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How should complementarian classes encourage women to use their gifts in classis? 

Dawn is a member of a church within a classis that won't seat women. In a comment on a previous posting (and on other forums) she shared that this leads her to the conclusion that classis is a broken structure and should be replaced. 

Even though I believe all offices of the CRCNA should be open to women I've got doubts about Dawn's position. Part of this arises from my ideas about how culture and gospel work together in church structure. 
My experience in other cultural contexts in the US and overseas leads me to believe that church structures need to reflect both the gospel (none do so perfectly) as well as the culture of the community. If the structure is too far out of alignment with the cultural understanding of community the church structure will be unintellible and probably abusive and unproductive. 
For this reason I am disinclined to advocate for a synodical level effort to force these classes to change their policies. I think the present denominational position is appropriate for where we are at culturally, allowing each classis to determine its own position. Understanding cultural contexts and accomodating cultural needs is more than just recognizing the needs of communities defined by ethnicity or language. 
Dawn is persistent if she's anything and she has brought me to think about the reality of seeing classis narrowly as a delegated voting body that appears and evaporates two or three times a year. Unlike congregation/council, and denomination/synod, we have one word for classis/classis. I think complementarianism is as much a cultural position as a hermenutical one and if it is pursued any classis that does not recognize women elders or pastors must somehow find a way to embody the principle in the classis in some better way than having women serve the lunch. 
In 2006 I visited Redeemer Presbyterian church in NYC and had the priviledge of not only meeting with Tim Keller but also with his church staff. Redeemer is part of the PCA which does not permit women to be elders. I spent an day meeting with most of the heads of ministry groups in the church and to my surprise found that most of them were women. If you want to hear Tim and Kathy Keller's position on Women in Office there are recorded talks on the Redeemer website and probably other places on the Internet. Even though I disagree with the Kellers' position on women elders I was pleasantly surprised to see how much positional power, control and responsibility women had in their church.
Again, I do not advocate for the PCA position that Redeemer is in compliance with. My sympathies are more with my friends at City Church San Francisco, a church similar to Redeemer (complete with former Redeemer staffers) who left the PCA for the RCA. Yet for those who are working to embody a complementarian ethos it seems to me that something else is needed in classis to bring expression to this position than simply a prohibition.
Cultures that I know who can't envision women pastors or elders (if they have elders) at this moment almost all have other positions for women within their cultures of great power and responsibility that afford expression of a complementarian ethos, valuing the gifts, leadership and expression of both sexes. I think classes that wish to try to develop the complementarian ethos should see this as part of the package. 
Now I write this post with a great deal of hesitation because I don't wish to ignite a Women-in-Church-Office flame war. This debate has been a part of my experience in the CRC for all of my life. We've too often handled this conflict poorly. At the same time I think the topic is worth discussing. 
Do you believe the existence of CRC classes that don't seat women elders condemns classis as a structure? If so, what should replace it? 
If you are a complementarian, how should that ethos be reflected in classis? If you have a complementarian classis what concrete steps are you pursuing to give expression to God's gifts given to women? 


Antonio Illas on April 22, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The Apostle Saint Paul is a "man of his time period" a male centered Jewish culture...  In a patriarcal society is no surprise that women were oppressed by the males.  I our times let's apply the concept that for Christ and God there is neither male nor female...  The Grace and Love of God is greater than the silly debate of ordained ministry for our women in the CRC.

Eric Verhulst on April 22, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Let's also, then, apply the "neither Jew nor Greek" bit and get rid of the "diversity" quotas, ethnic advisors, and all the rest of the race/ethnic tracking system we use.

It's a silly debate to you because the answer seems so patently obvious to you.  Well, the answer seems patently obvious to those who think they are not permitted to ordain women as well - and I assure you that they also will at times call it a silly debate.  "Why doesn't everybody see the obvious, self-evident logic of agreeing with me?"

It may be that we need to agree to disagree, which is what Synod decided in 1992-95.  The difficulty is in answering the question, "How do we then live together and continue to work together in the assemblies of the Church when we disagree on such a question?"

Synod and the various classes have been trying to thread that needle in the near 20 years since.  I don't think we've found a very effictive method.  Personally, I don't think there is one.

Antonio: OK, so you are saying that Paul couldn't rise above his culture, even when writing Scripture (and despite the working of the Holy Spirit)?  Paul was aware of Peter's vision (clean/unclean animals) and the implication for that, but he couldn't figure out that he should no longer direct that women should not teach or have authority over men?

And what about Jesus himself (you didn't respond to that).  He came to literally change everything, and did, but he didn't bother to include even one female among his disciples, choosing instead to, well to use your characterization of those times, oppress them?

Why could Jesus and Paul not quote your line: "The Grace and Love of God is greater than the silly "patriarcal society" which oppresses women, and so we will not conform our actions to those oppressive ways?

You may all of this sound so simple, but then why wasn't it so simple and straight forward for Jesus and Paul.  Why, instead, they they act and speak in a way that continued what you regard as oppression?

Aaron Vriesman on April 27, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


you say "The Apostle Saint Paul is a "man of his time period" a male centered Jewish culture..." but your statement about in Christ there is neither male or female comes from the same man of the same time period. I'm curious as to how these two statements can fit together. Care to revise, or am I missing something?



I couldn't agree with you more on the issue of "diversity" quotas and ethnic advisors; although, I am aware in the United States the race/ethnic card is always in peoples minds,  yes, including the Christians...  The "diversity" quotas and ethnic advisors are many times (although with good intentions) insult us as human beings created in God's image.  The quota and ethnic cards attempt against the dignity of us as members of different races and ethnic groups in the United States and Canada.

Eric our focus as a Church, the CRC, is to work for the Kingdom of God now and here, where God has placed us, male and female, and, yes, in ordained ministry.  Remember God is Spirit and therefore has no sex - gender.

My recommendation  - don't be afraid to work with an ordained female elder or minister of the Word and Sacraments...  Challenge yourself and learn something for the Kingdom...

