Overtures 3 & 4: Laying Out the Debate

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I apologize for my absence, friends. I confess to having run stuck on Overtures 3 & 4.  Perhaps you have too?

Overtures 3 & 4 read like this:

“Therefore, Classis Grand Rapids North overtures Synod 2013 to direct the Board of Trustees to help establish a new classis in the Michigan area in accordance with Church Order Article 39.  The purpose of this would be to create a classis in which churches whose convictions do not allow women to serve in the offices of the church to participate freely.”

and,

“Classis Kalamazoo overtures Synod 2013 to direct the Board of Trustees to facilitate the establishment of a new classis in Michigan in accordance with Church Order Article 39 and to permit the transfer of Second CRC from Classis Kalamazoo to this new classis.”

(There is more to these proposals than that and I strongly urge you to read it for yourself – pages 398-406.)

You might easily see why a gal – a Reverend gal, no less – might get stuck here.  No matter your opinion, most of us aren’t diffident in holding them or taciturn in voicing them.  Let’s own that at the outset.  These overtures seem likely to create a 2013 synod sensation. 

With as objective a voice as possible – tantalizing polemics to follow in a few days – let’s look at the mechanics of these overtures.  Reaching back for my college debate training, the initial prejudice always lies with the status quo, which is to say that Classis are regularly appointed according to geography and have never been previously created on the basis of a theological barrier or divide.

These overtures, therefore, must meet the burden of proof:

a. The current system (geographical Classis) is unable to meet the demand of the current situation

and

b. The proposed solution (a refugee Classis) is the best way of solving the problem. 

They must do this in keeping – as they properly and good orderly noted – with Church Order Article 39.  Church Order Article 39 states:

“A classis shall consist of a group of neighboring churches. The organizing of a new classis and the redistricting of classes require the approval of Synod.” (Manual of CRC Government; 2008)

An earlier version of the CRC Government Manual (2001) is quoted in Overture 3 to provide this further instruction:

“The desirability of organizing a new classis depends on the consideration of the number of families, the number of congregations, the geographical distances, the effectiveness of ministry and other factors.”

Therefore, these are the questions we must answer:

  • Do classis seating women delegates irrevocably undermine the effective ministry of a) churches in that classis who do not hold a Biblical conviction that women ought to serve in their congregations or b) the classis as a whole?
  • Conversely, does the self-imposed exile of such congregations from their classis irrevocably undermine the effective ministry of a) the classis as a whole or b) the congregations there represented?
  • IF the case is made that this is a significant problem, THEN is the proposed refugee/affinity classis the best solution?

What do you think?

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Participant

Thank you for your clarification; it is all too easy to misread someone's posts online. Hartelijk bedank.

We are deluding ourselves if we think that the ordination of women is not a confessional or biblical issue. The fact that Synod declared it to be non-confession did not make it so.   A great deal of time and energy was expended developing the biblical basis for each position.  Synod was faced with two positions that are mutually exclusive and contradictory.  BOTH CANNOT BE BIBLICALLY CORRECT!!!  How one interprets scripture is the fundamental confessional and biblical matter.  So what did Synod do?  It abandoned the hard work of deciding which view was correct and pushed the entire problem into the realm of “sincerely held beliefs” and supposedly allowed both positions to stand and function in the life of the church.

Then, however, Synod contradicted itself by writing into the church order only the position which allowed women to be ordained into the ministry.  It thereby in fact adopted this position’s biblical interpretation and made it a confession issue. While churches are allowed to ordain men only to the three offices, the official position of the CRC is that women may be ordained in all the offices.  The CO itself is a confessional document about how we have agreed (confessed) to work together as a denomination and not a few of the rules are rooted in scripture.  This action reveals the real agenda of the “liberals” for the ones that I know insisted that Galatians 3 demands the ordination of women in all the offices.  I had a conversation a while back with one of these individuals and reminded him that 40 or 50 thousand left the CRC over this issue and his response was – I got what I wanted.

Synod’s decision also relativizes the ABSOLUTE equality of Galatians 3:26-29 by applying it to only a very few men and women, those qualified to meet the requirements of Calvin Seminary.  Superior and inferior, greater and lesser gifts still exist and function in the church.  I am quite sure that the receptionist at the front desk at the denominational building is not paid the same as the Executive Director.  The “equality” of the SEEDS (plural) becomes more important than the excellency of THE SEED SINGULAR, Jesus Christ himself.  Check out that passage for yourself.  Paul clearly says there are not seeds plural but only one seed singular.  Of course, Paul was probably wrong about that also.  Thus under the guise of “equality” respect of persons (James 2:1-7) continues.  Those rich in gifts are applauded.  Those poor in gifts are simply ignored.  Precisely how western culture operates.

