The Church

On Women in the Office of Deacon

protesting-suffragettes-early-1900s1The following is an excerpt from a paper presented to the Candidates and Credentials Committee of the  Midwest Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) on October 27, 2014:

Deacons are officers in the church set apart by ordination to lead and manage the church’s ministries of love and material provision, and to exhort and stir up the congregation to love one another in practical ways. They have the same spiritual qualifications as elders.  They were first ordained as recorded in Acts 6:6, after a controversy had arisen from the Greek-speaking Christians in the Church at Jerusalem, who contended that their widows were neglected while the Aramaic-speaking widows were not.  It is notable that the seven first deacons, apart from being male, appear to also have Greek names.  The context indicates that they were to perform a portion of the same duties that the apostles were fulfilling, (yet perhaps providing for the Greek-speaking widows, with the apostles continuing to serve the Aramaic-speaking widows.)  (Examples of deacons preaching authoritatively, as Stephen in Acts 6:10 and Philip in Acts 8:4-6, also warrant further investigation.)  If we are to follow this original institution and apply it to the Church today, deacons are assistants to the spiritual leadership of the Church, helpers to the session in the context of a local church, performing functions that the session would otherwise do themselves if there were no deacons.  If elders must be male, then it follows logically that those office-bearers who assist them by performing some of the same duties that they themselves would perform as elders, it follows that deacons must also be male.  If it is not proper for elders to delegate these duties at all unless their particular assistants aka. deacons are available, and if they must otherwise perform the duties themselves as elders, then this same headship qualification of being a male must apply to deacons as it does for elders.

1 Tim 3:11-12 “11 γυναῖκας ὡσαύτως σεμνάς, μὴ διαβόλους, νηφαλίους, πιστὰς ἐν πᾶσιν. 12 διάκονοι ἔστωσαν μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρες, τέκνων καλῶς προϊστάμενοι καὶ τῶν ἰδίων οἴκων·”

The late Rev. Christian Adjemian took “γυναῖκας” in 1 Tim 3:11-12 as a reference to women deacons, arguing that it would make more sense that verse 11 would follow verse 12 instead of preceding it, if the reference were to the wives of deacons. He argues that it is unnatural to take “γυναῖκας” in verse 11 as “wives.”  I do not agree.  In the literary form of a letter, of which 1 Timothy is an exemplar, the structure is more extemporaneous and conversational than would be the case in a work that was edited and went through several redactions and revisions.  It seems quite natural that after referencing bishops or overseers earlier in the chapter, where the wives of the same are not given specific qualifications, but referenced in that the bishops are to be “husbands of one wife” and govern their families well, the wives of deacons would now also come to mind.  (The qualifications given for deacons’ wives are not specifically applied to bishops’ wives, but this should be inferred as an implication by good and necessary consequence from the chapter, i. e. that the same qualifications hold for the wives of the bishops.)  Now, having mentioned and given qualifications for the wives of deacons, the thoughts of the apostle writing this letter would naturally light upon the marriage and family life of the deacons with their wives.  There is nothing unnatural about this flow of consciousness.  It must be noted that a pastoral epistle is not written in the most precisely logical order possible, as if it were a doctoral thesis or a work of systematic theology.  It is a letter.

Dr. Leonard Coppes, in his book, “Who Will Lead Us”, notes that “γυναῖκας” in 1Tim3:11 is found in parallel contrast to “Διακόνους” in verse 8, suggesting that here a different group separate from the deacons is in view (p. 137.) This suggests the correct understanding is that it either refers to the wives of the deacons, or some other group of women who were not a part of the diaconate mentioned in verse 8.  Probably the former interpretation is likely, since this passage does not mention any other group of individuals in the church other than bishops, deacons, and the wives of both, (although Coppes prefers to understand them as an unordained class of women in the church who may have been used to tend widows and women who were ill.)  As noted by B. B. Warfield [(The Presbyterian Review, 10.38, pp. 283, 284.)] and others, Romans 16:1 and its reference to Phoebe is not a conclusive basis on which to build a definition of a distinct office in the Church, given the range of meaning of the term “διάκονον” variously rendered as deacon, minister, servant, etc.

The qualifications given for deacon in 1 Timothy 8:10 are the identical spiritual qualifications given for bishop in 8:2-7. If elders must be male, it follows that deacons must be male.  It is notable that the RPCNA itself did not ordain women deacons until the 1880s, a turbulent time when the early feminist movement was pushing for equal rights for women in many spheres of life, and that around the same time a measure to bring deaconesses into the [Presbyterian Church (USA)] was defeated, as noted by Rev. Brian Schwertley (“A Historical and Biblical Examination of Women Deacons”, p. 1).  This timeline suggests that perhaps the impulse to bring women deacons into the RPCNA was more political than exegetical.  It should also be noted that although now and then in church history an office of “widow” or “deaconess” arises, at no time in history, not in the early church, or any other age until the nineteenth century, were women admitted to an identical office with that of the deacon to rule with them over the administration of mercy ministry as members of the diaconate.  At least, in none of the sources that this author has examined, including those provided [by the committee], no such argument has been made.  All the various historical sources concur on this point.  The offices of the church are appointed by Christ the head for the good of the body (Ephesians 4:11-12), and based on the regulative principle, the church has no more right to innovate in the offices of the church than it does in the polity (presbyterial) or worship commanded in Scripture.

