Pastor Scott Sauls continues his explanation of the rationale behind his session at Christ Presbyterian Church Nashville appointing women officers called “deaconesses”:
The Christ Presbyterian elders wish to affirm and champion women in the full use of their gifts in the church. For this reason, women serve and lead among us already in multiple capacities. Talented, godly women serve our church faithfully in director-level staff positions, as teachers to children and youth as well as adults, as Connect group facilitators and leaders, as advisors to the various elder commissions, as encouragers, prayers, Scripture readers, testimony-givers, and lead musicians in our Sunday services…plus so much more!
Sauls announces he and his session will “affirm and champion women in the full use of their gifts in the church.” This implies that Sauls’s predecessors in the pulpit (as well as the session of Christ Presbyterian Church Nashville) have been guilty of denying the women of their congregation the “full use of their gifts.” If so, where is their repentance? Throwing women the sop of “deaconess” is no substitute for true repentance.
“Champions” fight against evil. Who are the enemies Scott Sauls is riding out on his stallion to conquer? Is some seven-headed hydra commanding women to be silent? Is some fire-breathing dragon saying women should not teach or exercise authority over men? Have gifted women suffered the public shaming of some little man with an insecurity complex commanding them to “submit to their husbands in all things” and be “keepers at home?”
We could almost believe that down in Nashville such monsters of toxic masculinity skulk in the shadows. But is it best to respond to these evil men and their insecurities by creating a new office that’s for women only? Such a response to oppression of women reminds us of a similar response to the oppression of Africans in the nineteenth century when the anti-slavery colonizers worked to send all the slaves back to Africa. You know, to a room of their own.
It’s not enough to relegate women to a new ladies room. The evil monsters who have created and maintained this culture of oppression within Christ Presbyterian Church must be outed—along with the officers who have been complicit in this evil.
So what gifts have been scorned and what steps are Sauls and his session taking to undo this past contempt for their sisters in Christ?
These are serious questions. Repentance should be specific. Must we wait one hundred years before we repent? And demonstrate our repentance by finally electing a woman as Moderator of our General Assembly?
Here’s the thing: CPCN’s “affirming and championing” of women has the smell of a faux repentance masking an attack on the Word of God. Are they repenting, for instance, of having previously believed 1 Timothy 2:8-15, where Paul writes,
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint (1 Timothy 2:8-15).
Sauls’ idea of gifting and ability trump Scripture’s prohibitions. Pelagius questioned why God would give a command that couldn’t be obeyed. Sauls, in a similar way, wonders why God would give gifts to women and then limit them in the exercise of those gifts in the church. Both think Scripture doesn’t fit with reality. And both are wrong.
Within what we and our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, embrace as a “complementarian” framework for the genders, we will celebrate and champion women in the full use of their God-given and biblically sanctioned gifts to serve the church.
More embracing, celebration, championing …. Sauls clearly believes (with too many “complementarians”) that the presence of gifts make them Biblically-sanctioned, and, if not exercised, wasted gifts.
This will include, but will certainly not be limited to, the commissioned role of deaconess.
Notice the words “but will certainly not be limited to.” There will be more to come, and the limitations that women face because of the outdated practice taught in Scripture will be swapped for something more “full,” something that can be “embraced,” and “celebrated.”
Scripture, they imply, is limiting, must be filled-out, and ultimately cannot be celebrated.
For a fuller explanation and biblical rationale, I highly encourage you to download and digest a brief essay I wrote called “Deaconesses and Other, Non-Ordained Leadership at Christ Presbyterian Church,” which has been approved by the CPC elders. You can download that essay by clicking here.
Stay tuned…we’ll go through portions of Saul’s linked essay in subsequent posts.
Back to Sauls,
We are by no means the first church to commission deaconesses. Notable pastors and theologians like John Calvin, Benjamin Warfield, John Frame, Jerram Barrs, CEB Cranfield, James Montgomery Boice, Philip Ryken and Tim Keller have all taught and practiced their own versions of this. The same could be said of familiar, like-minded PCA churches Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City and Christ Community Church in Franklin, plus many others.
Sauls means for his readers to conclude that each of named men held a similar view to Sauls. When you dig into the matter, you find quite the contrary.
Let’s take Calvin first. In his commentary on 1 Timothy 5, Calvin does mention women serving as deacons, but he makes the careful designation that a) they were qualified widows who, in exchange for their subsistence, gave themselves to the service of the church and continued singleness, and b) they were to care for the physical needs of the sick and poor while the male deacons gathered and distributed alms.1
If, as Calvin argues, this passages defines the qualifications for “deaconesses,” that would mean all the women serving in this capacity were over 60, widowed, having vowed their remaining time on earth to the service of the church and singleness. What Sauls’ proposes is nothing close to the rigor of what Calvin derived from Scripture.
