Sep 22nd, 2008 · Categories: EPC, PCUSA · No Comments

Women in the EPC: "Second-class citizens"?

This, of course, is the interpretation PC(USA) spin doctors put on the EPC’s local option regarding the ordination of women. With our church growing impatient with the PC(USA) and its deep dive into cultural accomodation, we are looking very hard at the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). Ours is a church where more than a third of the elders are women and our Associate Pastor is a woman. As a member of the session, I’ve given this matter a lot of thought and study.

Peace, unity, and purity (the real deal)

Rev. Dr. Jeff Jeremiah, Stated Clerk of the EPC, spoke to our congregation last year. (The discernment process has been interminable.) He mentioned that the PC(USA) and EPC cultures were different and that they often used the same words with different meanings. He noted that one difference in culture evident to outside observers is the degree of trust and real fellowship that seem to prevail within the EPC compared with the PC(USA).

One PC(USA) pastor who attended the EPC’s General Assembly in June last year described his experience this way:

The time at the GA was encouraging, energizing, hopeful and so Christ centered that there was no mistaking why the church had gathered to do business – to best be Christ’s church for God’s glory! I was really taken with … the spirit of grace and humility exhibited by the EPC folks.

This description stands in sharp contrast to the usual wrangling and in-fighting exhibited at a PC(USA) General Assembly. There were no demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, no staged walk-outs, no horse-trading and back-room deals, and no politically-charged circus atmosphere. Instead, there was peace and unity.

Dr. Jeremiah attributed this culture to the EPC’s focus on Christ and to the absence of doctrinal warfare. The EPC knows what it believes and requires officers to share its core beliefs. They have not elevated human conscience above the essential tenets of Reformed Christian orthodoxy as the PC(USA) has. Neither has the EPC elevated the ordination of women to similar status.

Prohibiting the ordination of women

Prior to 1930, the mainline Presbyterian denominations did not ordain women. The ordination of women to the office of elder was introduced into the original PCUSA in that year. The ordination of women as ministers of Word and Sacrament came to the old PCUSA in 1956 and to the UPCUSA and via the PCUSA’s merger with the UPNA in 1958. The PCUS followed in 1964. Now, section G-6.0105 of the PC(USA) Book of Order simply states that “Both men and women shall be eligible to hold church offices”.

When it comes to ordaining women, the greatest difference between the PC(USA) and the EPC is this: The PC(USA) has a history of prohibiting the ordination of women to any office. The EPC has no such history and has never had an institutional prohibition against the ordination of women. For that simple reason, the EPC has never had to alter its Book of Order to correct its former position. Having never barred the ordination of women, the EPC has no need to explicity authorize or require it.

But, in typical fashion, the PC(USA) treated the ordination of women as both an ecclesiastical issue and a political one. Celebrating the ordination of women was transformed into demanding the ordination of women. Not satisfied with the ecclesiastal decision to allow and even encourage the ordination or women, the PC(USA) embraced a political mechanism – affirmative action – to require it. While there are no formal quotas and no set-asides, the direction and intent are clear. No dissent is allowed, no excuses are accepted.

There’s just one teeny little problem with this politicized approach. It either (1) puts God in a box or (2) denies his sovereignty. Either the PC(USA) believes that (1) there can be no church where God chooses to call only men to leadership or (2) people, not God, do the calling. My opinion is that the latter is more akin to the way our denomination operates.

Allowing the ordination of women

So which denomination has it right? Is it the PC(USA) with its demands for gender equality and proportional representation? Or is it the EPC with a policy that simply says, “let God decide whom to call”?

Is life perfect for women called to leadership in the EPC? No. The Midwest Presbytery of the EPC has never ordained a woman to the office of teaching elder. But there is reason to hope that an ordained woman from the PC(USA) seeking ordination in the Midwest Presbytery would find

  • confirmation that her call was to God’s ministry, not to the PC(USA)’s alone
  • the decision to ordain would be made by a body that has a culture of seeking God’s will in a spirit of fellowship and doctrinal unity
  • that body would be free to enact its decision without fear of reprisal.

Such cannot be said of the PCUSA with its political culture and its delusions of being the “true church”.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 22nd, 2008 at 11:00 am and is filed under EPC, PCUSA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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