Tag Archives: Synod Ede 2014

CanRC Interim Report on Relations with Churches in the Netherlands

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Recently, an important report was released by the CanRC synodically appointed subcommittee tasked with relations with our Dutch sister churches (and others).  The report is available online here.  From the report, it’s quite evident that the concerns of the Canadian Reformed Churches are not being taken seriously by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  The last CanRC synod sent a letter to Synod Ede of the RCN.  The Dutch Synod did not deal with many of the specific concerns raised by our synod.  The report states:  “We can only conclude that Synod Ede’s response did not show much real consideration for the deep disquiet expressed by our churches.”  Further, the report notes the discussion about women in office at Synod Ede.  While the report proposing opening the offices to women was not accepted, the doors were not completely closed either.  In fact, the report goes on to note the decision of Synod Ede regarding their relationship with the Netherlands Reformed Churches, churches where women in office is a done deal.  Here’s what our committee says about that:

Two of the decisions of Synod Ede concerning the contact with the NRC are as follows (our translation):

  • to declare that due to the agreement in discussions concerning hermeneutics the hindrance which existed because of the opening of the offices to women in the NRC has been removed;
  •  to continue the contact with the NRC and to proceed from talks to discussions with an eye to church unity.

What these decisions clearly showed us is that the hermeneutic utilized by the NRC to open all church offices to women has in principle been already accepted as valid by Synod Ede. Thus, we could say, the matter of women in office has already entered the RCN via the “Trojan horse” of decisions concerning unity talks with the NRC.

The report concludes the section on the RCN in a understated way, noting that all of this does not bode well for our relationship with them.  Indeed!  And reason to keep on praying for our sister churches.


Advice of Dr. J. Van Bruggen to Synod Ede 2014 on Women in Office

Jakob Van Bruggen

I have written recently about the decisions made by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands at Synod Ede 2014, specifically decisions relating to women in office.  As part of the decision-making process, the synod asked a number of experts for advice.  One of those experts was the retired professor of New Testament, Dr. J. Van Bruggen.  Jaap and Arjen Vreugdenhil have translated this letter and, thanks to their efforts, I can share it with you here.  It’s definitely worth a read.  Dr. Van Bruggen is certainly not alone in his protest against these developments in our Dutch sister churches.

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To the General Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, Ede 2014.

Dear brothers in Christ,

Your assembly asked me to comment on the report, Men And Women In The Service Of The Gospel.  It should be short, I was told. It can only be short if we focus on the essentials.

It is certainly tempting for your assembly at this time to go along with the committee and to adopt their proposal: “The view that beside men, women also may serve in the offices of the church, as described in this report, fits within the spectrum of what may be characterized as biblical and Reformed”. By taking this decision, you would meet the sentiments of many and remove difficulties in the relations with the NGK, and in approving of some missionary projects. (The report also repeatedly stresses these benefits.)

But before these ‘benefits’ move you to consent to this report, you should consider what price you will have to pay.

After all, it cannot be denied that our Apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, requires of us, in the organization of congregational life, to take into account the different creation of man and woman (1 Timothy 2:13; compare the reference to the Law [in this case Genesis 1-2] in 1 Corinthians 14:34b, and 1 Corinthians 11:8-9:12), as well as the reality of the history of sin in paradise (1 Timothy 2:14).

It is our responsibility to account for this in later times with very different organization of congregations in various times and countries. Worldwide and through all earlier centuries, this brought the churches to distinguish between offices that man ought to fulfill, and other tasks that belong specifically to the woman, or to man and woman together.

Traditionally, the Reformed Churches also aligned to this custom and practice of all congregations (for such alignment, compare 1 Corinthians 11:16, 14:33, 36). The Reformed Churches (liberated) reaffirmed that alignment in 1993, when at the introduction of women’s right to vote they stated in the grounds that this does not concern an act of government.

The committee does not justify their departure from this argument in this fairly recent decision of a synod of their own federation. That is odd, but not incomprehensible. Underlying the decision of the Synod of Ommen 1993 was a consideration of how the Bible speaks to us today concerning the offices in the Church. It was summarized as “governing”. The committees no longer enter into a discussion of this kind, because they deem the Apostle’s instruction on this matter not directly relevant for us today.

Paul, an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, was convinced that “every Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable to teach, to refute errors and mistakes and to educate a virtuous life” (2 Tim. 3:16). On the basis of this conviction he also wrote, using Genesis 1-3, about the organization of church life. He reasoned from the Holy Scriptures to the congregations that they should be trained in piety and virtue (see Acts 20:28-32).

The committee report presents a very different picture. Paul allegedly used the Scriptures as a source for arguments when describing what impression the congregations make on their surroundings. If this were true, we modern Christians, through a similar reasoning, might arrive at very different conclusion, to adjust to what our culture perceives as normal.

