Feminist talking points in the PCA
Who is Scott Sauls?
In his July 8 blog post, “Celebrating the New Role of ‘Deaconess’ at Our Church,” Pastor Scott Sauls provided a link to an essay he wrote to defend his position on deaconesses and non-ordained leadership at Christ Presbyterian Church (CPC). It is titled, “Deaconesses and Other, Non-Ordained Leadership at Christ Presbyterian Church” and it was “written by Scott Sauls, approved by the CPC Elders.”
This is the work, evidently, of one man. And this is the man who accidentally ordained a deaconess at Redeemer nine years ago. This is the man who then went to Nashville and introduced us to the concept of “gay Christians” a few years later. This is the man who, attempting to sell us on gay Christianity (side B of course) more than suggested that Jesus Himself was tempted by homosexuality. (In case you’re wondering, no, He wasn’t.) This is the man who said that David and Jonathan are a biblical example of “spiritual friendship,” the life-long covenantal, monogamous relationships Wes Hill recommends for gay men.
Is this man trustworthy? Has he proved a reliable guide in matters of biblical sexuality? No he hasn’t.
“Written by Scott Sauls” is a red flag.
What is Scott Sauls advocating?
Pastor Sauls now eagerly gives away another bit of ground on biblical sexuality. His words speak for themselves:
Summary of our practice: All positions of teaching and leadership at Christ Presbyterian Church shall be open to non-ordained women and men, except for the unique preaching, governing, and guarding functions that Scripture assigns to elders. Aside from the elder function, non-ordained women and men are encouraged to seek out all avenues of leadership and service, and by all means fully exercise their gifts to the glory of God and for the benefit of the body of Christ.
According to Pastor Sauls, women are to be engaged in teaching and leadership at every level, in every position in the church except for elder. It should be as obvious as the nose on Pinocchio’s face that the coming years will be given to chipping away at that last reservation, starting with the fact that he speaks of “positions” instead of “offices” and then proceeds to break eldership down into functions, listing which functions are off-limits to women. The way it’s written, one could be excused for thinking that he is justifying women elders that simply don’t engage in those particular functions. Worse yet, the rest of the statement makes clear that he has already given away everything except possibly the sacraments.
Specifically, under the authority and oversight of CPC’s elders, and with activities not reserved uniquely for ministers and elders (i.e., preaching, officiating the sacraments, formal church oversight) non-ordained women and men may teach when men are present. Furthermore, and in line with what the PCA permits, CPC shall add an elder-commissioned and led, non-ordained leadership position of deaconess to serve alongside CPC’s deacons.
Two innovations are introduced back to back: women teaching men and the not-exactly-an-office position of deaconess.
If you’re paying attention you’ve already noticed that this paragraph contradicts the first one. First he says that the position of elder is the only thing off limits for women. Then he refuses to let women serve as deacons. So apparently not every position except elder is open to women, but they are creating the position of deaconess alongside that of deacon to try to make up for it.
So in spite of the obvious desire to do so, why doesn’t Sauls’ church just allow women to be deacons? Because the PCA Book of Church Order prohibits the ordination of women, and deacon is an office that, as with every office in the church, you must be ordained to hold. Why are deacons required to be ordained? One reason is because ordination is how we vest the officers with the authority necessary for any meaningful leadership in the church. God, via the Apostle Paul, forbids women from exercising the required authority to lead in that way, so the PCA forbids it.
Sauls does his best to sidestep the problem by speaking of “positions” rather than “offices” and saying that “deaconesses” are in a “leadership position” but then not ordaining them.
Put simply, Sauls is advocating women teaching and exercising authority over men.
This, despite Kathy Keller claiming back at 2017’s GA panel discussion on the Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church that, “Nobody wants to see women in authoritative roles! Nobody believes that. If you believe that you don’t belong here in the PCA.” Despite Sauls hammering the table to reassure everyone that the session is not in play here.
“Except for the unique preaching, governing, and guarding functions…aside from the elder function…under the authority and oversight of CPC’s elders and with activities not reserved uniquely for ministers and elders…”
Notice how Scott Sauls treats the Scriptures he cites later on and you will see by the end that he so narrows their meaning and application that we are left scratching our heads and wondering whether Paul was just saying women can’t be paid to speak in front of large groups between the hours of 11 a.m. and Lunch o’clock every Sunday morning.
How does Sauls justify his position biblically?
Sure, some will say that this is a judgment lacking charity, but before you leave, take a look at Sauls’ justification for his position. It is a veritable who’s who of feminist prooftexts and talking points. These are not new discoveries. They’ve been trotted out year after year by pastors, churches, and denominations looking to make women into authorities in the church against God’s command.
It’s hard to even take such arguments seriously at this point. They’ve been dealt with time and again by faithful men. Sauls is twisting Scripture in exactly the same ways that countless feminists have before him. He’s copying directly from their talking points. He has a copy of their play book. He’s seen them use it successfully in other denominations like the PC(USA) and the EPC. What or who is going to keep him from doing the same in the PCA?
