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Exegesis of a Woman Minister

The United Reformed News Ser­vice reports that Mary-Lee Bouma, who has served as the unordained pastor of Trinity Chris­tian Reformed Church on the cam­pus of Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, will now seek or­dination in the way of this congre­gation switching from Classis Northern Michigan (which will not allow ordination of women into the ministry) to Classis Muskegon (which presumably will). The switch was approved by Classis Northern Michigan but not yet by Classis Muskegon. One might make comments on these strange antics of switching classes to gain one’s desired goal—but at this time I refrain from that. What is of interest is the strange reasoning of Mary-Lee Bouma in support of her desire for ordination. Though originally opposed to women serv­ing in the ministry, she is now con­vinced that Scripture supports such ordination. Evidently two thou­sand years’ practice within the churches no longer weighs heavily upon her. The question she and others with her face is: has the Spirit now in these latter days sud­denly given light (revelation) to the church which none have before seen? Or perhaps is it part of the “strong delusion” sent upon many in our day—a sign of the end times? URNS reports thus:

Bouma—who was opposed to women’s ordination when she first entered seminary and used to tell her female friends who wanted to be ordained that they were sin­ning against God—said she didn’t see herself as a crusader for women’s issues or a role model for future women pastors.

“I don’t intend to militate for women going into the ministry,” said Bouma. “I think it’s great when women go into the minis­try, I think it’s great when men go into the ministry. I just think it’s great when people use the gifts God has given them. I just want us, as a local congregation, not to be hindered.”

Bouma—whose positions on other theological issues are still conservative by Christian Reformed standards—said she didn’t have a problem with say­ing Scripture is inerrant and that it has a clear position on women in office. Unlike those opposing women’s ordination, however, Bouma says Scripture clearly fa­vors women’s ordination.

“I think the New Testament is very clear that we, men and women, will be ruling with Christ someday,” said Bouma. “I’m a Reformed person who believes that Scripture teaches a creation, fall, and redemption, and I believe in the created order in Genesis 1-3 we see God telling men and women to take care of his world and in the fall in Genesis 3 when men and women are faced with the consequences of sin, those re­sults, except for the curse of the ground and the curse of the snake, fall on both.”

How does Bouma reconcile her views with her belief in the iner­rancy of Genesis 3’s declaration that Eve’s husband “will rule over” her and I Timothy 2’s dec­laration, citing the fall of Adam and Eve as proof, that “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent”?

“When that passage in Genesis says men should rule over women it is a description of the conse­quences of sin, not prescriptions for the way things should be,” said Bouma.

“The first recorded sermon in the New Testament after Christ’s resurrection is Peter quoting the prophecy of Joel about how men and women will all be filled with the Holy Spirit and will speak,” said Bouma. “The Holy Spirit now comes on every Christian believer and comes to live and dwell in power.”

Bouma’s arguments didn’t con­vince Classis Northern Michigan that it should allow the ordination of a woman pastor who affirms both inerrancy and women in of­fice. On March 6, however, she hopes her church will have an easier time with Classis Muskegon.

One wonders about the exege­sis which must be taught at Calvin Seminary—or did Bouma arrive at this on her own? Which church father ever taught that? What church confession teaches that? But more seriously still: how can that view be based on inerrant Scripture? Is Adam’s headship the consequence of the fall? Is such headship ended after restoration in

Christ? What then of Romans 5? What does this infallible Scripture mean when it states in verse 17, “For if by one man’s offence, death reigned by one…”? Surely this “one man” is not Eve who first sinned. It can only be Adam. If death reigned by Adam, it can only mean that he was representative head be­fore the fall. If Adam’s headship is the punishment for sin, then what about Christ’s headship? If Christ once removes sin, then His headship must also disappear—if He were indeed ever head. Can one possibly maintain the infalli­bility of Scripture—and deny headship or attribute that to the consequence of sin? For shame!!

And what of I Timothy 2? There is nothing in the report indi­cating even an attempt to give an explanation to that. Bouma could best reexamine her position in light of Scripture. Is her present stance a result of new revelation—or strong delusion?

