Dear Church Family,
2017 General Assembly of the PCA
Next week, June 12-16, is the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the meeting of the highest court of our denomination. In organizing and conducting the business of the church at large, one of the many functions of the General Assembly is to deliberate and vote on certain items of business. These items of business can come before the General Assembly in many ways, but one of the main ways is through overtures from individuals, churches, and presbyteries within the denomination. This year, there are twenty-five overtures, which are available online here.
Several of the overtures have to do with dividing (and multiplying) presbyteries, including one from our own North Texas Presbytery. This overture calls for the formation of a new presbytery that will include all of the churches in Oklahoma, as well as some from Arkansas and Missouri. Several other overtures seek to amend our Book of Church Order or governing rules of our assembly, while still others seek to deal with pressing issues in the church (e.g., encouraging the financing of Bible translations, solidifying our denomination’s beliefs on marriage, etc.).
Women in Ministry
One of the most important issues (in my opinion) that will be debated at this year’s General Assembly will be the report of “The Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church.” In addition to this report, by my count there are at least five overtures coming from various presbyteries that speak against the very formation of this committee and its findings.
To help navigate this impending debate, I thought I would share a little background and overview. Last year, at the 2016 General Assembly, this study committee was approved; you can read how this came about and what they were instructed to do here. The mere formation of this committee was debated, and opposed by some – several of the reasons for that opposition are listed here.
Be that as it may, the committee was formed and have now submitted their report which will be taken up at the 2017 General Assembly. The full report of “The Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church” is 63 pages long and is available online here. The last six pages contain the “Pastoral Letter and Recommendations” of the committee. There is much in this report to commend: it emphasizes and reminds us that God has given gifts to men and women for service in the church – it is good to affirm the important role of women serving in various capacities in the life of the church.
For my part, however, I will be voting against this report for a couple of simple reasons:
(1) Origin: this committee didn’t come from a request by a church or a presbytery concerning a need in our churches, but came from the Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC), which is made up of the chairmen of the ten standing Assembly committees as well as the six most recent moderators of the General Assembly. It’s a top-down driven agenda.
(2) Lack of necessity: the biblical teaching that church offices (elder and deacon) are restricted to qualified men is a well-studied, well-established, well-formulated doctrine of our denomination. Also, there are many places and roles in which women may serve in the church, and they do so joyfully. The formation of this study committee is a proposed solution to a nonexistent problem.
(3) Worship Issues: Recommendation #5 of the study report calls for sessions to “consider how to include non-ordained men and women in the worship of the church” through leading congregational singing, stirring up one another to love and good deeds, giving individual testimonies and praises, leading in prayer, reading Scripture, and making doxological announcements. While several of these may not be problematic, as I’ve written before, understanding the dialogical aspect of worship helps us to see that the various elements of the corporate worship service ought to be ordinarily led by men who have been ordained for that task.
(4) Subversive (unofficial) Changes to Church Government: Recommendations #6 and #7 of the study report call for the creation of a non-ordained “category” of “unordained deaconesses” and “commissioned church workers” through training and commissioning, accompanied by public prayer. The report states that this “category would carry no authority, merely recognition. No BCO changes would be necessary. The category could apply to deaconesses, women staff members who have theological degrees, or others as determined by the General Assembly.” This, for me, is the most concerning aspect of this report: if this report is approved, the General Assembly will unofficially change the polity of our denomination by adding a “category” which will, in essence, be an additional office to that of elder and deacon.
I know of many men and women in our church who joyfully serve without an official categorical designation or office. My wife is one of the most wise and spiritually mature people that I know. She has a Master’s degree in theological studies from Reformed Theological Seminary; she has served (and continues to serve) the church in many official and unofficial ways (hospitality, teaching, discipling/mentoring, counseling, organization, leadership, encouraging, etc). In her own words, “I don’t need a participation award in order to serve my God and His people.”
I want to affirm all that every member of the church does in service to Christ (men and women, alike). God has gifted people in our church to teach Sunday school, lead Bible studies, pray for the needs of others, help in the diaconal work, show hospitality, encourage one another, evangelize and invite others to church, commiserate and give wise counsel, use their musical talents for the betterment of our corporate worship, be examples to the young people in our congregation, and the list goes on and on.
It has always been the practice of our churches to include the gifts of women in the ministry of the church, yet not through ordained office. In my opinion, the report of “The Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church” is simply an attempt to seem relevant to our ever-changing culture and is not a help for our churches. Along these lines, after last year’s General Assembly, in an article called, “A Troubling Turn: PCA General Assembly 2016,” Terry Johnson highlighted this, along with several other, worrisome issues that are arising in our denomination. I encourage you to read it.
As our General Assembly meets next week, please pray for all of the commissioners that will be attending, and that the Lord would work His will in and through all of the deliberations
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch