I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard this year’s GA will entertain an overture requesting the BCO be adapted to allow ordination of female deacons. Actually, I just didn’t want to believe my ears. This overture should really come as no surprise. My pastor along with other friends in the PCA have been predicting it for years based on previous compromises within our denomination on issues like the Lord’s Day, Subscription, etc. Now it’s here. Let’s examine it. I have copied the supporting argument directly from the body of Overture 9, which is in bold below, and have added my commentary after each section individually:
Whereas BCO identifies deacons as necessarily men and only allows a particular Session to “appoint godly men and women to assist the deacons . . .” (BCO 9-7);
I’m not entirely sure if the this section quotes the BCO as a premise or just background. It is likely an attempt to frame the current, expedient use of laymen/laywomen assisting deacons in a way that it might seem as though the language of the BCO already allows women to fulfill the same duties as deacons. Doing so would bring the argument one small semantic step closer to being able to jump to the conclusion that the only difference between a layman/laywoman assisting a deacon and holding office as a deacon is the title. Sadly it has become a common practice within the PCA to have “unofficial” female deacons who are actually fulfilling all the duties of elected deacons without bearing the title. This practice, of course, is already out of accord with both the spirit and the letter of law since such practice is an obvious overextension of any working definition of “assisting.”
Furthermore, if these helpers’ duties were intended to be tantamount to actually serving as deacons, there would be no reason for the language of the BCO to include “godly men” among those able to assist deacons since men are free to actually serve in this office.
I also find it odd that in this small quote from BCO 9-7 several words are omitted without being marked by proper punctuation (“…”). The BCO actually reads “appoint godly men and women from the congregation to assist the deacons…”
Whereas Romans 16:1 names a woman, Phoebe, as a deacon (literal Greek translation) and clearly calls her “sister” (therefore a woman serving in that calling);
The most literal Greek translation of διάκονος is actually “servant” not “deacon.” Even though διάκονος can mean “deacon,” the word always carries the denotation of “servant” since a deacon is always a servant, but a servant is not always a deacon. As it is used within the context of Romans 16, I understand it to mean Phoebe was helping/ministering to the church and not serving in the official role of a deacon: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.” If we look at the role of Phoebe in this scenario she is functioning as a servant to Paul as a letter-bearer and is also known to help others generally within the church. A similar example would be Onesimus, who helped Paul in writing his letter to Philemon, due to Paul’s physical impairments at that time, and delivered the epistle as a servant in Christ, not as a deacon in the church. Though I suppose it is possible for her to have been a deacon based on this verse, it’s really more far-fetched and at best, would be a poor supporting proof for female deacons as it is still ambiguous etc. We’ll have to let Scripture interpret Scripture here, which I believe 1 Timothy 3 does clearly.
Whereas 1 Timothy 3:11 speaks of “their women” connected with the deacons (not wives, as the NIV interprets), yet has no similar statement about wives of elders—a much more significant role—this interpretive translation of the NIV is questionable, and suggests that Paul meant for women to be included as deacons in our churches;
Now here is where the argument falls apart. I’ve included the preceding section of 1 Timothy 3 as well which discusses the qualification of elders. I placed both sections for elders and deacons together since there is a natural parallelism between the two offices. The qualifications for deacons begins in vs. 8:
1 Timothy 3
1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Okay, so the argument is based on the clarity of whether γυνή is better translated as “wives” or “women” in vs. 11. Considering the same noun is used again in vs. 12, I’m going to assume context clues can assist us in finding an accurate translation. Here are our options: “Deacons must be the husband of one wife” OR “Deacons must be the husband of one woman” OR “Deacons must be the man of one wife” OR “Deacons must be the man of one woman.” Naturally, this is not a qualification any woman can fulfill however you translate it.
