When I teach the Belgic Confession to my catechism students, I now spend a lesson on the topic of women in office. I never had to do this before, but sadly, the times have changed. I’ve added the outline for my lesson on this to the resources on Yinkahdinay — you can find it under “Teaching Tools” or through this direct link. PLEASE NOTE: this is just an outline. Obviously, a lot more would be said in a catechism class than what is just on this one page. However, if anyone is studying or teaching on the issue, at least you’ll have a bare bones idea of the history, the relevant Scripture passages, where the confessions speak to this, and some of the common objections. If you want to dig even deeper, see here for a short booklet published some years ago when the Christian Reformed Church in North America was dealing with this. For an even more comprehensive treatment, see Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem.
Tag Archives: women’s ordination
It could happen later this year that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands decide at their synod to officially allow women in office. I pray that it doesn’t, but the possibility is definitely there. That raises questions relating to article 29 of the Belgic Confession. Specifically, if a church federation were to adopt women in office does that automatically mean that they have become a false church? That question needs to be answered carefully.
This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered the idea of women in office in Reformed churches. Back in the 1990s, the Christian Reformed Church in North America first discussed it, and then gradually adopted it. That adoption was one of the biggest catalysts leading to the mass exodus from the CRC between 1992 and 1994 — over 17,000 members left just in those years. A good number of those ended up forming what would later become known as the United Reformed Churches.
I remember some of the early talks between the CanRC and URCs in the Bulkley Valley in north-central British Columbia. This would have been in the early 2000s. Questions were asked of our URC brothers such as: do you now view the CRC as a false church? No URC person would say that. It was as if some of the CanRC people felt that the ex-CRC people could only have been justified in leaving if they viewed the CRC as a false church. At least some in the URC would say that the CRC was no longer a true church, but they would not say that having women in office (and the other theological aberrations) resulted in the CRC being a false church.
I think I can see why they said that. Certainly I don’t believe that a Reformed federation which adopts women in office can be said, by virtue of only that, to have become a false church. Let me explain.
Let’s agree that article 29 of the Belgic Confession gives a faithful summary of the teaching of Scripture about the marks of the true and false church. Let’s use that as our starting point. What are the marks of a false church according to the Confession?
- It assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God.
- It does not want to submit itself to the yoke of Christ.
- It does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word, but adds to them and subtracts from them as it pleases.
- It bases itself more on men than on Jesus Christ.
- It persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke the false church for its sins, greed, and idolatries.
So, while the true church has three marks, the false church has five. Just as all three marks need to be in order for a church to be true, so it follows that all five marks need to be seen for a church to be false. In the original context of the 1561 Belgic Confession, there was only one church that fit the bill: the Roman Catholic Church. Does a church that adopts women in office become a false church? Certainly those first two marks are being exhibited, and perhaps the fourth too. However, not necessarily the third (notice the focus on adding and subtracting in the BC) or the fifth (the persecution envisioned leads to martyrdom). A church adopting women in office would have to go off the rails in all these other areas for it to be a false church.
But if it is not a false church that doesn’t mean we’re saying that it is true. Let’s review the marks of a true church:
- It practices the pure preaching of the gospel.
- It maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them.
- It exercises church discipline for correcting and punishing sins.
Does adopting women in office compromise any of these marks?
“The pure preaching of the gospel” could be understood to refer narrowly to the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. However, sometimes the word “gospel” is used more broadly to refer to the Word of God in general. I believe the latter, broader way is found here in BC 29. I say that because the French (or Gallican) Confession, upon which the Belgic is largely modelled, does not say “gospel” in its articles 27 and 28, but “the Word of God.” Therefore, if a church is not proclaiming the Word of God purely about who can serve in the offices of the church, this mark has been compromised.
What about “the pure administration of the sacraments”? Did Christ institute the Lord’s Supper and Baptism with the intent that women would administer them? Does administering the sacraments to those who follow false teachings like women in office constitute a pure administration? We have to conclude that this mark too is imperiled by women in office.
Church discipline is also essential for a church to be true. When members hold to false teachings like women in office, they need to be admonished and warned that they are departing from the Scriptures. When local congregations hold to women in office and begin implementing it, then there needs to be brotherly admonition on the ecclesiastical level — and action too, if no change takes place. But if a Synod decides that black is white and women can be ordained, then all possibility for discipline on this point disappears. So, yes, here as well we have to conclude that the church which adopts women in office has ceased being a true church.
