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.Women in office—Despite Scriptural teachings

The Outlook, March 1981, presented an interesting quotation of an editorial and later response which appeared in KERUX, the paper published by the students of Calvin Seminary. The editorial does not necessarily reflect the thoughts of anyone but the writer-but does show an honesty in the “women in office” debate that is seldom otherwise seen. The writer, a student in Calvin Seminary, attempted to clarify an earlier editorial by writing:

I took the slavery issue as analogous (to women in office-GVB) for the following reason: The Bible says, “women should keep silence in the churches.” I see no exegetical way to get around that. I just don’t see how we can have women in office and not be contradicting the above Bible statement. (In fact, I think we still have to justify having female Sunday School teachers.) This does not mean, however, that the Church would be entirely anti-Biblical in ordaining women. The Church can appeal to texts like that in Joel: “Your sons and daughters shall prophesy.” Nevertheless, even if it does appeal to texts like that, it would still seem to be that the Bible is, in some sense, being contradicted. The plain language of Scripture, so far as I can see, simply does not allow for women in office. 

Having elaborated on my analogy, I would now like to clarify the question why I wrote the things I did. My one, sole purpose was to engender honesty. I made it clear, first of all, that I was in favor of women in office. (As an aside, I would like to say here that the unity of the church is, however, for me, much more important than whether someone with a dress on ever makes it to the pulpit and that I fully submit to Synod. We should always move as unanimously as possible.) Secondly, still for the sake of honesty, I admitted that I feel hypocritical when I start basing my pro- “women in office” ideas on the Bible. When I do that I feel like I am “pretending” to be exegetical. Thirdly, I indicated that I appreciate the honesty of Paul Ingeneri. 

I can elaborate on this third point. I respect people who are against women in office and who base their position on the Bible. I also respect people who are in favor of women in office who do not base their position on the Bible. But I am beginning (and only beginning) to lose my respect for people who, while favoring women in office, only seem to be basing their position on the Bible, people who actually have ulterior motives and who foist a whole lot of complicated exegesis on to the simple believer till eventually the simple believer starts wondering what is going on, because, after all, the plain text still says that women should not speak up in church. What exegesis can possibly get around that? If we are basing our position on the Bible, why is the question of women in office even an issue among us? 

My concern, to put it in other words, is the communicative process. It seems to me that tempers flare in this issue primarily because we are not being honest in the communicative process. 

I can give an example of what I mean by “honesty in the communicative process” as follows: Suppose a person A says he is against women in office and quotes

I Cor. 14:34

—”The women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says.” Person B then responds (usually, in my experience, without admitting that he is in favor of women in office) by saying something like this: “Many scholars agree that this verse was quite likely not written by Paul. The language of “as even the law says” is very non-Pauline…etc.” Now Person B, in my opinion, is being very, very unfair in the communicative process (regardless of whether he is right or wrong, which I frankly don’t know). Person B is coming at Person A with a whole set of assumptions and indeed, with a different view of Scripture concerning which he is not being honest, up-front, clear. Therefore tempers flare. Person A rightly suspects that something fishy is going on, and if he is anything like me he resents it. With this example I do not mean to imply that everyone who uses Biblical arguments in favor of women in office is therefore being deceitful. Perhaps everybody is quite sincere in this [some would point to the Appendix of Olthuis’ book on Troth as an example of a sincere attempt to find a Biblical basis for women in office). I am only saying that I, myself, I feel hypocritical when doing so; I think the Bible is against women in office. 

Let me conclude by saying that I believe that the Bible is totally authoritative and completely reliable for the salvation of humanity. I am sorry for leaving my editorial so open-ended and I apologize for my dogmatic manner. I am not sure how authoritative the Bible is on various cultural issues, but I wish always to submit to the Church’s judgment on such matters, also in its interpretation of the Biblical data. 

Nick Overduin

It might be pointed out, first, that Rev. John Piersma, who commented on the article in the Outlook, emphasized that the young man spake honestly—but was dead wrong. He appreciated the fact that this writer, while in favor of “women in office,” admitted that such a position could not be supported by Scripture. In fact, the writer admitted that Scripture clearly supports the position against “women in office.” 