Eric Verhulst on April 23, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

One person of the Trinity does have gender - Jesus.  The first person of the Trinity has chosen to have himself referred to as Father, though that does not mean he has gender as we do.  But regardless, God chose in his wisdom to create us with gender - male and female.  The passage under discussion - Gal 3:28 - did not then and does not now mean the differences inherent in gender evaporated and all Christians become some sort of hermaphrodite.

So what do the twin facts of differentiation in human gender (male and female) and our unity in Christ (Gal 3:28 and other passages) mean for the Church as she seeks to minister in the name of Jesus now?  Some of our brothers and sisters have looked to Scripture and come to the conclusion that they are not permitted to ordain women to one or more of the offices of the Church.  Some have looked to Scripture and come to the conlusion that there are no structural boundaries on women serving within the Church.  Synod has declared that there is no way within traditional Reformed hermeneutics to conclusively determine which, if either, of these perspectives is the more faithful to the Biblical text.

It's not a matter of being afraid to "learn something for the Kingdom", and if you'll look back through my posts you will find that I have not stated my own view on the question.  That is intentional since, in my opinion, the key question as it pertains to classes, synods and councils is not how to make other people think what I think but how do we, institutionally, implement Synod's declaration that these two opposing views are both warranted by Scripture and we should find some way to live and serve together in the Church.

I am trying to catch up and will undoubtedly miss some questions, perhaps some directed toward me. I'll tackle this one as it is the first one I am seeing.

Yes, I understand why you might say "ah, come on," however I do want you to understand that I am not accusing any individuals other than myself of bigoted behavior. I am indicating that our church seems to have no means for me to be a member without knowingly living a life of sin in this regard. If others think this means that they too are sinning, then that is outside of the scope of my statements, but I can see how this can be logically derived from my statements about my own behavior. I am honestly making no such accusations in this situation, however.

I realize that I will be living my life side by side with people who block women from this or that. Of course I want all such behavior to stop, just as I want to eliminate hunger. I cannot purge the world of all such ills and I do not go around judging others. I know that it is not my job to judge in that way. I am called to align my own behavior with what is right, however. 

So, my statements here are not intended to change the minds of anyone who might think that they have been called to lock women out of church offices. I no longer have what it takes to carry on a dialog on that topic. I no longer feel that any good can come out of me addressing questions such Jesus choosing 12 men as disciples. If this is such strong evidence to you of something, I would think I should hear more (or ANY) sermons about how I should not be a disciple. 

My interest is in the question of how the CRC can thrive, given people like me and others equally convinced that women must suffer lock-outs. Over the course of my career, I have worked hard to leave those organizations with whom I have worked, whether as an employee, a vendor, a customer, or a partner in any respect better off than when I started working with them. It is, therefore, difficult to see my denomination seem to be in a state of decline.

My statements here are about how to take the CRC today and help it grow and thrive into the future. I have ideas on how to do this, but others might have even better ideas than mine (not provided in any detail here -- it would take a book!). My design for thriving include minimizing the work of classis and growing up other efforts that help provide a better culture within the CRC. That is why I am responding to Paul's blog on Classis.

The fact that I can see no way for the denomination to thrive if we put any sort of focus on classis does not imply that no one can come up wtih a means to fix things while retaining classis as it stands. I simply cannot see it. My intuition on this is not backed by clear business intelligence, although I have reviewed various charts regarding our decline and my intuition has some basis in experience. If I could hear anyone else give a clear strategy for getting from here to there while also trying to raise the importance of classis or even keep it the same, I would definitely listen. I have pictures and designs in my head for how the denomination could thrive (please tell my head to STOP as no one has asked me to do this!!!) and all of them require giving classis the most minimal role we can at this point and working to replace it over time. I do not think that synod should address women-in-church-offices again, but what we have now is not workable, in my opinion.

If you see a path for us to put more into our sometimes all-male classes and have a culture that permits us to thrive into the future, please lay out a plan. I just can't see it. I want us to thrive. I think we need to give classis as minimal a role as required and work to replace it over time. I realize I did not provide a ton of facts, but I did provide one. We appear to be continuing in some state of decline. I can see some ways to get us out of it provided we give classis as minimal a role as possible. That's all I'm trying to say while providing some rationale by showing you the culture I'm living in -- where given that I want to be a member of a CRC church I am compelled to live in a way that I feel and think is sinful. This is not about making it easier for me. It is about a culture that is broken and could be fixed. I suspect if you can fix this issue for me, you can do a lot to repair the culture of our denomination.   --dawn

Dawn:  You say, "My interest is in the question of how the CRC can thrive, given people like me and others equally convinced that women must suffer lock-outs."  My answer: by living with each other in the kind of gracious demonstrated by Acts 15, 1 Cor 13, Mother Theresa, and many other examples and directives.  By understanding and living the principle that he/she who truly serves if he/she who truly leads, that washing feet is more important than being served by others at the table.  Frankly, no one in the church, CRC or otherwise, needs to be "in authority" to serve in an truly unrestricted way. 

Christians will forever be wrong on particular "issues."  I'll be wrong on some and so will you.  If you or I encounter a brother or sister who shows love and grace, but differs from us as to questions that are important, you and I do everyone a disfavor by if we characterize that person in a demeaning way.  My bottom line is that why I'd avoid endless analogies to racism, archaic attitudes, etc.  I think too many on both sides have been too demeaning to "the other side" and still are.  If we can't live in grace with each other, the world will have no cause to consider what we have to say.  We can know everything and yet be nothing but loud noise.

Dawn Wolthuis on April 24, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Doug - I definitely do not intend to characterize anyone other than myself and definitely do not intend to be demeaning. I think that it is OK for me to call my own sins the way I see them without calling out anyone else's sins. When I use the civil rights analogy, I really do not know if everyone who insisted that black people sit in the back of the bus was sinning by doing so. I also do not feel a need to judge them, even if I would think it was right for me to work to help society remove such an injustice. Similarly, I do not think of others being engaged in a sin when they lock women out of church offices. Not only do I not know if they are sinning, I do no think it is my place to be the judge. 

