[Note: The item below expresses the views of the individual to whom the material is ascribed and does not necessarily reflect the position of the WRF as a whole.]
A Response to The Presbyterian Church in America Study Committee Report on Women
Serving in the Ministry of the Church
WRF Member Dr. Paul R. Gilchrist
Teaching Elder in the PCA, Emeritus Executive Secretary WRF, former Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America, former State Clerk of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod
This study committee report has been long in the making. The PCA should be grateful that it finally has seen the light of day. During the last several years (late 1970s to early 1981) of the General Synod of the RPCES before the Joining and Receiving into the PCA, an excellent study was reported, but due to the pending merger on the horizon it was laid aside with the hope that it would be helpful to the combined General Assembly for study and action. In 1981 the PCA General Assembly stated in receiving the RPCES it “recognizes their history …as part of her total history and receives their historical documents as valuable and significant material which will be used in the perfecting of the Church.” (Minutes, 1981, p. 58). There are some excellent exegetical materials which might enhance the valuable study of the present report.
A word or two of concerns: First, it is unfortunate that a “committee of the General Assembly” would be composed of Teaching Elders and women, without a single Ruling Elder (p. 2403). I believe this is the first time that any committee of the General Assembly since its inception does not have ruling elder participation. It seems that a basic principle of Presbyterian polity has been set aside.
Professor John Murray, who for years taught at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, wrote about the practical aspects of the distinction of Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders/Pastors. He emphasized the importance of the parity or equality of elders and that
. . . history has demonstrated that the implications are too frequently overlooked. The rule that is exercised in the church of God the elders execute in unison and on a parity with one another. In respect of ruling, there is no hegemony in the church of God. Within the presbyterian fold, the way in which this principle has been prejudiced and sometimes well nigh eliminated is by entertaining and giving practical effect to the notion that to the minister belongs a certain priority or superiority in the rule of the church. It needs therefore to be emphasized that in respect of rule the person who is called the minister has no more authority or jurisdiction than the ruling elder and therefore no more responsibility devolves upon him than upon the elder.” (Collected Writings of John Murray. 1: The Claims of Truth, “Government in the Church.” Banner of Truth, pp. 260f).
Second, in the section on prophetesses in the OT, (pp. 2407 and 2408), the Study Report correctly refers to the song of Miriam and the response of Hulda the Prophetess stating “the Bible records the words of women and regards them as inspired truth.” It seems to imply that because their words were recorded they themselves were “inspired” by the Holy Spirit. This kind of argument proves too much. If so, then Rabshakah, Balaam’s ass, and even Satan were “inspired;” rather their words as recorded in the Scriptures by “men who were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” and thus it’s the Scriptural record of these words that are “given by inspiration of God.”
The committee report correctly notes that the women referred to as “prophetess” were not priests, clearly an office limited to certain qualified men. It seems to me that the NT pastor, i.e., teaching elder, is a continuation of the OT priesthood. It is not without significance that the Anglican and Roman Catholic tradition identify their pastors as “priests.”
Finally, in referring to Calvin’s Geneva having deaconesses, the report unwittingly tips the scale re. ordination by stating: “There is no indication that the deaconesses of Geneva were ordained, though they had official ecclesiastical roles and evidently served under the leadership of the ordained, male deacons.” (p. 2045). The opposite might also be true. The argument from silence cannot be proved for either side.
One may differ or disagree on one or another issue discussed in the paper, but this report is worthy of serious consideration. The committee is to be commended for emphasizing the desire to base their conclusions on what the Scriptures teach in contrast to the current cultural mindset, i.e., that modern cultural and religious studies should be the norm replacing sola scriptura, “the Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice.”
Let me add my two-cent’s worth:
- For all the opposition to women teaching (I am not speaking about women’s ordination to the teaching and governing offices of elders) it is interesting that we men often quote women authors of books and songs. Colossians 3:16 states: Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalm and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. The songs of Miriam, Mary and Elizabeth as well as the prayers of Hannah and other godly women were inscripturated and thus are part of the authoritative Scriptures, it seems proper for men, women and children to receive instruction from these godly women. Similarly, we sing songs and hymns written by godly women which we use in our worship services. No one (at least in PCA circles) would even imagine that they were written by ordained women for the teaching office. Pastors often quote women authors in their sermons, yet no one thinks of them as being ordained. I have profited much from women scholars who have given insight to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, yet by their writing they are teachers of the OT Scriptures. They are not necessarily ordained, but like Priscilla, we who are Apollos, even though “mighty in the Scriptures”, might well receive their instruction and correction. But whether it is Priscilla or Paul, Hannah or Peter, Luke’s reminder is still mighty helpful: they searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so (Acts 17:11). May the Holy Spirit guide the PCA in searching out the Scriptures, reaching back to the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts, and come to a clear understanding of the principles relating to the issues facing us.
2. Suggestion for PCA editors: The Committee Report unfortunately is marred by trying to use Greek or Hebrew letters rather than simply transliterating. This is a function of computers and styles of scripts used, which when used by the original authors does not carry over to a different style used in the main office system. Transliteration, accomplished with either italics or underlining, are readily understood by scholars who can read the original languages.