General Assembly on Women's Roles

At the PCA’s General Assembly this past summer, a study committee was established to examine the issue of women serving in ministry within the church. Their findings could potentially lead to women serving on the Covenant College Board of Trustees, as well as boards of other organizations and ministries in the PCA.

According to articles published in ByFaith magazine, the 2014 General Assembly commissioned and established a subcommittee of the PCA’s Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC) to examine the issue of women in ministry. At the 2016 General Assembly this subcommittee proposed that another study committee be established to study four issues: the nature of ordination, the office of deacon, clarification on ordination or commissioning of deacons and deaconesses, and if warranted, proposals for possible Book of Church Order changes.

Joel Belz, who retired from the Covenant College Board of Trustees this summer, said, “About three or five years ago when a number of people were discussing why the Covenant College Board doesn’t have any women on it, no one seemed to think that it was morally or biblically wrong. It was just the way history had shaped it.”

He said that when Covenant College was founded, it was assumed that the board would be made up of elders. “In the PCA, all elders are male, so it was a matter of coincidence more than principle,” Belz said.

Currently, only Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders serve on Covenant’s Board of Trustees. There are also six alumni trustee advisors, which include both women and men.

Belz, who was a member of the original subcommittee, said, “The immediate reason for this issue coming up was Covenant College’s well-being. Well, if we’re going to change the Book of Church Order’s bylaws, let’s look at other aspects [of the PCA] like RUF, which ministers to far more women students, or Mission to the World, which has far more women employees, but no women on the board. Why not have women’s perspectives?”

“I don’t think this is being done as a protest. It’s more as an effort to make sure we’re in alignment with Scripture. In Genesis, it says ‘It is not good that man be alone.’ That’s a strong statement. God said that, so in a Covenant College Board meeting it is not good for man to be alone.” said Belz.

Opponents argue that by examining these issues, the committee is conforming to culture instead of Scripture. In The Aquila Report, Dominic Aquila and Andrew Barnes write that these issues “have already been studied, explored and settled . . . the PCA’s Constitution is already clear on what the PCA believes is the Scripture’s teaching on these issues . . . The proposal is ill-conceived, overly broad, poorly drafted, and completely unnecessary.”

Robertson said, “A common thread [from opponents] is that there’s really no necessity for clarifying this manner and that any explanation is just opening a dangerous slippery slope to ordination of women as ruling or teaching elders against God’s word. But I think that the four areas we commissioned are well defined. I also trust the men on the CMC who had this idea—they are all committed to God’s word. They’re interested in being radically biblical.”

Belz said, “The offices of teaching and ruling elders will remain exclusively for men and I think it’s important for the committee to say that.”  

George Robertson, the moderator of the 2016 General Assembly, said that one of the reasons the study committee is examining the biblical basis for ordination is that “there is some confusion over what is conveyed with ordination. When we ordain a ruling or teaching elder, we are conveying authority. The role of the elder carries authority. However, a deacon is not recognized as someone who has authority over the Word and sacraments.”

This raises the question, Robertson said, of whether there are roles that men or women could be ordained to that do not carry authority over the scripture or sacraments, such as hospital chaplains, or children’s and youth ministers.

“This would also mean we are going to start asking if board members of committees and agencies have functions that require authority,” Robertson said. “This isn’t just about women in ministry or women being ordained. We want to make sure that we’re being thoroughly biblical.”

Chaplain Grant Lowe said that “there’s a strong desire from most of the Covenant College community to have women on the Board of Trustees” and “the conversation has been happening,” but the PCA is a structure that moves slowly.

The study committee has begun meeting but is keeping their discussion and proceedings confidential until their official report is released.