if those who had missed the first vote tried to vote in the recounts as they attempted to do.

  5. June 27, 2009 at 9:18 pm


    Yes, indeed. I was sitting towards the front and so didn’t witness the late rush forward. If I recall correctly, the same thing happened last year. The lack of integrity amongst those elders in the church troubles me greatly.

  6. June 27, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Just to pick a slight nit: your post title is slightly redundant, since there are no male deaconesses! Otherwise, excellent comments.

  7. June 27, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Good point. I got distracted typing the title and never revisited it. Fixed.

  8. revkev1967 said,

    June 28, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Bob, I was sitting just to your right at the Assembly and appreciated your comments. Fred is correct. A SEA of presbyters rushed in for the second and third votes. (They were all standing either in the back or on the left side of the room.) I was deeply disappointed in their lack of ethics.

  9. revkev1967 said,

    June 28, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Needed to subscribe to updates!

  10. June 28, 2009 at 6:56 am

    For what it’s worth, Canon 19 of the First Ecumencial Council of Nicea explicitly teaches that deaconesses:

    “are to be numbered only among the laity.”

    In other words, they are not clerics.

  11. Scott said,

    June 28, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Last year (2008) the Philadelphia Presbytery Overture 9 stated as grounds that our PCA constitution was unclear about polity practices, specifically 7 of them, and therefore, a study committee needed to research and resolve these.

    Setting aside the fact that study committees are not designed in PCA polity to authoritatively resolve issues, nor to interpret the constitution, but to provide serious advice on new or unfamiliar applications, here is what was asked for by study.

    (a) may churches choose not to ordain
    any male deacons?
    (b) may churches choose to commission but not to ordain male deacons?
    (c) may women be commissioned as deaconesses without ordaining them as deacons?
    (d) may the same constitutional questions, or similar questions, used to ordain deacons be used to commission deacons or deaconesses who are not ordained?
    (e) may Presbyteries license and ordain men who submit themselves to the BCO but who also believe that women should serve as ordained deacons?
    (f) may churches elect ordained men and commissioned women to serve together in the diaconate?
    (g) may churches use the title Deaconess for an elected position of ministry in the church or selected to serve according to BCO 9-7?

    I understand the Presbytery is in a difficult position because several churches in their midst have adopted divergent practices and they were “calling out for help.”

    It seems to me the answers to these questions are all clear from our constitution and polity (n,n,n,n,y,n,n), and it’s primarily an issue now of discipline and honoring vows, difficult though that can be.

    But assuming, in good faith that these practices are still genuinely causing confusion (as to whether they are permitted in polity), and that they are still being used as basis for a “study,” would it be helpful to submit a binding reference per BCO 41-3 to settle this, clearly and authoritatively right now?

    Once that clarity is established directly, by authority, there is no basis to proceed to “study” these practices, no basis to claim them unclear for future “studies.”

    The issue becomes framed clearly for all- changing our polity, keeping vows, submitting to the brethren, obeying the constitution.

  12. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    June 28, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    The problem isn’t clarity in our only rule for faith and practice, but with our confusion and lack of resolve in an egalitarian culture.”

    That’s the money quote for me.

    Author of Confusion + Cowardice (disguised as “love” and “irenic charity”) by undershepherds = heretical compromise that slides towards apostasy.

  13. Pete Myers said,

    June 28, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Yes, indeed. I was sitting towards the front and so didn’t witness the late rush forward. If I recall correctly, the same thing happened last year. The lack of integrity amongst those elders in the church troubles me greatly.

    UK Anglican here… just translate for me why this is a lack of integrity? (i.e. how do votes work, etc.)

  14. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    June 28, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Pete Myers: “UK Anglican here…

    How’s Women’s Ordination (WO) been working for the Church of England?

  15. June 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm


    UK Anglican here… just translate for me why this is a lack of integrity? (i.e. how do votes work, etc.)

    They were recounts of the original vote. The original count was visual by the raising of voting cards. That vote was too close to call, so the second vote was visual by standing, the last by actual count of those standing. Apparently a number of elders came into the voting area between the first and second votes. If you don’t vote in the first/original round, you cannot vote in the recount – by definition. It’s lying to misrepresent that oneself as having voted in the first round when one did not do so. That’s the lack of integrity. It seems like some elders think that the outcome of a floor vote is more important than their personal integrity. Incredibly sad.

