I have been writing for about 25 years. My first published article appeared in the January 1992 issue of a Canadian Reformed youth magazine called In Holy Array. The article was entitled “Women in Office” and it discussed the opening of ecclesiastical offices to women in the Christian Reformed Church in North America. In 1990, the CRC Synod decided to allow churches to admit women to the offices of minister, elder, and deacon. This set in motion the large-scale departure from the CRC which eventually led to the formation of the United Reformed Churches. My article expressed bewilderment that this could happen in a church with which, less than 50 years earlier, we had enjoyed Christian unity.
Now here we are 25 years later and I am again bewildered. A church federation with whom we still officially have sister-church relations (though suspended) has officially decided to do what the CRC did in the early 1990s. Over the last two days, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) have decided at Synod Meppel to admit women to all the offices of the church. Their sister-churches in Canada, Australia, Ireland, Korea, the US, and others all warned them not to but, regrettably, they did not heed these warnings. Especially amongst the immigrant churches in Canada and Australia, these decisions bring an enormous amount of sadness.
I know there are still faithful believers in the RCN. One such brother e-mailed me this morning to share his grief and consternation. These brothers and sisters will need our prayers as they seek to discern God’s will for them in terms of church membership. It would not be easy to leave the church of your youth, the church where you made profession of faith, the church where you were married, and where your children were baptized. It wasn’t easy for the concerned CRC members in the early 1990s either. Yet they didn’t choose the easy path; instead, they chose the faithful path.
As for ecumenical relations, next year there will be a Free Reformed synod here in Australia. The Dutch churches were warned that, apart from repentance, our relationship with them would be severed at Synod 2018. We will be forced to follow through on that warning. The Canadian Reformed Churches have said something similar in regard to their next synod in 2019.
And then there’s the ICRC, the International Conference of Reformed Churches. The RCN have badly miscalculated if they thought that these decisions would have no bearing on their membership in the ICRC. Next month, July 13-19, the next meeting of the ICRC is scheduled to take place in Jordan, Ontario. Again, one cannot but help think of what happened with the Christian Reformed Church in the 1990s. The CRCNA was one of the founding members of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), just like the RCN is one of the founding members of the ICRC. In 1997, NAPARC voted to suspend the membership of the CRC over their decision regarding women in office. Amongst the churches leading that initiative were two current sister-churches of the RCN — the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Church in the United States. The OPC and RCUS are still in NAPARC — and also in the ICRC. Have the OPC and RCUS softened their stand on this issue since the 1990s? The writing is on the wall for RCN membership in the ICRC. The only question is one of time.
After the fall of the mighty CRCNA, many post-mortem analyses have been essayed. Most of them, including mine, lay the blame at the foot of developments regarding the authority of Scripture tracing back to the 1960s. Over the coming days, similar analyses will be written about the RCN. It’s a familiar story and it illustrates man’s wickedness in departing from God’s Word. It’s not “Reformation” when you scorn the Scriptures and have women office bearers — it’s deformation. I’ve seen the story already play out twice in my short lifetime. I pray I won’t see it a third time. I pray that we will have learned something from the sad fall of these two federations of churches that were once faithful and mighty in the LORD.
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
1 Corinthians 10:12