Synods and General Assemblies: Christian Reformed Church (part 1)

Women-in-Office Issue Continues to Cause Division in the CRC

The 2013 Synod of the CRC received an overture from two congregations requesting permission to form a new classis. The congregations desired to form a classis made up of congregations that share the conviction that the ordination and installation of women into church office are unbiblical. In response to this overture the synod made three decisions. These decisions demonstrate that the CRC continues to be troubled by deep divisions over women’s ordination. What follows are the three decisions with their grounds and my response.

Decision 1:

That synod not accede to Overtures 3 and 4, requesting an affinity classis [a classis where the congregations share the conviction that women’s ordination is unbiblical].

Grounds:

  1. The creation of a separate classis based upon and restricted to a single theological conviction will create a fixed uniformity that runs contrary to biblical principles and practices of unity in the CRC (1 Cor. 12:12-31).

  2. This is consistent with the past decision of synod not to accede to the “formation of a classis based on theological affinity” (Acts of Synod 1996, Article 76, C, 4, p. 561).

  3. The creation of such a classis may address the issues of conscience and the discomfort of protesting the presence of women officebearers at the classical level, but this does not resolve those same issues at the synodical level.

Response

The key to understanding this decision and its grounds is the CRC's understanding of the women-in- office issue as an issue "of conscience." The CRC refuses to view the women-in-office issue as an “either or” issue – either the Bible forbids women in office or it doesn't. Rather, the CRC maintains women-in-office is a “both and”issue – scripture can legitimately be interpreted both against and in favor of women's ordination. The CRC refuses to grant, therefore, that opposition to women in office is grounded on the correct interpretation of scripture. The opposition to women in office cannot claim that the issue is a matter of faithfulness to the Bible. Both sides are faithful to scripture. Both sides ought to be able to accept that the other side is holding to a correct interpretation of scripture. If an opponent to women's ordination cannot accept the other view, his objection cannot be based on scripture but is merely a matter of an overly sensitive conscience.

The CRC is committed to the idea that people who fall on both sides of the issue should be able to live together in harmony in the same congregation, classis, and denomination. Does that mean that those who are in favor of women's ordination should be silent and happily accept a situation in which their congregation won't ordain women, that they should be silent and happily accept that classis and synod won't allow women delegates? No, it means that those who are opposed to women in office should be silent and happily remain members when their congregation installs women office bearers, and be silent and happy when women delegates show up at classis and synod. Even if you are convinced that it is contrary to scripture, the conservatives are told, you shouldn't have a problem if it is a woman who hands you the collection plate, administers to you the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or stands before you in the pulpit.

This thinking is the basis of the CRC's refusal to allow the formation of a classis that is made up of churches opposed to women in office. Those churches should not have any problem enjoying unity with churches that practice women's ordination.

It is noteworthy that the CRC admits in this decision that it does not believe unity requires uniformity of "theological conviction." This is an admission that the CRC believes that unity can be enjoyed without agreement on the truth. There is a difference between unity and uniformity. Absolute uniformity means sameness in all things. Absolute uniformity is not necessary for unity. For example unity does not require the same ethnicity, gender, etc. But in one area there is a need for uniformity – that is in the area of the truth. Of course it is true there is freedom to interpret scripture in different ways where the meaning is not clear to us (although our interpretation must always be in harmony with our Reformed confessions). But where scripture's teaching is clear there must be uniformity of conviction. And scripture's clear condemnation of women in office means that there is only unity when there is a uniformity of conviction that women's ordination is unbiblical.

The CRC's contention that unity is possible when there is disagreement on the issue of women's ordination is wrong. The congregations that want uniformity of conviction in the classis that women’s ordination is unbiblical are correct.

