Women Serving On PCA Committees and Agencies? One More Time with Feeling

Five presbyteries have presented the same-worded overture (8, 14, 19, 21, and 32) asking the PCA to allow women to serve on the permanent committees and agencies of the PCA.

It seems like a manifest incongruity with the general principles of Biblical polity to place women and unordained men in the position of acting as nominated representatives of presbyteries on committees and boards of the General Assembly as they would be placed in a position alongside of men who are acting in those committees in their capacity as ordained representative organs of the Body of Christ.

 

On three separate occasions now the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has rejected the idea of restructuring the membership of the permanent committees and boards of agency for the General Assembly in order allow women and other unordained members to serve on them.

The first occasion which was in the original construction of the Book of Church Order (BCO) of the PCA, which I will talk more about below.

The second occasion came during the 17th General Assembly in 1989.  At the 17th GA Tennessee Valley Presbytery had overtured the General Assembly to establish a study committee on women serving on general assembly committees and agencies (M17GA (1989), p. 176).  The recommendation of the Bills and Overtures Committee of the 17th General Assembly was that the overture be answered in the negative.  It provided these grounds: “For women to participate on General Assembly committees and agencies would allow them to exercise ruling authority in the Church, in violation of I Tim. 2:1 Iff.”

The third occasion came during the 46th General Assembly in 2018.   Nashville Presbytery had overtured the GA to amend the Corporate Bylaws and the BCO to allow women to serve on all the Boards of Agencies of the PCA (M46GA (2018), pp. 691-702) and Tennessee Valley Presbytery overtured the GA to amend the Corporate Bylaws and the BCO to allow women only to serve on the Board of Covenant College (M46GA (2018), pp. 722-726).  The 46th General Assembly answered both overtures in the negative on the following grounds provided by the Overtures Committee:

Unordained men and women can presently be appointed to the sub-committees of the Permanent Committees and Boards of Agencies of General Assembly without placing them in a position of parity with the ordained officers who serve as voting members of those permanent committees.  The Committees and Boards of Agencies of the General Assembly of the PCA exercise ruling authority in the Church as they implement (BCO 14-1, 3) and execute (BCO 14-1, 7) the one work of the Church at the General Assembly level. Such power ought to remain in the hands of ordained officers of the Church. (M46GA 2018, pp. 38, 43).

And yet, only one year after a principled rejection of the idea of amending our constitution to allow women to serve on the permanent committees and boards of agencies of the PCA, five presbyteries have decided to test the mettle of the peace and unity of the PCA once more with same-worded overtures proposing yet again that we change our Form of Government in this regard. (These presbyteries are Ohio Valley Presbytery, Southern New England Presbytery, Rocky Mountain Presbytery, Nashville Presbytery, and Tennessee Valley Presbytery.)

Last year, in response to the overture of Nashville Presbytery I wrote an article expressing the multitude of reservations I have about the idea of reformulating our Form of Government in this way.  Let me repeat them again with some slight modification.

A Bit More PCA History

The overture from Nashville Presbytery last year was given in response to the PCA’s  45th General Assembly’s adoption of recommendation 3 of the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church.[i]   It brought the PCA to a watershed moment, a moment which we stand before yet once more.  Recommendation 3 of the Ad Interim Study Committee called for “sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly to strive to develop, recognize, and utilize the gifts, skills, knowledge, and wisdom of godly women in the local, regional, and national church, and particularly consider overtures that would allow qualified women to serve on appropriate committees and agencies within the church.”  The overtures from the five presbyteries mentioned above which will be before the 47th General Assembly this year call again for the implementation of that recommendation.

Last year overture 13 from Nashville Presbytery proposed amendments to the BCO and Corporate Bylaws of the PCA that would have allowed for one third of the membership of the boards of all five agencies of the PCA to be comprised of non-ordained men and women.  The overtures which have been sent up this year are even more aggressive in their proposed changes.  They propose not only the eventual opening of the boards of the five agencies of the PCA (Covenant College, Covenant Seminary, RBI, Ridgehaven, The PCA Foundation), but all of the permanent committees (Administrative Committee, CDM, MNA, MTW, & RUF).  They propose not only that a third of the membership be comprised of non-ordained men and women, but up to nearly half (5 of 11 members for the Administrative Committee, and 7 of 15 members for the rest).  And this will not be merely an option for GA to exercise at its discretion.  These overtures would mandate that this will be the case with the use of the verb “shall.”

