random theological question

So here’s something I’ve been thinking about, and that Steph and I discussed briefly in New York: What is the deal with female deacons? I know it’s an open-handed issue in a lot of churches, and I think I’m okay with it, but I wanted to hear from you guys, especially you more theologically-minded types, just to get the range of thoughts on the issue. Scripture would be helpful.Also, I may be starting something new here on the blog next week, so keep an eye out. 


7 thoughts on “random theological question

  1. Check out Romans 16:1. The word translated “servant” in most translations can also be (and is) translated “deacon” and “minister”.

  2. Yeah, there are deaconesses in scripture.

    Our church does not have deaconesses, but we do have women do a lot of things in church most PCA churches do not/would not. The basic policy is anything a non-ordained man can do, a non-ordained woman can do. So, women serve communion (we go forward) and read scripture and collect offering.

  3. Maybe just PCA churches in the south, not everywhere. I know it’s a huge deal in our Presbytery, but probably not everywhere.

  4. The main passage the PCA holds to in their view on deaconesses is 1 Timothy 3:8-12, and I’ll go ahead and quote it at length.

    “Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

    In the same way their ‘wives’ are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

    A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.”

    The main issue is the phrase “husband of one wife,” which infers masculinity. In the second section, the trick is what the greek word which, here (in the NIV) is translated ‘wife,’ but some translate ‘deaconess.’ Even in my NIV, the word deaconess is referenced in the annotation at the foot of the page. I don’t know greek well, so I can’t enter that debate.

    Then there’s Romans 16:1:

    “I commend to you our sister, Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrae.” I do know a little greek, and the word translated “servant” is διακονον, the word “deacon” in female form. Deacon does essentially mean “servant,” so by translating it such, they are using the definition of the word instead of the word.

    There’s a pretty big debate in the PCA (and Reformed churches) over the legitimacy of deaconesses, and if I remember correctly, though the word isn’t used in the translation, Dorcas in Acts was considered a deaconess.

    Adding further confusion to the issue is that the Bible always takes the masculine when referring to humanity. For a random example, Psalm 146:5:

    “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God.” The he is obviously not excluding women trusting in God as their help and hope, it is referring to the representative “he” in humanity that is common in the Bible.

    A lot of the debate comes to a head in a verse talking about gender roles within the church, 1 Tim. 2:12:

    “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

    But even this passage doesn’t clear anything specific up, for deacons do not teach, so that doesn’t disqualify them here. As well, deacons don’t exercise specific authority over men, for the role of deacons is service, physical needs of the church, mercy ministry.

    Many in the PCA are unsure of what to make of this issue. Some are really convinced by the “husband of one wife” phrase. There are prominent pastors who support deaconesses in the PCA: Tim Keller surely has deaconesses in his church, and I’ve heard that RC Sproul has leaned for, as well as Phil Ryken, but I am not totally sure on those two. And I don’t mention them because of their star quality – but because they are men who know the word well, far better than I do. But I would say that the majority of the PCA doesn’t support deaconesses.

    That’s already a lot more than you probably wanted.

  5. Bryce: Okay. I’ve heard some speak of Tryphena and Tryphosa (mentioned later in the chapter) as possible candidates for deaconess-hood, too.

    Kristen: I’ve found that to be mostly the case, although I can think of three PCA churches in the Houston area with deaconesses, too, so who knows.

    Joel: No, actually, thanks for that; I’d rather people be thorough than not. 🙂 And I think Tim Keller’s church actually has as many deaconesses as deacons…

  6. Well, despite being a member of a PCA church and attending a PCA school, I don’t feel qualified to contribute to this…I think you’ve got some good info here. I just wanted to say that, after having lived in Chattanooga for three and a half years, I now know that Houston is not “the South.” Houstonians are warm like southerners, but the cultures are otherwise pretty different — more so than I’d realized. Houston’s much more “progressive,” as strange as that sounds, than much of the South.

    At any rate, my church here has women reading Scripture quite a bit (because we can, woo!), but not serve communion or take offering.

  7. oh, ps – remind me to send you a ridiculous fake article about Tim Keller and the PCA that one of our profs posted on our eBoard on April Fool’s Day. 🙂

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