For its entire history the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) has operated on the standards of 1) the Word of God, 2) the confessions, and 3) the Church Order.
The CRC 1994 Synod decided on the basis of these standard is that the office of elder, minister and evangelist are open to qualified men only as clearly stated in Scripture and the Church Order. The rule of the Church Order is that decisions of synod are “settled and binding unless they are proved to be in conflict with the Word of God and the Church Order” (Article 29).
But Synod 1995 did not even bother to deal with the decision of 1994. It ignored it. It looked at it as a bothersome burr. It offered what it called a “compromise” by declaring that the word “male” could be “inoperative” for those who do not feel comfortable with it. The result is that the Church Order itself has become inoperative.
This synod also bypassed the “check and balance” provision of the Church Order which is the ratification process. It too has become “inoperative” on the women in office issue.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
COMPROMISE – OR BETRAYAL?
Very skillfully with no documentation from Scripture, Synod 1995 declared that 1) both views on women in office (closing the offices and opening the offices) are acceptable within our denomination; 2) the issue is not a confessional one; 3) it does not impact one’s salvation; therefore synod will compromise not by changing the Church Order Article 3, deleting the word “male” which is the only legal thing to do, but by issuing a “supplement” to Article 3 which allows a classis to declare the word “male,” stated in Article 3 as a requisite for office, to be “inoperative,” and, in cases where a classis will not declare the word”male” inoperative, a church within that classis may do so by itself. And further, in Recommendation 2c, synod defies all rules of simple logic by declaring that this solution “avoids the danger of congregationalism.” If this is not congregationalism, what is?
Is this a compromise? Certainly not. It is a BETRAYAL of the trust that conservatives in the CRC had in the integrity of synodical proceedings and the protection of a Church Order which clearly states: “Confessing male members of the church who meet the biblical requirements are eligible for the offices of minister, elder and evangelist” (Article 3a – violated by Synod 1995); “the decisions of the assemblies shall be considered settled and binding, unless it is proved that they conflict with the Word of God or the Church Order” (Article 29 – violated by Synod 1995); “a request for revision of a decision shall be submitted to the assembly which made the decision. Such request shall be honored only if sufficient and new grounds for reconsideration are presented” (Article 31 – violated by Synod 1995); “no substantial alterations shall be effected by synod in these matters unless the churches have had prior opportunity to consider the advisability of the proposed changes” (Article 47b – violated by Synod 1995); “this Church Order, having been adopted by common consent, shall be faithfully observed, and any revision thereof shall be made only by synod” (according to the above stipulations–editors) (Article 86 – violated by Synod 1995).
Ironically, the above “solution” of Synod 1995 to the issue of women in office (which was legally settled in 1994) was based on Overture 62 submitted to Synod 1995 by the Council of Woodlawn CRC (Grand Rapids, MI), signed by Ina De Moor, clerk (wife of Calvin Seminary Church Polity professor). In the Christian Courier, Mr. Bert Witvoet, reporter, states: “Dr. Henry De Moor, professor of church polity and church administration at Calvin Seminary, was the person who drafted the overture on women in ecclesiastical office that Woodlawn CRC sent to synod. This overture became the basis of the report that synod adopted and which allows a classis to declare the word ‘male’ in Church Order Article 3a to be inoperative.”
THE PERFECT SQUELCH
Not only has Synod 1995 betrayed the conservatives in the CRC who still operate according to commonly agreed upon rules, but it destroyed that recourse we would have had by way of the ratification procedure on this issue. By attaching the provision by which a classis or a congregation can declare the word “male” to be inoperative, to the Church Order Article 3a as a Supplement, rather than a Church Order change, they made it impossible for the conservatives to claim their right to ratify this supplement provision.
But what game are we playing here? Church Order Article 3a states: “Confessing male members of the church who meet the biblical requirements are eligible for the offices of minister, elder, and evangelist.” The newly adopted supplement states: “A classis may, in response to local needs and circumstances, declare that the word ‘male’ in Article 3a of the Church Order is inoperative, and authorize the churches under its jurisdiction to ordain and install women in the offices of elder, minister, and evangelist.”
