When the world shapes church doctrine
If you don’t like what the Bible says about something, just reinterpret it. Don’t want to believe any more that God created the universe in six days? Just say that the days of creation in Genesis 1 symbolise long periods of time. That will bring creation more into line with the theory of evolution. Don’t want to believe any more that Sunday is to be a day free from unnecessary work? Just say that the fourth commandment is no longer a divine command. Want room for divorce on various practical grounds? Change the marriage form so that it no longer shows the clear-cut Scriptural norms. The list goes on. Basically it is sin against the second commandment: serving God in your own way. Israel was guilty of it time and again (e.g. worship of the golden calf at Mt Sinai, Bethel & Dan), and many churches are guilty of it today as they try to make sinful worldly practices acceptable in church.
It’s something delegates from the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC) experienced in the Netherlands. There they witnessed how the RCN (GKv) first decided what they wanted and then tried to find Scriptural grounds for it. What they wanted was women in office and, when they could not really find convincing grounds for it, they invented them. Apparently that had become evident already at the RCN’s previous synod. As the CanRC delegates reported:
We were amazed at the pressure the deputies and delegates at synods felt they were under in order to produce some kind of biblical basis to justify opening the church offices to females. One of the delegates stated on the floor of Synod Ede 2014 during the debate on the report to that body that women can, must, and shall serve in office and that all that was needed was to find the biblical basis for that. [i]
A report tabled at Synod Ede had not been able to provide convincing grounds for women in office. But instead of dropping the matter, new deputies were appointed to investigate “how the offices can be structured so that women can be active for God’s kingdom within that structure” (Decision concerning M/F in the Church, 3.a.1). As the CanRC delegates reported, “This shows how there has been increasing pressure from within the RCN, influenced by the prevailing feminist culture, to open the offices for females and that the deputies had the task to come up with a biblical justification for that.” [ii]
So the picture we get is that first members of the church are influenced by the culture of the world. That culture is heavily influenced by feminism whereby women become more active particularly in leadership responsibilities. If the Bible does not support that change in roles, it’s time to reinterpret Scripture to find justification for women in office.
Of course, this does not happen overnight. Bit by bit practices within the church are changed and the ground is prepared for a major decision. Synod Meppel, in a letter to the churches, explained why its decision now to have women in the offices was important and relevant. It was because:
A practice has grown of increasing deployment of our sisters and their gifts in all kinds of tasks in the congregations. Sisters perform pastoral, leadership and instructional tasks that in the past had only been carried out by office-bearers. This sets up a tension between our doctrine of the office and congregational practice.
However, instead of saying: let us now submit humbly to the authority of God’s Word and change the way we do things to show that humble submission, instead of changing congregational practice so that it conforms to Biblical doctrine about the office, the RCN decided to change the doctrine to conform to the practice. Some pertinent parts of Scripture were ignored; others were adjusted to provide grounds for their case. As the CanRC delegates report:
The many clear and plain passages speaking about the gender-specific roles of men and women in the church were simply put aside as culturally determined and unclear and thus not normative for the church in this day and age. Instead scattered passages about women prophesying or using gifts in special circumstances in the church were sewn together as proof that the Bible does not forbid women to serve in church offices. Synod Meppel declared in its decision in June 2017 “that there are Scriptural grounds, next to men, also to call women to the ministry of mercy and therefore to the office of deacon” (Decision 4), and “that there are Scriptural grounds, that next to men, also to call women to the ministry of oversight, pastorate and instruction, and therefore to the office of elder” (Decision 5), and finally, “that there are Scriptural grounds, next to men, also to call women to the ministry of preaching and instruction, and therefore to the office of ministry” (Decision 6). [iii]
What were these ‘Scriptural grounds’? Decision 5 concerning the office of elder, for instance, had as grounds the Old Testament reference to Miriam (Micah 6:4) and Deborah (Judges 4:5) and to Paul’s words about Junia and Andronicus as apostles and about other couples as his co-workers. But as the CanRC delegates said: these are not Scriptural grounds. And as Dr C Van Dam had earlier shown,[iv] these references constitute a very weak basis for Synod’s decision justifying the ordination of female elders in the church. He concludes by saying:
Synod ended up grasping at straws as any neutral reader of Scripture can see from the evidence. Furthermore, Synod’s apparent refusal to let the full weight of the clear apostolic teaching on the requirements for male eldership in the church (1 Tim 3 and Titus 1) come to bear on their decision-making process is unreasonable. Synod ended up recommending women for ordination to the office of elder contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture.[v]
Once the church embarks on a course whereby the ways of the world are permitted to shape the doctrine of the church, when secular society in effect determines how the Word of God is to be understood, there appears to be no stopping the process of decline. The next step will be the manipulation of Scripture to justify homosexual practices. To quote once more from the report of the CanRC delegates:
There is an apparent pattern of actions once churches proceed to interpret the Bible in ways that accommodate to the prevailing western culture. Those churches will in due time also want to be more inclusive and seek ways to accommodate homosexual relations. The Bible, however, clearly shows that a homosexual lifestyle is sinful (Lev 18:22 and 20:13, Rom 1:24-27). Previous RCN synods (e.g. Zwolle 2008) dealt with issues of homosexual practice, and had stated in the past that such relations were unacceptable in the light of Scripture. Synod Meppel was confronted with a question from one of the churches about homosexual practice and there is reason to believe that there will be increasing pressure to interpret the Bible in such a way that same-sex relations are acceptable in the church. The NRC have accepted this and the growing unity between those churches and the RCN makes this a very real possibility.
Sad, indeed, is the RCN’s unwillingness to heed the warnings from the various sister churches. The RCN are the churches whom the LORD rescued from false doctrine and sinful hierarchical practices in 1944 as He continued His church-gathering and preserving work in the Netherlands through the RCN. These are the churches in which we, migrant congregations, have our roots and from whom we inherited, by God’s grace, so much helpful reformed literature and Scriptural direction in those early years. Tragically we have witnessed in these churches that were so dear to us a conscious changing of church doctrine throughout the past decades whereby their teachings and practices increasingly conform to the spirit of the age. May those RCN members who wish to remain faithful to God’s Word heed the voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4). And may we all take note of the trends, test the spirits, and continually reform our lives, for he who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12).
[i] Foreign Delegates Rev J DeGelder, Rev J Moesker, G Nordeman, Dr C Van Dam, “Visit to Synod Meppel 2017 of the Reformed Churches (Liberated) in The Netherlands”, Clarion, Vol 66, No 22, November 3 1017, p. 617.
[ii] Ibid., p. 617.
[iii] Ibid., p. 617.
[iv] Dr C van Dam, “Dutch Decision on Female Ordination to the Office of Elder Weighed and Found Wanting”, Clarion, Vol 66, No 15, July 28 2017, pp. 423-426.
[v] Ibid., p. 426.