Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Women in Church Office
It is no secret that the decision of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in 1990 to open the offices of minister and elder to women has caused no small stir in that denomination. We have deliberately, for a number of reasons, said very little about this in the Standard Bearer. Certainly we take no delight in the troubles currently plaguing the CRC. We believe the decision of the 1990 Synod, on women in office, to be in direct opposition to the clear teaching of the sacred Scriptures and our Reformed Confessions and Church Order. We are grieved to see the CRC going in this direction.
But this is also part of what is happening “all around us,” and our readers are interested in this issue as well. Reports of the Winter and Spring meetings from 41 of the 46 classes of the CRC indicate that these classes considered some 31 overtures from churches and individuals on this issue. All thirty-one overtures call for the Synod of 1991 to “revise, rescind, reconsider, or provide biblical proof” for the 1990 Synod’s decision to open all offices in the church to women. Thirteen of these overtures are being sent to the 1991 Synod with the approval of the various classes. Thirteen are being sent to the upcoming synod with the disapproval of the various classes. Three of the overtures were placed in classical study committees and two were tabled for discussion at a later meeting of the classis.
Among the stronger statements of opposition to the Synod of 1990 is that coming from Classis Illiana (South suburbs of Chicago and Northwest Indiana). This classis at its January meeting:
– adopted a statement opposing and repudiating Synod ’90’s decision which opened all ecclesiastical offices to women;
– adopted a communication to be sent to Synod ’91 expressing disapproval of the decision of Synod ’90;
– adopted an overture asking Synod ’91 to revise the decision of Synod ’90;
– adopted changes to the Rules of Procedure of Classis Illiana prohibiting women from being seated as delegates to classis, and adopted a rule that classis shall receive as synodical deputies only male office bearers in the CRC;
– adopted an overture asking Synod ’91 to appoint a committee to offer pastoral guidance to individuals and churches who become disgruntled parties in the aftermath of Synod ’92, whatever the outcome of the vote on ratification of the Church Order.
The thrust of the overtures and statements from this classis is that the decision to open all church offices to women conflicts with Scripture and with the Belgic Confession Article 30 which says that only “faithful men” should be elected to be office bearers in the church. The classis also argues that the Synod offered no convincing or compelling reasons, biblical or otherwise, for making this change in the Church Order. The majority of the churches in this classis sees this decision as divisive and harmful to the well-being of the denomination.
The councils of fifteen of the twenty-two churches in the classis have adopted statements declaring their opposition to the decision of the ’90 Synod.
Classis Niagara rejected two overtures to repudiate the 1990 decision and to dismiss all the denominational officers who approve of women in office. Several congregations in this classis declared that their pulpits would be closed to women and that withdrawal from the denomination would be a serious option.
In addition, there have been several independent congregations formed partly as a result of their opposition to the ’90 Synod’s decision. A number of families and individuals have also left various CRC congregations over this issue and joined other Reformed denominations.
Gays and the Church
This issue too continues to plague several denominations. In spite of the clear teaching of Holy Scripture, especially in Romans 1 but also elsewhere, churches continue to discuss and compromise on this issue.
A United Methodist Church’s study committee recently voted 17 to 4 to recommend that the church’s 18-year-old statement, which says the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” be changed. It wants the statement to say that the church is “unable to arrive at a common mind” on the subject. The report acknowledged some support within the church for the current policy, but said others believe homosexuality is acceptable “when practiced in a context of human caring and covenantal faithfulness.” A minority of the study committee maintains that the present statement against homosexuality is correct. The report will be considered by the 1992 general conference, the denomination’s highest policy making body.
The study committee report of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which report advocates the ordination of homosexuals and blesses sexual relations outside of marriage (a report we commented on in an earlier issue of the Standard Bearer), is meeting a good bit of opposition from both clergy and lay members of that denomination. Both conservatives and liberals who have never worked together on church issues gathered at Hilton Head, SC over the March2 weekend to share their objections to the report and to find ways to blunt its impact. One pastor said that “his members were no longer apathetic, they were angry. And that anger is turning into concern for the welfare of the church.”
Closer to home, we have learned that Ring’s College in Edmonton, Alberta recently fired a faculty member when his homosexuality became public knowledge. This is one thing! The other is that the ousted professor has the support of several of the faculty as well as of his church, Fellowship CRC in Edmonton.
A faculty member of the Institute For Christian Studies in Toronto recently participated in a conference at McMaster University. The question dealt with at the conference was “Can the homosexual be our neighbor?” The professor is quoted as saying: “Tonight I argue that a careful reading of Scripture may teach us that the Bible cautions us against discrimination…. Churches claiming that sexually active lesbians and gays cannot be fully neighbors may not be churches true to the Bible.” Note the language of these statements. It is typical of what comes from those who want to make the Scriptures say something other than what they in fact say: “a careful reading of Scripture may teach us”; “the Bible cautions us against discrimination”; and “may not be churches true to the Bible.”