The PCA and Female Deaconesses (V)
Continuity or Discontinuity?
In the various discussions surrounding the place of deaconesses in the New Testament, I have yet to hear a cogent argument from the nature of the continuity between the Old and New Testaments, based on the covenant of grace. Typically, Reformed theologians emphasize the relationship, for example, between Passover and the Lord's Supper and that between circumcision and Baptism.
In the discussion concerning deaconesses there hasn’t been much said about the Old Testament counterpart of the New Testament deacon. It does seem clear that the New Testament deacon is a distinct office, but it also should not be overlooked that the Old Testament records officers that fulfilled similar responsibilities. Old Testament scholar, John Goldingay writes, “Yahweh concerns himself with the rights and needs of orphan, widow, and immigrant, as he had with those of Israel in Egypt. He expects Israel to mirror that concern, guarding them from exploitation and taking practical steps to see that they have enough to eat (Deut. 10:18-19; 14:28-29; 24:17-22; 26:12-13; 29:19).”
Walter Kaiser reminds us that “There are over a dozen Hebrew words for the ‘poor’ and almost three hundred instances in the Old Testament where they are mentioned. The Old Testament could be very specific about the community’s social responsibility for the poor.” Both the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament and the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament spend quite a bit of time on the poor in the Old Testament.
Brian Schwertley notes that in the Old Testament, “The officers in charge of managing the temple (Levites) and synagogue (chazanim) funds, caring for the poor, were always men.” It is also true that within the synagogue arrangement there were various officers who “were authorized to conduct the public worship, preserve the order, and manage the finances of the congregation. This latter officer was the chazan or deacon of the synagogue.” These men had the charge and oversight of all things in and pertaining to the synagogue. Schwertley argues that “The order of the synagogue was, as all Presbyterians hold, the model of that of the church under the New Testament dispensation. In the synagogue was an officer who attended to the poor, had the oversight of the place of worship, and managed the finances.”
This is not to say that the chazan only cared for the poor. Certainly that was part of his duty, but there were other duties assigned to him, including the oversight of the fiscal affairs. “Such officers as the trustee or committee-man of modern days, were not known either in the order of the synagogue, or of the churches.” Schwertley provides this summary:
The Scripture argument for committing all the ecclesiastical goods to deacons, maybe briefly stated thus: Both under the Old and New Testament dispensations, the Bible contains frequent allusions to the funds devoted to ecclesiastical uses—in all cases these were managed, until the canon of divine revelation was completed, by ordained officers, and such officers only; during the Old Testament dispensation by priests and Levites, during the new by deacons. Nor does the Bible contain any account of officers distinct from these, and unordained, to whom the fiscal concerns of the church either were or might be committed. The consequence is plain. Any other officers for the management of church funds are of human invention, and where they exist, occupy a place which should be occupied by officers chosen and set apart for the service according to Christ’s institution.
The Roman Catholic, Aimé Martimort, notes that the “adjective dia,konoj (diákonos), which did not have a feminine ending, appears frequently in the New Testament.” Martimort proceeds to discuss what he calls the technical, hierarchical senses in which the term diákonos is used (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12). The verb form (daikoneîn) which appears often in the gospels, “usually refers to the activity of a servant, especially at table; it also signifies more generally an attitude of being available to serve, and even a spiritual orientation (Jn 12:26). In apostolic times, the word was employed to describe every type of service to the community. The same is true of diákonos.”
In other words, among the Christian community a true desire to “serve” the fellow-brothers and –sisters was to dominate. Being a diákonos in this sense, did not require a particular ecclesiastical office, but rather was the office of all believers. It is precisely here that I believe the modern P.C.A. desire to have unordained deaconesses completely misses the biblical model. In the first place, some pastors in the P.C.A. have adopted the false notion that an unordained woman can do anything an unordained man can do. I realize that this is an accepted premise in certain circles and is advocated by Dr. Tim Keller, which, for some, settles the issue.
Was this true in the Old Testament? Were unordained women permitted to go to war? Were they permitted to do the work of the chazan in the synagogue? Were they encouraged to pray in synagogue? To read the Torah in synagogue? If they were not, doesn’t it seem reasonable to expect some explicit teaching in the New Testament about the modification that occurred between the testaments? What is actually the case, however, is that Dr. Keller hangs his entire argument on texts that are, at very best, in dubio regarding their translation and application. Martimort is convinced that even though, or especially in light of the fact that, every Christian was and is to be, in some sense, a diákonos none of these general Christian activities for the good of the community “correspond to the diaconate as such…”
We’ve heard this argument before, but it is worthy of being repeated: why do you have to have an office to serve in Christ’s Church? One of the arguments that is being bounced around in the P.C.A. is that some congregations have a number of professional women in attendance. My response is: So? Do we grant special privilege to women in the work force? The argument is that they are used to leading and cannot understand why they can lead in secular society but not in the congregation. I could use the same argument, but turn it around in favor of stay at home moms. Why wouldn’t local congregations seek to use stay at home moms to do the work of “deaconess” more than professional women, since the former are already constantly ministering to the needs of their family and so, better understand, what is needed. A professional woman might not want to get her pantsuit dirty. Why would a “professional” woman who drops her kids off at day care (even Christian day care) every day be preferable to a woman who stays home and cares for her family?
Quite honestly, this “professional woman” thing is wearing just a little thin. Are we to suppose that simply because they’re in the work force that they are superior to our stay at home moms? If so, why? In my estimation, both the stay at home mom and the professional woman are saved in the same manner. Both have been given gifts to serve the covenant community. Neither of them requires an office—ordained or unordained—to serve and to serve well; effectively. I’m convinced that the real solution to this fabricated dilemma is not to begin putting women in places where the scriptures, our confessions, and church history says they should not be. The real solution is not to repeat the mantra that a woman can do anything an unordained man can do so that eventually everyone believes it. Any thinking person will realize that this motto is full of holes. There are innumerable things in life where this mantra breaks down—badly.
My solution is simple: men should act like men, which means that they are Christian warriors devoted to leading their wives, families, and others in the Christian community according to the various biblical relationships where God places them. When men lead like God ordains them to lead, godly women will nurture and encourage that leadership.In the next installment, we’ll begin to examine some of the early church documents regarding deaconesses.
 John Goldingay, Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), pp. 135-136.
 Walter Kaiser, Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics, (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1983), p. 159.
 Ernest Bammel, “The Poor in the Old Testament,” in G. Johannes Botterweck & Helmer Ringgren (eds.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Vol. 1, (John Willis [trans.]), (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 27-41; Gerhard Friedrich (ed.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 6, (Geoffrey Bromiley [trans.]), (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), pp. 888-894.
 Brian Schwertley, A Historical and Biblical Examination of Women Deacons, (Southfield, MI: Reformed Witness, 1998), p. 1.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid. Citing James M. Willson, The Deacon: An Inquiry into the Nature, Duties, and Exercise of the Office of the Deacon in the Christian Church, (Philadelphia: William Young, 1841), pp. 30-31.
 Aimé Martimort, Deaconesses, (K.D. Whitehead [trans.]), (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), p. 18.
 Ibid., 19.
Labels: The PCA