The preceding editorials pointed out the danger that feminism enters the Reformed churches through the “soft spot” of the congregational meeting. This has taken place recently in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“Liberated”). Their General Synod of Ommen 1993 decided that women should participate in the congregational meeting as voting members.

In order to justify this decision in the face of the apostolic prohibition against women’s ruling in the church, the Liberated synod declared that the congregational meeting does not govern and that election of officebearers is not an exercise of authority.

No doubt, the declaration was well-intended. But it changed nothing. The fact remains that, in the Reformed system of government, the congregational meeting cooperates with the consistory in the rule of the church. This is how the congregational meeting is set forth in the Reformed confessions, forms, and church order. This is how the Reformed have always explained the congregational meeting.

Because of the danger that the nose of the feminist camel enters the Reformed tent through the opening made for it by an erroneous conception of the congregational meeting, I present the explanation of the congregational meeting by the esteemed Reformed scholar in the area of church government, Dr. H. Bouwman. In his authoritative work on church polity, Gereformeerd Kerkrecht (Reformed Church Polity), vol. 1 (Kampen: Kok, 1928), pp, 386-394, Bouwman explains why the Reformed churches do not permit, and never have permitted, women to vote at the congregational meeting. In connection with this explanation, the Dutch Reformed theologian gives the Reformed conception of the congregational meeting.

What now follows is my translation from the Dutch of Bouwman’s explanation of the congregational meeting and of the related Reformed refusal to permit women at the congregational meeting as voting members.

If now the election (of a minister) is an act of church-rule, then the participation of the members of the congregation is also a cooperation in church-rule. And it is also for this reason that, according to Voetius (one of the earliest, most respected, and most authoritative writers on Reformed church government in the Reformed Churches – DJE), the woman may not vote in the election of an officebearer, because this is an act of church-rule…. The election of an officebearer is cooperation in the rule of the church.

This lies in the very nature of the election itself. No one will deny that the election of officebearers by the consistory is an exercise of church-rule. When now the consistory calls together the members of the congregation in order to vote with them, then it is not merely asking for advice, to which it does not have to pay any attention; but it then calls the congregation together, in order to cooperate with the consistory. The vote of the congregation is then, indeed, properly a valid vote which has decisive effect. 

This comes out also very plainly in Article 22 of our Church Order, where it is stated that the consistory presents a double number to the congregation “and thereupon installs the one-half chosen by it.” And this is just as much the case, when, as is the usual practice in our Reformed churches, the consistory presents a duo or a trio to the congregation for the filling of a vacancy of the office of preacher. Here, it is not a matter of advice, but of a decisive vote. The members of the consistory vote in the congregational meeting then as fellow members of the congregation. And when no errors have been made, the brothers chosen in the con8regational meeting are also officially appointed by the consistory. Those designated by the congregational meeting are recognized to be lawfully chosen. 

This is also plainly expressed by the Belgic Confession, which confesses in Article 31: “The ministers of God’s Word . . . ought to be chosen to their respective offices by a lawful election by the Church.” The intention of the words, “by a lawful election by the Church,” is not that the election would be by the consistory . . . but by the members of the congregation…. 

From this viewpoint can an answer be given to the question, who are qualified to vote?…

(Some) who recognize the difference between male and female in condition and task are of the opinion that the exercise of the right to vote in the church is not forbidden in Scripture (to the women); that from the information which Scripture gives concerning the cooperation of the members of the congregation in the election of officebearers; one would sooner decide for the participation of women in the election than the contrary; that from the indications which Holy Scripture gives concerning the task and the place of the woman in the congregation, it does indeed appear that the woman is unqualified to prophesy and to teach in the congregation, but from this no argument can be derived against her cooperation in the election; that the office of believer not only extends to the male, but also to the female; and that therefore (especially because the exercise of the right of voting has merely the nature of giving advice and the women have interest in good leaders of the congregation as well as the men, and they as well as the men can judge the suitability of a preacher, an elder, or deacon) it would be an offense and injury to the woman, to exclude her from voting-rights. 

Against these arguments, we place the following. 

