Synod Letter June 1996

June 13, 1996

Dr. David H. Englehard,
General Secretary Christian Reformed Church in North America
2850 Kalamazoo Ave S.E.

The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America Grand Rapids, Michigan Dear Brothers in Christ:

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Mindful of the blessings that we have received from you over many years past, we now write you with heavy hearts. We grieve because you have embarked upon a course that disrupts the fellowship we have enjoyed from our very beginning.

Itwas you who sent the telegram to our very first general assembly in June 1936 inviting our infant church to send a fraternal delegate to the meetings of your synod. By God’s grace, over the course of the intervening years, our relationship grew and deepened as we have sent our children to your schools, especially Calvin College; we have seen our sons and daughters intermarry with yours; we have labored side by side in the mission field, and we have worked together in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (now Council) and the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). At our fourth general assembly in May 1938, the stated clerk of your synod wrote us to say:

The synod of the Christian Reformed Church, recently in session in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was glad to receive the greetings, coming from the General Assembly of the [Orthodox Presbyterian Church], in session at Philadelphia.

We appreciate it that you voted unanimously to send greetings to our church. We can say from our side that we also sincerely rejoice in the fellowship we have with you, as members of the Body of Christ, the Great Head of the Church...

May grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied to your denomination, instanding for the old time religion, as expressed in the standards of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. It is our earnest prayer that, by His grace, we might continue to stand together for that same “old time religion” and hold fast to the teachings of Scripture that have been passed on to us. But it now appears that you have chosen to follow a different course, one that abandons the standards and beliefs of all the other member churches of NAPARC, and violates our relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship.

Brothers, we believe that the following actions adopted at Synod 1995 were contrary to sound doctrine:

1. That synod recognize that there are two different perspectives and convictions, both of which honor the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God, on the issue of whether women are allowed to serve in the offices of elder, minister and evangelist.

Grounds:

a. The numerous overtures to this synod on this issue, as well as decisions and reports of previous synods, adduce good biblical grounds for both positions.

b. The Scriptures (e.g., Rom. 14) and previous synodical decisions advocate a position of tolerance on non-confessional issues. (Acts of Synod 1995, Article 75, pp. 731–32)

2. [That] a classis may, in response to local needs and circumstances, declare that the word male in Article 3-a of the Church Order is inoperative and may authorize the churches under its jurisdiction to ordain and install women in the offices of elder, minister and evangelist. (Acts of Synod 1995, Article 79, p. 733)

As to the first action, throughout Scripture God’s covenant people are reminded that obedience to His Word is costly and often not without pain in this world. Beginning in the garden, the temptation has always been to take the edge off from that which God expressly prohibits. We realize that the biblical injunctions against women in the offices of elder, minister and evangelist are very unpopular in the wisdom of this age. But this past year, you declared—by synodical fiat—that Scripture’s instruction on this issue, which the church of Jesus Christ has held to be clear for almost 2,000 years, is forthwith no longer clear.

You now declare that “there are two different perspectives and convictions, both of which honor the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God,” and that there are “good biblical grounds for both positions.” But this goes further than merely saying that the Scriptures are not clear on the issue. Although we do not think that such was your intent, your formulation comes dangerously close to asserting that there are two biblically valid interpretations of Scripture on this issue: that Scripture teaches both that women are eligible for the offices and that women are ineligible for the same offices. But this cannot be. “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.9: emphasis ours). Brothers, we urge you to turn back.

On the second action, we note that just one year earlier, your own synod declared: “The clear teaching of Scripture prohibits women from holding the offices of minister, elder and evangelist” (Acts of Synod 1994, Article 80, pp.513–16). We concur. The ordination and/or installation of women to the office of elder, minister or evangelist is contrary to the Scriptures (1 Tim. 2:12). Brothers, we plead with you to repent.

Further, to relegate a foundational matter pertaining to qualifications for church office — especially for that of the minister of the Word through whose mouth God addresses the congregation of His people — to a decision by local option is seriously to undermine the purity, peace and unity of the church itself.

Brothers, we must also state that we are deeply troubled at the manner in which this change was accomplished:

5. That synod designate Recommendations 2 and 3 as Supplement, as opposed to changing Article 3-a of the Church Order.

Grounds:

a. Placing this decision, together with its regulations, in the supplement, as opposed to changing Article 3-a of the Church Order itself, will reflect its temporary nature and allow Article 3 to remain as it is.

b. A decision to add a supplement to an article of the Church Order does not need to be ratified at a following synod...(Acts of Synod 1995, Article 79, p. 736) Article 47 of your Church Order provides:

Article 47: Task of Synod

The task of synod includes the adoption of the Church Order. No substantial alterations shall be effected in these matters unless the churches have had prior opportunity to consider the advisability of the proposed changes.

