We should not be deceived by the “softsell” approach of the Neland Avenue overture. The “nuts and bolts” of the overture asks for a change in Church Order Article 3a to open the offices of minister and elder to women—nothing new. To soften the impact of this decision on the conservatives in the church, the overture offers classical and synodical option to ban women delegates to the meetings of these bodies. But there are limits: the ban is to be for only three years. It may be renewed, BUT if a body (classis or synod) 1) fails to initially adopt a ban, then a ban cannot be adopted later; 2) if a ban is allowed to lapse (even if inadvertently), it can never be renewed. These are the terms of the “truce” which Neland Avenue CRC and now Classis Grand Rapids East is offering the church. But if this is adopted, who has won the war? It’s only a matter of time before a synod fails to initiate or renew the ban, or classes one by one fail to initiate the ban or forget to renew it, and women in office will be intact denomination-wide.
Not only are the limits attached to this overture unacceptable, but the overture itself is completely flawed: 1) it seeks to negotiate a Scriptural matter without the use of Scriptural grounds; 2) it fails to recognize the fact that Synod 1994 settled the matter after twenty plus years, and it is finished. If the pushers for women in office are not satisfied to live with last year’s decision (which is in accord with the Scriptures, with the practice of the CRC its entire history, and with Christendom the past 2000 years), there are other options for them. There are other church fellowships which will welcome them. Why should they be allowed to destroy the rest of us?
We want to respond to the statement of Dr. Clayton Libolt that the idea of ratification “has sort of snuck in by the back door” and “that is nowhere in the Church Order.”
We point our readers to the Manual of Christian Reformed Church Government (1987 Revision by William P. Brink and Richard R. De Ridder), Article 47, 1b (p. 228): “Synod decided in 1979 ‘that Church Order Article 47 implies that whenever changes in the Creeds and/or substantial changes in the Church Order are made by synod, the churches shall be given adequate opportunity to consider the advisability of the changes before they are ratified by a following synod’ (Acts of Synod 1979, p. 90). It should be noted that the decision of synod applies to substantial changes and not to minor changes which do not radically affect either the principle expressed in the article or its application to the life of the church.” Note particularly the use of the word “ratified.” Note also the use of the words, “substantial changes.” Of the 88 incidents tracked by Classis Lake Erie, most, if not all, of the changes made without ratification were on minor matters. One could not possibly conceive of the women in office issue falling into that category.
We call further attention to the Church Order Rules for Synodical Procedure which was prepared by the office of the general secretary of the CRC in North America. It “incorporates the revisions adopted/ratified by the Synod of 1990.” It includes the following clarification of Article 47 (p. 52): “1.) A substantial alteration is defined as ‘any alteration which changes the essential (or actual) meaning of the creeds and/or the articles of the Church Order…’; 2.) Prior opportunity to consider the proposed change(s) by the churches is defined as ‘the time between the adoption of the proposed change by one synod and its ratification by a following synod.’”
The process of “ratification” is very clearly stated in these documents contrary to Dr. Libolt’s claims. Further, the integrity and credibility of the synodical assembly would be seriously jeopardized by the adoption by Synod 1995 of the Classis Lake Erie overture regarding Article 47. If adopted, Church Order changes would (even those of major “substantial” proportions) “sneak in the back door.” For example. the church, having been settled by the decision of 1994, would suddenly be informed, post Synod 1995, that “tables were turned” on the women in office issue and the Church Order had been irreversibly changed. What a betrayal that would be! No.2 quoted in the above paragraph clearly requires a year notification of any impending change (and that for good reason) and the adoption of the overture from Classis Lake Erie would wipe that out. Beware of the Lake Erie proposal to change Article 47.