The other day I posted the official English translation of a report going to the next synod of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. This report is proposing that having women in office is acceptable within the RCN. Of course, this is not the first time that such sentiments have been entertained in Reformed circles. It happened in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. The CRCNA’s adoption of women in office was the major catalyst for the establishment of the United Reformed Churches.
In 1991, the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary published a brochure entitled A Cause for Division? Women in Office and the Unity of the Church. The Calvin faculty argued that differences over this issue should not split the CRCNA. It would be unwarranted and even sinful for people to leave the CRCNA over the issue of women in office.
That same year, two professors of Mid-America Reformed Seminary responded to the Calvin brochure. Nelson Kloosterman and Cornelis Venema wrote a little booklet entitled A Cause of Division: The Hermeneutic of Women’s Ordination. The booklet can be found online here. Among other things, Kloosterman and Venema wrote the following:
In fact, we are convinced that Cause for Division defends the argument for women’s ordination with a hermeneutic which is at odds with our historic position as Reformed believers. It does so by using an unReformed notion of the ‘analogy of Scripture,’ one which pits the alleged Scriptural principle of the equality and correlativity of men and women against the specific teaching of those Scriptural texts which describe a differentiation of roles. Not only does Cause for Division provide no Scriptural proof for its notion of equality between men and women, but it also discounts those texts which spell out God’s blessed order for the relationships between men and women in the home and the church. (6)
They later conclude that “the hermeneutic of women’s ordination has surely become A Cause of Division within the Christian Reformed denomination” (23). The entire booklet is still worthy of a careful read all these years later. Not surprisingly, the arguments are still relevant.
I recognize that the arguments being put forward today in the Netherlands are not exactly the same. There are some differences. But there are also some important similarities. Certainly it can be said that this issue has become a new cause of division. As in the CRCNA in past decades, those creating the breach in the RCN are those chipping away at a clear teaching of Scripture and those willing to even entertain such hermeneutical gymnastics. Even if Synod Ede of the RCN can pull the federation back from the brink, the problem will remain of members holding to these aberrant convictions or being open to them. The problem will remain also of office bearers, even seminary professors, holding to these erroneous views. To rid the RCN of these convictions will take much time, courage, wisdom, and virility. May the LORD give these gifts in abundance to the faithful in the RCN!