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Dear Timothy, 

You will recall, if I may for a moment review our discussion, that we were talking about this whole question of whether Scripture permits women to hold the office of deacon. In an earlier letter we showed that Scripture nowhere speaks of deaconesses. Because this was somewhat of an argument from silence, we went on to show that Scripture expressly forbids women to hold office in the Church. We briefly examined two key passages, I Cor. 14:34, 35, and I Timothy 2:11, 12, to show that women are enjoined by Scripture to keep silence in the Church. But then, in order to answer the argument that this includes deaconesses, we began a discussion of the nature of the office of deacon to show that it is true of this office as well as of the offices of elder and minister that deacons exercise authority in the Church and that they also are called to bring the Word of God. We argued, first of all, that this was true on the basis of the two passages where the office of deacon is spoken of in Scripture: Acts 6:1-7 and I Timothy 3:8-13. And we argued secondly, from the nature of the office itself. Christ is the only Officebearer in His Church Who provides for all the needs of His people. He does this through the special offices in the Church because through these special offices He exercises authority over His people; but this authority is always the authority of His Word. 

We must pursue this whole question a bit further.

When in the last letter I wrote to you that the office of deacon is an office in which deacons both exercise authority and bring the Word of God, I did not mean to say that these are two distinct functions of the office. You must not conclude from these remarks that the calling of deacons to bring God’s Word to His people is distinct from the calling to exercise authority over God’s people. This surely is not the case. 

While it is true that the authority which any officebearer possesses in the Church is an authority by virtue of his office to which Christ has called him, nevertheless, this authority is always and only the authority of the Word of Christ which the officebearer brings. Only Christ’s Word ever has authority within the Church. And the officebearers exercise authority only when they come with the Word of Christ. 

And so this leads us to the third remark we must make in connection with the right of men only to hold the office of deacon. It is not proper to distinguish between the office of deacon on the one hand and the offices of minister and elder on the other hand on the implicit or explicit grounds that deacons do not exercise authority, and that, therefore, as long as women remain deacons only, they may hold this office for they are not in violation of the Scriptural injunctions found in I Cor. 14:34, 35 and I Tim. 2:11, 12. Or, to put it a little differently, if women are given the right to hold the office of deacon, they are given the right to “speak in the Church,” a right which Scripture expressly forbids.

And this brings us to the fourth point which needs to be made. 

It has always been maintained in Reformed Church polity that there is what can only be called a certain overlapping of the offices. While it certainly is true that each officebearer is called by Christ to bring the Word of Christ according to the nature of his own office whether minister, elder, or deacon, it is also true that because the authority of each office is the authority of the Word of Christ, these offices necessarily overlap somewhat in the actual life of the Church. There are many instances of that. For one thing, even our Church Order provides for some such overlapping. In Article 16 the work of discipline is assigned to both ministers and elders: “The office of the ministry is to continue in prayer. . . and, finally, with the elders, to exercise church discipline and to see to it that everything is done decently and in good order.” More particularly, however, Article 37 reads: “Whenever the number of elders is small, the deacons may be added to the consistory by local regulation; this shall invariably be the rule where the number is less than three.” Concerning this matter Van Dellen and Monsma have some interesting remarks to make in their Church Order Commentary. They write:

“First of all then, the three offices of the N.T. Church are derived from Christ’s threefold office and correspond to these. . . . Each office has its distinct task, though the offices are more or less inter-related and they have their unity in Christ. 

“Whenever necessary these three types of officebearers may work together in governing the Churches and in caring for the poor. Elders then act as assistant Deacons and Deacons as assistant Elders. Thus it must be done in very small congregations, numbering less than three Elders. 

“This special arrangement of full cooperation of all the offices is altogether permissible in view of the essential unity of the office in Christ. . . . 