  16. Pete Myers said,

    June 28, 2009 at 5:21 pm


    Well… it’s still divisive. It’s divisive largely across the spectrum, so there’s a lot of people whom I would describe as “in the Evangelical camp” who are convinced of Women’s Ordination.

    But at the end of the day it’s not the issue where I want to draw the line in the sand for the CofE. There are bigger fish to fry.

    During my selection conference to become an ordinand, I was having dinner on a table with a group of people who didn’t know that I’m a conservative evangelical. They all agreed that people who oppose the ordination of women shouldn’t even be considered for ministry positions any more, but that there should be a “right and charitable” breadth of views on secondary issues like – errrmm – the virgin birth.

    This may all make you want to rush back to your Presbytery and vote against everything that moves. However, in my opinion, there are two big ways to accelerate decline on a theological issue within a denomination:

    (a) Don’t teach on it, just assume it… it’ll just be a matter of time before people with extreme views one way or the other turn up. Funnily enough lots of conservative evangelicals my age in/going in to the CofE are either baptists or FV sympathisers, because UK Evangelical Anglicans haven’t taught on Infant Baptism clearly for decades.

    (b) Be too firm… for decades Anglican Evangelicals knew that our model of church government/ministry/etc. didn’t give a proper and appropriate place to women. This was acknowledged at NEAC several times – but we did nothing. I think partly because many Evangelicals had a “bunker mentality” and wanted to keep women’s issues off the agenda in order to prevent a slide into liberalism and egalitarianism. Of course, all that did was galvanise the egalitarian lobby.

    So, in my view – make sure churches are teaching about gender distinctions… but also make sure that women have opportunity, and are encouraged, to exercise recognised and orderly ministry where biblically appropriate.

  17. Pete Myers said,

    June 28, 2009 at 5:24 pm


    Wow, that is incredible. From your summary it sounded like there might be some scope for some kind of political tactics in different voting rounds. But the way you describe things it sounds like outright lying.

    My impression of NAPARC denoms is that you were all essentially sounder than that?

  18. June 28, 2009 at 5:35 pm


    My impression of NAPARC denoms is that you were all essentially sounder than that?

    That’s the theory. But the obfuscation and defiance of Federal Visionists, these voting irregularities, and a few other issues don’t bode well for the PCA…

  19. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    June 28, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    So Pete, do you personally oppose WO, at least at the level of priest in the Church of England?

  20. David Gray said,

    June 28, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    >Such a committee would certainly produce a minority report just at the Overtures Committee did.

    Not if you stacked the committee, for which there is now precedent…

  21. RBerman said,

    June 28, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Bob, I was wondering about these two comments in your opening post:

    1) “Another argument presented against the study was that polity study reports such as this tend to be elevated to constitutional status in practice. The way to affect changes to the BCO or Confession isn’t through study reports or pastoral letters, but overtures to the GA proposing such changes. Although studies don’t have constitutional force, they sometimes take on that role by default.”

    2) “The other major argument offered was that some past studies had been helpful. The few studies mentioned included the ones on Freemasonry and creation. Of course, these did not concern BCO changes or daily practices in the church. What proponents didn’t mention were the numerous other studies that didn’t provide the catharsis desired. Take the Federal Vision study. Although approved by over 95% of the 35th General Assembly, Federal Visionists are still tolerated in some PCA presbyteries. They simply will not submit to the decision of their brothers.”

    In the first quotation, you describe one argument against the study committee, but it’s not clear whether you endorse that argument. If you do endorse that argument, then you don’t believe that study committees have any binding authority, right? But in that case, it’s not appropriate to speak of “submitting” to study committee reports, as you appear to speak in the second quotation. How do you see those two quotations interacting?

  22. Pete Myers said,

    June 29, 2009 at 3:01 am


    I agree with the Ordinal and the 39 articles on every point of doctrine (i.e. the Reformational foundational documents of the Church of England). The canons of the Church of England (i.e. the contemporary “law” of the CofE as it were) contain nothing of disagreement that I consider to be a gospel issue.

