Woman Suffrage in the Church II

In two former issues of Torch and Trumpet I have first endeavored to state the issues involved in this question, and secondly indicate certain Scripture passages which have direct or indirect bearing on the question at hand.

In this issue of our magazine I shall in the main reproduce the declaration adopted by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1953, and also indicate the action which the Christian Reformed synod of 1954 took regarding these declarations. In conclusion I shall state the advice of the committee reporting to the 1955 synod which met last June in Grand Rapids.

For reasons stated in the first article of this short series, the writer at this time aims to give no more than an objective statement of facts and findings.

Our synod of 1950, as noted in my second article, decided “to request the next Reformed Ecumenical Synod for advice regarding the matter of woman suffrage at congregational meetings.” The advice sought, so it was indicated, should embrace a study of the nature and authority of congregational meetings in our Reformed system of church government, and likewise an exegetical study of all Scripture passages which have a bearing on this question.

This request was noted upon by the 1953 Reformed Ecumenical Synod of Edinburgh.

The following declarations were presented to this body by its advisory committee regarding the request under discussion:

(a) That Scripture clearly teaches that, by virtue of the unity of man and woman in Christ, women no less than men share in the gifts, rights, and obligations which Christ had given to his church as a whole (Gal. 3:28; Acts 2:17, 18; Acts 1:4).

(b) That Scripture teaches with equal clarity that God has given to men and women a different place and task in life, and that the coming and work of Christ cannot and may not be considered to have abolished this difference, neither within congregational life nor outside of it (Gen. 2:18ff., I Cor. 11:2–16; 14:34–36; I Tim. 2:9–15; I Peter 3:1–5).

(c) That when the apostle Paul requires that woman shall refrain from certain utterances in the church of his days, I Corinthians 14:34 ff., and from teaching in the church, I Timothy 2:9 ff., he is addressing himself specifically to married women, in order to teach them that even in the congregation they should honor their God-given position with respect to their husbands (1 Cor. 14:34, 35; 1 Tim. 2:10–15 ); but that he does not thereby impose silence on women in all spiritual and ecclesiastical matters (1 Cor. 11:5; Rom. 16:1, 2; Phil. 4:3; cf. Acts 18:24–26; 21:9).

(d) That the participation of women in the election of office-holders is not only not forbidden in Scripture, but also by implication cannot be considered to be a violation of what is fitting and proper for women in their God-ordained status.

(e) That, therefore, whenever the right of voting is or will be given to the female members of the church, in order hereby to give expression to their liberty and independence as members of the church, this cannot be refused on Scriptural grounds.

(f) That when a church considers the question whether the right to vote should be given to women, it should, following the example of Paul (I Cor. 11:13), reckon seriously with local customs as to what may be considered to express most significantly both the unity of man and woman in Christ and the natural difference between them.

After hearing the report of the Advisory Committee—of which the proposed declarations were only the conclusionsProf. W. J. Snyman of South Africa, so the Acts tell us, moved that the “Synod receives the recommendation of the Report of Committee III and refers this to the different churches for their consideration and recommendations before final decision.”

The intent of this motion was that the various denominations comprising the Ecumenical Synod should give consideration to the report of the Synod’s advisory committee, before the Ecumenical Synod would take action on the declarations of the report. The acceptance of this motion would have meant that the 1953 Ecumenical Synod would refrain from taking action on the report and its advice, and that the following Ecumenical Synod would be expected to do so.

After some discussion the Snyman motion was withdrawn, and Synod decided “that the Report of Committee III be adopted and transmitted with the synod’s commendation to the favorable consideration of the constituent churches.”

This latter resolution, it will be noted, is not an outright acceptance and endorsement of the declarations quoted above. Not all members of the Ecumenical Synod were ready to go this far. What the synod adopted was really a compromise between the Snyman motion and outright and final acceptance of the proposed declarations. Synod adopted and transmitted the report, commending it “to the favorable consideration” of the denominations holding membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.

It should also be noted that the report and its advice cover only one part of the request of the Christian Reformed Church. Its synod of 1950 decided to ask the Reformed Ecumenical Synod for advice not merely “regarding the matter of woman suffrage at congregational meetings,” but asked for a study of the nature and authority of congregational meetings in our Reformed system of church government. It likewise asked for an exegetical study of all Scripture passages which have bearing on this question.