The changes which these overtures propose to our polity need to be put in historical light in order to descry the momentous shift they would represent in the PCA.  In Morton Smith’s book How the Gold Has Become Dim! published by the Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church in 1973, Smith catalogues features of the government of the PCUS at the founding of the PCA that represented departures from the historic position on church government.  One such feature is the establishment of what were termed “youth delegates” in 1970.  Smith describes the function of these delegates as well as his objection to them as follows,

“Such delegates have the right of debate and vote in the Standing Committees of the Assembly, and they have the privilege of the floor, without the right of vote in the Assembly itself. They are thus actually permitted to participate in the preparation of the Assembly’s actions, though they are excluded from the final vote by the Assembly itself. There is absolutely no ground for such an approach to Church government in the Bible, or in historic Presbyterianism. This so-called “democratic” approach to Church government tends to negate the Biblical government by presbyters, who are the called of Christ, and are His gift to the Church for its proper rule.”[ii]

The proposed changes of these overtures are essentially the same in nature as the practice of “youth delegates” in the PCUS prior to the founding of the PCA.  If passed they will include non-presbyters with the right to vote and debate in the permanent committees of the General Assembly.  In light of Smith’s comments about the practice of “youth delegates” in How the Gold Has Become Dim! as a document published by the Steering Committee which birthed the PCA, it is a very significant fact that when the founders of the PCA first constructed the BCO they explicitly reserved the membership of the standing committees of the General Assembly for officers of the church, thus self-consciously reversing the practice of the PCUS from which they had left.  Hence, these overtures propose the momentous action of undoing a feature of the PCA’s polity which the founders of the PCA explicitly reformed from the polity they left behind in the mainline.

Such a momentous decision needs to be weighed carefully before we as a denomination rush ahead to implement it.

It is true that not every feature of our church polity is something which has what Presbyterians call a jus divinum standing behind it.[iii]  There are many features of our church government which, as the Westminster Confession puts things, are circumstances “common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence…” (WCF 1.6).

And so, while we cannot prove from Scripture by good and necessary consequence that the General Assembly of the church should have a committee which is entrusted with overseeing the retirement, benefits, and insurance of its employees, nevertheless we recognize that it is within the liberty of the PCA to erect and maintain such a committee as a circumstance of church government as a matter of Christian prudence.  But this ecclesiastical leeway is circumscribed; it is not a license to devise any new measure we wish in our church government.  The WCF applies a helpful qualifier to this discretionary power of the church in the details of its polity.  Such circumstances are to still be ordered “according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.”

That is a crucial limitation.  Certain innovations to our polity could outright violate the general principles of Biblical polity, they could undermine them, or they could stand in significant tension with them.  Consequently, just because these overtures bring before us matters dealing with committees which themselves have been erected by the discretionary power of the church to order circumstances of its polity, that does not mean that the function and structure of those committees do not need to be carefully shaped by the general principles of Biblical polity.

Hence, the overarching question that needs to be put to these overtures is whether what they propose would create contradictions, subversions, or unhelpful tensions with general principles of Biblical polity.  I would argue that they would create such things in several key ways. Further, there are also a variety of troubling questions which need good answers before we proceed with the massive overhaul of our polity which is being proposed by them.

Little Theological Accountability 

First, one major unsettling consequence of the proposed changes of these overtures has to do with the way they would undermine the formal confessional subscription which presently holds accountable all the members of the permanent committees of the General Assembly of the PCA.  Presently in order to hold membership on one of the General Assembly permanent committees, a man must be an ordained officer in the PCA who has thus also taken vows of subscription to the Westminster Standards and is accountable to some court of the church (either a Session or Presbytery) for his doctrinal views with respect to those doctrinal standards.