    The canons claim to be a “fleshing out” of the 39 Articles and the Ordinal. And my declaration of assent when I get ordained (few years away yet) will be to the “faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness” – in other words, I need to assent to the historic Reformational documents, not the modern canons.

    It is the canons that permit women to be ordained to the offices of deacons and priests. There are plenty of us who disagree with the ordination of women to the presbyterate. Though, I’m happy to work with women priests, and I have a good relationship with some women priests… we know each other views on the matter, but, it’s the equivalent of having charismatics in the CofE as far as I’m concerned.

    A great many UK Anglican conservative evangelicals would take the view I’ve outlined above, but they’d permit deaconesses on the grounds of 1 Timothy 3v11, and Paul’s description of the ministry of Aquila and Priscilla. I used to take that view, but am recently reconsidering, as, the word in 1 Tim 3v11 gunaikas doesn’t seem like the most sensible word to refer to a stand alone deaconess as such. And in fact priscilla and aquila are an example of a ministry couple… and I’m not too sure how much significance the order of their names can bear the weight of.

  23. June 29, 2009 at 4:44 am

    RE #21,


    BCO 14-7. Actions of the General Assembly pursuant to the provision of BCO 14-6 such as deliverances, resolutions, overtures, and judicial decisions are to be given due and serious consideration by the Church and its lower courts when deliberating matters related to such action.

    That’s consistent with my statements in the post. The reports do not change the constitution, but are to be given due and serious consideration when considering related matters. In the case of the FV report, it merely summarized what was already true, that FV violates key parts of the Reformed faith as presented in our Confession and Catechisms. The church courts should then use the points and arguments in the study report as it applies the Standards in considering FV cases. In that case, the FV report’s almost unanimous acceptance by the 35th GA made a very strong statement against the theological errors of FV.

  24. jared said,

    June 29, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Re: 23

    Or at least the committee’s understanding of FV’s theological errors. I know this is off topic a bit but if I were an FV advocate (and I’m not that far off) I would have practically no beef with about 80% of the study report’s declarations. And even the other 20% is questionable, imo.

  25. JPC said,

    June 29, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    The PCA starting a study committee to take up the issue whether women can hold office is amazing.

    The PCA should have taken up the spirit of the issue when that gender who rightly holds the office even slightly began to tolerate women speaking in church, showing their evocative body parts to the congregation(dressing immodestly), voting in the ecclesia, and working outside the home.

    Theological “conservatives” are another name for cowardly egalitarians with more principle.

  26. revkev1967 said,

    June 29, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    You sure paint with a broad brush, JPC. I personally know several of the posters on this thread and I can assure you that none of them (myself included) is egalitarian or cowardly.

  27. JPC said,

    June 30, 2009 at 6:06 am

    It’s called a generalization, revkev. That’s how we speak about the world without leaving it as a bunch of unrelated particulars. I’m speaking about the PCA, not every individual PCA elder.

  28. mary kathryn said,

    June 30, 2009 at 8:00 am

    I think I agree with Pete from England, that this issue, if crushed now, will just continue to pop up, and its supporters will only be encouraged by this opposition. I hope it does not lead to a split in the PCA, with churches leaving. I do not see a need for such a split. I wish the brothers could come to peace. It would be useful, I think, for those who have not come across churches in the PCA that have these struggles, to do more to seek out such struggling brothers and sisters, and to understand their side of the issue. I don’t think the issue is “unclear” or that people are “confused.” By this time, everyone knows his opinion and has studied it thoroughly, I imagine. The time for study is probably over; now it’s time for the more difficult work: a peaceful resolution.

  29. greenbaggins said,

    June 30, 2009 at 8:06 am

    That would be wonderful, MK. Unfortunately, I don’t see a peaceful resolution if the liberals keep on pushing, pushing, pushing, and more pushing, to change what is already an eminently biblical polity. They are the ones who are rabble-rousing right now. What is truly remarkable is that folks like Phil Ryken, who seem sometimes to be in favor of women deacons, and at other times not, say on the one hand that our polity is fine, and that no changes need to be made, and yet on the other hand say that we still need to study this issue. This puzzles me exceedingly.

  30. jared said,

    June 30, 2009 at 10:33 am


    Do you think it would be possible to consider the issue of “office” closed while still leaving open space for reconsidering the roles that [some] women play? For example, why couldn’t a church have women titled as deaconnesses (given to the local leaders of WIC, say) without having it established as an authoritative “office” within the government of the church?