I DO look at my own sins. By choosing to be a member of the CRC, I am engaged in doing something that I find to be abhorable and sinful. I am a member of a country club that does not permit black tee times. I am a member of an organization that refuses to seat women in a regional decision-making body. I am appalled by my behavior. I know that there are people who go around pointing fingers at others, but that is not me. I hope you can tap into that and understand that my analogies are to help others understand the burdens of those who are like me so that we can figure out how to move forward. I know that the culture of the CRC that puts me in this position is a problem for our denomination.

Are you able to understand that with my analogy to the civil rights movement, I am trying to shed light and not darkness? Can you see that I am telling you how some in the CRC must live, with this tear in their spirit because they can see so specifically how complicit they are in the wrongs against women in the world? Can you understand that I think that I am living with something that I know to be a sin in my life BECAUSE I am a member of the CRC? Is this how we want the CRC to function? If not, then let's do something different. That's what I'm saying. I am not pointing fingers at any person at all, other than myself. I am not making such suggestions to claim any victim status. I am a future-leaning person. I am looking toward the future in my denomination and I want to help paint a brighter future.  Does that make more sense?  --dawn

Dawn: You ask, "Are you able to understand that with my analogy to the civil rights movement, I am trying to shed light and not darkness?"

As I said in my very first post, that analogy just does not work.  It comes from a "rights based" mentality that is not biblically based.  Scripture teaches an "upside down", "first is last, the least of these is greatest," "blessed is he who serves," "incarnate God himself washes feet and dies a horrible death mentality."

I suppose I'll accept your statement that you "do not intend to characterized anyone other than myself and definitely do not intend to be demeaning," but not without saying as well that you are then -- and I say this respectfully -- not so careful about how you say things.  And then you say, "By choosing to be a member of the CRC, I am engaged in doing something that I find to be abhorable and sinful. I am a member of a country club that does not permit black tee times," which really contradicts your assertion just made a sentence before.  You didn't say "it sometimes makes me feel as if ..." but declare continuing membership in the CRC sinful and abhorrent.

Beyond that, if you really believe staying as a member of the CRC is engaging in something sinful and abhorrent, you simply shouldn't stay a member, and you seem a sincere enough Christian that I would think you would choose not to daily live a sinful and abhorrent life.  So I'm left to wonder: which is it?  Is Dawn just engaging in extreme hyperbole when she uses the race analogy or is she daily choosing to lead a life that in her mind is sinful and abhorrent?

I've always said to those opposed to women in office, that if the worst sin you commit is allowing a woman to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, I think God will forgive you.  To those on the other side (and you seem to be there), if the worst sin you commit is allowing others to follow what they believe Scripture says, I think God will forgive you.  The point of my thoughts is to communicate how small the real offense that is that is purported occurring here.  But if you really feel otherwise, that you truly, daily live a sinful and abhorrent life by remaining CRC (or whatever tradition), by all means, I can't figure out why you would stay within this tradition.  The CRC is not the Holy Catholic Church after all.


The HISTORICAL Jesus of Nazareth was a GOOD JEW and as such was part of the patriarcal society that sorrounded him and he lived in.  Jesus was no REVOLUTIONARY - He didn't even conspired against the Roman Empire that had colonized the Jewish people. 

God bless the ORDAINED WOMEN in the CRC - they sure demonstrate that GOD uses them for the  establishment of the Kingdom.  Keep up the good work no matter the opposition from some archaic men in the CRC.

Antonio: But then Jesus was "archaic" man as well, not?  And Paul?  And guess who designed that oppressive Old Testament system that was patriarchal in the first place, that provided a sign of the covenant to males only.  If Jesus was a "good Jew" (and he was in a way), he complied with a system that God created in the first place.

Understand I agree that women should not be prohibited from the offices of elder and minister.  But I do object to characterizing those who take another view as anological racists or just of unbelievable archaic mindsets.  I genuinely don't understand why we have to deride those of a position that is clearly Biblically defensible by essentially calling names.  Why do we have to posit the existence of villains.  Again, I'll point to the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 as instructive for all of us.

Aaron Vriesman on April 27, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


Your post is most puzzling to me. Are you saying that Jesus was not a revolutionary in any way at all?

Antonio Illas on April 27, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The HISTORICAL Jesus was a good Jewish man.  He came not to break the Jewish law...

The Christ was REVOLUTIONARY because he resurrected and gave us, male and female, SALVATION. 

God bless the ordained women in the CRC!!!

Aaron Vriesman on May 1, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

If "Jesus" was not a revolutionary but "Christ" was indeed a revolutionary, then you must be talking about two different persons in such a way that Jesus Christ had a split-personality disorder. This is a denial of the Ecumenical Creeds, which the CRC stands on.


I see what you are saying, but in the case of a classis that hasn't voted to declare the word male inoperative according to their classical rules of procedure, wouldn't the chair of the classis meeting probably just rule the delegation out of order (probably not saying it right, but hope you get the idea).


Well, so much for 2 equally-accepted hermeneutical positions. However, I do feel a massive sense of freedom now that I can dismiss much of the Bible in my next sermon. To know that my contemporary views of culture outweigh Jesus’ is very empowering! Thanks for this post.


Forgive me if this has been addressed somewhere already but I have a question about what you are writing here. Do you believe that the complementarian view is based on culture? If the reason women officebearers are not forced upon all classes is because of differing cultures, then does that imply complementarians are complementarian because of their culture? It seems that the more these differing views are seen as cultural, the more it can be said that complementarians are just prejudiced and misogynistic.

Paul VanderKlay on April 27, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I don't know that we can have a conversation that asserts knowledge that transcends culture, not because culture cannot be transcended, but because we cannot transcend it. All of our conversations are within cultures and their mergers and collisions. Likewise the Bible cannot communicate to us outside of culture. Maybe this piece I wrote for a comment on another blog might help explain my idea. I don't think that means we can't learn anything or that everything is relative. It means that culture (practices and ways of thinking that frame our perception of the world) are always with us. It also doesn't mean that things can't be true for all human cultures or normative for all human cultures. It does mean that expression of those norms might have different appearances and practices. 

My understanding of a basic complementarian position is that it asserts than men and women have normative different contributions to make to the body of Christ. More on my position. I am not as convinced that keeping women from holding office is a universal normative mandate for the church. I am not sufficiently convinced of that position to advocate it's application in our context, in fact my experience has been that having male and female office bearers working together in church leadership has been better than having only one sex at work. 

