This article by Rev E Heres of the DGK[i] shows that although there is much focus on whether the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (GKv)[ii] will decide to allow women in office, this issue is just the tip of the iceberg. The underlying problem is the new way in which Scripture is being interpreted. This article recently appeared in the Dutch magazine De Bazuin.[iii]
More than a Synod Decision
These days, synods and their anticipated decisions command much attention. Here I have in mind the current synods of the GKv (RCN) and the CGK.[iv]
The GKv synod began late last week. We read the interviews with its elected president, Dr M H Oosterhuis. From his mouth the Reformatorisch Dagblad reports: “There are sensitive issues on the table. There is a need for clarity on a new report that addresses the question of whether women can serve in the offices.” Speaking about the letters of admonition received from foreign sister churches of the GKv, the new president says: “In that respect we’re arriving at the crossroads of a new phase in church history.” These words show his awareness that decisions being made can well lead to a break in sister relations with some foreign sister churches.
The issue concerning female office-bearers is attracting much attention. It seems that there is increasing tension over a decision about to be made. You can notice it in the ‘letters to the editor’ and other articles in the newspapers, and in comments on websites. Postponing the decision, as GKv Synod Ede did, does not seem possible anymore. “It would be harmful to the climate in the churches if synod this time does not make decisions,” says president Rev Oosterhuis.
Each time it is pointed out that a decision will cause ‘pain’, either to its supporters or to its opponents. There are those who say: If synod decides to open up all the offices to women I will leave the GKv. Hence everything seems to hinge on a synod decision regarding the opening up of the offices for women in the church.
Are we then not dealing with a crucial decision? Yes, we are!
But it is to be hoped that the troubled brothers and sisters in the GKv do not focus their attention solely on this particular decision about female office-bearers. For it is quite possible that this synod makes all but the final decisions.
Would that then mean that troubled GKv members who simply want to remain Reformed can again breathe a sigh of relief? No, definitely not. For regardless of how the decision turns out, this issue is only the tip of the iceberg.
Women ministers and elders, yes, that attracts people’s attention – even far away beyond this country’s borders. But there seems to be much less interest in what has been going on below the surface for so long already. And that is the tampering with the authority of Scripture. The question about women in office is a result of that tampering. But it is the tampering itself that is the real problem.
To stay with the metaphor: Perhaps for many people the issue remains below the surface, but it is the actual tampering with the authority of Holy Scripture that wrecks the ship of the church.
The church of Christ has submitted for two thousand years to the authority of what the Lord says in His Word about the difference in position and task of men and women in the church. Scripture passages such as 1 Timothy 2: 8-15 speak very clear language. However, today leading members of the GKv say: What Paul’s words exactly mean for our time is not clear. I quote from the grounds underpinning one of the proposed resolutions: “It seems that these passages form the sole impediment to admitting women to the offices, while the texts did not intend to say that.”
Bible words that throughout the history of the church have been received and accepted as clear and transparent, are now being put in the fog of uncertainty.
But how can people create that kind of fog? Well, it is done by setting up complex hermeneutical constructions. The report of deputies tries to identify ‘four layers’ in those Bible passages that speak about women. It is not practical to explain this in detail in a brief church magazine article; people can read it on the GKv-synod website. By means of a convoluted line of reasoning the conclusion is drawn that there are two lines in the New Testament: the line of grace and the line that is determined by the culture of the day (page 15 of the report). “It seems that these two lines are not (as yet) coming together to a clear normative trend. That’s why we are still struggling with passages in Paul’s letters that are difficult to harmonize.”
Here an alleged lack of clarity of the Bible is being forced upon the churches! But it is a lack which theologians have invented by their obscure reasoning.
Would the Holy Spirit have kept the church ignorant for two millennia at a point as critical as that of the position and role of men and women?
Again, the greatest trouble is not [women in office], that tiny tip of the iceberg. It is the underlying problem. The GKv has become a federation of churches where room has developed for saying goodbye to the reliable norm of God’s Word. The big question is no longer: ‘What does Scripture say?’ The big question has become: ‘What do we say about Scripture.’
Theological scholars claim the right to make decisions about the extent to which Scripture is bound to culture and time. It is no longer: ‘The Lord teaches us very clearly in 1 Timothy 2.’ No, it is now: ‘We have made our reconstruction by way of a layered Scripture reading and, in the process, are struggling with some of Paul’s passages that are difficult to harmonize.’
This is how people surrender to the spirit of the times and how the sheep of Christ are denied the clear Revelation of God.
It is remarkable that from different ecclesiastical directions warnings are directed at the GKv. In Reformatorisch Dagblad of Tuesday 31 January we read a lucid article by Drs. Jaap de Heer (member of CGK Dordrecht-Centrum). He points out that within the GKv the authority of Scripture is at issue in several respects, in particular in Kampen’s theological activities. Jaap de Heer warns against an ‘interpretation of Scripture which transgresses the boundaries of Scripture’s authority’. He poses the question: ‘Would it be possible that the important place our culture is given when reading the Bible leads to a different understanding of Scripture?’
Yes, indeed, that different understanding of Scripture is the great problem of the GKv. And that is really not coming to light just now, with the decision synod has to take at this moment. Even if the synod of Meppel would not (yet) adopt the proposals to open up the offices to women, the great problem remains. For the evil of undermining the authority of Scripture is not stopped. Pastors and other theologians who speak and write in line with the report of deputies are left to do so unhindered. Where are the consistories that take action?
Where are the major assemblies who condemn these errors? Many members have in recent years understood that for Christ’s sake they were called to break with the bond of GKv churches. Will there still be troubled brothers and sisters in the GKv who realize that for a long time already more has been going on than just a synod decision about women office-bearers? Let us hope so and pray the Lord for it.
When the ship you’re on is sinking, get off quickly while there’s still an opportunity. It is God’s grace if you’re still granted that escape.
[i] De Gereformeerde Kerken – These churches were instituted by members who liberated themselves from the GKv (Reformed Churches in the Netherlands) in 2003
[ii] GKv (Gereformeerde Kerken vrijgemaakt)
[iii] Translated from De Bazuin, Vol. 11, No. 5, 8 March 2017
[iv] CGK (Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken)