[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 SOUTH AFRICAN RESPONSE TO THE PCA REPORT ON WOMEN SERVING IN THE MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH
Dr. P. J. (Flip) Buys
International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship
It is clear that our brothers and sisters of the interim committee of the PCA worked hard to find solutions for the way that the global debate about women serving in the ministry of the church is surfacing in their denomination.
Evangelical and conservative churches around the world are grappling with this issue.
The Reformed Churches in South Africa have been handling several aspects of the issue at General Synod level for 30 years. In January 2016 a special general synod meeting was called to discuss and debate the issue of woman in ordained ministries in the church from various angles.
It is not possible to summarize all the decisions of this General Synod has made within the limits of one blog. The Acts of the Synod that covers 140 pages can be read on the denominational website http://gksa.org.za/sinodehandelinge.htm
Basically, the RCSA maintains the position of allowing only males to be ordained as ruling and teaching elders (ministers and elders) but maintained a decision that was taken in 2003 that woman may be ordained as deacons. A petition from some churches that the 2003 decision must be nullified was rejected with in depth reasoning from Scriptures.
Reasoning About the Ordination of Female Deacons
Concerning the ordination of deacons the decisions of the Synod indicated with certainty that Scripture does not provide enough evidence to make a decision that binds the consciences of believers on this issue. The Synod did not decide that women must be ordained in the office of deacon, or not be ordained, but that it may happen according to the judgment of the local church. The reasoning was as follows:
The word diakonos is not used in Acts 6 to describe the 7 men.
The word diakonia is used to describe their service, but this same word is also used to describe the work of the apostles.
- The apostles would do the diakonia of the Word and prayer.
- The 7 would deal with the diakonia of the tables.
It is not clear what the task of the 7 was, but it is possible that they lead with the meetings that took place from house to house. There they would serve the Holy Communion, and they would lead with the discussion of the preaching by the apostles, etc.
It is also possible that the great need of the Greek-speaking widows was an issue of language – all seven men have Greek names, and would therefore be able to solve the pastoral problems and conflict between Greek speaking and Hebrew-speaking believers.
Two of the 7 (Philip and Stephen) later act as evangelists.
The purpose of Acts 6 was not to describe the content of the work of these 7, but to show how inner conflict may be addressed and that the service of everyone in the congregation is vitally important.
When the meaning of the word diakonia in the NT is studied, it is clear that it carries different spheres of meaning and is not primarily aimed at the service of compassion or even fellowship between believers.
Paul says in Eph 3:7 that he has become a diakonos of the gospel.
In Mark 10 and Matthew 20, Jesus describes his own ministy with the verb diakoneo.
The diakon word group (diakonia – ministry, diakonos – servant, diakoneo – to serve), therefore describes a wide sphere of meaning.
Therefore Acts 6 cannot be seen as proof that men (or even only men) served in the office of deacon.
If it is accepted that Acts 6 does not describe the institution of or description of the content of the office of deacon, we nowhere else in the NT find a description of the content of the specific office of deacon. It is clear from the use of the wordgroup (diakonons, diakonia, diakoneo) that the wordgroup describe different types of service:
(i) Women: Matt 27:55 (Mark 15:41). There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him (diakoneo).
(ii) Peter’s mother-in- law: Matt 8:15. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve (diakoneo) him.
(iii) Anyone: John 12:26. If anyone serves (diakoneo) me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant (diakonos) be also. If anyone serves (diakoneo) me, the Father will honor him.
(iv) 1 Pet 4:10-11. As each has received a gift, use it to serve (diakoneo) one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves (diakoneo) by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Different people are also called a diakonos:
(v) Col 4:7. Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister (diakonos) and fellow servant in the Lord.
(vi) Rom 16:1. I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant (diakonos) of the church at Cenchreae
The Synod did not see a deacon as an authority-bearing office having the same status as an office holding a ruling authority in the church but exercising a different ministry a non authority bearing office.
Perhaps Reformed and Presbyterian churches who are members of World Reformed Fellowship and have official fraternal relations should seek ways to interact more about the issue of women serving as ordained deacons.