Women in office and the (mis)use of Bible texts
The mind boggles at responses in the Dutch religious press[i] following the decision by the ‘Reformed Churches of the Netherlands’ (RCN; Dutch GKv) to open the offices of deacons, elders and ministers to women. Some respondents favour women in office because, they say, it’s impossible to know the will of the Lord in this matter. Others claim that the Bible leads to two lines of thought about this subject and both are acceptable. Still others say we should openly acknowledge that the Bible does not allow women in office but that we want to be governed by our culture. And then there are those who use Bible texts selectively to justify women in office. In this article, I’d like to respond to an ND interview[ii] with Rev Jos Douma[iii], because he (wrongly) appeals to Galatians 3 to support women in office, and to John 13 to let love cover ‘different views’.
Rev Douma sees it as a breath of fresh air to be able to spread, together with women, the gospel of Jesus Christ and his kingdom and “to taste together, what we’ve thought for so long”, namely, that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Well, there you have it. Women in office because, after all, we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3, however, is not about who may be office bearers but about being saved by faith. It is that beautiful chapter drawing the Galatian Christians back to the truth. The Judaists had told them that in order to be joined to the seed of Abraham they had to become Israelites and be circumcised, etc. Paul says: not true; the real seed of Abraham are not those of the flesh but those of the Spirit. The real seed of Abraham is Christ (vs 16) and all who belong to Him through faith (vs 28). Paul is saying that the promises of the gospel are not only for the physical seed of Abraham, the Jews, but for everyone – Jew and gentile, slave and free, male and female; for in Christ they are all one.
Moreover, the Bible does not contradict itself because God is immutable (BCF:1); He does not say one thing at one time and the opposite at another. Hence what the Spirit says through Paul in Galatians 3 may not be used as an umbrella text that somehow swallows up what God says elsewhere about not permitting women to teach or have authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12), and what we read about office bearers being men (having only one wife – 1 Timothy 3). To use Galatians 3 to absorb these and other Bible texts (e.g. those about men’s headship derived from Christ’s headship) is to misuse Scripture.
Rev Douma also believes that under the mantle of love we should tolerate the lie in church. Of course, he doesn’t use the term lie; he refers to “different views”. Church members have “different views” on the issue of women in office but he believes the differences are not crucial to a unity in the faith. In effect it means everyone either supports, or tolerates, women office bearers in church. And he appeals for this to Jesus’ words: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13). Douma says that with our differences we must cling to Jesus and discover how to continue and remain on the road together. He believes that it was characteristic of the RCN/GKv churches in the past for members to think the same in everything. But, he adds, that hasn’t been the reality for a long time now. He pleads for room to have different views, differing convictions; room to say we don’t know everything so precisely, so let’s accept one another’s differences in love.
However, we may not play out love against truth as though the one is more important than the other. We may not separate love from doctrine for love rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). If love means no longer fighting for the truth, the apostle Paul would not have fought for the truth against the Judaists, Luther would not have nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, and Calvin would not have stuck resolutely to upholding the truth against the ‘wolves’ in Geneva. There would never have been a 16th century Reformation, a Secession in 1834, a ‘Doleantie’ in 1886, and a Liberation in 1944. Nor would the RCN have fought for the truth in the 1960s when a group of ministers and others promoted an unscriptural tolerance. Indeed, the RCN of which Jos Douma is now minister would not exist, were it not for the struggle for, and triumph of, the truth through the grace of God.
Tolerance of falsehood, under the umbrella of love, is like amphetamines that make you feel good for a while but ruin you in the long run. The church is called to be “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) and where it fails to be so it is no longer Christ’s church but has degenerated into a meaningless religious body. Truth and love go hand in hand; the one cannot coexist without the other. Paul demonstrates the importance of the truth, for example, when he admonishes the Corinthians to live according to God’s Word. Yet he shows love by admonishing them “with much affliction and anguish of heart”, and with “many tears” (2 Cor. 2:4). He teaches the believers to do the same. For example, he tells the Ephesians not to be “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine… but, speaking the truth in love” to grow up “into Him who is the head – Christ” (Eph. 4:14-15).
We need to be alert to the misuse of Bible texts. Using Galatians 3 to support women in office is to rip this text out of its context and to ignore other Bible passages that speak very clearly about the church offices being restricted to men, and how this headship is linked to Adam and Christ. It is common to use texts about love to minimise and devalue the truth of God’s Word. This is offensive to God, the author of the truth – His Word – and to Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word (John 1:14). Satan is the liar from the beginning (John 8:44) and is adept at using Bible texts to promote the lie – even when he tempted Jesus (Luke 4:9-11). Truth and love must characterise our life, but never one at the cost of the other.
[i] Nederlands Dagblad (which has its roots in the RCN/GKv)
[ii] “Man, vrouw, ambt en de vrede van Jesus” (Man, woman, office and the peace of Jesus) in Nederlands Dagblad (web), 20 June 2017.
[iii] GKv minister of the Plantage Kerk in Zwolle.