  31. Reed Here said,

    June 30, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Jared: why introduce an innovation that will inevitably lead to generating more confusion? BCO already rightly recognizes the gifting of God of invidual laypersons, men and women, for support of diaconal work. (We rely heavily on them here.) Why is that not sufficient?

  32. Pete Myers said,

    June 30, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Out of interest, how do people define “liberal” here?

    I primarily think of “liberal” as essentially denying the doctrines of revelation… from which lots of different sorts of errors occur. All sorts of things will fall back into place eventually if we get our doctrine of revelation right.

    Guys who are thoroughly convinced of the doctrine of scripture, but are confused about the implications scriptural data has on the role of women in church, I would not call “liberal” myself…

  33. Todd said,

    June 30, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    If the comments of JPC in # 25 represent the conservative position on gender, call me a liberal please.


  34. Zrim said,

    June 30, 2009 at 1:42 pm


    Re #32: Though many charge it is an unfair broad-brush, I’m rather convinced that the better taxonomy is confessional versus evangelical (not conservative versus liberal). The evangelical household then breaks down into fundamental-evangelical and progressive-evangelical.

    The tie that binds evangelicals is one form or another of “the world sets the church’s agenda.” So true religion becomes useful to worldly enterprise. I inhabit the CRC. The way the evangelical fight plays out here, and to stay on topic, is one side wants men to know the world is flat, the other wants women to know their place (see JPC above). There isn’t much room at the table for a confessionalist who has little use for fighting cultural battles under the guise of cultic projects. The progressive-evangelicals have won this particular fight, mistaking confessionalists with subordinationalist views as funda-evangelicals, while the funda-evangies mistake us for wild-eyed liberals. It’s very frustrating.

  35. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    June 30, 2009 at 1:53 pm


    What are the objections to identifying someone as “Liberal”, as in liberal Christian, if he or she denies Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy?

  36. jared said,

    June 30, 2009 at 9:05 pm



    How is the concept of deaconesses an “innovation” (i.e., in what sense is it, or would it be, an innovation)? What would be so terribly unbiblical about recognizing the role of particular women in such a manner? Why must it “inevitably” lead to confusion? And if you’re referring to BCO 9-7, that isn’t very encouraging (or helpful). It isn’t sufficient either because it doesn’t recognize the truth that women are gifted with the same gifts that men are; Paul does not divide up the spiritual gifts bewteen the genders.

  37. Scott said,

    July 1, 2009 at 5:11 am

    Jared said,
    “How is the concept of deaconesses an “innovation” ”

    Making up an authoritative office that is not in Scripture is an “innovation.” It violates the regulative principle. Man is not free to imagine what he will and govern Christ’s church by whatever he imagines.

    As for BCO 9-7, maybe you are not familiar with what it is speaking about. It is not talking about the general “giftedness” of women (or men). It is outlining polity, that unordained men and women may be appointed to assist the Deacons with mercy.

  38. July 1, 2009 at 8:57 am


    BCO 9-7 does not give titles to the godly men and women the Session selects to help the Deacons in deeds of mercy. If someone thinks that they should have a title, propose a change to BCO 9-7. We change the BCO almost every year on one way or another. What’s so hard with taking the honest approach that conforms to our polity?

  39. jared said,

    July 1, 2009 at 9:19 am


    Except that what I am suggesting (perhaps to be contrasted to what others are suggesting) is not “making up an authoritative office”. One need not be an officer to hold authority over others, nor is women holding authority inherently against Scripture. This seems obviously so given the fact that women can be gifted as teachers. Much to my shame I don’t know exactly how WIC operates but those who have leadership roles there would be, in my estimation and understanding, good candidates for being called deaconesses. Also, BCO 9-7 is not dense and difficult to grasp; in fact it is quite plain. That was my point. The BCO no where speaks about the general giftedness of women and, as far as I know, there are no official documents that do.

    Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that my wife has been gifted with teaching and wisdom. Let’s further say that, per BCO 9-7, she (and several other women) has been selected and appointed to help (let’s say “serve”) the deacons in their work. What would be innovative or unbiblical about calling these women deaconesses? I also think an important distinction can be made between a woman having more authority than a man and having authority over a man.