Furthermore, by its decision Synod adopted the “culturally conditioned argument” which makes parts of scripture null and void.  The biblical data about master-slaves, husband-wives and Paul’s pronouncements about men only in office are declared to be no longer relevant or operative.  This of course is “sincerely believed”.   In regards to the master-slave passages, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. wrote in the April 178, 1989 Banner “We decide (emphasis mine) that Paul and Peter’s instructions to slaves meant that slaves at that time- while the church was young and vulnerable – ought to obey their masters as the Lord.  But we wouldn’t dream of applying these instructions to ourselves” (emphasis mine)   

Isn’t that exactly what Eve did in Eden.  She decided that her opinion, her “sincerely held belief” was superior to God’s Word and acted accordingly: so also Synod.  Note the serpent’s opening line (Gen. 3:1) “Has God said”?   He thereby challenges God’s word and pretends to know the mind of God (Gen. 3:5).

But what is at the heart of the Pauline slave-master passages?  The very first Q&A of the Heidelberg Catechism (which sums up all our confessions)  – “…I am not my own but belong body and soul… to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ…”  Our ONLY comfort.  Note what scripture actually says in Ephesians 6:5-9  “be obedient…as unto Christ…as servants of Christ…doing the will of God from the heart…with good will doing service as unto the Lord…you masters, DO THE SAME THING.”  Colossians 3:22-4:1 continues in the same vein – “you serve the Lord Christ…masters, render unto your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”  In I Peter 2:18-25 Peter encourages not only servants but all believers to endure griefs, suffering wrongfully…you were called to suffering…because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps…”

I Corinthians 7:22-23 “For he that was called in the Lord being a bondservant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise he that was called being free, is Christ’s bondservant.  You were bought with as price; become not bondservants of men.

Romans 14:7-8 “For none of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself.  For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.”   This is the very purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection.   In Philippians 3 Paul considers all his human religious accomplishments as garbage, as loss for the sake of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.   He want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death.”

Here is the heart of the gospel and gospel life.  And it is precisely this which Plantinga and Synod have decided is no longer relevant and they would not dream of applying to our lives today.  Synod by its decision has thrown away the heart of the gospel.  Paul in no way “permits the institution of slavery” but rather challenges it at the very heart of the matter – the sinful pride that exalts self and seeks to enslave all others.  But what Paul makes exceedingly clear that all believers, no matter what their station in life – are slaves of Jesus Christ.  We do not belong to ourselves, but to him.  Obviously, the majority of ministers and elders in the CRC no longer believe that they are bondservants of Christ.

A related issue is that the CRC no longer holds to Calvin’s understanding of the second commandment.  It too is null and void.  Apparently the second commandment prohibits making visible representations of false gods but allows infinite visible representations of the God and Father of Jesus Christ.  Many churches busily manufacture visible representations of God or some aspect of his being, all done in order to enhance the believer’s worship experience.  So now the Lord Jesus Christ, the only true image of the invisible God is just another one of the multitude of images (the vain imaginations of men’s minds) available to the church and probably not the most important one at that. The idols that men manufacture are always more important to them than the God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ.  This is clearly a confession issue: BC Art 25,29,33, HC  LD 25 and LD 35.  Visible representations of deity are clearly forbidden.  But nobody seems to care.  Israel finally came under the severe judgment of God because they continually made visible representations of him as well as images of false gods, led in so doing by Israel’s leaders, its prophets, priests and kings.

The real issue for conservatives is that Synod by its decision has made scripture irrelevant since all that matters now is not whether one is biblical correct but whether one is “sincere” in believing what they do.  Seating women at Classis or Synod is the visible tip of an iceberg of theological and hermeneutical confusion and error, the existence of which the church refuses to face.

