After its final meeting at Covenant Seminary in April, the study committee on the on the role of women in the PCA released its report. The 63-page report may be downloaded here. During their five meetings, the seven voting members and five advisory members took equal part in committee deliberations, though only voting members approved the recommendations in the final report.
The report is divided into five chapters. The first chapter lays the groundwork for the rest of the report, and presents reasons for the Assembly to answer Overture 3 in the negative. The overture, submitted by Westminster Presbytery, calls for the committee to be disbanded without reporting, and for the Assembly to apologize for forming it.
The second chapter, which comprises almost half of the report, examines the biblical foundation for the roles of women in the church. In the third chapter, the committee discusses the doctrine of ordination with specific application to the office of deacon. There it concludes, “the BCO definition of ordination . . . is on sure footing.” The fourth chapter addresses the need to encourage a “robust and gracious complementarian practice” in our churches. The final chapter contains a brief pastoral letter and the Committee’s nine recommendations. The Assembly will be called upon to act on these recommendations.
The first recommendation is that Overture 3 be answered in the negative. The Committee examined the rationale Westminster Presbytery offered for the overture and found parts of it flawed in its constitutional reasoning (for example, the presupposition of section 2 of the rationale that requests for ad interim committees must arise from presbyteries) and in its assertions about matters of fact (for example, the assertion that the ad interim committee was urging the adoption of changes to the BCO). The committee concludes, “The committee has spent much time and effort in preparing a report for the General Assembly. The Assembly deserves to hear the results of the committee’s labors.” The full statement of the committee’s arguments against Overture 3 may be found on pages 2403-2405 of the Commissioner Handbook.
The second recommendation calls for the continued recognition of the variety of views and practices in the PCA about how a woman may serve in the church without ordination, and the continuation of a mutual respect for those views and practices. In Chapter Four of the report, the committee surveys the range of complementarian practices in PCA churches and presbyteries in teaching ministries, diaconal work, and public worship. For example, in the area of teaching ministry, they note that some churches provide women teaching opportunities only to women and/or children. Other churches permit qualified women to teach mixed adult gender groups, while still others permit this practice only when a woman is teaching in partnership with her husband or an elder.
In each case, the ministry is undertaken under the session’s authority, which assures the qualification of the woman involved and oversees the ministry. The committee states that “Scriptures and the constitution of the PCA give freedom to its churches with regard to varying views and practices by its churches in the ways in which women may serve the Lord and the church. This freedom of view and practice has also been part of the PCA’s history.” The Committee recommends the continued recognition of this freedom for churches to allow the utilization of women’s gifts within constitutional parameters, and recommends mutual respect for this variety of practice.
The third recommendation is for sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly to develop of ways to utilize the gifts, skill, knowledge and wisdom of women at all levels of the church, including the consideration of overtures that would allow qualified women to serve on appropriate church committees. The report points to the difference between commissions, which act for the governing court and thus would be open only to ordained members of the court, and committees, which examine, consider, and report to the court. Committees cannot act for the court but can only recommend that the court take certain actions. Many local churches and some presbyteries currently include women on their committees.
In its fourth recommendation, the Committee calls on sessions, if possible, to establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men. As the committee surveyed the variety of ways diaconal ministry is being carried out in PCA churches, they noted, “There is at least anecdotal evidence that some PCA churches are choosing not to establish an ordained diaconate, even with qualified candidates, because the church wishes to be free to establish a body of unordained servants, both male and female.” The committee recognized that this is not strictly prohibited by the BCO, but expressed the conviction that this practice “seems poorly aligned with the spirit of the principle of the two church offices” set forth in that document.
The fifth recommendation is for sessions to consider how to include non-ordained men and women in the worship of the church, They suggest a number of non-controversial ways a session might do this: leading congregational or choral singing, describing upcoming ministries of mercy or disciple-making, giving testimony concerning the ministries of the church, leading in prayer in ways the session deems appropriate, Scripture reading (within the parameters of WLC 156), or making announcements that bring praise for the work of God in a local congregation or greetings that encourage the body.
In its sixth recommendation, the committee calls for sessions and presbyteries to apply BCO 9-7 and select and appoint godly women of the congregation to assist the ordained leadership. It points out that such “godly, unordained women have often historically been referred to as deaconesses.” It further recommends that one way these women may be recognized is through commissioning, a practice that is common in PCA churches and was applied by the First General Assembly to six missionaries, three of whom were women.
This proposal is closely related to the seventh recommendation, “that presbyteries and the General Assembly consider an overture that would establish formally the right of sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly to establish the position of commissioned church worker within the PCA for qualified and gifted unordained men and women.” The committee points out that in the past, Presbyterianism in America has recognized the need to set apart qualified women and men for service in the church outside of licensure and ordination, and did so by establishing the category of commissioned church worker. Such a position does not confer ministerial status, but would provide a way to recognize church staff members who are making service to the church their life’s work. The committee points out that to be considered for this position, an unordained man or woman would have to receive advanced training and experience appropriate to their area of service.
The eighth recommendation of the committee is for presbyteries and the General Assembly to consider how they can affirm and include underprivileged and underrepresented women in the PCA. The committee notes that “the PCA, though it upholds the mandate to make disciples of the nations, has yet to see the demographics in diverse communities reflected in local churches.” They point to Acts 6:1-7 as setting precedent for affirming the underprivileged, and affirms that “even if women are in a lower tax bracket, they are to be embraced as valuable, of equal dignity and worth, and included in various ministries of the church.”
As the committee has determined that it has concluded its work, its final recommendation is that it be dismissed with thanks.
The committee is scheduled to present its report to the General Assembly on Thursday afternoon, June 15, following the report of the Ad Interim Committee on Racial Reconciliation.