Western Carolina, Calvary, and Ascension Presbyteries voted in July to petition the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) to invoke original jurisdiction over the Rev. Mr. John Wood with regard to the issue of women preaching. According to the documents, the minister is in favor of women filling the pulpit.
The issue came to the fore with reports that women have preached at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tenn., where Mr. Wood is Senior Pastor. Particularly, a female member of the church staff preached twice-on August 16 and 23, 1998-at the church's evening service.
At its March stated meeting, Western Carolina Presbytery, located in the mountains of Western North Carolina, took two actions regarding the matter. It overtured the General Assembly to advise presbyteries and sessions that the practice of women preaching should not be allowed to continue. And it wrote a letter to Tennessee Valley Presbytery, asking that regional court to investigate the reports regarding Cedar Springs Church.
The Assembly, which met in June, answered the overture in the negative, but it did so on the following ground: "While the [General Assembly] does stand against the preaching of women as referred to in 1 Timothy 2:12, violations of the Standards should first be addressed by the lower courts."
At its April stated meeting, Tennessee Valley had scheduled a discussion regarding women teaching in an ecclesiastical setting, to be held at the summer stated meeting. On July 13th, the Presbytery went into executive session, thereby excluding the church press; and, behind closed doors, held the discussion. However, the Presbytery took no action on the matter.
One week later, on July 20th, Western Carolina adopted the petition to the General Assembly. Two charges were specified: "1. That he has violated the Biblical teaching of worship as understood by
the Presbyterian Church in America, which is to be led by men under the Headship of Christ, in having a woman fill the pulpit, preach, give instruction and exhort the congregation from the Word of God, which is specifically forbidden by [Larger Catechism] 158, which answers the question, `By whom is the word of God to be preached?' by saying, `The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.' (See also: BCO 7-2; 19-1; 22-5; 22-6.) 2. That Dr. Wood has violated the clear teaching of the Word of God, which says that women are to keep silence in the church, and are not to exercise authority over men (I Cor. 14:34; I Tim. 2:8-15; 4:13), in violation of the Second Commandment as interpreted by our Standards. (Larger Catechism Q/A 108: 'What are the duties required in the second commandment?' 'The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his word . . . .' Larger Catechism Q/A 109: 'What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?' 'The sins forbidden in the second commandment are all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and any wise approving any religious worship not instituted by God himself . . . .')." The Book of Church Order (BCO) references state that church offices "are open to men only"; and that only "[a] ruling elder, a candidate for the ministry, a minister from some other denomination, or some other man" may be licensed to preach.
The resolution was presented by Dr. Morton H. Smith, currently the Moderator of Western Carolina, and the original Stated Clerk of the PCA Assembly. According to Dr. Smith, the resolution passed on a voice vote, with no audible dissent.
Four days later, Calvary Presbytery, located in the Greenville-Spartanburg area of South Carolina, took up the identical resolution that passed Western Carolina. Leading the effort in the adjacent presbytery was Dr. Joseph Pipa, President of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS), where Morton Smith also serves. According to the Moderator of the Presbytery, Ben Shaw, another professor at GPTS, the motion carried on a show of hands, overwhelmingly: only one negative vote and two abstentions were noted.
Under PCA rules, judicial process normally is entered before the presbytery of which he is a member. However, the action by these two presbyteries automatically triggered a provision of the Book of Church Order, which mandates the assumption of original jurisdiction over a minister by the General Assembly "if the Presbytery refuses to act in doctrinal cases or cases of public scandal and two other Presbyteries request the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction." This provision had never before been invoked.
One week after the action by Calvary, on July 31st, Ascension Presbytery, located in Western New York, Western Pennsylvania and Northeastern Ohio, adopted a similar petition. This petition added two other charges: violation of the Fourth Commandment (with regard to profaning the Sabbath) and violation of the Fifth Commandment (with regard to his ordination vow of "being subject to the brethren in the Lord"). According to one observer, the vote was virtually unanimous: only one audible "no" was heard on the motion.
The pending judicial process could have profound ramifications throughout the denomination. Founded in 1796, Cedar Springs is a prominent PCA congregation; latest denominational statistics show that the church recorded 3,238 communicants and 1,493 non-communicants for a total membership of 4,731, making it the fourth largest PCA congregation. Only Coral Ridge in Ft. Lauderdale (9,357), Briarwood in Birmingham (5,506), and Park Cities in Dallas (4,829) are larger.