  40. jared said,

    July 1, 2009 at 9:21 am


    There’s nothing wrong with such an approach at all. I’ve certainly not suggested or intimated otherwise. There’s also nothing dishonest about discussing these things before endeavoring to change them. I would not want to persue a meaningless or pointless change.

  41. July 1, 2009 at 9:37 am


    Nothing dishonest in talking about it. The problem is the people are already DOING it. If they didn’t know it was wrong before, they surely knew last year when it was debated. Yet, no BCO changes put forth this year, just another study committee to drag out the issue without resolution. It’s past time for folks who want deaconesses to pony up.

    On the issue of authority in the church, the Scripture is clear. The BCO is based on Scripture as I have shown in earlier posts. And, I believe, the Danvers Statement accurately reflects the Scriptures. Jesus was more than clear that we are not to seek authority to lord it over others, nor in which to glory. We are to serve. Although Creator and Sustainer of the universe, He did not claim a new title in John 13 for washing His disciples’ feet. That should be our model, not the world.

  42. Reformed Sinner said,

    July 1, 2009 at 9:37 am

    #39,40 Jared:

    By reading your two posts here it seems you are making an argument on ability, and making it sound like the Church has forbidden women in the past to hold any teaching or deacon offices because they are not qualify, and now, we have women that are qualified and therefore we should allow them to be deaconess and teach authoritatively. I really don’t think that’s the argument all along.

    The Church has never be in lacking of women with wisdom. Luther considers his wife his theological equal in his personal letters. There are many women throughout Church history that has shown great ability both in cognitive sense and ability to serve with great effectiveness. The Reformed Church has never taught a gender-inferior theology, contrary, the Reformed Church always take seriously that man and woman are created with the same images of God.

    The argument has always been (and painfully be) what Scripture says about woman’s role in the Church? If after a careful examination of Scripture, the Church finds the Bible to allow women to serve as deaconess and more, then the Church should repent and follow suit. However, if after the same rigorous study of Scripture, the Church finds that Scripture indeed has different roles for woman to serve in the Church, then we should submit to Scripture’s wisdom. My point is it has nothing to do with whether woman can or cannot teach, has the gifts or not.

    As for the approach. The PCA is clear in BOC on woman’s role. As a member of PCA we don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing what we like and don’t like (that is, after all, why we join Confessional Church no? Otherwise there are plenty of Independent Evangelical churches to go around.) Like reformedmusing said, if you have a problem with it, challenge it with the proper Church polity channels and get it amended. When it is done, then the coin flips to the other side. If anybody has a problem with woman’s expanded role in the Church they should take it up the Church polity.

  43. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    July 1, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Here’s my naive question for the week:

    In 1 Tim. 3 there are clear instructions that deacons are to be men. And yet, if I recall correctly, the early church or even within Scripture Itself, there have been deaconesses. Can anyone explain this apparent contradiction?

  44. Reed Here said,

    July 1, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Jared: so giving gifted women a title”deaconess”, one that does not mean or carry the same connations as the male version “deacon,” is not conducive to confusion? Giving women gifted in teaching (a spiritual skill) a title that references a material skill (diaconale) is not conducive to confusion?

    C’mon dude :-)

    Again, why create titles and positions for “non-officer” offices in the Church? What is wrong with the common, ordinary every-member ministry envisioned by Eph 4:11-13? What is served in an official creation of an female office that necessarily will have to continually be negatively distinguished from its male counterpart, lest they end up being understood as one and the same office?

    This is exactly what has happened with such innovation in the past. This is why God does not allow our creativity to run free in terms of how his household is to be run.

    Seriously Jared, everything you want to acheive in terms of recognizing and encouraging proper expression of our sister’s gifts in the life of the Church is already adequately, clearly, without equivocation, and quite simply, expressed in BCO. This is why there is no need for a study committee at the GA level. The biblical doctrine is already adequately expressed in our standards.

    Now if you want to talk about putting together some study material for: 1) those who do not see this adequacy and feel they are unnecessarily restrained, and 2) those who think the standards apply more rigorously than they do – then I’ll join you in such effort.