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A reason for optimism about the future state of the Church

The winds of cultural change have amassed to a very hostile wind that seems to blow against the Church of Jesus Christ. She may very well shrink in numbers and in wealth over the coming decades, as the social cost of being a Christian rises, and there may come a point when she is taxed on donations and offerings. But make no mistake, there is plenty of reason for optimism. The trend of individual sexual self-determination, an anything goes “ethic” where people define themselves as their sinful flesh leads them to, will hurt a lot of people. They will be shackled to the ball and chain of their own lusts until they long for the liberty that is in Christ. Then we will be there to show them a better way. The sexual ethic of Christianity, which is now a justification for the world’s ire against us, will be the oasis of truth and light that beckons weary and wounded sinners from afar, showing that humans do indeed have value and dignity, and are not meant to be mere slaves to perverse sexual pleasures. The hypocrites and nominal Christians will be long gone by then, and new wheat will spring up to take their places, and then some.  Then, as in the Roman Empire of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries A. D., many souls will be won to Christ because of and not in spite of the 7th commandment standard and the undefiled institution of holy matrimony. Like a dip in stock price that allows an investor to buy more shares more cheaply before the price rises again, this seeming ebb in the influence of the Church of Christ will turn into a tremendous gain of new converts to Christ not so very far down the road, as souls created by God are made new by the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the law and gospel, showing them that they do not have to be slaves to sin any longer, and offering them the glorious liberty of the children of God.

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The scandal that weakens the Church

The loose way in which many members wear their plain obligations to the church is a scandal which enormously weakens its influence.  Desultory church attendance, neglect of public worship, failure to identify oneself of the church’s work and mission in the world, niggardly gifts, lack of a personal interest and loyalty: these are ways in which the laity of today rob god of the honor to which he is entitled. Raymond Calkins on Malachi 3 in The modern message of the minor prophets, 140. Quoted in the Word Biblical Commentary, volume 32 by Ralph L Smith.

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Zechariah Devotional, part 11, chapter 8:7-9, Strength from Heaven

God chastens his own as a loving father punishes his children.  He does it not to hurt us, but to help and heal us when we go astray.  If we keep focused on the salvation that God has promised us, the eternal life that we have to look forward to in him, this will spur us to achieve great things as his Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit, as the grace of God and our thankfulness to him spur us to good works.  The special promise remains with us, that God is our God, and we will be his people forever.

Zechariah 8:7 Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country;

And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.

God has caused his people to be taken captive, the northern tribes by Assyria, and Judah by Babylon, and now Judah has been restored to the land.  Now God gives a more general promise to save his people wherever they might be, from the east to the west, from anywhere on earth.  At no time in the Bible’s history were the northern tribes of Israel restored to the land of Israel, or enabled to gather to Jerusalem for Passover and other feast days, but they were intermingled as an ethnic group with the Assyrians until they ceased to exist.  This promise, then, concerns something greater.  In the kingdom of Jesus Christ, which is the Church, Israel restored at Pentecost (Acts 1:6-8), all of God’s chosen ones of every nation from everywhere under heaven, that is, spiritual Israel, will be saved from all their enemies that oppress them: especially, death, sin and the devil.

Jerusalem was the place of God’s presence among his people Israel in Old Testament times.  This presence is now found in the New Jerusalem, the Church of Jesus Christ, where God indwells and communes with His own (Revelation 21:2).  It is in the Church of Jesus Christ that truth and righteousness are found, for in her his word is proclaimed and his law is kept.  We who gather to this Church enjoy a special relationship with God that the rest of the world does not, to have him not just as God, but to be his people and to have him for our God forever.

Though we walk through life as a valley of tears, struggling against indwelling sin, suffering from death and disease, and being tempted and buffeted by Satan, yet God has saved us from being slaves to these things.  The living hope that we have in him sustains us through all the difficulties of the Christian life.  Though all of the world may be against us, yet our happiness in God is secure, knowing that He is present among us, especially when we gather to worship every Lord’s Day as his people, and that He will be our God forever.  Though our enemies are stronger than we, we feel secure knowing that He will never leave us or forsake us.

Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Let your hands be strong, ye that hear in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets, which were in the day that the foundation of the house of the Lord of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built.

