(Photo: eeninwaarheid.info)
(Photo: eeninwaarheid.info)

We spent the weekend (and a bit more) without Internet.  As of last night, it’s back up and running and so I can continue the blogging about the recent CanRC Synod.  Today let’s review what happened on Day 6, Tuesday May 17.  I’m summarizing from the Provisional Acts found here.  Some of the highlights from where I’m sitting:

  • Article 86 mentions the appeal of Ancaster regarding Dr. Jitse van der Meer.  The discussion on that Tuesday was held in closed session.  We can skip ahead to Day 7 and article 103.  There we find that the decision in this matter is only going to appear in the confidential Acts.  And what happened to the Providence appeal?  It doesn’t appear again anywhere in the Provisional Acts.  I suspect that it might appear in the final, public version of the Acts.  We will have to see.
  • The matter of women’s voting was certainly something of interest at this Synod for a lot of people.  There’s a long history on this topic in the Canadian Reformed Churches.  It took a long time for the momentous decision at Synod 2010 recognizing that this is a matter for local churches to decide upon.  Synod 2010 left it in the freedom of local churches whether or not they wanted to allow female communicant members to participate in elections for office bearers.  Numerous churches appealed that decision to Synod 2013 and it was overturned.  By then the horses were already out of the gate.  Churches that had been doing it since the decision of Synod 2010 continued doing it in the conviction that this was not agreeable to Scripture, Confessions, and Church Order.  More appeals were submitted to Synod 2016.  Consequently, this most recent Synod decided that Synod 2013 erred in its overturning of Synod 2010 on this matter.  Confused yet?  Let me make it simple:  the Canadian Reformed Churches are back to where they were after Synod 2010.  Whether female communicant members vote or not is a matter for local churches to decide.  My view on this has not changed.  I remain convinced that there are no sound biblical, confessional, or church political arguments that can be brought to bear against allowing female communicant members to participate in elections for office bearers.  I understand that some local churches believe differently about it and thus I think the approach of Synod 2010 (buttressed now by GS 2016) is the best approach — really, it’s the only approach that can be justified.  I would urge readers to look carefully at the arguments presented by GS 2016 in the Acts.  For this post, I am going to open up the comments.  If you want to argue the case for the opposing view or make other comments, I’m giving you the opportunity.  However, please don’t expect that I’m going to interact.
  • Article 90 dealt with another topic relating to the role of women in church life, but this time in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA).  The Committee for Contact with Churches in North America (CCCNA) recommended that the CanRCs offer ecclesiastical fellowship to the RPCNA.  This despite the fact that the RPCNA allows for women to be ordained as deacons.  The CCCNA pointed out that the RPCNA doesn’t consider the deacon to have “an office of ruling authority.”  Contrary to the CCCNA’s reasoning, Synod Dunnville decided that the RPCNA’s view on this matter did, in fact, constitute a significant obstacle to EF.  After all, article 30 of the Belgic Confession says that faithful men are to be deacons.  Moreover, they said (Consideration 3.2.3) that the office of deacon does “involve the exercise of authority in the church.”  It appears to be the end of the road for any possibility of formal relations with the RPCNA, though informal interactions will continue through venues like the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC).

11 responses to “Synod Dunnville 2016 (6)”

  1. Arjen Vreugdenhil says:

    Too bad the women deacons is an obstacle for further fellowship with the RPCNA! The use of the term “deacon” in the NT seems rather fluid (try Rom. 16:1 for size), and any more restricted definition we apply is more a matter of tradition than of Biblical mandate. Different churches simply assign different tasks to deacons.

    The reference to the Belgic Confession doesn’t impress me much. If others use the word “deacon” in a different sense, Article 30 cannot be applied directly to them. Moreover, not every word of the Confession carries the same weight. (When is the last time an office bearer was chided for believing that Paul did not write Hebrews, contra BC art. 4?)

    If the RPCNA deliberately assigns obvious authoritative leadership functions to deacons, then there is reason to oppose it. I don’t think it is obvious at all. Where do you draw the line, anyway? One can argue that women voting is taking leadership, and one can argue it isn’t. The case of the woman deacon appears similar. Even if the CanRC would not want to adopt the practice, is it really reason to stop pursuing deeper fellowship?

