Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tim Keller and Confusion Over "Commissioning" (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses

*You can also find an update here.

Back in the summer at the General Assembly for the PCA, there was a discussion held between Ligon Duncan and Tim Keller concerning the role of women and the diaconate. You can listen to the first installment of the discussion here, and to the second installment here. The discussion was a follow up to articles that Duncan and Keller had published last year in the PCA periodical By Faith Magazine. Duncan's article, "The Case for Our Current Policy on Female Deacons" can be read here. Keller's article, "The Case for Commissioning (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses" can be read here.

Keller believes that a woman in the church can do anything that a non-ordained man can do, therefore, he says that at his church Redeemer PCA, they have non-ordained women who serve on the diaconate. He says he does not believe in ordaining, but commissioning. In an article titled "Women and Ministry, Redeemer Presbyterian Church," Keller summarizes what takes place at Redeemer PCA:
In a nutshell, our position is this: whatever a non-ruling elder male can do in the church, a woman can do. We do not believe that I Timothy 2:11 or I Cor.14:35-36 precludes women teaching the Bible to men or speaking publicly. To "teach with authority" (I Tim.2:11) refers to disciplinary authority over the doctrine of someone. For example, when an elder says to a member: "You are telling everyone that they must be circumcised in order to be saved--that is a destructive, non-Biblical teaching which is hurting people spiritually. You must desist from it or you will have to leave the church." That is "teaching authority"--it belongs only to the elders. Thus, women at Redeemer will be free to use all the gifts, privately and publicly. There are no restrictions on ministry at all. There is a restriction on the office of elder... The Deaconesses will be women elected by the congregation who will do discipling, counseling, and shepherding in the church, particularly among the women. Spiritual maturity is the qualification. They will probably also exercise a teaching ministry in the church, depending on their gifts.
Keller says that women will be commissioned not ordained and therefore, the only service from which they are restricted is the office of elder. So he is fine with them "discipling, counseling, shepherding and teaching." It may be "particularly among women" but not exclusively. The result of Keller's position is that the waters are muddied and Presbyterian doctrine and practice concerning women and the office of deacon have become confused.

This confusion can be seen in how the roles between men and women have been equated in the diaconte. When one looks at the description of the diaconate at Redeemer's website, there is no distinction between male and female deacons in how they become a deacon/deaconess, "The Diaconate, a group of men and women nominated, elected and appointed by the Redeemer members . . ." Further confusion is created by the fact that the men and women nominated to office go through the same training. And to add even more confusion, the director of the diaconate is a woman.

The egalitarianism has not only introduced women into roles that are not biblical and confessional, it is also keeping men from theirs. In an attempt to keep men and women deacons on an egalitarian level, not only are the women not ordained, but neither are the men. At Redeemer, therefore, there is no biblical office of deacon since there is no one ordained to that office. All the deacons/deaconesses are commissioned.

Keller has spoken out against those who desire to maintain the PCA's understanding of women in office, claiming that their fear that commissioning will lead to ordaining is unfounded. Yet, by reducing the office of deacon to something it is not by not ordaining any of them, he has in effect already moved things in the direction of egalitarianism, which, many believe will eventually encroach on the office of elder, as well.

All this confusion seems to have even affected the Teaching Elders at Redeemer, and the PCA confessionalists may have been proven right. This week a video has been making its way around the blogosphere that seriously calls Keller's position and practice into question. In the video, there is a woman named Deb who is ordained as a deaconess. Wes White provides a detailed analysis of the video over at Johannes Weslianus and shows that it follows the procedure for ordaining someone to office in the PCA Book of Church Order. It gives the appearance that Keller may not being forthright.

Well, yesterday over at Green Baggins, Bob Mattes posted a response that he received directly from Keller, in which he tries to clarify the confusion surrounding this video and the apparent ordination of a deaconess. Keller responds by saying the ordination of a woman deaconess "is not our practice," that they do not "ask our congregation to obey and submit to them," and that it would not be their practice in the future. Keller chalks it up to a mistake made by a "newer minister."

Yet, with this being a mistake and out of line with normal practice, I am surprised that there didn't seem to be any negative reaction. No elders provide a correction to what happens. None of the other persons that are being installed seem surprised by the mistake. Deb herself does not question what the minister is leading her to do when he asks her to confirm her ordination vows. And no one in the congregation seems to question what is happening. In fact, when the congregation is charged to "acknowledge and receive Deb" and to promise to yield "all that honor and encouragement and obedience in the Lord to which the Word of God and the constitution of this church entitles them," no one is looking around, no one seems puzzled, and there is a clear, unqualified affirmation from the congregation.

My point is not to suggest that Keller is lying or covering up some secret cabal, or to maliciously draw attention to the minister's mistake. My point here is that clear water becomes muddied when something is added that shouldn't be there. Keller and Redeemer's novel understanding and practice concerning the diaconate has not helped to instruct the body on a proper understanding of polity and doing things in good order, instead it has created a context in which a woman can be ordained (by mistake) and no one seems to blink. And this raises the question, what if there is a time when it is not a mistake? Will they go right along with it like they seemed to this time? When the shepherds try to bend the lines, it is the sheep who pay the price.

It is always important that the Church establishes her order based on the scripture. If there are some with differing opinions about what the scripture teaches, then there is a proper place to have that discussion. But once the Church speaks, then it is incumbent on the officers to instruct the congregations and align their practices with those standards. If one finds that the decision of the Church goes against his conscience, then he is free to disagree and has the liberty to serve in a Church in which he does not have to go against conscience. But if he chooses to stay, then it is best for everyone that the decision of the Church be maintained with as much clarity as is possible. Let us pray that amidst this confusion that clarity will prevail.

*Read on to an update of this post here.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, Keller's position is most biblical simply because there is no biblical precedent for ordaining deacons at all. Ordination in the OT (Numbers 3, etc) and its flows into the NT is for an office of authoritative governance over the church (ie priests/elders/pastors). But deacons are not a governing or ecclesiastical authoritative position. The weight of evidence is that the 7 men in Acts 6 were NOT deacons, but leaders (possibly elders). The word appoint in that text is predominantly used to describe what is done when setting apart a person to have authority OVER others. So, with that said, the role of deacon (regardless of male or female) should not be an ordained role.