The October-November 1954, issue of Torch and Trumpet presents the first in a series of articles by the Rev. Martin Monsma on: The Question of Woman Suffrage in the Church. In this issue he treats only the issues involved. Rev. Monsma was requested byTorch and Trumpet to contribute this series. What he will have to say on this subject should prove to be interesting, since he is supposed to speak with some authority. Not only is he at present an associate professor of church government at Calvin Seminary, but he is also a co-author of a commentary on Church Polity as well as one of the committee members appointed by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church to study this mater of woman suffrage in the church. We shall follow with interest all that he shall have to say on this subject, and report to our readers when there are any worthwhile developments.
The first article, above referred to, is intended to be only informative. Rev. Monsma writes that it is his intention only to “try to reproduce the issues involved objectively.” The question: Should our woman receive the right to vote at Congregational Meetings? is one, so he writes, that “has been before our Christian Reformed Churches the past few years; officially ever since 1947. Classis Muskegon overtured the Synod of that year ‘to study further the question of the proper function of the Congregational Meeting among our ecclesiastical assemblies and to properly delineate the authority of that assembly with a view to the solving of the problem of allowing women members to vote in Congregational Meetings.’
‘Synod decided in harmony with the Muskegon overture and appointed a committee to study this matter.
“This committee reported to the Synod of 1950. The findings, tentative conclusions, and advice of the study committee may be found in the Synodical Acts of 1950, pages 267-280. In harmony with the recommendations of the committee, Synod of 1950 decided to ask the advice of the next Reformed Ecumenical Synod, Our Synod suggested that advice from Ecumenical Synod should especially concern the nature and authority of congregational Meetings in our Reformed system of church government and that it should include an exegetical study of all Scripture passages which have bearing on the question at hand.
“The Ecumenical Synod of 1953, meeting at Edinburgh, Scotland complied in part with the request of our Synod, in that it adopted an expression on the question of women suffrage in the churches. This advice reached our Christian Reformed Synod this past summer. Our Synod appointed a committee to study the report of 1950, together with the advice of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, and to come with recommendations to one of our early Synods.”
At this point in his article professor Monsma informs his readers that he is not at this time going to present his own views on the subject, and then he states his reasons for not doing so. One of these reasons is that he is on the committee that must advise Synod and he considers that it would be both unwise and premature should he at this time, print his own views on the matter.
When I read this I thought it rather strange, since I thought that he on another occasion did express his views on this subject; and I began to wonder whether he is about to change his mind. Rev. Monsma some years ago was a co-author of a commentary on Church Polity in which he along with the Rev. I. Van Dellen explained the Church Order of the Christians Reformed Churches. I happened to have this book in my library, and so opened it to see what he advised his churches regarding this matter. This is what the co-authors wrote on page 25: “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 frond church elections inasmuch as congregational elections are church governmental in character. And women, according to Holy Writ, are not to teach in the churches norm to help govern the same. (I Cor. 14:34.) Bouwman judges likewise. So does Jansen. Those who have not yet made confession of faith have no right to vote inasmuch as they are, ecclesiastically speaking, minors. Members being disciplined have no right to vote inasmuch as censure implies that all rights of church membership are held in abeyance, rendered non-active, temporarily at least.”
From the above quotation it is obvious that Rev. Monsma emphatically denies women the right to vote in congregational elections. It will be interesting to learn therefore whether he has changed his mind now, or whether he is going to influence the committee that must advise Synod to show the Christian Reformed Churches how they should decide in favor of the advice he gives in his commentary.
Rev. Monsma writes further, “The mandate which the Synod of 1947 gave the study committee appointed by it included particularly two matters. A delineation of the nature and authority of Congregational Meetings, and a study of the question of women suffrage at our Congregational Meetings.
“Why should Synod of 1947 include a study of the nature and authority of Congregational Meetings in its charge to a study committee? The answer to his question is near at hand. For the answer to, the question whether or not our women should vote and take part in the activities at our Congregational Meetings stands closely related to this other question: what are our Congregational Meetings? Are they essentially governing in character, or are they merely advisory in character? When our men discuss various issues at Congregational Meetings and vote on these issues, then are they merely expressing their opinions and are they advising the Consistory, or do these gatherings reach certain decisions which have binding significance and according to which the Consistory must take certain actions?