However, in ground "c" above, the CRC synod demonstrates a grave and embarrassing error in the thinking of the two congregations that requested the formation of a new classis. Synod made a very keen insight when it said, "The creation of such a classis may address the issues of conscience and the discomfort of protesting the presence of women officebearers at the classical level, but this does not resolve those same issues at the synodical level." This ground rightly argues that the formation of an "affinity classis" will not change the fact that these congregations will have to live in a denomination that does not share its theological convictions. Thus the synod exposes the shortsighted thinking of those who are opposed to women's ordination yet remain in the CRC. For years they have wanted theological agreement (read unity) in their own congregations with regard to women’s ordination – perhaps we can call them “affinity congregations.” Now they want theological agreement on this issue in the classis – an “affinity classis.” From a classis where they do not have this affinity they are ready to withdraw! But what about an “affinity denomination?” Obviously they are not so concerned about denominational unity. From a denomination that promotes the unbiblical practice of women’s ordination, in which they do not have unity with many congregations and classes, they will not withdraw! The CRC's decision implies, and rightly so, that any congregation that is willing to live in a denomination that accepts women in office ought also to be willing to live in a classis that accepts women in office. Indeed these congregations should even be willing to live with women office bearers in their own church.

The synod's thinking in ground c is correct. The only way to escape the wicked practice of women's ordination is to withdraw from the Christian Reformed denomination. And anyone who is willing to stay in the CRC (thereby accepting women in office on a denominational level) should drop the issue and allow women's ordination everywhere, including in their own congregations. There is no unity or peace available in the CRC for those who oppose women’s ordination.

Decision 2

That synod grant Trinity CRC in Sparta, Michigan, and Second CRC in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the option to move to the classis in closest proximity that is willing to receive them and which they are willing to join.

Grounds:

  1. After Synod 2010 did not accede to the overture to allow the move to Classis Minnkota, these churches exhaustively explored geographically closer options. They have satisfied Synod 2010’s concern that they explore classes of closer proximity.

  2. In view of the diligent efforts of these two churches, the desire of their classes to help them move forward, and the desire of these churches to end the hurt and tension within their classes, this decision offers grace into this reality.

  3. This is consistent with the synodical precedent that allows the transfer of churches to another classis (see Acts of Synod 1995, 2000, 2006, 2007).

Response

In this decision the synod admits that there is “hurt and tension” in the classes because of the disagreement over the issue of women in office. There is no unity and peace between the congregations who are on opposite sides of the issue. Yet the synod refuses to acknowledge that the issue needs to be decisively decided one way or the other. So the synod has made a pragmatic decision. Since these two recalcitrant congregations find it difficult to live in a classis where women’s ordination is accepted, synod will let them join other classes, even if they won’t allow them to form a new one.

The obvious irony is that although the CRC won’t allow the creation of a so-called “affinity classis” such classes already exist in the CRC. There is added irony when one considers that it was the 1995 synod that encouraged the creation of “affinity classes.” That synod gave to each classis the right to declare the word male “inoperative” in the church order article that speaks of the qualifications for officebearers. That decision made every classis in the CRC an “affinity classis.” After each classis made a decision to drop or keep the word male, the CRC was made up of what we could call A and B classes. The congregations in the A classes agree (affinity) that women may not be ordained. The congregations in the B classes agree (affinity) to allow and practice women’s ordination. Having created a situation in which there are A and B classes, the CRC has decided it won’t allow the creation of a new A classis, but it will begrudgingly allow two congregations in B classes to move to A classes.

Synod’s admission that there are A and B classes in the CRC is proof that there is deep division in the CRC over the women-in-office issue.   Its decision to allow churches to withdraw from their classes and join a different one only encourages that division to continue.

Decision 3

That synod communicate the following to Trinity CRC, Sparta; Second CRC, Kalamazoo; and their respective classes:

  1. We commend these two churches for their faithful perseverance in these matters and for their desire to remain in the CRC.
  2. We encourage these churches to seek ways to continue in their current classes.
  3. We encourage these churches and classes to engage in some process of reconciliation, healing, and blessing.
  4. We also encourage these churches to seek ways to continue to work together with local CRC churches to communicate and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in their regions.

Response

This decision is a futile attempt by the synod to maintain and to foster unity despite sharp disagreement over the women-in-office issue. At the same time it demonstrates that synod is not really interested in defending and promoting unity. This decision is an implied charge of schism against the two congregations that want to depart from their classes. If synod wanted unity it would charge the two congregations with sin and call them to repent. But instead of bringing charges of sin, the synod commends the congregations for remaining in the denomination. This commendation for staying in the denomination comes even though synod views the two congregations as the cause of a situation where there is need for “reconciliation, healing, and blessing” on a classical level.