    Our sisters do have valid roles to play. We their brothers must always be wary of not recognizing both their gifting and the proper expression of that gifting. As well, we must always be on guard against efforts to go beyond the biblical balance.

    We do not need more GA study – just more discipleship of their flocks by pastors and elders.

  45. Reformed Sinner said,

    July 1, 2009 at 12:12 pm


    Not sure how early you want the Church to be, but here are few early Church Father quotes:


    “When a widow is to be appointed, she is not to be ordained, but is designated by being named [a widow]. . . . A widow is appointed by words alone, and is then associated with the other widows. Hands are not imposed on her, because she does not offer the oblation and she does not conduct the liturgy. Ordination is for the clergy because of the liturgy; but a widow is appointed for prayer, and prayer is the duty of all” (The Apostolic Tradition 11 [A.D. 215]).


    “It is not permitted for a woman to speak in the church [1 Cor 14:3435], but neither [is it permitted her] . . . to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say sacerdotal office” (The Veiling of Virgins 9 [A.D. 206]).

    The Didascalia

    “For it is not to teach that you women . . . are appointed. . . . For he, God the Lord, Jesus Christ our Teacher, sent us, the twelve [apostles], out to teach the [chosen] people and the pagans. But there were female disciples among us: Mary of Magdala, Mary the daughter of Jacob, and the other Mary; he did not, however, send them out with us to teach the people. For, if it had been necessary that women should teach, then our Teacher would have directed them to instruct along with us” (Didascalia 3:6:12 [A.D. 225]).


    “[T]here suddenly arose among us a certain woman, who in a state of ecstasy announced herself as a prophetess and acted as if filled with the Holy Ghost. . . . Through the deceptions and illusions of the demon, this woman had previously set about deluding believers in a variety of ways. Among the means by which she had deluded many was daring to pretend that, through proper invocation, she consecrated bread and performed the Eucharist. She offered up the sacrifice to the Lord in a liturgical act that corresponds to the usual rites, and she baptized many, all the while misusing the customary and legitimate wording of the [baptismal] question. She carried all these things out in such a manner that nothing seemed to deviate from the norms of the Church” (collected in Cyprians Letters 74:10 [A.D. 253]).

  46. Reformed Sinner said,

    July 1, 2009 at 12:28 pm


    Also, can you list where in the NT are there mentioning of the OFFICE of deaconess? Romans 16:1-2 came to my mind as a possibiilty, but that word, dikono, has three fold meaning: 1) servant of a king (with civil authority), 2) office of deacon in the Church (with ordained authority), or 3) servant that provides service.

    Since context determines meaning, in Romans itself there’s no significant data to suggest Paul is talking about an OFFICE of deaconess, if not he may be simply praising Phoebe for her servanthood in the Church. Remember, words themselves don’t carry the weight of the category, and Romans 16 definitely (in my opinion) isn’t talking about Phoebe’s office but rather Phoebe’s service.

    I’m just curious since you stated as a matter of fact Scripture contains the office of deaconess I am just wondering where did you get that from.


  47. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    July 1, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    #46, my memory may indeed be faulty. I have read many posts and essays by egalitarians over the years and my admittedly imperfect recall is that they base their arguments for women deacons or for deaconesses upon it being in either NT Scripture or from early church practice or both.

    BTW, I didn’t state it as a matter of fact. I stipulated a qualifier, “if I recall correctly.”

  48. Richard said,

    July 1, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    RS: It is argued that the office of deaconess can be found in 1 Tim. 3:11 “In the same way, deaconesses are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” Also historically the Eastern Orthodox admitted women to be deaconesses.

  49. revkev1967 said,

    July 1, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Richard, the only point that matters is that deaconesses are not permitted under PCA polity. Those who disagree either need to submit to the very clear standards of our denominations, labor to lawfully change those standards, or leave.

  50. Scott said,

    July 1, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Jared said,
    “Except that what I am suggesting (perhaps to be contrasted to what others are suggesting) is not “making up an authoritative office”.”

    Maybe you are not making your self clear.

    This issue is whether “deaconess” is an authoritative office by the polity and constitution of the PCA. That’s what is being discussed.

    It is not.

    In fact, the offices are explicitly stated and qualified in the constitution, that’s why it is an invention to create an authoritative office that is not there.

