Friday, April 4, 2008

Women in church leadership

One of the more difficult questions facing many churches (and I say "many" because some churches have answered the question for themselves, not because it isn't a question for them) is, what is the role of women in leadership in the church?

The PCA has, since its inception, proclaimed a "complementarian" position on women in leadership. The "complementarian" view stands squarely between the egalitarian (with unequivocal removal of distinction between men and women in terms of leadership and/or authority) and the patriarchal (with unequivocal denial of any sort of leadership or authority to any woman). How to implement this has frequently been in dispute: at worst, the complementarian position appears little different from the patriarchal position, with perhaps the exception of allowing women to minister to other women (and usually children); at best, applying the complementarian view is summed up in the idea that a woman may perform any act of service or leadership (apart from preaching in public worship) that a non-ordained man may also perform.

One complicating factor in applying the complementarian position has been that the PCA's Book of Church Order (BCO) does not
currently allow for women to be "ordained" to any leadership office-- Elder or Deacon. An overture for the upcoming General Assembly, from the Philadelphia Presbytery, may bring some modification to this, or at least clarification for how it is to be implemented. I appreciate the spirit of this overture, and how it asks for clarification even if the "status quo" is maintained. Should the BCO be amended to allow women to serve as Deacons, it might actually make the issue more complex-- but in this case simplicity hasn't historically proven to be beneficial, when it comes to the application of seemingly simple ideas. Simplicity in this issue usually results in either denying women opportunity or ignoring biblical guidance.

Another complicating factor, ironically, is the difference between leadership and authority. Ironically, because for years (centuries? millennia?) this has been the argument that I have heard tossed back at women who argue that they are denied opportunity for service and the exercise of their gifts. Yet more recently confusion on this point has been the justification for relegating women to only teaching children or perhaps other women. Why is granting women a role of leadership a tacit breech of biblical distinctions for authority?

As a counterexample: if leadership somehow equals authority to the point where biblical boundaries are crossed, why have a two-office view (Elders and Deacons) in the first place? Isn't the granting of authority to
male Deacons at least raising the possibility that the boundaries will be crossed? Of course it is-- and sometimes those boundaries ARE crossed. Yet we don't eliminate the office of Deacon to protect the authority of the Elder. We don't eliminate the organization of a presbytery to protect the authority of the local congregation, either. Thus, we shouldn't prevent women from having a role of leadership simply to limit their authority.

I'm glad for the Philadelphia Presbytery overture, and I look forward to seeing the PCA mature through this discussion. What do you think?

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