In recent years, Reformed and Presbyterian churches have opened the office of minister to women. Among them are two churches to whom the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) are related historically and geographically and with whose members the members of the PRC have close contact, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and the Reformed Church in America (RCA).
In response to opposition to their ordaining women ministers, some have downplayed the importance of the decision. The CRC, for example, has argued that opening the offices of minister and ruling elder to women is “merely” a church order matter, not a matter of the gospel and salvation.
This minimizing of the seriousness of the ordination of women to the office of the ministry is mistaken. Ordaining women as ministers touches the office by which it pleases Christ to give grace to His people. Question 65 of the Heidelberg Catechism teaches that the Spirit of Christ “works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.” The consequences of putting people in this office who can never be lawfully called, inasmuch as Christ has forbidden their occupying and exercising this office, are enormous. These consequences will soon confront the PRC in a practical way. The PRC must be prepared to deal with these consequences properly, that is, in a way that honors Christ in His offices in the church.
Women preachers baptize. But the baptism administered by a woman is invalid, is no baptism at all. Three things are necessary for valid baptism: application of water, utterance of the name of the triune God, and the lawful call of the one baptizing.
Baptism performed by a woman minister lacks the third necessary element. The woman who officiates is not lawfully called to the office of Christ in His church. She cannot be. The King of the church has forbidden women to hold the office of minister in the church. “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (I Tim. 2:12). “A bishop must be … the husband of one wife” (I Tim. 3:2). “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (I Cor. 14:34, 35).
The woman’s not being lawfully called to the ministry is a fundamentally different matter from that of a minister’s being an unworthy man. Long ago, the Christian church decided that the personal unworthiness of a minister, whether in doctrine or in behavior, does not render the sacraments invalid. Baptism administered by a heretical minister is valid baptism. Baptism administered by an immoral minister is valid baptism. I myself was baptized by one whom the churches later judged to be heretical and schismatic.
But a woman, since she is barred from the office by our Lord, is not lawfully called. She is a mere intruder upon the office, regardless that her church connives with her at her intrusion. The majority vote of a synod cannot change this, any more than a majority vote of a synod can make a third sacrament, or the sexual connection of two males a marriage. The thing is impossible.
It is confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian that a lawful call is necessary for valid baptism. It is also confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian that women cannot be lawfully called.
The Westminster Confession of Faith mentions all three of the elements that are necessary for valid baptism, including the lawful call of the one who officiates: “The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto” (28.2). Our Belgic Confession likewise teaches that a lawful call is indispensable. Article 30 states that sacraments must be administered by “ministers or pastors.” Article 31 insists that these ministers must be chosen to their office “by a lawful election by the church … in that order which the Word of God teacheth.”
That women cannot be lawfully called, and therefore cannot administer valid baptism, the Belgic Confession indicates at the end of Article 30 where it demands that “faithful men” be chosen to the office of minister “according to the rule prescribed by St. Paul in his epistle to Timothy.” This is the rule that expressly forbids women to hold special office in the church and that restricts the office of bishop, or minister, to qualified men, as the quotations from I Timothy earlier in this editorial demonstrated.
The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) expressly ruled out baptism by women, because women cannot be lawfully called: “We teach that baptism should not be administered in the Church by women or midwives. For Paul deprived women of ecclesiastical duties, and baptism has to do with these” (chap. 20, “Of Holy Baptism”). The possibility that the occasion for this rejection of baptism by women was Rome’s authorization of baptism by midwives in no way weakens the force of the article against baptism by female ministers today. For the ground of the rejection of baptism by women is the apostle’s exclusion of women from ecclesiastical office. To be valid, baptism must be administered by one who is lawfully called, and women cannot be lawfully called.
The agreement of the Reformed faith in Germany is evident from the Bremen Consensus. This Reformed confession dating from the 1590s maintains both that the administration of the sacraments belongs to the office of the ministry and that God’s Word excludes women from this office. Therefore, it rejects baptism by women. Baptizing, says the Consensus, “pertains to the office of the lawful ministers of the church, and the Apostle does not permit either private persons nor the female sex to occupy that office.”
However one may understand the implications of its doctrine for the validity of Roman Catholic baptism, the Scottish Confession of Faith (1560) clearly rejects baptism administered by a woman as no sacrament of Jesus Christ at all. The first thing necessary “for the right administration of the sacraments,” according to the Scottish Confession, is “that they should be ministered by lawful ministers, and we declare that these are men appointed to preach the Word, unto whom God has given the power to preach the Gospel, and who are lawfully called by some Kirk.” Lacking this, “they cease to be the sacraments of Christ Jesus.”
Included in the very first objection that the Confession raises against the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church is this, that the Roman Catholic rulers “even allow women, whom the Holy Ghost will not permit to preach in the congregation, to baptize.” This translation (in Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, ed. Arthur C. Cochrane, Westminster, 1966) is far too mild. The original (as found in Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3, Baker, 1983, in the old English) reads: “zea (quhilk is mair horrible) they suffer wemen, whome the haly Ghaist will not suffer to teache in the Congregatioun, to baptize.”
In short, Scottish Presbyterianism, in common with all of Reformed Christianity, held that inasmuch as it is administered by one who is not a “lawful minister,” baptism by a woman “ceases to be a sacrament.”
Invalid baptisms by women ministers, especially women ministers in Reformed churches, will soon become a practical problem for the PRC. It happens that individuals and families seek admission to the PRC from other Reformed churches, particularly the CRC and the RCA. Among them now may well be someone, whether adult or child of believing parents, who was baptized by a woman minister. The Protestant Reformed consistory that receives such members must investigate whether they were baptized by a woman. In such a case, the consistory will not be able to recognize this baptism, any more than it can recognize baptism by a private person, say, a nurse in a hospital. The consistory will have to administer valid baptism to the person, that is, baptism administered by one lawfully called. This is not “re-baptism,” for the person baptized by a woman was never validly baptized.
The PRC have a solemn, sacred calling to honor the King of the church, His offices, and His sacraments.
An implication of the invalidity of baptism by women is that baptism administered by women is not a means of grace. The Spirit of Christ freely binds Himself to give the grace of salvation to Christ’s people by means of the sacraments rightly administered. There is no such promise regarding ecclesiastical ceremonies conducted in rebellion against the very will of Christ that makes a ceremony a sacrament, in this case the will of Christ that ministers be lawfully called.
And this takes us back to the basic issue: preaching by women is not a means of grace. Sacraments, after all, are adjuncts of the preaching of the gospel.
For the CRC, this dreadful state of affairs is direct divine judgment upon its decision of 1924 adopting the dogma of common grace. By that decision, the CRC deliberately opened itself to the influence of the world of the ungodly, repudiating the antithesis. Thus, the world’s feminism found ready entrance into the CRC, and entrenched itself, in the form of women ministers.
The other avowed purpose of the CRC with its common grace decision of 1924 was to reject, and drive out of the CRC, the creedally Reformed and biblical truth that the grace of Christ in the preaching of the gospel and in the sacraments is particular, for the elect alone. The CRC was determined that the grace of the gospel and sacraments be for everybody.
Now, under the judgment of God, the CRC has preaching and sacraments—by its women ministers—that are grace for nobody.