Rev. Kleyn is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
Two days after the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) celebrated its 150th anniversary, its synod voted to strike the word “male” from the church order requirement for officebearers. Church Order revisions require the majority vote of two synod meetings, and this decision ratifies the proposed change to the Church Order, adopted in 2006.
This decision comes as no surprise. For more than 30 years the CRC synod has wrestled back and forth over the issue of women in office. Already in 1973 the synod of the CRC received a report finding no biblical prohibition on women holding any and all church offices. Over the following two decades study committee after study committee brought reports to the annual synod, till finally in 1995 the synod gave classes and congregations permission to ordain women into all the offices under a system of local option. Before this year’s synod, 26 of the 47 classes—a majority—exercised this option.
Subsequent to this decision, the synod also made a decision opening the way for women to serve as delegates to its synod meetings.
Many in the CRC think this decision comes not a moment too soon. Carol Rottman, a founder of the Committee for Women formed in the 1970s, said, “This is the beginning of an opening I think is going to be monumental for the church.” Claudia Beversluis, provost of Calvin College, said, “I think next year’s Synod is going to look remarkably different. There will be women sitting at these tables and the synod will find out what they’ve been missing all these years.” Rev. George Vander Weit of Fuller Ave. CRC called it a “tremendous moment.” He said, “I’ve worked and prayed for this moment for years.” Karen Norris, a female candidate for the ministry in the CRC who has been searching for a position for more than a year said, “The next step now is for churches to own up to what was decided tonight and say ‘We’re willing to consider calling a female pastor.'”
Of course, not everyone was happy with this decision. Rev. Joel Nederhood, former director of the Back to God Hour, said “There will be many of us who will continue to believe those biblical requirements involve a gender component, and it is impossible for us to surrender that idea.”
The synod anticipated this too, and so, in an effort to keep the denomination together functionally, gave permission to those congregations and classes that are still opposed to women in office to register on their credentials to classis or synod their protest against seating women at the broader assemblies. This means that synod will be able to seat female delegates, but that some classes may still, because of a majority opposition in the classis, refuse to seat female delegates from particular congregations. Of course, this is simply a cushion and a temporary measure. Rev. Vander Weit says, “Let’s model the inclusion of men and women at synod and let’s have the classes look at us and say, ‘That’s the kind of unity we want.'” But, apparently, Nederhood and others are satisfied with this provision. Rev. Nederhood said, “The issue is the unity of the church of Jesus Christ. I think that decision goes far in enabling us to work in classes and the local churches together. What we have here is the kind of protection we must have.”
These decisions, very obviously, go against the will of God for the church in the Scriptures. The Scriptures state very plainly that women are not to hold the special offices of pastor, elder, or deacon in the church. The book of I Timothy was written by the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, to prescribe how things are to be done in the life of the church (I Tim. 3:15), and an important part of this is the place and behavior of women in the church. From I Timothy 2:11-12, “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence,” the Scripture’s prohibition of women in office is plain. This position is corroborated countless times in other parts of Scripture. Throughout Scripture the leadership roles in the life of God’s covenant people were consistently assigned to men (Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, etc.) In the Old Testament God assigned the special offices of the priesthood and kingship to the male members of the families of Aaron and David. In the New Testament Jesus called twelve men to be His first disciples and later the apostles. In Acts 6, seven men are chosen as the first deacons. The New Testament qualifications for all three offices can apply only to men—”husband of one wife” (I Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).
Allowing women to serve in the church offices is against the will and wisdom of God.
In evaluating the current decisions of the CRC, it is good that we look at the history of the CRC, the history that they also remember this year. From this we see two things.
First, this began much earlier than 30 years ago when the first report concerning women in office came to the synod of the CRC. For the 40 years prior to the 70s the CRC wrestled over the question of the authority and inspiration of Scripture, and in 1972 adopted “Report 44,” which declared, basically, that Scripture is true in its message of redemption through Christ but is not necessarily accurate in its statements regarding science and history. This added a human element to the Scriptures, and opened them up at every point to higher criticism—”Is this God’s word, or is it just something the author is saying from the limited viewpoint of his culture and place in history?”
Second, the struggle over the authority of Scripture began even earlier, in the controversies in the CRC of the 1910-20s over the doctrines of grace. Most of this stemmed from a desire to engage and identify with the American culture, and to make the preaching of the gospel more appealing to those without.
This year’s decision concerning women in office comes as no surprise. It reflects the direction of the CRC over the past 100 years, a sad history of departure, resisting first the doctrines of grace, and later the authority of Scripture, and capitulating at every point to the norms accepted in our American culture.
