The Session of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee, has since the October stated meeting of Tennessee Valley Presbytery, twice taken action to defend its actions in having a female staff worker fill the pulpit at two Sunday evening worship services. The first action was a letter of response to Tennessee Valley, which had asked the Session to respond with regard to the Cedar Springs position in the matter.
The letter, adopted at a called meeting of the Session on October 25, 1999, reads as follows:
Fathers and Brothers:
Thank you for the care that you showed at the Fall Stated Meeting of Presbytery (October 12), both for biblical truth and for the peace of the church, as well as for us as a Session. However, since that meeting we have received several conflicting reports of what actually transpired, and are responding as requested to make clear our understanding of where the issue presently lies.
It seems on reflection that the Presbytery adopted two contradictory resolutions: one stating that Cedar Springs had done nothing to violate the BCO, the other stating that a woman may not preach or teach in a service of worship. Yet, women have indeed taught in worship from time to time at Cedar Springs, as well as at other churches in this Presbytery and denomination. Most of those churches, however, would not concede that women have "taught" or "preached," but only that they have "shared" or "reported." If that semantic distinction is to be maintained, then it seems to us that it must be spelled out, or we will soon find ourselves right back in conflict. We raise this not to open wounds, but to try to prevent fresh ones.
Be assured that we are not agitating for the ordination of women to the office of elder, nor for the regular preaching or teaching of any unordained person, man or woman. But we believe that our Constitution permits unordained men or women to be invited on occasion by Sessions to teach congregations in the context of worship, and that the Presbytery either erred in adopting the language of the Overture from Mountain View, or must spell out more clearly the language we are to use to describe unordained persons speaking in worship services, so that we will not merely increase the level of distrust.
Our Constitution only addresses this issue in two places. In the Larger Catechism (Q&A 158) the question is asked, "By whom is the Word of God to be preached?" and the answer is given, "The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office." If this is strictly applied, then no ruling elder may teach in worship, nor may any ministerial candidate who is as yet unlicensed, nor any unordained or unlicensed professor of theology or biblical studies, etc. However, this passage clearly does not refer to the occasional speaker, but to the regular preaching ministry of the church.
The subject is also addressed in the Directory of Worship (53-6) which states, "No person [note, it does not say "man"] should be invited to preach in any of the churches under our care without the consent of the Session." There is nothing in either of these sections that would prevent an unordained man or woman from speaking on those occasions when a Session deems it helpful to the congregation and glorifying to God. Therefore, it seems to us that the language of the Mountain View Overture goes beyond our Constitution, and restricts Sessions from exercising their Constitutionally guaranteed discretion in such matters.
It has also been reported that Cedar Springs apologized to the Presbytery for having had women speak in the past. Our delegated elders assure us that they did not apologize for our having had women speak in worship, believing it to have been proper, but that one of our elders merely stated that he supposed that, if we had to do it over again, perhaps we would do it differently. He was, in fact, only referring to language that was used to describe Dr. Eure's presentations on the two Sunday evenings in question, and in the way the service itself was ordered and presented. The elder who made that statement spoke as an individual, not for the Session, and stated as much several times during Presbytery's discussions. He also, when pressed by several Presbytery members to "apologize" or "repent" for the actions of Cedar Springs's Session, pointed out that neither he nor any other delegate could speak for their Session without authorization while acting as a member of the Presbytery.
You should know that we have invited a woman to be our plenary speaker for our 2001 World Missions Conference. We do not find that inconsistent with our Constitution, and hope that it is not in conflict with the actions taken by the Presbytery. So, we will labor on here at Cedar Springs. Pray for us, as we do for you, that when the Lord appears he will not find us too very interested in such matters, but passionately concerned with the proclamation of the Gospel and the extension of his Kingdom.
T. E. John Wood, Moderator
R.E. James Lockett, Clerk
On November 22, 1999, a further action was taken by Cedar Springs' Session in the form of an overture to Tennessee Valley Presbytery. That overture reads as follows:
Whereas the Larger Catechism (Q&A 158) asks, "By whom is the Word of God to be preached?" and answers, "The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office"; and
Whereas, if this is strictly applied, then no ruling elder, ministerial candidate, unordained missionary or professor of biblical studies, may speak in the worship services of our churches; and
Whereas, this has therefore historically been interpreted in our churches as referring to the regular preaching ministry of the church, not to the occasional speaker; and
Whereas, the Directory of Worship (53-6) states, "No person should be invited to preach in any of the churches under our care without the consent of the Session"; and
Whereas, there is nothing in these passages that would prevent unordained persons from speaking on those occasions when a Session deems it helpful to the congregation and glorifying to God; and
Whereas, while in the English Bible many different Hebrew and Greek words are translated "preach," in our tradition, using the word "preaching" to describe the speaking ministry of unordained persons causes confusion and pain to some of our presbyters;
Now therefore be it resolved that the Session of Cedar Springs requests Tennessee Valley Presbytery to adopt a Resolution stating:
1. The ordinary preaching and teaching ministry in the worship services of our churches is to be by those "sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office" (WCF Larger Catechism, Q&A 158).
2. However, Sessions are permitted by our Constitution to invite unordained persons to speak on those occasions when they believe that it would be glorifying to God and good for the people (Directory of Worship, 53-6).
3. For the peace and health of our churches, the word "preaching" should not be used to describe the speaking of unordained persons.