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Those who have kept up with the decisions of Reformed church bodies, must be aware that now the Christian Reformed Church can have women ordained as deacons provided “their work is distinguished from that of elders.” That last clause is, perhaps deliberately, ambiguous. The work of deacons has ever been distinguished from that of elders—why make that specification in connection with women deacons? 

The reports in the Banner, the Outlook, and theBulletin of the A.C.R.L. all indicate great confusion at the CR. Synod when the above was adopted. Some have, I believe correctly, questioned the legality of the decision in light of violations of the Church Order. Others, again I believe correctly, have questioned the decision in light of its incompatibility with Scripture. 

At the same time, both those pleased with the decision, as well as those who are very unhappy about it, are agreed: this is only the beginning. It seems that hardly anyone in the C.R.C. believes that all of this will stop with the ordination of women deacons. This is but the prelude for the final approval of women as elders and then also as ministers. It’s just a matter of a few years before the C.R.C. follows the practice of other denominations in our land and in other lands. It will, I suppose, take a few years yet before Scripture will become clear to them on the subject of women as elders or ministers, and a few years yet before the Spirit leads them into a better understanding of the calling and task of the woman in the church. Such is the implication of some of the study-committee reports. One wonders: did the church never understand the Scriptures during the past 2000 years? And did not the Spirit truly guide the church in this matter over the thousands of years of the church’s existence? At least one essay on the subject admits: “As you travel through the history of the church, the man’s role in the church is never questioned. Jesus was a man, the disciples were men, the leaders of Israel through the ages were mainly men.” (Calvinist Contact, July 14, 1978, p. 7) 

From the Calvinist Contact mentioned above, we learn the following:

The day was Wednesday, June 21, 1978. The topic was a report entitled: “Hermeneutical Principles Concerning Women in Ecclesiastical Office.” At about 5 p.m. that day, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church made the following declaration: “That Consistories be allowed to ordain qualified women to the office of deacon, provided that their work is distinguished from that of elders.” 

Women in office. That is something with which the church has struggled throughout the 1970’s. In 1973, after receiving a report from its study committee that concluded that “the practice of excluding women from ecclesiastical office cannot be conclusively defended on biblical grounds,” synod decided to refer the entire report to the churches for study and reaction. 

A new study committee was appointed at that time to receive those reactions and to continue to study the question. In its report to the 1975 Synod, this committee concluded “that biblical teaching is not opposed in principle to the ordination of women to any office that men may hold in the Church.” 

However, in the light of the majority report of its advisory committee, the 1975 Synod declared that, in its judgment, “sufficient biblical grounds have not been advanced to warrant a departure from our present practice of excluding women from the ecclesiastical offices recognized in the Church Order.” 

In 1975 synod appointed a committee to study the hermeneutical principles which are involved in the proper interpretation of the relevant Scripture passages, to apply these principles in an exegetical study of the relevant passages, and to present synod with the results of their study.” 

A lot of words but it all comes down to this: three study committees have looked at great depth about the Biblical principles for women as elders and deacons, and with all three studies the conclusion has been the same—the Bible is “unclear” when it comes to the role of women as elders and ministers but it seems to be a bit more clear in the case of women as deacons. 

Synod, in adopting that recommendation which will allow women to be ordained as deacons, backed up their decision with two main grounds: “There is some evidence in the Bible for opening the office of deacon to women. At least two passages in the New Testament,

Romans 16:1

and

I Timothy 3:11,

indicate that women may serve as deacons.” And “the headship principle in which the woman (wife) is to be subject to the man (husband) is not violated as long as the office of deacon is expressed in terms of assistance and service.” 

Synod was careful in adopting its stand on women deacons. The provision that “their work is distinguished from that of elders” proved to be a very strong force. . . . 

The denomination has, for years, sent missionaries around the world to proclaim the Word and administer the sacraments. Among them have been several women. We at home allow women to be sent to Nigeria to preach to the natives and to baptize them but we are threatened when they ask for the same rights at home. There seems to be an inconsistency there. 

In any event, women may be ordained as deacons in your church if you are ready for it. May they be blessings for the churches they serve.

The last paragraphs of the above quote indicate indeed there has been an “inconsistency” in the place of women in the church at home vs. their place on the mission field. Sadly, this “inconsistency” has been resolved not by remedying the wrong on the mission field, but by increasing the wrong by incorporating it into the life of the church at home. 

The last paragraph also appears very misleading. The Church Order of the C.R.C. has not yet been officially changed, and will not be till 1979 Synod—so officially women can not legally be placed in. office until that is properly done. 