All three marks of a true church are affected by women in office. The church which adopts this position ceases to be a true church of Jesus Christ. This is why the Canadian (CanRC) and Australian (FRCA) churches will no longer be able to have ecclesiastical fellowship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands if they go in this direction.
That still leaves the question hanging: if not a false church, and if not a true church, then what? It’s often forgotten that there is a third category in article 29 of the Belgic Confession: the sect. The sect is a religious organization which is not entirely a true church, but not entirely a false church either. In the days the Confession was written, this was the label applied to the Anabaptist groups in the Netherlands. Guido de Brès wrote a volume of over 900 pages on the Anabaptists. He never calls their groups “false churches.” Instead, consistently, he calls them sects. If you want a category for the church which adopts women in office, “sect” is what you’re looking for.
As mentioned above, I pray that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands rejects women in office once and for all. I pray that the faithful members will gain the upper hand and steer the RCN back to God’s Word. I pray that the churches which are already practicing this false teaching will either repent or be removed from the RCN. I don’t want to see them become a sect. I earnestly desire that we can continue to recognize them as a true church of Jesus Christ, our sister churches. We must keep praying!
As regular readers of this blog know, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands are currently wrestling with the issue of women in office. There is a report going to their next synod advocating for it. This report is now available in English here. Naturally, there are members of these churches excited about the possibility of admitting women to all the church offices. However, we should not be left with the impression that everyone is on board with it. There have been Dutch voices, inside and out of the GKV, that are critical of these developments. The website Werken aan Eenheid has a collection of links to articles critical about women in office — you can find it here. Of course, it’s in Dutch, but for English-only readers there’s always Google Translate to give you a rough idea of what you’re looking at.
This past Tuesday, the deputies appointed to study women in office in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (RCN) released their final report to the 2017 Synod. If you can read Dutch, the 75 page report is here. The news is not encouraging. The deputies are recommending that the 2017 Synod decide to open all the offices of the church to women.
Some 11 pages of the report is taken up with considering advice from sister-churches. The report notes the objections/warnings of the Canadian Reformed Churches and Free Reformed Churches of Australia, but does not mention the Reformed Church in the United States (see here), perhaps because the RCUS Synod letter did not arrive in time to be considered. The report notes that two foreign sister churches currently admit women to church offices: the Reformed Church in Japan (all offices) and the Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA — these churches only admit women to the office of deacon and on the understanding that this office is not one of authority). This is in addition to a sister church federation in the Netherlands: Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken. That section concludes by noting that, from the survey of sister churches, there is “room for diversity in how women in office is handled, appropriate to the time and culture in a particular region.” The deputies also recognize that moving in the direction of women in office is going to have consequences in some of their ecumenical relationships. They do not mention that this direction will also likely impact the membership of the RCN in the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC). Several member churches of the ICRC were involved with removing the Christian Reformed Church of North America from the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council over the issue of women in office. I suspect that they will not look the other way when it comes to the RCN and membership in the ICRC.
While we pray otherwise, the recommendations of this report will quite likely be adopted. As has been mentioned here previously, the horses are already well out of the gate in the RCN on this issue. Local churches are already opening the offices to women, regardless of this report and whatever the synod decides. A synod decision will just be essentially rubber-stamping what’s already going on and giving it official status. Should a synod decide otherwise, would one really think that these local churches would revert back to the way it was before? It seems a sad, foregone conclusion that even if permitting women in office is not the official position in the RCN, it will be tolerated.
No, the title is not referring to Ichabod Crane, he of headless horseman fame. Rather, it refers to what Scripture says in 1 Samuel 4. After the ark was captured, the wife of Phinehas (son of Eli) gave birth and died shortly afterwards. As she was expiring, she named the baby “Ichabod” — the name means “the glory has departed.” Today I’m wondering whether the glory has departed from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
According to the website Werken aan Eenheid, the church of Utrecht North/West (a.k.a. Opstandingskerk) is going to ordain female elders and deacons next month. The church made a decision to do this in September 2015 already (you can find it here), but they have waited until now to implement this decision. Apparently, they are going forward with it. Other GKVs have already or will shortly ordain women deacons.
What can one say that hasn’t already been said? This clearly contradicts biblical teaching in such passages as 1 Timothy 3. It contradicts article 30 of the Belgic Confession. It slaps in the face sister churches like the CanRC, FRCA, and RCUS. It endangers the position of the RCN in the the ICRC. In so many ways and on so many levels, this decision and its implementation leaves one wondering: is this the Ichabod moment for our Dutch sister churches? Has the glory departed from the RCN? Are they in the final stages of giving up the right to be acknowledged as a federation of true and faithful churches of Jesus Christ?