The calling of the church of Christ on this earth is to develop in its theology. The theology of the church surely is not to alter from one position into something completely other. It is rather to develop and grow. Development would not be to change an apple tree into a thistle; it would rather be that the apple tree, being properly nourished, becomes larger and produces ever more fruit. Such must be the development of theology in the church. This development within the church does not mean that the church can introduce something different than or in addition to what the Word of, God declares. Always, development involves greater understanding of that which is already given to us in Scripture. A study of church history, especially in the New Testament age, shows how such development took place.
It is one of the signs of the end of time when the “church,” instead of building upon what was confessed and taught throughout past ages, turns its black upon that and adopts what formerly had been rejected as plainly contrary to Scripture. Within the liberal churches of our day, there is increasingly a denial of the Trinity, of the Incarnation of Christ, of His virgin birth, etc. These churches have, reverted back to the time of the early New Testament church and have adopted the very views which were then condemned. This trend to revert to the early period of the N.T. church, to adopt views condemned then, is increasingly seen within Reformed circles. That trend can only lead to the same liberal positions evident in many of the other main-line Protestant churches of our day. One recent evidence of this trend is the change to the practice of having women officebearers: deacons, elders, and ministers. Reformed churches in the Netherlands have made this change. The Reformed Church of America has made this change. Now, the Christian Reformed Church appears about to make this same change. At best, it seems, a few voices of opposition are heard—but then it appears that most are ready to drift further along the road toward apostasy.
The drive for change in the church’s stand regarding who may occupy offices within the church arises from at least two fundamental errors: the error of “world-conformity,” and the error of adopting, at least in part, the Sitz-im-Leben method of interpreting Scripture. (Scripture must be understood in light of the time and situation in which it was writ t en. Scriptural authors had their prejudices, misconceptions, etc. when they wrote Scripture.)
Striking it is that for almost 2000 years there was basic agreement concerning the question of women serving in office in the church. For almost 2000 years the leaders within the church were opposed to it. Now, only in recent times, after a “women’s lib” movement developed, many in the church felt compelled to get on the band wagon and advocate the position that women can serve in office in the church. Now, suddenly after almost 2000 years, we are given to understand that what Scripture condemned in this regard only applied to that age long past when women were considered inferior to men. Now we need no longer obey that portion of Scripture. Times have changed; hence, the command no longer applies.
But is this true? Follow, with me, some of the development of this question through the ages.
First is the passage of Scripture in I Cor. 14:34, 35, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” Worthy of note is that Paul definitely does not base the command, upon the traditions of his age, but on the law itself—referring clearly to the ten commandments and specifically the fifth command.
The second often-quoted passage is from I Tim. 2:11-15, part of which states, “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. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.” Again, strikingly, Paul does not base the command upon the traditions of his own age, but on the creation ordinance itself. He points out further in this passage that woman’s transgression first also has a bearing upon the question. But the point is that God created woman in the position which Paul insists involves the question of “authority.”
John Calvin had no problem with the above passages. He considered them to teach clearly that women can not serve in offices in the church. He said so. In his commentary on I Timothy 2:11, he writes:
Let a woman learn in quietness. After having spoken of dress, he now adds with what modesty women ought to conduct themselves in the holy assembly. And first he bids them learn quietly; for quietness means silence, that they may not take upon them to speak in public. This he immediately explains more clearly, by forbidding them to teach.
. . . He assigns two reasons why women ought to be subject to men; because not only did God enact this law at the beginning, but he also inflicted it as a punishment on the woman.
And until very recently, there was simply no question in the Christian Reformed Church (and other Reformed churches as well) about the meaning of the Scriptural passages. Monsma and VanDellen write in their 1949 edition of “The Church Order Commentary” briefly but clearly:
The question whether or not women should take part in congregational elections we would answer negatively. Voetius, the great expert in Reformed Church government, excludes women from Church elections inasmuch as congregational elections are Church governmental in character. And women, according to Holy Writ, are not to teach in the Churches nor to help govern the same.
Bouwman judges likewise. So does Jansen.