  2. Jon Dykstra says:

    As regards women voting, I have no problem with it in theory. I do have a problem with it in execution.

    We say that this voting is simply a matter of offering advice. Well, that is not how many understand it, and words such as “voting” and “election” logically leave such an impression. So too the rigid way our churches follow this advice – they have to follow it. What kind of “advice” is this if a consistory is bound and obliged to follow it?

    The slippery slope argument has been applied to women voting, and there is both an illegitimate and legitimate way this is being applied here.

    First the bad way: women voting will lead to women ministers. We cannot refuse to take a good and proper step just because if we were to keep going eventually this might lead in the direction of the bad and horrible. Just imagine if someone were to argue that we shouldn’t eat food, because taking one bite of food is the first step to gluttony (after all, every glutton we know has begun his journey into gluttony by taking that first bite of food). So we shouldn’t oppose women voting simply because we can see that in, for example, the CRC, women voting was eventually followed by women ministers. That bad can follow good is not a reason not to do the good – it is only a reason not to continue onward to the bad.

    But where the slippery slope argument has some legitimacy here is in how women voting, if it leaves us with the impression women are now exercising authority in the church, could undermine our biblically based stand against women exercising authority in the church.

    So what I would propose is that yes, we move forward with this, but we change both the language around this advisor role, to make it much clearer to all that it is only advice, and we in fact make it clear to consistories that while they need to treat this advice with great respect, and not bypass it without clear reason, they should not feel bound to it.

    • The answer, Jon, to your concern is not to avoid women voting (I realize that’s not what you’re suggesting) but rather to educate people on the meaning of words. For example, you can ask people who are confused about the meaning of “election” whether or not they think that the 3 persons of the Trinity got together and cast ballots to decide who was elect and who was reprobate.

      As to the slippery slope, the reasons make all the difference.

      If churches were, in fact, democracies, then it would be wrong for women to vote. A liberal church would then use the same reasons that they would use for women in office to allow women to vote, in fact they would require that women be allowed to vote.

      If, however, a church is a Christocracy, and the casting of ballots is the means that Christ uses to make his call known, then whether men, women, both or neither vote is immaterial. It is then right and proper for each individual church to make its own decision on this.

      There is nothing in this later understanding that inherently leads one to women in office (and I would argue that the worldview underpinning it inoculates against it) despite the similarity in approach.

      On my more cynical days, I think that we in the Canadian Reformed Churches lack the maturity to do this well and should simply draw lots.

  3. George R Helder says:

    I am very concerned that the CanRC federation has taken another inevitable step towards a modality model. This Synod has added to previously tolerated practices in which the local church act or make decisions differently than other churches in the federation which lead to a growing differentiation between churches. In some respects one can argue that these differences don’t matter, however there are definite consequences. One no longer joins the local church but the closest church which behaves or thinks in the way which suits you. This way of thinking is influenced by the increasing individualistic thinking of our postmodern culture. Members and Consistories have increasingly ignored agreements on church parishes, allowing members to join the church of their choice. The decisions on women’s voting and Bible translations have added more reasons to reinforce this behaviour. This modality model is a major reason why there has not been inter-church discipline in the Netherlands, as well as in the CRC in the past, and has contributed to the frustrated unity with the URCNA who also suffer from this.

  4. Douglas Kok says:

    The only problem with women voting that I can see is how many communicate members seek to justify it. I have heard dangerous comments such as “it’s time” or “it’s silly not to” the best (or worst) is “why does an 18 year old boy get to vote but the 80 year old woman not?” This is subjective reasoning and not using the word of God to guide us. Let us continue to seek our Heavenly Father’s will and not our own.

  5. Johan Trip says:

    I cannot find really good reasons why local churches should decide themselves to let women vote. More distance will grow between progressive and conservative churches.

    I would prefer to ‘hack our culture’ and to give voting advice per family/household or church address. One of the reasons (not the main reason) is that the church, and also our society, should be family-based instead of individual-based.

    • Hi Johan,

      If I may make a comment about this…. Voting per family/household or church address would be hard to do, practically. What is “a household”? Two single guys renting an apartment together? My congregation, in a university city, has many such addresses: several guys, or several girls, living together as one household.

      Also, we should not think of the church as if it were something like a school society where a family membership gets one vote. The church is not a society of like-minded people who have come together to do some thing but the earthly province of the kingdom of heaven. As such it is not governed by a constitution and by-laws but by Christ.