We can only wonder how much further the CRC will go. In our culture the push is for the tolerance and acceptance of homosexuals in every area of life. Will the next main item on the synodical agendas of the CRC be the opening of church offices to homosexuals?
These developments highlight the need among us for continued antithetical living and teaching which is faithful to God’s Word.
(Information for this article was drawn from the Grand Rapids Press, June 13, 2007, and the Synod 2007 news reports on the website of the CRC,www.crcna.org.)
As if to ratify its decision concerning women in church office, the CRC synod also, this year, appointed Mary Hulst, former pastor of Eastern Ave. CRC, to the fulltime position of assistant professor of preaching at Calvin Seminary. After her interview and confirmation, the synodical delegates rose to give her a standing ovation, and synodical president, Joel Boot, said “Tonight you taught us some things about preaching . . . and you taught us that you ought to teach that to others. Congratulations.”
The CRC web page reports (June 14, 2007),
During the interview she was asked if sermons have become a relic of the past. “There is nothing else that works the way preaching works,” she said. “Good preaching is changing the world . . . . That’s why I’m taking this job.” Asked where she gets the authority to preach, Hulst answered, “What right do I have to preach? Only the call God has given me and the gifting of the Word . . . . Our authority given comes from first submitting to the Word.”
These would be good and true statements if they came from the mouth of a male minister. Nothing does work as good preaching works. And no one has authority to preach, but from God and by submitting to His Word.
But, sadly, neither she, nor the CRC, is submitting to God’s Word in these decisions.
While the synod of the CRC, as well as the synod of the PRC, were meeting, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was also meeting, in Memphis, Tennessee.
The PCA is one of several more conservative Reformed and Presbyterian denominations wrestling with the controversial and heretical teachings of the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul. Previously, the General Assembly of the PCA appointed a study committee to analyze and bring back recommendations concerning the Federal Vision. The full 36-page report of the study committee can be found online atwww.byfaithonline.com.
From the online magazine of the PCA, “By Faith Alone” (June 14, 2007), we learn that the General Assembly adopted the following nine statements as “a faithful exposition of the Westminster Standards”:
1. The view that rejects the bi-covenantal structure of Scripture as represented in the Westminster Standards (i.e., views which do not merely take issue with the terminology, but the essence of the first/second covenant framework) is contrary to those Standards.
2. The view that an individual is “elect” by virtue of his membership in the visible church; and that this “election” includes justification, adoption and sanctification; but that this individual could lose his “election” if he forsakes the visible church, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
3. The view that Christ does not stand as a representative head whose perfect obedience and satisfaction is imputed to individuals who believe in him is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
4. The view that strikes the language of “merit” from our theological vocabulary so that the claim is made that Christ’s merits are not imputed to his people is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
5. The view that “union with Christ” renders imputation redundant because it subsumes all of Christ’s benefits (including justification) under this doctrinal heading is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
6. The view that water baptism effects a “covenantal union” with Christ through which each baptized person receives the saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, including regeneration, justification, and sanctification, thus creating a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
7. The view that one can be “united to Christ” and not receive all the benefits of Christ’s mediation, including perseverance, in that effectual union is contrary to the Westminster Standards. 8. The view that some can receive saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, such as regeneration and justification, and yet not persevere in those benefits is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
9. The view that justification is in any way based on our works, or that the so-called “final verdict of justification” is based on anything other than the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
This decision indicates a positive direction in the battle against these popular heretical teachings on justification. Strong and clear statements are made here against the Federal Vision and the New Perspective on Paul and, at the same time, the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith is stated and affirmed. Apart from the difference that we have with the PCA and the Westminster standards on the covenant of works, there is a sense in which these decisions, at least as to their purpose and weight, are something like the “Declaration of Principles” adopted by the PRC in the early 1950s. They should give direction and support to the churches in dealing with the heretical doctrines and their proponents.
There remains, however, one important question: Is there the necessary will in the PCA to exercise discipline over those who teach the heresy of justification by faith and works?
The General Assembly did “remind those ruling and teaching elders whose views are out of accord with our Standards of their obligation to make known to their courts any differences in their views,” and also reminded the Sessions and Presbyteries of the PCA that, following the Church Order “it is their duty ‘to exercise care over those subject to their authority’ and ‘to condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church.'”
Our hope and prayer is that they have the will to do this, for the sake of truth. If they do, they will be doing something that, as yet, none of the other conservative Reformed denominations dealing with Federal Vision have done.