Practical Polity 101: Overturing Synod about Women in Ecclesiastical Office

Overture: Delete Regulation b. of Supplement, Article 3-a from the Church Order and prohibit classes declaring that women officebearers may not be delegated to classis.

I.            Background to Regulation b. of Supplement, Article 3-a

In 1995 Synod recognized that there are two different yet Scripture-honoring perspectives and convictions on the issue of women serving in ecclesiastical office. Synod decided to grant classes liberty to declare the word male inoperative in Church Order (CO) Article 3; thereby permitting churches to ordain women to all offices.

At this time, in order to prevent seated officebearers from being required to vote against their consciences on women candidates or nominees, Synod also determined that women could not serve as delegates to synod. Synod 1995 also enacted a five-year moratorium on related overtures seeking to change this decision. In 2000, Synod subsequently extended the church’s position on women in office for another five years, to 2005.

Synod 2005 approved particular regulations to Supplement, Art. 3-a ensuring officebearers not be asked to participate against their biblical convictions in the examination of female candidates at classes and the delegation of women officebearers to synod. In 2006 Synod proposed the deletion of the word male from CO Article 3-a and in 2007 Synod decided to delete it.

Following the decision of Synod 2007 to delete the word male from Article 3-a., Regulation b. was added to respect those who oppose women serving in ecclesiastical office and fulfilling their duties of classical delegation. Regulation b. states:

Classes may, in keeping with their understanding of the biblical position on the role of women in ecclesiastical office, declare that women officebearers (ministers, elders, deacons, and commissioned pastors) may not be delegated to classis.

II.            Arguments for the Deletion of Regulation b. of Supplement, Article 3-a

I, Jesse Pals, propose Regulation b. of Supplement, Article 3-a be deleted from the CRCNA Church Order because of the following three reasons: Regulation b. of Supplement, Article 3-a is not in agreement with Article 27-a of the CO; classes declaration that women officebearers may not be delegated to classis forces officebearers to participate against their convictions, which is in violation of Regulation c. of Supplement, Art. 3-a; recent precedent suggests the “recording of protest” fulfills classes obligation to honor and respect members of classis who believe women officebearers may not be delegated to classis.

1) According to Art. 27-a of the CO, classes do not possess the rightful authority to “declare that women officebearers (ministers, elders, deacons, and commissioned pastors) may not be delegated to classis.” Such authority only belongs to councils. CO Art. 27 states:

Each assembly exercises, in keeping with its own character and domain, the ecclesiastical

authority entrusted to the church by Christ; the authority of councils being original, that

of major assemblies being delegated.

The authority of councils is original whereas the authority of major assemblies (including classes) is delegated. Thus, on the matter of determining whether women officebearers may or may not be delegated to classes, councils, “in keeping with [their] own character and domain” have rightful authority to decide. Moreover, according to CO Art. 27-a, assemblies such as classes do not have authority to decide. The authority to declare that women officebearers may not be delegated to classis is neither consequent of the nature of the denominational assembly of classis nor should it be granted by way of appeal to the prerogative of its constituent churches (in the case of a majority vote).

With the authority of councils being original, the decision of council to not permit women officebearers in the church, or as delegates to classis is rightfully held. However, with the authority of classes being a delegated authority, the authority of classes to not accept women delegates undermines the authority of councils.

Therefore, classes’ authority to declare that women officebearers may not be delegated to classis is misattributed and incongruent with the authority of the respective assemblies of the CRCNA.  Furthermore, it is a violation of CO Art. 27-a and should be deleted.

2) One of the reasons for the addition of Regulation b. was to respect those who opposed women serving in ecclesiastical office, particularly as it related to the duty of classical delegation. In order to avoid delegates being required to participate against their biblical convictions, Synod decided to grant classes the authority to declare that women officebearers may not be delegated to classis. However, I contend this decision by Synod did not result in avoiding asking officebearers to participate against their convictions. For instance, when a classis adopts a recommendation by majority vote that women may not serve as delegates, those officebearers; seated delegates who believe women officebearers should be able to fulfill all their duties (ie. classical delegation), are, in this case, asked to participate against their convictions. Moreover, Regulation c. states “Officebearers shall not be asked to participate against their convictions. Thus, classes that declare women officebearers (ministers, elders, deacons and commissioned pastors) may not be delegated to classis are in violation of Regulation c. on this matter because they have asked officebearers to participate against their convictions.

