Compromise or Ruthless and Devious Act
I’d like to begin by commending the majority committee for its evident efforts to provide us with a helpful compromise and clearly they sought to serve the interests of the church. But I must regretfully dissent from their efforts and conclude that in the long run their efforts will not provide the kind of unity for which they hope.
The report, it seems to me, fails on a number of points, the most important of which is that this will open the offices to women - and for those who in conscience feel that the offices should not be opened because of the teaching of scripture, this is not a compromise, this is a defeat. Now perhaps it is time, definitively, to decide this one way or the other. I think so. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that this is a compromise that will satisfy everybody in the church. For those who believe in conscience that they cannot serve in classis or on consistory with a woman because the apostle has forbidden it, this will not be a compromise, but will be an impossible binding of their consciences.
Now I think we've heard a number of interesting arguments, I've always enjoyed listening to brother Marsden because he has such an incisive mind, and if you haven't read his books, you should, but I believe he hasn't captured the genius of the Reformed attitude towards church government in Article 30 of the Belgic Confession, where "we believe that this true church ought to be governed according to the spiritual order that our Lord has taught us in his Word." Now we're agreed that the Lord has not revealed every detail of the order of the church, but the confession says he has revealed an order for the church, and the question then, of course, is what matters are revealed and what matters are left to the discretion of the church. It surely is not obvious that the Apostle has not spoken to the issue of whether women may hold office in the church. When you read I Corinthians II, I Corinthians 14, and I Timothy 2, it certainly appears on a surface reading that the Apostle has spoken to that issue and does see it as important. Now would the Apostles in Ephesus, when they received his letter to Timothy, have concluded that the Apostle was a Pharisee? Two years running now, I've been accused on the floor of this synod of being a Pharisee for my viewpoint. Would the Apostle be guilty of failing to understand the implications of the new covenant by saying to the Ephesian church at least, and to the Corinthian church at least, that they could not have women in office? That doesn’t 't seem a very persuasive point of view.
Now in the recommendation before us, it seems to be implied that there are two perfectly good approaches to Scripture before us. I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of people who are in favor of women in office, nor do I accuse them of denying the infallibility of Scripture. But I believe they have misread the Scripture. And I believe the majority report has not served us well because it has acted as if there is no decision before us in 1994. The Christian Reformed Church has a position whether the Scripture teaches anything on the matter of women in office. For 20 years we debated and reached no conclusion as a church as to whether the Scripture is clear on the matter of whether women could hold office or not and then in 1994 synod decided that the Scripture was clear on this matter and the Scripture did speak on the matter and the synod provided detailed statements on the matter. And I would submit that the denomination is not well served, the churches are not well served, the people of God are not well served if this synod were to adopt this majority report simply ignoring the decision of 1994, simply ignoring the verses brought forward in 1994, really failing to do justice to church order article 31, which says there have to be new and sufficient ground to bring up a matter, and instead offering to the church only the statement that there are biblical arguments in the overtures.
Now, I also submit that this action is not pastoral. We have an article in the Banner some months ago saying that a survey conducted by sociology students at Calvin College concluded that 71% of the church is not in favor of women ministers. Seventy-one percent, beloved! Now, what is the pastoral damage that will be done to the churches if we pass the majority proposal? We read in the observations of the majority report about the pain of those who believe in women in office. And I know that they are pained because of the sincerity of their belief. And I empathize with them. But I'm struck that there is nowhere in this report a word about the pain of those who are in opposition to women in office. We have heard from John Rozeboom that we have gained 20,000 members through evangelism. If those figures are correct, then it must be that we have lost 40,000 about members – not, to be sure, all on the bassis of this issue, but a significant number on the bassis of this issue and I am pained to see the indifference so often present in this church about those who in conscience have felt the need to leave. Now some them, including some of them who are my friends, were pains in the nect. And there are plenty of conservative that fall into that category, and I guess in the minds of some I’m one of them. But some of them were holy men, some of them were men who have given their whole lives to ministry to this denomination, and I saw little caring for their pain.
And what are we going to say to the 71% of the church that don't want women ministers? We're going to say, brothers, look at the overtures, they have some good biblical grounds. This is not a pastoral way to proceed. I noticed that as we look on in the proposal, the proposal will be ratified immediately because it's not a change in the church order, it's only a change in the supplement. This is revising the church order without revising it, and it will be perceived in the church as a ruthless act, a devious act. I know that is not intended by the committee, but I'm sure that's how it will be perceived. For years we've operated with the notion that women ministers and elders will be accepted in the church only through a ratification process, and now after 1994, to the relief of many in church that at last settled the issue and made a definitive statement, now the next year we're going to reverse it and not allow a ratification process? What kind of pain is that going to cause in the church?
And this proposal is not fair. It's not fair to women. I know some of you may think I'm not fair to bring that up, using it only as a rhetorical device, but I'm not. If women belong in the ministry, then they belong in the full range of the ministry. They deserve to be able to serve in synod, they deserve to be able to serve as synodical deputies, and this is not fair to them. The proposal is also not fair to congregations that will find themselves in classes that approve of women in office while they as a congregation are totally opposed. That's not fair, either.
Finally, I believe that the proposals we have before us are not practical. In 1992 we had an advisory committee that worked hard to find a compromise, that thought they had, and brought it to the floor of synod, that women could expound the Scripture, and a lot of people rallied around that decision. We still don't know what that decision means. We're still wrestling with that decision, we're still trying to explain it. And now we have before us a much more complex proposal, a proposal that doesn't come out of a study committee report, it doesn't even come out of an overture that was approved by a classis, it comes out of a congregational overture, and we have no idea what kind of a muddle it will get us into, but I assure you, it will get us into a muddle. What about women ministers being called from one congregation to another, and finding themselves called to a classis that hasn't approved of women ministers? There's an almost endless array of questions that are not addressed here, and muddle is disastrous to us as a denomination.
If it is the mind of synod to open the offices to women, do it. Have the courage of your convictions. But don't pretend this is a compromise. It is a compromise that will not work, for pastoral, for practical, and various reasons. So I urge you to defeat this overture.
First published in Christian Renewal, 1995.
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