Whereas the office of deacon is an office of service rather than ruling, with no word or teaching gifts required for it, therefore it is consistent with Paul’s defined gender roles within the body to allow women to serve as deacons in the church;
According to what we just discussed in 1Timothy, it’s not in accord with the prescribed gender roles of Scripture. Proponents of female deacons have to qualify their arguments by claiming the office of deacon is somehow completely different from the office of elder because, in their estimation, that would just be taking it too far. Since the success of their agenda necessitates the demolition of certain barriers restricting gender roles in the church, they become caught in a vain attempt to keep evangelical feminism from rushing into the Church toward it’s logical conclusion–female elders. In a sense, they want to drill holes in a concrete levy and then cover it with Spackle. How long could it possibly hold?
Whereas it has become common practice in the PCA across many churches and presbyteries to allow churches to elect and commission women to serve as deacons equal to men serving in the office (which is out of order with BCO 9-7);
This defense simply makes me sad. Rather than take action against a practice that is admittedly out of accord with the Book of Church Order, the argument is to change the standard not the practice. So, not only did we know it was going on, we waited until it became “common” before we said anything. I suppose it does make for a much more substantial muscle to flex—“No need to cause a big stink. We just need you guys to shuffle a few papers and make the majority happy.” What the writers of this overture may not realize is that, at some point, they will no longer be in the majority. Eventually a majority of “radical” liberals will submit an overture requesting women be allowed to do “non-authoritative” readings and prayers from the pulpit, and if adapting the Standards has already become the new standard, anything will be possible. Our denomination would follow the same course as the PCUS–changing the Standards one jot and tiddle at a time until they are unrecognizable. Wouldn’t it make more sense for a congregation or even a presbytery to switch its membership to a denomination that has already made these compromises rather than staying in the PCA?
Whereas the practice of commissioning women to the office of the deacon and ordaining men to the same office is inconsistent in its approach to office and therefore an injustice;
Of course it is inconsistent. As stated previously in the overture, this “common” practice of commissioning women is out of line with the BCO, so in order to make it fit we would have plow down more of the natural barriers established to prevent the ordination of women. I also noticed how Feminist language is manifested within the pragmatic appeals of the overture here and again later on with please of “injustice” and “oppression.”
Whereas ordination is to a particular office of elder or deacon and not conferral of general “rule” within the church, and is instead, conferral of status necessary to fulfill the calling of a particular office;
I don’t exactly understand this section. Maybe someone else could address this in the comments?
Whereas a position on the ordination of women as deacons does not strike at the “vitals of religion;”
As a denomination we are in danger. We are trusting ourselves with little changes here and there to suit capricious desires of fallible men and women.“It is but a little one,” is the lie Satan would have us believe when, in fact, this overture could cause our denomination to lose one of the 9 marks of a true church—Biblical Understanding of Leadership. In fact, if it is passed, then the means to this end would actually be the loss of another mark—Biblical Church Discipline. Rather than expecting repentance from those who refuse to conform to our Standards, we are instead bringing charges against the Standards and demanding they change.
Whereas the gifts of women in our congregations are arguably underutilized by denying them the opportunity to use their gifts in accordance with Scripture as an ordained deacon;
I certainly agree that the “gifts of women in our congregations are arguably underutilized in our churches.” However, since ordination of women as deacons is NOT in accordance with Scripture, this is NOT an outlet for female ministry. If we pursue that which is out of accord with God’s revealed will, then it will not be a blessing to the church. Instead, it will serve as a curse to the church. The current outlines for the office of deacon within the BCO is not that which keeps us as women from ministering within the church; it is our sinful nature and love for comfort and ease that causes us to neglect our duties and privileges within Christ’s Church. All Christians are called to love one another and to be servants, and as women we can certainly be proactive in considering how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds, to consider the poor or sick, or to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Women can serve the church in many capacities (and have been for generations prior to this overture). I’ll take this as a natural transition to state that my desire for this blog is to discuss Biblical outlets for women in the church—outlets that do not necessarily come with titles or recognition but yet still serve the Kingdom by the means which God has seen fit to bless.