Page 24 of the report shows how detrimental this concept of ‘context’ may be for the unity of God’s redemptive history and for the authority of the apostolic word. There we read the following:

In 1 Timothy 2 [Paul] does not appeal to a specific given from Scripture (“Scripture says…”), but he reminds us of the story of Adam and Eve as a historic event: creation, fall, redemption. Such a reminder of a historic event, even at the beginning of history, is not a normative appeal to the precepts of God. In a similar way, Peter confronts his female readers with the example of Sarah, who addressed her husband as ‘my master’ (1 Peter 3:5-6; see Genesis 18:12). In 1 Timothy 2:13 (“For Adam was formed first, then Eve”), Paul uses the situation in Paradise to point Timothy and his church in their situation in the right direction. In doing so, he interprets the order of creation events as an order of rank. While the notion of a created order of rank, in which each person was assigned his or her proper position, fit well with the existing social patterns of the day, in our situation such an idea feels foreign. Thus the use of this argument, too, is coloured by its context.

1. The beginning of this quotation immediately raises questions. Why would an appeal to God’s history in creation and redemption not be a ‘given from Scripture’? Why would a reminder of a ‘historical event’ have no normative value? God’s history with his people “took place as an example, for us”, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:6.  Paul and Peter point to the examples of Adam and Eve and Sarah because they provided men and women with models for their own behavior. The work of the Creator and the attitude of Sarah are instructive for us, Christians—according to the apostles of Jesus Christ!

2. Precisely because Paul writes as “commissioned by God” (1 Timothy 1:1), it is strange that the quotation speaks about his words to Timothy and Ephesus in such a humanistic and limited way. They write that Paul “uses the situation in paradise to point Timothy in the right direction”. Paul would be ‘interpreting’ the creation sequence as an order of rank. That is, in 1 Timothy 2:13 we are dealing with an example from creation, but with an interpretation by Paul that is not in the Bible (Genesis), but which he adds to adjust to what “fits well with the existing social pattern”. In other words, we owe the example of ‘rank’ not to Genesis 2, but to society in the first century A.D., and Paul employs Genesis 2 to suggest that this ‘ranking’ was actually created! This means that the apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, in fact, would have abused Scripture in his reference to Genesis 2.

3. Despite all the good words in the report on the authority of Scripture, the quotation above implies that 1 Timothy 2:13 has no authority for us, because it is Paul who ‘interpreted’ the creation order ‘as a ranking’, and because this interpretation was well-suited to his own time but no longer to ours. Just as the prevalence of a certain view inspired Paul to make a specific use of a past situation (Paradise), so the ‘foreignness’ of this idea in our own time might move us to dismiss the word of Paul, as something that has only been valuable in the past.

When we leave these words of our apostle behind us, in the context of his own time, and focus on the context in which we live ourselves, we arrive at a dead end. For which culture becomes our norm? That of D-66 [politically bland, AVr] Netherlands, or certain subcultures of Amsterdam or Utrecht? The Kampen ethics professor recently wrote that churches in Muslim countries might have to deal very differently with women in office, in order to obtain the same effect of giving no offense.  But what impression does the church give to the 16.9% Muslims in the Netherlands?

Thankfully the Lord through the Scriptures puts us on the continuing road of his own history, and his goal is to express this in his church. In the eyes of the world she will share in their attitude to the gospel: foolishness to Greeks! How good it is that we, Christians, precisely on the basis of the special characteristics of the church, can tell about the reality of Adam and Eve, of creation and fall of man, of love and mercy.

As I write this, I but wonder with some dismay whether I this write for a synod of Reformed Churches. Who would carry coals to Newcastle? Am I off-track in this letter because I fail to discuss in-depth the hermeneutics developed in the report? After all, is not this hermeneutics the justification for no longer applying the Pauline statements about Adam and Eve, creation and fall of man?

It was indeed first my intention to write a note about that hermeneutics, but it gradually dawned on me that this would really get my advice off-track.

1. The elaborations presented in the report, complete with charts, do not belong in an ecclesiastical and pastoral document. This would also apply to an analytical discussion of them.