These overtures propose the following qualifications for the nominees who are non-ordained women and men:

To be qualified for nomination and election to serve on a Permanent Committee or Agency as a member at large, a non-ordained candidate must be a member in good standing of a Church in the Presbyterian Church in America and must receive an endorsement from their Session. The endorsement will consist of testimony regarding the candidate’s Christian character, knowledge of the Constitution, and promise of faithful service to the General Assembly.

Non-ordained membership in a PCA congregation (rightly) does not require one to take vows of subscription to the Westminster Standards.  And it certainly does not require that one list all the doctrinal exceptions they might have to the Westminster Standards.  These overtures would introduce the requirement of testimonies regarding a candidate’s knowledge of the Constitution of our church and thus in theory their knowledge of the Westminster Standards.  However, knowledge of the Constitution of the PCA is not the same thing as agreement with it.

Such “members at large” will have taken no vows along the lines of the second and third ordination vows which attest to doctrinal agreement with our Constitution.  Consequently, these overtures would open the door for nearly half of the membership of all of the permanent committees of the General Assembly to be composed of non-ordained persons who have never taken vows of confessional subscription to the Westminster Standards, never been necessarily required to submit their theological differences with the Westminster Standards to a court of the Church, and have over them no means of accountability for changes in their theological views before a court of the Church.

There is nothing to stop a PCA Session from endorsing one of its members to be a “member at large” on one of the General Assembly Permanent Committees who is a credo-baptist, or an Arminian, or a congregationalist, etc.  These overtures essentially propose handing over nearly half of the membership of the permanent committees of the General Assembly of the PCA to individuals who have no formal mechanism of accountability to the doctrinal standards of the PCA.

Which Committees Are “Appropriate Committees?” 

Second, there has been no attempt in the rationale of these overtures to articulate what would demarcate committees upon which it would appropriate for women and non-ordained to serve from committees which would be inappropriate.  Would a particular form of church power exercised by a respective committee demarcate the difference?  I will argue below that all the Assembly’s committees actually do share in the execution of a particular species of church power, and that is the diatatical power of the General Assembly.

I pointed out last year that if the only rationale that exists for the proposal is that given by the Administrative Committee in the minutes of  the 45th  GA[iv] (i.e. that placing women and unordained men on such committees and boards is appropriate for the sole reason that those committees and boards are accountable to the General Assembly),  then if any committee is appropriate, then all of them are appropriate.  If the driving principle of why it is appropriate for us to do this is ultimately that these committees are subject to the authority of the General Assembly, then there is no reason why we should not change our constitution to allow for unordained men and women to serve on every single permanent committee because they are all subject to the authority of the General Assembly.  The overtures this year have followed this to its logical conclusion and are proposing an even broader swath of committees to be opened up to non-ordained men and women.

The argument is that the changes proposed by these overtures would not be placing women in a position to exercise ecclesial authority over men in contravention of Paul’s explicit command in 1 Tim. 2:12 because they are being placed on boards that are committees that are ultimately subject to the authority of the General Assembly. Yet even though the overtures this year have expanded their proposal beyond what was proposed last year by proposing that women and other non-ordained men be mandated to serve on all the permanent committees of GA, we may still ask why would these overtures still stop where they do.

Why not also amend the BCO to allow them to serve as representatives of presbyteries on the Nominating Committee, Review of Presbytery Records, Theological Examining Committee, the Committee on Constitutional Business, Interchurch Relations, and even the Overtures Committee, since all of those are committees which are subject to the final oversight and approval of GA for their decisions? Also, why couldn’t we elect non-ordained women (and men) to serve as the coordinators of the permanent committees and the executive directors or presidents of the agencies?

The fact that recommendation 3 of the Study Report explicitly stated that the assembly should “consider overtures that would allow qualified women to serve on appropriate committees and agencies within the church,” means that the study committee intuited that not all committees and agencies would be appropriate, indicating that the fact that such committees and boards are subject to GA is not enough to warrant the inclusion of women and unordained men on them.  Yet we have been given no direction from the study committee about how to sort out such proprieties.

Why Is Sub-Committee Participation Insufficient? 

