Reflection on the RCN 2014 Decision on Women in Office
A couple of weeks ago, I posted the text of the decision of Synod Ede 2014 of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands regarding women in office. I have been mulling it over and reflecting whether this is, in fact, a good decision for our sister churches. On the one hand, the Synod decision rejects the conclusion of the study committee which argued that having women in office belongs within the spectrum of what it means to be biblical and Reformed. But on the other hand, the Synod decision appoints two new committees to continue studying related questions. It gives the impression that the matter is not settled once and for all. This approach seems to say that the time is just not right for women in office. So instead of an unequivocal ‘no’ to women in office, Synod Ede could be understood as saying ‘just not yet.’
What further bolsters this interpretation is a subsequent decision about the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken. These churches have women in office. Despite that, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have been pursuing ecumenical discussions with the NGK for some time already. On Friday June 13, Synod Ede discussed the relationship with the NGK and whether to continue pursuing closer ties. The discussion included the problem of women in office. Synod Ede decided to continue pursuing closer relations, and also that the practice of opening all the offices to women is not an obstacle to unity with the NGK. So even on the most charitable reading of the RCN decision on women in office, this decision takes with one hand what was given with the other. There is a gross inconsistency between these two decisions.
Where to now? Where does this leave the Canadian Reformed Churches and other concerned sister churches? In my view, it does nothing to alleviate our serious misgivings about the direction of the RCN. If anything, hearing distinguished senior ministers of the RCN arguing for women in office at this Synod leads me to be quite pessimistic about the short-term (5-10 years) future of relations between our churches. Moreover, now that we know that this view lives at the Theological University in Kampen, it can only be a matter of time before it becomes a majority opinion. History teaches that once a federational seminary is compromised, the days of federational orthodoxy are almost inevitably numbered. Moreover, it’s not just about women in office. Our other concerns about hermeneutics in the RCN are certainly still outstanding. I know there are many faithful people still in the RCN who share all our concerns and they will need our prayerful support. May God graciously give them the strength to continue fighting the good fight until the writing is on the wall.