Church & World November 1996


In two unconnected votes, Bethany CRC in the Chicago suburb of South Holland, Illinois, and Franklin Lakes CRC in New Jersey have both seceded from the denomination. In Bethany, South Holland, only 14 of over a hundred votes cast indicated a desire to remain in the Christian Reformed denomination, and a subsequent vote to retain the council members as officers of the new independent church gathered only five negative votes. In Franklin Lakes, the vote to secede was nearly unanimous. Both votes cited the CRC’s decision to ordain women to all offices of the church as the reason for leaving.

United Reformed News Service


In ordaining the 26-year-old Mary Antorudes as its pastor, Eastern Avenue CRC selected a candidate who will be at once its youngest pastor and the first female pastor in its 117-year history. The September 29 event brought out so many newspaper and television reporters that the church had to assign a cloak room with a view of the sanctuary for the photographers and camera crews to set up their equipment. In addition to Antonides, guests at the ceremony included the recently-ordained Rev. Ruth Hofman of First Toronto CRC and Mary-Lee Bouma, who was just denied ordination by Classis Northern Michigan. Rev. Menzo Dornbush, the CRC’s oldest living minister, assisted in the ceremony and Representative Vernon Ehlers flew in from Washington for the event.

United Reformed News Service


The praise band, overhead projection song sheets, children’s sermon, congregation filing up to receive communion, and adult sermon including a critique of pluralism along with a clear call to repentance and belief in Christ as the only hope of salvation would have fit in at most evangelical churches. What made the August 24 ordination and August 25 communion service at First Toronto CRC different was that the preacher was the CRC’s first woman minister, the newly-ordained Rev. Ruth Hofman. Traditional Christian Reformed members might also have been surprised by Hofman’s white liturgical alb—as was one child coming up for the children’s sermon who amused the congregation by telling Hofman that it made her “look a little scary.” Others might have had a different response seeing men returning from the Lord’s Table wearing T-shirts proclaiming the name of AWARE—the CRC’s unofficial homosexual support group.

United Reformed News Service


Synod 1996 allowed churches to transfer between classes for reasons other than geography, a compromise intended to allow conservative churches opposed to women in office to leave classes which voted to allow women to be ordained within their boundaries. Classis Northern Michigan has already given its blessing to Trinity CRC in Mt. Pleasant to seek affiliation with another classis to ordain its female pastor. However, in the first test case of a church opposing women in office, Classis Hudson has declined to ask synod to admit Terra Ceia (NC) CRC. Terra Ceia’s current classis, Classis Hackensack, was one of the earliest classes to vote to allow the ordination of women within its boundaries and had already voted to overture synod to grant Terra Ceia’s request to transfer to classis Hudson.

United Reformed News Service


(October 9, 1996) URNS – In an almost unprecedented action, Classis Hudson has voted to refuse to seat one of its ministerial members without first beginning church discipline procedures. The offense, according to the classis, was that the New Jersey minister stated in an interview with United Reformed News Service that he intended to leave the Christian Reformed denomination. Within minutes of convening on September 25 at Flanders Valley (NJ) CRC Rev. Harvey Stob of Ridgewood (NJ) CRC moved “that Rev. Casey Freswick of Newton not be seated because of ‘schismatic activities and statements.’” The classis minutes also note that “a document is quoted in which Rev. Freswick calls for his church to leave the denomination” and that after the motion carried, both Freswick and his elder delegate, Pete Teune, left the meeting.

Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer United Reformed News Service


On October 1, 1996, at the Lynwood Christian Reformed Church Independent, the congregations that had joined together as The Fellowship of Uniting Reformed Churches in North America in November of 1995, decided, with an almost unanimous vote, to organize as The United Reformed Churches in North America.

It was an occasion of historic significance. Eighty-two delegates from thirty-six congregations, with observers from an additional nine congregations present, voted to come together in a new permanent ecclesiastical federation. It was done in a spirit of cooperation and determination. A wonderful spirit of fraternal working together prevailed, and there was no acrimonious debate.

Rev. Edward J. Knott was chosen as president, Rev. Ralph Pontier as vice-president. and Rev. Jerome Julien as clerk. A welcome was extended to fraternal delegates from the Canadian Reformed Church, the Reformed Church in the United States, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly, who also addressed the assembly.

The first item of substantial business was the choosing of the name and the formation of the federation. A consideration of the proposed church order followed. A church order had been adopted by the Alliance in November of 1995, and the Uniting Churches had requested Dr, Nelson Kloosterman, Rev. J. Ganger and Rev. J. Julien to continue to receive comments and suggestions of the congregations with respect to this church order. Changes had been made, and the committee had sent copies of their recommended church order to the churches. Additional overtures were considered by the meeting and some minor changes were made, but it was adopted substantially as proposed. Additional recommendations of the committee with respect to liturgical forms (as found in the 1976 Centennial Edition of the Psalter Hymnal) were adopted, as well as procedures for licensure exams, candidacy exams and ordination exams. This discussion was conducted in a good spirit, and although additional recommendations will be coming from the churches to the next synod, there was satisfaction in the work accomplished.