It doesn’t matter that the Scriptures he quotes prove nothing more than the obvious truth the church has always recognized: wise and godly women will always be a great help to the church as they exercise their gifts in ways appropriate to their sex. He claims that they do so much more:
Scripture encourages women to pray and prophesy in the worship assembly (1 Corinthians 11:5). In view of 1 Corinthians 11:5 and other passages (i.e., Acts 2:17-18, 21:9), whatever the prohibition in 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 means, it absolutely cannot mean that women should never teach or lead in the church. Examples include but are not limited to…
From here on out, he gives his Scriptural examples. It is hard to even take this muck seriously, but undoubtedly there are some readers out there who have not been through this battle before and would be helped by a concise serious answer to so-called “biblical” feminism. Since Sauls has done such an excellent job compiling the best arguments feminism can find in the Bible, it seemed a good opportunity to answer seriously and briefly. However, the Apostle Paul makes clear that it is not appropriate to “engage in dialogue” with such men. Silencing them? Yes. Mocking them? Yes. Warning others against them? Yes. Pointing out their bad motives? Yes.
Now, without further ado, here is the teaching of a man who mishandles God’s word with the goal of convincing the church to disobey her Lord and Savior’s explicit commands concerning women teaching and exercising authority over men:
Women teaching women. Older women are encouraged to teach younger women in Titus 2:3-5.
Women teaching children. Timothy had known the Scriptures “from infancy” (2 Timothy 3:15). As a young child, Timothy was taught Scripture by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5).
No one, to my knowledge, is arguing that women cannot teach women or that women cannot teach children. So while his inclusion of these points are right, they do nothing to advance his argument, nor can these two examples be used to promote any kind of change in policy unless the church was previously barring women from teaching women and children.
Women teaching men by example. The example of the “wife of noble character” in Proverbs 31 causes her husband to “rise and call her blessed” (v. 28), and her works “praise her at the gates” (v. 31). Also notable is the fact that she is an industrious businesswoman. See also 1 Corinthians 7:16; 1 Peter 3:1-2.
These passages at best mention influence, not instruction. 1 Corinthians 7:16 and 1 Peter 3:1-2 are about the influence of women on their husbands and 1 Peter 3:1-2 specifically says this influence is accomplished, if at all, “without a word.” Influence is not teaching. Neither these passages nor Proverbs 31 are about a woman giving any kind of direction or communicating any propositional truth to her husband. In fact, the policy outlined in this paper is exactly the opposite of what Peter commands.
Women sharing the gospel with men. The Samaritan woman (John 4) shared the gospel with an entire town, including the men. And many of them responded (vv. 39-42).
This example is absurd. As if anyone argued that my neighbor Sandra can’t recommend a good doctor to me or tell me there’s a heat advisory in effect until 9 o’clock tonight. No one believes a woman can never give information to a man and if she can tell him the weather, surely she can tell him that Jesus has saved her! But this is a far cry from the elders telling everyone to listen to her and then putting her up in front of a classroom of men to proclaim and teach and exhort publicly. Sauls confuses private speech with public proclamation.
Women giving testimony and exhorting publicly. Women are encouraged to share with the church their experience of God and His grace, specific Bible verses and what those verses have meant to them, etc. For example, many women testified of Christ’s resurrection to the apostles and other believers (Luke 24:10). Such sharing would also fall in line with women being permitted to prophesy – to speak God’s truth in the assembly of believers (cf., Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18, 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5).
This is what Calvin wrote about Philip’s daughters: “It is uncertain how these maids did execute the office of prophesying, saving that the Spirit of God did so guide and govern them, that he did not overthrow the order which he himself set down. And forasmuch as he doth not suffer women to bear any public office in the Church, it is to be thought that they did prophesy at home, or in some private place, without the common assembly.” (Commentary on Acts 21:9)
Again Sauls confuses private speech with a public proclamation.
And if Scott is guided by 1 Corinthians 11:5 and warns against using texts without their broader scriptural context, does he not see that the context of 1 Corinthians 11:5 is head coverings? So will the women teaching mixed Sunday School classes at his church cover their heads? That would at least be a step toward consistency for him, but I doubt it will happen.
Now he does what everyone does who tries to tamper with the implications of the order of creation. While Paul has set a clear and obvious boundary that all the rest of God’s Word confirms, these men like school children putting their new teacher to the test, begin to ask, “well, what about X? What about Y?” But considering the examples they offer we easily see they demonstrate, if anything, that the proponents of women in leadership are in the wrong. Piling the names of prominent women together adds weight to their argument, so they think. But if we look at the individual examples we see that a handful of feathers is nearly as weightless as an armful. A single nothing is as convincing as the sum of a paragraph of nothings. Again, no one in the PCA would deny that wise and godly women have always been and will always be a great help to the church as they exercise their gifts in ways appropriate to their sex.
