A Matter of Concern in the PCA
Over at the Bayly blog (http://www.baylyblog.com/), a torrid discussion has been raging surrounding Ms. Carolyn Custis James, wife of Frank James, President of Reformed Theological Seminary—
Since the time of the release of that book, Ms. James has published and spoken more and has made some outlandish statements, especially about the Hebrew word rz<[Eß ((((‘ezer) that she desires to translate in the vein of “warrior.” Thus, Eve was not a real “helper” to Adam in the sense that the Church has understood that term, but rather she was more of a “warrior.”
When I first heard this at a seminar led by Ms. James at the Chattanooga PCA General Assembly, I had certain questions that I put to Ms. James that, to this point, she has never answered. In fact, when I asked these questions, Ms. James entered the “spin zone” and danced around the issue until we were out of time. What were the questions I asked? First, I wanted to know which commentary or lexicon she had used to acquire this translation of rz<[Eß since I have read a number of English, Dutch, and German commentaries that don’t head in that direction.
Second, I was curious why the word “warrior” was necessary for Eve in the pre-fall situation. In short, where was the fight? In contemporary categories, if Eve said to her husband, “I have a dog in this fight!” his response would have been “What fight?”
Third, I wondered why Eve would have been given a pugilistic name and her husband not. Ms. James does not find evidence that the man had to be some kind of warrior as well and one can only wonder why, unless Adam was the prototypical “girly man.” Or, he was willing to let her fight for who knows what while he watched ESPN.
The Growing Trend of Unordained Women Deacons in the PCA
In reality, however, the Carolyn Custis James discussion on the Bayly blog morphed into something else that I want to address now. One participant on that blog site, who is apparently a PCA pastor, commented that there are already women Deacons in the PCA. That’s a very interesting concept as I shall show from the PCA’s Book of Church Order in a moment. This same man went on to say that in his PCA church and his sister churches in the region, they also have women Deacons. His justification for having female Deacons is the following: “This has been a tremendous blessing to our Deacons’ boards and our church members who have been greatly ministered to.”
This is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in the PCA. More and more PCA pastors are thumbing their noses at the BCO and going their own way. It is possible that these men disagree with the wording of the BCO, but there are church-orderly ways of attempting to change the BCO. Until the time that the BCO has been modified, Teaching and Ruling Elders in the PCA are duty bound to adhere to the contents of the BCO, since they have given their word that they would. By any stretch of the imagination, making such a vow carries with it enormous ethical implications and applications.
The pastor’s appeal on the Bayly blog is primarily to a perceived blessing; a nebulous blessing that remains virtually undefined. From there, it is only a short hop to an equally nebulous number of church members “who have been greatly ministered to,” whatever that means. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy; a self-serving argument. But the notion is that if a number of church members were greatly ministered to it really doesn’t matter what Scripture or the BCO says. This is the kind of approach that is finding favor and acceptance in the PCA and for those who want to play by the rules (which, by the way, as I just stated, we vowed we would do, but apparently being “greatly ministered to” trumps vows), this is a disconcerting turn of events.
It should also be noted that we have lost two PCA churches to the “women’s ordination” issue already. City Church in San Fran, under the leadership of Fred Harrell left the PCA for the notoriously liberal Reformed Church in American (R.C.A.) precisely because Fred wanted to ordain women. Fred’s congregation had a similar situation vis-à-vis unordained female Deacons. Most recently, Sam Downing’s congregation in Denver, CO pulled out of the PCA and also joined the R.C.A. You might recall that Sam had a woman on staff with the title of Minister of Congregational Life. Sam swore up and down, left, right, and center that this was not an ordained position and that having a woman on staff enabled him better to relate to the “cultured despisers” of Christianity in Denver. Right. Apparently, the law of “unintended consequences” kicked in along with Murphy’s Law. In case you are not familiar with the R.C.A., it is the professed denomination of Robert Schuller. It is the American branch of the old Dutch State Church (Hervormde Kerk) that was abysmal in 1834.
