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Happenings at other Synods (Assemblies) 

Across our land during the summer months, the various church denominations hold their meetings of synod or assembly. There are, of course, too many of these taking many and varied decisions, to note any with great detail. However, some of these meetings are of interest in that they reveal the trends of our day generally, and, specifically, the trends evident within specific denominations. This article will point out only a few of these. 

Denominations with “back doors” 

It has often been said, “There are more ways than one to skin a cat.” It is also true that what will not be able to go into the “front door,” might well be brought in through the back. So it was at the Synod of the Reformed Church in America meeting in Holland, Michigan. For six years in succession that Synod had approved the ordination of women into the ministry of the Word and Sacraments. According to their own rules of order, two-thirds of their classes must approve that action before their constitution or church order can be changed in order to allow this. For six years the classes did not approve by the necessary two-thirds vote. Several times there was only one classis short of making this two-thirds majority. However, a few churches in the Eastern segment of our country decided to ordain women anyway. Thus, against the constitution, these churches have had women in the ministry for several years. This year that synod approached the “problem” in a different way. There was a challenge raised to these illegally ordained women ministers at the synod. The synod’s Judicial Commission ruled that the churches had acted within their rights when ordaining women to the ministry. The synod, by vote of 150-115, sustained their ruling. Thus, without amending the constitution (church order), a constitution which for the last six years they attempted to amend to allow for women ministers, the synod simply declared that installing women in office of minister is not contrary to their constitution at all. Very evidently, church orders would mean nothing anymore if any synod, by majority vote, simply declares an unconstitutional thing to be constitutional. 

Sin vs. Germs 

The Southern Presbyterian Church met in General Assembly at Kansas City, MO. at the same time and place as did the Northern United Presbyterian Church USA. Obviously, many decisions were taken. Two such decisions struck my attention because of the striking contrast these presented. One might present it this way: the Assembly made decisions which give approval to sin but fight germs. There was first a decision involving the old question of homosexuality. The decision seems to place limits on what the homosexual can do within the church, yet allows homosexuals already ordained into the ministry to remain there. The following is quoted from thePresbyterian Journal, June 13, 1979:

Homosexuality loomed large on the agenda of the General Assemblies of both the Presbyterian Church US (Southern) and the United Presbyterian Church USA (so-called Northern) but both Churches took strong stands against the ordination of homosexuals despite bitter opposition in the floor debate. 

In the PCUS Assembly, the only softening of a standing committee’s report occurred when a “grandfather clause,” removed from the study committee’s report, was replaced by the Assembly. The clause provided that no punitive action would be taken by the Church against homosexuals already ordained. 

In the UPCUSA, a decision against ordaining homosexuals had been made last year. This year, the decision was attacked through an overture which demanded that ordination questions be left up to the presbyteries to decide. The overture was overwhelmingly defeated. 

During the PCUS debate, supporters of homosexual ordination argued that a sexual preference should not be elevated to the level of a seminary degree as a qualification; and that one sin should not be singled out above all others sins. . . .

However, while allowing ordained homosexuals to retain their ministerial status, the Assemblies put up a very strong battle against germs. As reported in the same Presbyterian Journal, we read:

In actions relating to American corporations and businesses, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church US (PCUS – Southern) joined the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian USA (UPCUSA – “Northern”) in endorsing a boycott of the Nestle Corporation, but refused to endorse a suggested boycott of the J.P; Stevens Co. . . . 

Jan Long of South Charleston, W. Va., a high school youth advisory delegate, argued for a different approach than that of boycott. “I do not believe that our boycott affects the Nestle Company as much as our Christian concern and spirit,” she said. 

Victor R. Jones Jr., of Laurel, Miss., another high school advisory delegate, agreed. “If we really want to boycott a product where it will do some good and where we can see it,” he said, “let’s boycott alcohol.” He was greeted with light laughter. 

The deciding speech, in the opinion of some observers, was made by Dr. Lila Banner Miller of Atlanta, Ga., who said she had practiced medicine for 50 years. “There is no way to prepare infant formula without sterilization and refrigeration,” said Dr. Miller, whose family has included PCUS leaders at home and abroad. “With improper dilution, infant formula can cause brain damage and even death. There is no way under ordinary circumstances that mothers in Third World nations can properly use infant formula. The only thing we can do is not to buy Nestle products. . . . .”

The vote, when taken, was 201 to 162 in favor of continuing the boycott. Youth delegates, allowed for the first time this year to cast “straw votes” for information only, voted against the boycott, 24-19. 

Back to the drawing boards – again! 

One of the bigger issues at the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church was the question of women in office — particularly in the office of deacon. In 1978 the Synod decided that women could serve in the office of deacon provided there was not the exercise of authority. The Church Order, which does not allow such ordinations, remained unchanged. Still, several churches hastily, and it appears, inadvisably, elected women to serve as deacons. The decision of 1978 stirred up a storm of protest — so much so that the Synod of 1979 was forced to reevaluate its decision. The Synod decided, according to the Banner:

Synod finally decided that there shall be no further installation of women as deacons in the CRC until at least after Synod of 1981. Synod further decided not to ratify any change in Church Order Article 3 which reads: “Confessing male members of the church who meet the Biblical requirements for office-bearers are eligible for office.” This leaves those congregations who have installed women deacons living, in this respect, outside their Church Order. On this specific matter, Synod chose to say nothing. 

Synod adopted the following recommendations: 

“1. That synod appoint a study committee with the following mandate: 

“a. To review without prejudice the 1978 report on ‘Hermeneutical Principles Concerning Women in Ecclesiastical Office’ and the decisions of the Synod of 1978 regarding the ordination of women as deacons; 

“b. To ,study and define the office of deacon in the light of Scripture, the Confessions, its historical development, especially within the Reformed/ Presbyterian tradition, and the 1973 ‘Guidelines for Understanding the Nature of Ecclesiastical Office and. Ordination’; 

“c. To study the implications of the ordination of women to the office of deacon in the light of Church Order Article 35, giving specific attention to the concept of male headship and the nature of authority (Article 35 provides that “In every church there shall be a consistory composed of office-bearers,” permitting a distinction between elders and deacons if there are at least four elders); 

“d. And to report its recommendations to Synod. by 1981. 

“2. That Synod defer decision with respect to ratification of the proposed wording of Church Order Article 3 and its Supplement, and instruct consistories to defer implementation of the 1978 decision, until the study committee has rendered its report to synod, and the churches have had opportunity to consider its recommendations.” 

Synod declares this to be its answer to all materials addressed to it on this matter.

So the Synod was minded to back off from its decision of last year — and doubtlessly largely because of the amount of static it caused. Yet, what a strange decision! The current decision likely gives the “conservatives” a measure of comfort that they have slowed the process of liberalization of the church. But how strange that after three study committees have studied the issue over many years, after Synods have considered these reports on many occasions — now another study committee is needed to consider all this “without prejudice.” One could hope for the best — yet from this vantage point, it would appear that this can only be a delaying tactic. After two years the static might die down and the old decision will stand.