My Photo
Location: United States

I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The PCA and Female Deaconesses (X)

Concluding Remarks

Ten is a good biblical number, so with this installment I will cease with the discussion surrounding ordained or unordained female deacons or deaconesses. In this issue, I will limit myself to looking at some of the most salient features of the discussion and then close with an appraisal of whether Dr. Keller and those who follow him in his desire to have deaconesses have made a biblical or historical case for their position. We shall also include what the PCA 36th General Assembly declared about the practice of not ordaining either male or female deacons. In other words, we will ask the question of whether Dr. Keller’s position comports with PCA policy and polity.

As we prepare to do this, there is a question that needs to be asked that as far as I know has not been asked to this point: Why did byFaith magazine run Dr. Keller’s and Dr. Duncan’s articles after the decision was made by the 36th General Assembly? Apparently, to the editor’s of byFaith’s mind, the decision of the assembly was sufficiently unclear or non-binding that they believed there should be more discussion on the matter. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the topic should not be discussed again, but it seems as if the churches have had precious little time to discuss what the 36th GA decided in the aftermath of the assembly.

No one can answer that question except the editors of byFaith. I suspect that we’ll wait in vain for an explanation. So let’s summarize what we’ve learned thus far. As we examined the early history of the Church we discovered the exact opposite of what Dr. Keller contends regarding deaconesses being rampant and fully accepted. Brian Schwertley also reminds us that “Deaconesses were needed not to perform all the functions of the male deacon’s office, but only to perform certain responsibilities toward women.”[1] Is this what Dr. Keller and the “Redeemer model” churches intend? I don’t think so.

Historically, the ordination of deaconesses became commonplace by 381A.D. in the Eastern Church. In fact, there was a “glut” of various people in the Eastern Church being “ordained” for a variety of “offices.” For example, “Deaconesses were ordained, but so were readers, singers, and porters. The ordination of deaconesses was an innovation of the eastern church. It was never universally accepted in the western church.”[2] Yet, even in the Eastern Church a clear difference was made between deacons and deaconesses. For instance, in the document, “The Ordo and the Canons concerning Ordination in the Holy Church,” canon 18 we read, “The deaconess is brought into the diaconicon, or place set apart for deaconesses, and the bishop prays over her; when he has placed her before the altar and she has bowed her head, the bishop then lays his hand upon her head and prays using a prayer that is known and that in no way resembles the prayer used in the ordination of a deacon.”[3] The reason? “The deaconess has a ministry only to women.”[4] Moreover, “The deaconess functioned as an intermediary between women in the church and the deacon and the bishop; thus, any appearance of impropriety was avoided.”[5]

In light of what we’ve learned in previous installments, it is also clear that early Church deaconesses were widows, and not CEOs, CFOs, or “professional” women. These were godly women who fit the description offered in Titus 2. This is not to say, in the least, that those Dr. Keller has in mind are godless women! What I have observed in my own Presbytery is that there is deference and preference given to women—usually in near-idolized positions in secular employment—who are in the work force over “stay-at-home” moms—as if the latter were not in the work force! Trying telling my wife that! Make certain your life insurance is paid up if you tell her that because you are going to have a very unpleasant conversation!

From a historical perspective, it has become evident to us in this series of investigations that in the early Church deaconesses were widows around the age of 60. In the Eastern Church, the age limit was eventually dropped to 40. These “deaconesses” also took a vow of perpetual celibacy and were no longer permitted to either watch or discuss Desperate Housewives. Schwertley summarizes the subject this way: “What modern women-deacon advocates are advocating (what else would an advocate do?—RG) is not women deacons who serve in a separate office from men deacons, who have different qualifications that are based on 1 Timothy 5:9ff. They are advocating something totally foreign to the early church. They believe women deacons would have the same qualifications and serve in the same office as male deacons.”[6] Some might argue that this is not precisely the case, but it is close enough for government work. Seriously, I would like to know where Dr. Keller and those who support his position differ from Schwertley’s summary.