2. One may fill many or few pages with arguments, but in the end we believers read what Paul writes, without theoretical considerations and diagrams. And then we cannot escape the fact that he urges the churches to account for Genesis 1-3 in the organization of congregational life. He never says that he uses the texts of Genesis merely as an occasional argument to remain in line with the social position of women and men in his time. How could he do so? So many centuries later, the narrative of Genesis is still decisive for the churches of the New Testament, because it is God’s work and our history! Therefore, the apostle appeals to it, even though the new Christians in Ephesus were not familiar with the stories from Genesis, which sounded foreign in their culture. That is why Paul also commands the preacher Timothy to “communicate this in his teaching” at Ephesus (1 Timothy 4:11). We should therefore take his arguments seriously and allow ourselves to be taught by it (whether we find this is difficult or easy). If we fail to do so, we will not only push Paul aside, but Genesis as well! And we miss the fact that Paul is not concerned with the removal of potential offenses to unbelievers, but rather with the teaching of what is proper for women who claim to worship God (1 Timothy 2:10). Are we not descendants of our ancestors Adam and Eve in the same way as our brothers and sisters in Ephesus?

3. When I asked your clerk what exactly was involved in this request for an advice from me as an exegete, because the report takes a decisive position on hermeneutics for the reading of Scripture, he kindly wrote back that I’ve taught Hermeneutics in Kampen. Indeed, in the line of Van Andel and Greijdanus I have taught the rules for the interpretation of the Bible (classical hermeneutics) for 35 years, and over and again I have refuted the new hermeneutic: it considers the Bible as a document from the past, which must continually be infused with new meaning in new contexts. I have also written about it in Het Kompas van het Christendom and other publications.  This is not so much about knowledge or information, but rather about choices and decisions.

The committee suggests that the line of their report is in line with the Reformed tradition (p. 20). For proof of this they mention my name. Unrightfully so: in the article cited by the committee, I was dealing with the relationship between the meaning of words and the cultural and social context. The view of the deputies has to do with a different issue, namely: the meaning of text and cultural and social context.

4. Do I accuse the committee of bad faith? No, but rather of rashness. Perhaps some people imagine that we can say goodbye to some Pauline texts merely on the matter of men and women, and nothing else. But that is quite naïve. There are at least two major shipwrecks on the beach that should be beacons to us. When the Gereformeerde Kerken (synodaal) opened up all offices for women, with an argumentation very similar to that of your committee, they really had no intention to introduce higher criticism or make the Bible inoperative. The outcry was great when Prof. Dr. H.M. Kuitert immediately declared that his synod had now legalized higher criticism. Yet he was proven right: this rash decision was later regretted by many. The same process was repeated with the Christian Reformed Churches. I am unwilling to believe that any of the committee members or synodical delegates wants this. But I do say: look at those beacons and think again! Surely you don’t want this?

At the end of the day, it should not be difficult for your assembly to decide about the report.

a. You may declare that this report has not shown convincingly that in the organization of our church life we need no longer take into account the decisions of our apostle Paul about the difference between Adam and Eve and the significance of the fall.

b. Furthermore, your synod may state that the report rightly devoted many good words to the service of men and women for the sake of the gospel, but that it wrongly ignored what Scripture says about what we call “the office of government” (recently confirmed by the synod of Ommen, 1993).

c. If you want to complete the discussion about this entire issue, as was the intention of the previous Synod, you may decide that no compelling reasons have been found to deviate from the practice of many centuries and of most of the churches, based on 1 Timothy 2, to assign the offices of teaching and oversight to the responsibility of the man.

Much more difficult than taking a decision, is a return to instructing the congregations about the importance of the history of creation and salvation in general, and about these scriptural data in particular. We have become desensitized to these realities and become more sensitive to the world around us. However, it is very important to regain this sensitivity. Only through education and example will reappear the love towards the story of Adam and Eve and the respect for what the Lord attaches to it. I’m not sure if synods can decide anything about that. In any case, they cannot execute or accomplish it. The responsibility lies with those who as shepherds must lead the flock to be citizens of a kingdom this is above, and with all Christians who would persevere in their desire for a heavenly kingdom, that is not of this world.

The decision-making about the report takes place in an ecclesiastical reality that is adrift. I pray therefore for all of you, that you may have wisdom and courage. You will not be able to take a decision to change reality. But you can make a decision that is responsible. And the Lord can make that decision in his time and manner into a blessing for the church and the gospel, for men and women.

With regards and brotherly greetings,

J. van Bruggen

Apeldoorn,

May 2, 2014.

 

 


Reflection on the RCN 2014 Decision on Women in Office

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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.


RCN Decision on Women in Office

Pastor Lady

Courtesy of Arjen Vreugdenhil, I have a translation I can share of the decision of Synod Ede of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands regarding women in office.  I offer it here without any further comment at this time:

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Decision 1

To relieve the committee “m/f in the church” of their duties.

Decision 2

a. Not to agree with the grounds of the conclusion of the committee “m/f in the church” that it belongs within the bandwidth of what may be called Scriptural and Reformed, when beside men women may also serve in the ecclesiastical offices.

b. The view that beside men women may also serve in the ecclesiastical offices must be open for free debate, provided that arguments are based on Scripture.

