Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Great Debate: Women in the Church

Following in the vein of yesterday's post about our church and it's structure, I'd like to comment briefly on a very hot topic within Christendom right now: what should be the role of women in the church? There's a nice little non-theological overview of this debate here. By way of summary, this is how the author, Allen Yeh, describes the two sides of this issue:
Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism is often a hot-button issue amongst evangelical Christians. To define these briefly, Complementarianism is the theological position that men and women are created differently and correspondingly should have different roles—i.e. men and women are not inherently unequal, but their differences should lead to different roles which complement each other. Egalitarianism is the position that men and women are equal and thus can have interchangeable roles.
Our denomination recently addressed this issue at General Assembly, where a debate was held between two of our most respected pastors, Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, and Ligon Duncan of First Presbyterian in Jackson, MS.

Now, it says a lot about our denomination that this debate was very limited in it's scope. The PCA is pretty uniform in its complimentarian view. The debate, and the subsequent vote of the General Assembly, was over whether PCA churches should be permitted to "appoint" deaconesses, or female deacons. Note that the word "ordain" is very carefully avoided. The issue of whether women should be in authoritative or teaching roles is not even in question. While I don't see this as an issue of terrible importance, I do tend to fall on the side of complimentarianism. I just don't think you can get past the unequivocal statement by Paul in I Timothy 2:12, even if, as Yeh suggests, you look at the whole canon of Scripture.

"I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man" is about as clear as it gets. And despite the protestations of many an egalitarian, no other verse in Scripture contradicts this view. The most common verses cited have to do with inferences that women are expected to prophesy (I Cor. 11:4-6), and examples of women serving (perhaps as deaconesses - see Acts 6) in the early church. However, prophesying (which I believe has ceased anyway with the death of the apostles, at least in terms of new special revelation) and serving as deaconesses is still a far cry from teaching or holding positions of authority. The office of deacon is one of service, not of rule.

I'm not even going to get into the defenses of the egalitarian view which are not based on Scripture. I had a Christianity professor in college whose defense of this view consisted of "Well, women in leadership roles would not have been accepted by the culture of that day, so that is why Paul prohibited it. Women are now accepted by our culture as equal to men, so this no longer applies." Such an argument is completely without merit. You could use the same logic for any number of Biblical commands. What happens when society accepts adultery as the norm, or any other practice prohibited in Scripture? Do we throw them out as well? Where do we draw the line?

Our pastor does an excellent job of explaining our view on this every time it comes up. This position does not come out of any view that holds women to be inferior in any way to men. In fact, it is often recognized that many women have better skills than men in any number of areas. It is simply a matter of being faithful to Scripture, and not basing any interpretation of God's Word on man's limited understanding and logic; and certainly not on the prevailing winds of current cultural norms.

In terms of the deaconess debate, I'm a little ambivalent. The complementarian view certainly does not prohibit women from being a vital part of the church ministry. In fact, Calvin himself encouraged churches to appoint women to help the diaconate in their ministry of service. Whether we call them a "Deaconess" or not really doesn't matter to me. I have tremendous respect for both Keller and Duncan, and appreciate their willingness to have an open discussion. I also appreciate our denomination's continued (and increasingly unpopular) stance on a difficult issue.

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