It was decided in response to two overtures, to apply for membership in the International Council of Reformed Churches (an internation body which meets every four years), and to address the Inter-Classical Conference (South Holland) in the form of a fraternal letter.

The churches were divided into three classical groupings: Western Canada, Eastern Canada and the United States. Classical meetings will be arranged by a designated congregation in each area.

The structure of the new federation was also considered. From the beginning of our discussions about a new federation it was felt that it should be an incorporated body. Considerable preparatory work had been done by the committees from the original three convening councils (Beverly, Lethbridge and Wellandport); attorneys had been consulted both in Canada and the United States, but no final satisfactory conclusion with respect to this matter had been reached. Because of previous experiences in a larger, increasingly centralized denomination, the consensus was that care must be taken to prevent this from occurring again. The discussion about this matter was important and helpful and the committees were requested to continue working on the matter and come with recommendations to the classical meetings and to the next synodical gathering. Acknowledgment must be made of the work of the committee of Beverly Church: Revs. Arthur Besteman and Edward Knott, and elder Gerald Rozema for the preparatory work done for this first synod meeting, especially that of Rev. Besteman who functioned as Acting Clerk for the Uniting Churches. This is deeply appreciated.

Each congregation was urged to contribute a certain amount per family for the expenses that have been incurred. One church in Canada and one in the United States was designated to receive and disburse these funds.

It was also decided to meet next year in October, in St. Catherines, Ontario. This first synod was an eventful meeting. The blessing of God was abundantly evident. The experience of fellowship and of mutual respect and love was clearly felt. A sense of moving forward together knit all the delegates and observers together. This was expressed in word and song on Tuespay evening in an inspirational meeting when, with an almost completely filled church, the delegates and observers and visitors joined together to hear a moving and confirming address by Dr. Nelson Kloosterman, an experience not to be soon forgotten. All praise to our faithful heavenly Father!


KINCHELOE, Mich. (September 30, 1996) URNS – Before deciding to prepare for the ministry herself, Mary-Lee Bouma used to tell women seminarians that they were sinning by preparing for ordination.

Classis Northern Michigan didn’t quite tell Bouma that she was sinning by accepting a call to pastor Trinity Christian Reformed Church of Mt. Pleasant, but it won’t be ordaining her. Meeting September 24 in the Upper Peninsula hamlet of Kincheloe, classis voted by an 18–13 margin not to exercise the option given to it by Synod 1995 to declare the word “male” in the denominational church order to be inoperative. As a result, Bouma cannot be ordained in any church of the classis.

While Bouma is free to accept a call to any church in the fourteen classes that have voted to allow women in office, she probably won’t be doing so. In a subsequent vote, the classis also voted to grant the church its blessings if it desired to join a classis which allows the ordination of women. That decision places Mary-Lee Bouma in the ironic position of having to seek ordination through an option Originally designed for conservatives seeking to escape classes which allow the ordination of women.

When Synod 1995 voted to allow each of the CRC’s 46 classes to make its own decision on the ordination of women, it may have made something like the Bowna case inevitable. Located on the campus of Central Michigan University, Trinity CRC of Mt. Pleasant bears few similarities to the rural farm churches that dominate the classis. Even some of the speeches by ministers advocating Bouma’s ordination were followed by fiery speeches from the elders of their own churches opposing women in office. The final vote—by an even wider margin than the 17–15 vote on the same question last March—made clear that a classis of rural northern Michigan farmers didn’t want to make an exception for a struggling campus ministry.

For the first time since being called two years ago as the unordained pastor of Trinity CRC, Bouma took the floor of classis to express her views on the ordination of women, noting that she once shared the view of most delegates thatthe Bible prohibits women’s ordination. “My women friends who were going off to seminary, I would sit them down and tell them they are in sin,” said Bouma. “They would smile at me and tell me I need to study what the Bible says; I said I don’t need to study the Bible, I know what the Bible says.”

Pointing to six pages of overtures from her church, Bouma reminded the delegates that she affirms Scriptural inerrancy and urged the classis to view the church’s defense of women in office not as an attempt to convince the delegates to change their position on women in office or Scriptural authority. Instead, Bouma said, the classis should evaluate whether the church had made a Scripturally-responsible presentation of a position with which the church realized many of the classical delegates would disagree.