Ground:

The message of Scripture shows two lines. One line is that of equivalence of man and woman; the other is that of the difference in responsibility that God gave to man and woman. Both lines must be accounted for.

Decision 3

a. To appoint a new committee “m/f and office” to investigate:

1. how the offices can be structured so that in them women can be active for God’s kingdom; thereby taking into account the ground mentioned under Decision 2.

2. what the consequences are of such a structure, relative to the current forms and the church order.

3. what the opinions are within sister churches concerning the implementation of the offices of minister, elder, and deacon; this with a view toward maintaining the catholicity of the church.

b. To inform the sister churches, both nationally and internationally, concerning this Decision 3, and to request advice.

Grounds:

1. A continuing reflection on the questions concerning men and women in the offices of minister, elder, and deacon will be served by a critical study of the current structure of offices within the Reformed Churches in the light of the whole teaching of Scripture.

2. The structure of offices originating in the times of the Reformation, of ministers, elders, and deacons, is not directly derived from Scripture and may therefore be modified and/or extended according to circumstances.

3. Not all activities of the current officers deal directly with bearing responsibility for the spiritual leadership in the congregation; it is profitable to investigate which tasks may be executed by men as well as women.

4. A different implementation and definition of the offices of minister, elder, and deacon may have consequences for the content of the forms in current use, as well as for the rules of the church order.

5. According to the rules for sister church relations (Synod of Ommen, 1993), sister churches ought to be informed about the intended study and its results.

Decision 4

a. To appoint a new committee “m/f in the church” to investigate: working toward integration of Biblical education, the confessional norms, and the practice of the Reformed churches in connection with the roles and functions of women and men in their mutual relations, by

1. describing actively how and on what ground in Reformed churches men and women in various situations use their talents in the congregation;

2. noting in connection to this strong points, best practices, but also difficulties and points of controversy, giving a first assessment of these matters, and communicate this to the churches;

3. entering and remaining in conversation about these observations and considerations with especially the employees of the Theological University and the Praktijkcentrum;

4. stimulating and supporting the conversation about the calling and right of women also to use their talents in the churches, with a view toward a practice that reflects the manifold message of the Scripture, with special attention to:

a. Scriptural and obedient reading of the Bible;

b. the influence of society on the thought and actions of Christians;

c. the special and complementary differences between man and woman.

5. in all the aforementioned activity, specifically asking women about their various experiences and convictions.

b. If there are developments in the churches in this respect that converge sufficiently, so that it is responsible to make general decisions, to submit proposals to the next general Synod.

c. To communicate relevant proposals to sister churches, both national and international, though the Contact Committee.

Grounds:

1. At this moment it is wise not to settle for one or more of the submitted “directions toward a solutions” in the questions surrounding potential female office bearers, but to continue the discussing more broadly.

2. The developments in the churches concerning the roles and functions of men and women deserve good support and interaction.

3. The different practices in the churches today require a more communal process of raising awareness and learning from one another. This is felt more urgently today than in the past.

4. By investigating one another’s practices, as churches together and in mutual relationship, we complement each other and grow in unity.

5. Input from the Theological University and the Praktijkcentrum is necessary for a theologically and empirically responsible guidance of the ecclesiastical developments and preparation of potentially necessary decision-making.

6. Regardless of the conviction concerning the permissibility of female office bearers, much can be gained in a continued conversation about the calling and right of women also to use their talents in the church:

a. There is difference of opinion about the way in which we draw conclusions for our lives today from what the Biblical authors initially wrote for their audiences.

b. The committee “m/v in the church” in their report rightly noted the tension that many experience between the roles and functions that women fulfill in the churches and in society.

c. The real differences between man and woman demand its own consideration, for instance by giving attention to “gender studies”.

7. In the discussion about the calling and right of women also to use their talents in the churches their own input is indispensable.

8. It is good to take time to allow general decision-making to come up out of the churches, and to allow as much like-mindedness as possible to grow.

9. The agreements with sister churches, both national and international, must be honored as carefully as possible.


Pray for the RCN!

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Synod Ede of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands continues later this week.  Unlike Canadian Reformed synods (which meet through two to three weeks straight), most of the sessions of Dutch synods are held on weekends.  The next sessions are scheduled for this coming Friday and Saturday.  According to the schedule, on Friday there will be extensive discussions about the letters from concerned foreign sister churches.  On Saturday, the agenda is completely devoted to discussing the report on women in office.  Let’s continue to remember our Dutch brothers and sisters in prayer, urgently praying for the delegates at the Synod to do the right thing and turn their churches away from this path of apostasy.  This could very well be a turning point for them — let’s pray that it would be a turn in the right direction.