Presbyterianism is pretty simple. As the name suggests, presbyters (elders) are essential to the church. Congregations elect qualified men to ensure that the means of grace (word, prayer, and sacraments) and discipline are maintained. These men—one or more of whom is an elder qualified and approved to preach—constitute the local session, and are accountable to higher courts that have the oversight of larger geographical areas (regional presbyteries and synods or general assemblies). The various local churches and courts are vitally connected primarily by a common confession of faith and a common church order—not primarily by experience or ardor (more about that later).
Bonds of love and trust between churches in a presbyterian denomination rely on common belief and common, accountable order. Essential to that order are the clear definitions of office and preaching. And this is why the fact that women are filling pulpits and expounding Scripture at the center of stated Lord’s Day worship services in the PCA is so troubling, and why it bodes so ill for the peace, and sustainability of the PCA. Read more»
Brad Isbell | “Lady Preachers in PCA Pulpits?” | March 30, 2022
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RE Isbell wrote: “ Now is the time for moderates, missionals, and progressives alike to respond swiftly and decisively as these cases appear, and to have the courage of conviction to stand against women/lay preachers in the pulpit.” Swiftly and decisively in the PCA? I would love to see such a pace on a host of issues but it has never happened before.
Can anyone name a single woman who has preached a sermon in a PCA church (I’m assuming that reading a Bible passage is not equivalent to preaching a sermon, even though the article author seems to equate the two)?
Quote from TE Isbell’s article:
Are you implying that TE Isbell is misrepresenting the situation? How would you possibly know?
Hi Bob. No. I don’t mean to imply anything. If names were given, it could be possible for us to access and link to tapes/livestreamed records of those relevant occasions to have a discussion on what actually happened and on whether people could have different good-faith opinions on whether preaching occurred or something less than that. I am not sure why being in the process of being adjudicated/complaints being made would affect whether we could know the details. It isn’t a court of law, so the jury pool wouldn’t be tainted.
I could name two which are known to me and dozens if not hundreds of PCA officers. Assuming you are not a PCA officer (and because complaints and information requests are in process) I will not post their names or other proof public.
What TE Isbell says is happening **IS** happening, it’s not a new thing, and it’s been happening for many years in the PCA. I’ve seen it myself when visiting PCA churches going back almost twenty years. I also know people who have walked out of PCA churches when they attended a church they didn’t know while traveling and saw that women were preaching.
To be clear, these were small churches, the pastors are not people who are known figures in the PCA, and the churches would be fairly described as evangelical, not liberal. They are not part of any sort of agenda to change the PCA; the pastors and elders don’t see anything wrong with what they are doing since it’s common in their communities for other evangelical churches and not controversial. In at least one case, the situation was a pulpit exchange between a PCA church and a woman minister of a different denomination outside the Reformed tradition.
To my knowledge, no tapes exist of the worship services. I kept one of the bulletins for many years, but I’ve probably lost it now.
I think many conservatives are honestly unaware of what is happening outside conservative presbyteries.
This sort of thing **IS** happening, and it doesn’t get a lot of attention, not because it isn’t happening, but because other pastors in the presbytery know it is happening on an occasional basis and don’t see a problem with it by way of exception, for example, a pulpit exchange with a female pastor, as long as it doesn’t happen often. From what I’ve seen and heard when I’ve raised concerns, people didn’t understand why I, or anybody else for that matter, would consider it to be a problem when a PCA pastor is on vacation, or gets sick on short notice, and the church invites a person to preach who wouldn’t normally be in the pulpit, and that person happens to be non-Reformed or female.
I think there are churches in the PCA that left the PC(USA) or other denominations for the right reasons, and aren’t trying to push any sort of egalitarian agenda or change the PCA, but would be happier in the EPC or ECO, and should be encouraged to join those denominations where their practices would be fine.
(And this is Lord’s Day preaching, not mere scripture reading, devotional, or midweek talks.)
I attended a Christmas Eve service at a large Northern Virginia PCA church this last Christmas and every reader from the pulpit was female. I was shocked, dismayed, and greatly troubled.
Kevin, I understand the problem with women reading from the pulpit, even if it involves reading Scripture lessons without any commentary during a “Christmas eve service,” which has its own problems from a Reformed point of view.
However, what I was referring to was, in the words of TE Isbell, “Lord’s Day preaching, not mere scripture reading, devotional, or midweek talks.”
Public worship in Reformed churches needs to be led by elders, which means even unordained men shouldn’t be in the pulpit, and women definitely should not be there. But deviations from historic Reformed worship practices, while they violate the regulative principle of worship, are far less serious than women preaching the regular Sunday sermon.
If a professedly Reformed church is having a “festival of lessons and carols” on Christmas Eve, and if women are leading all the “lessons” from the pulpit, I’d be inclined to think the church is trying to “push the envelope” by letting women do things in a midweek service that look and sound like preaching even if they technically aren’t preaching. Same if a church is using female “lectors” on Sunday who read Scripture without commenting on it.
I saw lots of that sort of thing going on in the Christian Reformed Church during the push for women’s ordination. A fair amount of it was honest ignorance in churches that had never thought through what it means to apply the Reformed faith to public worship and who is to lead that worship. I heard people defend women reading Scripture who would never allow women to be ministers or elders, and they told me there’s no difference between women reading Scripture and women singing “special music.” My answer? “You’re right. There is no difference. You shouldn’t be having special music either, and nobody should be leading worship who isn’t an elder.”
But in a fair number of cases, people putting women in public leadership roles were doing it to “push the envelope” and get congregations used to women in worship leadership roles and women in the pulpit.
Even so, and as problematic as all those practices are, formal preaching on Sunday is a whole different level of problems.
What I have seen in some PCA churches, and what others have reported to me that they saw in PCA churches, and what TE Isbell appears to be talking about, is far more serious than a woman standing in the pulpit reading Scripture without commentary, or doing something on Wednesday evening that looks much like what happens on Sunday but isn’t officially a worship service.