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Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

A Decision That Satisfies Neither Side

The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) took just such a decision last June, a decision that satisfies neither side in the dispute concerning women in office raging across that denomination. In 1990, the reader will recall, the CRC synod decided to admit women to the special offices of minister and elder in the church. Whether women would be admitted to the office of elder or minister was to be left to the discretion of the local congregations. This decision was to be ratified by the synod of 1992, and the necessary changes were to be made in the Church Order. The synod of 1991 took two decisions concerning this question. One was to appoint a committee to gather the biblical data in support of the 1990 decision to permit women to preach and rule in the church, and the other was to reject numerous overtures calling for a rescinding of the 1990 decision. Faced with all this the committee of pre-advice presented three reports to the synod of 1992: a minority report recommending ratification of the 1990 decision, a minority report recommending rejecting ratification of the 1990 decision, and a majority report which stood somewhere in between these two positions. Synod rejected the minority reports and adopted the majority report. It is this latter decision which satisfies neither side.

What synod adopted is as follows (quoted from the July 20 issue of Christian Renewal, RDD):

* That synod attach the grounds of Report 31 (the report submitted by the committee appointed to gather the biblical data in support of the 1990 decision to open all offices to women, RDD) to the decision of 1990 as a summary of the biblical data gathered from previous synodical study reports on this issue. 

* That synod not ratify the change in the Church Order, Art. 3, and that the current reading be retained. 

Grounds: (a) Although biblical arguments have been advanced both for and against ordaining women to the offices of the church, the biblical support for ordination presented in Report 31 is not sufficiently persuasive to win the confidence and support of the church. (b) There is reason to believe that ratification would aggravate the current unrest and divisiveness in the church, and therefore ratification would not be prudent in the current polarized situation. 

* That synod encourage the churches to use the gifts of women members to the fullest extent possible in their local churches, including allowing women to teach, expound the Word of God and provide pastoral care, under the supervision of the elders. 

Grounds: (a) Scripture teaches and our confessions affirm that men and women alike have been gifted by the Holy Spirit for the edification of the church.

Acts 2:17-28, Romans 12, I Cor. 11:5, Gal. 3:28, Eph. 4:1-13,

Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21, Q. &A. 55). (b) Any failure of the church to use women’s gifts results in a serious impoverishment of the church’s life and inhibits women’s joyful service in the church.

I Cor. 12

(c) Women already minister in these capacities on mission fields with great blessing. 

* That synod remind congregations that diversity in the denomination will result in variations in practice. 

* That synod urge churches which have already introduced practices not authorized by the Church Order to bring them into agreement with the above decisions.

The above quoted decision is an obvious attempt to keep both1 the advocates of women in church office and those who oppose women in office in the denomination. A clear-cut decision to ratify the 1990 decision would no doubt have resulted in many more conservatives leaving the CRC. Likewise a clear-cut decision not to permit women to preach or teach would have resulted in an exodus of liberals from the CRC. So the decision taken is a compromise, but compromises never work. Neither side is satisfied. The liberals and women feel patronized. The conservatives are convinced the CRC is still moving in the direction of admitting women to all offices of the church.

As to the decision itself, how can there be biblical arguments which are both for and against ordaining women? Does not the Bible speak clearly on this issue? Does Scripture present two opposing positions on this question? If so, what is the believer to think? How can the biblical support for ordination presented in Report 31 be “not sufficiently persuasive”? Is the Bible’s teaching on this question an enigma, something which puzzles, baffles, a riddle?

Women, according to this decision, may now teach and expound the Word of God and provide pastoral care under the supervision of the elders. What is the difference between expounding and exhorting? Male seminarians are allowed to exhort in the churches. What is the difference between expounding and preaching? Men are ordained to preach the Word of God. And, is not the work of a minister always under the supervision of the elders? Of course! Still more, who in the Reformed tradition denies that the Holy Spirit has blessed women with gifts to edify the church? The questions, may women use those gifts in the office of minister or elder? The clear answer of Scripture is “no they may not.” They may use their gifts in the home, the Christian School, in the fellowship of the saints (Bible Study Societies, Sunday School, etc.), but not in the office of minister or elder or deacon.

What is much more serious is the fact that this question involves our view both of Scripture and of the Reformed confessions. The minor confessions of the church, the Church Order, the Forms for ordination, all speak of qualified men being ordained into the special offices of the church. Article 30 of the Belgic Confession speaks of ” . . . faithful men (not women, RDD) being chosen according to the rule prescribed by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy” to govern the church. Likewise, Article 31 of the same Confession speaks of men being chosen to their respective offices by a lawful election of the church.

The inspired apostle states categorically: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (I Timothy 2:12). In chapter three of the same Epistle the apostle speaks of “a man desiring the office of a bishop.” In this same chapter one of the qualifications for both elder and deacon is that they “must be the husband of one wife.”

The alleged “biblical support for ordaining women” can be found only by twisting the Scriptures. And twisting the Scriptures amounts to denying the plain teachings of God’s Word.

Finally, the decision is not having the desired effect. Just this morning (August 18) we learned that 85% of the membership the Dutton CRC voted to leave the CRC and form an independent congregation, Dutton is a small community just south of Grand Rapids, Michigan. 85% of Dutton’s membership represents about 100 families. Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, in spite of the synod’s decision, has just recently elected several women to the office of elder.

It is a decision that satisfies neither side. What is more, it is a decision which offends Almighty God, who clearly revealed His will on this matter in His inspired, infallible Word.

The Banner

Christian Renewal

The Grand Rapids Press