Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

Action and Reaction to the “Women in Ofiice” Issue

Both action and re-action were responses by various Classes of the Christian Reformed Church to the decision of last June by their Synod to the women in office issue. That Synod, as reported earlier, reversed the position of the Synod of 1994. In 1994 the Synod had declared unequivocally but hardly unanimously that women could not serve in positions of leadership in the CRC. Specifically, they could not be elders or ministers in the denomination. Solid grounds were given from Scripture and the Church Order.

Then in 1995, without any attempt to treat the earlier decision in harmony with the requirements of their Church Order, the Synod decided on a “compromise”: those classes or churches which felt compelled to install women as elders or ministers could declare the Church Order “inoperative” with respect to this issue. The Church Order was not changed (that would have required another year’s wait), but a footnote was added which was in flat contradiction to the article itself.

It did not take long for various Classes to act. TheGrand Rapids Press, September 22, 1995, had the headline on the front page: “2 CRC classes give women go-ahead to be ministers.” The article states in part:

For the first time in the Christian Reformed Church’s 13%year history, CRC churches in Grand Rapids and Holland have officially allowed women to serve as ministers in their congregations. 

Action taken Thursday by two classes, or regional groups of churches, will enable churches in those groups to ordain women as pastors and send women as delegates to classis meetings.

In Classis Grand Rapids East, the unanimous vote passed quickly and without a word of discussion – which pro-women advocates felt was appropriate. 

“There was something wonderful about the fact that it passed so simply and easily,” said Mary Antonides, who is already functioning as an unordained pastor at Eastern Avenue CRC. “It’s all been said at this point. It’s good to say, ‘Let’s move on.'” 

Immediately after the vote, two women elders were recognized as delegates among the 30-member classis…. 

In Classis Holland, however, some argued against dropping the CRC Church Order requirement that only males may serve a5 pastors, elders and delegates to classis meetings. The measure passed there by a slim 29-25. 

“Are we making room for myself and others who don’t agree?” asked the Rev. Ron De Young of Hamilton CRC. 

After the vote, delegates made appeals to be sensitive to those who disagreed. They also recommended a letter be sent to each classis church detailing the action’s implications….

Classis Pacific Northwest last week became the first CRC region to make the choice for women ministers. Other classes expected to follow suit soon include Lake Erie and Toronto….

“This issue was de facto resolved by this classis (Grand Rapids East—GVB) years ago,” said the Rev. Scott Hoezee, who presided over the meeting. 

He predicted more women delegates would join the 15-church classis this year, adding, “It feels good to finally start looking like the church.”

Strange indeed! After nearly 2000 years of church history, the CRC Classis Grand Rapids East finally “looks like the church!” Ironic, too, is the fact that Eastern Ave. CRC has been in the forefront of the movement to force this action upon the churches. It was from this same church that the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema was cast out by action of the Synod of 1924 and subsequent action of Classis Grand Rapids East.

Opposition also appears to be growing against the action of a Synod which no longer regards its own rules as binding. Classis California South, after a very contentious special classis’ meeting on August 26, 1995, decided narrowly to call all the churches and classes of the CRC to a meeting to discuss the course of action which must be taken in light of the recent Synodical decision. Rev. John Berends, classis’ president, had ruled the overture to hold such a meeting to be out of order. He based his ruling on advice he received from the board of trustees of the CRC and from Dr. Henry De Moor, professor of church polity at Calvin Seminary. He had asked them to review the overture and send him “an official ruling or finding as to its admissibility or legality.” Their advice was that the overture violated the CRC Church Order, Article 44! Strong opinions were spoken both for and against the ruling of the chair. One, Rev. Randy Lankheet, objected, according to the report from Darrell Todd Maurina:

“We are increasingly having chairmen of the day call Grand Rapids, get opinions from the board of trustees, and not discuss or deliberate,” said Lankheet, noting that a representative was present at the meeting from the denominational board of trustees. 

“Next time you’re going to be chair, and you see something on the agenda that you don’t like, so will you call Grand Rapids and say, ‘Can you give me six points to rule this out of order so that I can get out on time to go to my church picnic?'” Lankheet asked the assembled delegates. “We need to prevent chairmen of the day from doing these things.”

The chair was overruled by a 9 to 7 margin and the overture was treated and, in its essence, adopted. The following invitation has been sent to the churches:

1. Believing that the Scripture prohibits the ordination of women to the offices of elder, minister, and evangelist; 

2. Convinced that Synod 1995 failed to follow the Scripture and violated Church Order Articles 3, 31, 47, and 86; 

3. Committed to preserving the biblical principles of our Church Order; 

4. Devoted to maintaining the historic Reformed character of our churches, for example in rejecting ecclesiastical fellowship with denominations that permit and encourage homosexual practice;

Classis California South invites all classes (as well as all councils and officebearers) who share our convictions to attend a conference in November to formulate appropriate actions and responses to Synod 1995. Classes, councils, and officebearers are encouraged to submit agenda items and motions to this conference. The conference will seek ways to:

1. Address the decisions of Synod 1995 relative to women in ecclesiastical office and relative to its failure to break relations with the GKN despite their unbiblical approval of homosexual practice; 

2. Protect congregations which differ with their classis where women serve as officebearers; 

3. Seek to ensure that the historic Reformed commitments of our churches will be maintained in coming generations. 

All decisions of this conference may be presented to the councils and subsequently to the classes represented at the conference for approval for submission to Synod 1995. 

Classis California South, if it approves this request, should appoint a committee on arrangements to see that the invitations are mailed out and that local arrangements and an agenda are prepared. 

The cost of such a meeting, transportation, housing, etc., shall not be borne by Classis California South, but by those in attendance.

(Above-quote is also from a report of Darrell Todd Mamma.)

Classis Illiana encouraged the churches of this classis “to encourage our councils to send their own participants” to the Conference. The conference is scheduled for November 6 and 7 at the First CRC in South Holland, Illinois.

Meanwhile: There is a growing sentiment within WARC (World Alliance of Reformed Churches) to exclude from its membership those denominations which refuse to ordain women as ministers of the Word of God in their churches. The claim is that such refusal is violation of the teachings of Scripture. The circle seems almost to be completed.