John Calvin

There is not time to engage in a lengthy discussion about what Calvin taught on this matter, but some pertinent quotes will help. In the Institutes (4.3.9 [1061]) Calvin writes, “The care of the poor was entrusted to the deacons. However, two kinds are mentioned in the letter to the Romans: ‘He that gives, let him do it with simplicity; …he that shows mercy, with cheerfulness’ [Rom. 12:8, cf. Vg.]. Since it is certain that Paul is speaking of the public office of the church, there must have been two distinct grades. Unless my judgment deceives me, in the first clause he designates the deacons who distribute the alms. But the second refers to those who had devoted themselves to the care of the poor and sick. Of this sort were the widows whom Paul mentions to Timothy [I Tim. 5:9-10]. Women could fill no other public office than to devote themselves to the care of the poor.”[7] What is noteworthy here is the manner in which Calvin ties the females to 1 Timothy 5 and not to 1 Timothy 3. Dr. Keller has not given a reasonable response to what Calvin wrote and how Dr. Keller is applying that in his congregation. Schwertley opines, “The early church and Calvin had an order of office of widows who happened to be called deaconesses. They were not the same as deacons, as modern advocates of deaconesses assert.”[8] In 4.13.19, Calvin reiterates the fact that the “deaconesses” of his day vowed celibacy. Moreover, these were not young women but those who promised continence from the age of 60 on, according to 1 Timothy 5:9.[9]

What Did the 36th General Assembly of the PCA Decide?

In one sense, all of this is somewhat academic. In the cases of Northern California and Philadelphia Presbyteries, who granted exceptions on women serving as deacons or deaconesses serving on diaconates, the GA said No.[10] It seems that what is needed now is for the Presbyteries in question—in fact, for all Presbyteries in the PCA—to conform to the decision. If they wish to attempt a revision of the Book of Church Order, there are ecclesiastical steps that can be taken. In the meantime, however, what is most needed is compliance. Unfortunately, a number of PCA congregations are refusing to play by the rules that we all agreed were “kosher.”

The exceptions taken are standard, talking-points exceptions. I heard it in my Presbytery and it’s repeated so frequently that it seems like someone faxed or emailed the talking points and now it’s standard fare. It goes like this: “Ordination and obedience to deacons (specifically BCO 24-5, 24-6). Whereas the BCO correctly identifies Deacons as an office in the church, I believe it misinterprets Scripture regarding their ordination. The question to the congregation in 24-5 asks them to yield obedience to Deacons. In 24-6 (and various other places) the Deacons are referred to as ordained in the same manner as Elders. Until the BCO is amended, I intend to elect and install unordained deaconesses. This is allowable under BCO 9-7.”[11] That is almost verbatim what I heard on the floor of South Coast Presbytery.

As I have pointed out before, BCO 9-7 merely states that the Session can 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 distress or need. The precise wording of the GA to the reference to BCO 9-7 reads, “The appeal to BCO 9-7 is flawed because 9-7 addresses people appointed by the Session, not members of a diaconate (Board of Deacons, 9-4). According to BCO 9-3 and 9-4, a diaconate may only include men that are elected, ordained, and installed.”[12]

What is most disturbing is the in-your-face ultimatum issued by the candidates: Until the BCO is amended, I intend to elect and install unordained deaconesses. Why does the PCA allow this kind of attitude? Someone needs to be taken out to the woodshed. Why would any Presbytery tolerate such an attitude from a candidate, even if that candidate has been ordained in another Presbytery? Is it the case that presbyters lack the necessary masculinity to stand up in the face of such attitudes? Are we afraid? Have we become so effeminate that we no longer possess a resolve to do what we have agreed is the right thing to do? Again, please hear me well: I am not saying that we can never revisit the issue, but there are two things worthy of reasoned reflection. First, the matter is settled in the Book of Church Order. Presbyters made a vow, gave their word that they would uphold it. That BCO is unequivocally clear about Elders and Deacons. Presbyteries are called upon to uphold what is there, irrespective of personal opinion, friendships, or ecclesiastical allegiances.

