GS 2010 art 175

GS 2010 Article 175 – Women Voting in the Election of Office Bearers (Majority Report)

1.         Material

  • 1.1       Majority Report on Women’s Voting(8.2.g.i)
  • 1.2       Minority Report on Women’s Voting (8.2.g.ii)
  • 1.3        Report to Synod 1980 on Women’s Voting plus the decision of Synod 1980
  • 1.4     Report to Synod 1983 on Women’s Voting plus the decision of Synod 1983
  • 1.5        Letters from Smithers (8.3.G.1), Guelph (8.3.G.2 and 8.3.G.3) Chatham (8.3.G.4), Orangeville (8.3.G.5), Burlington-Ebenezer (8.3.G.6), Hamilton-Providence (8.3.G.7), Grand Valley (8.3.G.8), Coaldale (8.3.G.9), Carman East (8.3.G.10), Calgary (8.3.G.11), Chilliwack (8.3.G.12), Edmonton-Immanuel (8.3.G.13), Owen- Sound (8.3.G.14), Fergus-Maranatha (8.3.G.15), Flamborough (8.3.G.16), Neerlandia (8.3.G.17) Willoughby Heights (8.3.G.18), Attercliffe (8.3.G.19), Taber (8.3.G.20), Tintern (8.3.G.21) Surrey (8.3.G.22), Vernon (8.3.G.23), London (8.3.G.24), Glanbrook (8.3.G.25) Ancaster (8.3.G.26), Yarrow (8.3.G.27), Smithville (8.3.G.28), Abbotsford (8.3.G.29) Lincoln (8.3.G.30), WinnipegRedeemer (8.3.G.31), Cloverdale (8.3.G.32), Dunnville (8.3.G.33), and Lynden (8.3.G.34).

