Christian Feminism? (XIII)
A Rose by Any Other Name
In our last issue I promised that I would spend some time in this installment unpacking and discussing some of the statements by Rev. Sam Downing, a PCA pastor in Denver, CO. We have been discussing his paper, “The PCA and Gospel Ministry in an Urban, Egalitarian Environment: Toward a Theologically Accurate, Culturally Appropriate Apologetic.” In addition, last time I brought in some statements—used by permission—from last year’s Moderator of the PCA General Assembly, Dominic Aquila, who is in Rev. Downing’s Presbytery.
There are a couple of statements that I want to examine in light of what Rev. Downing has asserted to ascertain if they can be verified and can stand the test of scrutiny. In the last issue I quoted from Rev. Downing’s paper and want to come back to his—to my mind unguarded—statement. Regarding the women at City Presbyterian Church in Denver Rev. Downing informs us that they “are allowed to use their gifts in a number of ways, all of which are both biblical and permissible according to the PCA BCO, such as: reading scripture, offering prayers, assisting with ushering during worship service, helping teach adult Sunday School, leading Community Groups (small groups that meet during the week), serving on the Finance Team (which oversees the church budget), and assisting the pastoral staff in ministering to women in the congregation. In other words, unless a woman were to feel strongly called by God to be ordained as an elder (and the vast majority do not) she will not be denied a meaningful opportunity to use her gifts in the life of our church.” (Ibid., 2-3. Emphases mine.)
In a footnote (number 4 to be precise), Rev. Downing asserts the following: “Allowing women to assist in public worship is a commonly accepted practice throughout the PCA.” (Emphasis mine.)
What Does the PCA Allow and Disallow?
It’s one thing to describe what occurs in a local church and it’s quite another thing to submit that what transpires in say, City Presbyterian in Denver, is normative for the entire PCA. So when Rev. Downing gives us the litany of what is commonplace in the PCA I’m hoping that he does not expect us merely to take him at his word. For example, in the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO), 50-1 we read the following: “The public reading of the Holy Scriptures is performed by the minister as God’s servant.” Those looking for loopholes will cite 50-2, which appears to be contradictory: “The reading of the Holy Scriptures in the congregation is part of the public worship of God and should be done by the minister or some other person.” A woman seeking a “meaningful opportunity” thus qualifies as “some other person” it is suggested.
Those interested in comparisons can turn to Q/A 156 of the Westminster Larger Catechism where we read, Is the Word of God to be read by all? A. Although all are not to be permitted to read the Word publicly to the congregation, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families: to which end, the Holy Scriptures are to be translated out of the original into common languages.” It would be a tough sell and a groin-pulling stretch to submit that the Westminster divines would have concluded that it was just fine for a woman to read Scripture in the worship service as takes place in some PCA churches and church plants today.
When we turn to Scripture, we do not find a single incidence of a woman reading Scripture during worship. In fact, we find just the opposite. This needs to be explained to the egalitarian cultured despisers and PCA pastors and church planters need to have the fortitude and wisdom to explain this effectively and resolutely. Allow me to explain what I mean through a few illustrations. Aesop has a fable about the Lion and the Woodsman. I want to use this because I believe it is pertinent to the PCA not merely in the case of the unbiblical use of women in our worship services and other places, but also as it applies to allowing something like the Federal Vision to go unchecked. Here’s the fable:
My final example is multifaceted. It is an appeal to both the younger and older men in the PCA to “man up” and to stop acting according to the tenets of the “chickification” of our modern culture whereby men are pleased to be wussified metro-sexuals. The Boston Globe carried an article on June 6th entitled “Graying duo keep passenger in check.” On a Northwest Airlines flight (# 720) from Minneapolis to Boston an unruly passenger frightened most of the 150 other passengers aboard—most. Bob Hayden, a 65-year-old former police commander was unimpressed with the antics and intimidation tactics of the unruly passenger and his cohort. He arranged a signal with a flight attendant to wave the plastic handcuffs the airliner carried for emergencies when she had them. Sitting next to Hayden was another gray-haired gentleman. Hayden told the AP, “I had looked around the plane for help, and all the younger guys had averted their eyes. When I asked the guy next to me if he was up to it, all he said was, “Retired captain. USMC.’ I said, “You’ll do.” The two grandfathers subdued both rowdy passengers and stood guard over them until the plane safely landed at Logan Airport and the two unruly passengers were arrested and taken off the plane.
