A Plea for Patience in the PCA (1)
Calvin understood the zeal of true religion can be patient, but the rage of unbelief acts hastily. Calvin’s demeanor and his patient plodding are instructive for our present moment in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). We should not expect the theological and practical deviations from our Standards to be dealt with speedily. But that should not upset the heart motivated by true religion, which alone can practice patient zeal.
This is the first of a two-part series.
In his comment on John 10:31, John Calvin makes a fascinating insight: true religion produces holy zeal and unbelief produces rage. Calvin observes a difference in how the holy zeal of true religion and the rage produced by unbelief are manifested: “unbelief is the mother of rage, and the devil hurries on the wicked.”
In that little comment we get a sense of Calvin’s pastoral heart. Despite ministering in a time of great spiritual and ecclesiastical dysfunction and in a city with grave moral depravities with staunch opposition, Calvin patiently and zealously preached and taught the truth.
Calvin understood the zeal of true religion can be patient, but the rage of unbelief acts hastily. Calvin’s demeanor and his patient plodding are instructive for our present moment in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
We should not expect the theological and practical deviations from our Standards to be dealt with speedily. But that should not upset the heart motivated by true religion, which alone can practice patient zeal.
Deviations in the PCA
There are grave theological and practical deviations from our Standards disturbing the purity and peace of this faith communion. For quite some time, the PCA has been troubled by those who not merely disagree with our Church constitution (the Book of Church Order and the Westminster Standards), but who also choose not to abide by the doctrine and requirements we have vowed together to uphold in the PCA Constitution.
PCA General Assemblies since 2018 seem to have been dominated largely by the flamboyant escapades of a certain minister in Saint Louis and the attempts to clarify our requirements for ordination. Facing increasing threat of judicial process, that minister and the congregation he serves have since left the PCA. While their repentance and restoration would have been preferred, their departure removes a blight upon the purity and peace of the PCA.
However, the inordinate focus on basic issues of sexual purity distracted the PCA from other issues that present challenges to our confessional integrity and biblical fidelity and therefore continue to hinder the peace of the Church.
A. Ordination & Church Office
We live in a moment of time in which the fundamental distinctions among mankind are not simply being ignored, but denied. The terms “man” and “woman” are confusing to many in post-modern America. While there doesn’t yet seem to be confusion in the PCA on the definition of “man” or “woman,” there does seem to be confusion on the definition of deacon in the PCA.
The PCA Constitution is clear on who may serve as a deacon: The “office of deacon” is an “ordinary and perpetual” office in the Church (BCO 9-1). Men shall be chosen to serve in that office (BCO 9-3). Deacons are among those who have been “inducted by the ordination of a court” (BCO 17-1).
Yet a number of congregations in the PCA seem unclear about this.
Some congregations list women as “Deacons” on their website, which is clearly at variance with our Book of Church Order (BCO), which limits the subjects of ordination to men only. Some congregations perhaps try to get around this by not ordaining any of those whom they call “deacons.”
But failing to ordain the ones they call “deacons” creates another issue. Since the BCO sets forth that people are admitted to church office by ordination, if a PCA congregation has no men ordained as deacons, then she has no deacons according to the BCO.
The PCA must sort this out. We can’t continue to have people impersonating church officers in the PCA. These impersonators lack the gift of ordination. Our BCO states regarding ordination:
Ordination is the authoritative admission of one duly called to an office in the Church of God, accompanied with prayer and the laying on of hands, to which it is proper to add the giving of the right hand of fellowship (BCO 17-2).
Why would congregations deprive themselves of the blessings of more ordained officers? Is it right for a church court to refuse to ordain one “duly called” to church office? Is it fair for a congregation’s leaders to confuse people by describing people as “deacons” who are in fact unordained persons and not, properly speaking, deacons according to the Constitution of the PCA?
B. Lady Preachers
There is a spectrum within the PCA regarding what role women may have in public worship. This stems from how one interprets 1 Corinthians 14 and whether silent means “silent” or “she can do anything an unordained man can do.”
God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor 14:33–35)
Despite some diversity of interpretation, until recently there was widespread agreement in the PCA that preaching as part of a public worship service was something only men were permitted to do.
For example, one PCA congregation described an address by a famous Episcopal clergywoman as a “bible study,” despite the fact that her presentation immediately preceded the Lord’s Supper and was the exposition of Scripture for that Lord’s Day worship service. This was not just any mainline minister, but one of the first women to be ordained by The Episcopal Church.
Other PCA churches simply invite women to give installments in their seasonal sermon series as part of their regular rotation.