Thursday, July 7, 2016

President Pipa Protests PCA Study Committee on Women in Ministry

Greenville Seminary President Joseph Pipa Jr. lodged a formal protest last month against the decision of the Presbyterian Church in America to appoint a committee to study the role of women in church ministries.

The study committee was approved by the 44th General Assembly of the PCA in Mobile, Ala., against the recommendation of an oversight Committee of Commissioners which reviewed a proposal from the denomination's Cooperative Ministries Committee. The Committee of Commissioners, voting 31-7 against the CMC proposal, argued that the issue had already been thoroughly studied and that the proposal should have come to the Assembly by different means. It also objected to some of the areas the proposal calls on the new committee to study.

The hastily prepared Pipa protest, which was handily received by the Assembly, reads as follows:

We, the undersigned, humbly protest the establishment of a committee to study the issue of woman serving in the ministry of the church based on the following grounds:

  1. The committee having women as well as men [is] contrary to 1 Tim. 2:12-13.
  2. The committee is to reflect the diversity of opinion in the denomination with no apparent respect to Scriptural or Confessional parameters.
  3. It appears, with the suggestion of a pastoral letter, that there is a goal already in mind prior to the study committee being formed.
  4. Hebrews 6:1-2 states that the laying on of hands (ordination) has been established and further study hinders the progress of the gospel.

[Join the Unofficial Protest Here]

In an 11th-hour move after Dr. Pipa left the hall shortly before midnight during the closing session, progressives favoring the study lodged a strenuous objection to receiving the protest on grounds that it included "intemperate language." Assembly rules allow protests against its actions as long as the protest does not include intemperate language. The objectors, led by World magazine founder and former G.A. moderator Joel Belz of Asheville, N.C., charged that Dr. Pipa's claim that the study committee was being created "with no apparent respect to Scriptural or Confessional parameters" was intemperate. The Assembly overwhelmingly accepted the objection, while still registering the Pipa protest, the result being that both the protest and the objection to it were accepted by the Assembly.

Conservatives opposing the study committee charged that a paragraph in the study committee proposal calling for a "pastoral letter" to be sent to churches showed that the conclusions of the study committee have been largely predetermined. This was the point raised by the third ground in Dr. Pipa's protest. The study committee proposal calls for:
A Pastoral Letter to be proposed by the ad interim study committee and approved by the General Assembly be sent to all churches, encouraging them to (1) promote the practice of women in ministry, (2) appoint women to serve alongside elders and deacons in the pastoral work of the church, and (3) hire women on church staff in appropriate ministries.
Progressives and other supporters of the study committee argued that the proposal merely calls for a study of Scripture, and that the outcome actually may be that practices now being employed by some PCA churches will be found to be unbiblical, including women serving communion, reading scripture and receiving offerings; the commissioning of deaconesses,; women laying hands on deaconesses during commissioning services, and more. Conservatives cited the required pastoral letter as evidence that unbiblical practices were peremptorily being advocated through the adopted recommendation. They claimed that scripture and past decisions of the General Assembly already prohibit some of the practices being proposed for inclusion in the pastoral letter.

Hebrews 6:1-2, cited by Dr. Pipa, says: "Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment."

On his personal web site, Dr. Pipa said following the action, "Because of time constraints the grounds are not spelled out as fully as they ought to be. One grounds I omitted in my haste is that the committee is to study ordination in the context of the role of women. I will be writing later on the grounds, as well as an exegetical discussion of the role of women and ordination."

The Cooperative Ministries Committee recommended and the Assembly agreed, on a vote of 767-375, that:
The Assembly form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church. The Assembly authorizes the Moderator to appoint the study committee. The study committee should be made up of competent men and women representing the diversity of opinions within the PCA [citations omitted here] 
The committee should give particular attention to the issues of:
(1)   The biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination;
(2)   The biblical nature and function of the office of deacon;
(3)   Clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses;
(4)   Should the findings of the study committee warrant BCO [Book of Church Order] changes, the study committee will propose such changes for the General Assembly to consider. 
The committee will have a budget of $15,000 that is funded by designated donations to the AC from churches and individuals. 
A Pastoral Letter to be proposed by the ad interim study committee and approved by the General Assembly be sent to all churches, encouraging them to (1) promote the practice of women in ministry, (2) appoint women to serve alongside elders and deacons in the pastoral work of the church, and (3) hire women on church staff in appropriate ministries.
The Committee of Commissioners which recommended against the adoption of the Cooperative Ministries Committee's proposal, gave as grounds for its rejection: "The Cooperative Ministries Committee may not make recommendations directly to the General Assembly but must do so through an appropriate committee or agency [assembly rules cited here]. The CMC has had a subcommittee on the role of women and has sent several recommendations to the AC [Administrative Committee] (including a proposal for a study committee on the issue women serving in the church) and CDM [Committee on Discipleship Ministries] to bring to the Assembly.

"The action of the PCA 37th GA [2009] is clear on this subject: 'Unlike most issues for which past general assemblies have erected study committees, the question of the role of women in the church is not a new or unstudied issue. As such, the proposed study committee is unlikely to break new ground or shed new insights.'

"Further, the decisions of the 36th and 37th General Assemblies, '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)', remind the Assembly that the preferred method of bringing changes to the BCO and the calling of study committees should be through the Presbyteries.”

