May the church ordain a woman to the office of pastor, elder or deacon? In this age of rampant and un-Biblical feminism, many in the church try to deny or obfuscate what Scripture clearly says on this subject - that the answer is No. The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is the latest denomination to follow this un-Biblical path.
Hardly a New Problem
Satan's efforts to bring women into positions of authority that Scripture reserves for men are not at all new. As early as the 1660s, a Quaker woman named Margaret Fell published a pamphlet titled Women's Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures. In 1853, Antoinette Brown was ordained by a Congregational church in New England, but her ordination was not recognized by the denomination. (Congregationalists today ordain women without question.) The Assemblies of God ordained women as ministers as far back as 1914. The Church of the Brethren had women preachers long before the 1950s, but in 1958 they were given the full rights of ordination within that denomination.
Predecessor bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) began ordaining women in 1970. The Episcopal Church has ordained women since the mid-1970s. In 1992 the Church of England began ordaining women. The Christian Reformed Church recognized the ordination of women in 1995. The Worldwide Church of God, a denomination begun as a cult by Herbert W. Armstrong in the 1930s, but which is today a member body of the National Association of Evangelicals, began ordaining women as ministers in 2007.
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is now setting the stage for de jure recognition of the de facto situation in a number of its presbyteries - the ordination of women as deacons, elders, and even ministers.
What Say the Scriptures?
But the question the church must squarely face is, "What say the Scriptures?" The passages on the calling and qualification of elders and deacons are all clearly referring to males, in context and in the original language:
Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word." And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them. (Acts 6:1-6)
This they also did, and sent it to the elders [presbyterous, masculine] by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:30)
So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:23)
Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles [masculine] and elders [masculine], about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. (Acts 15:2-6)
Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. (Acts 15:22-23)
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church.(Acts 20:17)
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28)
On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. (Acts 21:18)
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers [all masculine nouns], for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops [masculine] and deacons [masculine]... (Philippians 1:1)
And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those [masculine] who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, (1 Thessalonians 5:12)
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach... (1 Timothy 3:1-2)
Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:8-13)
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages." Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:17-19)
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you - if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money... (Titus 1:5-7)
Remember those who rule over you [in the Greek, ton hegounmenon, "your leaders", masculine] who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. (Hebrews 13:7)
Scripture also states unequivocally that a woman is not to be in authority over a man:
Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. (1 Corinthians 14:34)
Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Timothy 2:11-14)
The ordination of women is rarely the first sign of apostasy in a church. Almost all of the churches that ordain women to the ministry either were in apostasy already, or well on their way, before they began doing so. They have fallen prey to the same doubt of the authority of God's Word that Satan planted in the mind of Eve with the question, "Has God indeed said...?" (Genesis 3:1).
The Debate in the PCA
The latest major debate over this issue - or, to put it Biblically, this non-issue - is occurring in the Presbyterian Church in America. The PCA is already well down the slippery slope toward full ordination of women to all church offices. Contrary to the denomination's Book of Church Order, growing numbers of congregations are ordaining women as deacons, and some presbyteries are "commissioning" women as evangelists, with impunity. More and more male seminary graduates who are entering PCA presbyteries are saying, during their examinations, "I am willing to abide by the present BCO prohibition against ordaining women in order to be licensed and ordained today. But given the opportunity, I will vote to change the BCO to permit the ordination of women."
The PCA's 44th General Assembly (June 2016) has approved a study committee to pave the way for the formal ordination of women. According to By Faith, the PCA's official magazine:
After lively debate at its Thursday afternoon session, the 44th General Assembly of the PCA adopted a proposal from its Administrative Committee (AC) to establish a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church. Approval came after the Assembly defeated a substitute motion that asked the Assembly to deny the proposal.
The substitute came from the Committee of General Assembly Commissioners tasked to review AC proposals. The Committee of Commissioners argued that the issue had already been thoroughly studied and that the proposal should have come to the Assembly by different means. They also objected to some of the areas the proposal calls on the Committee to study.
The proposal the Assembly adopted includes the following provisions:
- The study committee should be made up of competent men and women representing the diversity of opinions within the PCA.
- The committee should give particular attention to the issues of:
(1) The biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination;
(2) The biblical nature and function of the office of deacon;
(3) Clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses;
(4) Should the findings of the study committee warrant BCO changes, the study committee will propose such changes for the General Assembly to consider.
- The committee will have a budget of $15,000 that is funded by designated donations to the AC from churches and individuals.
- A Pastoral Letter to be proposed by the ad interim study committee and approved by the General Assembly be sent to all churches, encouraging them to (1) promote the practice of women in ministry, (2) appoint women to serve alongside elders and deacons in the pastoral work of the church, and (3) hire women on church staff in appropriate ministries.1
The PCA's 31st General Assembly (2003) set the stage for this. It approved an amendment to the PCA Book of Church Order permitting each of its over seventy presbyteries to decide independently what constitutes the "fundamentals of the system of doctrine" when examining the doctrinal positions of men who are to be ordained to the ministry. Thus a man who is rejected by one PCA presbytery because he believes women should be ordained to church offices may be received as a minister by another PCA presbytery. Such things are actually happening - in the same way that men who are theistic evolutionists, or do not believe in a literal Adam, are being accepted in some PCA circles. In 2003 many in the PCA vehemently denied that such things would result from this change to the Book of Church Order, but it is now clear that they were "deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 2:13).
On the issue of the ordination of women, God's Word is quite clear, just as it is on so many other contemporary issues - such as the all-sufficiency of Scripture, justification by faith alone, and the literal historicity of the early chapters of Genesis, to name but three others on which the PCA has placed itself in opposition to Scripture's unmistakeable declarations in recent years. The question is not what Scripture says. That is clear. The question is: Are those who claim to be the people of God willing to obey it by coming out from among such apostasy and standing with their Lord, "outside the camp" (Hebrews 13:13)?
1. "General Assembly Approves Study Committee on Women in Ministry" in byFaith, The Online Magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America, June 24, 2016 as viewed at http://byfaithonline.com/administrative-committee-approves-study-committee-on-women-in-ministry.