Further Decline in the CRC

The United Reformed News Ser­vice reports a further decline in the membership of the Christian Reformed Church:

The Christian Reformed denomi­nation has lost members for an un­precedented fifth year in a row, a loss now totaling over 30,551—more than the total memberships of most of the North American Re­formed and Presbyterian denomi­nations with which the CRC main­tains ecclesiastical fellowship. Many of these members have joined the rapidly growing conser­vative secession movement from the denomination.

While many mainline denomi­nations are used to reporting an­nual declines, until five years ago the CRC had been quite different. Prior to the beginning of the se­cession, the CRC had only experi­enced two years of decline in its 140-year history, the largest of which was prompted by the 1925 secession which began the Protes­tant Reformed denomination.

In 1925, the CRC lost 1288 mem­bers, about 1.2% of the total de­nominational membership at that time, according to official denomi­national statistics reported in the Christian Reformed yearbook. By contrast, the current secession has prompted a much larger decline of nearly ten percent of the total denominational membership, which reached a high of 316,415 members in 1992. The current CRC membership stands at 285,864—a level last seen 26 years ago in 1971. The 1997 annual decline of 2.03% is only a hundredth of a percentage point less than the sec­ond-highest percentage decline in CRC history, which occurred two years ago when the CRC dropped from 300,320 members in 1994 to 294,179 members in 1995.

Nearly two-thirds of the loss can be traced to churches which are largely composed of seceders from the Christian Reformed denomina­tion. Of the four major groups of seceding churches, the largest is the United Reformed Churches, whose 43 member congregations total 9259 members. The second group, the Christian Presbyterian Church, is entirely composed of Korean congregations, most of which left the CRC under the lead­ership of Dr. John E. Kim, formerly pastor of the CRC’s second- largest church. At their initial or­ganization in 1993, the Christian Presbyterians counted over 6000 members and have continued rapid growth, but part of the ini­tial membership and most recent growth has been from the receipt of members and congregations which never were Christian Re­formed; 2934 of the initial mem­bers came from CRC sources and some additional Korean CRC members have left since that time. The oldest and smallest of the se­cession groups is the federation of Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches, a small 1399-member denomination with 14 churches. So far, 24 secession churches with approximately 3900 members have chosen not to affiliate with any of the organized denominations and most are loosely associated under the rubric of the Alliance of Re­formed Churches. In addition, in­dividual churches and groups have left the CRC to affiliate with other denominations such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America, Protestant Reformed Churches, and Canadian Reformed Churches.

CRC General Secretary Dr. David Engelhard said he was “caught a bit by surprise” by the decline, which followed a smaller loss of only 2383 members last year.

“It’s not ideal; the Christian Re­formed Church has not obviously gone out of its way to lose mem­bers,” said Engelhard. “I hadn’t anticipated that the number would be quite so high.

According to Engelhard, much of the decline could be attributed to denominational infighting. “It’s got itself in a very serious discus­sion about women in office and some of this membership loss is a result of that,” said Engelhard. “You know as well as I do that all thirty thousand people are not in independent churches and they haven’t all gone to the Orthodox

Presbyterian Church or the Pres­byterian Church in America, ei­ther. Nobody can say that all thirty thousand people left on ac­count of the women in office de­cision, but it is certainly a signifi­cant number….”

…Despite the decline, Engel­hard said there were some bright items in the statistics. “The one feature of our statistics which I think is still encouraging is the number of people that have come in through evangelism in the course of the year; there was a 1% increase through evangelism,” noted Engelhard. “The other fact is the professions of faith of the young people this year was 4350, that’s an encouraging sign. I think that even though we lose some people through indifference and rejection of the faith, the Lord is still working.”

“I still think those two points are something we need to have some rejoicing over,” said Engelhard.

The decline continues. Re­cently the Doon, Iowa CRC decided by a vote of 44 to 22 to leave the CRC denomination and become part of the United Reformed Church. Indeed the “trickle” has increasingly the appearance of a “flood.”

But the conclusion of Engelhard, if I understand it cor­rectly, seems cruel indeed: “I think that even though we lose some people through indifference and rejection of the faith, the Lord is still working.” Can he really mean that the “conservatives,” those who fought strongly for the 2000-year-old stand of Christ’s church against women in office and other histori­cal positions of doctrine have now left “through indifference and rejec­tion of the faith?” Indifference??? Rejection of the faith??? Or did most leave at great sacrifice be­cause “mother church” had de­parted from its old moorings and now drifts ever more quickly in the rapids of liberalism?