“Building of Solomon’s Temple” Comestor’s Bible, 1450, Wikimedia Commons

God’s grace strengthens us for the work that he would have us to do together.  His peace enables and invigorates us to build his temple.  Although Christ is the builder of his Church, yet he gives us an important role in the work, that of proclaiming the free grace of God in Jesus Christ to sinners of every category and walk of life, and of growing up together in him by his word and Spirit, and walking in mutual discipline according to the law of love.  God’s salvation is assured.  With the outcome secured, we are free to work.  It is hard work, but worthwhile and refreshing.  There is no more important or worthy labor on earth than to work for the purity, peace, and prosperity of the Church.  It is vital, and wonderful.

Let our hands be strengthened and not slack off in this work.  If we allow our own prejudices and preferences to take hold, instead of adhering steadfastly to the word of truth, and the rule of righteousness that God has completely given in the Holy Scriptures, Christ’s Church will be structurally damaged and her construction stymied.  But with God’s grace in our hearts, obedience to his word as the only rule for everything we do in the Church, and love for one another in the unity that God’s truth brings, we will engage in this work with pure intentions and a singularity of purpose, that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, will yield great blessing in the building project, as Christ’s own rule (contained in the Holy Scriptures) is gloriously kept and displayed in us as the Church to a watching world.

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The Holy Spirit in the Church Today

The Holy Spirit fills and animates the body of Christ, regenerating her and sanctifying her, filling her with the fullness of Christ and growing her up to his stature.  The Holy Spirit works conviction of sin, faith, and repentance unto life individually and corporately.  He is particularly responsible for any success in all the work of the church.

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The Scriptures Are the Church’s Only Final Rule

IMG_6769The Scriptures are the Church’s charter and foundation, her only final rule for faith and practice.  All that the church does is to be regulated according to the doctrine and practical instructions given in the Scriptures.  Since the Scriptures are her only warrant for ecclesiastical authority, she is not to transact anything not clearly addressed by them.  The conscience of Christians is free from all doctrines and commandments not specifically provided in the Scriptures in matters of faith and worship, and free from anything contradicting the Scriptures in other life matters.

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Book Review: Strange Fire

Book Review: Strange Fire.

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The Lord’s Day as Our Sabbath Delight and Rest

by Rev. Nollie Malabuyo

I remember our younger days when our Lord’s Day practically started on Saturday evening. We all ironed our clothes and spit-shined our shoes. My mother prepared our meals for Sunday. There was no staying late on Saturday nights, because there were no malls, no computers, no video games, not even late-night parties.

via The Lord’s Day as Our Sabbath Delight and Rest.

 

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The Deceiver’s Top Ten Tips For Making Sure You and Your Family Have a Miserable And Fruitless Experience in Church this Sunday

This is a pretty reliable guide to making sure you get nothing out of going to church.

Building Old School Churches

mr-bean-asleepIf you’ve been a Christian for any period of time at all, you may have noticed that the more time you spend in church, the harder it is to fit in and feel comfortable with non-believers or to really enjoy worldly activities, relationships, speech, movies, habits, etc.

So how on earth are you going to make sure that your church attendance doesn’t end up damaging your friendship with the world? How can you make sure that you’ll never seem weird, different, and overly religious to friends, relatives, and coworkers? I mean, you don’t want to be the guy who can stop the telling of a dirty joke just by walking into the room, do you? Well friends, as he has been since the beginning, the deceiver is here to help. He’s prepared this handy list of his top ten tips for minimizing the sanctifying effects of Church attendance. Simply by…

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4 Things Black Pastors Should Never Do In Non-Black Congregations

Scotty Williams reflects on his experience of the gospel tearing down boundaries in the Church of Jesus Christ.

Gordon Fee–“Homogeneous churches have got to be the worst thing that has ever happened. It isn’t until you get a good dose of heterogenaity and find out that you have to love people that are unlike you, do things differently, eat different food, and experience grace and glory in the process. Then salvation has taken place! God has done His thing then!“

Ramblings of a Creole Pastor

Black Preacher 2

(In my last post I presented 5 things one should never say to Black pastors, but in this post I will present 4 things Black pastors should never do in non-Black congregations. Like the previous post, this post has nothing to do with a particular situation in the congregation I currently serve.)

As a Black-Louisiana Creole who grew up in the Black Church, I was suprised to learn that my first parish would not be in a Black denomination or my beloved rural Louisiana. Instead my first parish would be an urban congregation in a historically White denomination with partial Scandinavian roots (specifically Swedish) in the great state of Minnesota.

Now upon hearing of my new parish, some of my Black collegues working in Black congregations shook their heads with pity. Afteral I was the unlucky guy who drew the “White straw” from the Church bundle, and apart from clapping…

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