Feminist influences in the Presbyterian Church in America II...

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Under the recent post, Feminist Influences in the Presbyterian Church in America, the following comment appeared:

…I disagree with the post’s saying that discipling, shepherding, and counselling requires authority. To guide someone along the right path requires only care by the guide and willingness by the straying person to listen and try to stay on the path. One Christian can do that for another without any authority. He can do that without any title, in fact, which goes back to the question of why the guides should be called Deacons instead of, say Guides, or Helpers.…

Yes, “one Christian can do (these things) for another without any authority.” But we must consider the context of the Kellers’ use of these words ‘discipling’, ‘shepherding’, and ‘counselling.’

The context for the Kellers’ paper and their congregation’s actions is twofold: first, the Manhattan cultural context in which feminism long has ceased being argued, and is simply understood—think Columbia University, Manhattan, Woody Allen, the New York Times, etc.; and second, a denomination whose identity and confession is inseparable from its polity which, among other things, is defined by authoritative church officers (yes, deacons exercise authority) who, submitting to the Word of God, are men only.

So yes, in another institution, place, or denomination we might talk about “guides” who come alongside fellow travelers and make astute observations (or even recommendations) that their companions are free to take or leave.

This is the typical understanding of church office in evangelical churches and denominations today, and is not an uncommon understanding of church office even within the Presbyterian Church in America. Yet Scripture and PCA constitutional documents make clear...

that those holding office in PCA judicatories and churches have been
delegated authority from the Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ,
and will one day give an account for the exercise of that authority in
building up and protecting the flock of God.

The entire New Testament repudiates the fellow-traveler view of church
office so prevalent today. Moderns might say the New Testament reeks of
authority, starting with the Lordship of Jesus Christ central to the
Gospel proclamation in the book of Acts, and continuing through all the
epistles—including the pastorals. Thus Titus is commanded, “These
things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one
disregard you” (Titus 2:15). Such authority is the context for the work
of counselors, teachers, and shepherds in the New Testament church. And
it is precisely this authority women are barred from exercising over men: “But I
do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to
remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve”
(1Timothy 2:12, 13).

So when we consider the words and actions of the Kellers and the church
they both lead, we must see what we see. This congregation is blurring
the distinction between those who are and are not officeholders (Are
“elected” women officers or not? Are deacons officers or not?), and
therefore those who have and those who do not have authority delegated
to them for the protection and building up of the flock. And the words
they use to describe the work of their crypto officers obfuscate
matters by being the same words normally used to refer to the work of
male pastors, elders, and deacons in the PCA. Thus we end up with
female crypto officers who “teach” and “shepherd” men.

I would yawn if all the Kellers were accomplishing was to downgrade the
language and responsibilities of pastors, deacons, and elders so that
their exercise of authority within the flock was understood to be
needed only in extraordinary circumstances, and the normal state for
officers in the PCA became
fellow-struggling-traveler -coming-alongside-other-pilgrims-with-wisdom-for-the-journey.
This is just one more victory for the hatred of authority at the center
of our culture. And really, it’s so common within the PCA that it’s
just another day at the salt mines.

What is not just another day’s work, though, is the flagship northern
church of the PCA situated at the center of the Mecca of our
chattering class and looked to for leadership by all the young dudes who carry the news of Tim Keller’s stellar success with real
sophisticates declaring that news to be “women doing anything a
non-ordained man can do" including “discipling, counseling, shepherding
(and teaching) in the church, particularly among the women.”

OK, I’ll bite: Why “particularly among women?” Why not simply “in the
church?” Is their conscience bad, hence the somewhat limiting statement of these female crypto officers exercising most of their authority "among women?" Or, is the point really that these
female crypto officers will not be limited to exercising authority over women, but will also be exercising authority over men?

The question is the answer.

This is the very old game of picking around the edges of rules we don’t
like and want to see repealed until the authority, having avoided
confronting our rebellion, gives in to it and slightly modifies the
rules so the defiance is brought back into the house and we’re all one
big happy family again. But of course, it absolutely never ends there.

And reading Tim and Kathy Keller’s position paper adopted by their
church, we can make an informed guess that the identity of the Kellers
and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City is integrally tied to a principled
stand for a fuller participation of elected crypto officers within a
hidebound southern, parochial denomination that hasn’t yet gotten it.

Gotten what?

That God is doing a new thing through women, and that anyone wanting to
reach the generations of today or tomorrow will get with the program.
Women officers will be “elected” and for now will be called
“deaconesses.” And these elected women will serve the Lord’s Supper to
the congregation—not “administrate,” you understand; they will
“counsel,” “teach,” and “shepherd” men; they will do anything a
non-ordained man can do.

Foolish men think this is hip, engaged, relevant, astute, missional,
suave, cool, like-totally-awesome, emergent, contextualized—maybe even
prophetic. And what do wise men think?

Time will tell.

Tim Bayly

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

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!