“If decisions reached at Congregational Meetings are really no more than advice then it cannot be said that if our women should speak and vote at these meetings, that they are exercising a measure of governmental authority. If, on the other hand, decisions reached at Congregational Meetings are more than advice, more than an expression of opinion on the part of the congregation for the benefit of the Consistory; if these decisions are binding and authoritative, then it follows that our women, taking part in these meetings, would be exercising governmental authority in and for the church of Jesus Christ. The assumption, it should be noted, is that the men, according to the Bible, may help to govern the churches, but not the women. Whether or not this assumption is correct, is another question; that question we are not now considering. I merely call this assumption to the reader’s attention to indicate why the question of the nature and authority of Congregational Meetings comes to the fore as a prior question, as soon as we seek to answer our first question, i.e., may our women vote at Congregational Meetings?”
“Now the study committee of 1947 pointed out that the generally accepted opinion in our circles has been that our Congregational Meetings are not authoritative, but advisory in character. Not the congregation, but the Consistory, is the ruling body of the church.” Here Rev. Monsma points to several authorities which the committee refers to which appear to be in favor of its position. Among these are the Kerkrechterlijke Adviezen of Dr. F.L. Rutgers and Prof. Wm. Heyns’ Kerkrecht en Kybernetiek and Handbook for Elders and Deacons. Besides, the committee also pointed to Article 29 of the Church Order. It was pointed out that among the governing assemblies this article mentions Congregational Meetings are not mentioned. The Church Order “repeatedly speaks of matters which are to be submitted to the congregation for itsapprobation,” not decision.
“The study committee however came to the conclusion that the traditional position cannot be maintained. It took the position that our Congregational Meetings are governmental in character and not merely advisory.’
“Here are the arguments of the Committee in brief summary: ‘The Creeds attribute more than advisory power to the congregation. The answer to question 85 of the Heidelberg Catechism speaks of the officebearers as those who are appointed by the church.’ Article 31 of the Confession of Faith speaks of Elders and Deacons chosen ‘by a lawful election by the church.’
“The Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons’ speaks of these officebearers as ‘lawfully called of God’s church.’
“Article 22 of the Church Order speaks of nominees being presented, ‘to the congregation for election,’ and of the one-half of the nominees ‘chosen by it.’
“A model set of Articles of Incorporation, sanctioned by our Synod of 1926, contains statements such as the following, ‘. . . no such purchase, sale or conveyance, mortgage, lease, or fixing of salaries shall be made unless the affirmative vote of a majority of the members of this church organization, of which said trustees, are officers, shall first be obtained at a meeting of such members of this church or congregation present and entitled to vote . . . .’
At this point, Rev. Monsma mentions several authorities “in the field of Reformed church government” which attribute more than an advisory voice to the congregation. Among these are Voetius, Prof. H. Bouwman, Prof. S. Greydanus and with some reservations Prof. K. Dyk agrees with them, who all teach that the election of officebearers belongs to the governmental authority of the church. Monsma also points out that the committee also quotes Calvin’s Institutes at length to show that he too spoke of the “authoritative voice of the congregation.”
And finally, Rev. Monsma also quotes, in full the arguments which the committee of 1947 found in Scripture to prove that the character of Congregational Meetings is more than advisory. Accordingly they exercise a measure of ruling power.
Now it would seem that unless the committee that is now appointed to study the matter more fully will negate the findings of the committee of 1947, they will come to the same conclusions: And if this is the case, that they find that Congregational Meetings are authoritative in character, then according to what Rev. Monsma has already judged women voting in the church would be exercising governmental authority.
As I said, it will be interesting to see whether the Rev. Monsma will change the views expressed in his commentary. I’ll predict that he will. It isn’t so bad that a man changes his mind if he is wrong. But it is bad if the man is right. Rev. Monsma and the committee have a host of supporters for the view it is decidedly wrong for women to vote in congregational meetings. Among these is Dr. H. Bouwman who strongly condemns the practice in Vol. 1 of his Gereformeerd Kerkrecht. We have great respect for his judgment. But I say again, I predict that Rev. Monsma and the committee will change. It is the trend of the church not only in this country but also in the Netherlands. And the Christian Reformed Churches will follow the latter, not lead them.