Our current specific cultural application of office bearing, however, is also a cultural construct (hopefully pursuing more universal norms.). I've been active in the church in cultures where women did not serve in formal leadership but served in other leadership capacities within the church that exerted power and influence even if not in the structure that we are paying attention to in this debate. Korean congregations often have women called and commissioned (ordained would not be an inappropriate word given the language, ceremony, respect, position, etc.) in their churches. In the DR many churches has "damas misioneras" who preached, taught, led, etc. A similar thing. 

If our current cultural location is bringing churches to not use the gift God has given women in the church to exercise them because of a lot of cultural norms about what names and chairs they must exercise leadership from, then we need to do some re-arranging. How elders, deacons and pastors work today continues to change in our culture and others. Despite the language you're hard pressed to say that our application of the offices is identical to the NT context. That's OK because the world is different. Again, I'm not advocating for relativism, just application. CRC deacons sometimes give out food but probably not in the same way that it was happening in the Jerusalem church. 

In coming to application (as in just about every circumstance) we look to the word of God and the Spirit of God to guide us. Things may look different again 100 years from now and we have no idea how. 

I'm comfortable letting the process work its way through. If we look at the history of the church (Alister McGrath's fine book on Heresy) we find that over time the church figures out what is heresy often by dead ends. It may be that allowing women in office becomes a dead end and Christ's living church moves beyond it. At this point I doubt that but I could be wrong. The church often takes hundreds of years to work things through. The issues we're dealing with today will become clear in time, but I don't know that we know the outcome yet. Best to keep reading God's word and working with it and doing the work of the church. pvk

Dawn Wolthuis on April 27, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Good points regarding culture, Paul. I just want to pipe up on the word "complementarian" although I know Paul has heard this from me before.

I am certainly a complementarian in understanding that men and women complement each other. I think that the different nationalities and races are also complementary. Short people and tall people complement each other too. We can see that some tasks are easier for one group, on the whole (that is, as a stereotype) than for another group on the whole. Complementarian is a good thing.

What is not acceptable is to say that because we complement each other, we must lock out entire races, nationalities, or genders from something that some in that group think/feel they have been called to do. I see nothing in Scripture that ought to be applied as calling us to "play God" with lock-outs, whether of a race or a gender. We are instructed, rather, to see that we are all one in Christ.

The terms "complementarian" and "egalitarian" are not mutually exclusive. We are called to both of these.


Dawn: While I agree with you on the narrow question, I don't agree as to what you find in Scripture.  Paul did lock out women from teaching or having authority over women.  The OT sign of the covenant locked out women from having the sign.  Jesus did lock out women from being among his twelve disciples.

Conversely, I can find nothing in Scripture where races were locked out of anything.

Dawn Wolthuis on April 29, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, I am aware that there are differences of opinion when interpreting Scripture. These have been visited and revisited in our denomination. Just with your few words above, I have no idea why you think that because Jesus had 12 male disciples that he was locking out women. Further, I cannot understand why Jesus having 12 disciples would prompt you to call women into discipleship (if you are among those who do) but think they should be locked out of other roles.

So my concerns about classis here are given that we have multiple interpretations that we have said are acceptable within our denomination, we need a better way of working this out. I think we need to figure out how to address the organizational cutlure issues that we have now, and I think some creative efforts related to classis could really go a long way. Sweeping the issue under the carpet, pretending that all is OK and causing one classis after the next to vote on whether women can move to the front of the bus is not cutting it, in my opinion. For example, how many more times do I have to hear that my classis again voted to refuse to seat women?

I would like to see our resources put into ways to mitigate the problems we have specifically with classis rather than putting lipstick on it at this point.   --dawn

Aaron Vriesman on May 1, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Do you believe that the CRC, with two equally valid positions on women in office, can indeed move forward in a productive way without either side eventually compromising or caving in?

It's a generous position, Paul. However, I really don't see how this is going to subside. The root of all of this is hermeneutical, and nobody is giving up that ground easily. It is not the case that all the people who see a universal cultural application regarding gender have left the denomination. MANY remain, but are not willing to break the denomination again to press their view. Instead, they are content to wait for God to show the other side their error.

As long as we're all willing to let everyone else be wrong in their hermeneutics and still call each other "family," then we're a fairly quiet bunch. You see from this post, once someone advocates eliminating the opposite hermeneutic (especially through denominational government), the division is not re-opened, but exposed for what it has always been.

Paul VanderKlay on April 28, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Look at the issue of Infant Baptism. How long as this been going on? Neither side has given up, but many have learned to live with the disagreement. I would argue that infant baptism is a more important issue than women in office but clearly many more don't see it that way. I'm sure some have left the CRC over women in office only to get re-baptized. 

This is in my experience (as stated above) not really an issue that has separated the sexes. Many women don't believe in women in office and many men do. My heart mostly goes out to women (like Dawn and others) who wish to serve but don't get the chance. That's very hard. At the same time I've known men who very much wanted to serve and were never given the opportunity, not because of their sex but because of other things. Life is full of disappointments and injustices in the church and out of it. 

In my experience a small minority post on a forum like this. In my classis where women are allowed to be seated there are a good number of churches that don't have women elders or don't permit them. At every classis meeting one church from our classis attaches to their credential their protest over women in office. It is read or noted at each classis meeting. I know that bothers some, but it doesn't bother me. For the last 5 years I've always had a woman elder with me and I've seen nothing but graciousness and kindness towards them at classis, even from those who publically oppose it. My elders often are a bit hesitant about what will happen. Even though they are permitted to be there it is very much a majority male environment, out of 50+ delegates only 1-5 women often. I can appreciate their discomfort often. This is the difficult path that both sides are walking now, and on the path we learn to love our "enemies", which is what a foundational behavior of Christianity. 

