Thursday, January 1, 2009

 

Church Deacons

There's an interesting dispute over deacons going on in the PCA conservative presbyterian denomination. Everyone agrees that only men, not women, should be elders, who are like the board of directors. Deacons hold another elected office, established in the Bible but without such clear qualifications. Deacons oversee the church's property and attend to people's material needs, usually, I think, with a special budget for helping those who need money. The PCA rules say that an ordained deacon must be a man, but that unordained deacons can also exist, and they can be women.

The most basic question is whether only men should be deacons. Let us put that aside. Rightly or wrongly (wrongly, I think), the denomination seems to have had that idea in mind. There exists this peculiar loophole, however, of unordained deacons. The result is that some churches have lots of female deacons. Also, it is unclear why ordination makes any difference whatsoever. Those churches with female deacons keep quiet about the lack of ordination, and, indeed, some or all do not ordain male deacons either!

This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. The denomination should choose one of three options: 1. No female deacons allowed. 2. Female deacons allowed at the option of the local church, or 3. A candidate's being a woman must not bar her from being a deacon, even if the local church is against female deacons.

Is it moral in the meantime for a church such as Pastor Keller's famous Manhattan church to use female deacons? I am inclined to think it is not.

What about establishing a new office? (Actually, the word 'office' is a theological term of art here; maybe 'job' is better.) Establish a "board of helpers" who take care of those in need, including people who need rides to church, new mothers who need meals, and so forth. The helpers could be either men or women, with a male chairman (or perhaps an elder as chairman), and would be appointed by the elders. Keep the deacons, but use them for the building, property, and special tasks such as legal troubles.

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