Questions for PCA officers on...offices
By Brad Isbell
The fact that a significant number (likely hundreds) of Presbyterian Church in America congregations “have” female deacons or deaconesses or present females as holding the office of deacon or the imaginary office of deaconess is indisputable.* Also beyond question is the fact that a number of PCA churches do not ordain male deacons (presumably to create a unisex, egalitarian board of deaconing persons) is also beyond dispute.
Questions for PCA officers:
1. Has anyone considered the incremental-but-inevitable effect of allowing quasi-/non-ordained "officers" in a denomination?
2. How many members of PCA churches with female "deacons" or deaconesses (a term with no set meaning in our polity) know that the female deaconing persons are not actually officers? If members are confused it may be because some churches use the same nomination, training, and election processes for females who are called deacons or deaconesses as they do for men who are part of the diaconate.
3. What is the long-term effect of allowing churches to forego the ordination of one of the two offices our polity requires?
4. Have the de facto three-office/three-office-attracted pastors considered the effect that their position may have on our supposed firewall against ordaining female elders (of one kind or another)? In other words, will we move from "women can never be elders" to "women can never be preaching (or senior) pastors."
5. What will be the effect of allowing churches to flout the BCO re: office and ordination?
6. When will female deacon advocates make another run at amending the BCO? (This effort in 2019 was withdrawn: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1yAx8gjseKheH5MogOJGjZ20o1l6xQc_b/view )
7. Should we seek again by overture to "address the unordained diaconate"? (This effort failed in 2018: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YyDqgVKKmR4PSh-1C5bdxQgdeqyLWGr9/view - It should be noted that there is nothing to presently prevent presbyteries from inquiring into the state of their churches’ diaconates.)
- Bonus question: Is our present stalemate on these issues (really more a slow slide/drift rather than a stalemate) an acceptable, viable, or sustainable situation, or is it a recipe for disharmony and distrust?
- Bonus bonus question: Has any church that adopted a free-form, bespoke approach to offices ever maintained its doctrine of office?
- Ultra bonus question(s): What is the effect of (by non-compliance and lack of enforcement) rendering a section of the BCO optional and non-binding? Which section is next?
Final thoughts: It is difficult for PCA sessions which push the Book of Church order envelope on these issues to respond to criticism and questions, knowing that both the spirit and letter of PCA polity is (in some cases) being violated. Making biblicist arguments about one verse in the New Testament (Phoebe!) or appealing to the practice of other denominations is about the best they can do. Do not the vows taken by elders regarding the constitution of the PCA and submission to brethren require that we (all of us) follow and abide by the polity of our church (in letter and spirit) until such time as that polity is changed through orderly constitutional process rather than by the drip-drip normalization-by-tolerated-violation approach of ecclesial antinomians—no matter how winsome and missional they be?
*Finding PCA churches with female “deacons” or deaconesses or females listed as officers is as easy as visiting a few websites. Some churches even admit to commissioning (not ordaining) their unisex diaconates. An example of a church leader admitting that their church’s deacons are not ordained by the laying on of hands can be found in Tim Keller’s 2009 PCA General Assembly seminar with Ligon Duncan: https://presbycast.libsyn.com/bonus-duncan-keller-talk-deacons-deaconesses-2009
Brad Isbell is a ruling elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Oak Ridge, TN, co-host of the Presbycast podcast, board member of MORE in the PCA and the Heidelberg Reformation Association, and a co-editor of the Nicotine Theological Journal.
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