Third, we certainly need to be vigilant about incorporating the gifts of our mothers and sisters into the work of the church where it is appropriate.  To fail to do so would be to deprive the Body of Christ of the gifts which Jesus has distributed to our sisters in Christ by the work of the Spirit.  That would not only be a detriment to the church but a dishonor to Christ.  However, is it necessary to reformulate our BCO to allow for women (and other non-ordained persons) to serve on the boards and committees of the GA in order to do that? Women can and already do serve on the sub-committees of those committees (per RAO 4-10a). As such their voices and gifting are already incorporated into the work of the General Assembly as it is executed by our various committees under the immediate supervision of the church officers who have been elected by the General Assembly to oversee those committees.

Why then is it necessary to reorganize the highest level of government and oversight within those committees (i.e. the actual committee/board itself) in order to allow women to serve as voting members on them in a way that puts them in parity with the ordained elders on those boards/committees? Why is it necessary that women be appointed as voting members of the permanent committees in order for their gifts to be utilized and their voices to be heard?  Strong, clear, persuasive, biblically faithful ecclesiological reasons need to be articulated for such a change before we rush ahead to implement a measure that reverts us back to a practice which the founders of the PCA deliberately reformed from the PCUS.

Does This Really Rise out of New Light Shed on Presbyterian Polity? 

Fourth, the fact that these overtures propose that unordained men be allowed to sit on these committees seems to be a mere collateral measure which is needed in order to implement the real goal, which is the inclusion of women on them.  In all likelihood, we would never even have considered allowing for unordained men to sit on these Boards, if it were not a necessary piece of ecclesiological infrastructure to be put in place in order for women to serve on them as well.  And that should give us cause for great caution.  Are we doing this really and truly because we have discovered further ecclesiological light which our Presbyterian forbearers did not find?   If our current practice is simply a matter of unreflective chauvinism, then why did the founders of the PCA self-consciously remove the possibility of unordained men to hold voting membership on the Boards and Permanent Committees of General Assembly?  Why did they write our church constitution to require that one not just be male in order to be on these committees, but to be ordained officers and in most cases elders?  Have we discovered new reasons which rise out of the principles of Presbyterian polity that call us to overturn that practice?

Or have we already determined for other reasons having nothing to do with principles of Presbyterian polity that we must put women in these places of church governance and we just need to figure out how to reformat our ecclesiology in order to accommodate that foregone conclusion?

General Assembly Committees and Diatatical Church Power

Fifth, in dialoguing with my fellow elders in the PCA over this matter I have encountered the  argument that placing women and other non-ordained persons in this role would not violate Paul’s injunction in 1 Tim. 2:12, and other aspects of our polity because it is not an authoritative exercise of church power.  Typically, these arguments stress that because such boards and committees do not exercise a teaching function nor handle judicial process that therefore to place women upon them would not be to place them in a position in which they would illegitimately exercise authority over men in the church.  But this line of argument overlooks a historic way in which Presbyterian Ecclesiology has categorized and defined different types of church power.

Reformed ecclesiology has traditionally conceived of church power being of three different sorts: 1. dogmatic power 2. diatatical power, 3. diacritical power.[v] Dogmatic power is the power which the church has to proclaim divine truth, be it through the preaching and teaching of the Word, or through the formulation of creeds and symbols. Diatactical power is the power of the church involved in the administering of the ordinances and government of the church. Diactritical power is the power of the church to discipline.

The PCA’s BCO has expressed this triplex in its chapter on the jurisdiction of church courts in BCO 11-2: “The jurisdiction of Church courts is only ministerial and declarative, and relates to the doctrines and precepts of Christ, to the order of the Church, and to the exercise of discipline.”  Doctrine (dogmatic), order (diatactical), and discipline (diacritical) are the three categories of church power assumed by the PCA.[vi]

Our book of church order in BCO 14-1 frames the relationship of the committees to GA in this way: “The work of the Church as set forth in the Great Commission is one work, being implemented at the General Assembly level through equally essential committees.” So for example, regardless of the fact that the permanent committee for RBI is not teaching and thus not exercising dogmatic power, nor disciplining members and thus not exercising diacritical power, it is still exercising diatactical power. Diatatical church power relates to the implementation of the circumstances of our polity, that is to “the order of the Church” (BCO 11-2).  It is about the oversight of all the circumstances of church government that extend beyond the general principles of Biblical polity.[vii]  Hence the Board of an agency of the GA like RBI, is exercising a diatactical church power in that it is administering and implementing the one governing work of the General Assembly with respect to the circumstances of the retirement and benefits of the PCA.