L. J. Schaver, in his “The Polity of the Churches,” Vol. 1, page 184, writes concerning the position of the Christian Reformed Church:
The teaching of the apostle Paul, about women wearing a veil when they prophesy,
is based upon the fact that a veil was then the symbol of their inferiority to man. The wearing of a veil by women, which was a custom at the time, was honored by Paul because it symbolized a Scripture truth relative to the inferiority of the woman. That women, apart from prophesying, may not speak in the church in public gatherings is the plain teaching of God’s Word. cf.
This prohibition is plain, positive, pointed, universal, and without ambiguity. The given passages even forbid them to ask questions in public gathering. Not as to her salvation but as to her position in the church, the keynote of Paul’s teaching is that she is subordinate. This subordinate position he bases upon the primal law of creation “thy husband . . . shall rule over thee,”
which is universal and for all time. Added reasons for this subordination he sees also in the fact that “Adam was first formed,” and that Eve was made “of the man,” and also “for the man.”
Still another important reason for the subordination of women Paul ascribes to the fact that it was Eve who was deceived, not Adam.
She who was later upon the scene was the first to sin, and also the one to sin more grievously. Because her fall was greater, the sex she represented also fell deeper; and according to the inspired apostle she now occupies in the Church of Christ a subordinate position with respect to matters of authority. Paul says, “I suffer not a woman . . . to usurp authority over the man.”
The question whether women should be given the privilege of the vote at congregational meetings hinges upon the question whether the exercise of that privilege is an exercise of authority. If the vote of the congregation be considered as only advisory, as some believe it is then there can be no objection to women voting at congregational meetings. That this vote is not authoritative in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, in the same sense as is the vote of the Consistory or Session, may be granted. But also it must be conceded that common opinion regards the vote of the congregational meeting as decisive. When the members of the congregation, together with the Consistory or Session, vote for a pastor or for members of the council, that vote stands. If the election within a Consistory or Session is an act of church government, then the participation in an election by the members of the congregation is an act of cooperating in church government. And that condemns the practice of women voting in congregational meetings.
But after almost 2000 years, winds of change began to blow. Evidences of this can be found in various decisions of the Synods of the C.R.C. In 1950 it was the question of woman suffrage at congregational meetings. At that time, the church was a bit leery about allowing such. The Acts state:
In view of the situation as indicated, we believe it would be unwise for the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church to make a pronouncement on this important question at this time. The basic issues involved have not come to sufficient clarity in the midst of our churches, and the desired measure of agreement can hardly be expected at this time. And inasmuch as this question not only confronts us, but also our sister churches in the Netherlands, and inasmuch as we are now holding Ecumenical Synods from time to time, your committee advises Synod: First, to urge all our leaders, consistories and classes, to study the questions basic to this issue, giving particular heed to the Scriptural passages cited in this report. Secondly, to request the next Reformed Ecumenical Synod for advice regarding the matter of woman suffrage at congregational meetings. This request for advice as we see it, should embrace a study of the nature and authority of congregational meetings in our Reformed system of church government, and likewise an exegetical study of all Scripture passages which have bearing on this question.
Soon in the C.R.C. the “sufficient clarity” and “desired measure of agreement” arrived. Woman suffrage was permitted within the churches. However, it was emphatically maintained that this was not placing women in positions of leadership, for, it was said, such was plainly forbidden by Scripture. The Acts of 1957 present the following:
On the basis of a careful study of the relevant Biblical passages, as regards the participation of the church in such matters as election of office-bearers, and as regards the position of women in the church and of church polity, your committee comes to the following conclusions:
1. The Word of God teaches the spiritual equality of man and woman as image-bearers of God and as heirs of the grace of life and as participants in the office of believers.
2. The Word of God teaches that there is a difference between man and woman, involving the headship of man, which is rooted in creation and which is not abrogated by redemption. (italics mine)
3. In accordance with this principle rooted in creation, and brought to bear on the life of the church by the apostle Paul, women should not be accorded a position of leadership in the church. They should hold no ruling or teaching office in the church.
4. In the congregational meeting the government of the church rests with the consistory. Participation in such meetings by the membership of the church is by virtue of the office of believers.