One may object to this reasoning by countering that if synod acceded to the overture to delete Regulation b. of Supplement, Article 3-a delegates who oppose women officebearers as classical delegates will be forced to participate against their convictions. But this is not the case. Officebearers with personal convictions that women officebearers may not be delegated to classis are afforded the liberty to abstain from voting and/or opt out in place of a classis contracta.

3) By way of precedent, the recent history of synodical decisions regarding women delegates to classes evidences a trajectory that is increasingly accepting of women having unimpeded involvement. For instance, synod already permits delegates to “record their protest” while participating “in an assembly where women officebearers are present.”[1]

Furthermore, in 2010 two churches petitioned Synod requesting permission to transfer from their current classes to a classis outside of their geographical area that agreed with their position not to seat women delegates at classis. Synod decided not to accede to those requests, on the grounds that “a classis shall consist of a group of neighboring churches” (CO Art. 39) and that delegates can participate in an assembly where women officebearers are present whilst recording their protest.[2] Interestingly, the few times synod has permitted the transfer of churches to other classes it has been because the churches’ conviction that women should be accepted as classical delegates matched those of the receiving classis. The Acts of Synod 2010 cite this decision, saying:

… in 1999, the first ground of South Bend CRC to move to Classis Holland was that

“South Bend CRC requested this transfer so that its women officebearers may fully exercise the duties of their office by also serving as delegates to classis”.[3]

I contend that the “recording of protest” represents a mechanism within our major assemblies wherein individual officebearers may appropriately express their personal conviction on women not being delegated to classis, thereby unburdening their conscience, in virtue of forbearance. For instance, the classis of Greater Los Angeles allows each local congregation to delegate whomever it feels appropriate.

Those who have so-called problems in principle with women in roles of leadership show

forbearance in such regional gatherings. Those who have problems in principle with the

exclusion of women in leadership roles, show forbearance by not being critical of other

congregations and by not interfering with their local decisions.[4]

The Acts of Synod 2007 describes the superiority of such an approach, saying:

This classis has found a way to maintain unity despite having differing convictions.

This solution is rooted in the ability of this classis to “bear with one another” while also respecting the decisions of the local church to choose their delegates. We believe this is instructive for us.[5]

III.            Overture

Classis BC North West proposes Regulation b. of Supplement, Article 3-a be deleted from the CRCNA’s Church Order and prohibit classes declaring that women officebearers may not be delegated to classis.


1. Regulation b. of Supplement, Art. 3-a is incongruent with Art. 27-a. insofar as classes may

declare that women officebearers may not be delegated to classis is incongruent with the original authority of councils to delegate them.

2. Regulation b. is in violation of Regulation c. of Supplement, Art. 3-a. insofar as classes may

declare that women officebearers may not be delegated to classis is in violation of officebearers not being asked to participate against their convictions.

3. The precedent of ‘recorded protest’ of women delegates to classis allows for the two different Scripture-honoring perspectives regarding women in ecclesiastical office whilst enhancing the virtue of forebearance as a guiding principle in our broader assemblies.

   [1] Acts of Synod 2010, pp. 890-1.

   [2] Acts of Synod 2007, p. 606.

   [3] p. 886.

   [4] Agenda for Synod 2007, p. 473.

   [5] p. 599-600.

Does ‘Jesus is Lord’ Translate Today?

A couple months ago I did some reading on postmodernism or on as John Stackhouse refers to ‘hyper-modernism’ with the aim of understanding the moderate evangelical understanding and response of the current cultural landscape. Several mainline Liberal authors or Emergent leaders have weighed in on the repercussions of postmodernity over the years but I wanted to learn something of the history of thought leading up to this cultural shift in North America, hence the following two articles by Craig M. Gay and John G. Stackhouse.

In The Way of the (Modern) World, Gay investigates the conditions and causes by which modern society has and is becoming increasingly secular and practically atheistic. Within the central orientation of modern structures, values and thinking, exists the implicit organizing principle that God, if he exists, is superfluous to lived human experience.[1] The New Testament, contrastingly, defines and treats “the world” and “worldliness” as attempting to explain human affairs apart from the reality of God. Three impulsive themes of the modern world are control, secularity and anxiety. These result, in large part, because of Christianity’s banishment and the subsequent dehumanization of personhood. Gay, contends that to uncover the deeply embedded secularity and atheism in our society is to begin to understand why we willfully construct a world without God in it.

