In this article, C. Groenewegen of St. Petersburg, Florida, addresses himself to the question of whether or not women should be permitted to occupy church offices according to the Bible. The CRC Synod of 1973 received a report on this matter and referred it to the churches for study and reactions. Moreover, a new study committee was appointed to consider this matter further and also to receive and to evaluate the reactions of the churches. Individuals as well as consistories are to send their reactions no later than July 1974 to Rev. Henry Petersen, 611 E. First St., Pella, Iowa 50219.
Has God said: Women should be excluded from holding office in the Church as stated in the Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church? (Article 3)
Other special roles for women – First of all, let it be clear that we are speaking about the special offices of Minister, Elder and Deacon. We know that there are many and various functions in which women may reveal themselves as wonderful servants of the Lord for the coming of His glorious kingdom. Motherhood is very special (Psalm 127 and I Tim. 2:15). Can you think of a greater function or reward than the bearing and training of children for the Kingdom of Heaven? According to Titus 2:3, women must be “teachers of good things.” The Scriptures show that when we read of the prophetic songs of praise of Miriam, Hanna, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Anna. Women were the bringers of good tidings on Easter morning. A Samaritan woman was a very good missionary in her own town. Romans 16 tells us of Phoebe and others in whom most evidently the prophecy of Joel that our daughters and handmaidens will prophesy by the Holy Spirit was fulfilled.
So we may admit that we have not always had a proper conception of the function of women. Male and female were both created to be image-bearers of Christ, and their bodies the temples of the Holy Spirit. But, consider what the Word of God so clearly reveals about women in ecclesiastical office.
What the Bible says – In Genesis 3:16 God said to and of women: “Your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Though many things have changed over the years God’s order has not changed. Sarah called Abraham, Lord, and obeyed him (I Peter 3:6).
Great events took place when Christ came in the flesh. By His crucifixion, death, and resurrection the law was fulfilled and the ceremonial law abolished. In this new order “there can be no male and female; for ye all are one in Christ Jesus.” Yet nothing has changed in respect to the status of women in the offices of the church for the New Testament repeats the injunction: “Wives be in subjection to your own husbands'” (Eph. 5:22 and I Pet. 3:1). I Timothy 2:8–15 which speaks about the worship service teaches: “But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness.” I Timothy 3:2 declares that a bishop must be the husband of one wife, while it is never said that a teacher or elder of the church must be the wife of one husband. I Corinthians 11:3 states: “the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” I Corinthians 14:34 adds: “let the women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law.” So we see that the order of God from Genesis 3:16 is not time conditioned.
It ought to be clear from a11 these passages that this matter is more than a question of Church Order. It deals with the well–being of the church and concerns the concept of authority in church life as well as in the family, society, and government. Basic to this is the concept which we have of the authority of the Word of God. Whenever we open the wonderful Word of Light we must pray in awe: “Show me Thy ways, a Lord; teach me Thy paths. Lead me in Thy truth and leach me . . .” (Ps. 25:4, 5).
Crisis in Authority – The crisis in authority is sweeping the whole world. Communist countries abuse their authority, and thousands of people arc put to death to keep order. The so-called democratic countries are not exercising their God-given authority to execute judgment and discipline. The result is that those in authority have lost the respect of the people; criminals get away with murder and the crime rate increases rapidly. All this must end up in chaos; and democracy can easily become demon-crazy.
In our day, students demand seats on the board of education; teachers are telling parents to treat their teenagers as adults as if their children are way ahead of their parents in the school of experience. Some children in our Christian homes refuse to accept or submit to parental authority and inform their parents that they are their own masters. So, many teenagers leave their homes and would rather live in an apartment.
But what can we expect from a world in sin if we do not exercise discipline properly in our homes, churches, and schools?
History reveals that authority and discipline have often been misused to get rid of some, or many, who opposed evil. Evil men killed the prophets and stoned those which were sent to them. In our own day, in a time of permissiveness, false prophets are not disciplined, and an attempt is made to keep the youth in the church by entertainment rather than by teaching the Word of God and giving instruction in our Three Forms of Unity. Many parents and office-bearers are like old Eli who saw the wicked deeds of his sons but did not restrain them. But God killed him in his comfortable armchair on the same day that his sons died.
This concept of authority and acceptance of the entire Bible as the Word of God is at stake in our day. Witness what I have heard some women say who are outspoken in their disbelief of the Word of God. They say God does not exist, so He has not spoken. He has not set an order that the man shall rule over us. In answer to my question of whether we must obey authority so as not to end up in jail, they replied that they accept authority only by those for whom they have voluntarily voted. These arc in power not by God‘s order, since He doesn‘t exist, but by our vote. As human beings we are all equal and we do not accept any other authority in our home.
We must recognize that many church denominations, which are very liberal in doctrine, do not respect our Reformed heritage and have put women in the pulpit to preach and leach and also to serve as ruling elders. Their excuses are man–made contemporary social conditions which they use to explain away the truth of Scripture. Many of those leaders don‘t want to be called conservative but also take exception to being called liberal.