An interesting twist to the story is that Hayden’s wife of 42 years sat calmly reading a book throughout the entire episode. When asked why she continued quietly to read during the episode, she said that she knew what her husband was like and that he knew how to handle this type of situation. She commented, “I figured he would go up there and step on somebody’s neck, and that would be the end of it. I knew how the situation would end. I didn’t know how the book would end.” Classic! Two guys getting the job done while the rest sat timidly by watching.
Finally this: I’m not a big movie buff, but do you remember Jurassic Park? There’s a scene where the survivors are barricaded in a building while the dinosaurs rape, pillage, and plunder outside. In the course of the scene it becomes evident that somebody has to go out to another building to throw the circuit-breaker in order to restore electricity. The Laura Dern character volunteers. The old dude—the billionaire, whose name escapes me—offers to go instead. Here’s the way the scene plays out: the Laura Dern character asks, “Why?” He replies, “Well, I’m a…and you’re a…” He’s so much of an egalitarian that he cannot bring himself to utter the words man and woman. Thank you, Mr. Spielberg. Xena rushes out into the danger after she rolls her eyes and says, “Look, we can discuss the sexism in survival situations when I get back.” Richard Poe comments, “With that, she shoulders a rifle and troops out of the door to face what seems certain death. And the man lets her go.”
Rather than giving women—any woman—what she or I might perceive to be a “meaningful opportunity”—I mean, really, what in the world is that phrase other than some saccharine, quasi-effeminate, quasi-caring, and quasi-intellectual bunch of gobbledygook? That phrase can be twisted, spun, and skewed to mean almost anything anyone wants it to mean. Why not give the women—any woman—the unvarnished truth of what the Word of God says?
You see, folks, where Rev. Downing is headed with all this is the hiring by City Presbyterian of Sara Bartley in November of 2004 as Minister of Church Life. Rev. Downing attempts to bolster his argument by pointing out that Sara is one of the first women to graduate from Covenant Theological Seminary (the official seminar of the PCA, Downing adds) with a Master of Divinity degree. What precisely are her duties? “Her areas of responsibility include not only women’s & children’s ministry but also assimilation, discipleship, outreach/mercy ministry and teaching. Sara’s arrival greatly assured many of the women (and men) in our congregation who were egalitarian and seeking evidence that women’s gifts and calling were indeed going to be taken seriously within our church.” Really? Is City Presbyterian really that shallow and prejudiced? It would seem reasonable that if the existing church leadership sat down with the congregation and conveyed to them that even without a female Minister of Church Life that women would be honored and respected in a biblical fashion that that would suffice, but that’s probably just me.
In our earlier quotation, Rev. Downing has taken absolutely no time to elucidate where he finds biblical warrant for a woman to read Scripture in the worship service or for her to pray. Where are the church leaders? Why aren’t they doing it? When Rev. Downing speaks of “helping teach adult Sunday School” does this entail giving authoritative instruction to men? The same applies to “leading Community Groups.” Moreover, when Rev. Downing declares that allowing women to assist in public worship is a common practice, I, for one, would like very much to see some hard facts. I do believe that certain churches and church plants do according to a particular “model” would accept that type of thing, but then to extrapolate that into a common practice seems to beg for some statistics.
 Richard Poe, “The End of Manhood, in The Seven Myths of Gun Control, (Roseville, CA: Forum, 2001), p. 206.