Over at the Puritan Board, folks are discussing our actions this morning, and raise some good questions that I’d like to take a shot at answering. In particular, “Chaplainintraining,” a candidate under care in the EPC, raises the following issues:
1. No matter how much the committee states otherwise, I see this as stripping the power from presbyteries.
I don’t know how this can be. Presbyteries are still free to take either a complimentarian or egalitarian approach to women’s ordination, though it is true that complimentarian presbyteries won’t be able to impose that view on a congregation that has a woman teaching elder that is coming into the EPC.
2. The EPC considers the issue of female eldership as a non-essential, but is moving in such a way that we are now defined by a non-essential. They are talking about redrawing presby borders in such a way that each complimentarian presby would be neighbored by an egalitarian. This proves that each individual presby is now defined by a non-essential.
I’m not sure why this “defines” us. It is a practical response to a practical issue: what to do about congregations that wish to enter the EPC who have female teaching elders. We could have told them to go elsewhere, but because we consider this to be a non-essential, we chose to welcome them. Once having made that decision, we needed to set up a process for admission that would allow everyone to live and work together while respecting everyone’s convictions. There is no sense in which this binds anyone’s conscience, as I will explain below.
As for the matter of presbytery boundaries, I think Chaplainintraining is ignoring the fact that there’s a lot more going on. Given the number of congregations that have or are going to enter the EPC, some adjustment of boundaries (which are hardly divinely inspired) was going to be necessary in any case. Taking into account the presence of female TEs, and the convictions of the current presbyteries, seems to only make sense.
3. Questions were raised on why this was one-way road and that a complimentarian church could not move to a differing presby if surrounded by egalitarians. The answer was that no one is forcing a complimentarian to take on a female elder, but complimentarians would be forcing egalitarians from not taking. I understand the concept in general, but it is still catering to the left. I can see where a strong egalitarian presby could deny someone like a Wayne Grudem who is openly and strongly opposed to female ordination. They would deny someone like him because they do not want to deal with it.
To me, this point indicates an unfamiliarity with the way the EPC works in practice. The idea that a presbytery that has taken an egalitarian position would exclude a complimentarian is, I think, far-fetched in the extreme. The whole point of this exercise is that we are bending over backwards to respect everyone’s convictions.
4. We are told that this is being done in order to not bind one’s conscience on the issue. When someone pointed out that a presby would still have to vote to allow a church to move, and that if one’s conscience was bound towards complimentarian they could still not vote to allow the church to move. The response from the committee was that if you are against a female elder in every situation then you are in the wrong denomination (this is just wrong. Someone might have joined the EPC for one of their other distinctives. Maybe someone has a more charismatic view of the gifts. That could be reason for being in the EPC). So in other word’s the conscience of the egalitarian matters, but the conscience of the complimentarian doesn’t.
Wrong. No one is bound to vote in any particular way on any particular issue. Quite frankly, I have a hard time seeing a presbytery saying, in essence, we will take you in, but once we have admitted you, you have to get rid of your pastor. By virtue of being in the EPC, churches have agreed that the matter of women’s ordination is a non-essential. If you are going to contend that not only will your own church not have women TEs, but no other church may either, anywhere in the denomination, you are saying that you no longer agree with one of the items that was before you when you came in. Complimentarian presbyteries don’t have to have women TEs in their membership. Insisting that those congregations can’t go anywhere else in the denomination strikes me as manifesting an uncharitable spirit that is counter to the ethos of the EPC.
5. I think this does lead to future problems. Paedocommunion is not an issue currently, but what if it became one in the future? History would show that we should allow for those who believe in paedocommunion the opportunity to serve in a presby that would accept a TE who practices such. Really where would the line be drawn? If our Essential of Faith is the only thing that we have to agree on, then a whole laundry list of things could ultimately divide the various presbyteries.
I think this point is off-base. The issue that confronts us with regard to women TEs is not just theological or biblical, but has to do with the ministries of real, live individuals and congregations whom we have decided we will not, as a denomination, turn aside. Matters such as paedocommunion don’t involve whether a person loses her job, and a congregation loses a leader. Yes, we may have to decide whether such matters fall under the heading of essentials at some point, but I don’t think they are the same kind of issue.
6. Several people mentioned that we are suppose to strive for unity among the brethren but this recommendation divides. The response from the committee was, “No it doesn’t.” No qualification was really given. I can’t see why they would think that.
The answer was pointing to the reality, I think, because the proposals enable us to remain united as a denomination by allowing for a plurality of practices that doesn’t bind anyone’s conscience. We have never had a uniform approach to this question, and I know of only a relative handful of people who would want one. But that doesn’t mean we cannot continue to be united in faith and mission.
7. Doesn’t the CRC allow female ordination (correct me if I am wrong please)? If so, then why not join them vs. rewriting the constitution?
Chaplainintraining objected to the implicit suggestion that those who take a PCA or OPC approach to this question might be better off there, and then makes the suggestion regarding egalitarians. Enough said.
8. They are suppose to present the final recommendation in the morning. They removed it at the last second to rewrite it. So this means that we will not even see it until the morning docket and then somehow expected to vote upon it within a few hours.
The changes in question are minor.
A couple more items. “Jack T” writes:
I would note on your item #3 that a complimentarian pastor in an egalitarian presbytery is in a position of being forced, because he is subject to the discipline of the presbytery which includes women. So why can’t his church leave if they don’t want their pastor forced into such a situation? Or do EPC presbyteries not have that kind of authority over pastors?
At least potentially, every congregation is in this boat. In the EPC, every congregation has the choice of whether to have women ruling elders, who of course have an equal voice and vote in presbytery as any male ruling elder. No presbytery has the authority to prevent this, or to refuse to seat a woman RE elected as a commissioner. Quite frankly, a congregation that is unwilling to work with women in presbytery under any circumstances really is in the wrong denomination.
Finally, “Scott1” who says he is in the PCA, writes this:
The process underscores the way in which this denomination was chartered- intentionally, to be “in the middle” meaning between confessional, biblical reformed and mainline, liberal and apostate.
This is uncharitable, mean-spirited and false. It nicely illustrates why the EPC exists.
And now let the flaming arrows fly.