Dr. Pipa has invited like-minded PCA members to join him in his protest by registering thoughts in the comment section of this page of his web site or by sending him an e-mail at, stating: "I want to register my protest to the establishment of a committee to study the role of women serving in the ministry of the church." You may also join the protest by signing here. Please note that any such action is unofficial and informational only and cannot be formally registered with the Assembly at this point.

Greenville Seminary holds to biblical and confessional restrictions prohibiting women from holding authoritative offices in the church, those of elder (including pastors) and deacons. Therefore, it admits only males into its Divinity-degree programs, since those programs are intended only for men planning to enter into ordained offices in the church.

Women are eligible for admission into the Master of Arts program, which is designed to provide a theological education for persons called to non-ordained service in the church or those simply desiring deeper theological knowledge. The seminary web site and Academic Catalog states:

The Seminary is convinced that the Bible prohibits women from teaching or exercising authority over men in the Church. Therefore, only men will be admitted to the Seminary as candidates in programs which:

  1. prepare the student for the office of teaching elder, namely, the M.Div. or B.D.; or
  2. require ordination to the office of ruling elder (the M.M.R.E.) or deacon (M.M.D.).

On request the Seminary Board has reviewed its long-standing policy of permitting women to pursue a program of study not designed to lead to their ordination by the church. The Board reiterates that the primary purpose of the Seminary is the training of men for the teaching and ruling eldership, which is clearly limited to men. Based on a careful study of the Biblical place of women in the New Testament, particularly passages dealing with their receiving instruction both from our Lord and the apostles, no change in the policy has been found to be required. Thus, the Master of Arts (M.A.) is open to both men and women.

However, to guard against possible abuses of this policy by those who may transfer credits elsewhere, all women students registering for courses for credit shall be required to subscribe to the following statement, which shall become part of the transcript issued by the Seminary: "Recognizing the clear Biblical teaching that a woman is not 'to teach or have authority' in the church, I do promise and affirm that I will not apply credit for course work taken at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in any program that would be used toward ordination, or for ordination, to any office in any church to which I belong. I understand and approve of the fact that this statement will be part of my transcript for any work taken in this Seminary." (SIGNATURE)

It will further be expected that all women students, while not prohibited from engaging in classroom discussion, shall do so in recognition that their function is not to teach other class members, but to pursue knowledge and wisdom for the better carrying out of their Biblical calling. Private discussion with faculty members or others is, of course, always acceptable.

GPTS also has a formal four-year instructional course for wives of pastoral students. The Ladies Fellowship curriculum is designed to prepare wives of future ministers for their role and opportunities in the churches their husbands will serve.

Benjamin & Anna Wontrop
Anna Wontrop, wife of 2016 GPTS graduate Benjamin Wontrop, eye-witnessed the General Assembly's deliberations and posted this comment on her Facebook page afterwards:
One presbyter announced to the floor that ‘our daughters are confused’ and that women up and down the PCA would thank the GA for their decision to study this issue for them. Not this daughter. Not this woman (who, by the way, is in her twenties and of average education). This daughter had a pastor who faithfully and lovingly expounded the word of God to her, and therefore, never felt the need to be worried or frustrated about what she could and couldn't do. And I know I’m not alone in this either. Perhaps some of the women in the PCA are confused about their role in the church, but it is not fair to the rest of the women (and their pastors) in the denomination to make such a sweeping statement. 
Dr. Pipa and Dr. Johnson lead Commencement processional
Among the conservatives troubled by the formation of the study committee was Dr. Terry Johnson, prominent pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Ga. and the 2016 Commencement speaker at GPTS. In a post-assembly analysis of the G.A. actions, he wrote:
...[W]hat I deemed to be ominous was the approval of a study committee on women's issues that includes, in its scope, a reevaluation of ordination. This is more than disturbing. This threatens the future of the PCA, a denomination born in part in opposition to the ordination of women. The outlook of the progressive wing of the PCA was revealed in debate. One individual said, "The ladies at your church will love you for voting in favor of this." Another said, "I guarantee our women are listening very carefully to what we are saying right now." Are these men assuming that all PCA women disagree with the denomination's position on women's ordination? That women are a monolithic block with uniform opinions and voting patterns? Mind you, this was said by those who present themselves as the champions of women. I blush for the lack of self-awareness. Clearly there is ordained leadership that believes that the PCA must bend with the times, beginning with ordaining of women as deaconesses, based, it seems, on the perception that this is what all women want. 
Another conservative, Pastor Andy Webb from a PCA church in Fayetteville, N.C. has announced he will ask his Session to consider calling a convocation of conservatives to explore, among other options, the possibility of leaving the PCA and forming a new "continuing PCA" denomination.

Dr. Richard Phillips, conservative pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, in Greenville, S.C., and a friend of GPTS, took a cautiously balanced view in the end, saying "Given the way that gender roles have served as a battering ram against the walls of biblical authority in so many Protestant denominations, progressives should not be surprised that conservatives feel threatened by this initiative. Moreover, conservatives were alarmed that this motion originated not from a presbytery but from the denominational headquarters and were distressed when the moderator overruled a procedural objection against the action. Actual events should relieve much of this anxiety, however, as our well-respected moderator appointed a study committee that is amply stocked with complementarian stalwarts."

Further reading:

A Troubling Turn: PCA General Assembly 2016
See this article from Christianity Today.
byFaith magazine on Twitter
byFaith report
Transcript of the Floor Debate, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV (Part IV includes Pipa statement on the assembly floor)