Second, until the BCO is changed—if it ever is—then what we vow is the “rule of law.” It is hard to imagine a pastor encouraging a member not to follow the rule of law in society, but in point of fact, there are PCA pastors who hold to the rule of law in society and not in the Church. What have we vowed? The GA summarized it for us. It is clear: 1) Men only are to be elected by a congregation to the office of deacon. 2) Women cannot be elected by a congregation to the office of deacon. 3) Women cannot be commissioned or ordained as deacons. 4) Women cannot serve on diaconates.[13]

So what happens next? Do we continue to re-invent the wheel? Jeff Snyder wrote, “Our society has reached a pinnacle of self-expression and respect for individuality rare or unmatched in the history of civilization. Our entire popular culture—from fashion magazines to the cinema—positively screams the matchless worth of the individual, glories in eccentricity, nonconformity, independent judgment, and self-determination.”[14] It’s one thing when this description matches what we see in the world; it is quite another when it also describes those who call themselves evangelicals or Christians. It is ratcheted up several notches when it is applicable to ecclesiastical leaders, who have given their words to uphold certain standards.

You might recall the book by poet Robert Bly entitled Iron John: A Book About Men (1990). Bly was a liberal, antiwar activist, who eventually ended up giving a feminist seminar promoting New Age goddess worship. In his book, Bly is stilled concerned about what he called the “soft male.” His solution to this problem was ludicrous. He held seminars where men would put on warrior face-paint, beat drums, dance around camp fires (this sounds dumber the more I write about it!), as well as symbolic sword holding. All this occurred, in part, because of ideological feminism and the decline of real masculinity in this country.

A very interesting part of Bly’s book, however, was the rite of passage from boyhood to manhood, found in other cultures. There was a time when a boy became a man. In the South, where I grew up, it was getting your first shotgun. My father gave me mine for Christmas when I was 10. I still have it. Bly describes a moment when a boy becomes a man. He is recognized as an adult with all the privileges and responsibilities that attend to his new status. Bly says that he becomes a warrior. In the most literal sense, he stands ready to fight for what is right, to fight in the defense of his people or homeland. I submit that we are rapidly losing this warrior mentality. I’m not talking about Conan the Barbarian, but a willingness to do the right thing. It will be interesting to see how the PCA responds to those who basically thumb their noses—tastefully of course, at the 2008 GA decision.

[1] Brian Schwertley, A Historical and Biblical Examination of Women Deacons, (Southfield, MI: Reformed Witness, 1998), p. 12.

[2] Ibid., Emphasis added.

[3] Aimé Martimort, Deaconesses, (K.D. Whitehead [trans.]), (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), p. 53. Emphasis added.

[4] Schwertley, HBEWD, 14.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 17.

[7] Calvin, Inst. 4.3.9, 1061.

[8] Schwertley, HBEWD, 21.

[9] Calvin, Inst., 4.13.19, 1274.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Jeff Snyder, A Nation of Cowards, (Lonedell, MO: Accurate Press, 2001), p. 15.



Blogger Solameanie said...

Hi, Ron..

Just wanted to throw out a comment here. I have enjoyed this series very much, with the exception of an errant commenter here and there (cough, cough).

As to the Eastern church, Russia comes to mind. There are a lot of women in these churches and very few men. Part of the reason is that the communists killed so many pastors and church leaders. Only the women were left to try and have some sort of worship. To their credit, when they can finally get some male leadership in the church, they're glad to have it and move immediately to a supporting role. Quite unlike our Helen Reddy-type church ladies here, who expect you to genuflect when they walk in the door.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Amen! Mary Kassian and Nancy Pearcey have good books on feminism and the ill effects of the Second Great Awakening. We sometimes fail to realize how bad Finney and his tenets actually were, especially with a view to men and women.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Randy Buist said...

Ron, you wrote: "I submit that we are rapidly losing this warrior mentality. I’m not talking about Conan the Barbarian, but a willingness to do the right thing."

In other words, it takes a warrior mentality to do the right thing?

David was a warrior, but God kept him from building the temple because he had too much blood on his hands.

Jesus give us the Sermon on the Mount. Paul gives us a definition of love that makes no reference to being a warrior.

Peter pulls out his sword and slashes off an ear to save the life of Jesus, but Peter is rebuked.

Then Jesus is unjustly tried and accused, and he is unjustly hung on a cross. Yet, in this very act he conquers sin and death.

Yet, somehow you want to tell me that having a 'warrior mentality' makes us do the right thing?

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal... And these three remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Ah, the words of St. Paul. I only hope my boy grows up living into these words and not choosing fights on the playground or anywhere else. Perhaps he'll die a death for lack of not being a warrior, but so did his Saviour.