By commending the congregations for staying in the denomination even though they are causing division on the classical level, synod’s decision promotes unity in name only. Unity in name only exists when there are congregations that are deeply divided but decide to stay together in one denomination anyway. That means unity in name only is actually schism. Synod 2013 followed the lead of Synod 1995 that promoted unity in name only when it allowed the classes to disagree with each other over the issue of women’s ordination.

It is sin on the part of the CRC synod to promote unity apart from the theological conviction that only men may be ordained as office bearers. It is also sin to stay in the CRC on the part of those who are convicted that women’s ordination is unbiblical. It is good that they know that unity is impossible for them in a congregation or classis that allows women’s ordination. But when they stay in the CRC despite their theological disagreement with the denomination’s allowance of women’s ordination, they show themselves willing to accept the sham unity of unity in name only. The result is continued tension and disharmony in the CRC.

 

Resources:

The Acts of the 2013 CRC Synod are available here.

The Executive Director of the CRC’s summary of the Acts is available here.

A report by John Van Dyk can be found in Christian Renewal (July 21/August 21) 18-19.

 

Click here to read Part 2 on the CRC Synod 2013.

 

______________________________________________________________________________________

This article was written by guest blogger Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, IL. Rev. Spronk will be blogging for us several times a month, taking us first through a brief study of Richard Smit's newly released book, The Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us.

Comments

Synods and General Assemblies: The Reformed Church in America (part 4)

The Homosexual Agenda Advances, Too

Like the proponents of women’s ordination (which I examined here), proponents of accepting homosexuality have a goal too. Homosexuality will not be condemned as sin. It will be viewed as a legitimate (preferable?) “alternative lifestyle.” And it will receive the complete acceptance of every congregation and member in the denomination. The RCA is not there . . . yet. But Synod 2013 made three decisions that move in that direction.

First, the Synod rescinded the following statement made by Synod 2012—“any person, congregation, or assembly which advocates homosexual behavior or provides leadership for a service of same-sex marriage or a similar celebration has committed a disciplinable offense.”

Second, the Synod passed a motion calling for more “grace-filled” conversations about homosexuality.

Third, the Synod remanded the case of Ursilla Cargill, a practicing lesbian, back to a lower assembly. Cargill is not only a lesbian but was also ordained to be a “minister”. Apparently her ordination was approved by a classis and then upheld by a regional synod that rejected a protest against her ordination. Appeal was then made to Synod 2013 to rule Cargill’s ordination invalid. But Synod 2013 sent the case back to the regional synod. Although I am inclined to believe the Synod should have treated the case, it is not completely clear to me from the information available if Synod’s action was improper. Even if synod made the proper decision, RCA pastor Ben Kappers suggests that manipulation may have been involved to ensure that Synod would remand the case. He writes, “While the vast majority of people agreed with the recommendation to send the case back to the Regional Synod, it was disappointing to hear from the President that the [General Synod] was not even prepared to address the case if the Synod delegates decided to move in that direction. This action seemed to be a predetermined outcome.” Whatever the reason for the decision to remand the case, the outcome is that Synod 2013 did not put a stop to the evil of a homosexual woman laying claim to the office of minister in the RCA.   

According to RCA pastor Kevin De Young, the acts of Synod 2013 are ominous for conservatives who oppose the acceptance of homosexuality. He writes,

Conservatives lost ground on the issue of homosexuality.  Instead of trying to strengthen our resolve, the RCA backpedaled. Instead of making up our minds after thirty years of dialogue, the denomination has called for more conversations and another study committee. There is little doubt how this will end up. Progressives do not stop calling for dialoge (sic) until their side is accepted, and eventually mandated… In the meantime, the Regional Synod of Mid-Atlantics will surely uphold the ordination of Ms. Cargill (they already sided with the classis once). The formal position of the RCA on homosexuality is being weakened and the informal position, we will soon discover, is that classes can ordain whom they wish without fear of disciplinary action.