5. The participation of women in voting at congregational meetings as an exercise of the office of believers is not a matter of assuming leadership over men.
6. Church politically speaking there is no essential difference between the right of approbation, which women do already exercise, and participation in congregational meetings with the right to vote.
Now, evidently, the C.R.C. has arrived at the point where it is looking for “sufficient clarity” and “desired measure of agreement” before making a decision to admit women into ecclesiastical offices including the ministry. The Synod of 1974 mandated its committee on “Women in Ecclesiastical Office” as follows:
That synod charge its study committee on Women in Ecclesiastical Office to give specific consideration to the distinction between licensure and ordination, and exhorting and preaching, as this distinction may bear on the place of women in the seminary’s field education.
Now, I believe, it is simply a matter of preparing the C.R.C. for the inevitable. Probably the time is not ripe to approve this sort of change of permitting women to hold office in the church. It takes a while to get people adjusted to the idea that the church was, after all, wrong for the past 2000 years. It takes a while to convince people that what the church thought Paul (writing infallibly) was teaching, he did not really mean for today at all. One method of softening the church at large is to publicize the possibility and emphasize the inevitability of change. Through such publicity, one is hardly in a position to protest—for there is no decision to protest, yet he is compelled to believe the inevitability of the decision approving of women in church offices. At such time as the decision is made, the church will be “ready” for it, and few will believe it useful to protest.
Publicity to possible change within the C.R.C. concerning women in office was presented in the Grand Rapids Press on Saturday, November 16, 1974. The article points out that there are four women presently in Calvin Seminary seeking degrees. Several of these desire to enter the pastoral ministry. One applied for her “license to exhort,” but “her application was deferred, pending Synod action next summer. Instead, she worked at other pastoral duties and accepted several invitations to conduct public worship services at local Presbyterian churches.”
How a member in good standing in the C.R.C. can openly violate the clear stand of the C.R.C. against women teaching or preaching in the church (any church), is a question I can not answer. Each, I suppose, can do what is right in his own eyes.
The Press continues its report by stating, “Whether the Synod will open any of the church’s offices to women next summer is considered unlikely. Opposition to the ordination of women is rooted in the letters of Paul to Timothy and the Corinthians, passages that clearly state a woman’s role is a silent one, subject to man’s.”
But some who teach in Calvin Seminary, in positions of influence and leadership in the church, openly advocate the acceptance of women in office. At the same time, there is seen (if the Press report is accurate) a terrible and flagrant disregard to the Scriptures as infallible and inspired. Prof. Fred H. Klooster carefully stated, “Until the last decade, there was, within the Reformed world, general unanimity on the meanings of those passages. The stand of the church is considered Biblically demanded.” Well, none ought to be offended at that. It should please the conservative, yet allow his own position to remain in question.
But another of the professors is more bold. According to the Press, “‘It’s not what Scripture says, but how the church uses the scripture,’ says Allen D. Verhey, a professor at the seminary. ‘We must take into account the culture that formed the biases.'” Now that is about as un-Reformed and anti-Scriptural as can be—something one would hardly expect to emanate from a Reformed Seminary. Yet few seem startled or perturbed anymore.
The same Press report states:
“Verhey believes the Synod probably won’t vote to allow women in church offices next summer, but “it will be approved at some point, maybe in 10 years. It’s past time that the institutions recognize that in Christ there is no male and female.
So that is what happens. After 2000 years the church finally has “developed” to the very position condemned, admittedly, by the apostle Paul. The would-be woman pastor at the seminary is quoted as saying, “There are Biblical verses to support both sides of the issue.” That, of course, would involve contradiction in Scripture itself. What makes the church so wise today that now, after such a long time, it suddenly sees as truth what Scripture and church leaders during a 2000 year period condemned as lie?
All this is not, surely, true development. It smacks rather of that sort of thing condemned by the apostle Peter in II Pet. 2:22.
Let us also be warned. The end of the age is marked by a course where right is called wrong, and wrong is called right. It is the time of great apostasy. That apostasy begins with one step—and these steps continue ever more rapidly one after the other. He who has eyes to see, let him see.