The report in the Banner, July 14, 1978, in an editorial by Dr. L. De Koster, suggests what appears to have been great confusion on the floor of the synod. The confusion was such that there is legitimate reason to question the legality of the decision finally taken. 

According to De Koster, the synodical committee of pre-advice proposed “that consistories be permitted to ordain qualified women to the office of deacon as delineated in the Church Order. Article 25.” This was substantially what the majority study committee proposed. A minority study committee recommendation was substantially the same according to the spokesman for that committee. Now—this was first voted on by voice vote, then by a show of hands, but the vote was so close that it could not definitely be determined whether the motion passed or failed. Then a vote was taken by roll-call of the delegates. This showed that the motion passed by one vote (followed by applause from the audience). But then someone claimed an error in the tally—which proved to be the case. There was actually one fewer vote in favor and one more opposed than previously suggested. All this meant was that the motion actually failed (no applause from the audience). 

Does all that sound sufficiently confusing? But the end was not yet. Now there was a motion from the floor proposing the recommendation of the minority study committee. This recommendation was, “That consistories be allowed to ordain qualified women to the office of deacon, provided that their work is distinguished from that of elders.” Only the last clause made this motion slightly different from that once defeated. The rules of the CR. Synod suggest that “a main motion is not acceptable: if it is verbally or substantially the same as a motion already rejected by synod.” So some reminded the chairman, but his recognition of the motion was sustained by the members of Synod by vote. Remember: the spokesman of the minority study committee had already agreed that their proposal was substantially the same as the originally proposed motion. So, when the original motion was defeated, there was no moral or legal basis for submitting a similar motion. 

Yet the second motion passed by some 15 votes to spare. It is highly questionable whether this second motion was in order—at least De Koster seems to suggest that it was not. 

Another complication comes in. The motion approved was and is contrary to the adopted church order of the C.R.C. That church order states in Article 3, “Confessing male members of the church who meet the Biblical requirements for office-bearers are eligible for office. . . .” Further, Article 48 states, “. . . No substantial alterations (to the church order and creeds) shall be effected by synod in these matters unless the churches have had prior opportunity to consider the advisability of the proposed changes.” 

Thus the synod adopted a change which was contrary to the church order and before the church order was altered, or could be altered. Fact is, the synod proposed on the floor a change of the church order to be finally approved by the synod next year. That change reads: “Article 3; a. Confessing male members of the church who meet the biblical requirements are eligible for the offices of minister and elder. b. All confessing members of the church who meet the biblical requirements are eligible for the office of deacon. c. Only those who have been officially called and ordained or installed shall hold and exercise office in the church. Supplement, Article 3, Women as Deacons: The work of women as deacons is to be distinguished from that of elders.” 

A motion was then adopted that “this wording of Church Order Article 3 and its Supplement be ratified by the Synod of 1979.” This meets the technical requirements of the Church Order that the churches be given first the opportunity to study the proposed change before final adoption. 

All of this suggests that the study on women in office and the decision on women serving as deacons was, strictly speaking, out of order on the basis of the reading of the Church Order of the C.R.C. And since this proposed change in the Church Order will not be ratified before the synod of 1979, it would surely seem incorrect to say, “women may be ordained as deacons in your church if you are ready for it.” That can not be done until the Church Order is finally changed. 

There are some very unhappy people in the C.R.C. today because of this and other developments in the C.R.C. It is no wonder that Rev. P. De Jong writes in the Outlook:

Must we (1) for the present remain in the denomination to fight more uncompromisingly and militantly for the Reformed faith and against antibiblical and anti-Reformed decisions and policies we see coming out of our Synod and church institutions? Must we (2) leave our denomination to seek fellowship with some other denomination or denominations which are trying to maintain and promote the Reformed faith and life? Or must we (3) move toward a secession and union of Christian Reformed churches who are determined, by the grace of God, to maintain the historic Reformed faith and practice?

One can sympathize with the agonizing of soul of many within the C.R.C. One would be tempted to provide them with some answers. But I would only suggest concerning proposal 1: while one remains to fight, how long will it take till one’s children and grandchildren succumb to these false teachings which are presented in catechism, schools, churches? And there is the question of corporate responsibility: all those in the C.R.C. are part of the body which already holds many positions contrary to Scripture and the Creeds. As long as one remains in the body, he can not escape the fact that these decisions are also his by virtue of the fact that he is member of that body. This would be an extremely troubling reality, it seems to me.