In addition to these wicked acts of Synod, a serious failure to act should be mentioned too. This is the failure to discipline. There is a failure to discipline those who agitate for the acceptance of homosexuality. Kappers comments in his report on the presence at Synod of a group known as Room for All. Room for All is an organization made up of RCA members that is committed, according to its website, “to the welcome and affirmation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies.” This organization wants the “full inclusion” of homosexuals in the church. Kappers says their presence at synod was “significant”. And he writes, “This group continues to be well organized and influential at Synod. In fact, their pride hearts could be seen worn by . . . professors of theology, elder delegates, pastor delegates, seminary student delegates, and corresponding delegates.” The Synod also invited, according to Kappers, two RCA authors to “do official book signings at General Synod. Both authors openly support Room for all.” These authors made their support for the full inclusion of homosexuals known during these signings.

There is also a failure to discipline those who are homosexuals. In the documents I read I found that objections were brought to the regional synod and synod about the ordination of Ursilla Cargill, but no one, far as I could tell, called her to repent for her sin of being a lesbian. Apparently her sin is public. Yet, there is no public call for repentance and discipline in case she does not repent. Even if Cargill’s ordination is overturned the members of the RCA seem content to allow her to remain a member in good standing in the denomination as an impenitent “practicing lesbian”.

The homosexual agenda will not stop, especially if members of the RCA are not disciplined for promoting the sin or living in it. If they are not disciplined they will form organizations such as Room for All. They will trouble denomination with “grace-filled dialogue” that does not end. They will gain control of a classis here and there. They will gain control of a regional synod. In those assemblies they will allow and uphold the ordination of homosexuals. And eventually they will control the broadest assembly of the denomination, the general synod. And soon there will be a synodical decision binding the entire denomination to accept homosexuality. And following that decision there will be the discipline of anyone who dares condemn homosexuality as a sin.

In light of the RCA General Synod’s decisions about the Belhar Confession, women in office, and homosexuality, there is a very serious question facing conservatives in the denomination. May they remain committed to the RCA? Or put another way, may they stay in the RCA, a denomination that holds to a confession that teaches false doctrine, that condemns the biblical prohibition of women office bearers, and that approves the vile sin of homosexuality?

To ask is to answer.

 

Click here to read Part 1 on the RCA Synod 2013.

Click here to read Part 2 on the RCA Synod 2013.

Click here to read Part 3 on the RCA Synod 2013.

 

Resources

“General Synod News” on the RCA’s website here: https://www.rca.org/Page.aspx?pid=9443

“What Happened at the RCA General Synod?” by Kevin DeYoung can be found online here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2013/07/09/what-happened-at-the-rca-general-synod-2/

“General Synod 2013 Recap” by Ben Kappers here: http://benkappers.blogspot.com/2013/07/general-synod-overview-2013-in.html

“2013 RCA General Synod undermines previous Syond’s decision” by Glenda Mathes published in the July 31/August 21, 2013 Christian Renewal

______________________________________________________________________________________

This article was written by guest blogger Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, IL. Rev. Spronk will be blogging for us several times a month. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us.

 

Comments

Synods and General Assemblies: The Reformed Church in America (part 2)

The Women-in-Office Agenda Takes Another Step in the RCA

The Reformed Church in America (RCA) Synod 2013’s decision to advance the women-in-office agenda is part of a long process by which proponents of women in office are working towards their goal. The goal of those who want women to be ordained as ministers, elders, and deacons is to force women’s ordination on every congregation and member in the denomination. It takes a long time to achieve that goal. The RCA has been working on it for over 30 years.

The first step towards the goal was probably barely noticed. Maybe no one dared to make bold and declare that women should be installed into church office. A few seminary professors perhaps asked “innocent” and “harmless” questions about the interpretation of relevant Bible passages. “Is it possible that the biblical command that women be silent in the church is time bound or culturally conditioned so that it is not relevant to today?” In the name of academic freedom these professors were allowed to ask their questions and sow the seeds for women’s ordination that would inevitably sprout later.

The second step towards the goal was likely a period of years when individuals openly advocated for women’s ordination. They brought overtures to classis and synod. But they were in the minority so they couldn’t gain the approval of these assemblies. But these individuals were not disciplined. No, they were allowed to stay and teach. After all everyone was trying to interpret Scripture. And for the sake of unity the church should be broad enough to include those for and against women’s ordination. So year after year the assemblies received and rejected overtures to approve women’s ordination.