Women serving and leading in multiple ways. Scripture is filled with leaders who are women. Miriam the prophetess led Israel in worship (Exodus 15:19-21, see also Psalm 68:24-25).
So what does the text say? “Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing. Miriam answered them, ‘Sing to the LORD…’”
Miriam led all the women. So… moving right along.
Deborah served as a judge of Israel (Judges 4).
The period of the judges was a downward spiral of dying faithfulness. Do you think leaders should request multiple supernatural signs before they obey God? Does anyone think it right that a leader should make a vow and follow through with it when it involves the sacrifice of their only daughter? Or how about church leaders getting into multiple sexual relationships with unbelievers? Such were the judges of Israel in those dark times. This period of history is not one for the setting of precedent in the church!
One must also keep in mind that Deborah presided over a period of apostasy. All other judges came into the office by delivering Israel from oppression and presiding over a time of faithfulness. Not so Deborah: “the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD after Ehud died and the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin…Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” A woman was in office while Israel was going astray. Let Scripture interpret Scripture, indeed! What does Isaiah say about a people who have brought evil on themselves? “O My People! Their oppressors are children, and women rule over them” (Isaiah 3:1-12). And she did not personally deliver Israel from foreign oppressors as all the other judges did but instead told a man to do it. When he balked she said, to his shame, “the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman” (Judges 4:9). Some will say that Deborah shows that when there are no good men left, the women will have to do. But is that a situation we want to enshrine in policy statements in the PCA? Of course not—and that is not the argument Sauls is putting forward because that would reflect negatively on his position. However you slice it, Deborah undermines his argument.
Queen Esther became a hero to all of Israel (Esther 1-10).
Again, what Esther accomplished was not by teaching or leading. She acted by speaking to her husband (!), the king, asking him to intervene for her people. Again, a rather embarrassing counter-argument to Sauls’ position.
Mary composed and sang a theologically rich song that became part of Scripture (Luke 1:46-55).
Again, this is not public teaching or assuming leadership. It is a faithful act of praise that was brought into the canon of Scripture by the direction of the Holy Spirit and written down by Luke.
Women are chosen as the first witnesses of the resurrection of Christ and became the first evangelists, the “apostles to the Apostles,” so to speak (Mark 16:1-8).
Again this is not public teaching or assuming leadership. No one is arguing that women cannot spontaneously tell others about Jesus.
Junia was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7).
Much has been written about poor Junia—arguing that (1) Junia is a woman who was an apostle and so women should have authority in the church; (2) Junias is a man and therefore no problem; and (3) arguing that Junia was a woman but that “outstanding among the apostles” means she had a good reputation with the apostles. Either way this does not tell us that a woman was teaching or exercising authority over men. Really, the only reason for Sauls to include Junia here would actually prove too much. If Junia were a woman and she were considered one of the apostles then it would be a good argument for female elders, wouldn’t it? But Sauls repeatedly insists that he is not making that case. The elder office is not in play remember? At least not this year.
Women assisted in diaconal work (1 Timothy 3:11),
Yes! as the BCO says they may. From 9-7, “It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need. These assistants to the deacons are not officers of the church (BCO 7-2) and, as such, are not subjects for ordination (BCO 17).” Notice the title there, not “deaconesses,” but both men and women being “assistants to the deacons.” Entirely scriptural and not what Sauls is promoting.
and Phoebe, a woman, is identified as a deacon (diakonon) in the church of Cenchreae (Romans 16:1).
The word for deacon, used of Phoebe, is one that did not bear the specific meaning that it does in English. “Servant” is what diakonos / diakonon meant to most of the world when Paul was writing. It was only an official position in the nascent church. So Phoebe could have been a deacon in the sense we understand that word but more probably she was a servant—a helper of the church. Sauls is about to mention James Montgomery Boice, who believed women could serve as deacons. What Boice himself says of diakonos is telling: “The word itself is ambiguous. It means servant generally and broadly, but it can also mean deacon or deaconess in a narrower or restricted sense. Only the context can determine how it should be taken, and there is not enough said in Romans 16:1 to be decisive. As I have looked over what has been written on this question in various commentaries, I have received the impression that judgments, where they occur, come more from the age or ecclesiastical tradition of the writers than from the word diakonos itself” (from Boice’s commentary on Romans 16:1). Phoebe, it turns out, is a wax nose in the debate over women’s roles. She is used by both sides in the debate. As Boice—a man in favor of women deacons—correctly points out, all we can really know about her is that she was helpful to Paul and others.
A call to action
These are old arguments. These are the proof-texts and talking points that feminists have been using for decades to justify their rebellion against God’s simple command that women are to keep silent in the church.
If conservatives are unwilling to oppose Sauls and other men making arguments similar to his, if they are happy to live with the boundaries of the PCA being wide enough to include such men without discipline, and if they continue to be ashamed of our tone and content when we point out such errors, then they have no reason to be encouraged after winning a few minor skirmishes at this year’s GA.
We pray God-fearing men will awaken from their slumber.