Women should now also be ordained as ministers, elders and deacons. That is the unanimous recommendation of Deputies Men/Women appointed by synod of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (RCN aka GKv) in a long report addressed to RCN synod 2017 which will begin sitting in January.[i]
The report places synod before eight options but recommends that as office bearers women should form part of consistory and as such hold positions of authority over men. The speed with which women are to be introduced into the office is to be left to the freedom of the local congregations.[ii]
This deputyship was appointed after a similar deputyship likewise reported to synod in 2014 that it was Biblical and reformed to allow women to be office bearers. However, Synod 2014 appointed new deputies with the task to study the matter further, and we now have their lamentable recommendations which clearly deviate from what Scripture says.
The Bible is very clear about the position of women in the church. In 1 Timothy 2 we read, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve …”
But the Report’s deputies show that they don’t believe these and similar “silence texts” apply “for all times and all people”. Nederlands Dagblad (Netherlands Daily) interviews with deputies indicate that they prefer to focus on the many Bible passages that speak about the work of women. It was, says one deputy, a Jewish custom in Paul’s days for girls not to be educated and Paul was therefore quite progressive in saying that women should allow themselves to be taught. As far as the deputies are concerned the church has made a sort of doctrine about what women may and may not do. [iii]
When asked what has led to the changed views, the deputies point to two factors. First is the church’s attitude to society around it. A church’s openness to society around it will sooner or later lead to it being influenced by important societal themes such as women in office, homosexuality, divorce and the church’s ‘song culture’. Second, these outside influences sometimes throw a new light on the Bible so that one exclaims, for example, ‘Hey, there are places where the Apostle Paul also mentions women speaking in church.’
Speaking about why he changed his position on women in office, former EIC of Nederlands Dagblad, J deVries, now a synod deputy, said that his previously held position began to grate on him. “You feel uncomfortable when you see such a discord between the church’s position and that of society. Sometimes that is based on conviction, but in this case I questioned its usefulness for the Church. It is a double loss: you don’t use women’s gifts and it affects the way outsiders look at the church.”[iv]
During the last decades in the Netherlands one ‘reformed’ church federation after another has accepted women in office, according to emeritus religious studies lecturer Dr G Dekker of the Free University. He considers it inevitable that the RCN will have women in office because that’s the way society operates. “You can’t have equality of women in all areas during the week and not on Sundays,” he adds.[v]
Another academic, who had traced the emancipation of women in two other ‘reformed’ federations, says that he knows many Free Reformed women who are active in church and now that the church shows a greater openness to society and to other protestant churches there are ‘impulses’ that lead one to take a new look at the Bible.[vi]
Evidently these academics and the deputies feel that the church’s position on women in office is determined by cultural factors. For example, the deputyship’s chairman said that the Church Order and Belgic Confession don’t explicitly say that office bearers must only be men; it was just assumed that women would not give leadership. But, he added, “this shows how great the influence of culture is”. In other words, it is cultural context and not the Bible that kept women out of office.
Whilst the RCN report appears to be at pains to show that deputies want to adhere to the Bible, one detects in deputies’ comments a concern with cultural influences, what is politically correct and ‘what works’. Such concerns are typically post-modern and reflective of the “new hermeneutics”. New meanings are obtained by looking at all the social and historical factors that may have influenced the writer (even inspired Bible writers such as Paul) and then reviewing the text with the values one has adopted as a result of one’s own context. When this method of interpreting a text is applied to the Bible, the Truth of God’s Word is placed on shaky ground. It leads to a loss of confidence in what God has revealed in His Word and works to rob us of our faith in His promises and directives.
Fortunately a report is not a synod decision. The RCN synod 2017 will need to decide whether to accept the Report’s recommendations. However, if synod 2017 rejects the recommendations (as it should) it faces several challenges. First, this report and the report to previous synod have been given wide media coverage and condition RCN members to accept women in office. Second, those women who already have been appointed office bearers in the RCN (by congregations that have ‘jumped the gun’ will need to be turned out of office). Third, the RCN’s efforts to unite with the Netherlands Reformed Churches (‘Buitenverbanders’), which already have women in all offices, will be seriously undermined. This is what happens when synods don’t give clear Scriptural leadership and nip errors in the bud.
Allow me to conclude with some pertinent observations by Rev Ken Wieske on his Facebook page. Commenting on the Report he writes:
“For thousands of years, the catholic Church has, in accordance with the Word of God, been served by ministers who are men. This goes back to the Old Testament and ultimately to the Garden of Eden.
The Dutch Reformed Churches Liberated [RCN] have been served with a Synod report which finds that the Bible has “room” for a new concept for leadership in the Church. All offices should be open to women.
This is not a surprise, but it still leaves us profoundly sad. This report is one more awful, heart-rending evidence that these Churches are riddled through with the cancer of the new hermeneutic, which looks to the World instead of the Word in order to find out God’s will.
Although it is couched in all kinds of fancy language, the basic message is this: we do not believe the Word of God. We will take what the world believes, what the world practices, what the world approves, what the world values, what the world promotes, and we will find a way to make the Word of God approve of our worldliness. And –– literally –– to hell with the consequences. This applies to the matter of women in office, to the way that homosexuality and haemophilia is dealt with, to the question of divorce and remarriage, the question of origins, and so many other things where after thousands of years, the Church is suddenly discovering that the Bible can be made to support the spirit of the age. After all, it is shocking to think that we might somehow be set apart, be different from the world in our attitudes and practices when it comes to the most basic things in human life, such as gender roles, marriage and sexuality, and our understanding of origins. It will certainly be a lot more comfortable for unbelievers to join the Church if there is no need to go through any radical change in worldview; if the Church is so worldly that the unbeliever can feel right at home. Kyrie Eleison!
The report has not yet been adopted by the Dutch Synod. May God still grant a miraculous change of heart, and a return to the Word of God.”[vii]
We echo that prayer: “May God still grant a miraculous change of heart, and a return to the Word of God.”
[ii] “Rapport: ambt moet open voor vrouwen in GKv” (Report: office must be opened to women in RCN), Nederlands Dagblad, 1st November 2016.
[iii] “God roept mannen en vrouwen” (God calls men and women), Ibid.
[iv] “Waarom de vrijgemaakte vrouw ineens wel mag preken” (Why the Free Reformed woman may now suddenly preach), Nederlands Dagblad, 5th November 2016.
[vii] Rev Ken Wieske, Facebook. Used with his permission