    And you are correct, BCO 9-7 is clear.

    Unordained men and women are appointed to assist the deacons in mercy ministry. They are more or less in parity (unordained men and women), serving without title, without being elected as officers, but as unordained people, men and women assisting in the task of mercy- as part of spiritual service. Not for title or recognition, but unto the Honor and Glory of our Lord, both men and women doing this.

    There is some misinformation out there about that, and I’m sure you’re not intending that, but your comments are sounding like that.

  51. July 1, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    RE #48,

    Please see this post. I did a complete word study on the Greek ‘διακονον’. It might provide you some Biblical insight into the word.

    You mistranslated 1 Tim 3:11 in your post. The underlying word there isn’t even ‘διακονον’ but ‘γυναικας’ which can mean either “women” or “wives” depending on the context. You can debate the context here if you like, but you can’t get to ‘διακονον’ without physically changing the text.

    I commend the advice in comment #49 to you.

  52. Reformed Sinner said,

    July 2, 2009 at 7:35 am

    #48 Richard,

    I am well aware of 1 Tim. and I think to translate that Greek word there into Deaconess is forcing it. In the book of Romans it’s a plausibility that the context of Romans couldn’t come down to either/or. In 1 Tim. the context is so obviously addressing to wives of deacons that (in my opinion) to think Paul would break his flow, speak about a totally new office, and then clumsily try to trace his step back, is simply not contextually supported nor does it reflect Paul’s writing style. It is theological-motivated translation in my opinion.

  53. mary kathryn said,

    July 2, 2009 at 10:17 am

    We had this whole discussion last year, didn’t we? Perhaps we should just go read that whole post with comments :) As I recall, we also did quite a bit of evaluating of texts then.

    However, it’s interesting to me that in last year’s discussion here, we focused on what the Scripture says on this issue. Various contributors disagreed on what the Greek words might mean, but it was biblically focused.

    This year, the focus is on the BCO. “Revkev” even said above that the only thing that matters is the denomination’s polity, as stated in the BCO. I think this reflects that well-informed brothers have examined the pertinent texts repeatedly, without coming to agreement. So, now they set aside the Scripture and pick up the BCO. The argument at the denominational level seems to be deteriorating to me. Clearly, discipline is lax if churches have for years practiced things that are prohibited in the BCO. Yet, those very practices should motivate the Assembly to deal thoroughly with this issue, in an unbiased way, so that this issue can be put to rest.

    I strongly disagree with the idea of having women labeled as “deaconesses” who really aren’t such. Either they are officers, or they aren’t. Either they have a Scripture-sanctioned office, or they don’t. No fudging. Giving them a meaningless label accomplishes nothing, and will not resolve the underlying disagreement.

  54. Scott said,

    July 2, 2009 at 10:56 am

    mary kathryn said,
    “This year, the focus is on the BCO. “Revkev” even said above that the only thing that matters is the denomination’s polity, as stated in the BCO.”

    I’m understanding you to be speaking in the context of a personal back-and-forth from a year ago.

    Generally, though this is very important in its own right because it is part of the polity of a confessional church. Vows are taken to receive and uphold that polity, that confession, so not submitting to those vows, the doctrine confessed or the constitution is a very important spiritual matter. It involves bearing false witness, not submitting to the brethren, disturbing the peace and purity of the church.

    While I would say the biblical case for I Timothy 3 deacons as an office in the church is overwhelming both biblically and the witness of church history, that would still allow for an (unordained) office of servant-widow of I Timothy 5. The problem is, those advocating this today do not seem to be advocating 60 year widows who vow to remain unmarried in service to the church (I Timothy 5). They are advocating interchangeable leadership with I Timothy 3- which is not at all biblical… let alone with the polity they confess.

    The reason the polity is important is not because the biblical case is not clear (it is historically in the church), but because a confessional church is bound by vows, publically taken. It’s no small thing to disregard that, particularly leaders who model that in the open. It comes to appear defiant, misrepresentative. That’s the “polity” (BCO) issue here and it is very serious in the Kingdom of God.

    If the discussion has “deteriorated” at the denominational level (I would not agree that it has), it is only because individualism or pride has replaced vows, confession… and the peace and purity of the church. That would be injurious to Christ’s church, wholly apart from the biblical foundation that underlies it.