So, when we ask, “what sort of ecclesial authority is exercised by members of the permanent committees of the General Assembly?” the answer is “The diatatical authority to implement the work of the General Assembly.” In that way it is a delegated ecclesial authority, but an ecclesial authority nonetheless.  But the question then of course is whether or not that is such an authority that must be reserved for ordained officers.  Our current form of polity does reserve that ecclesial authority for officer bearers, and the founders of the PCA self-consciously enshrined that reservation in our BCO over against the practice of the PCUS in its use of “youth delegates.”

Almost all of the committees and boards of the PCA require one to be an elder in order to serve on them as a voting member elected by the General Assembly.  There are only two exceptions.  In the case of RBI and the PCA Foundation deacons may serve as committee members.  This is simply an application of BCO 9-5 where, in dealing with financial matters, the higher courts of the church are allowed to appoint deacons to serve on committees.  This is entirely appropriate and a use of the specific sort of ecclesial power and authority which has been entrusted to the office of deacon in the courts of the church.  But, in all cases our current polity reserves membership on these committees for church officers alone.  And that is entirely fitting as these committees are exercising ecclesiastically authoritative diatatical power.

Introduction of women to these committees would seem to invest them with that power and infringe upon the general principle of Biblical polity represented in the Apostolic prohibition of 1 Tim. 2:12.  Further, the addition of unordained men on them as well would seem to take a species of church power and invest it in the hands of those who have not been called to the exercise of diatatical oversight in the church.

The overtures seem to intuit this to a degree.  The overtures all propose reserving a narrow majority of the membership of the committees for elders.  But the question is “why?”  Why is it necessary to include a provision that protects proper representation of church officers on the permanent committees?  Why is it necessary to have the majority of the membership be comprised of elders?  Why do the chairmen of the committees need to be elders as the overtures propose?  If it does not present a conflict with our Presbyterian principles of polity to have non-ordained persons serve as members on these committees, why would it be inappropriate to open the possibility for the General Assembly to hand over the membership of those Boards entirely to non-officers?

The measures seem to be an incoherent compromise between the position that such committees do not require one to hold church office in order to be a member of them, and the position that such committees rightly should be exclusively comprised of officers of the church.

This mitigating provision appears to be based on the intuition that ultimately the majority control of those Boards, which entails the ultimate governance and oversight of them, should rest in the hands of church officers.  But such a principle grates against any inclusion of non-ordained members on those Boards from the outset.

The Accountability of Committees and Boards to the General Assembly

Sixth, it has also been argued that the amendments of these overtures would present no conflicts with our polity, and more specifically not place women in a position to exercise authority in the church in a way that is Biblically reserved for ordained officers because the boards/committees of the agencies are directly accountable to GA as committees.

A previous opinion from the Administrative Committee has made such an argument documented in the minutes of the 45th General Assembly.

“The Committees and Boards of Agencies of the General Assembly are not above the General Assembly, but are subject to the General Assembly. The Boards of General Assembly Agencies relate to the General Assembly as committees… Many PCA churches have sessional or diaconal committees on which women serve. The actions of sessional or diaconal committees are subject to the Session or Diaconate.  Likewise, the actions of the Permanent Committees and Agencies of the General Assembly of the PCA are all subject to the authority of the General Assembly, regardless of whether those permanent Committees or Agencies are separately incorporated.”[viii]

But does the fact that committees and agencies of the GA are accountable to and under the authority of the General Assembly by itself establish that those committees do not wield a form of ecclesiastical power and authority which if placed in the hands of women and lay persons would violate Biblical principles of polity?

