Women in Ecclesiastical Office

In an 80-page report, a study committee gives its advice to Synod on the matter of “Women in Ecclesiastical Office.” The majority of the committee asks Synod to adopt the following: “The practice of excluding women from ecclesiastical office cannot conclusively be defended on biblical grounds. Rev. Peter M. Jonker does not agree with the report of the majority” (see Agenda for Synod 1973, pp. 380–460).

Rev. Rein Leesbna who writes on this matter is pastor the Lynwood Christian Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois.

The study committee appointed by the Synod of 1970 to study the place of women in ecclesiastical office will make its report and present recommendations to the Synod of 1973. The Agenda for Synod 1973 presents the report and recommendations of the committee together with a “Postscript” written by committee member Rev. Peter M. Jonker in which he explains why he cannot agree with the main conclusions and recommendations of the committee and why he is unable to sign the report. It seems to me most regrettable that Rev. Jonker did not file a formal minority report so that Synod would have no choice but to take up the cogent argument that he presents. I think that Synod would be well advised to consider Rev. Jonker’s “postscripts” as a minority report because that’s what it really is.

It would appear that this report comes to us in the usual fashion for these things. It has been a few years since the whole question of women in ecclesiastical office was raised in the Netherlands. It is fairly amazing how rapidly these questions cross the ocean these days and land on the table of our Synod. The gestation period for these seeds of thought seems to be about three years in the United States.

It strikes me strange that the church through the centuries has maintained a position which now suddenly is declared to be invalid. To say that the position of the church in the past was conditioned by the cultural patterns of the time and that there was no scriptural validity to the position is to make fools of our fathers at best and male chauvinists at worst. I don’t happen to believe that they were either.

It goes without saying that the question arises at our Synod at a most opportune time if you want to take the present cultural pattern of our day into consideration and make it to be the 6nal determination. The spirit of the day demands the new place for women in our society, and it would appear that anyone who would take a differing position at any point in the wide spectrum of human activity, just isn’t with it. Be that as it may, I would hazard the recommendation that the position taken by the study committee ought to be summarily rejected by Synod.

The report of the committee points up some very valid observations. That God created male and female both in His image, that they were called to serve Him in togetherness, that woman was created to complement man and to be a partner with him in the fulfilling of the cultural mandate, that there are instances in the Bible where women took positions of leadership and responsibility, that there are instances where women were sinfully reduced to mere possessions, that throughout history there has been more than enough abuse and violence perpetrated upon women and their place in society, that women possess gifts and talents that are and can be of much benefit to the church in the world—all these things are beyond dispute. Much more can be added. That women are stronger, last longer, etc.—all this is true.

The point, however, ought to be recognized that all these considerations do not determine the answer to the question for us. “As in all the churches of the saints, 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” (I Cor. 14:34). “But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over man, but to be in quietness” (I Tim. 2:12). “The bishop therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, . . .” These and associated texts which express the line set forth in the Scripture have been the basis for the position of the church throughout the centuries. The teaching of the Word is to determine the question for us.

It is most amazing to me how the committee can consider these texts and come to the conclusion that after all they don’t really say what they clearly seem to say, but in fact the conclusion is drawn that they say quite the opposite. Paul says, “Let women keep silence in the churches,” but that isn’t really what he’s saying. If you have the expert knowledge of the rabbinic teachings and the influence of this teaching under which Paul labored, and if you have expert knowledge of the cultural patterns of his day, and if you have the expert knowledge of the philosophy of the Gnostics and the influence that this had on the writing of the apostle Paul and how it influenced his thinking, and if you have expert knowledge of all such things—then you would know that the apostle doesn’t mean what he says at all. Fact is, then you would know that the message of the Word of God to us today is just the opposite of what it would seem to say.

If we follow this line of thinking and this method for the interpretation of Scripture, then we shall fall into the most destructive pathway imaginable where no ordinary Christian will be able to read and understand the Bible because he’s not expert enough to know all the cultural, philosophical, and emotional considerations which influenced the writers of the Bible. Then finally only the “experts” can tell us what the Bible really says. Even as the ecclesiastical heirarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in the time of the Reformation took the Bible out of the hands of ordinary people, so now we who are the children of the Reformation will take the Bible out of the hands of ordinary people by a heirarchy of “experts.” If we follow this line of procedure, the Bible will be taken out of the hands of ordinary people for all practical intents and purposes, and the clear message of the Word by the power of the Spirit will be lost. So much the more because I am sure that experts, being what they are, no two of them will agree. Then surely the ordinary people will throw their hands up in despair and say, “If they don’t know what the Bible says, and if they can’t agree on what it teaches, then what are we supposed to believe?” If we have to wait for the experts to clear away the dust and tell us what the Bible really says, then we are in deep trouble.

I’m sorry that I can’t buy the line of the “expert.” It would be much easier for me and for everyone else too. Also easier for the expert because then no ordinary man could possibly disagree with him. When 1 think of the implications of this pattern of procedure, I begin to shudder. God save us from the experts.