Stackhouse, in order to explicate postmodernity and postmodernism(s), distinguishes the former from the latter by describing it as a condition to which the latter is a response.[2] Modern thinking, concerned with apprehending truth, is not a significant departure from premodern thinking, save its focus on locating new understanding to better navigate the future. Premodern thinking, conversely, looks to the past to establish current knowledge. Within Postmodernity, the confidence that knowledge is accessible to all is not present, instead it is widely held that human thinking is perspectival and subject to, both, the point of view and the viewer herself. The outworking of such thinking is represented in our current notions of pluralism and multiculturalism, wherein the intended acknowledgment of multiple vantage points have resulted in a multiplicity of perspectives that can fragment rather than unify through diversity.

A natural question then, how would one currently characterize the relationship between Christianity and contemporary culture? And: what, if anything, is to be done about it?

The Christian faith finds itself, presently, as one proposal in the marketplace of ideas. While its place in the past can be understood chiefly as one of considerable power and influence over contemporary culture, it has undergone something of a shift to a playing field that is, so we are told, plum level.

Whether our current modern/postmodern society is truly open and ensuring the equality of all thought and perspective is doubtful. As Gay asserts, there is a practical atheism that punctuates our way of life, meanwhile implicitly promising what it cannot deliver. Christianity has had an ironic part in determining its current habitation.[3] While upstanding citizens efforted a new and better world for all humans influenced in large part by the Christian view of personhood, God was overlooked.

The relationship between Christianity and culture can, as Stackhouse argues, no longer be defined by dominance. On the contrary, I believe that Christianity today must give up any reverie of possessing power over culture and return to its latent power-to posture, an undeniably effective standpoint from where we can lean back against the work of the Holy Spirit; active from age to age, embody true humanness and collaborate with the mission of God.

In the advent of increasing secularization and bewildering pluralism, it is not enough for Christianity to define itself over-and-against the multitude of perspectives within postmodernity. Granted, ‘Jesus is Lord’ has signified a dangerous form of criticism in the past, however, to contemporary culture today, it is nonsense. This declaration must ring new with assertive hope, given as confession and perhaps then heard, as if, for the first time.

  [1] Introduction in The Way of the (Modern) World, pp. 1-28.

  [2] “Postmodernity and Postmodernism(s)” in Humble Apologetics, pp. 22-37.

  [3] See Os Guinness’ “Gravedigger Hypothesis”.

Baruch Spinoza

Harrisville and Sundberg, in “Baruch Spinoza: The Emergence of Rationalist Biblical Criticism,” outline the momentous changes brought about in the development of Rationalist Biblical Criticism, namely the historical criticism employed by Spinoza in the mid 17th century.

From the outworking of the Reformation came the expectation, saddled on common readers of scripture, to interpret and discern the truth of scripture so as to snap out of the unquestioned superstitions of Medieval Catholicism. This proved difficult to most people without the tethers of the Clergy to guide them. As a result, the humanist concern with the temporal significance of political governance became a manner in which earthly existence gained greater import.

Spinoza typified this approach; his colored company of cosmopolitan and capitalist cohorts revealed his own aims to articulate a theory on liberal democracy and modern biblical criticism. Spinoza believed that much of Jewish and Christian religion comprised superstition and dogma and only by submitting scriptural text to the employs of reason and historical analysis could one free truth as contained in the true virtues of obedience to God in justice and charity.

Essential identities in Philosophy and Theology

My background is in philosophy (full disclosure) but I’ve only begun to read and engage with non-reductive materialism and radical orthodoxy. I found your paper captured many of my intuitions about the relationship herein.

Where I would disagree with Milbank, and in fact a host of continental philosophers is that all is philosophy, even the narrowest of medieval Christian orthodoxy is philosophy. Theology is thought, neither more scared nor profane than continental thought. Radical theology has to buy what it is selling and move away from such preoccupations with identity. If all the categorizations of the world are subject to sacramental participation then why distinguish, John, between the Queen and her magistrate philosophy? It seems RO’s totalizing view is not internally consistent.

But philosophy cannot deny its place of birth either. For instance, as much as I wish my birth certificate says I was born in Vancouver (speaking of vain identity ;/), it simply does not reflect my wish. It’s an empirical fact; I was born in New Westminster. So western philosophy must come to grips with it’s humble origins and recognize it’s teleological baggage, western philosophy originated from a babe in a manger.

