Feminist influences in the Presbyterian Church in America...

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The pastor of University Presbyterian Church (UPC) in Orlando Florida, Mark Bates, has been invited to candidate for the pastoral position at Village Seven Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Yesterday he announced his departure from UPC. Not knowing Pastor Bates myself, I downloaded a sermon, read some web stuff including his blog, Certain Hope, and checked out UPC’s web site.

Pastor Bates is cut from the Pastor Tim Keller stripe, particularly in the matter of the nature and meaning of sexuality which today is the best predictor of how a man will stand in the gaps where Satan is focusing his attack on God’s Word. His Board of Elders at UPC adopted the paper titled “Women and Ministry” written by the Rev. Dr. Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy, as their own position statement on the matter. UPC’s elders make one differentiation, though, in the preface to the Kellers’ paper they’ve placed on their UPC web site :

(T)he Session adopted (Tim and Kathy Keller’s) paper as its position on the role of women in ministry, with the following exception:  The paper says that women may not be elders but that women may serve in any capacity within the local church that any non-elder male might serve. The Session of UPC would add to this that we believe this same limitation would also forbid women from shepherding men.

This short statement improves the Kellers’ position somewhat, but it’s also notable that two months ago UPC hosted Ms. Carolyn Custis James to teach Scripture on the subject of sexuality. Quite predictably, this led to what Pastor Bates on his blog referred to as some misunderstanding of UPC’s position within his flock...

(James’ message) left some people with a number of important questions about the role of women at UPC. In fact, some may even have left with the impression that there are no distinctions between the roles of men and women in the home or in the church. Others may have left thinking that the only reason UPC does not ordain women to the office of elder is because we are in the PCA. Still others may have thought that male-only elders is a hindrance to ministry.

Pastor Bates goes on to give a straightforward statement that it is the command of Scripture that women not serve as elders, and that the prohibition is rooted in God’s created order. This is good.

But as we’ve often observed, the Holy Spirit declares in the pages of Scripture a heap of applications of this aspect of God’s created order that extend far beyond the simple matter of women elders and shepherding within the Church. This is what Keller and his disciples consistently fail to get. Or, what they get but refuse to teach or practice.

For instance, Keller and Keller summarize the teaching of Scripture and the leadership of women over men at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in this way:

Thus, women at Redeemer will be free to use all the gifts, privately and publicly. There are no restrictions on ministry at all. There is a restriction on the office of elder. Why? Because the Bible precludes it, and therein it points us back to the Trinitarian pattern which is strong in marriage and muted in society, but which is practiced in the church.

Beyond their being precluded from the office of elder, “No restrictions on the ministry of women at all?” Really? And the meaning and purpose of sexuality is “muted in society?” Really? (The section justifying this “muting” is certainly the most innovative exegesis I’ve come across on this subject, obviously twisted.)

The Kellers summarize their own church’s use of deaconesses—an office barred by our denomination’s Book of Church Order, by the way—in this way:

The Deaconesses will be women elected by the congregation who will do discipling, counseling, and shepherding in the church, particularly among the women. Spiritual maturity is the qualification. They will probably also exercise a teaching ministry in the church, depending on their gifts.

Note carefully the two statements, “particularly among women” and the prediction that these deaconesses will “exercise a teaching ministry in the church.” Here the Kellers explicitly state that their women officers will exercise authority over men in Redeemer.

Try as I might, I can’t find any other way of interpreting what they’ve written. ‘Particularly’ necessarily implies ‘not exclusively,’ and we’re not talking about age groups, races, or other forms of diversity, but “women” and men.

Then too, what philosophy of ministry could someone conjure up that would involve “discipling, counseling, and shepherding” not involving the exercise of authority? None. It’s absolutely impossible to shepherd without exercising authority. One can be a hireling without exercising authority, but not a shepherd.

Then, note the Kellers’ mantra widely repeated across the PCA: “Women may serve in any capacity within the local church that any non-elder male might serve.” This is a pathetically weak, and therefore grossly errant summary of the biblical doctrine of sexuality.

Back to UPC and Pastor Bates: Interestingly, a man who appears to be one of UPC’s deacons responded to Pastor Bates’ blog post clarifying Ms. James’ message with this summary of what his own small group took away from James’ leadership at UPC:

My discussion group that night pondered a question about Ms. James's talk, though perhaps I didn't formulate it well when I presented it to the whole gathering.

The message I heard was that we want to utilize women and their gifts in all areas and at all levels of ministry (perhaps Ms. James was speaking hyperbolically?), and we were then asked to discuss any impediments to achieving that goal in our church. My group's concern was that we have to be realistic: While we certainly can and should integrate women better into our operations, at some level our theology constrains us such that there is an uncrossable divide between the sexes -- namely, holding the office of deacon or elder. So while there are some unintentional and improper barriers to women engaging in ministry which need rectification, there are also some that intentionally prohibit women from some roles in ministry. In short, women cannot and should not be present at literally all levels.

Later in his comment on Pastor Bates’ blog, this same UPC deacon writes:

Ms. James was expounding the word for us that very night, for instance.

At this late date, it’s hard to imagine what hole UPC’s pastor and elders have been in that they didn’t anticipate Ms. James’ feminism and the stumbling block it would be to their flock. Also at this late date, it’s hard to imagine how the Kellers’ paper has been out and about since 1989 seemingly without causing a ripple within the PCA.

The good people of Village Seven Presbyterian Church need to take a close look at Pastor Keller and the ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church understanding that his ministry is likely a good predictor of the trajectory they're about to set out on.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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