Tag Archives: Women’s voting

Synod Carman 2013 — Prognosis (1)

Every three years the Canadian Reformed Churches have a synod.  This is our broadest assembly.  Since we are allergic to hierarchy and since we respect the position of the local church, our synod is not the highest assembly.  Yet important decisions are made at our synods that have a bearing on all our churches.  We agree to accept the decisions of our synods as settled and binding unless they are in conflict with Scripture or the Church Order.  This year’s synod is going to be held in the bustling metropolis of Carman, MB, convened by the Carman West Canadian Reformed Church.  Over this coming week (and maybe into next) I want to survey some of the items on the agenda and offer some thoughts on where things might go or where they should go.  And no, I’m not delegated to this synod.  If you see a Bredenhof on the list of delegates, that would be my cousin, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, pastor of the Pilgrim CanRC in London, ON.

Let’s begin with one of the controversial matters being appealed.  Synod Burlington 2010 decided to grant churches the freedom to allow female professing members to vote for office bearers.  They did not impose this on the churches, but simply opened the door for it.  To my knowledge, only a handful of churches have exercised that freedom.  Looking at the second provisional agenda, there are at least eight churches appealing this decision:  Smithville, Calgary, Carman-West, Dunnville, Carman-East, Grand Valley, Chilliwack, and Coaldale.  I don’t have the actual appeals, so I can’t comment on the strength of their arguments.  The only thing that might be said is that it is very hard to put the horses back in the stable once they’ve been out and running for three years.  Even if Synod 2013 were to sustain these appeals, some local churches have already been implementing this practice.  In the scenario where the appeals are upheld, over the next three years these churches with women voting would likely continue their practice and then submit appeals themselves to Synod 2016.  This thing could go back and forth for a while yet.  However, I don’t see that happening.  Since the decision did not impose the practice on the entire federation, churches that object are free to continue doing what they’ve always done.  Churches that think differently can also do what they think is right.  We will have to learn to live with different practices in our federation.  My guess is that the appeals will be denied.  I wrote some reflections on the decision of Synod 2010 over here and after three years, I think the same.

Reflections on the CanRC Synodical Decision to Allow Women to Vote in Congregational Elections

In a historic decision, Synod 2010 decided that who votes in congregational elections for office bearers is a matter for local regulations.  To state the obvious, this will prove to be a controversial decision.  It was certainly not a unanimous one.

To begin with, there were majority and minority reports from Cornerstone, the church appointed to study this matter.  The majority report argued for, the minority against allowing women to vote in congregational elections.  Then there were the other churches.  There were over 30 letters from the churches, most of which were in favour of maintaining the status quo.  Then there was a majority report and a minority report presented by the synodical advisory committee.  When it came time to vote, it was all done by secret ballot.  The majority report arguing against was defeated, and the minority report adopted.  Most of the decisions of Synod 2010 were made with unanimity.  This was not such a decision.  The vote was 14 in favour of the minority report and 10 opposed.  In other words, it passed by a narrow margin.

I have the utmost respect for the brothers who served at Synod Burlington-Ebenezer.  They are my fathers and brothers in the faith.  I consider them blessed with gifts of wisdom and discernment.  Many of them, both pastors and elders, are men who have shaped me and my ministry.  So, this is not at all a personal vendetta on my part.  I’m sure they were convinced that this was the best decision they could make under the circumstances and I respect that.

Yet…yet I cannot help but wonder what will happen to our churches from here on.  The days of far-reaching Canadian Reformed homogeneity are over.  Maybe that will be a good thing.  Maybe we’ve all been the same for too long.  One of our Reformed forefathers said that it’s the devil who wants us all to be the same.  Whatever you may think of that, imagine the city with two Canadian Reformed churches:  one allows women to vote, the other not.  Unless borders are strictly enforced (which we all know to be impossible), this cannot but contribute to the development of what are called “modalities.”  In simpler terms, it means that a certain kind of person goes to a certain kind of Canadian Reformed Church.  He or she picks the church that has the mindset or the practices that he or she favours.  With the passing of this decision, we can expect to see this trend developing in the years ahead.  It already happens to a certain extent, but it will happen more.

As for the decision itself, I have mixed feelings.  The Bible does not say anything explicit about congregations voting for office bearers, let alone who should be doing the voting.  To clarify:  Scripture speaks about God’s people in the OT and NT choosing office bearers, but it does not specify how this was done.  This is something that has developed as part of our church culture.  The principle of congregational involvement is biblical, but the exact shape of that involvement is not rigidly delineated in God’s revelation.  It is something that congregations and federations come to agreement upon with wisdom broadly informed by Scripture.

However, we have not always been consistent in what we have agreed upon.  Up to now, we have generally agreed that there should be democratic-style elections where only the men vote.  But we have allowed women to submit nomination letters.  Though I’ve never seen it happen, a woman could submit a letter with names that is completely in disagreement with the letter that her husband sent.  Women are allowed to participate in the nomination process.  But then the election comes and they are excluded.  Then when the approbation process comes, they are again permitted to participate.  A woman is free to bring a lawful objection to the appointment of an office bearer, even if her husband should not be in agreement.  Odd.  Inconsistent.  Who ever heard of an election where those allowed to nominate and approbate were not permitted to vote?  Include them altogether or exclude them altogether.

