Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 3, no. 3 (July 1994)

In this issue we have reproduced a sermon by the eminent Reformer, John Calvin. And, for a number of reasons, we believe some editorial remarks may be in order.

The material is taken from the 1579 edition of Calvin’s sermons on Timothy and Titus. Where this old translation seemed almost unintelligible I have done my best to render it into equivalent present-day English. When I began this I did not foresee that—later in the sermon—Calvin would advocate an order of women deacons! My first impulse was therefore to scrap the idea of using this material. On second thought, however, I determined to use it even though I do not believe that women ought to be ordained to any of the same offices that men hold in the church. I believe ordination to the office of teaching elder, ruling elder or deacon involves authority within and over the congregation of the Lord. I am also convinced that the exegetical arguments for the ordination of women as elders or deacons is not at all compelling.

But, as usual, Calvin is not to be easily dismissed. And much of what he says about these widows that he calls deacons (unwisely, as I see it) is quite convincing. There evidently were widows who were cared for by the ancient church. It also seems clear that a task was committed to them as a part of the church’s care for the sick and needy. And it seems to me that the nature of a living congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ is such that something like this is virtually inevitable. Not a few times, in my own pastoral experience, it has been the women who have come to the rescue, as it were, in performing a much needed ministry of mercy. Yes, and I can also think of older women who are widows who have been most ready and willing to offer themselves for such service. And I will go a step further. I see no reason why a needy widow today could not be given support by the deacons of the church if she met the standards so clearly set down by Paul (and so cogently argued by Calvin), and—under the authority of the deacons—given specific tasks within the realm of the ministry of mercy. It seems clear to me that this was done in the Apostolic Church and, that being the case, that there is warrant for doing the same thing today when the need arises.

One of the great fallacies of the feminist movement is the ‘all or nothing at all’ mentality that lies behind it. If women are not given everything that men have, so the feminists argue, they are supposed to feel that they have nothing. This is all wrong. It may be that in some otherwise orthodox churches women have been deprived of legitimate opportunity to serve. In firmly closing the door to ‘women in office’ we must be careful that we do not go to an opposite extreme. In the Apostolic church there was a great need for the ministry of mercy. Some who needed to be cared for—a considerable body of older widows—were also quite capable of ministering to others. So the two were brought together by means of an order, or an organization, in which these widows were supported and employed. I see no reason why older widows of proven piety and stability could not be employed today by the church for a similar purpose.

It will be evident from the remarks above, then, that in deciding to use this material from Calvin I do not want to be understood to favor the ordination of women as deacons. But just as clearly I do want to be understood as being in favor of finding ways for women—who meet the criteria set down by the Apostle—to be employed in the ministry of mercy today.

In this issue of Ordained Servant we come to the end of Dr. P. Y. De Jong’s discussion of the work of the elders entitled Taking Heed to the Flock. We also begin our reprint of his equally fine study of the work of the deacons entitled The Ministry of Mercy and take this opportunity to again express our thanks for Dr. De Jong’s gracious permission to use this material in Ordained Servant.

At a recent meeting of the Christian Education Committee the decision was made to seek to assess the usefulness and effectiveness of Ordained Servant at the General Assembly. But since many who receive this journal will not be present at the General Assembly, we invite you to write to the editor with your criticisms and suggestions.

In future issues of this journal we plan (1) an exegetical study of the Timothy-Titus passages setting forth the requirements for the offices of elder and deacon; (2) a select list of books for study in connection with “The Recommended Curriculum for Ministerial Preparation in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church” approved by the Fifty-fourth General Assembly; and (3) a discussion, beginning with an historical study, of the fencing of the Lord’s Table.

We welcome the submission of material for possible publication in Ordained Servant. If you—or your Session—have produced material that might be of use to others in the church why not send it to us. We do not promise, in advance, that we will use material sent to us. But we do promise that we will give it careful consideration. Please send it to the editor (Pastor G. I. Williamson), 119 Normal College Ave., Sheldon, IA 51201. Thank you.