Some time ago we reported concerning difficulties encountered by the Grand Rapids Baptist Academy with the Civil Rights Department of Michigan. The Academy was, apparently, being challenged regarding hiring procedures. They were, it was claimed, violating the civil rights laws by asking questions concerning the religious beliefs of the applicants for teaching positions in the school. That challenge has now been dropped. In a letter dated February 13, 1984, they quote the following statement from the legal office of the Civil Rights Department of Michigan: “This is to ‘confirm in writing’ that we have no complaint pending against the Academy at this time, nor do we plan to initiate any action.”
One must give thanks to God that this attempt failed. Yet one can easily anticipate that similar attempts will be made in the future.
I have noticed, and my attention has been called repeatedly to this, that a recent jury trial resulted in a conviction of a church because it had disciplined one of its members for the sin of fornication. I have read accounts of the trial and verdict in the Grand RapidsPress, New York Times, and Time magazine. Obviously, the decision has created a stir even in the secular press. From the N.Y. Times, March 15, 1984, the report is given:
Three elders of the Collinsville (Okla.) Church of Christ, accused in a $1.35 million suit of invading a woman’s privacy, branded her a fornicator “because the Scripture demanded it,” one of them testified here today.
The suit brought by Marian Guinn, 36 years old, accuses the suburban Tulsa church and the elders of causing her emotional harm by denouncing her in front of the congregation for having a love affair and ordering the congregation to shun her
. . . The elders said they counseled Mrs. Guinn about her relationship with a former Collinsville mayor, then advised her to stop seeing him.
When she continued, the elders said, they ordered her to repent, or they would reveal her “sin of fornication” to the church, as they said the Scriptures dictated.
When Mrs. Guinn, who is divorced, refused and wrote a letter resigning from the church, the elders denounced her love affair from the pulpit on Oct. 4, 1981, her suit contends.
An issue in Mrs. Guinn’s suit against the church and three elders, . . . , is not whether a church has the right to discipline members, but how far it can go.
Mr. Moody told the court today that the boundaries of church discipline are defined by Scripture alone.
In a later issue of the N.Y. Times, March 19, 1984, the jury’s verdict is reported:
… Twelve Tulsa jurors, only four of whom called themselves regular churchgoers, unanimously decided that Mrs. Guinn’s privacy had been invaded. They awarded her $205,000 actual and $185,000 punitive damages.
Jurors also said they never doubted that the elders had erred. Two jurors said the panel wished it could have awarded her damages for harassment. “He was single, she was single, and this is America,” said one juror….
One often wonders about the accuracy of reports of this nature in the press. Misquotes or quotes out of context can create a different impression on the reader than the facts warrant. However, the report is disturbing.
It is true that, according to the report, the censured woman had asked for dismissal from the churchbefore the announcement had been made concerning her fornication. The elders proceeded with censure, it appears, in spite of her “resignation.”
Still, the jury awarded a large sum of money for “actual and punitive damages.” This means that a jury has taken it upon itself to judge and condemn a church and its elders for Christian discipline, exercised according to their understanding of Scripture, on a woman who did not deny her guilt of fornication. The woman was voluntarily a member of the congregation and therefore bound to its rules and regulations—also with respect to Christian discipline. The procedure followed appears not that much dissimilar from that required in our own Church Order. The church did not beat her, tie her up, or harm her in other ways. They rather administered discipline according to Matthew 18—though admittedly they continued the process after the woman claimed to have resigned her membership.
One wonders what effect such a decision could have in the churches. Discipline is not practiced faithfully much any more today. But what of those churches who consider this still to be necessary as Scripture teaches? One wonders if now any censured person might bring lawsuits against any church which carries out its calling. One wonders even more when a decision seems to be based on the philosophy, “He was single, she was single, and this is America.”
The decision is one more sign of the direction in which this country goes. Though “separation between church and state” is a “religion” for the courts when churches are forbidden to interfere in any real or imagined way with state affairs, still the idea of “separation” is increasingly ignored when it comes to decisions of the state against practices within the churches. One can also expect more of this sort of activity in the future.
The local press has reported the installation of Marchiene Rienstra as pastor in the Hope Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. She had been Christian Reformed until the Synod of those churches refused to accept her candidacy into the ministry. Subsequently, she became pastor of the United Presbyterian Church of Port Sheldon (which grew from 10 to 70 families during her pastorate). Recently, she accepted the call to serve as first pastor at Hope Reformed.
One writer to the Banner stated:
This past Sunday afternoon I attended the installation service of the Reverend Marchiene Rienstra as the senior pastor of Hope Reformed Church (Holland, Mich.). As I was walking out, a member of Hope Church said to me, “You people in the CRC just keep sending us people like that—we think they’re great!” I wonder how long we will continue to do just that.
Reports of this installation were given in the G.R.Press (Mar. 10, 1984) and in the Holland Sentinel(February 3, 1984). I quote from the latter:
The Rev. Marchiene Rienstra will be installed Sunday as senior pastor of Hope Reformed Church, becoming the first woman ever to serve in that capacity in the Reformed Church in America (however, the Reformed Church has several other women ordained as ministers—one of whom is serving at Pine Rest Hospital—G.V.B.). . . .
Participants in the service were chosen to emphasize the importance of family, ecumenicity, the role of women and children in the church. Included are members of Rienstra’s family, representatives of other denominations, women in ministry and the children’s choirs’.
Presiding will be the Rev. Rick Van Haitsma of Beechwood Reformed Church, president of the Holland Classis. Also participating will be Rienstra’s father-in-law, the Rev. Richard Rienstra, pastor emeritus of the Christian Reformed Church. Her brother-in-law, the Rev. Andrew Rienstra, senior pastor of First Reformed Church of Pompton Plains, N.J., will deliver the sermon.
Another brother-in-law, the Rev. Leonard Vander Zee, co-pastor of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, will give the charge to the new pastor. Dr. Marion de Velder, pastor emeritus of Hope Church and former general secretary of RCA, will deliver the charge to the congregation.
Reading scripture will be the Rev. Gerard. Van Heest, chaplain of Hope College; Dr. John Francis, pastor of First United Methodist Church; Rabbi Phillip Sigal of Ahavas Israel, Grand Rapids; and Neva Evenhouse, Western Theological Seminary, senior who served an internship at Port Sheldon Presbyterian Church with Rienstra. Sister Joan Mary Williams, liturgist at St. Francis de Sales Church, will offer the intercessory prayer . . . .
The remarkable thing in the report is not the ordination of a woman into the office of ministry of the Word. This is increasingly being done today. Rather, what is startling is .the report of those who participated in the ceremony in the church. Truly, “ecumenism” was evident. One would conclude that error breeds errors.
One notes, first, the members of the clergy in the C.R.C. participated in the ceremony. Is this participation in ordination into the office of a woman in violation to their own ministerial vows? It seems to me that it is. Surely one ought not to take part in activities in other denominations which are forbidden in one’s own.
But even more disturbing is that a Rabbi and a Roman Catholic nun also participated. True, the Rabbi evidently only read Scripture—presumably the Old Testament. But can one have an unbeliever (for such are all those who deny Christ and His cross) take part in a church service dedicated to the glory of God? And this is done under the guise of practicing “ecumenism”? And a Roman Catholic Sister can offer “intercessory prayer”? One who is charged in the Heidelberg Catechism of “an accursed idolatry” in the celebration of the mass, can make intercessory prayer in this Reformed Church? What would Martin Luther or John Calvin have to say of this? I have no doubt about their judgment.
All this is indication of the wrongness of the path chosen—for error follows upon error til nothing of the truth remains.