Some Thoughts on the PCA Study Committee Report on Women in Office

I really want to comment mostly on the recommendations. Recommendations 2-9 passed, with 4 and 6 being amended. The full report is here. I wanted to get a feel for how things went in the debate before venturing any opinions. One thing which irritated me rather a lot was how much the question was called in the debate. Why is it that the PCA wants to rush everything? On an issue of this level of importance, I would think all opinions should be heard, and a desire to debate the matter fully should have been the rule. Of course, the old wags will always say “Everything has been said, just not everyone has said it.” Perhaps. The trend, however (seen a bit more clearly now that I am in the OPC) is towards less deliberation at the PCA GA.

Secondly, the basic stance of the committee seems to be the status quo of what is currently the practice of the PCA (especially recommendation 2), with certain exceptions. There are some very good points that have been made in the committee report, and I want to make sure that these get full attention. For instance, the offices remain closed to women. That will, no doubt, anger the progressives in the PCA no end. It is quite possible that this study committee report will hinder the “progress” of the progressives for some time to come.

Conservatives will also point out that some of the recommendations condemn the ways in which the progressives have tried to get around the letter of the law. For instance, one way that progressives have tried to do this is to have a fully non-ordained diaconate in which men and women participate equally. The report is pretty clear that this is not correct polity.

Furthermore, the way in which recommendation 6 was amended (thanks, Scott Cook!) removed a potential source of contention by removing language that could be considered inflammatory.

However, there are some troubling aspects of the report, as well. Some have already been noted by others. That there were voting members on the committee who were women seems especially problematic, since the committee report itself was to exercise a teaching function in a court of the church, regardless of how much other authority it exercised. This would make the report have a different function entirely from women exercising their gifts in writing books (which I have no problem with).

The issue of worship in recommendation 5 will be one that many conservatives will feel deeply uneasy about. While the rationale makes careful distinctions between preaching/teaching, on the one hand, and other functions, on the other hand, the rationale is not what was voted on. I fear that the recommendation will be taken by the progressives as a carte blanche for their dictum that a woman can do anything in the worship that a non-ordained man can do (which means they can preach), a dictum which is thoroughly non-biblical. A non-ordained man can preach in the church. This slippage is probably not the intention of the committee, many members for which I have the highest possible respect (particularly Ligon Duncan and Harry Reeder). It can even be argued that they are seeking to guard against such an interpretation. However, I think such a (mis)-interpretation will arise, all the same.

I resonated with Bob Mattes’s arguments on recommendation 7, that the PCA was, in effect, creating another office of “commissioned church worker,” that is not ordained. If the PCA already has the ability to have assistants to the deacons (which language is in the BCO), then why the need to create this new category that has “commissioned” in it? What is the material difference between “commissioned” and “ordained?” Again, the rationale makes careful distinctions, even emphasizing the need to distinguish sharply between commissioning and ordaining, but how many progressives will take that to heart?

I did especially appreciate Daniel Jarstfer’s impassioned speech in favor of recommendation 8, which is surely something on which all can agree.

So, the report will not please anyone fully, I am guessing. Conservatives like the Bayly brothers have already critiqued it rather severely (many of which critiques I have sympathy with). But I cannot imagine the progressives are too happy with certain aspects of it either. However, progressives will be less likely to hate it than the die-hard conservatives, because the liberals are always more patient than the conservatives. Any “progress” towards their agenda will be welcomed. It will be interesting to see how the progressives respond to the report and its recommendations.