11:19 PM  
Blogger Tim Bayly said...

Thank you for your hard work, brother.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Ron said...


Are you showing love to Dr. Gleason? Asking requests for clarification are quite different than nit-picking. Initiating a quarrel as response does is rooted in self-lordship, which is idolatry. I pray that you repent and ask for forgiveness.

Dr. Gleason

I apologize for butting in.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

You wrote, "Jesus give us the Sermon on the Mount. Paul gives us a definition of love that makes no reference to being a warrior." This is true as far as it goes, it simply does not go far enough. Because neither Jesus nor Paul use the specific word, by no means indicates that they are opposed to it. Paul, for example, in the same book where he writes the beautiful chapter on love, urges Christian men to act like men (Cf. 1 Cor. 16:13-14). In fact, in these verses Paul combines acting like men with love, something that has totally escaped the Emergent gaggle.
In Ex. 15:3, the Lord is called a "man of war" or a "warrior." There is nothing inherently wrong with having a warrior mentality in what we all agree is a spiritual warfare.
It is also necessary to being willing to stand against the crowd and do the right thing. So yes, Randy, there are times when a warrior mentality is indispensable.
In your case, you are either ignorant of important truths of Scripture, so you actually believe McLaren's, Pagitt's, Burke's, Miller's, Jones', and Wallis' drivel and blatant contradictions of Scripture and tradition OR you see them and are afraid to call them to account because the all-loving ECM crowd might ostracize you for not walking in lock step.
Suck it up, warrior!

2:34 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

You're hardly butting in. Thanks for your comments.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

Dr. Gleason

This is off post, but I am looking forward to your continuing of the topic "Church and the poor."

5:29 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

I will be continuing that soon. I have a book on the Christian and capital punishment that should be released at the end of this month or the beginning of next. I'm underway on another ethical sequel: The Christian and the Second Amendment. My Herman Bavinck biography should be released by P&R in 2009 and then my writing projects include an ethical commentary on real poverty, followed by just war. I also want to write a book based on my summer series, Who is the Lord That We Should Worship Him?
My wife is in the throes of writing a book on marriage.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

I wonder what Randy would do with the concept of "the watchman on the wall." Or perhaps the instructions given to the men rebuilding Jerusalem to keep their swords handy along with their trowels. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. If God is anything, He is consistent.

There is a time for war and a time for peace. There is a role of the individual and a role of the state. Christian individuals can play roles within private citizenship or within state functions. And of course, nothing precludes the Christian individual from acting in self-defense or defense of his/her family.

I am waiting for Randy to accurately sort it all out. We could be here a while, and then again, I might take a page out of Ichabod Crane's book and sleep for 20 years, then see if anything's changed.

Now that I think about it, there are amazing similarities between Randy and the Headless Horseman.

Just kidding. Ahem.

12:11 PM  
Blogger Solameanie said...

I should point this out also. While on Youtube this evening, I happened to see a clip of "Good Morning Starshine" sung by Oliver. It was one of the songs from "Hair."

I couldn't help thinking of the Emergent Church. Go figure.

7:23 PM  
Blogger wordsmith said...

Solameanie -

Rip Van Winkle was the 20-year snoozer :)

Dr. Gleason,

I always enjoy your writing. Your series on the female issue in the PCA is timely. (Ever think about something along the lines of the PCA and the Regulative Principle? I suspect that might be the next major bone of contention :)

7:10 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Implicitly, the RP has been a bone of contention in the PCA probably since its inception, although I was in Holland then and cannot speak with certainty on the precise timetable.
I do know, however, that in my Presbytery and in other Presbyteries there is little regard among many, many PCA churches and church plants. Some still believe that if you look, act, dress, think, and speak like pagans the gospel will be less offensive.
Thanks for your kind comments.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Solameanie said...


You are so right, LOL! I don't know why, but those two stories always mash together in my head for some reason. Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

But now that I think of it, the Emergents mash different subjects together all the time whether or not they have anything to do with each other, Randy is a good example of that sort of thing.

So somehow it makes sense. Maybe I'll find a way to work "The Raven" into it too.


7:13 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home