Try the Spirits – Now we must examine what our churches are confessing and professing about all this. We must refer again to Article 3 of our Church Order: “Confessing male members of the church who meet the Biblical requirements for office-bearers are eligible for office.”
Well, what is wrong with this?
The truth is that there are ordained ministers and others in our denomination who would like to delete the word “male” from this article in our Church Order. Synod of 1970 appointed a study committee to examine the Reformed practice of excluding women from ecclesiastical office. This committee reported to the Synod of 1973. You may find their report in the Acts of Synod of 1973, pages 514–594. We deeply appreciate the good intention of this committee when they state: “Neither old established traditions nor new modern concepts may be our guidelines in searching for the place that women should have in the church, but rather the revealed will of God.” But we must examine their report in the light of that revealed will of God as declared in all the years since the beginning in the Garden of Eden.
This Word of God teaches us to “try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). Now, does this text apply to us Reformed people? Certainly we must not be afraid of the harsh words of our Bible. As we know, Jesus rebuked Peter by saying that Satan himself was working in him to attempt to prevent Christ from going the way of obedience to the cross for our salvation. The devil works powerfully to attempt to get us and Church leaders to work for him. Satan was not ashamed to tempt our Lord Jesus and to try to get Him to kneel before him. How we then must be humble and pray: Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.
What the report teaches – Now let us sec what the report teaches and what it recommends. According to the report, much of Paul’s teaching in Scripture is conditioned by the culture of his time and was brought so as not to upset too greatly the prevailing norms and traditions. Paul was not a social revolutionary. A new life in Christ was his main concern (cf. pp. 541–542, 550).
We must object to this. On every page of his letters, Paul has proclaimed the Lordship of Christ over all of life!
On page 516 of the report the question is asked: “The Bible, having been written over hundred years, addresses itself to the people of different cultures. How much of this applies to the North American culture of 1973?”
And we can add to that, how much of this applies also to the culture of Nigeria, Japan, China, Siberia, Australia, and South America in 1974? The law of God is not time-conditioned. James 1:17 declares that with “the Father of lights” there “can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning.” All may change, but Jesus never. Glory to His name! Psalm 100 declares: “his truth endureth to all generations.”
On page 525 the report states: “God often accommodates His revelation to the cultural patterns of a certain time. This does not mean approval of such patterns.” We do agree but this is not true of Genesis 3:16 when time had just begun. God Himself set the pattern here. This is His way of doing things. We do not have to ask “why” but reverently hear and be obedient joyfully and willingly.
On page 539 the report states: “The status and role women enjoyed both in and outside of Israel does not seem to warrant the later reluctance of the church of the Reformation to allow women . . . in the ecclesiastical office.” But on page 545 the report states: “the book of Acts shows clearly the restoration of woman through Jesus Christ to the work of ministry, a trend which is continued in the epistles of the New Testament.” You see the inconsistency here. On the one hand it is said that the woman did not need to be restored for she had equal status, but on the other hand she must be restored.
On page 550 it is stated in explanation of Ephesians 5:22–24 and other such passages that “instead of accepting the social and practical consequences of this basic equality of man and wife, Paul tells them to be content with their present position of social inferiority and to submit to their husbands in everything. And then it is added: “We may undoubtedly assume that Paul’s ‘status-quo-ism’ is for the furtherance of the Gospel. Christianity must not be charged with bringing disorders. Undoubtedly, Paul had to take into account the social conditions prevailing in his days” and that is why the Scripture said: “wives be in subjection to your husbands.”
No discrimination – All of this argument on the part of the report leads to the proposition that we discriminate against women in not allowing them to serve in the special offices. We deny that this is discrimination. Not all men arc called either and they who are passed by cannot feel discriminated against. Those serving must be properly called and have the qualifications to serve. Those not serving, both men and women, may accept the challenges of the office of all believers which opens up a world of opportunities to be involved in the coming of the glorious kingdom of heaven.
The report concludes by stating: “We believe that also confessing female members of the church could meet the biblical requirements for office–bearers . . . The practice of excluding women from ecclesiastical office cannot conclusively be defended on biblical grounds” (p. 587).
What do you think of that in the light of the Holy Word? How shall we read the Bible? Must we have long reports telling us how to read the Word of God? I believe that this is at issue as many interpreters try to explain away the plain truth of God’s Word. But praise the Lord, His Word cannot be broken. Let us pray for one another that we do not fall into the great sin of adding to or taking away from the Word. Then our God is a consuming fire; and, according to the last words of the Bible, He shall bring upon us all the plagues that are written in this book. We must spend much time in prayer, that we all may be saved and come to the knowledge of salvation.
“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. . . . For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (I Pet. 3:8, 12).
We must be zealous for Christ and His Church to help prevent the church from falling away from the faith. Communications and reactions to the report are requested by a new committee working on this mattcr. Send yours to Rev. Henry Petersen, 611 E. 1st St., Pella, Iowa, 50219. This must be done no later than July of 1974.