2.          Observations

  • 2.1        The committee which reported to Synod 1980 received the following mandate from Synod 1977 (Article 27.A, Recommendation):
    • [a.]       To make a thorough study of all biblical and Church-political aspects regarding the question of women’s voting rights.
    • [b.]          To forward the results of their studies to the Churches one year prior to the next Synod and to invite comments to be submitted within six months after publication of the study
    • [c.]  T o submit their report with recommendations to the next General Synod.
  • 2.2         The committee provided a lengthy report to Synod 1980. After evaluating this report, Synod appointed a new committee with the following mandate (Article 83, paragraph IV.C.3):
    • [a]        To re-examine the matter, including the Study-Report presented to Synod in the light of the criticism voiced in letters to Synod and in the report of the Advisory Committee
    • [b]        To give more consideration to material available in other study reports re: the place and task of women in the Church.
    • [c]        To submit a report with recommendations to the next General Synod, with a sufficient number of copies to the churches.
  • 2.3 Synod Smithers 2007 agreed with the church at Hamilton to “finish the mandate extended by Synod Smithville 1980” (Acts of Synod Smithers 2007, Article 136, Recommendation 5.2). Synod 2007 then mandated the Committee on Women’s Voting to “examine the biblical teaching on headship and voting and also study the following questions”:
    •  [5.2.1]  With regard to headship: What is the position of widows and single female communicant members?
    • [5.2.2] With regard to headship: What is the relationship between husband and wife when they discuss who to vote for – doesn’t the husband therefore show and practice equality as joint heirs of the grace of God?
    • [5.2.3]  With regard to voting: What do the Bible and our Church Order say about congregational participation in electing office bearers?
    • [5.2.4]  With regard to voting: What is the relationship between congregational (a) nomination, (b) election process, (c) ratification/approbation, and (d) the final appointment by council?
  • 2.4 The church at Hamilton was appointed as this Committee. It submitted both a Majority Report and a Minority Report. The Minority Report follows the same structure as the Majority Report, only providing different arguments and conclusions on some topics. The key points of both reports are dealt with together below.
  • 2.5        The Majority Report states that “in keeping with the Church Order (Article 3), this report understands the process of election to be the means by which God calls men to office in the church of Christ.” 2.6     The Majority Report concludes:
    • 2.6.1  In the New Covenant, men and women are equal before God and receive all the blessings and privileges of being members of that covenant and united to Christ (Col 3:10-11, Eph 4:24, Gal 3:28). We therefore confess that male and female believers equally share in the office of all believers as prophets, priests, and kings (HC LD 12, Q&A 32). Women too have minds filled with the Spirit and thus can exercise the New Covenant gifts of discernment and wisdom (1 Cor 2:15).
    • 2.6.2  In the New Covenant, the special offices in the church, which pertain to teaching and ruling, are reserved for men.
    • 2.6.3  Placing these two conclusions next to each other makes it clear that women too have a God-given responsibility to vote at congregational meetings in Christ’s church. This is an obligation placed on communicant members – those who have the office of all believers – and is not tied to the exercise of the special office. The vote is not authoritative, but is a part of the advice of the congregation. Because of this, women ought to be allowed and encouraged to participate fully in congregational life and exercise the gifts they have received as members of Christ and partakers in the Holy Spirit (HC LD 21, Q&A 55).
  • 2.7        The Majority Report concludes further that female communicant members have the responsibility to participate in the election of office bearers, no less than male communicant members, under the supervision of the consistory. This responsibility extends to the voting no less than to the nomination and approbation of men for office. The Majority Report, therefore, recommends that Synod Burlington-Ebenezer (2010) accept the findings of this report and agree with its conclusion that the participation of female communicant members in all aspects of the calling of office bearers is in accordance with Scripture and the Church Order.
  • 2.8        The Minority Report states in response to the Majority Report that “one cannot … conclude that, in the office of all believers, both men and women have a similar responsibility towards voting for office bearers” (Vol. 3, p. 6). Rather, voting for office bearers “is an obligation placed by the consistory on male communicant members. The consistory delegates a responsibility, the use of a vote. It is within the jurisdiction of a consistory to involve the male members in voting for office bearers. The delegating of the responsibility to join in voting is within the authority of those in the special office and of the headship responsibility of male communicant members founded upon the creation order concept. Because of this, women ought not to be allowed and encouraged to vote for office bearers” (p. 10).
  • 2.9         The Minority Report further concludes that “in both the Old and New Covenants, mature male members of the covenant community participate in the choosing of leaders in the congregation. The present practices in the Canadian Reformed Churches for the election of office bearers follow biblical practices embedded in the Belgic Confession and the Church Order. Furthermore, there is no evidence that scriptural views of election by the congregation are transgressed by our present practice” (p. 19).
  • 2.10     The final conclusion of the Minority Report is that based on a study of “headship and voting,” female communicant members do not have the responsibility according to biblical directives nor church orderly requirement, to participate in the election of office bearers. The Canadian Reformed Churches should maintain previous general synod decisions and our present practice of allowing only male communicant members, under the direct authority and supervision of the consistory, to join them in the vote for office bearers. Meanwhile the nomination and approbation of men for office remains within the jurisdiction of all church members.