There is also the issue of whether voting is an act of authority.  If it is, then we aren’t Reformed, but Congregationalists.  It’s that simple.  I’m glad that Synod 2010 put that erroneous idea to bed, hopefully for good.

So, from the point of view of principles, I can see why the brothers at Synod made the decision they did.  What other way can we expect Synod delegates to make decisions?  They can’t go on gut feelings or speculations about what might happen as a result of their decision.  In this sense, it was a bold and just decision.

However, I regret that this decision was not made years or even centuries earlier, in a time when there were fewer pressures on our Reformed churches.  I look at it this way:  let’s not be naive; there are people in the Canadian Reformed Churches who would like to see women in ecclesiastical office.  However, up till now, they could make no credible argument for their position.  How can you plausibly argue for women in office when your church federation doesn’t even allow women to vote?  It would be like a woman running for Parliament before 1919, when women were finally granted suffrage in Canada.  The camel is now inching his way to the tent.

A related factor concerns me and that is the influence of N. T. Wright.  This British theologian and Anglican bishop is popular and highly regarded by some of our people.  Some people even describe him as “Reformed.”  He is a well-known proponent of women’s ordination.  In 1991, Mid-America Reformed Seminary published a booklet entitled, A Cause of Division: The Hermeneutic of Women’s Ordination.  That was against the background of the struggle of concerned members in the CRC.  Dr. Kloosterman and Dr. Venema demonstrated that there is a far-reaching hermeneutical approach that leads to these positions.  My point is that there is a hermeneutical philosophy that leads to the ordination of women.  It is not a quirk that Wright holds to this position; it’s the consistent outworking of his philosophy of biblical interpretation.  Don’t be fooled: those who are smitten by him and influenced by his hermeneutics are in danger of being led to his error on this point.

The third and final factor that makes me apprehensive about this decision is the efforts made by some to introduce the hermeneutics now in the ascendancy in the Netherlands.  There too, among other things, we see increasing openness to the possibility of women being ordained to ecclesiastical office.  These are the people we’re being encouraged to learn from as true teachers of Reformed hermeneutics.  That deeply concerns me.

The issue of women’s ordination is not where it ends.  Where it ends was ably described by Wayne Grudem in his little book, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism.   The same hermeneutic that results in the ordination of women leads to the abandonment of the gospel.  As Grudem puts it, “Those who adopt an evangelical feminist position ‘buy into’ an interlocking system of interpretation that will relentlessly erode the authority of Scripture in our churches” (262).  Where the authority of Scripture is eroded, you can be sure that the gospel is in grave danger too.

In conclusion, I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, at least not in the sense that I can predict the future with unfailing accuracy.  However, if I read the signs, I’m barely hopeful.  I see increasing disparity in our church federation because of this decision.  I also expect that within fifteen or twenty years we will be entertaining the ordination of women, despite Synod 2010 stating the position of Scripture on this clearly and faithfully.  Perhaps the only thing that can prevent that in the short-term is a merger with the URCNA, and I’m only marginally hopeful about that too.  All I know for sure is that the church belongs to Jesus Christ.  He hasn’t promised to preserve the Canadian Reformed Churches in pristine faithfulness until his return.  But he has promised to keep a church for himself, somewhere, with someone, somehow.  I only pray that we can continue to be a part of that.

CanRC Synod 2010 (18)

Here are the highlights from the last day of the Synod (Wednesday May 26):

  • In article 151, the Synod decided to provisionally adopt the Proposed Joint Church Order.  However, they did ask the Church Order committee to continue tweaking it and present a final edition to the next synod.
  • “Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary” is the new operational name of our theological training institution.  Definitely an improvement, in my estimation.
  • In case anybody missed it earlier in the Acts, article 161 reiterates that the revised Psalms are to be used in the worship services.
  • Synod decided to include “Jesus Shall Reign Where E’er the Sun” in our hymnary, contrary to the recommendation of the Book of Praise committee.  I commented on this hymn earlier and I’m glad that it’s been included.
  • The next synod will be hosted by Carman West (in Manitoba) in 2013.
  • The letter to the URC Synod was adopted.  You can find a copy here.
  • Hard copies of the Acts will only be made available upon request and then only at the cost of the churches requesting them.
  • Article 176 deals with the matter of women’s voting.  After affirming that only men may serve in the special ecclesiastical offices, the Synod declared that “any arrangement for the election of office bearers that goes beyond what has been agreed upon by the churches in Art. 3 CO is a matter of local regulations, adopted for that purpose by consistory with the deacons.”  This is a controversial decision, of course.  I will comment more on it tomorrow.

Women’s Voting

Once the complete, official Acts are published, I hope to write something here about the issue of women voting for office bearers in the Canadian Reformed churches.  In the meantime, Thea Heyink has some reflections on this issue and how it all went down at our Synod last week.