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Women and the PCA's 44th General Assembly

Love/Hate Relationship

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I love it that it allows me to keep up with friends and family, provides forums for "quick-takes" and can be a great resource for deeper reading when links to books and journals are provided. I hate it when it becomes a platform for debate or is used to stir up controversy.

The "hate" part of my relationship with social media has been alive and well over the course of the last few days following my denomination's annual meeting which is called our General Assembly.

There is a lot of work that takes place during this week; good and necessary work for the good of the Presbyterian Church in America. But, inevitably, stuff will happen that can be controversial. Controversy is in the eye of the beholder, often times. For many of my friends and fellow elders in the PCA, one particular issue was worrisome.

I'm Glad You Asked (but not really)

We debated and eventually approved a study committee on Women in Ministry. You should probably click that link and read the charge to the study committee to better understand what follows.

A man I have a great amount of respect for (but have never met), Terry Johnson, posted his thoughts on the General Assembly, generally, but zeroed in on his concern about this study committee being appointed. Read Rev. Johnson's thoughts here.

Rev. Johnson's post prompted one of the members of our church to write me and ask me how large the contingent is within the PCA that may be arguing for the ordination of women as deaconesses. (If that last sentence surprised you, then you haven't read the links above. Now is the time to read them, before you read the rest of this post.)  Below is my response, just in case other members of our church are wondering the same thing.

I Don't Know

How big is the contingent within the PCA that would like to ordain women as deaconesses? I don't know.
I do know that there are a few PCA churches that "commission" women as Deaconesses. This move allows these churches to abide by the "letter of the law" of our Book of Church Order while allowing women to function as deaconesses without being ordained.
There are a few churches that refuse to ordain deacons at all so that both men and women can effectively function in that role. Again, this is a work-around that will allow men and women to function in the role of mercy ministry by denying ordination to both.
I think both ways are misguided and wrong. (There are four points to the charge given to this study committee. It is point #3 that specifically relates to women and the office of deacon. It is this point that is getting all the ink (or pixels)).
I suspect that the sentiment of these few churches who allow women to function as Deacons without being ordained as Deacons is what is driving one point (#3) of the directive for the study committee.
It was said by one of the speakers that these churches would be served by the study committee as it would provide clarification (again) about the role of women and the office of Deacon.

Warning, Warning Will Robinson!!!

Part of what I'm seeing on social media (and one of the reasons I hate it or hate that it is used for this purpose) are people flipping their sirens on because they see a destructive spark; liberalism, that is threatening to burn our PCA house down. I believe this may be Rev. Johnson's concern as well as many of my "friends" on Facebook. I understand this response, as we have a whole lot of church history, some of it very recent, to which they can appeal.

Not So Fast

However, I don't see the seating of this study committee as a subtle move or step toward the liberalization of the PCA.
I do have concerns about our denomination and I think we need to stay vigilant.
I have heard some of the names of the members of the study committee and I am encouraged by some of the names I've heard. They have proven in years past that they are committed to working hard not only for the peace of our church but also for Her purity.
Because of that, I'm not climbing aboard the "slippery slope" train just yet.

I Say Dumb Things

Rev. Johnson mentioned in his post some of the comments of those arguing for the study committee. I heard these comments and, with him, I was discouraged. 
I've been in the PCA for long enough and attended enough General Assembly's to realize that these kinds of comments and the men that made them are simply a part of the character of a denomination our size. My goodness, I can't tell you the discouraging and stupid things I've said. And this is kind of my point: The Church is messy and complex because she is made up of us, who are messy and complex people. We have warring sympathies and perspectives and passions and cultural sensitivities that get played out in our homes and workplaces and relationships all of the time. When GA comes around, we see it all on that level.  Whereas Rev. Johnson and some of my friends may hear these comments and see this action as a potential shift in the commitments of the PCA, I don't.

How Did I Vote?

I voted against the seating of a study committee. I do believe the issue of ordaining women to office is prohibited and I also believe this is a settled issue. Rev. Johnson makes a good point in his post on this. Would we seat a study committee to study the doctrine of the Trinity or the nature of Christ? No. These issues are settled as well. That is why I voted against the study committee.
But because we have churches in our denomination that are confused (or just flat out disagree) with what I believe the Bible teaches on ordaining women as deaconesses, what this study committee will produce may be a practical help to these churches.
Where I don't agree with Rev. Johnson (and some friends in our denomination) is in how they see the decision as a potential first step and/or a subtle strategy with the end goal of affirming the ordination of women as deaconesses. If that happens (and I don't think it will happen), then I and our Session will begin to petition for a move out of the PCA. But again, I don't see it happening.

Time To Speculate

What I suspect (and hope and pray) will happen is that the study committee will produce a study that will affirm that Scripture teaches that women should not be ordained to the office of Elder or Deacon. (Remember, there are many other things that have been charged to this committee, but this is getting the most attention.)
When that happens, I further expect what will happen (and has already happened with some churches) is that those who believe women ought to hold that ordained office (and potentially the office of elder) will eventually do the right thing, operate with integrity, and move their churches to denominations that allow such a thing.
In other words, I think and hope and pray that the PCA will continue to hold firm (and is not drifting left).

What About Now?

Unlike some of the men who I have deep respect for, I am going to refrain from reading the recent history of Presbyterianism into the seating of the study committee and therefore will not begin to fret that our denomination is moving in a liberal direction.
I am going to assume that the study committee will be made up of people who hold to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture and with cool heads and faithful hearts, will seek the truth God has given us there.
I look forward to reading their report when it is submitted.
Most importantly, I am going to continue to pray for our local church here in Fort Worth and for our denomination. Will you join me?

My last point: I regret that social media (Facebook and Twitter) is being used to discuss, debate and inflame this issue and other issues of the Church. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the decisions of the 44th General Assembly, it was the Church doing the work of the Church in the proper context...the meeting of the Church. And this will be played out in this context; the work of the Church. So let me encourage those reading this to not comment on social media; positive or negative regarding the work of the 44th General Assembly. Come talk to me or your local PCA pastor about your concerns.*

*I know, simply posting this seems to contradict my advice. And, I know, I've linked to Rev. Johnson's post which has been posted on Facebook and Twitter. So, color me inconsistent. But since I will not post comments on social media regarding this issue and many others, I did want to provide for those who care (and who have asked) an explanation of what I was thinking. I also didn't want people to assume that godly brothers in the PCA who are choosing to be vocal were speaking for me.


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