There is a well-known joke about a church minister who receives a call to another congregation. Someone asks the minister’s daughter whether her father has made a decision yet. She answers: Dad is still in his study praying about it, but mum is already packing the suitcases.
A variation on this theme is the GKv’s Deputies on Women in Office. They are still studying whether the Bible permits women to be ministers, but the churches are already ordaining them. And just like the minister (above) who departed to another congregation, so the first female office bearers are already taking their place in GKv pulpits.
How is this possible? Hadn’t GKv’s Synod rejected the Women in Office Deputies’ report which advocated women in office? True; and there are people in our churches desperately clinging to that Synod decision. But they are leaning of a broken reed,[iii] because Synod also made other decisions, and in particular the decision that removed the barriers to union with the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken (NGK) – a church federation which allows women office bearers to officiate at all levels.
Synod even stated explicitly that the (un-reformed) hermeneutics used in those churches to underpin allowing women in office is no longer to form an impediment to unity. The Synod decided, namely,
“… that in the discussions on hermeneutics the consensus view was to remove the obstacle that arose from the NGK’s decision to open the offices to the sisters”(Decision 3).
This leaves no room for doubt. Many at home and abroad have drawn the logical conclusion that this is a de facto acceptance of ‘women in office’ in the GKv churches, and that this will also happen in practice.
We mention the very first (to our knowledge) example of it:
The NGK (450 members) and the GKv (100 members) in Nunspeet are establishing “intensive cooperation”. This was announced in the region “with joy”. Moreover, the GKv Classis Hattem has given its approval (ND[iv] 10/07/14).
This cooperation means that the congregations will admit each other’s members to Holy Supper, that their ministers may officiate in each other’s congregations, and that joint church services will be held. Catechism classes have also been combined, and the GKv youth have already joined the NGK youth-clubs.
This is a merger, an ecclesiastical oneness, approved by the bond of churches. We cannot draw any other conclusion.
Yes indeed, and why not?
But there is, at least there was, of course, a problem: the NGK in Nunspeet has female elders and deacons, whereas the GKv (formally) does not yet. However, this is not seen as a problem. Only three of the forty GKv families are said to be against it. And this remaining ‘inconvenience’ is to be removed by “having no female elders and deacons serve during the first combined services”.
Doesn’t this show a sympathetic approach towards ‘minorities’!
Admittedly, there is still the processional to the office bearers’ seating in front but at the foot of the pulpit there is as yet no handshake for the minister and also not a lugging around with collection bags by women…
Is there anyone who still believes that the GKv does not allow women in office?
Had a fright?
Last Monday’s ND (13 October) published a remarkable letter from two GKv Deputies for Church Unity (DKE). Here it is.
Under the heading Cooperation they reported that they
“… share in the joy at the decision of the NGK and GKv at Nunspeet to cooperate (ND 7 October). The GKv Synod of Ede made allowance for this. In brief, ‘women in office’ is no longer an obstacle to local cooperation with a NGK congregation. However, that statement is just a bit too brief.
The obstacle arose especially by the way in which the NGK was interpreting the Bible to justify having female elders and ministers. In recent years the two church federations have found each other at that point. [There is] no more distrust about whether the Bible is taken completely seriously, even though the churches do not always agree on its explanation. After Synod Ede’s decision this should still be a topic of local discussions. If an NGK congregation has chosen in favour of women in office, then that in itself does not have to be an obstacle, that is true. But there should be ongoing discussion about the reason for that choice. If you find that you really are one in how seriously you take the Bible, then you can move towards cooperation; with respect for everyone’s conviction and for the rules that apply in each church federation. Combined services of GKv and NGK congregations will therefore not be led by female ministers, and only [by] ministers who are signatories to the Reformed confession.
The obstacle is therefore gone. But this was not the fence that stopped all cooperation. Ecclesiastical cooperation is still possible only within the mutually accepted fence of respect for Scripture.”
Let us take a closer look at a few statements from this letter.
Deputies say: After Synod Ede’s decision this should still be a topic of local discussions. … there should be ongoing discussion about the reason for that choice.
Really? This is not evident from any Synod decision. In the discussion at Synod, Deputies’ chairman (of Deputies for Church Unity) Messelink said that it can be discussed; but in the record of Synod’s decisions even that remark cannot be found. On the contrary, it was strongly argued that discussion of NGK’s VOP[v] report is no longer necessary, for it was, after all, their report on which the NGK took their decision about women ministers. Opening up the offices to women is therefore no longer an obstacle for ecclesiastical unity at the national level. Fini.
According to these Deputies there should therefore be a discussion on the why of women in office. But why this ‘why’? What will that lead to? Rejection of their choice for these office bearers? But that was according to Synod definitely not the intention. In short, we understand nothing of such ‘discussion’. Or is it the intention that GKv members learn from the ‘right choice’ made by the NGK?
Combined services of GKv and NGK congregations will therefore not be led by female ministers, and only [by] ministers who are signatories to the Reformed confession.
Why apply this restriction to the NGK? Despite our best efforts we have been unable to locate this in the decisions of Synod.
Besides, why this restriction to female minister-elders? Is there then no problem with the other female governing-elders? Sermon reading, ‘handshakes’, attendance at elders-only meetings, home visits, and so on? Who came up with this distinction? It certainly wasn’t Synod.
And – we just ask the question – are there ministers in the NGK who have not put their signature to the confession? If so, and if Deputies knew this, how did they dare to propose to Synod to go in the direction of unity with these churches? Why was this not an issue at Synod, and why did Synod in its ignorance (?) adopt Deputies’ proposal?
Or is there something else going on with this letter of Deputies for Church Unity? Has it become clear to everyone that with ‘Nunspeet’ the genie is actually out of the bottle? And are they now trying to pull the wool over the eyes of distressed and shocked GKv church members by suggesting that Nunspeet is actually overstepping Synod’s decision in allowing also female office bearers to join the procession to the pulpit?
We would like to say: Come on brothers, show some courage, a little more support for your own proposed and adopted decisions. Or else, what we would much rather see: an admission that they are not correct and a heartfelt rejection.
But we fear that we shall have a long wait for a letter of that nature. For Deputies for Church Unity are again running behind the times – as they themselves complained about at Synod.
And the fence of respect for the Bible can of course no longer be found if the foundation on which it rested – the authority of Scripture – has been demolished.[vi]
What remains is at best a postmodern ‘respect for everyone’s opinion’.
[i] GKv stands for Gereformeerde Kerken vrijgemaakt – the Dutch liberated Reformed Churches.
[ii] Translated from an article on website ééninwaarheid 18 October 2014.
[iii] Isaiah 36:6.
[iv] ND – Nederlands Dagblad.
[v] VOP stands for Vrouwelijke Ouderlingen en Predikanten – Female Elders and Ministers.
[vi] Compare the fact that rev. W. van der Schee declared at Synod that in Amsterdam “women ministers have been functioning for years.” The Synod took note of it without any comment, let alone exhortation. And against that background the people in Nunspeet should have to conduct “further discussions”?