The longer I ponder the miracle of the gospel, the more I see that love of enemy is not some optional merit badge in advanced, exceptional Christian practice, but rather the very basis itself. We made no greater enemy and no other enemy than God himself and it required the Son of God himself at no lesser expense than the cost of his life to get us back into the family. Why we imagine that we can finesse, negotiate or fudge our way through the inevitable conflicts of life in order to avoid loving our enemy is only attributable to the ever present blinding nature of sin. pvk


It shows the Apostle's Paul own contradictions... in Corinthians women are NO GOOD in Galatians there is no male or female... if you get it, please explain!!!

God bless the ordained women in the CRC!!!

Aaron Vriesman on May 1, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


I'm not an expert on Pauline literature to understand his real or perceived discrepancies. The statements you post are problematic and untenable however. For example, claiming that Paul contradicts himself implies that the Bible contradicts itself, which then implies that the Bible is untrustworthy since it says one thing and then the opposite. These claims, if pressed, lead to a position where we as fallible humans decide which verses of the Bible are valid/correct/inspiried and which are "Paul being his contradictory self."

John Zylstra on May 7, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Antonio, there are no contradictions in what Paul is saying, no more than in how Jesus treated people.   If you understand what he is saying.  Jesus selected twelve men (only men) as his special disciples, and as his apostles.  They played a different role than the children who sat on his knee, and different than the roles of Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene, Joanna and the other women who followed him.  But Paul is saying that all of these people are just as important to Jesus.  Just because someone is an apostle, does not ultimately make him more important than the child or the woman or the non-apostle or the non-deacon.   From our earthly perspective, we always want to think that someone with more authority is more important than someone who has less authority.   This is a very earthly perspective, very worldly.  Only Christ himself is more important.  Everyone else is equally valuable to God;  God does not give more worth to the high priest in the temple than to the boy who brought the two fish and five loaves to Jesus.  

The centurion, a non-Jew who had a sick servant had more faith than all the Israelites who were supposedly special, said Jesus.   The samaritan woman who begged for scraps from the table(for her son to be healed) was treated with the same love of Christ that the woman at the well received, or the woman whose son had died, or Mary and Martha who lost Lazarus, or Peter when he repented of his denial of Christ. 

Do not confuse authority or roles, with importance in the eyes of our Lord.  Then you will understand those verses better. 

Two comments: When I grew up, men and women usually occupied roles that were suited primarily to them.  Churches did not consider women as eligible nominees for the positions of pastor, elder or deacon.  In the 1970s, my perspective began to broaden.  As a new awareness developed, I wondered how I would have dealt with slavery had my parents owned slaves.  Perhaps had I been challenged I would have used biblical texts to defend the position of my parents.  But I hope eventually I would have recognized the Bible's emphasis on freedom and that slavery denied the freedom Christ proclaimed.  I find the change that took place in my thinking to be similar.  I now recognize that it is wrong to put anyone down because of sex, race, social standing of any other issue society may use to differentiate between people.  Therefore, I find the current debate about whether women should be accepted at classis as delegates to be both offenisive and belittling to women.

A second observation: The church polity of the CRC is non-hierarchical.  Classis and synod are called major assemblies, but that does not mean they hold a position that is superior to the council,  The Church Order says the council is a minor assembly whose authority is "original" while that of the major assemblies is "delegated."  While major assemblies make decisions that are binding on congregations, synod defied its own Church Order when it gave classes the authority to refuse to seat certain delegated based on their sex.  Such a decision gives the major assembly authority that does not honor the non-hierarchical principle of the Church Order.  The decision to delegate persons to serve as representatives at major assemblies belongs to the minor assemblies only and that may not be challenged by a major assembly.

The CRC got off track with it authorized classes to make a decision the Church Order does not allow.  Synod should have made the same ruling for both major assemblies, namely that officebearers shall not be required to participate against their conscience should they be delegated to a major assembly (see the supplement to article 3-a of the Church Order).  Now we are faced with the challenge of getting back on track.  That could be a difficult road to navigate, but unless we take that route our denomination will continue to promote a biblicism which is not in keeping with Reformed principles and will frequently detract from effective evangelism.  Al Hoksbergen









Al: I appreciate and respect your perspective, and your arguments (and I think you make good CO arguments).  At the same time, your comment that you view "... the current debate about whether women should be accepted at classis as delegates to be both offensive and belittling to women" gives me pause.

You speak of "women" as if they are all of one mind.  I very much doubt they are.  Even in faith communities where the role of women is much, much more "rigid" than the CRC (e.g., many Mennonite traditions) I can't imagine there aren't a great number of women to believe that women have Scripture-prescribed, defined roles which both mandate and exclude in some respects.  So when you find the mere debate of the matter to be "offensive and belittling to women," some women (who have concluded other than as you have) would find it offensive and belittling that you assume for them what conclusions they have/must reach.

The greatest migration of mindset we've had in our modern era, even greater than the "individualism" and "materialism" we are so good at constantly lamenting in our prepared liturgy materials, is our tendency now to look at most everything as rights and power issues.  We have lost a great deal of our servant perspective. We really can't understand why Paul would tell Onesimus to go back to Philemon.  With this loss in our mindset, an Acts 15 kind of resolution cannot happen.

Aaron Vriesman on May 16, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I can name quite a few women who wouldn't want to be included as you say.
Rights and power seem to be everything in mainstream culture and unfortunately in the church.

B P on May 17, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I, for one, am a woman who would like to serve on Council.  Many of the men in our church do not come to church on the Sundays they are scheduled to collect money.  One rarely goes to Council meetings.  Much of the leadership outside of Council is done by women -- including me.  If the men aren't willing to be committed servers on Council, why is it wrong for women to want to serve even on Council?  THAT is precisely why I feel it should be left up to the individual churches.  If we would have more leadership by men in Council, perhaps I would feel differently.  For me, and many women, it has nothing to do with a "RIGHT" or "POWER".... we are a small church and lack men who are committed.  We only have 4 deacons and last Sunday, for example, there was only one deacon there -- it happened to be my husband.  We need committed leaders and we are at the point it doesn't matter if they are men or women.  We just need leadership period.  Should our church struggle because we are not allowed to have women serve on Council?  No, I would think God would want dedicated people to serve on Council, regardless of if they are men or women.  So.... I think it should be left to the individual churches then if not all in classis want that, at least OUR CHURCH could do what we want.  It would help us tremendously.  And, as I read all these posts, I think there is some stubbornness and arrogance on both sides of the issue.  That is not a trait God would want any of us to have.  I would think God would want us all to work together -- and that may mean different things for different congregations. 