Now it will be noted that the declarations quoted above say nothing regarding the nature and authority of congregational meetings. Neither do they give us anything like a thorough exegetical study of relavent Scripture passages.



These facts were mentioned on the floor of the Ecumenical Synod, but for some unexpressed reason that synod limited its decisions to the one indicated above.

If I should he asked, Why do you think that the Ecumenical Synod neglected to enter upon that part of the request which refers to the nature and authority of congregational meetings?, then I think I would respond as follows: Our sister churches of The Netherlands, De Gereformeerde Kerken van Netherland, in the nature of the case are very influential at our Ecumenical Synods. This is easily to be understood. and for this we are grateful. Now it so happens that these churches had just the year before, in 1952, come to a settlement on the question of woman suffrage in their churches. deciding to permit it. For the brethren from Holland this question was really a closed issue, and they were perhaps not too eager to re-study and re-open the matter in this fashion. Moreover, and this is especially important, I think. the churches of The Netherlands have a different conception and practice regarding congregational meetings than we have.

With them these meetings are merely advisory. The question which faces us—now that the problem of woman suffrage at congregational meetings requires a definite answer on our part—as to the nature and authority of these meetings, is not a problem for them. Many, I am sure, do not see our problem. They do not see the import of this related question to our primary question of woman suffrage.

Then too, the question of woman suffrage is not urgent, so it seems, in South Africa. At least it is not pending. And the churches of Scotland have permitted their women to vote, so we were told, for the last 100 years. So we are the only constituent church which is presently and rather urgently interested in these matters.

I mention these matters not to excuse the Ecumenical Synod of Edinburg as to its failure to take proper action, but merely to explain it. I do feel that the Edinburgh should have acceded to the request of our Christian Reformed Synod of 1950. It should have appointed a strong study committee to do what our Synod of 1950 requested. Why not? Isn’t it exactly for matters such as these that we have instituted Ecumenical Synods?

The decision of the Ecumenical Synod of 1953 was presented to the 1954 synod of the Christian Reformed Church. And this synod appointed a committee to study this report and its resolutions. The brethren Leonard Greenway, William Haverkamp, Dewey Hoitenga, Martin Monsma, and Albert Sluis are the members of this committee.

This committee is presenting a brief report of its findings and judgment to our 1955 Synod. After some elucidating and introductory statements, the committee offers the following evaluation and recommendation to Synod:

Evaluation of the Report

1. The report which was adopted by the Ecumenical Synod says nothing about the nature and authority of congregational meetings. In this respect it fails to meet the request submitted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of 1950.

2. The report of the Ecumenical Synod does not present a detailed and convincing exegesis of the Scripture passages bearing on this matter.

To prove that the exegesis of relevant Scripture passages as found in the report of the Ecumenical Synod is neither detailed nor convincing, your committee calls attention to the following:

a) Without adequate proof this report contends in connection with I Corinthians 14 and I Timothy 2:9 ff. that “In all of this, the specific concern of the apostle is that the woman shall not deny or forget her position in marriage, where she must be in submission to her husband.” A study of many commentaries on these passages shows that there is by no means agreement among eminent expositors that this refers only to married women (See Calvin, Godet, Hodge, Meyer).

b ) The appeal in this report to the fact that the New Testament mentions women who did work in the church is not at all convincing in the matter before us.

c) Although the report tells us that one of the elements to be borne in mind is “the creational differentiation between man and woman,” this difference receives no serious consideration at all in the argumentation of the report. In this respect the report differs from previous reports on the subject such as: the 1930 Report Inzake Vrouwen Kiesrecht presented to the Synod of 1930 of the Gereformeerde Kerken in The Netherlands, our report of 1950, Rapport Deputaten Vrouwenkiesrecht presented to the Synod of 1952 of the Gereformeerde Kerken in The Netherlands. This failure to bring the matter of creational difference to bear on the subject in hand is a decided weakness in the report of the Ecumenical Synod.

2. The study of relevant Scripture passages is of supreme importance.

3. In this way Synod may hopefully expect definite recommendations.

This brings our presentation of the woman suffrage question for our church up-to-date.