I think where RO goes sideways and jeopardizes affordance of any self-respect is in the neglect of epistemological skepticism. Why and how one can make such ontological pronouncements as they do, I’ll never know.

I have no problem with RO absorbing the world in its vision (we all do it!), IF the vision were not only of the lamb. The Lion is not in the picture. The ‘history’ and ‘conflict’ as you say Marika, is not invited into this vision. And that’s a shame because ultimately it can only be a fundamentally flawed vision of reality; it is empirically deficient. RO is not robust enough to receive the materialist critique. Rather than confront the unsettling, RO turns it aside as “nihilism”, which sells nihilism short BTW!

Just a few fragmentary thoughts, thanks!

“Stark” Differences Between Christians and Pagans in the Roman Empire

It is one thing to attend and lament, as is popular to do right now, the brute reality of Christian Empire, established and extending from Constantine through centuries of colonialism, but it is an altogether different enquiry to investigate the rise of Christianity amongst the ordinary, everyday people living in tumultuous 1st century Palestine.

How did a fledgling Jewish sect spill outward into nearly every nook and cranny of the Roman Empire, transforming the way people think and behave within only a few hundred years?

Cultural theory has a really hard time with this one.

Rodney Stark, in The Rise of Christianity argues that the spread of Christianity within the Greco-Roman world occurred within the locus of certain social developments. These different developments entailed prevalent opportunity for Christian witness and expansive conversion. In particular, Stark understands the catastrophic epidemics of 165 and 251 AD as providing the backdrop for Christians to provide a coherent, alternative account of why such catastrophe had occurred.

In addition, the Christian ethos of community care uniquely equipped adherents of the faith to better withstand such disasters, contributing to greater resiliency in surviving the disease. This, in turn, influenced a shift in the social landscape as pagans replaced their interpersonal bonds, decimated by increasing pagan mortality, with new attachments to Christian social networks, thus increasing the probability of conversion to the faith.

Stark also argues that the higher status of women in Christian subculture represents another factor in Christianity’s rise. As a result of greater domestic egalitarianism, social desirability of widowhood, a higher fertility rate and the prohibition of infanticide and abortion in Christian subculture, a significant difference in the male-female sex ratio developed wherein greater numbers of women contributed to a higher fertility rate and a rapidly growing Christian population.

Attending to the efficacy of Christian doctrine to bring about major numerical growth and social impact in the Greco-Roman world, Stark contends that Christian right practice represents the ultimate factor in the rise of Christianity. The introduction of a merciful God exhorting people to deal in mercy with one another revolutionized 1st century human experience and offered a coherent ethic wherein ethnicity or social status could be disposed of, giving place to a new rule of love.[1]

How did the lifestyle and values of Christians in the first few centuries differ from the Greco-Roman culture around them? In what way were they actually similar?

The lifestyle and values of Christians living in the first few centuries are enigmatic yet defined. While the identity of Christians can be described by distinctive custom, practices and, in greater detail, ethic, they were also members of a shared Greco-Roman culture. In this way there was nothing eccentric about them. The paraphernalia of culture, represented by food, clothing and language among other aspects, was for the Christian and pagan quite similar.

In matters of major difference from their fellow pagans, Christians did not worship the Emperor and as a result saw their activity in various civic customs as minimal. It can be said that Christians’ loyalty was to the empire but their devotion was unto God.

Furthermore, it was God who Christians sought to imitate. In doing so, pagan, or more broadly, Roman values and practices such as infanticide, abortion, denigrated status of women and male sexual promiscuity were condemned and prohibited by Christians. For instance, Christians possessed a substantively different view of women than their pagan counterparts. Herein, Christian doctrine actively contributed to the better treatment of women in Greco-Roman society. In addition to injunctions to care for wives and widows, the Christian value of community care resulted in a higher degree of solidarity within Christian subculture. Such solidarity and ‘love for neighbour’ distinguished Christians from others and indeed as Stark argues, imbued them with affective resiliency in the face of epidemic disease.

Pfft…there goes the sociological neighborhood!

  [1] Rodney Stark, Chapter 4: “Epidemics, Networks, and Conversion”, Chapter 5: “The Role of Women in Christian Growth”, and Chapter 10: “A Brief Reflection on Virtue” in The Rise of Christianity, pp. 73-128, 209-215.