BP: There certainly is "stubbornness and arrogance on both sides of the issue," as there was in Acts 15, which was cause for the Council of Jerusalem.  In both cases -- Acts 15 and CRC decisions re women in office -- compromise decisions were made. Part two of the process was/is to accept the compromise decicsions made.

As for your specific case, you ask "Should our church struggle because we are not allowed to have women serve on Council?", but your church IS allowed to have women serve on Council?  You need to talk to and about your church Council, not Classis.

As for stubbornness, God made Frisians too, but, yes, I understand that there has been a compromise, so now I am asking questions about what to do in light of this.

I do not agree that the church should remain stagnant and not move forward. There were many stubborn people on either side of the civil war and many other disagreements in history. Those who were in the South really do have to accept the decisions made about which they did not agree. Those agreements do change over time, however (think about discussions related to the confederate flag).

Given the wisdom provided by Hoksbergen here, it might very well be that the actions of synod were out of order, that synod cannot give Classis the right to forbid women to be seated at its assemblies. In that case, it should be revisited, I would think.

My comments here were related to 1) accepting the actions of synod as a compromise, awful as it was and 2) figuring out how to move the church forward in spite of some problems with our organizational culture given that we have in that those whose consciences are torn by having a woman at the table (2nd CRC in Kazoo, for example)  and those, like me, who find it very difficult to understand how I, personally, am willing to permit myself to be a member of a country club that does not provide tee times for black people (or the analogous in the case of women in office). How can we address this "org culture" issue so that we can sail into the future?

I surely do not have all of the answers to this question, although I have spent some time designing an approach that I think would work (even if taking a lot of work). I am able, I think, to detect an anti-pattern when I see one -- something that will surely not help us move forward on this front. The one I am seeing here is too much attention being given to classis -- such as this well-done blog on the subject of classis. That is where I differ with Paul. I think we need to focus our local and regional attention on everything but classis, a place where we have severe issues (as evidenced by 2nd Kazoo and also what I can feel in my own wrenched conscience, especially when I again hear that my classis voted against women being seated).

So, yes, I hope that someone takes and runs with the Hoksbergen information to try to redeem classis, but if we cannot, then let's at least take the spotlight off from it and put our resources into non-classis work.  Make sense?  --dawn

Eric Verhulst on May 17, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It would be a whole lot easier to move the church forward if we could be certain about which direction is "forward".

And therein lies the pain of the original compromise.  Synod essentially said "forward" was in two opposite directions at the same time.

Dawn Wolthuis on May 17, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

What I heard from synod was that "forward" was that we would share the planet together (the denomination, that is) in spite of our differences. This sounds good in theory, but there are some glitches in the way it was worked out. The primary glitches are at the level of classis.

It makes complete sense that when a decision regarding theory was reached (that we could understand how each of two primary views could be derived from Scripture), that we might not have an immediate, ideal approach to putting this into action. It makes sense that it would need tweaking, just as the new health care bill does. There are few implementations that nail down all details immediately. It is only if we disallow change that we are stuck. It "feels like" the denomination has stopped when it comes to the implementation, rather than tweaking it so that it works. The place it is really broken is at the level of classis.

If we can fix classis, great, but you know that I can't, so I'll rely on the men (at least in my neighborhood) to get that job done. In the mean time and just in case I am right in thinking that the denomination has no stomach for fixing classis in this regard, I think we need to minimize the damage that classis brings by narrowing down classis work to the very bare minimum. It is very frustrating to read that some grand new thing is happening in some classis that could not possibly include anyone of my gender in my area. So, stop it. Don't highlight classis. If classis is sometimes going to be a secret boys club, then don't throw it in my face. Hey, I think I'm on a roll here so I'm hoping that I am communicating my point well enough. I know that I employ hyperbole, a rhetorical form frowned upon by some, but a way for one person to try to communicate what they are seeing in a way that others might see it as well.

Have I been clear on this point? Could anyone help me be clearer? Do you (anyone) disagree or can we put a blanket on this classis trumpeting and highlight regional ministries without referring to classis?  Thanks.  --dawn

Dawn: Such superlatives. If the church is now, as you say, "stagnant and not move forward" because some classes do not permit the seating of women, then it follows that the church was stagnate for most of its existence, that the apostle Paul kept the church "stagnant" and from "mov[ing] forward," and, arguably, that Jesus himself, by his example in selecting disciples, kept the church "stagnant" and from "mov[ing] forward."

You make some good points Dawn, but so many, like this one, are expressed with such hyperbole (also the whole racist analogy) that the quality of the points made are lost. Worse, they foster division, a much greater concern to the biblical authors than the question of whether all organizational distinctions in the church between men and women should be obliterated.

Dawn Wolthuis on May 17, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sorry for the typos. I have a policy of only proof-reading materials directed related to my job (ok, that was just a joke). Yes, I understand that I am employing superlatives while trying to get this point across. Given your response here, I still am not stating things clearly, I fear, so I'll give it another shot. The problem at the classis level is not just "felt by" me and people like me who are pained by "being members of a country club that does not permit black tee times." You might have noticed that classis is also a problem for folks like 2nd Kalamazoo. We have some organizational culture issues, some of which are directly related to classis. I am trying to suggest a means of mitigating this.

Now, I would rather fix the situation and Hoksbergen's comments about classis, synod, and churches could be addressed to get us some distance on that front. I realize others might disagree, but I think that not having our classes vote (some doing so regularly) to decide whether a woman can be seated at their meeting would help with the organizational culture for both sides of this. I will suggest that fewer people feel the pain of women at synod than feel the pain of women being seated or not seated at classis. Classis is broken in a way that our church and synod approaches are not.

If we cannot fix the situation immediately, then we would be well-served to come up with a way to mitigate it. It might even be the case that whomever came up with the idea of a blog about classis thought that this might help, recognizing that we have some brokenness with classis. I am suggesting that I think that trying to advance classis in this way does not help with the organization culture issues. It seems to be putting a spotlight on what ails us in a way that does not heal it. I am not suggesting classis under the carpet (well, maybe I am), but at least not throwing in the faces of those pained by classis. 

