Earlier this year, the PCNSW Elders and Deacons Committee distributed a discussion paper for the Presbyterian Church in NSW & ACT, entitled Healthy Complimentarianism, which offers a range of ideas about how we might better live out God’s good design for men and women in our churches in biblically faithful, and therefore, healthy ways.
The Assembly has asked anyone who is interested to respond to the these recommendations by writing to the Elders & Deacons Committee, which will work in concert with the Women’s Ministry Committee, and any other relevant Assembly Committees, to bring a refined set of recommendations to Assembly in 2023.
Murray Smith, Convener of the committee, shares below the context and purpose of this paper.
Why did the Assembly see the importance of forming the Elders and Deacons Committee (E&DC) in 2015?
The Assembly formed the Elders and Deacons Committee in July 2015 "to review the roles assigned to elders and deacons in The Code (PCNSW) in the light of the Scriptures” and "bring recommendations to the NSW General Assembly...designed to clarify the nature and functions of elders and deacons” (GANSW 2015 BB Min 87). The Assembly has re-appointed the Committee each year since, giving it particular tasks. The Committee’s goal has been to serve the Assembly, and the wider church, by clarifying the roles of elders and deacons in our church, and by strengthening them for their ministry. Over the past few years, following recommendations from the Committee, the Assembly has adopted into The Code new, and more robustly biblical, descriptions of elders and deacons. The Committee has also written and published a handbook for elders titled Effective Eldership.
In 2019, a proposal was brought to the floor of the General Assembly to insert the word 'male' before 'elder', into The Code, thus confining eldership to males only in the PCNSW. While the E&DC agrees with the theological framework behind this request, you have sought further discussion and time from the Assembly. Why is that?
Yes, that’s right. The Elders and Deacons Committee believes that the Scriptures assign the office of elder to appropriately qualified men, and intends to bring an overture (a formal request) to Assembly next year (2023) requesting that Assembly add the word “male” to the qualifications of elders in The Code.
At the same time, the Committee did request that the Assembly move in this direction slowly and carefully. We did this for two reasons.
First, there are a variety of views across the church regarding the teaching of Scripture on whether elders must be male. We felt it was important that the arguments for and against this position be laid out, so that members of the Assembly can think through the issue carefully, seeking to understand God’s reveals will, so that we can order our church accordingly. The Committee therefore requested the Assembly to assign it the task of writing a paper that would consider the question of whether elders must be male, and lay out the best arguments on both sides. This is an important part of what we have done in the Healthy Complementarianism paper.
Second, the Committee believes that it is vitally important for the life, health, and mission of our churches that we develop healthy, biblical patterns, in which men and women serve alongside each other in the work of the gospel. Our concern is that if we say “no” to women in eldership without at the same time saying “yes” to all of the ways in which women and men complement each other in the life and mission of the church, we will only have done half the job. We need to be proactive about engaging, equipping, and encouraging women (and non-elder men!) in a wide variety of ministries, and in considering the ways in which male elders can engage others—women and men—in the church’s decision making processes. While there are many churches in which healthy biblical patterns are well established, there is still plenty of room for all of us to further improve. The Committee therefore requested that the Assembly take more time to consider what “healthy complementarianism” might look like in our churches before considering the question of whether elders must be male. This is another important part of what we have done in the Healthy Complementarianism paper.
The GANSW commissioned the E&DC to write a paper on Healthy Complementarianism, which was presented to the General Assembly in 2022. How do you hope this paper will be used by PCNSW churches?
Our hope and prayer is that the Healthy Complementarianism paper may help us all to delight in God’s good design for men and women. The Bible holds out a beautiful picture of men and women equally created in the image of God, equally redeemed by Christ, and equally called into service in God’s kingdom, while also assigning different and complementary roles to men and women in the family and the church. Our hope is that by reading and discussing the paper—with Bibles open—we might all grow in our understanding of, and appreciation for, God’s good design.
In practical terms, we hope that presbyteries, sessions, congregations, and individuals might use the paper in a number of ways:
1. As a resource for growing in their understanding of the Bible’s teaching about God’s good design for men and women
2. As a resource for evaluating the patterns of relationship that exist between men and women in our churches, and considering ways in which they might more fully embrace God’s good design
3. As a resource for considering the biblical arguments on both sides of the question of whether elders must be male
Most particularly, the Assembly has asked everyone (presbyteries, sessions, individuals) to consider the recommendations in Part 3 of the paper. These provide a range of ideas about how we might better live out God’s good design for men and women in our churches in biblically faithful, and therefore, healthy ways. The Assembly has asked anyone who is interested to respond to the these recommendations by writing to the Committee, which will work in concert with the Women’s Ministry Committee, and any other relevant Assembly Committees, to bring a refined set of recommendations to Assembly in 2023.