It has been this point which is repeatedly emphasized. Those who support “women in office” distort Scripture when they attempt to quote it to maintain their viewpoint. It is less confusing and more honest to admit that one does not believe Scripture to be authoritative when it speaks on such questions. But, of course, then the infallibility of Scripture is denied. A Bible which speaks authoritatively and completely reliably only on salvation, as the article implies, is not authoritative and reliable on salvation either. What confidence could any have in a Bible which is not correct on many points? 

But the seminarian is not truly honest in stating that “I fully submit to Synod” in this regard. The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church is on record as opposing women in the office of elder and minister. Where is the submission of this young man, and others, who constantly write against and agitate against that decision? 

Finally, though one can sympathize with those who seem to be fighting a losing battle “for the Bible,” one might ask, “How much of this sort of undermining of Scripture can go on, before something drastic is done?” 

Christ’s Virgin Birth

Clarion, Feb 13,1981 reports briefly:

According to the Leiden professor Dr. H. Berkhof, there is nothing in the Bible from which we can conclude that the birth of Christ was a virgin birth. Prof. Berkhof is of the opinion that Joseph could have been the father of Christ. Why is a woman involved and why not a man? “Does then, the man alone bring sinfulness and not the woman?”

The argument takes matters just a step beyond the “women in office” debate. It appears as though the Bible is not only not reliable about that “women in office” issue, but also is not always reliable on matters pertaining to salvation—as the virgin birth of Christ is. The Bible plainly teaches Christ’s virgin birth. If one can now deny that, what’s next? 

One hardly wonders when this same Dr. H. Berkhof, as quoted in the R.E.S. News Exchange, says, “Seldom have I read an ecclesiastical document with as much excitement as I have this one.” He was expressing his feelings toward the new report on the nature of Biblical authority that was adopted last year by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN), which report our own editor recently has been criticizing. 

And: Attackes on Christ’s Deity

What’s next is revealed in Christian News, January 26, 1981. It quotes from Christian Century in an article written by Dr. John Hick, professor of theology at Birmingham (England) University and Danforth professor of religion at Claremont (California):

The older theological tradition of Christianity does not readily permit religious pluralism. For at its center is the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was God—the Second Person of a Divine Trinity living a human life. It follows from this that Christianity, and Christianity alone, was founded by God in person on the only occasion on which He has ever become incarnate in this world, so that Christianity has a unique status as the way of salvation provided and appointed by God Himself. 

If this claim is to have real substance and effect, it follows that the salvation thus made possible within Christianity cannot also be possible outside it. This conclusion was drawn with impeccable logic in the Roman dogma Extra ecclesiam nulla salus (“Outside the church, no salvation”), and in its 19th century Protestant missionary equivalent, “Outside Christianity, no salvation.” But in the light of our accumulated knowledge of the other great world faiths, this conclusion with our concept of God, which we have received from Jesus, as the loving heavenly Father of all humankind; could such a Being have restricted the possibility of salvation to those who happen to have been born in certain countries in certain periods of history? 

…I believe it is necessary to look again at the traditional interpretation of Jesus as God incarnate. Such a reconsideration is in any case required today by the realization that the historical Jesus almost certainly did not in fact teach that He was in any sense God; and also by the fact that Christian thought has not yet, despite centuries’ of learned attempts, been able to give any intelligible content to the idea that a finite human being, genuinely a part of our human race, was also the infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient Creator of everything other than Himself. 

The proper conclusion to draw, as it seems to me, is that the idea of divine incarnation is a metaphorical (or in technical language, mythological) idea. 

…This kind of reinterpretation of the idea of divine incarnation, is, in different forms, fairly widespread today (more so, I think, in the United States than in Britain) and provides, so it seems to me, a basis for a form of Christianity which can be part of the religiously plural world of today and tomorrow.

Let none dare say that one step does not lead to another. The same sort of reasoning lies behind each of the articles quoted—the difference is a matter only of degree of development. A journey of 1000 miles, it is said, begins with the first step. So denial of the infallibility of the Bible always also begins with the first step—but the destination is inevitable.