At its stated meeting on October 12th, Tennessee Valley Presbytery took two seemingly-contradictory actions. It declared that women's preaching is out of accord with the standards of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and it also voted to vindicate the Session of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church by finding that it had not done anything amiss in the current controversy.
The declaration regarding female preaching came as a result of an overture from the Mountain View Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga, where Dr. King Counts is pastor. The key provision which was adopted reads that the Presbytery "openly and plainly declares that it is not proper for women to preach and teach in the church's corporate worship."
Also before the presbytery was a resolution put forth by three Sessions. In adopting this second overture, the court found that the Session of Cedar Springs "is in conformity with the standards of the PCA"; "has not acted in any way injurious to the testimony of Christ or His church"; and "is in submission to their fellow elders, and are eager to maintain the peace and purity of the church."
Bringing this resolution which sought to vindicate Cedar Springs were three Chattanooga churches: St. Elmo Presbyterian, New City Fellowship, and Covenant Presbyterian. The pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church is the Rev. Dr. J. Render Caines, who also serves as Presbytery Stated Clerk.
This second resolution stated that the decision of the Cedar Springs Session "to allow a woman on staff under their authority and guidance, to speak from their pulpit on two Sunday evenings," was "for the purpose of explaining her biblical approach to Christian education." The resolution also contended that the Cedar Springs Session "did not do this for the purpose of promoting women preachers in the PCA."
However, according to the Rev. John Wood, Senior Pastor at Cedar Springs, that congregation has had other women to preach, including on Sunday morning.
In an interview published in the March 1999 issue of P&R News, Mr. Wood "commented that having a woman preach 'was actually nothing new for Cedar Springs. We have over the years had women speak, both Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. We've had people, from Elizabeth Elliot to Helen Rosemear to Marilyn Laszlo, speak on Sunday mornings.' He explained that Helen Rosemear was a medical missionary to the Congo who had suffered much during the 1960 rebellion against Belgian rule; and Marilyn Laszlo is with Wycliffe Bible Translators.
"'We've had a number of women over the years who have spoken,' Pastor Wood stated. 'The view that the church has held since before my time, and that I hold, too, is in agreement with Susan Foh's argument. Her book was recommended to me years ago by Jim Boice. I really thought that she did a good job of laying out the argument against women elders, but for women being able to teach, if they are under the oversight of the Session of the church. And that what Paul is prohibiting is the authoritative teaching of a teaching elder-teaching that would then be enforced by barring from the Lord's Supper, if a person resists that teaching: church discipline. It seems to me that Paul, in I Corinthians 11, has already given instructions for women who are prophesying and praying in worship services. And therefore his injunction in I Corinthians 14, "Let women be silent," has to be read in the light of what he has said in I Corinthians 11. And therefore, she's to show proper submission to authority. And I think in different cultures that manifests itself in different ways. It doesn't prohibit women from speaking, but women aren't to be speaking out and doing anything to disrupt the worship.'"
In that interview, John Wood gave answers to several specific questions posed to him, including the following:
So you think that a woman may do anything an unordained man may do, other than serve as an officer or administer the sacraments?
That means that a woman may preach (i.e., give a sermon or the main message during a service of public worship, which may include exposition of Scripture and/or exhortation)?
"If it was under and at the invitation of the Session."
By vote of the Presbytery, both of the adopted resolutions were communicated to the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. The Rev. David Hall, Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and a member of the denominational Standing Judicial Commission (SJC), asked that his negative vote be recorded on the second of these resolutions.