  • 2.11      The Minority Report recommends that:
    • 2.11.1 Synod Burlington-Ebenezer (2010) uphold previous general synod decisions and present practices in the Canadian Reformed Churches and not allow the participation of female communicant members in the voting for office bearers.
    • 2.11.2 The mandate given by General Synod Smithers to: “examine the biblical teaching on headship and voting and also study the following questions…” has hereby been fulfilled.
  • 2.12      Letters were received from thirty-four churches as follows:
    • 2.12.1 Smithers, Flamborough and Vernon support the Majority
    • Report. Burlington-Ebenezer does as well and suggests that Synod leave this matter in the freedom of the churches.
    • 2.12.2  Elora leaves the decision in the wisdom of Synod. HamiltonProvidence could not come to a definitive conclusion, but is uncomfortable with the Majority Report. Glanbrook is divided on the issue and asks Synod to provide scriptural guidance in this matter. Taber feels that both reports are inconclusive. They would like to see a more detailed study carried out.
    • 2.12.3  Guelph feels the Majority Report lacks balance in general. In particular, the prohibition of 1 Cor 14:35 is more general than merely to that of exercising “the special teaching and ruling office in the church, the office of elder and minister.” Guelph points out that the Majority Report leaves open the possibility for women to be ordained to the office of deacon since it does not mention deacons in its explanation of this text. Guelph also points out that to conclude from “the whole multitude” in Acts 6:3-6 that women should be included in choosing men for office, means then the children cannot be excluded either. Guelph criticizes the Minority Report for explaining voting as “decision making” when in fact it is only input.
    • 2.12.4 Chatham and Calgary strongly agree with the Minority Report. Chilliwack does not favour the conclusions of the Majority Report.
    • 2.12.5  Grand Valley feels that the appointment by Smithers 2007 of the very church that asked for the issue to be revisited as Committee is regrettable. They feel that the churches should stay the course and not accept the recommendations of the Majority Report.
    • 2.12.6 Orangeville supports the Minority Report and points out a number of faulty arguments in the Majority Report, among which are: implying that the Reformers and the Church Order had women’s voting in view is unfounded; associating voting with the office of all believers is not derived from Scripture nor supported by Lord’s Day 12 where this office is confessed.
    • 2.12.7     Coaldale calls into question the Majority Report’s interpretation of Nehemiah and 10, along with that of 1 Tim 2:11, and 1 Cor 14:33-35. It finds the explanation given unsubstantiated from the text. Coaldale urges Synod to adopt the conclusions of the Minority Report.
    • 2.12.8     Carman East supports the view that the vote for office bearers is an act of authority in the church. C.O Article 3 stipulates that “those elected shall be appointed.” Therefore Carman East feels that the vote is binding and authoritative. They do not support the recommendations of the Majority Report.
    • 2.12.9     Edmonton-Immanuel does not support the Majority Report. It feels that the reasoning is flawed and that based on CO Article 3, the vote for office bearers is authoritative. Owen Sound and London agree with the position of the Minority report. They also feel that there is strong support for viewing the vote for office bearers as authoritative.
    • 2.12.10  Fergus-Maranatha does not agree with the findings of the Majority report. They recommend not to appoint another study committee unless new scriptural grounds are presented.
    • 2.12.11  Neerlandia feels that the Majority Report’s exegesis of Acts 6 is weak. They ask Synod to maintain the existing practice in the churches.
    • 2.12.12  Willoughby Heights feels that the matter of women’s voting is improperly on the agenda of Synod 2010. They recommend not to change the existing practice because it could divide the church.
    • 2.12.13  Attercliffe asks Synod 2010 to adopt the Minority Report and not to allow the women to vote. They feel that by adopting the Minority Report, Synod will put the matter to rest.
    • 2.12.14  Spring Creek asks Synod to uphold the present practice in the churches. Surrey feels that if the present reports are the best that the churches can come up with, then we should let the matter rest. If the present practice has not proven to be unbiblical, then it should not be changed.
    • 2.12.15  Ancaster supports the conclusions of the Minority Report. They feel that the push to have women vote is influenced by “the spirit of the age.”
    • 2.12.16  Yarrow is disappointed with both reports. They pose many questions but offer no positive stand. Any decision, according to Yarrow, must be accompanied by guidelines.
    • 2.12.17  Smithville feels that the burden of proof rests on those who want change. They feel that the lessons of history need to teach us that women’s voting in the churches should not be supported. Synod Smithers’ mandate has been fulfilled.
    • 2.12.18  Abbotsford feels that both reports are inconclusive. They ask Synod to appoint another committee to study the issues in depth. They do not endorse a position at present.
    • 2.12.19  Lincoln does not support the positions of the Majority Report that the women of the Old and New Testament participated in the casting of lots or votes. They ask Synod to maintain the present practice.
    • 2.12.20  Winnipeg-Redeemer feels that neither report gives compelling reasons to adopt their position. They do not support the Majority Report and advise Synod to provide well-grounded and scriptural advice to the churches.
    • 2.12.21  Cloverdale rejects the conclusions of both reports. They recommend to leave this matter in the freedom of the churches and feel that any Synod decision about this matter would be hierarchical.
    • 2.12.22  Dunnville is unanimous in its support of the Minority Report. They present what they consider to be strong biblical arguments which would deny the vote to the women of the congregation.
    • 2.12.23  Lynden has concerns about how the Majority Report defines “male headship.” They feel the Majority Report creates an artificial divide between headship in the home and the authority of office bearers in the church. By showing a limited understanding of “covenantal headship,” Lynden feels that the Majority Report fails to show that our present system is not scriptural.

