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

June is the month when most of the synods and general assemblies of various denominations in the Reformed and Presbyterian traditions meet. In what follows we have gleaned some of the more important, interesting, and significant decisions of some of these meetings.

The Christian Reformed Church In North America

The CRC Synod of 1990 will long be remembered for its decision to open the offices of elder and minister to women. By a narrow margin (99-84) the synod voted to “permit churches to use their discretion in utilizing the gifts of women members in all the offices of the church.” This decision came after nearly eight hours of debate centering on the “headship principle.” This principle states that men are to be “heads” over women in marriage. Whether and how the principle applies to the roles of men and women in the church has been a subject of debate for the past twenty years in the CRC. Throughout the years, synods have appointed six committees to study the issues related to women serving in church office. In 1984 the CRC opened the office of deacon to women. This year’s decision opens all church offices to women. The most recent study committee was appointed in 1987 and reported to this year’s synod. The synod, by adopting the above decision, judged that the committee’s report did not provide clear biblical and confessional grounds for extending the “headship principle” from marriage to the church. Because this decision involves a change in the CRC Church Order (the word “male” must be deleted in reference to officebearers), the synod of 1992 must ratify the changes made to the Church Order before women may officially be ordained as elders or ministers. The synod asked, therefore, that churches refrain from ordaining women as elders or pastors until the ratification takes place in 1992.

It grieves us to see our “mother church” take this step. These decisions are in clear violation of the teaching of Holy Scripture (I Cor. 11:2-16I Cor. 14:34, 35I Tim. 2:9-15) which forbids women to serve in church office. These decisions too indicate in which direction the CRC is going. What now will brothers and sisters in the CRC do who are grieved by these decisions? Perhaps it was these decisions which prompted two of the fraternal delegates to admonish the CRC. The Rev. Glenn Jerell, representing the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, informed the synod that his denomination has withdrawn from the Reformed Ecumenical Council because of the continuing membership in that council of churches “moving in a liberal direction.” Jerell added that he fears the CRC is walking only “a few blocks behind” the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) and pleaded with the synod “to dispel that as a wrong perception.” The Rev. Philip Pockras of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America expressed concern that the CRC is on “the downgrade” and admonished the delegates to stay true to the Word.

The synod also approved of separate incorporations of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary which will mean separate boards of trustees for each institution. We wonder if this is a first step in removing the college from the control of the denomination.

Synod approved the addition of a doctor-of-philosophy (Ph.D) program at Calvin Theological Seminary, effective September 1991. The degree will be offered in the disciplines of Systematic Theology (Dogmatics) and Historical Theology.

The Rev. Howard Vanderwell, pastor of the Hillcrest CRC in Hudsonville, Michigan, served as synod’s president. (Synod 1990 News, The Banner) that homosexuality is the worst possible manifestation of the “reprobate mind.”

The Reformed Church in America

The issue of homosexuality provoked no little disagreement, even controversy among delegates to the RCA’s General Synod which met on the campus of Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. The Synod adopted a policy statement which reads: “To adopt as the position of the RCA that the practicing homosexual lifestyle is contrary to Scripture, while at the same time encouraging love and sensitivity toward such persons as fellow human beings.” The synod also instructed its Commission on Theology to study the issue of homosexuality for two years.

In the light of Romans 1:8ff. we wonder what there is to study about this issue. In this passage, and others for that matter, Holy Scripture teaches that homosexuality is the worst possible manifestation of the “reprobate mind.”

By changing some of the terminology referring to kinds of members in the RCA, the synod “eliminated one of the major arguments against the practice of allowing baptized children to take Communion.” The synod rejected all five overtures seeking to prevent children from taking Communion before making “formal, public confession of faith.” Individual congregations who wish to do so may now admit children to the table of the Lord.

The synod also sent back to the Commission on Theology its textual revision of The Belgic Confession. Objections to the revision centered on some changes made in the 1561 document which sought to incorporate more current Reformed views on the relationship between the church and the state, on understandings of other religions, and on gender inclusivity.

Acting on a recommendation of its Christian Unity Commission, the synod voted to continue studying the implications of becoming a full participant in the Consultation on Church Union (COCU). In 1992 the synod will be asked to consider full membership.

(The Church Herald)

The Presbyterian Church in America

The General Assembly of the PCA met in Atlanta, Georgia. Much of the time of the delegates was spent arriving at decisions on the composition and scope of the Assembly’s Administrative Committee. Fears were expressed by some of the delegates that the PCA was concentrating too much power in its denominational committees. Reports of the General Assembly indicate that an overriding spirit of Christian unity prevailed even when potentially divisive issues were being debated. (Christian Observer)

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Two issues relating to the role of women in the church came before the Assembly in the form of appeals. The Assembly determined not to allow women to lead a Bible study when men are present and when that study is under the auspices of the session (equivalent to our consistory). The Assembly determined that when a session appoints a person to teach, the person bears authority from the session. Appointment of a woman in this official capacity would violate I Timothy 2:11. In the second appeal, the Assembly judged that a woman should not speak in worship services. Specifically, women should not “give testimonies.” This decision the Assembly based on I Corinthians 14:3-35 where Scrip lure teaches that women should not speak in the churches, as the law teaches.

We hope and pray that the OPC will continue to hold fast the truth of Scripture on this point.

Much of the OPC Assembly’s time was also spent on organizational matters. The Assembly rejected a proposal for a major reorganization of the denominational outreach committees, i.e., the Home Mission Committee, the Foreign Mission Committee, and the Committee on Christian Education. This was seen by observers as a rejection of a perceived trend in the denomination toward hierarchy The Assembly also rejected a proposal to dissolve the Committee on Foreign Missions and move management of foreign missions to presbyteries (equivalent to our Classis).

This year’s Assembly passed the largest budget in the history of the denomination.

The Assembly met on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene College in Point Loma, California.

It will be of interest to our Protestant Reformed readers that the OPC has recently addressed our Committee for Contact with Other Churches seeking correspondence with our churches and closer contact with us. The OK has recently withdrawn its membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Council because of liberal trends in churches who are members of that Council. The OPC was particularly concerned with developments in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) and the REC’s failure to exclude the GKN from membership in the REC.

(Christian Observer)