Whatever one might say about Thornwell’s invective against boards, he points to something in one of his discussions about church boards that addresses this question.  Speaking of boards, Thornwell writes,

“They are clothed with plenary power to act and do as to them shall seem most advisable in all matters embraced in the general subject entrusted to their care. This ample investiture of power renders them to all intents and purposes ecclesiastical courts. They exercise dominion in the Lord’s house. To say that this is not their true character, because they are responsible to the General Assembly, would be to deny that the Presbytery is an ecclesiastical court, because it is responsible to the Synod, or to strip the Synod of its true character, because it in its turn is amenable to the Assembly.”[ix]

The fact that the committees and boards of GA are subject to GA does not unto itself provide sufficient reason to dismiss concerns about whether or not it is proper to place unordained women and men upon them, any more than the fact that presbyteries are subject to the review and control of GA would dismiss concerns about the propriety of unordained men and women serving as members of them.

The permanent committees and boards of the General Assembly are certainly not commissions.  However, the BCO does use strong language to describe the work of these permanent committees and boards.  The permanent committees of GA are to “implement” (BCO 14-1, 3) and “execute” (BCO 14-1, 7).  They make a great many decisions that the GA never votes upon, but rather are decisions that are entrusted to them to make and oversee.

Whenever the votes for the Nominating Committee come up on the docket at a General Assembly the floor always manages to fill up with otherwise absent commissioners.  The reason that many commissioners prioritize coming to the floor for that vote, while in the case of other votes they are content to catch up with friends or play golf, is because we all intuitively understand the power and authority invested in the permanent committees of the General Assembly. We all instinctively grasp that, the accountability of these committees to the General Assembly notwithstanding, they still have tremendous ecclesial power and authority in our denomination.

That is because of something which Charles Hodge puts his finger on in one of his treatments of the Missions Board of the General Assembly of his day.  Hodge writes, “The Assembly’s Board is an ecclesiastical body. It is the mere organ of the Assembly in conducting missions. All its members are appointed by that body, and its acts in the premises are virtually the acts of the Assembly.”[x]

The accountability of the boards of agencies to the General Assembly as committees does not by itself provide ample grounds to dismiss the concerns of the impropriety of placing women and unordained men upon them.  To use the phrasing of Hodge, the actions of those committees are still virtually the actions of the General Assembly.  The founders of the PCA self-consciously desired to return the immediate governance of such committees to the hands of office bearers from the practice that had been implemented in the PCUS, because as Smith observes the proper rule of the church belongs to them and that rule in some measure is exercised by the committees of the General Assembly.  These overtures seek to undo that.

The Disparity between Congregational Committees and GA Committees

Seventh, as seen above in the reasoning of the Administrative Committee, another line of argument in defense of these overtures is a comparison between the committees of congregations and the committees of the higher courts.  To quote the response of the AC once more, “Many PCA churches have sessional or diaconal committees on which women serve. The actions of sessional or diaconal committees are subject to the Session or Diaconate.”  And if it is appropriate for this to happen on the committees of lower courts of the session, then why not the higher court of the GA?

Leaving aside the question of the propriety of structuring the committees of sessions this way for a moment, another point should be considered.  There is an important disparity between the committees of a congregation and the committees of presbyteries and GA and that is in the matter of ordained delegated representation.

As the PCA BCO stands now, with the exception of the 2 NAPARC members allowed for Covenant College and Covenant Seminary who still must also be elders in those denominations, members of General Assembly committees are all representatives of presbyteries. Nominees for permanent committees are submitted by presbyteries who are then voted upon by the GA.  Hence RAO 8-4, d & e:

  1. A typed biographical form must accompany each name submitted to the Nominating Committee. All nominees should be contacted by their presbyteries to ascertain their availability and willingness to serve prior to submission of names to General Assembly’s Nominating Committee.
  2. Presbyteries should send names of nominees on forms to the Stated Clerk’s office no later than four months prior to the General Assembly. The Stated Clerk will then make the forms available to the convener of the Nominating Committee.

There are rules in place restricting presbytery representation on certain committees and every man submitted to the Nominating Committee is submitted as one nominated by means of a presbytery vote to represent the presbytery on a particular committee.