  55. Reformed Sinner said,

    July 2, 2009 at 10:56 am

    #53 Mary,

    But I thought the BCO already did what you asked PCA to do. Obviously someone somewhere did, once upon a time, carefully studied Scripture, and reached an ecumenical conclusion that women shouldn’t be deasconess and that’s why it’s in the BCO. And that is why PCA churches should follow the BCO, or like many have said, take it up in Church courts.

    How many times do people expect PCA to keep on reinventing the wheel simply because a group of people from within don’t like what the Bible teaches? What should have been done is this.

    1) A challenge in PCA polity procedure
    2) The PCA should then decide if the challenge has merit. I.e. – are there new arguments, new evidences, new Scriptural interpretations, that the past arguments and stuides have not taken into consideration, that warrants a new look into the issue?
    3) If yes, then open debate, Scriptural studies, etc.
    4) If no, case close, the Church follows and honors decisions of the past.

    No organization can function if it has to keep on reinventing the wheel every time a member of the organization dislikes something and wants the organization to re-do everything over and over again.

  56. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    July 2, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    #48, Richard.

    I’ve been recently informed that in the Eastern Orthodox church deaconesses are considered a lay ministry while deacon is considered part of Holy Orders.

  57. July 2, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    MK, re #53,

    Yep, we sorta did this last year. The Biblical arguments are no less important now, but honestly, that’s all been done.

    The recurring issue is simply that some are not happy with the current polity in the PCA on this issue. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if they simply put forth a proposed change to BCO 9-7 for debate. Instead, people keep asking for pointless study committees while some simply end-run or ignore the BCO.

    Like Reformed Sinner said, no denomination can survive if everyone does what’s right in their own eyes.

  58. Mike said,

    July 7, 2009 at 11:43 am

    not to change the subject here but this it the type of conversation that makes inerrancy look, well…ridiculous is the only word that comes to mind

    It also strikes me as odd that we are using a 21st century tool to discuss a pre-modern view of women….get over it folks and move on. Let the women do their thing…preaching, teaching, whatever and let’s all benefit.

  59. July 7, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Actually, we are using the Scriptures. Get over it and move on.

  60. Mike said,

    July 7, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    good point…couldn’t have said it better myself

  61. July 21, 2009 at 8:51 am

    The Council of Nicea already ruled on this. Deaconess are not clerical and not ordained.

  62. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    July 23, 2009 at 7:38 am

    Former President Jimmy Carter: “I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

    So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief – confirmed in the holy scriptures – that we are all equal in the eyes of God.”

  63. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    July 23, 2009 at 7:39 am

    From The words of God do not justify cruelty to women.

  64. July 23, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Re.: 62. Jimmy Carter is not someone I would consider a careful exegete, any more than I considered him a capable President.

    For instance his complaint that some claim, “Eve was created second to Adam” is kind of laughable, since two of those who makes that claim are, in fact, Moses and Paul.

  65. Joann Longton said,

    October 20, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    I am constantly amazed that this issue resurfaces again and again—and even moreso that you brothers even put up with it. As a woman, I call on the rest of the women in the PCA to once and for all renounce the craving after titles and leadership roles and any other thing they think they are ‘entitled to’ in the church. We are NOT being denied the right to serve in the church, just a title and an authoratative role. As sinners redeemed by amazing grace, we need to recognize the priviledge we have been given to be even allowed to serve AT ALL, given what our mother Eve accomplished in the first creation when she reached for what had been forbidden her then. It is the same temptation we are facing when we assume we are not being given something we should have been given…..GET OVER IT—God has said NO! We are given a role under the PROTECTIVE covering of our brothers until we are completely changed at the resurrection. God is not taking any chances with the new creation. We are fortunate He didn’t decide to save only men this time…we are included in the new creation—why isn’t that enough for us? I say it is PRIDE, envy and jealousy that is the motivation behind all this rabble rousing, and not anything to do with the desire to ‘serve’. We can best serve our brothers by dropping the clamoring after titles once and for all!!!!

  66. greenbaggins said,

    October 21, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Joann, thank you so much for your prophetic words. I sincerely hope that women in the PCA (and men who are clamoring for cultural assimilation!) will heed your words.

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