I don't know if I have laid out a case yet or not, but I hope you are tapping into my thinking here. I am not trying to reargue the theological issue. I will accept that people with either of the two primary views can be under our CRC umbrella. That will not keep me from working toward what I think is important for helping our world relieve some of the crimes against women, but I can share the planet with those who disagree with me on this. I think our denomination will be better positioned to thrive and do our work if we mitigate the issues we have with classis unless or until we can fix them.  Tell me you are catching on to what I am saying or let me know if I am still not making sense.  Thanks.  --dawn

Dawn: I think I understand you point quite precisely.  You wish to diminish the role of classis and create a new regional sort of structure in order to "go around" the problem (as you see it) created by some classis being unwilling to seat women.

Let me give you a suggestion. Don't try to dimish the role of classis. If you do, that will will be (accurately) perceived as trying to "silenc[e] hermeneutical opponents by eliminating denominational structure?" (You may recall this post -- was a good point actually).

And instead of diminishing the role of classis, begin some regional cooperative efforts that do constructive things (to "move the church forward" as you say). Don't want for some official body like synod or even classis/es to design it, or even OK it. Just do it -- sort of private-sector-entrepreneur-like.  I could give you examples, but I think you probably have plenty of your own.

Dawn Wolthuis on May 17, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

OK, I think you are understanding much of my point. What I might not be stating well at all is that classis is not just a problem for those who want to seat women. I think you are aware of the churches that made an issue of classis before I spoke up here. They were not for seating women, they were against it. The fact is that classis is a broken structure. I do not see that we are inclined to fix it, although Hoksbergen's take was informative and could help us get real fixes. 

If you agree that the denomination has no stomach for fixing classis right now, then I think that for the sake of "both sides" (recognizing there are more than 2 opinions) and for the sake of the whole, we should make sure that we treat classis as being as insignificant as we possibly can within the policies we have.

As for your last point about going forward and doing things, I am using my gifts to the extent that I know how. I am not going to be starting any skunk-works or other projects of the nature you suggest for a number of reasons. Why I can do is share what I have learned through my experiences to date in providing some recommendations here.

I am suggesting that this blog morph into a blog related to regional ministries, mentioning classis as infrequently as possible rather than being a blog about classis, a structure associated with perhaps the worst of what we have to offer. I would prefer to cheerlead this blog from the sidelines as I think that the entries in this blog related to regional efforts are to be applauded. I know it is far easier to start something new than to change something that exists, so I suspect my suggestion to remove the word "classis" from this blog series and from project proposals and our typical community language will not get far, but I figured if I send out these signals soon enough anothers see that we have some org culture issues too, eventually the right person in the denomination will suggest that we either morph this blog or end it and start a new one. Eventually we will either fix classis or come up with ways to mitigate this. Since I am a futurist (by nature and profession), I thought I would pass along what I see. Maybe someone else sees a better way to move forward, other than either fixing or minimizing classis, but I do not.  

I am OK with helping to seed the air with positive directions forward and letting them play out over many years, if need be, but obviously I would prefer to have action sooner than that.  cheers!  --dawn

And on it goes. This post proves why we need a multi-level denominational authority structure.

Dawn Wolthuis on May 17, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, good, you are recognizing the problem too and coming up with a possible solution. THAT's what I'm talkin' about. There are many ways to address this, even if there are also issues with any possible approach, but we really ought to do something.

For those who think that the thing to do is put as many eggs as we can in the classis basket, I am suggesting that is an anti-pattern, not a good way to try to address this classis issue. A multi-level denominational authority structure in place of what we have would be one possible way to address it. How would you see this working out? Do you like the presbyterian approach?

Going off of what Dawn is suggesting, it seems the CRC has bigger problems than the role and structure of classis. The CRC as an organization has become very top-heavy and it weighs down all the operations. How many offices do we need at 2850? Every office means more ministry shares, more snailmail and email, more groups vying for churches' attention. As opposed to what Michael Bentley said, the need is for less structures. (Sorry Mike, I seem to agree with you on a lot of topics but maybe not his one.) This might be why non-denominational churches are doing so well. They don't have anything to do except worship together and minister to their communities. I am not advocating for zero structures and offices because that creates different problems, but a thinning out would be beneficial. More attention, money and time on a congregation's own community translates into more effective ministry. Just a thought.

I agree with your assertion that "the CRC has bigger problems than the role and structure of classis," and that the "CRC as an organization has become very top-heavy and it weighs down all the operations," although I'm not sure that isn't another topic from that intended by Paul for this thread.

At least somewhat related to this thread though, I think the only game in town right now for reversing the top-heaviness of the denomination are the classes, the structure of which I don't consider "broken."  Unlike the denomination, classis tends much more to be "run" by those delegated to it. On the other hand, I do think our denomination stucture is breaking (has broken?), by which I mean this. While it used to be the case that denominational bureacracy considered it's function to narrowly follow the mandates (instructions) of synod, that relationship now is almost reversed. Today, the real agenda of synod is pretty much pre-established--in a very practical way--by the bureaucracy, which essentially places before synod a series of "broad authorization requests" so that it (the bureaucracy) can say it is doing what synod told it to do (Creation Stewardship Task Force Report is a great example). In short, the CRCNA bureaucracy has effectively become what might be fairly called "self-perpetuating."

The only antidote to this is synodical delgates aggregately finding whatever it takes to do a 180 (including but not limited to getting out of politics and the WCRC) but that's always a really hard thing to do after the self-perpetuation process has established itself (and it has).  I would suggest synod won't find what it takes unless a lots of members from the denominational ground floor get involved and start clamoring for it. And that will happen, if it does, largely through the conduit of the classes.