I won’t even comment on the debacle that the PCA is sponsoring called the “Missoula Project.” When you have a pastor that says, “I don’t trust anyone who won’t drink a beer with me,” then you are in deep, deep ka-ka folks. That’s just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Even some of the pagans in that “gathering” wonder why the pastors want their opinions on things in what is supposed to be a Christian congregation. It takes a pagan to state the obvious that seminary trained pastors cannot fathom.
In addition, I have been sent “letters” of explanation written by PCA pastors explaining why women are taking more and more of a prominent position in the worship services. Headquarters in Atlanta is remaining strangely silent as this scenario unfurls. It is next to impossible to locate a responsible party there. Supposedly, the ecclesiastical buck stops somewhere, but no one either knows or wants to take the responsibility for something they helped to create. I won’t place the guilt at any one door, but without a doubt the Mission to North America branch has played a role and it appears that our Reformed University Fellowship is slowly following suit. If we have a headquarters in Atlanta—which we do—then someone, somewhere must be responsible.
Did I mention that on the Harrell and Downing church plants about $1.5 million of PCA money was spent? This is merely the tip of the iceberg. The jury is still out on how much PCA money has been lost on PCA plants that have gone “belly up.” Is anyone, anywhere out there in headquarters-land reflecting on why these church plants failed? I have not seen or heard any reports about failed church plants and what can or should be done to correct or revamp the PCA’s approach. In fact, all we see is the Missoula Project, which seems as goofy and loopy as the now-defunct Provo, Utah debacle. Simultaneously, my own Presbytery has witnessed a number of PCA church plants (and they were all “hippy-dippy; happy-clappy. When they died their slow but certain death, not one member remained PCA, if they even knew what it was in the first place. The dirty little secrets are that they were “Presbyterian under the radar” and were loathe to get Elders. You know, the types of experienced, godly brothers that just muck up a young pastor’s vision for his church plant.) It would seem—it would seem—that when a pastor like Harrell or Downing jumped ship as they did that as pastors they would have some ethical compunction about taking the money and then, when it was no longer convenient, expedient, or when the PCA no longer resonated with them, finding a way to pay part or all of the money back. It doesn’t happen.
So the “traditional” PCA churches contribute to the “askings” of the PCA, while the church plants and those who are less concerned about advertising that they are PCA pay little or nothing. Then after those churches squander millions of PCA dollars, PCA headquarters asks the traditional churches to pony up more money because headquarters has a shortfall. There is something dreadfully wrong with that picture. But I digress.
What Does the Book of Church Order Say?
On the matter at hand: What does the BCO say about females as Deacons, even if they have greatly ministered to church members? A common ploy is to assert that Deacons hold their credentials as either ordained or unordained, as if it really doesn’t matter and is simply a preference. One PCA congregation has unordained male and female Deacons; another has ordained males and unordained females; it’s all the same. But according to the BCO, Chapter 9 (The Deacon), it isn’t. In 9-3, here is what we read: “To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men (emphasis mine) of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment.” Where might unordained women—or men also for that matter—fit into a Deacon Board? BCO 9-7 settles the matter: “It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need.” This clarifies matters enormously, but apparently for some it isn’t enough.
This approach, although finding acceptance with some, begs a number of questions: If one is not ordained, how can one be said to have credentials? What are the credentials that an unordained Deacon has? This is a “tough sell” for those looking for women serving as Deacons. You could ask the same question this way: What authority does an unordained male or female Deacon actually have? Is the charge to the congregation given according to BCO 24-6.6? Does it matter? Is the right hand of Christian fellowship extended for being unordained into the office of Deacon? Why or why not? Does the pastor declare “that _____________ has been regularly elected, ordained (or unordained) and installed a Deacon in that particular congregation, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he (or conceivably she) is entitled to all encouragement, honor and obedience in the Lord”? (cf. 24-6.6).
