Last year, the synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“Liberated” – hereafter GKN-Lib) decided that women may participate in the congregational meeting as voting members. Virtually ignored by the conservative press, this was a significant decision by a denomination of churches that has been sharply critical of other Reformed churches in the Netherlands for caving in to the pressures of worldliness and that has influence with conservative churches in North America.
The decision authorized the nose of the camel of feminism within the church-tent of the GKN-Lib and, by example, within the church-tents of all those in fellowship with the GKN-Lib.
The editorial in the preceding issue of the Standard Bearer (March 15, 1994) summarized the grounds of the decision.
The grounds are ominous. They threaten the camel of women officebearers and the inseparably related rejection of the headship of the husband in the home. The first ground, concerning the biblical basis for the decision, appeals to Acts 2:17, 18; Acts 21:9; I Corinthians 11:5; Acts 18:26; Romans 16:1ff .; and Philippians 4:3, 4. These passages teach that women have the gift of prophecy; that Phoebe was a “servant of the church”; and that women labored with Paul in the gospel. The synod of the GKN-Lib explained the passages as portraying an active involvement and participation of women in the service of the gospel.”
What is foreboding is that these are the very passages that are always appealed to in support of women preachers, elders, and deacons in the church. By appealing to these passages in support of the participation of women at the congregational meeting, the GKN-Lib gave credence to the appeal to these passages on behalf of women officebearers.
In fact, these passages say nothing about voting at congregational meetings. But they do speak of women laboring in the gospel and helping as a servant (Greek: diakonon) in the church. Therefore, if the passages prove anything at all along the lines intended by the GKN-Lib, they prove that women may be preachers and deacons in the church.
What the GKN-Lib ought to have said about these passages is that they do not at all refer to women holding office in the church and that they do not conflict with the clear passages in the New Testament that forbid women to teach and to rule in the church. In view of the powerful threat of feminism today, and the fierce struggle of faithful Reformed churches to withstand this threat, the GKN-Lib ought to have said this sharply and emphatically.
The second ominous and objectionable aspect of the first ground is its ambiguous declaration, “the Scriptures do not give a general order for the women to be silent in the congregation.” The ambiguous word is the word “general.” By this word, the GKN-Lib made the opponents of women voting at the congregational meeting look ridiculous. Opponents of women voting at the congregational meeting are either so foolish or so chauvinistic that they think that the Scriptures give a general order for the women to be silent in the congregation. Women may not even open their mouths to join in singing at public worship. Women may not speak in the organic life of the church: the Bible study meetings; the gatherings for fellowship; the Sunday School classes; the evangelism societies; and the like.
But elide the word “general,” and the decision of the GKN-Lib flatly contradicts the express statements of the apostle of Christ in I Corinthians 14:34 and in I Timothy 2:11, 12: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak”; “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
The Scriptures do give an order for the women to be silent at church. It is a specific order prohibiting all female speaking that exercises authority and that teaches. And this is precisely the issue in the question whether women may vote at the congregational meeting.
The most objectionable and threatening element in the first ground is its interpretation of I Corinthians 14:34-36 and I Timothy 2:11-15. These are the two crucially important, indeed decisive, passages on the issue of women ruling and teaching in the church. There are two ways in which the advocates of women officebearers set aside the plain, powerful force of these passages. One is the blunt rejection of their teaching as limited to that day and those local circumstances. The other is an interpretation of the passages that empties them of their real, full meaning.
In defense of its declaration that “the Scriptures do not give a general order for the women to be silent in the congregation” and in the interests of women voting in the congregational meeting, the first ground of the decision of the GKN-Lib explained I Corinthians 14:34-36thus: “I Cor. 14:34-36 denies women the judging of prophets during worship, because that would give those women authority over them.” This is all that is taught by the passage: Women must not speak out in worship to judge the prophets. Presumably, the application to the present is that women must not criticize the minister during the public worship service.
This interpretation empties the passage of its full force. For in I Corinthians 14:34-36 the Holy Spirit forbids all teaching by women in the gatherings of the church for worship. Women may not speak at church in any capacity of teaching. This is grounded in their being “under obedience” (v. 34) and directly related to their submission to their husbands (v. 35: “And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home”).
Although the reference is to the gatherings for public worship, there is implication for the issue of women voting at the congregational meeting. The implication is found in the statement that the woman is under obedience and in the exhortation that she ask her husband at home. The apostle rules out the possibility that a woman get into a rip-roaring debate with a man, perhaps her own husband, at the congregational meeting and that she nullify her husband’s vote for some officebearer by her own, contrary vote.
The interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-15 by the synod of the GKN-Lib was even more woefully inadequate. Again-in defense of the odd, ambiguous declaration in its first ground for having women at the congregational meeting, “the Scriptures do not give a general order for the women to be silent in the congregation,” the GKN-Lib explained I Timothy 2:11-15 thus:
I Tim. 2:11-15 forbids women to speak in a position of leadership and authority during worship, since that causes her to abandon her own position and to usurp the place of the man.
Clearly, the GKN-Lib intended to limit the apostle’s restriction upon women to the services of public worship: “during worship.” One asks, “May women speak in a position of leadership and authority in the church before, after, and apart from worship? at the congregational meeting? in the consistory room? at synod?” Also, the sole activity of women that is forbidden, according to the decision of the Dutch Reformed churches, is that of speaking: “. . . forbids women to speak in a position of leadership and authority.” One asks, “May women exercise leadership and authority in the church, if this does not involve speaking, say, by voting at the congregational meeting?”
In reality, the apostle commands the silence of subjection upon the female members of the church in all the life of the institute. The woman may not teach “during worship,” but neither may she teach in any other official function of the church institute, e.g., the instruction of the children in catechism. Not only is the woman forbidden to teach in the church, but also she is forbidden to exercise authority over the man in any aspect of the life and labor of the instituted church. She may not rule in the church. And this is basic to the issue of women voting at the congregational meeting, as it is basic to the issue of women elders and deacons.
With such restrictive and weakening interpretation of the two passages that are fundamental to the issue of women officebearers in the church, the decision of the G&N-Lib permitting (in reality, demanding) women voting at the congregational meetitig welcomed the nose of the feminist camel into their tents.
The analysis of the decision by the magazine of the GKN-Lib, De Reformatie, bears this out. This analysis occurred in the September 18, 1993 issue of that religious periodical. With specific reference to the two passages of Holy Scripture that were brought up by the opponents of women voting at the congregational meeting, I Corinthians 14:34-36 and I Timothy 2:11-15, the writer in De Reformatie commented:
Slechts twee (!) Schriftplaatsen worden daarin genoemd, waarvan bovendien niet kan worden volgehouden dat zij betrekking hebben op de verkiezing van ambtsdragers (p. 957).
The English translation would be: “Only two (!) passages of Scripture were named therein, about which moreover it cannot be maintained that they have relation to the election of officebearers.”
“Only two (!) passages of Scripture.” With the significant exclamation mark included.
Thus was the fundamental argument of the opponents of women voting at the congregational meeting dismissed.
But the same dismissal of “only two passages of Scripture” that opened the door for women into the congregational meeting can easily open the doors for them also into the seminary and into the consistory room. In other Reformed churches, it already has. Against those who were opposed to women in office on the basis of I Corinthians 14:34-36 and I Timothy 2:11-15, it was said, “Only two (!) passages of Scripture.” In these instances, the dismissal of “only two passages of Scripture” in order to make way for women officebearers was also accompanied by the statement, “And these two passages do not really relate to the issue of women preaching and ruling in the Reformed churches in the 20th century.”
The nose is in.
The rest of the camel must be expected to follow.