By its decision Synod has abandoned the theology and practice of Calvin who upheld the final authority of Scripture and adopted that of Schleiermacher who believed that theology and church practice came out of the consciousness (the sincere beliefs) of the community of faith.   Allow me a personal anecdote of this fact.  A while back, on this blog I had an interchange with an individual about how to witness.  I pointed out that biblically, witnessing points to the risen Christ once crucified and his experiences on our behalf.  He reprimanded me, calling me arrogant because I wanted to be biblical correct, and asserted that this approach would only turn people off to the gospel.  He insisted that what needed to be done was to tell people about our fantastic spiritual experiences which should be fresh daily.  Clearly his thoughts were elevated above scripture and his experiences more important that Christ’s.

Furthermore, concept churches and theological classis already exist.  Classis Grand Rapids East which covers a small geographical area (in which I happen to live) is also a theological classis.  It functions in harmony with Synodical decisions and those of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship which among other things strongly advocates the use of images in worship services in order to enhance the worshipping experience.  My conservative theology is not acceptable and I would not be welcome unless I agreed to keep silent in the church.

 I also want to point out that the issue of ordaining women was never about preaching the gospel.  It was and still is all about the use of women’s gifts in the instituted church.  In other words it is all about women having professional religious careers in the instituted church.  The ministry is now for both men and women just another career path.  The pulpit has then become a place to display the excellence of human talent and ability just as in the theater and sports venues.  Pulpit speech is now nothing more than “sincerely held belief”, human speech that is no longer the Word of God preached.

So in regards to a theological classis:  since the conservative position has been written out of the church order, they (the weak) ought to at the very least be allowed to follow their own “sincerely held beliefs” in working together with likeminded believers.  If liberals are free to have concept churches and theological classis, why not conservatives?  To deny them their freedom would clearly contradict biblical teaching.

This, however, is not the best solution.  The best solution would be for every member to turn away from every form of “sincerely held beliefs” and return to “the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ.” (II Cor. 11:3), by holding fast the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 1:9).  Paul saw the Corinthian church turning away from the gospel and called them back to Christ.  Let us not pretend that this cannot possibly happen in the CRC.  Psalm 122:9 has it right “For the sake of the house of Lord our God, I will seek your good.”  However, the operative principle today seems to be “I got what I wanted.”  Unity is not based on “sincerely held beliefs”; it can only come from submission to the Risen Lord through faithful obedience to his word of truth.   There can be no unity between Calvin and Schleiermacher.

In 2010 synod told these churches that they could not transfer to a classis that shared their convictions because the distance was too great.  Synod told them to seek a classis closer to home.  Since then they have contacted every classis in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.  Either those classes do not share their complementarian conviction or they are not open to receiving new churches via transfer.  Having exhausted every conceivable option offered by Synod 2010, they now return asking conceptual approval for a classis that is reasonably geographically contiguous and that is also complementarian.  And there are now fierce arguments to close that door as well. 

Second CRC in Kalamazoo has not attended a classis meeting for several years.  Does that irreparably damage their local ministry?  At a minimum, it cuts them off from any collegial contact.  Trinity has missed fewer meetings, but only because the congregations in Grand Rapids North that have women elders have deliberately not delegated those women except when there was no other option.  I know that to be fact because I have been stated clerk here for several years.  This creates an additional burden on those churches.  Approving these overtures would create a process where not only these two churches but others of the same conviction could operate at the classical level while being true to their convictions.  It would also free the egalitarian churches in Grand Rapids North the freedom to operate at the classical level in conformity with their convictions without the concern about offending another church.

Synod has established the basic principle that there can be classes that operate with complementarian convictions, and there are several, primarily in the upper Midwest.  Synod has said that churches in Michigan may not transfer to these classes because of the distance.  So these overtures ask that synod allow the only option left open to them, and set in motion a process that will create a classis that is not geographically distant that operates with complementarian conviction.  If synod now says no, is it leaving any options for these congregations other than to either operate in violation of their deeply held convictions or to leave the denomination or to remain within the denomination but live in isolation?

Participant

So Bill, if this new classis is formed, what will stop it from creating the same issues at synod that these congregations created in their respective classes? Does this actually solve the underlying problem? Or doesn't it move the problem back up to the synodical/denominational level?

The real issue here is not Women in Church Office/Keep Women Out of Office. The real issue is ecclesiology. What do we believe about the church? What do we believe in how the church should operate? Namely, is it ok for congregations or classes to become non-participatory when a decision didn't go their way.

This synod needs to address these questions, just as Synod 1996 already did (p. 561).

"4. That synod not accede to Overture 5.