In conducting the affairs of the church, we are admonished to make sure that all things are done properly and in order (1 Cor. 14:40) and are cautioned to have due regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men (2 Cor. 8:21). We fully recognize that you, the synod, are the final arbiters before the Lord of the constitutionality of the process by which your Church Order has been changed to permit biblically unqualified persons to be admitted to those church offices. Nevertheless, we find ourselves perplexed that those seeking a change to your Church Order were unwilling to work through your own normal process for amending that order by proposing their desired changes to the next year's synod, and instead appear to have ignored the Church Order. Article 3-a of your Church Order provides:

Confessing male members of the church who meet the biblical requirements are eligible for the offices of minister, elder, and evangelist.

The word “male” can mean only that a candidate must be a male, or, stated in the negative, cannot be a female. Any tinkering with the Supplement that has the effect of now reading Article 3-a to mean that a candidate can be a female certainly has the appearance of being a "substantial alteration," contrary to your article 47, to an outside observer. Brothers, the righteous man keeps his promise, even when it hurts (Ps. 15:4). What you have done and the manner in which you have done it do not bring honor to the name of Christ.
Where does this leave us? In 1978, following your lead, we adopted the following as our policy governing our relationship with ether Reformed churches:

1. That we acknowledge the Scriptural mandate (Ephesians 4) to enter into Ecclesiastical Fellowship where it is consistent with Scriptural unity and truth as a visible demonstration of the unity of the church both to the church and to the world.

2. That we define Ecclesiastical Fellowship for the NAPARC churches as follows: Ecclesiastical Fellowship is a relationship in which the churches involved are Reformed in their confessional standards, church order and church life though there may be such differences between them that union is not possible at this time and there might be considerable need for mutual concern and admonition.

3. That where churches enter Ecclesiastical Fellowship with other Reformed churches, that relationship be implemented where possible and desirable by:

a. Exchange of fraternal delegates at major assemblies

b. Occasional pulpit fellowship (by local option)

c. Intercommunion (regulated by each session (consistory)

d. Joint action in areas of common responsibility

e. Communication on issues of joint concern

f. The exercise of mutual concern and admonition with a view to promoting the fundamentals of Christian unity.

4. That we mutually recognize that the decision to enter into or withdraw from Ecclesiastical Fellowship with another Reformed church shall be decided by each church on an individual basis.

We appreciated your struggle in 1983 as you wrestled with the nature of your continuing relationship with your mother church, de Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (GKN). You were faced with (then) recent decisions of the synods of the GKN to allow conduct that in your judgment was contrary to the Scriptures and in conflict with the decisions of your own synod; with the observation that your own concerns and protests regarding these decisions had not moved the synod of the GKN to modify its position; and with a concern over the laxity within the GKN in dealing with ministers and other leaders who openly promoted views conflicting with the Reformed confessions (Acts of Synod 1983, Article 57, pp. 677–80).

Today, we find ourselves in a similar situation with respect to the decisions of your 1995 Synod, and we confess, brothers, we find it every bit as distasteful as you did in 1983. But we have promised, and with this letter are keeping that commitment, to engage in “the exercise of mutual concern and admonition with a view to promoting the fundamentals of Christian unity” (3.f, above). Further, we have adopted the following:

1. That the Assembly suspend the relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the Christian Reformed Church in North America, in that:

a. The element of “exchange of fraternal delegates at major assemblies” in our relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the Christian Reformed Church in North America shall be restricted as follows: the 63rd (1996) General Assembly advises the presbyteries of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that they should no longer assume, by virtue of our previous unrestricted relationship, that the Christian Reformed Church in North America is a church of like practice for the purpose of the seating of corresponding members at presbytery (Form ofGovernment XIY,9);

b. the element of occasional pulpit fellowship in our relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the Christian Reformed Church in North America shall be discontinued, except at the descretion of the sessions;

c. the element of “intercommunion” in our relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the Christian Reformed Church in North America shall be restricted as follows: the 63rd General Assembly advises the lower judicatories of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that they should no longer assume, by virtue of our previous unrestricted relationship, that the Christian Reformed Church in North America is a church of like practice for purposes of the reception of members (Book of Discipline II.B.e), the removal of members (Book of Discipline II.B.3), and erasure (Book of Discipline V.2).

2. That unless the 1997 regular general assembly determines that intervening actions of the Christian Reformed church in North America warrant a reversal of this action or a continuation of the period of suspension, the relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the Christian Reformed Church in North America shall be terminated with the close of that assembly.

Brothers, we are saddened at the prospect of a rupture in our relationship. Through all of our years, you have always been there to share a common yoke—and often you carried a heavier end. But now we fear that our ways may be parting. We and others of like faith and practice may not and cannot go down the path you are choosing, so we plead with you to tum back to the Scripture-based fellowship that has been a blessing in the past.

It is our earnest prayer that you will withdraw from the precipice, repent, and again contend for the Biblical order Christ has commanded for His church.

Yours in Christ,
Donald J. Duff, Stated Clerk

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