A recent issue of The Banner (12/1/86) carried reports of two instances of ecclesiastical rebellion. No,The Banner did not call them ecclesiastical rebellion. That characterization is mine.

The first instance is reported on page 22 under the heading “Eastern Avenue Invites Women to Pulpit,” as follows:

Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, has told its classis that it has had and plans to continue to have “women preaching for services occasionally.” 

In the statement, made to Classis Grand Rapids East on Sept. 18, Eastern Avenue said that the church wishes to “recognize the ordination to the ministry of women from other denominations, and particularly those with whom we are in ecclesiastical fellowship.” Rev. Marchiene Rienstra and Rev. Neva Evenhouse have each preached at the church. Both women are ordained in the Reformed Church in America. 

The statement said that Eastern Avenue is “officially committed to the use of women’s gifts in all church offices and (that) this is an important way to experience and affirm that commitment.” 

The church also said that it hopes to show children a “male-female partnership in preaching the gospel as well as in other church offices” by having women preach. The classis received the church’s statement “for information.”

In the same issue of The Banner there is a report, both in the Editorial, p. 6, and in the News, pp. 22, 23, of a public meeting called by a committee of the Eastern Avenue consistory about the question “whether that church should elect a female elder or call a woman theologian as an associate minister.” A committee of the Eastern Avenue consistory “is asking whether the only way to make any further progress toward opening all offices in the Christian Reformed Church to members of female gender would be to present the ordination of a woman to classis and synod as a test case.” The latter question, the reader should remember, arises in connection with the fact that the Christian Reformed Synod of 1985 determined that the headship principle implies that “only male members of the church shall be admitted to the offices of minister and elder.” Editor Kuyvenhoven at that meeting stated that “he believes all church offices should be open to women but that ordaining a woman elder at this time would probably split the church.” According to the report, “He called . . . for patience and dialogue between churches” rather than making a test case.

It should be noted, however, that Eastern Avenue has already created a so-called “test case.” True, it has not ordained a woman minister or elder. But it has recognized the ordination of women in the RCA by inviting two female ministers of that denomination to its pulpit. There is no principal difference between this and ordaining its own female minister or elders. To justify this by an appeal to the fact that there is ecclesiastical fellowship between the CRC and the RCA is a thinly veiled ruse. After all, the Eastern Avenue Consistory has control of its own pulpit, and its action was deliberate. Besides, Eastern Avenue informed Classis Grand Rapids East that it is “officially committed to the use of women’s gifts in all church offices.”

Here, therefore, is an instance of flagrant rebellion, of open defiance of an ecclesiastical decision. Eastern Avenue not only violated the decision of the Synod of 1985, but it did so knowingly and deliberately. Further, it deliberately called the attention of its classis to this violation. In other words, it threw down the gauntlet to that assembly.

And what did Classis Grand Rapids East do? Apparently nothing more than receive the statement of Eastern Avenue for information. In other words, the classis filed it and ignored it, which means that the classis is tolerating this act of rebellion.

I cannot refrain from remarking parenthetically that things have certainly changed in Classis Grand Rapids East. I can recall another Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church (not the current one, which is after all the reorganized church of 1924, the so-called “ninety-two.”) And once upon a time, though without any proper grounds and though Synod had rejected a proposal of discipline in the case, Classis Grand Rapids East suspended and deposed from office an entire consistory and its pastor on the grounds of “insubordination to proper ecclesiastical authority.” Times have changed! Now Classis Grand Rapids East, though confronted by a genuine instance of rebellion, does nothing but receive for information.

The same issue of The Banner reports a second instance of ecclesiastical rebellion. This one is at the other end of the liberal-conservative spectrum in the CRC. On October 23 and 24 there was a consistorial conference called by the consistories of Lynwood, Illinois, Dutton, Michigan, and First Rock Valley, Iowa Christian Reformed Churches. This conference involved 18 Christian Reformed Consistories. It adopted several resolutions “for recommendation to the various churches. The Banner did not quote these resolutions in full. However, an official press release by the recording secretary of the conference, the Rev. Stuart C. Pastine, appeared in both Christian Renewal and The Outlook. It is not my intention at this time to comment on all the resolutions, and therefore I will not quote all of them now. Perhaps in a later issue I shall do so. However, there are two resolutions concerning synodical quotas (the same as our Protestant Reformed “synodical assessments”). These are as follows:

4. We encourage all consistories to withhold financial support for those synodical agencies which undermine our confessional integrity. 

Ground: God alone is Lord of the conscience and no one may be forced to support causes which violate his conscience. 

5. However, we encourage consistories to continue to support those agencies which are worthy of their support. 

Ground: Participation in the denomination obligates a congregation to contribute toward the services it receives from the denomination.

Here you have a second instance of ecclesiastical rebellion, or rather, of recommending and formenting ecclesiastical rebellion. To me it makes no fundamental difference whether one speaks of “quotas,” as is the vogue in the CRC, or of “assessments,” as is the usage in our Protestant Reformed Churches. The reference is to the obligatory financial support of denominational causes, i.e., the work of the churches in common. Concerning these resolutions it should be noted:

1) That No. 5 speaks merely of “the services it receives from the denomination.” This is surely incorrect. While services received may be included, in general assessments or quotas are for the work of the churches in common—for example, missions, seminary, etc.

2) That they are contradictory. No. 5 states that to contribute to denominational causes is obligatory. No. 4 encourages consistories not to meet this obligation.

3) That the principle here is that of individualism. Every individual consistory may determine for itself whether to pay or not to pay synodical quotas. In addition, the standard of determination is apparently that of conscience—let your conscience be your guide. A proper standard would be that of the Church Order in Article 31 of the Church Order of Dordt, namely, “the Word of God and the Church Order.” But even then, it is obligatory on any consistory not simply to withhold financial support, but to go the orderly way of protest and appeal. And if, after exhausting all appeal, a consistory finds itself in such fundamental disagreement with the denomination that it cannot conscientiously support it, it has come, it seems to me, to the end of the road. If a consistory tolerated the same kind of individualism in its local congregation, such a consistory simply could not operate.

4) That they leave the impression of coercion. No, this is not stated. But it sounds suspiciously like something that was suggested in a speech at the annual meeting of the Reformed Fellowship: “. . . insisting on an accounting to consistories by every agency we support—’no answer, no bucks.'” (The Outlook, Dec., 1986, p. 15) And this is simply not the ecclesiastical manner.

5) No. 4 assumes without proof—and this is a serious indictment—that there are “synodical agencies which undermine our confessional integrity.” I have no doubt that there are such agencies. But for a Christian Reformed consistory, a constituent part of the denomination, to assume this and to act on such an assumption is quite a different matter than for a non-Christian Reformed editor to say it.

All of this, of course, confronts the Christian Reformed denomination with a problem. Will the CRC in its broader assemblies—classes and synod—simply ignore such ecclesiastical rebellion? Will it wink at it and thus passively permit it? Or will it somehow officially make allowances for it? Then the result will inevitably be that the CRC becomes a modalities church, in which various wings will coexist in a state of toleration—unless, of course, one of these wings does not want to countenance such “peaceful co-existence.” The alternative, it seems to me, is that ecclesiastical steps are taken to counteract such rebellion, whether on one side or the other. It seems to become increasingly clear that there are those who have no expectation that Editor Kuyvenhoven’s suggestion of “patience and dialogue” will solve anything.