In the case of congregational committees there is no election by the congregation to serve on those committees, because no one on those committees is functioning in the capacity of ordained church office which is a representative organ of the Body.[xi] However, with the committees of GA we are dealing with officers (mostly elders, but deacons in the case of RBI & the PCA Foundation as an application of BCO 9-5), who are representatives of presbyteries, and who are functioning in the capacity of their ordained office.  The polity of the PCA has taken the stance that church power is vested in the whole Body of Christ, but that power is exercised representatively in officers as the organs of the Body.   Hence BCO 3-1:

“The power which Christ has committed to His Church vests in the whole body, the rulers and those ruled, constituting it a spiritual commonwealth.  This power, as exercised by the people, extends to the choice of those officers whom He has appointed in His Church.”

The wording of preliminary principle #7 of the BCO indicates this representative function of church officers as well: “All church power, whether exercised by the body in general, or by representation, is only ministerial and declarative since the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice.”

In the light of Smith’s observations, the structure of polity which the founders of the PCA enshrined in our BCO self-consciously understood the authority of voting membership on the committees of the General Assembly to be the domain of ordained office.   That fits naturally with the way in which the membership of the committees of General Assembly at present are representatives of presbyteries which are themselves courts comprised of the representative officers of congregations.

It seems like a manifest incongruity with the general principles of Biblical polity to place women and unordained men in the position of acting as nominated representatives of presbyteries on committees and boards of the General Assembly as they would be placed in a position alongside of men who are acting in those committees in their capacity as ordained representative organs of the Body of Christ.

Conclusion

We have a multitude of reasons to be very cautious about rushing forward with the proposal of these overtures, a multitude of potential ways in which such an exercise of the discretionary power of the church with regard to the circumstances of church government could create significant tensions with general principles of Biblical polity, undermine them, and perhaps even outright violate them.

At present I see no convincing reason to rush ahead with the proposed changes of these overtures and many reasons to give us great reservation about doing so.  The PCA has already said no to this idea on three separate occasions.  Let it say no one more time with feeling, and please, for the sake of the unity and peace of the church, let this time be the last time it has to say no.

Daniel Schrock is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, was until recently Pastor of Third Reformed PCA in Philadelphia, and is a PhD student at Westminster Seminary.


[i] The entire report can be accessed here: www.pcahistory.org/pca/2017_WIM_report.pdf

[ii] Morton Smith, How the Gold Has Become Dim!, (Jackson, MS: The Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church, Faithful to the Scriptures and the Reformed Faith, 1973), pg. 75.

[iii] For a helpful explanation of the concept of jure divino church government see Guy Prentiss Waters, How Jesus Runs the Church, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2011), pgs. 41-54.  For an account of how the concept of jure divino shaped the ecclesiology of the Westminster Assembly see John R. de Witt, Jus Divinum: The Westminster Assembly & the Divine Right of Church Government, (Kampen: Kok, 1969), and also Wayne R. Spear, Covenanted Uniformity in Relgiion: The Influence of the Scottish Commissioners on the Ecclesiology of the Westminster Assembly, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013).

[iv] M45GA, pg. 73

[v] See James Bannerman, The Church of Christ, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1960), vol. 1, pgs. 225-228.

[vi] See Waters, How Jesus Runs the Church, pg. 70fn29.

[vii] For an explanation of diatactial power in relation to the circumstances of church government see Thomas E. Peck, Notes on Ecclesiology, (Richmond, VA: The Presbyterian Committee Publication, 1892), pgs. 121-123

[viii] M45GA, pg. 73

[ix] Thornwell, James H., “A Calm Discussion of the Lawfulness, Scripturalness and Expediency of Ecclesiastical Boards,” The Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine, vol. 7 (1841), pg. 151.

[x] Charles Hodge, Discussions in Church Polity, (Scarsdale, NY: Westminster Discount Book Service, 2001), pg. 430.

[xi] For a succinct contemporary explanation of delegated church power see Waters, How Jesus Runs the Church, pgs. 58-63.

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