      The church is not made up of families but of persons. And I say that as the pastor of a congregation which is also multi-generational, even to a fifth generation. 1 Peter 3:20 is instructive where the ark, the church in the time of the great flood, through water brought “eight persons” to safety. Peter could have said “four families) but he (really, of course, the Holy Spirit) said “eight persons.” And so the Canadian Reformed Churches, when they report their numbers, report total membership and communicant membership, and not the number of families.

      • Arjen Vreugdenhil says:

        I wholeheartedly agree that “the church is not made up of families but of persons”.

        In the Dutch Reformed tradition we have a good dose of the Kuyperian idea that the family is the cornerstone of society and of the church. While it is great that many family units are present in our churches, and that God works from generation to generation, there is a danger to make family the basic membership block of our church.

        When Jesus told us to call each other “brother” and “sister”, he made a powerful point: being believers is a relationship as intimate as family ties, which supersedes all other social relationships (without negating them). If we are to “heat father, mother, brother, sister” for the sake of the Kingdom, certainly church is not about family units…

        So I am glad someone comes out and say it! The question of woman voting is about women (i.e. sisters in Christ) voting, not wives or daughters voting.

  6. Pastor Wes Bredenhof, I read your posts about what happens in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. Reading about how there are faithful churches. Also in growing unscriptural practices. Especially involving the place of women in the Church. It would be an exaggeration to apply Galatians 5,7-9 (Galatians 5:7-9: “You were going on well; who was the cause of your not giving ear to what is true? This ready belief did not come from him who had made you his. A little leaven makes a change in all the mass.”) to what happens in many Reformed churches?

  7. Mike de Groot says:

    Here’s my attempt at a sound biblical, confessional and CO argument against women voting. First it comes down to the vote being authoritative:
    a. BC31states that office bears ought to be chosen by election
    b. CO3 says those elected shall be appointed by consistory…
    c. CO5 says the calling church needs to declare that the congregation ‘approves’ the call.

    So if the election is authoritative, 1 Tim 2:11-15 applies where the Bible says women should be in submission and quiet because Adam was formed first and then Eve and Eve was the one deceived and not Adam. Therefore women shouldn’t vote.

    But since our practice has always been for the women not to vote, shouldn’t we have a sound scriptural, confessional argument presented to change that practice?

  8. Johan Trip says:

    Hello George and Arjen,

    Thank you for your replies.

    A church in a university city is completely different from an average church and cannot be compared with each other. Anyway: with a vote per family I see a single member (without any direct family members) as one (very small) family. But I do not know if this is suitable for a church with lots of temporarily students.
    And God makes his covenant with individuals – I completely agree with that. There is a 1 to 1 relationship between God and every believer via Christ.
    And I do not see the families as the basic membership block of the church.
    All individuals are direct members of the church. But more can be said about this: the family is a very important unity of individuals within the church. This should get greater emphasis imho.
    And: there are much, much more colours then only black and white ;-).

    Besides that: my suggestion is not worked out in detail. It is a general thought which is based on the fact that we see in OT and NT that God is working especially via one big family (the church) and the small families within the church – via generations: you and your children until the fifth generation -, where Christ is the head of the church, and the fathers are heads of their families.

    My unconventional idea of a voting advice per family is further based on following considerations (for normal, average churches – 95% of all churches):
    If we look at the church as families where the head/representative of the families (where families can consist of 1 person) have voting advice, then
    a. widows can vote – who have no husbands to discuss the voting advice (this argument is really important, also because there are generally spoken more widows than widowers AND the churches in western society will get smaller and smaller and the average age higher and higher, then the number of votes will be very small if only men can vote);
    b. there is no dispute anymore between voting of women and/or men – we can work more on unity within families;
    c. families are ‘forced’ to discuss the voting advice;
    d. we stress more the importance of the family-structure within the church and so we put families in front of the worldspirit of individualism – a win-win situation.

    Pls note that I’m using the term voting ADVICE, not voting rights. With advice I assume that it has no authorative function.
    And: why should it be so important that all INDIVIDUAL members can vote directly? Why absolutely not handling the individual votes via the family-heads of all individual members?

    Excuse me for my broken english.

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