By a vote of 25-4 (with two abstentions), the International Conference of Reformed Churches has decided to suspend the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN). This comes after the RCN last month at their synod decided to open all the offices of the church to women. The ICRC is one of the world’s most important ecumenical organizations for confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian churches. It consists of over 30 churches from all over the world. With this decisive action, the RCN receives a clear message that it is out of step with global Reformed Christianity.
The question of what to do with the RCN led to several hours of debate up to this point at the ICRC. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church made the initial proposal, but found vocal support from the Canadian Reformed Churches, the United Reformed Churches, the Free Reformed Churches of South Africa, and others. Voices were also heard cautioning against suspension — notably, the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia (PCEA). Rev. Dr. Rowland Ward from the PCEA was quoted in the Dutch press as arguing that the body had to come up with substantive biblical arguments to take action against the RCN. He noted that several biblical passages could be understood at first glance as supporting women in office. So, Dr. Ward said, “Why couldn’t there be freedom on this point?” He was also quoted as saying that, for him, the RCN was still Reformed and suspension would not be appropriate “for a church that has been so faithful in our midst.” In personal correspondence, however, Dr. Ward clarified that it was explicitly made clear that neither he nor the PCEA support women’s ordination.
Voting took place Monday on the OPC proposal (which can be found here). The first, third, and fourth parts of that proposal passed readily 28-1. It was the second part that took a little extra time: to suspend the RCN immediately. The Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands proposed a substitute motion to give the RCN time until the next meeting to reconsider their membership. This motion failed 8-21 with two abstentions. The body then voted on the second part of the OPC proposal as presented and it passed without difficulty.
The RCN now has four years to repent of their decisions regarding women in office. Since women are already being ordained in the RCN, it is difficult to see how such repentance could be effected federation-wide. But if, somehow, they are able to reverse course, the RCN will continue to make valuable contributions to global ecumenicity through the ICRC. If not, their membership in the organization they helped to found will be terminated in 2021 at its tenth annual meeting.