Thursday, December 10, 2009

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

Since I first wrote about the confusion at Redeemer PCA on the ordination of a woman as a deaconess, more information has become available to fill out the story. In addition to Keller's apology, the minister who made "the mistake" has also provided a public apology. The apology letter was apparently originally sent to his Presbytery and then made public at his permission. However, rather than clearing things up, things continue to get muddier.

First, I was glad to read of the apparent sincerity of the apology of Scott Sauls, the minister who mistakenly ordained a woman as a deaconess. However, he provides information about himself and past ministry that is further confusing to me. While the minister was certainly newer to the staff at Redeemer PCA, he is by no means a young inexperienced minister. He has been in ministry for around 13 years in which he has served two former congregations, one in the PCA and then one in the EPC (a denomination that ordains women). His call to Redeemer PCA brought him out of the EPC back to the PCA. He states in his apology that while in the EPC he did ordain women as deaconesses. Saul does not state in the apology sent to his Presbytery that he has changed his convictions about ordaining women. It seems as though from his perspective, his mistake at Redeemer was not so much that he transgressed biblical teaching and in turn inadvertently broke his ordination vows; rather, his mistake was in forgetting that he was back in the PCA where they don't do that sort of thing.

Second, the situation becomes more confusing given that just months prior to the mistake, one of his jobs at Redeemer was to communicate the termination of a fellow pastor at Redeemer who was not "the best fit ideologically and ecclesially," (you can find a copy of the letter here, but in providing the link I am in no way endorsing the content of the blog entry in which it is found, it is just a place where you can read the letter). It has been made known that one of the reasons for the ideological and ecclessial differences rested in the fact that that pastor was not in step with Redeemer concerning its position on women deaconesses. It would appear,then, that Sauls is not a green inexperienced minister who was confused one time, this was a minister who believes in women's ordination and who participated in the removal of a fellow pastor who was not in agreement. This is not to suggest maliciousness and dishonesty. It just seems to me that when you have a man on staff who believes in and has practiced women's ordination and a man on that same staff that gets fired because he does not, then it is not much of a surprise that this kind of mistake could happen. The muddier things get, the more potential there is to slip.

Third, the apology letter also heightens the concern I raised before about the lack of objection in the video displayed by the session and congregation of Redeemer. No one balks at what is happening, even when the congregation is charged to submit to "Deb." In the apology, he states that he didn't even know about his mistake until he saw the video just "last week." That means from the time the service took place in May until late November when the video was pointed out to him, no one had said anything to him about his mistake! Maybe nobody else realized the mistake just as he didn't. Maybe nobody thought it was a mistake. Maybe some people caught it but weren't sure how to respond. Look, every minister and every session and every congregation is going to make mistakes, but I personally believe that this just underscores the importance of clear instruction and practice. When things are muddy it is easier for mistakes to be made, but more importantly, it makes it easier for mistakes to be missed. Any mistake can be fixed--but only if the mistake is recognized. If there is no clear instruction and practice, then by what standard do you assess what happens?

Lastly, in the apology he refers to the service where he made his mistake in two different ways. Sometimes he refers to it as a "commissioning done in error," while in the same letter admitting that he ordained the deaconess. Which is it? Was it a commissioning done in error or an actual ordination? It seems that he and Keller just don't get the seriousness of what happened that day. Even though it was not intentional, he and Redeemer PCA ordained a woman as a deaconess, which is a clear violation of the PCA's interpretation of the Bible concerning women's roles in the church and a clear violation of the practice of PCA polity. This mistake is quite serious and needs to be corrected by more than "apologies." Has "Deb" and the congregation been led to renounce the vows they took? Have they redone the service so as to actually commission her? Or is she and the congregation still functioning under those erroneous vows? The Bible never speaks of "apologies," it speaks of confession of sin, repentance and loving constructive discipline. Will Keller, Sauls, and the Redeemer Session and congregation be afforded that form of Christian love?

The bottom line for me is that the apologies of Keller and Sauls are not alleviating concerns, but rather aggravating and compounding them. If you are interested in a more in-depth critique of Keller's argument for commissioning women deaconesses, especially concerning some of the sources he has used to support his position, then you can read a six-part series (one, two, three, four, five, and six) over at the Bayly Blog (this is not an endorsement of everything found on their blog, but there is much helpful material).

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