If the PCA went Calvin’s way, Sauls and his session would probably still lament that the full use of women’s gifts were not allowed in the church. Boo. Nothing to embrace and celebrate.
Warfield’s view (and Ryken’s reliance on a false interpretation of Warfield’s view) have been handled previously on Baylyblog. Read here and here. In a nutshell, it’s unfair to trot out Warfield as an advocate for deaconesses.
What about John Frame? In his essay on women teaching men and women in the Sunday school setting, John Frame makes arguments for women teaching men in the church. We believe he errs in doing so. Even so, would Sauls be willing to entertain the cautions listed at the end of Frame’s article?
“Such use of women’s gifts should not be used in such a way as to blur the distinction between the special and general offices;”
“It is not easy to maintain…quietness and humility while at the same time teaching others;”
“Consider the responsibilities given to women in scripture: bearing and teaching children, teaching other women, working at home, being “helpmeets” to their husbands. Making suitable allowance for differences in gifts and calling, it should be evident that most married women will have their hands full carrying out their scripturally mandated tasks, if those tasks are taken seriously.”
We find it unlikely that Sauls would caution his deaconesses that their calling as wives may take precedence over their call to serve the church. And he certainly would not honor the particular callings, as Frame points them out, that women have been given by God according to their sex. Beyond that, there would be very little training (and certainly no celebration) in his church for growth in those areas positively commanded in Titus 2.
As for Jerram Barrs, he’s no friend of complementarianism. He condemned the whole complementarian enterprise in a Pastoral Theology class as “demeaning to women.”
And Cranfield? He argues that Phoebe (Romans 16:1) was a deacon—and goes from there. But the Apostle Paul uses the term diakonos in a generic way as a “servant” of the church in Cenchrea. Phoebe served, perhaps, in a Titus 2 sort of way—teaching the young women to love their husbands and to be workers at home.
But even if we think the use of the male diakonos is significant, we’d be reckless to allow this verse to establishing a female diaconate. We’d have to ignore every other passage that the Holy Spirit inspired, particularly 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11. We’d have to allow the unclear to inform the clear passages of Scripture, instead of the other way around.
Boice’s views can be read here—and we see quite a number of echoes in Saul’s views. It is important to point out again that the Reformed world, including Boice, has removed authority from the diaconate. He, too, truncates the application of 1 Tim. 2:11-12 to the office of elder.
But although only the office of elder is one of rule, that does not mean that the office of deacon is without authority. The deacon is, after all, an ordained officer of the church. Both the session and the diaconate wield authority in the church, but in different ways. The differing authority of each office is defined in BCO 7.2:
7-2. The ordinary and perpetual classes of office in the Church are elders and deacons. Within the class of elder are the two orders of teaching elders and ruling elders. The elders jointly have the government and spiritual oversight of the Church, including teaching. Only those elders who are specially gifted, called and trained by God to preach may serve as teaching elders. The office of deacon is not one of rule, but rather of service both to the physical and spiritual needs of the people. In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only.
What about Tim Keller? He didn’t ordain deacons in his church after he thought up his combined male and female unordained “deeks” group. Should he really be someone we lean on for a proper understanding of the diaconate or the ordination of women?
I hope you share my excitement about this new path for our church. I also look forward to sharing more about this, as well as several other exciting things with you, at this Sunday’s congregational meeting.
Scott Sauls, Senior Pastor
Commissioning deaconesses is indeed a new path for the PCA. The BCO doesn’t mention it, Scripture doesn’t command it, and the fathers of the faith would not recognize its current form.
Thus we don’t share CPCN’s excitement. We lament the influence this congregation and her pastors will have in the continuing decline of the PCA. We pray for their repentance.
|↑1||Calvin, from his commentary on 1 Timothy: “…the widows who were now old (as we shall note later), were received as if in a hospice, and they were fed. It is true that they worked notwithstanding, but if they wanted anything, they had it supplied by the alms, and they also took care of the sick. To be short, those who were widows gave themselves wholly to serve the Church, and were like public persons, and had also a name that they were called Deacons. For as men served to distribute the alms, and to gather them, the widows were to help the sick, and to care for the poor, who were also upheld by alms. And because the widows who were thus received were in some honor (for they were consecrated to God), Saint Paul says precisely to Timothy that he should honor those who are widows indeed.”|