Does this supplement enlarge upon or clarify what Article 3a of the Church Order says (as all other supplements do)? No, it CONTRADICTS what Church Order Article 3a says. Is there any precedent for this? Is there any justice here? Certainly such a devious maneuver as was engineered by Synod 1995 was not envisioned by those who failed to protect the supplement procedure by a ratification process. They could never have expected the broadest assembly of a church of Jesus Christ to violate its own rules and sanction its own contradictions.
The Majority Report of Synod 1995 on Women in Office sold its package on the basis of seven recommendations. Some of the content of those recommendations has already been critiqued; but allow us to reflect on a few more items.
Recommendation 3 places a number of strictures on women who serve as elders and ministers. But as several delegates observed, the 1995 decision is simply “a step in the right direction.” It does not satisfy the proponents of women in office, but everyone knows (the conservatives as well) that Synod 1995 simply opened the door to women in office, and in due time (probably a short time) most, if not all, of the strictures will be removed. The time may even come, sooner than we think, that women in office will be required of all congregations. Do not say this cannot happen. It has happened in other communions. We remember that in discussions prior to the CRC opening the door to women deacons, predictions were made concerning the inevitability of women becoming elders and ministers in the CRC, and the predictors were denounced and ridiculed for their “slippery slope mentality.” The rest is history.
Recommendation 3f prohibits synodical agencies from appointing women as ministers of the Word to any field of labor within their jurisdiction, and from seeking to have them installed by a local church.
We have two questions. First, if women in office is in fact a Biblical given as Synod 1995 insists (Recommendation 1a), then why shouldn’t agencies implement women ministers? This prohibition certainly could not be salve for the wounded feelings of conservatives. That was not a consideration in any of the other recommendations that were passed. Could it be that many of the bills of the agencies are paid by conservatives who oppose women in office and these funds might be jeopardized if agencies hired and installed women as ministers?
Second, does the word “agencies” include Calvin College, and also Calvin Seminary which will prepare women for the ordained ministry and recommend their candidacy? If not (and so it appears from Recommendation 3d), why not?
Recommendation 4 declares that this arrangement of Synod 1995 be “in effect until the year 2000 at which time it will be reviewed.” How can Synod 1995 expect this decision to hold when they themselves ruthlessly trampled on and brutally stamped out the Biblical stand (and there can only be one correct Biblical stand. The Bible does not speak with a forked tongue) of Synod 1994? What does the “settled and binding” clause of Article 29 mean in the CRC? Nothing.
As we look on the horizon and we see Classis Grand Rapids East circulating a document on homosexuality which is more liberal than any decadent mainline denominational stand in the United States (see The Outlook, June/95), and we hear feminine language for God being vigorously defended by CRC leaders in strategic places, and we read of shocking views on abortion and euthanasia being defended and promoted by CRC leaders (read Christian Faith, Health and Medical Practice put out by the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship), and we remember the slick and easy solution perpetrated bySynod 1995, it is not at all inconceivable that future CRC synods will simply declare as “inoperative” any restrictions the CRC may have at the present time on these sinful practices. The gasps of shock by Synod 1995 delegates to the speech of GKN (our mother church in the Netherlands) fraternal delegate Vessinga (to be printed in a future issue of The Outlook), could well change to nods of assent by future synodical delegates, to preserve the “unity of the church.”
How do we respond to the actions of Synod 1995? Last year we said guardedly that we had a “window of opportunity” and we used that title to cap our post-synod editorial. We saw a return to Biblical standards in the faith and order of the church. Today that window is boarded up. It is closed.
Deep grief has entered our hearts. Synod 1995 showed us that we cannot trust the leaders of the church to operate according to agreed upon regulations of Church Order. When law is no longer king, the majority becomes the law. When 51% can determine what is right and wrong, when 51% can disregard the law, the 49% are helpless.
Our independent brothers say, “We told you so. Why did it take you so long to see it?” Our response is that we had hope and trust in the integrity of the ecclesiastical process. But the Synod 1995 showed us that the integrity of the church court is not there anymore. Where do we go from here?