Then the third step came. A very momentous step! Eventually these bold proponents of women’s ordination became the majority in the denomination (or at least had a majority of representatives at synod), so Synod 1979 finally approved it. But this was a small majority. There was probably a fear of intense hostility and a mass exodus of “conservative” members. So to maintain “unity” the RCA Synod of 1980 adopted conscience clauses that spelled out the way members of the RCA could conscientiously object to women’s ordination. The clauses allowed ministers to refrain from participating in the process of installing a woman in office and implied, although they did not state, that it is legitimate for members of the RCA to disagree with the ordination of women.

What happened then? For a number of years the “liberals” and “conservatives” pretended to have peace and unity. Some congregations ordained and installed women office bearers and others refused to do so. Those who refused to allow women’s ordination did not leave because they said, “we don’t have women office bearers in our church.” There were bumps along the way to be sure. Those who objected to women in office eventually had to deal with the fact that women “elders” and “ministers” showed up as delegates to classis and synod. Probably in prior years many of them insisted they would never sit at an assembly meeting with a woman delegate! But the women came and they ended up serving alongside women at these assemblies as delegates. And they did not leave the denomination because they could still say “we still don’t have women office bearers in our church.” And with the conscience clauses of 1980 in place many of these people probably thought they would always be allowed to stay in the RCA and reject women’s ordination.

Step four: Synod 2013 removed the conscience clauses. This means that the binding law of the RCA says ministers who used to refrain from the process of ordaining a woman, say for example from examining a woman at classis, must participate. But more significantly it means that the implied approval of the position that women may not hold office provided by the conscience clauses has been removed. Although no explicit statement was made to this effect, it seems Synod 2013 has moved the RCA in the direction of barring anyone from objecting to the ordination of women. The RCA has decided unity does not require the peaceful existence anymore of those for and against women’s ordination. The RCA believes that there is only one way to interpret the Bible with regard to women in office, namely, that God definitely gives women the authority to hold office. This was always the view of those who are in favor of women in office, but they knew they had to be patient and wait until they faced little opposition before they could force this view on the entire denomination. The removal of the conscience clauses indicates they think the time is right to stamp out any opposition to women’s ordination.

So what comes after this decision to remove the conscience clauses in the RCA? Pastor Kevin DeYoung writes:

It’s hard to know for sure. Presently there are no quotas forcing churches to ordain women, but clearly removing the clauses spells trouble for complementarians [those who oppose women’s ordination]. 1) Some conservative students are already blackballed for their views on women’s ordination. Removing constitutional protections makes their ordination process even more difficult. 2) Our ministerial vows make clear that we will conduct our work according to the Book of Church Order. Now that the BCO affirms women’s ordination . . . without an explicit allowance for those who disagree . . . it remains to be seen where complementarians can make their vows in good faith. 3) Ministers who refuse to participate in the ordination of women open themselves up to the possibility of discipline.

Quotas! The requirement of a certain number of women elders and deacons in every church. No one will be able to say, “we don’t have women office bearers in our church.” Discipline! Those who publicly oppose women’s ordination will likely be disciplined until they are either silenced or put out of the church. These steps will ensure that eventually everyone in the RCA will accept women’s ordination. That’s the goal. With the help of Synod 2013 the RCA is almost there.

Click here to read Part 1 on the RCA Synod 2013.


Resources

“General Synod News” on the RCA’s website here: https://www.rca.org/Page.aspx?pid=9443

“What Happened at the RCA General Synod?” by Kevin DeYoung can be found online here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2013/07/09/what-happened-at-the-rca-general-synod-2/

“General Synod 2013 Recap” by Ben Kappers here: http://benkappers.blogspot.com/2013/07/general-synod-overview-2013-in.html

“2013 RCA General Synod undermines previous Syond’s decision” by Glenda Mathes published in the July 31/August 21, 2013 Christian Renewal

______________________________________________________________________________________

This article was written by guest blogger Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, IL. Rev. Spronk will be blogging for us several times a month, taking us first through a brief study of Richard Smit's newly released book, The Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us.

 

Comments

Post Tags

On Twitter

Follow @reformedfreepub