“From the foregoing it will be clear that when the Deacons are part of the Consistory they should be considered to be full-fledged Consistory members. They have a voice and vote in all matters which pertain to the government of the Church, even as the Elders under these circumstances have a voice and vote in all matters regarding the Church’s work of mercy. To deny the Deacons a right to vote in cases of discipline, for instance, would be contrary to the Church Order and the duties which have been imposed on them by local arrangement.” (p. 166)

The question might be asked: But is this also true in those congregations where the elders and deacons meet separately? The answer is that even where elders and deacons meet separately, they nevertheless meet together in matters which pertain to the congregation as a whole, among which matters are matters which also concern the government of the church. Van Dellen and Monsma quote Jansen on what matters ought to be treated by general meetings where both elders and deacons are present. These include: 1) All matters pertaining to the election of office-bearers: Nominations; final decision whether or not one chosen shall be called; consideration of objections registered; releasing one from his call to office, etc. 2) The issuing and receiving of certificates of Ministers arriving or departing. 3) Provisional consideration of and decision regarding emeritation. 4) Mutual censure. 5) Church visitation. 6) Administration of finances. 7) The general administration of benevolence matters. 8) General business administration of the material interests of the Church. 9) Consideration of general correspondence. 

Now it is clear from all this that even in those congregations where elders and deacons meet separately for their own unique work, there are many matters which must be dealt with by both elders and deacons. These matters involve the rule of the Church. If women, therefore, are permitted to hold the office of deacon, they will also, in the nature of the case, be permitted a voice in certain aspects of the rule of the church. And then they will be in direct violation of the Scriptures. 

This fact extends far beyond even what we have discussed above. If women are voted in as deacons there is nothing at all to prevent them from also leading worship services in the congregation in those places where deacons are added to the Consistory. And so we could go on. 

The whole point is that the principle of Article 84 of the Church Order is a Scriptural principle. Article 84 reads: “No church shall in any way lord it over other churches, no minister over other ministers, no elder or deacon over other elders or deacons.” Positively stated, this article teaches that all the offices are on a plane of equality. And they are equal because they are all representatives of Christ through whom Christ is pleased to rule over His Church. 

There is still one other matter which we might mention in this connection. 

It sometimes appears that those who argue in favor of women in office do so on the grounds that by excluding women from office, women are pushed into a position of inferiority in the Church of Christ. The argument goes something like this. To hold an office is to hold a position of authority over others. Those who hold such positions of authority are, by virtue of that fact, placed in a superior position. Those who are excluded from such positions of authority are placed in positions of submission to authority, and are relegated to inferior positions in the Church. 

This is a false argument and is based on a serious misconception of the whole office. The Scriptures are very clear on the point that those who hold positions of authority within the Church do not occupy superior positions over others so that they can, by virtue of their office, relegate others to a lower status. Quite the opposite is true. This is clear, for example, from the Lord’s teachings in John 13:12-17. At the time of the last celebration of the Passover Feast with His disciples, Jesus had taken the opportunity to wash His disciples’ feet. After finishing and after answering the objections of Peter, the Lord said: “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”

Now Jesus’ teaching here is plain. Jesus was the Master and Lord of His disciples. He was their supreme Lord. Yet He took upon Himself the lowliest of menial duties—a task assigned to the lowest of slaves, And He did this because of the fact that He was teaching them that as their Lord, He had to become their Servant. His Lordship could only be exercised properly by becoming the lowliest of their slaves. And He did this when He suffered and died on the cross for them to take away their sins and secure for them washing by His blood. 

But He laid down a fundamental principle of lordship here when He added: “Ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” The point is that the disciples had to learn that to occupy a position of authority was not to occupy a position superior to others. The truth is the very opposite. To occupy such a position was to be a slave of those over whom they were placed. Then and only then would they properly fulfill their role in a position of authority. So it is always in the Church. Officebearers are the servants and slaves of those over whom Christ places them. This is, from this viewpoint, an inferior position. If this were understood properly, perhaps there would not be all this silly propaganda for equal rights for women in the Church. 

So, Timothy, we come to the end of the argument. From every point of view, Scripture forbids women to hold office in the Church. May God keep us faithful to His Word.

Fraternally in Christ, 

H. Hanko