Women and Creation Hot Topics for Presbytery Records Report
Colorado Springs, CO (June 13, 1997)--In what may be an unprecendented display of unanimity, the Committee on Review of Presbytery Records (CRPR) had no negative votes on any of its multitudinous recommendations dealing with the PCA's 56 presbyteries. However, that same unanimity did not continue on the floor of the Assembly, as a highly-divided court decided several hotly-contested issues.
The Review Committee recommended that exception be taken to the minutes of Southern Florida Presbytery because "[t]he worship service for the purpose of organizing a church and installing its pastor included a lady who 'led one congregation in the opening prayer' and another lady who 'read passages of Scripture' prior to the sermon." This proposed exception touched off a hot debate on the floor of the Assembly, as several commissioners thought that women reading Scripture in public worship did not violate any provision of the PCA's Constitution.
Others argued that exception should be taken to this action. One of them, TE Byron Snapp, had successfully complained in April against the refusal of James River Presbytery to take exception to the minutes of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Charlottesville, VA, for the continued practice of having women read Scripture in worship. (His complaint was sustained, 19-17, so the court did take exception to Trinity's minutes.) Mr. Snapp appealed to the remark last evening (June 12th) by RE Jack Williamson that God speaks most directly to His people through the reading of the Word; therefore, it should be done by someone who has divinely-given authority, specifically an ordained man.
On a counted vote, the Committee was upheld.
In another issue regarding the role of women, the Assembly approved the response of a lower court to the exception taken last year with regard to women serving in diaconal roles. The 1996 Assembly had voted that Philadelphia Presbytery had failed "to set forth clearly that the BCO 9-3 limits the office of deacon only to men. It also fail[ed] to set forth clearly that BCO 9-7 does not provide for training of women for diaconal ministry and for the setting apart of women, who assist the deacons, by a commissioning service." In response, Philadelphia said "that no church within our Presbytery ordains women to the office of deacons, and that we did not intend to imply that." The Presbytery stated that it "is aware that member churches may take actions which are not explicitly authorized by the BCO, but we do not consider that the BCO describes in an exhaustive way all the things a church may do." On this basis the Presbytery maintained that "presbyteries are free to do that which is not contradicted by the BCO or the sacred Word." The Presbytery also noted that it had instructed a Session under its care to "refrain from teaching the congregation 'that Scripture allows for the inclusion of women in the office of deacon'. Such teaching clearly contradicts the requirements of the BCO and is liable to disturb the peace and unity of the Church. The proper forum for the discussion of such matters is the Presbytery." Philadelphia concluded its response by saying: "While we believe our intention was clear and without desire to disturb the Church, we wish to submit to the judgment of the General Assembly and therefore do adopt the following: 'Presbytery urges its sessions that, whenever they recognize, commission, or pray for those doing special work for the church, they take particular care to make clear that God has gifted and chosen people for service in the Church in capacities in other than ordained offices.'"
The issue of creation came up last night and again this morning. James River Presbytery had approved a man's licensure exam while he describes Genesis 1 "as a 'poetic account.'" The Committee took exception to the fact that "[t]here was no admonition from Presbytery not to teach this view"; and cited the action of the 14th General Assembly in support (" . . . allowance of exceptions, however, does not warrant his teaching or preaching of that matter so as to disturb the peace and purity of the church"). The Assembly, however, last night struck the exception.
Debate on the matter had raged around whether or not a "poetic view" of Genesis 1 was an acceptable exception, or even an exception at all. After the evening recess at eleven o' clock, men lingered in the auditorium, still debating and discussing the issue.
The Assembly late last night was deciding when to reconvene in the morning--at the usual time of eight o' clock or the later time of nine o' clock. After opting for the later time, TE Brent Bradley, who strongly favors a literal six day creation, amused the court by asking, "Is that a poetic nine o' clock?" TE David Coffin, who had argued against the exception to James River's minutes, responded by saying, "Mr. Moderator, I'd like the Assembly to know that nine o' clock is poetry to my ears."
Today, the General Assembly ruled out of order a proposed exception to the minutes of New Jersey Presbytery. The Committee had recommended that exception be taken because of a statement adopted by New Jersey that "implies that a 'non 24-hour view of the six days' is a view in full conformity with our standards, as opposed to an allowable exception." However, the information that a complaint against this action by New Jersey had been filed led the Moderator to rule the recommendation out of order, as violating BCO 40-3.
The Assembly also overturned the Committee's recommendation that New River Presbytery's response to last year's Assembly not be found satisfactory. The exception was that "Presbytery denied an overture from a neighboring session which should have been accepted because it dealt with a non-ordained man being allowed to teach Sunday School without a change in his views when he had been removed from teaching as a result of a judicial decision by the General Assembly. . . . It appears Presbytery allowed a court under its oversight to act contrary to a GA decision." The lower court responded: "The Presbytery finds that since both New River Presbytery and the Standing Judicial Commission declared the man ineligible to teach based on a number of exceptions, and that examination by the session of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church has determined that this number of exceptions no longer exists, but rather there is only the exception in the matter of origins, and he has agreed not to teach on this subject, that he is eligible to teach." The Committee responded: "The Committee recommends that GA find the Presbytery's response unacceptable, because the man still believes in 'theistic evolution,' which cannot be allowed as an exception. He was the subject of Judicial Case 90-3 in which the General Assembly voted that the said individual 'should not be granted the authority to teach in the Church while he holds exceptions to our doctrinal Standards which could reasonably be expected to result in him having to teach in a manner which would be out of accord with the fundamentals of our system of doctrine.' This matter may well come to the Assembly at a future time, since it was revealed on the floor of the Assembly that a complaint had been filed with the Clerk of New River concerning the Presbytery's response.