Grounds:

a. Formation of a classis based on theological affinity should be rejected on the same grounds as C, I, b and c above.

                            (b. Departing significantly from the principle of geographic proximity may well impair effective ministry

                             c. Classis provides a framework for churches to work together even when they disagree and provides a forum for continuing interaction, which  may lead to understanding.)

b.  Formation of a new classis based on theological affinity would lead only to further fragmentation within the denomination.

c. "It would not be in the best interest of the churches in general, if certain groups of churches would be at liberty to form a new classis whenever a movement in this direction was sponsored, and it would not be advisable if a church could just decide all by itself to change from one classis to another," (Monsma and Van Dellen), The New Revised Church Order Commentary, p. 163)

-Adopted"

 

Sorry if there are formatting issues.

"The real issue here is not Women in Church Office/Keep Women Out of Office."   As a conservative I find the framing of this issue highly offensive.  The real issue for the church is rightly discerning the truth of the scriptures.  This synod did not do.  It claim it was "wise" to let both contradictory positions function in the church.   And then it adopted only one by writing IT in the church order.   Allow me to define the issue in  similar manner to the above quote.  The real issue is whether chertain passages of scripture will continue to be declared null and void or whether all scripture will be the final authority.  The real issue is whether "we are going to decide which scripture no longer applies" or whether we accept all scripture as inspired revelation. 

Furthermore, Trinity Sparta and Second Kalamazoo are not rogue churches going their own way.  They are seeking carefully to follow Synodical procedures to receive the church's approval.  That exhibits far more faithfulness and care for the church that individuals, churches, or even Synod deciding that parts of scripture are not longer valid.  What Synod has abandoned is nothing less than being a "bondservant of Jesus Christ"  See my previous post for details.

Participant

You're about 40 years late. Synod asked what do the scriptures say about women in church office begining in 1970 at the request of our ecumenical partners/associations. The study reports (yes there multiple reports using both liberal and conservative Biblical interpretations) all came to the same conclusion. "The practice of excluding women from ecclesiastical office cannot conclusively be defended on biblical grounds."  Thus began our long journey.

1995 was a compromise that one can have differing and conflicting perspectives (i.e. interpretations and applications of scripture) while still utilitizing Reformed hermeneutics. But the underlying assumption to this is simple: The Bible no where says "Women cannot be elders." "Women cannot be pastors." And the Bible does mention a female deacon (though whether this has anything to do with office is debatable.)

Your statement that the bible no where says "...." sounds definitive, but is not.  The bible also no where says that infants of believers should be baptized, nor that rebaptism is wrong.  The bible also no where says that only "ministers (servants) should preach, or that there should be different denominations, or that worship services should be held on Sundays, or that elders should have limited terms.    The weight of evidence leans in a certain direction, and in this case it seems synod went against the weight of the evidence, instead of following the weight of the scriptural evidence. 

Participant

John, you are right that that statement is not definitive for women in church office. But it does make clear the point that scripture is not clearly against it either. That's why we are where we are on this, lots of diversity of opinion. This is just like all the other issues you rightly mentioned.

The question is how do we live with the diversity of opinion? Do we insult each other? Do ignore each other? Do we boycott our classis? Do we eventually boycott synod? Or do we work together inspite of our differences? Do show up and participate at classis meetings even though we disagree with some of the choices our classis has made?

I appreciated Synods actions very well. Many texts show different positions on the same question. It is only a Greek view that wants to enforce one position only. I am sure that every text in the Bible was well meant. Whether each statement mentioned in the Bible is of the same force today depends on a lot of factors, not just what some people wish or not.  Prayerful deliberations, listening to the Spirit is so important.  Realizing that not anyone has a full grasp of the full truth in all its detail means that Christians have to try and see how we can work together even if there are differences. Only our stubborness has forced various denominations and have thrown others out. Each church community has been guilty of this sin and we should confess our short comings. In heaven there will not be any denominations, I am sure. 

Participant

I have lost the thread of this discussion so my comments may relate to earlier comments. The distribution regionalization of Classis, certainly in Canada is purely arbitrary and has no relation to churches being in geographic areas. Just looks at the the two Classis in British Columbia Canada . I live in Classis SE but attend a church in Classis BC NW! Thirteen km from my house, I pass two Crc churches on the way. One of Classis BC NW churches is almost a 1000 miles away from the church I attend. 

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