In 2015 the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) decided to suspend sister relations with the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (RCN or, in Dutch, GKv) and declared that their “sister relationship with the RCN will become untenable if the next synod of the RCN in 2017 does not express and demonstrate evidence of repentance.…” Sadly we see no evidence of that repentance so far.
One of the signs of continuing deformation is women in office. According to Nederlands Dagblad (Netherlands Daily) 14/9/2016[i] a number of RCN churches[ii] decided, as a matter of ‘principle’, to allow women into the office of deacon. One of them[iii] has gone even further by allowing women to become elders.
I suppose that this should not surprise us because for some years now the RCN have had combined church services with the Netherlands Reformed Churches (the federation of ‘buitenverbanders’ which broke with the RCN in the 1960s). These churches have had women in office for some time, yet the RCN no longer see that as an obstacle to unity with them. This led our FRSA Synod 2015, in its letter of admonition to the RCN, to say:
“Even though the Report Male/Female tabled at your Synod of Ede was rejected, the hermeneutics used as basis for this report was not rejected and consequently the clear Scriptural injunction for women to have no authority in the churches is ignored. This is evident from the decision in relation to the Netherlands Reformed Churches (NGK). You have stated in this respect that neither women in office nor the rationale behind it within the NGK is an obstacle to ecclesiastical unity any longer.”
Now Scripture is quite clear that a woman is not permitted “to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Tim. 2:12). But this is no longer a problem for the RCN because they have changed their Church Order so that deacons are no longer seen as members of the church council and therefore not in a position of authority. Ergo: if they are no longer in a position of authority it should be possible for women to be deacons.
Whilst changing the Church Order in this way may appear to legitimise having women as deacons it does not harmonise with Scripture and with what we confess in our Belgic Confession (BCF). Article 30 BCF speaks about the government of the church and we confess therein that deacons, along with elders and pastors, form the council of the church. Deacons therefore do have a position of authority in the church. Moreover, the requirements for deacons given in 1 Tim. 3 are quite clear about deacons being men. They “are to be men worthy of respect…” (vs. 8) and “their wives are to be women worthy of respect…” (vs. 11). “A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well” (vs. 12).
To be sure, the RCN’s synod has not made a decision yet; it is awaiting the outcome of a report on women in office. But the fact that individual churches are taking the initiative to open up the office to deacons and, in one case[iv], to elders, is not a good sign.
It’s not a good sign because it shows a determination to continue on a course that moves with secular trends. It began seemingly innocently in the early 1990s when the RCN decided that women should be allowed to vote for office bearers. Not long after this the discussions started about women in office. We’ve seen how a professor at the RCN’s theological university sought to legitimise women in office by claiming that Paul objected to it because in his days it was unseemly to have women in authority. However, added the professor, since society today approves of women in authority it is appropriate to reinterpret Scripture for today’s situation and allow women in office. We’ve also seen the RCN change their Form for Marriage so that instead of saying that the man “as head, has authority over his wife” and that the woman is to “accept his leadership in obedience” the Form now no longer speaks of “authority” and “leadership” but emphasises unity and mutual responsibilities. As a further step in this trend we now have some RCN churches approving of women deacons. Sadly it’s not hard to see where this is heading.
There is another reason why the decision of these churches to approve of women deacons is not a good sign. That is that these churches are acting independently of the other churches in their RCN bond. Despite disappointing statements by RCN synods, the RCN have not formally made a decision on the matter. Its synod-appointed committee on man/woman (women in office) has not yet presented its report but is expected to do so later this year. These churches have therefore acted independent of the other RCN churches (with no outcry against their actions so far). We saw the bitter fruit of such ‘independentism’ 50 years ago in the RCN when some people wanted the freedom to act independently of the bond of churches. It led to a number of people leaving the church bond or federation. These ‘buitenverbanders’ later established the Netherlands Reformed Churches (mentioned above) with whom the RCN are now seeking unity.
The decision of a number of RCN churches to allow women into the office of deacon is a further disturbing development. There is, of course, a simple solution. It is to repent and humbly submit to the authority of God’s Word. For the LORD blesses obedience but curses disobedience (Deut. 28).
[i] “Eerste Gereformeerde kerken vrijgemaakt laten vrouwelijke diaken toe”
Toe” (First Free Reformed Churches permit women deacons) by Gerard ter Horst, posted on ND website 14/9/2016, 19.51 hours.
[ii] Gereformeerde Kerken vrijgemaakt in “Neede, Delft, Capelle aan den IJssel-Zuid/West en Utrecht Noord/West”.
[iii] Gereformeerde Kerk vrijgemaakt in Utrecht.