First, we thank God for the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). Its General Assembly heard from the fraternal delegate of the CRC what had happened at Synod 1995. They sent the following communication to the CRC:
We value the relationship we have with the CRC through NAPARC. It is our desire to continue in full fellowship with you. However, we are grieved and distressed over the action of the 1995 synod of the Christian Reformed Church to permit women to hold the offices of minister and elder. The action of the Christian Reformed Church is in contradiction to the clear teaching of Scripture and the historic presbyterian and reformed confessions of faith. Furthermore, we have instructed our Interchurch Relations Committee to use all due process afforded them in NAPARC to remove the Christian Reformed Church from membership in NAPARC if the Christian Reformed Church does not repent of and rescind the action at the Synod. We commend the sizable number in your midst who are working hard to see the CRC remain faithful to Scripture on this issue and pray for God to use this group to prevail at the 1996 synod. (adopted unanimously)
We deeply appreciate this statement from our brothers who have our best interest at heart. We are encouraged by this large Reformed body acting unanimously on our behalf. What they say, we say.
We are also encouraged by the positive statement to us “who are working hard to see the CRC remain faithful to Scripture on this issue and pray for God to use this group to prevail at the 1996 synod.”
Second, we must face the sad fact that there is serious and deep division in the CRC. We must face the Biblical question: “How can two walk together unless they be agreed?” It becomes impossible to walk together when trust is broken. Our editorial policy in The Outlook has been cooperative. We have tried to work together within the system. But this becomes impossible when betrayal and a collapse of ecclesiastical law occurs. The “law,” the Church Order with its “settled and binding” clause (Article 29), and its check and balance regulation for ratification (Article 47) has been our protection. But when these provisions are violated with impunity, where does that leave us? It leave us at the mercy of the 51%. How can we walk together if no law protects and unites us?
One keen analyst of this year’s synod put it this way: “We have only two options: TAKE IT or LEAVE IT. The CRC is not ‘headed in the wrong direction’; as of Synod 1995, IT IS ON THE WRONG COURSE. Our choice is no longer to change the CRC because Synod 1995 has locked the door on the conservatives and thrown away the key. The only choice is—how to get out. Basically there are only two options for every member of the CRC: TAKE IT (pay all the bills and watch the tragedy of the GKN be reenacted in the CRC) or LEAVE IT (the only questions being—how and with whom?).”
Our reaction to this statement is that there is much more truth than fiction here.
With permission we are printing a proposal adopted by the Escondido (CA) CRC which it will present to Classis California South. It says:
1) Believing that the Scripture prohibits the ordination of women to the offices of elder, minister and evangelist;
2) Convinced that Synod 1995 failed to follow the Scripture and violated Church Order articles 3, 31, 47 and 86;
3) Committed to preserving the biblical principles of our Church Order;
4) Devoted to maintaining the historic Reformed character of our churches, for example in rejecting ecclesiastical fellowship with denominations that permit and encourage homosexual practice; Classis California South, under Church Order article 44, invites all classes (as well as all councils and officebearers) who share our convictions to attend an assembly in November to formulate appropriate actions and responses to Synod1995. Classes, councils and individuals are encouraged to submit agenda items and motions to this assembly. The assembly will seek ways to:
1) protest and change the decisions of Synod1995 relative to women in ecclesiastical office and relative to its failure to break relations with the GKN despite their unbiblical approval of homosexual practice;
2) protect congregations which differ with their classis where women serve as officebearers;
3) seek to ensure that the historic Reformed commitments of our churches will be maintained in coming generations.
All decisions of this assembly will be presented to the classes represented at the assembly for approval for submission to Synod 1996.
Classis California South, if it approves this request, should appoint a committee on arrangements to see that the invitations are mailed out and that local arrangements and an agenda are prepared.
We laud the action of Escondido CRe and urge all like-minded members to unite at this time for the purpose of effecting a just and righteous solution to our present dilemma.
The letter of invitation will go to all classes and consistories. Individual officebearers will be welcome as voters even if their consistories or classes will not accept the invitation. Individuals of like mind who are interested but not officebearers, will be welcome as observers if there is room. The place of meeting has not yet been determined, but it will likely be in the midwest, but led under the auspices of Classis California South, or a consistory if California South classis does not accede to the request of the Escondido CRC.
It is our prayer that Jesus Christ who is the Lamb on Mount Zion will guide us in these matters. We fervently want a church for the coming generations which will stand for the truth without compromise. We must not capitulate to the culture or to a church that tries to adapt to the culture. We must be salt and light to address the culture in the name of our risen Lord!