It is true that Scripture does not express itself directly concerning the right of women voting in church. However, as is correctly said in the “Report concerning the Right of Women Voting,” presented to the General Synod of Groningen, 1927, at the election of Matthias and of the deacons (

Acts 1

and 6) only the men were called to the work of election. This procedure is wholly in agreement with the place that the woman has in Scripture and with the rule, that the woman not occupy a leading position. The explanation of this fact, that only the man participates in the election, may not be sought in this, that the apostles then did not yet have the right insight into the place which is due the woman in the congregation, and that the apostle Paul would first have received that insight later, when he proclaimed the great principle in

Galatians 3:28

, that in Christ there is “no male and female”; for then one would do injustice to the word of Christ, who has promised to His apostles that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth, and to the special grace of the Spirit which the apostles received on Pentecost. 

It is then also granted that the apostle Paul in

Galatians 3:28

does not intend the absolute equality (gelijkstelling) of male and female, but a similarity (gelijkheid) in the sharing in the benefits of salvation in Christ. Scripture stands diametrically opposed to the principles held by the modern feminist movement, that the woman is in every respect the equal of the man and that she also I has the right to carry out the same spiritual functions. Indeed, the apostle here only wants to say that the female is the heir of grace with the male, that the liberty in Christ Himself extends as well to the female as to the male. With regard to the benefits of grace, the female does not stand behind the male. But this removal of the distinction between male and female applies only to the relationship with Christ. All believers of whatever descent or sex they may be are members of the body of Christ. But with regard to the social relationship of the sexes to each other, Paul maintains the position of dependency of the female, established at creation. 

This appears from the well-known passage,

I Corinthians 11:1-16

, which speaks first about the woman in marriage, but, according to verses 4, 8, and 13, also about the unmarried woman, about the woman in general. The woman has been cr

eated out of the man and that not by chance, but because she has been created for the man (

I Cor. 11:8, 9

). The grace of Christ does not violate the order established by creation, but sanctifies it. For the man is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man (

I Cor. 11:7

). Both, the man and the woman, are bearers of the image of God, but the man is above the woman in this, that he is the glory of God, that he rules in the family in married life, and the woman only exercises rule through him and in his name. 

From the manner of creation of the woman, that she is everything that she is through the man, and from the Word of God, spoken at creation, it follows that Adam was the model for which Eve was created as counterpart and that the woman as woman (not only as wife) has her appointed power, in being and existence, according to body and soul, in the man as man (and not only as husband), so that, whenever the woman enters upon the sphere of the man, she both opposes the God-ordained relationship between man and woman and becomes unfaithful to her own manner of existence, or nature.

Nevertheless, Paul does also recognize an equality of man and woman in a certain sense, because both need each other. To be sure, at creation the woman did indeed originate out of the man, but after that the man is brought into the world through the woman; and that is also determined by God (

I Cor. 11:12

). In the relationship of man and woman, therefore, the dependency and the similarity belong with each other; and both are from God. 

The intention of the apostle in

I Corinthians 11:1-16

is to show that the woman must honor her dependency upon the man, according to the creation-order, in the gatherings of the congregation. She must conform to the custom in Corinth, and appear in public veiled. In this, the dependency upon the man must be manifested. If she appears in public without a veil, she presents herself as a filthy hussy; and then one would have to carry out the consequence, and shave off her hair, as one does with an adulteress. Correctly, Calvin remarks, that Paul here speaks disapprovingly of the desire of the woman to violate the order established by God. Paul brings the relationship between man and woman in Corinth in connection with the creation-order, and says: “God is the head of Christ; Christ is the head of the man; the man is the head of the woman.” If now the woman thought, “The order of submission holds indeed for the home, but not in the congregation,” then she would by this be overturning the order of natural life. And therefore Paul emphasizes that also in the congregation of Christ the natural order of things may not be neglected, but must be honored. Therefore, the woman must not lay aside the distinguishing mark of dependency, as this is valid in a society. She must do this because of the angels (see

I Cor. 11:10

– DJE), who are not willing to emancipate themselves from God, but are willing to occupy the place appointed for them, and who rejoice when the ordinances of God are maintained in the congregation. 

This admonition applies first to the married woman; but also the unmarried woman must carry herself virtuously, so that she presently can appear as a worthy wife. In this respect, this word of Paul applies to all women; and it is of abiding significance. Although in its form this word concerns the Corinthian and Greek world, in its essence it applies to all times and to all places, because it grounds itself in the creation-order (vv. 3, 7-9, 12, 14).

-DJE