Saturday, June 24, 2017

Pipa Reviews the PCA Study on Women in Ministry

By Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr.
President, Greenville Seminary

The issue of men’s and women’s respective and complementary roles in the life of the church is one that has invited perennial controversy. Sadly, that integral feature of mankind which God has designed as a great gift to His creation (see Genesis 2:18-25) has been a cause for disruption in the church in our day. The denomination of which I am a part – the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) – has recognized that there is a widespread confusion and dissatisfaction with regards to how gender roles are understood in modern evangelicalism, and rightly so. Evangelicals seem to be confused about what the Bible teaches about the roles of men and women in the life of the church

The 44th General Assembly of the PCA decided to address this confusion by forming an Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church. As we prepare to come together in June to evaluate and discuss the report from this committee, many dear friends and former students of mine have asked me to produce an article with my response. [See full text of the report here.]

I write this article, as many will recognize, as one who was opposed to the appointment of the Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in The Ministry of The Church. I continue to think that the appointment of the committee was wrong on procedural grounds, even if well intentioned.  Nevertheless, I thank the committee for its diligent work and desire to root its work in biblical exegesis and the historical practice of the Church. I also appreciate the pastoral tone of the report.

For the most part, I do not take exception to the committee’s exegetical work. I would, however, like to point out a few concerns. My first concern is with the sections dealing with women in the Old and New Testaments. With regards to the women in the Old Testament, the report draws certain conclusions that do not seem to be warranted by the text. For example, with regards to Huldah (2 Kg. 22:14-20) the report claims: “Huldah did not decree a course of action, but she proposed the course that king and nation followed” (Line 27, 28 page 2410) What evidence is there in the text that she proposed a course of action? Or as the report states with respect to women prophets: “However, they did serve as gifted leaders and teachers. Some had an exceptional ability to navigate situations wisely and train others to do the same. Huldah, Zipporah, Miriam, and Esther testify to the God-given talent and leadership ability of women in the Lord’s church” (Line 18-21 page 2410). Do the references to these women warrant such a broad-sweeping conclusion?

With respect to women prophesying in the New Testament, it would be helpful to note the distinction that John Owen made between the office of prophet and the gift of prophecy (Owen IV.  451, 452). The office of prophet, Eph. 2:20; 4:11, was an authoritative office in the church possessed only by men.  It was only said of women that they prophesied (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5). If a woman prophesied, she was a receptacle of God’s message and offered no comment. In 1 Cor. 14:29, Paul referred to the office of prophet. Hence, women would not be among those listed in verses 30-33. As to the prohibition in 1 Cor. 14:34, 35 for women to keep silent, the report says the prohibition applies only to preaching or passing judgment on prophecies (line 8 page 2416). The prohibition, however, seems much broader: “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves just as the Law also says (see 1 Tim. 2:13, 14). If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” The word “improper is “shameful” or “disgraceful.” Asking husbands at home does not fit with passing judgment, nor would passing judgment by itself be shameful. Paul seems to prohibit any public speaking in worship apart from prophesying (in which the woman is only a receptacle for the Spirit) or unison speaking or singing.  Paul’s referenced to the law is unpacked in 1 Tim. 2:13, 14. Moreover, one should interpret 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 in light of Paul’s clear prohibition in Timothy. 2:11,12 for a woman “to remain quiet.”

I appreciate the report’s dealing with 1 Tim. 2:11-15. However, line 22,23 page 2418 is unguarded: “Paul sometimes lets women teach men. He permitted female prophets to speak in Corinth and listed female coworkers.” The first part is true, if one distinguishes informal teaching, like Priscilla and Aquila, but where does Paul allow a woman to teach a man in a formal setting? As to the second part, as is pointed out above, the New Testament does not refer to a woman as a prophet.

As to the grounds of Paul’s injunction, I would have liked to see the report deal with verse 14, where Paul gave as his second ground that the woman was deceived. There seems to be a direct correlation between Paul’s injunction and the woman being deceived. (I offer an interpretation of this in another recent article on this site). Moreover, there is a hint in verse 15, reinforced by verse 10, as well as Titus 2:3-5 and Mk. 15:41, that a woman’s primary role in the church is domestic, including teaching women and children, counseling women and children, serving, and assisting deacons.

The report does a very good job with 1 Tim. 3:11, although I wish they did not use the word deacon and women deacons in the narrative for the work of women. A reference to female deacons in the context of this report is not useful (line18 page 2427).  

With respect to chapter four, encouraging a robust and gracious complementarian practice, I would have liked the committee to affirm that the wife’s calling is to be a helper corresponding to the need of her husband, with a robust endorsement of a married woman’s unique role in the home and thus her domestic role in the congregation (see 1Timothy 2:15).

Excerpts from the Report's Conclusions


For the sake of Christ and His church, the committee encourages all women in the local church, as an exhibition of their love of God and neighbor (1 John 5:2-3), intentionally to:
  • recognize and honor the authority and rule given to the elders of the church and strive to support, help, and obey them as God has placed these male leaders over them (Heb. 13:7, 9, 17).
  • avoid contempt for or disparagement toward the male leadership (Eph. 4:29; 2 35 Tim. 2:14; Titus 2:3).
  • commit themselves to humble service, doing what is needed in every area of service which Scripture allows, seeking to honor their Master who came "not to be served, but to serve" (Matt. 20:28; Gal. 5:13; James 4:10; 1 Pet. 2:16).
  • develop and utilize their God-given gifts in ways that uphold the structure of the church and the family, express love and unity with others, and undergird the pulpit ministry (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 13:1-14:1; Eph. 4:1-16; Eph. 5:22-24). 

For the sake of Christ and His church (which church includes the women who are committed to fulfill their role in the above exhortation), the committee encourages the elders in each local church, as an exhibition of their love for God and neighbor, intentionally to:
  • recognize and honor the women who are under their authority as vital members of the body of Christ, leading them as shepherds who must give an account (1 Cor.11:11; Gal. 3:28; Heb. 13:17).
  • feed them sound doctrine and provide direction and nourishment for their souls 5 (John 21:15-17; Titus 1:9: Titus 2:1)
  • protect them from false doctrine and false teaching (Acts 20:28-30; 1 John 4:1).
  • neither demean nor discourage them (Rom. 12:10; 1 Cor. 12:26).
  • provide opportunities for the development and utilization of women’s gifts in every area of service that Scripture allows (Eph. 4:15-16).
  • foster an atmosphere of trust and respect for their office under Christ by living trustworthily and honorably, showing true concern and gentle care for those entrusted to them (Titus 2:7-8; 1 Peter 5:2-3).