3.         Considerations

  • 3.1 Smithers 2007 gave the committee a specific mandate, namely to examine the biblical teaching on headship and voting. Smithers considered that this part of the mandate from 1980 had not been completed. The committee appointed by Smithers 2007 has done this and in that way fulfilled both the original mandate of 1980 and so also the mandate given by Smithers 2007.
  • 3.2        The Majority Report concludes that headship is not an obstacle to women participating in the election process, because “the vote is not authoritative, but is part of the advice of the congregation.” On the one hand, it is correct to state that voting is not a matter of authority. Christ rules the church by his Word and Spirit through his appointed office bearers: deacons, elders and ministers who together “form the council of the church” (Belgic Confession, Article 30).
  • The Report to Synod 1983 made it clear that one principle regained in the Reformation was “the rights of the congregation to choose its own office bearers” (Acts 1983, p.401). This principle is embedded in the Belgic Confession Article 31, “We believe that ministers of God’s Word, elders and deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the church…” Christ provides men in the congregation equipped for various offices (Eph 4:11ff).
  • The consistory, according to Article 3 CO, must always involve the congregation as a minimum through the process of approbation. According to the same Article, the consistory is not obligated to but may involve the congregation through voting. When it does, the consistory puts forward a slate of names of brothers whom it deems suitable to office. Voting of the congregation is then the way by which the congregation can “choose men to their offices.” According to Article 3 CO, the consistory is obligated to appoint these men whom the congregation chooses. Election differs from nomination and approbation in that the consistory is bound by the outcome.
  • 3.3        Both reports agree that the matter of who speaks for the congregation is a matter of who represents the congregation. The congregation is made up of all believers and their children (Belgic Confession Article 34), and yet no one advocates that every single member of the church (men, women, children, communicant and non communicant) actually vote, but rather that some portion of the congregation speaks for the whole through the vote. The Majority Report believes it is scriptural to allow both male and female communicant members to represent the congregation in choosing office bearers (p.247). However, it provides no single, unambiguous scriptural example where females were called upon to represent God’s people, much less to give official voice to the will of the people in the matter of choosing or ordaining office-bearers.
  • 3.4        It is different with male representation of the congregation. The Minority Report is correct in pointing out that in Scripture males regularly represented the whole congregation of God’s people. This representation was done for different purposes at different times. In Numbers 1:44, one man from each tribe was chosen as leader, “each one representing his family.” In Numbers 13, one man representing each tribe was sent out to spy the land (cf. Josh 3:12). In 2 Corinthians 8:23, Paul describes the men traveling with Titus to Corinth as “representatives of the churches and an honour to Christ.” No comparable examples of female representation of the congregation have been brought forward.
  • 3.5        Representative men also acted on behalf of the congregation when it came to anointing or choosing office bearers. In obedience to God’s command in Deuteronomy 17:15, the “men of Judah” and the “elders of Israel” appointed the man whom God had earlier chosen when they anointed David king over themselves (2 Sam 2:4 & 5:3). A clear NT example is when Peter, addressing the group of believers which included women (Acts 1:14), specifically singles out the male members with the double masculine address “men, brothers” (Acts 1:16, Άνδρες άδελφοί / andres adelphoi) and asks them to choose candidates to replace Judas as Apostle. These male members of the church then chose and put forward two candidates suitable to replace Judas (Acts 1:23), one of whom was then selected by lot. It is undeniable that in these examples of selecting or appointing men for office it was the men and only the men of the congregation who acted on behalf of the whole congregation. No unambiguous biblical example demonstrating that females too represented the congregation has been raised. In voting today the congregation gives voice to its choice of the gifts provided by the Lord Jesus. It is fully in line with Scripture that the men do this on behalf of and for the well-being of the congregation.
  • 3.6        Reports to Synods 1980 and 1983 have shown that there is no direct biblical prescription for who should choose on behalf of the congregation. This should make us careful. What we have in Scripture are examples, a description of what took place in certain situations of choosing. Some examples may be unclear as to who did the choosing (e.g., Acts 15:22) but at least two examples (see above) do not include the sisters in choosing or appointing. Therefore it is certainly not being disobedient to God’s Word to allow only men to represent the congregation in voting.
  • 3.7        We must recognize as well that we have ecclesiastical fellowship with churches that allow women to participate. This has never been a matter that was seen as an obstacle to recognizing each other as faithful churches of our Lord Jesus Christ. But a practice elsewhere is not for that reason alone recommendable for ourselves. For over 400 years the Reformed churches in the Netherlands and later in Canada followed the example of Scripture in calling upon the men to represent the congregation in choosing for office bearers and no one has shown this to be unscriptural. The current practice is quite in line with biblical precedent.
  • 3.8        The key premise of the Majority Report, namely that “voting belongs properly to the office of all believers” (p.234), has not been proven. Lord’s Day 12 does not make a connection to voting or to representing the congregation. It is this faulty premise which leads to the faulty conclusion that also the sisters are obligated to vote (Vol. 1, p. 237). This is simply not true. It would make the existing practice of male-representation of the congregation in voting actually contrary to Scripture and thus a sin which clearly is not the case (see above). On its central point the Majority Report is significantly flawed.
  • 3.9        The Majority Report has not proven that women’s voting is biblically demanded, nor has it shown how it would be an improvement over the current practice. The Majority Report does not demonstrate that male-only voting has been detrimental to church life or dishonouring to the Lord in any way, shape, or form. This practice has served the churches well for hundreds of years. If a current practice is to be changed, those who propose the change have the burden of proof: Is the current practice against God’s Word or does the Bible require the change? Is there something not good about the current practice that would be improved with a change? Neither the Majority Report nor the 1983 Report (which advocated the same) supply this proof.
  • 3.10      Of the thirty-four churches which wrote to Synod, only four support the conclusions of the Majority Report. The vast majority of these churches express the desire to maintain the current practice. Because the current practice is in line with biblical example and has not been shown to be detrimental, this desire of the churches ought to be respected.

4.          Recommendation

That Synod decide:

  • 4.1        To thank the committee for the work done and conclude that the mandate given by Smithville and Smithers is fully completed.
  • 4.2        T o maintain the current practice of male communicant member voting.