On November 5, 1999, Western Carolina Presbytery, at its stated meeting, addressed the following letter to Tennessee Valley Presbytery.
To: Presbytery of Tennessee Valley
From: The Presbytery of Western Carolina
Subject: The John Wood Matter
The Presbytery of Western Carolina has received your communication, which we judge to be a response to our request regarding the report that the Cedar Springs Church had allowed a woman to preach in Sunday evening services during August of 1998. As you are aware, your failure to respond in a timely fashion caused us to approach the General Assembly regarding this matter, since the year's statute of limitations was running out.
Your response declares that you found nothing amiss with the actions of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church with respect to female preaching.
We appreciate the stand that your Presbytery takes in your letter to the effect that you are opposed to women preaching in our pulpits.
We are also in receipt of the formal response adopted by the Cedar Springs Session on October 25, 1999. We desire to express our appreciation to the Session of the Cedar Springs Church for their openness and candor in stating their position to the Presbytery. We believe that this letter lays the whole issue on the table, and that the Presbytery of Tennessee Valley should now handle the issues as they are laid out in this letter, for it seems clear that the Presbytery and the Session differ on the issues. In the meanwhile our case remains before the Assembly, since we were dealing specifically with the views of TE John Wood, which this correspondence does not address.
Let us present to you some observations regarding the Cedar Springs letter for your consideration:
First, the Session acknowledges that it has had women teaching during worship services. "Yet, women have indeed taught in worship from time to time at Cedar Springs, . . ." The Session defends its view with the language that unordained men or women may be invited to teach during worship, "But we believe that our Constitution permits unordained men or women to be invited on occasion by Sessions to teach congregations in the context of worship, . . ." It is one thing to allow women to make reports on their work, or as missionaries (which some consider to be a questionable practice), it is another for them to teach, which is directly contrary to I Tim. 2:12, "But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man."
Secondly, the argument is made that our Constitution does not forbid the preaching or teaching [by] women from our pulpits. It is true that the Confession and Catechisms do not speak specifically to this issue. It was not a question that the Westminster Divines were addressing, since no one at that time in Reformed Churches even considered the possibility of women preaching. It is for this reason the Larger Catechism does not speak specifically to it. As to the practice of non-ordained men exhorting in a regular worship service, the early American Presbyterian practice was to have Ruling Elders read approved sermons in the absence of a Teaching Elder. This would be the most consistent practice in the light of the Larger Catechism. Note that the Catechism refers to those who are called, and thus has in view only those who are ordained, or in preparation for ordination. The Session says, "In the Larger Catechism (Q&A 158) the question is asked, 'By whom is the Word of God to be preached?' and the answer is given, 'The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.' If this is strictly applied, then no ruling elder may teach in worship, nor may any ministerial candidate who is as yet unlicensed, nor any unordained or unlicensed professor of theology or biblical studies, etc. However, this passage clearly does not refer to the occasional speaker, but to the regular preaching ministry of the church."
On the surface of it, what the Session is pleading for is not latitude of interpretation, but the denial of the force of the statement. Our Catechism is clear that unauthorized people are not to preach, and that authorization depends on sufficient gifts and ecclesiastical calling. Women clearly are ineligible for ecclesiastical office, as Scripture tells us over and over again, and as our Constitution teaches. Furthermore, there is no "exception" clause in the Catechism: it does not say that "The Word of God is to be preached REGULARLY by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office"; it says that "The Word of God is to be preached ONLY by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office." Therefore, the Cedar Springs conclusion, that Larger Catechism Q/A 158 "clearly does not refer to the occasional speaker, but to the regular preaching ministry of the church," simply is without warrant. The language of the Catechism can admit of only one meaning.
[The Session also says:] "The subject is also addressed in the Directory of Worship (53-6) which states, 'No person [note, it does not say 'man'] should be invited to preach in any of the churches under our care without the consent of the Session.' There is nothing in either of these sections that would prevent an unordained man or woman from speaking on those occasions when a Session deems it helpful to the congregation and glorifying to God." As one examines the context of this paragraph of the Directory for Worship, the chapter from which this paragraph is taken is entitled "The Preaching of the Word" and the first paragraph speaks of this being the duty of the "minister." Thus the persons in view are "ministers of the word", not indiscriminate non-ordained persons.
Thirdly, we are most disturbed by the last paragraph of the Sessions letter, which reads, "You should know that we have invited a woman to be our plenary speaker for our 2001 World Missions Conference. We do not find that inconsistent with our Constitution, and hope that it is not in conflict with the actions taken by the Presbytery. So, we will labor on here at Cedar Springs. Pray for us, as we do for you, that when the Lord appears he will not find us too very interested in such matters, but passionately concerned with the proclamation of the Gospel and the extension of his Kingdom." It is our hope that the Presbytery will intervene in this matter, and require the Cedar Springs Church to comply with the PCA's position on this issue.
Now that the Session has set forth its position, the Presbytery of Western Carolina urges the Presbytery of Tennessee Valley to deal with this matter so as not to allow this issue to become divisive to our whole denomination. We recognize that it is always difficult to enter into disciplinary matters with our brethren. We are frankly disturbed that your Presbytery did not move more quickly, when it was called to your attention last Spring. It is our understanding that the tapes of Dr. Linda Eure's messages are available from the Cedar Springs Church.
For the peace and purity of the PCA, we urge you to handle this matter in the near future. We request that you inform us of your further actions regarding it.
Cordially in the bonds of peace,
The Presbytery of Western Carolina
Western Carolina, at its March and July meetings, voted without opposition to overture the General Assembly on the issue of female preaching, to address Tennessee Valley Presbytery regarding this concern, and to petition the Assembly to assume original jurisdiction over John Wood. According to informed sources, at the November stated meeting, there was opposition to taking this latest step, and about ten commissioners voted against the motion.