Posted by: reformedmusings | June 21, 2008

36th PCA General Assembly on Deaconesses

Well, I’m back from the PCA’s 36th General Assembly and a very brief vacation. The biggest news from the GA concerns the push by a few to either study or accept deaconesses in the PCA. The first official volleys fired were the overtures filed advocating studying the issue of deaconesses. I mention them briefly below.

Early in the GA schedule, TE Ligon Duncan, current chairman of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, gave an outstanding side seminar on women in the church and a defense of complementarianism. His notes were supposed to be published online, but I haven’t found them yet. I found it particularly interesting, but not surprising, that no denomination that has gone egalitarian continues to teach the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. I personally left the PCUSA partly over this issue. The great irony here is that the issue of women officers in the liberal church in part led to the PCA’s formation. How soon we forget.

In preparation for the 36th General Assembly, the Philadelphia Presbytery put forth Overture 9 to create a study committee to consider female deacons/deaconesses. Western Canada Presbytery filed a supporting overture, while Central Georgia Presbytery filed an overture opposing such a study. I wrote a blog post opposing the idea of deaconesses in the PCA on GreenBaggins back in February which continues to generate discussion. The GA’s Committee of Commissioners on Overtures recommended against the overtures calling for a study committee, but some of the committee members filed a minority report.

There was a motion to rule the minority report out of order because it asked to study a position that clearly violated the PCA Constitution (which it did). The vote was very close. Initially the motion appeared to carry by a close margin on a card vote. However, on a physical vote count, people appeared to vote who abstained on the initial vote. Although this is not permitted, there is no practical way to enforce the rule. On recount, the motion failed by a small margin.

TE Fred Greco did a very nice job delivering the majority report. The committee of commissioners recommended:

That Overture 9 (“Erect Study Committee on Deaconesses”), p. 47 in the Handbook, be answered in the negative, and that presbyteries are reminded that appropriate ways to bring these issues before the Assembly are through presbytery overtures to amend the BCO, or by way of reference (BCO 41).

BCO 7-2, chapter 9, and especially 9-7, provide a sufficient answer to the issues contemplated in Overture 9; the presbyteries should work through the implications in their own local contexts. This is always subject to the actions noted in the text of the response.

TE Bryan Chapell delivered the minority report, which is too long to produce here. Reportedly, people who supported the minority report were on both sides of the deaconess issue. I will answer the main premises of this report in another post. Let’s just say here that I found them less than compelling.

A period of sometimes heated debate followed. The predominant argument in favor of the minority report seemed to fall on the idea that “we should have a conversation about this across the PCA.” The problem is, of course, that a study committee of seven isn’t a discussion around the church, but only between those seven. The line of argument of those in favor of the majority report was that both Scripture (1 Tim 3:12; Acts 6:3) and the BCO (7-2, 9-3, 24-1) are perfectly clear that only men may serve as deacons. 1 Tim 5:3-16 and BCO 9-7 cover the overture’s other concerns about folks assisting the deaconate. Scripture never changes, nor can it be broken, so I and the majority of commissioners could not see anything to study.

On a vote that wasn’t close, assembly commissioners rejected the minority report and accepted the Overture Committee’s majority report, thus rejecting the erection of a study committee on deaconesses. Praise God for His faithfulness to the PCA.

That wasn’t the end of the story, however. The subject came up again during the report of the Committee for the Review of Presbytery Records. TE Dominic Aquila’s wrote an excellent summary here of that debate. In some ways, that debate more closely examined the underlying issues.

One final thought on the Philadelphia overture for a study committee. Frankly, I see this approach as the same as a lobster in a pot of warm water when the heat is turned on to cook it. The lobster is perfectly happy at first. It remains content as the water temperature gradually increases. It barely notices. By the time the water starts cooking the lobster, it’s too late for the hapless creature. That’s the way liberalism, feminism, egalitarianism, etc., all work. First we “talk,” then we “study,” then we put our toe in the water with deaconesses, etc., etc.

In the end, we fall for the same lie that Eve swallowed in the garden: “Did God really say…” This is a Scripture authority issue, pure and simple. 1 Tim 3:12 by itself should be clear enough to settle this issue for those that hold to Scripture’s absolute authority. If we decide to try to conform Scripture to the world, we trade the gospel for a lie.



  1. […] posted on the 36th General Assembly proceedings on deaconesses here without duplicating Lanes or TE Aquila’s posts on the subject. My initial thoughts on the […]

  2. […] 18, 2009 in Presbyterian Church in America On the Reformed Musings blog, the author offers a summary of the PCA GA’s decision on passing the Majority Report. […]

  3. […] opinion, this was just a more palatable attempt to get at the issue of deaconesses in the PCA which failed last year. James River and Susquehanna Valley Presbyteries submitted identical overtures calling for a study […]

  4. […] on the the overtures considering women’s role in the church. You may recall that last year, Philadelphia Presbytery put forward an overture to study the issue of deaconesses in the PCA which w…. As I reported in this post, James River and Susquehanna Valley Presbyteries submitted identical […]

  5. […] 36th General Assembly (June 2008) — The General Assembly rejects the request of Philadelphia Presbytery to erect a study committee on deaconesses (See M36GA, 205ff.; read an account here). […]

  6. […] Deaconess is not an ordained church office, pastors are men, too. […]

  7. […] Presbytery to erect a study committee on deaconesses (See M36GA, 205ff.; read an account here). [Editors note: the original URL (link) referenced in this article is no longer valid, so the […]


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