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.

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10 Comments

  1. Linda Jones said,

    June 15, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    “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.”

    I don’t understand – – – the PCA allows any unordained men to preach? Or does the PCA only make exceptions for men under care who are pursuing pastoral ministry in seminary? (In the OPC we allow such men to exhort, but not preach . . . a distinction that gets an eyeroll in some quarters, but is important to make.)

  2. greenbaggins said,

    June 15, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Linda, welcome to the blog, by the way. Most of the time, a non-ordained man preaching is of the sort you describe: a man pursuing ordination, and needing the sermon as part of the trials. However, it is allowable for a session to approve a man to preach one time as a trial before the trials, if you will, in the sense that a church needs to give young men opportunities to try out possible gifts. Regular preaching, of course, requires licensure in Presbyterian and Reformed denoms.

  3. reiterations said,

    June 15, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    With each succeeding GA, the PCA inches a little bit more to the left. And, as was the case with the progressives’ ancestors in the 1920s and Princeton Seminary, they won’t be satisfied until they control the entire denomination. They won’t be too bothered with theology – for now. Job 1, for them, is gaining control of the ecclesiastical governing machinery. Once that is accomplished, the watering down of the theology can begin.

  4. June 16, 2017 at 10:37 pm

    Lane – thanks for your post. It was quite a week at GA. Apparently I won an award on Twitter for giving the most floor speeches. Check out the PCA GA Theme Song here.

    Bottom line is that I and others tried to keep our fingers in the dike, but the cracks grow larger every year. We need godly REs to flood GA and turn the denomination around. Otherwise, the PCA is definitely headed down the PC(USA) road – it’s only a question of how long until the conservatives leave and the progressives go into freefall. The sad part is that the progressives see liberal denominations in freefall all around them but don’t get the hint.

  5. Ron said,

    June 17, 2017 at 6:00 am

    Reformedmusings,

    Very sorry to hear that. How bad was it? Can you share a bit or it an overall impression that’s hard to articulate? I can understand if you’d rather not.

  6. Terry Murdock said,

    June 20, 2017 at 9:55 am

    In response to Reformed Musings, the situation in our church is that the Godly REs are being influenced by the progressive senior pastor. The REs are not even aware of ithe. They are not aware of the issues in the PCA or the presbytery, just the issues around the church itself. I continue to fight the uphill battle to inform them, but they see me as a person only concerned with procedures. Gratefully, the two associate pastors understand and work with me.

    That is why I appreciated your comments on the floor, as I told you at the table with Dominic.

  7. Ron said,

    June 20, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    T,

    This is hardly the place for that, being Presbyterian and all.

  8. Ron said,

    June 20, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    T,

    This is hardly the place for that, being Presbyterian and all.

  9. Terry Murdock said,

    June 21, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    OK. I understand. There will be no more.

  10. rfwhite said,

    June 26, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    Green Baggins: some observations …

    On calling the question: Those actions were a curious thing, weren’t they? At first the assembly voted to debate the recommendations on the floor of GA by a very slim margin, voting against a motion to send the report down to sessions and presbyteries for study. Then, when the debate was engaged on the recommendations, they voted several times to call the question, which indicated that there was not much interest in debating the recommendations after all. So now it’s on to the presbyteries and sessions anyway.

    On hindering progressives’ progress: As you suggest toward the end of your post, while conservatives seek to conserve and maintain, progressives seek to expand by increments, big or small. Anger is fuel for the work ahead. Over the next few years, I would look for progressives to remake committees at all levels of the church’s courts, not to mention worship services (as you note later).

    On polity and ordination: The report did set out helpful markers regarding ordination, didn’t it? Yet I wonder if there is an Achilles’ heel in the report. Will it bring trouble on the denomination that the report does little to lay out an exegetical-theological summary of a robust complementarianism, even though our position on office is an expression thereof?

    On the committee and its voting membership: Wasn’t it interesting that there was no representation on the committee from the denomination’s Women’s Ministry? Why was that the case? Were they even asked to take part?

    On worship leadership: I share your expectation that worship leadership will expand more and more from elders to non-elders. In most cases this move is grounded in the belief that women and men are interchangeable – an error rooted in an egalitarian interpretation of Gen 1-3 and other texts.

    On commissioned church workers: I believe it’s fair to say that the new category is proposed partially to give tax benefits to women and men who are qualified to engage in fulltime ministry but are not ordained.


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