For me personally, after about ten years of not watching things denominationally (but rather focusing on the local), I "woke up" to find my denomination having taken a very long off-road trip in the last 10-15 years or so. I saw that green cover Banner declaring the CRC's position on global warming. Then I checked out Belhar, WCRC, the Accra, OSJ, etc.  Couldn't believe where we were. So what changed?  Although everything and everyone changes, I'm not persuaded the denominational change is reflected in the local congregations.  Rather, I'm persuaded the denomination has transformed from "servant to master" if you will, declaring its own life, will, and right to create the agenda instead of receive it.  The BOT is now much more meaningful than synod.  We need a 180 turn-around on this and I think the classes will play a key role in that happening--if it happens.  This coming Synod may give us a sign as to whether it might/can happen.  The bureaucracy has been tirelessly pushing the Belhar, but the more folks in the pew find about it, the less they like it.  So, which will win out. Classical overtures against Belhar greatly outnumber those in favor.  One would think the Belhar certainly will not pass.  If it does, it is a sign that it is nearly impossible to reverse the relationship between the CRCNA bureaucracy and synod.

Aaron Vriesman on May 21, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sorry about getting the thread off track.

You're exactly right about "self-perpetuating" and "broad authorization requests." One example: Someone from one office recently replied to a concern about endorsing the "faithful budget initiative" in Washington DC, (which is partisan politics at its worst, essentially advocating for the Democratic Party platform,) by simply stating it is within their synodical mandate to make such an endorsement. Upon reading the mandate, the word "broad" surely comes to mind. Who knows how many CRC Democrats there are in the USA, but here at North Blendon there is maybe one out of 380. Moreover, West Michigan is the most Republican area in the entire state, and NW Iowa is also very "red" on the map. It seems safe to say that this one office doesn't care that huge cross sections of the denomination have a different view about how the government should address poverty, etc.
The connection between 2850 and members grows more thin.

Aaron Vriesman on May 21, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Granted, some operations at 2850 are bearing fruit for the kingdom in major ways. Back to God Ministries comes to mind. The amount of countries they reach with radio programs and websites and text messages has been huge for nations like those in the Middle East and North Africa where being a Christian is taboo and converting to Christianity is lethal. There is good stuff coming out of 2850 also.

Ok, been following this thread since it started, all 90+ comments...  I made one comment early on (April 14), but no one touched it and I'm baffled when it seems like such an obvious answer to me, so I'm very curious why (or so it seems) no one is interested in pursuing the prophetic gifting of the Holy Spirit.

I will state it again, using this phrase from one of Dawn's posts on 4.19.12 at 2:32 whatever time zone that might be..

BOQ...So one piece of advice I have for the CRC is to figure out how to build up the structures that build up people, not the ones that deny them a seat at the table. EOQ. EOQ

So, I mention the prophetic "table" again...  Scripture (I Cor. 14:1-5,12) tells us we are to eagerly desire this gift, which I'm not seeing this in the crc to any extent (yet), and then that this gift is used primarily for strengthening, building up, edifying and encouraging the Church, the Bride of Christ.  Acts 2/Joel 2 clearly states it is for male and female, sons and daughters, all flesh, young and old, I don't think anyone can argue that point.

It seems the prophetic table is an open door for women, but for whatever reason, we/crc are hesitant/resistant to walk through that door. 

As was mentioned, we have bigger problems than women and classis, even though it is a significant and sensitive underlying one.    We desperately need the power of the Holy Spirit, which has been significantly lacking for a variety of reasons in the crc (and it seems other denoms similar to crc).  It will not matter if my voice as a woman is heard, when we are not hearing the Holy Spirit to any significant extent.  The Holy Spirit's one "thought" given to His Church through the gift of prophecy can easily trump a thousand human thoughts. 

Am I saying that we don't have the Holy Spirit?  No, I'm saying we haven't been listening to Him very well.





Paul VanderKlay on May 22, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks for your loving persistance with this Bev. I'll post a couple of responses:

Of course there is no "office" of prophet like there is of elder, deacon and minister of the word. Doing a study of the history of prophesy and prophets not just in the canon but also in ancient church history might be enlightening for you. I have not undertaking that study but an interesting place to begin might be the didache, an ancient document likely from the second century that gives some insight into some of what was going on in that time. The document is online. Here is a blog post by someone who noted some of the relevant sections about how they determined true from false prophets, and with some means for figuring it out that seem strange to us today.

The CRC, and most modern churches have done little work on prophesy, the gift or the office. It's a good thing to work on. pvk

Bev Sterk on May 22, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks Paul...

BOQ... The CRC, and most modern churches have done little work on prophesy, the gift or the office. It's a good thing to work on. EOQ   pvk 

that is my frustration, if the gift of prophecy (and possibly the office of prophet) is a key to building and edifying the Church (and I believe it is per I Cor. 14), and we/crc/modern church are so unfamiliar with it, then of course our congregations/denominations/the Church is going to be struggling.    So why aren't we pursuing it more intentionally,with eagerness, instead of trying to use other "fix it" models.

I do plan on continuing study and training in this area, and have studied it to some extent, thanks to the charismatics, even though John McArthur, a cessationist, calls it "chaos"...  that's why testing is so important... I John 4:1; I Thess. 5:19-21.  Yes, it has to line up with scripture, that is the key test, but there often are other "confirmations" that God gives in addition to it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us... (Acts 15:28)

I know there is much confusion on this gifting, and our cessationist tradition has not helped.  The interesting thing to me is that those who like to interpret prophecy as limited to preaching and teaching are often the same ones who say women cannot preach, but if prophecy is preaching, then Acts 2 would allow them to preach.  I'm not saying that's my interpretation of prophecy, but it is an interesting contradiction, we can't say prophecy is preaching and then say women are not to prophesy/preach...  it cannot be both.   So that should tell us we need to get a better understanding of what prophecy is...

btw, congrats on having your thread be the most commented on the network now!!  =)

Paul VanderKlay on May 22, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"Prophesy" as popularly imagined presents many barriers, both cultural and religious in our context. 

1. Antagonism from moderns and some postmoderns

2. Skepticism from people who have experienced the charlatan factor.

3. Skepticism from people who have been burned by "God told me..." 

4. Cessationists in the church even if they hold to pre-modern ideas of revelation

that being said, North America is a skeptical island in a sea of people open to it from all over the world. 

Church offices get created after a sea change. 

At the same time you can't help but believe what you believe so don't be discouraged. :) pvk

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