How does an unordained Deacon function differently than an ordained deacon? That is to say, are there instances in the congregational life where a Deacon might have to exercise (financial) authority? In my experience, the answer is Yes. Does a woman have the biblical right to exercise authority over men, even though some church members have been greatly ministered to by women Deacons? Does it matter?
Do the Scriptures, Westminster Confession of Faith and BCO make this distinction? The clear and simple answer is that the unordained Deacon phenomenon is a man-made product. It is the outworking of the “a woman can do anything an unordained man can do.” Susan Hunt and Ligon Duncan write, “Some churches assert that women can do anything that unordained men can do. The proponents of this approach say that since women are mainstreamed into the total ministry of the church, a women’s ministry is irrelevant or redundant. The vulnerability of this position is that it denies the uniqueness of woman’s design and role and leaves men and women susceptible to egalitarianism. Without a biblical apologetic of womanhood, and a mechanism for women to be discipled by godly women, the church will imbibe the world’s apologetic, and this distortion will create confusion and conflict among men and women.”
When Paul wrote to the Church that she was not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of her mind (cf. Rom. 12:2), he had already laid down a solid foundation of biblical truth in the preceding eleven chapters. Many today want to jettison the doctrinal truth and biblical distinctions between the sexes and in the offices and go straight for the pragmatism of the world and the ideals of our pagan culture. Bruce Ware, for example, has made the following observation: “Today…the primary areas in which Christianity is pressured to conform are on issues of gender and sexuality. Postmoderns and ethical relativists care little about doctrinal truth claims: these seem to them innocuous, archaic, and irrelevant to life. What they do care about, and care with a vengeance, is whether their feminist agenda and sexual perversions are tolerated, endorsed and expanded in an increasingly pagan landscape.”
Every Reformed or Presbyterian theologian worth reading makes an impassioned plea for the inseparable connection between Theology and Ethics; doctrine and conduct. Herman Bavinck, for example, puts the relationship this way: “Dogmatics describes the deeds of God done for, to, and in human beings; ethics describes what renewed human beings now do on the basis of and in the strength of those divine deeds. In dogmatics human beings are passive; they receive and believe; in ethics they are themselves active agents. In dogmatics, the articles of the faith are treated; in ethics, the precepts of the Decalogue. In the former, that which concerns faith is dealt with; In the latter, that which concerns love, obedience, and good works. Dogmatics sets forth what God is and does for human beings and causes them to know God as their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; ethics sets for what human beings are and do for God now; how, with everything they are and have, with intellect and will and all their strength, they devote themselves to God out of gratitude and love. Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God; ethics is that of the service of God. The two disciplines, far from facing each other as two independent entities, together form a single system; they are related members of a single organism.” The Dutch ethicist, Jochem Douma, says the same thing slightly more succinctly: “Dogmatics without ethics is empty; ethics without dogmatics is blind.”
Either way, compromise is occurring in both doctrine and conduct in the PCA at an alarming rate. It is difficult to unravel which compromise is worse: the one where ethical compromise comes first and doctrinal sellout follows or where doctrinal indifference undermines biblical ethics. Both are devastating. To this date, ByFaith magazine, under the editorship of Dick Doster has not run a single article criticizing the manifestly detrimental aspects of the Emergent church movement, but it has run at least two praising it or at least finding leaders such as Don Miller amusing.
 Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).
 Without giving an exhaustive list of the PCA churches now moving in this direction, allow me to direct your attention to the PCA web site (pcanet.org) and you can search in the Church Directory to see which churches are following this course of action.
 J. Ligon Duncan & Susan Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), p. 32.
 Bruce Ware, “Ethics in a New Millennium,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4, No. 1 (Spring 2000): 91-92.
 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Prolegomena, (John Bolt [ed.] & John Vriend [trans.]), (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), p. 58.
 Jochem Douma, Responsible Conduct, (Nelson Kloosertman [trans.]), (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 2003), p. 41.
Labels: The PCA