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.

Grounds:  

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.