Trinity CRC’s defense of women in office was markedly different from that currently used in the CRC. Never mentioning Galatians 3:28 or an “overall sweep and general thrust” of Scripture, the overture instead focused on a detailed exegesis of I Corinthians 11, I Corinthians 14, and I Timothy 2 along with briefer citations of other passages which the church says “refer to women as ministers or workers in the gospel ministry using the same language in the Greek which is used for the men.” According to the overture, the passages usually cited to oppose the ordination of women “do not forbid women’s ordination or even refer to ordained ministry” because “in the New Testament, ministry is defined as service and not primarily as authority.” Since women in the New Testament taught and ordination is not primarily authoritative, reasoned Trinity CRC, the Scriptural prohibitions on women teaching or having authority over men have more to do with prohibiting authoritative domineering than with prohibiting humble service by women.

“We ask you to make room for us, just to make room for us,” said Bouma. “We don’t believe it’s a salvation issue, we do think it’s an important issue, but we think that we can live together in the same classis.”

While new, the Trinity CRC argument didn’t persuade the classis.

“I try to work together as best I can with people of all different perspectives, but there comes a time when you have to say, ‘Where do you draw the line and say you will not compromise the Scripture?’” asked Rev. Merlin Buwalda of Lake City CRC, noting that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council were already drawing that line in places that appeared to exclude the CRC.

Buwalda also noted that the CRC has lost 24,000 members since 1992, over seventy percent of the decline due to secessions by those opposing women in office. “The likelihood of us losing a significant number of more churches is very real,” said Buwalda. “I’ve been a fan of ‘400,000 by 2000,’ but you don’t hear Home Missions saying that anymore.We’re more likely to lose forty thousand members by the year 2000.”

Rev. Ken Nydam of Cadillac CRC didn’t share Buwalda’s concerns. “The Reformed tradition finds itself very nicely between evangelical fundamentalism and Protestant liberalism,” said Nydam. “I’m not concerned about losing the many people who may leave our denomination over women in office because that is evangelical fundamentalism. That is not a Reformed position and we should not worry about losing people who do not hold a Reformed position.”

After classis rejected Trinity CRC’s overture to declare the word “male” inoperative, it moved to a second overture seeking to allow the local church to ordain Bouma with the assistance of the classis but without declaring the word “male” inoperative. Included in the overture was a section noting that “some have suggested that we petition Classis Lake Erie to join it” but stating that “we do not wish to do that.” After debate, classis declined to pass either of the Trinity CRC overtures but instead voted to declare “that Trinity Mt. Pleasant, with regret, be given permission to explore the possibility of leaving this classis to associate with another.” The motion, originally proposed by supporters of women in office, was amended on the floor by opponents of women in office in an effort to take the “edge” off a motion which some delegates feared would send a wrong signal to Trinity CRC. In the end, both supporters and opponents of women in office concurred that leaving the classis was probably the only solution that would satisfy both sides as well as the local church.

While Trinity CRC’s overture and floor debate made clear that the church didn’t want to leave Classis Northern Michigan, Bouma confirmed in a subsequent interview that the church was now looking into that as its only remaining option.

“We asked them what in the world do you want us to do; we are stuck,” said Bouma.

“We’re looking at this point at talking to a couple of different classes and seeing who might be hospitable to us, and we have the unique opportunity to seek out a classis,” said Bouma. “It feels like our classis has said they don’t want us.”

The pastor of Escondido (CA) CRC, which submitted the overture which led to the synodical decision to allow churches to transfer between classes, wasn’t much more pleased than Bouma with the vote in Classis Northern Michigan—although he did express hope that the decision would set a clear precedent allowing conservatives to do the same thing.

“I guess we expected that, it didn’t take them too long; hopefully other conservative congregations in liberal classes will be able to do the same thing,” said Cammenga. “But it still doesn’t solve the real problem; we are in a denomination that has played fast and loose with the church order and with the Word of God, and that means we are responsible whether we are in a conservative classis or not.”

While Trinity CRC might also seek affiliation with one of several other classes which have voted to allow the ordination of women, the one most frequently mentioned is Classis Lake Erie, whose Saginaw church is closer to Trinity CRC than any church in Classis Northern Michigan.

Pastor George Vander Weit, stated clerk of Ciassis Lake Erie, didn’t mind the possibility of picking up another church but wasn’t very happy at the reasons behind it.

“I’m not real pleased that churches will start moving from one classis to another. I think it gives a terrible testimony to the inability of Christians to live together,” said Vander Weit. “If synod can declare that any congregation may have a woman elder as long as that elder does not attend classis meetings, certainly Northern Michigan could have declared that Mt. Pleasant could have a woman pastor as long as she did not attend classis meetings.”

Vander Weit also noted that the classical decision came only a few days before the annual day of prayer for the persecuted church. “The conservatives in the denomination have expressed the fear that in the future the progressives will force their will on them and insist that they have women officebearers, but in the present they seem to have no difficulty forcing their will on fellow Christians,” said Vander Weit.

Classis Northern Michigan’s vote to grant its blessing to a transfer of Trinity CRC to another classis clearly didn’t please anyone in the short term. However, if other classes do the same with conservative churches opposed to women in office, classis transfer may end up being the compromise that nobody likes but most can tolerate.

Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer United Reformed News Service