GS 2013 art 110

GS 2013 Article 110 – Appeals re: Women’s Voting for Office Bearers

Committee 1 presented its fourth draft. After several amendments were moved and adopted, this was the result:

1.         Material:

Letters of appeal from the churches at Smithville (8.5.1), Calgary (8.5.2), Carman West (8.5.3), Dunnville (8.5.4), Carman East (8.5.5), Grand Valley (8.5.6), Chilliwack (8.5.12 and 8.5.25), Coaldale (8.5.13 and 8.5.14), Attercliffe (8.5.21), Fergus-Maranatha (8.5.28), Grand Rapids (8.5.29), Grassie (8.5.30), Taber (8.5.34) and Willoughby Heights (8.5.36)

2.         Observations:

  • 2.1.      The appeals of the churches can be divided into three main categories:
    • 1. Church Orderly arguments
    • 2. Biblical arguments
    • 3. Other arguments
  • 2.2.      Nine churches appeal the decision of Burlington 2010 Article 176 on church-orderly grounds, namely the churches at Smithville, Calgary, Dunnville, Grand Valley, Coaldale, Attercliffe, Chilliwack and Willoughby Heights.
    • 2.2.1.            Several of these churches bring forward the point that women’s voting has always been considered a matter of the churches in common. One church emphasizes that the matter of women voting is a matter for the churches in common and Synod  Burlington 2010 did not interact with previous decisions which declared it to be a matter for the churches in common.
    • 2.2.2.            Some churches also bring to the fore that Article 3 CO does not speak about consistory voluntarily agreeing to the vote, but uses the word “shall” as implicating an obligation or directive. As well, they point to Article 31 of the Belgic Confession which speaks of office bearers being chosen “by lawful election of the church” as implying that the consistory is bound to the results of the election. Hence they regard voting not merely as advisory but as an exercising of authority. Several churches (Calgary, Grand Valley and Grassie) bring forward that historically it has been generally assumed in Reformed churches that Church Order Article 3 means the male communicant members of the congregation when it speaks of “congregation.”
  • 2.3.      Nine churches, namely Calgary, Dunnville, Carman East, Chilliwack, Coaldale, Attercliffe, Fergus-Maranatha, Grand Rapids and Grassie, appeal the decision of Burlington 2010 Article 176 on Biblical grounds.
    • 2.3.1.         Some churches point out that throughout the Bible (Deut. 17:15, 2 Sam. 2:4, 5:3, Acts 1:14, 6:3) the men are addressed as the representatives of the whole congregation and there is no unambiguous example in the Bible demonstrating that females too represented the congregation.
    • 2.3.2.            Other churches bring forward that Synod Burlington 2010 ignored the scriptural principle of headship, namely that wives are to be subject to their husbands (Eph. 5:22) which translates into the prescription that women are to be silent in the church (1 Cor. 14:33b-35, 1 Tim. 2:11,12). They assert that Synod did not take into account the authority aspect of voting as noted above in 2.2.2.
  • 2.4.      Under other arguments we include the following:
    • 2.4.1.               Seven churches, including Calgary, Attercliffe, Coaldale, Chilliwack, Fergus-Maranatha, Grand Rapids and Taber, appeal on the ground that the decision of Synod Burlington 2010 causes even more disunity in the churches about this matter than before. While they appreciate the desire of Synod Burlington 2010 to come to a final resolution on the matter of women voting, the decision to leave the matter to the local churches will only bring further polarization among the churches.
    • 2.4.2.               Three churches, Carman West, Willoughby Heights and Coaldale, argue that the decision of Synod Burlington 2010 ignored the large number of churches which addressed letters opposing such a measure. Synod Burlington 2010 should have also let itself be influenced by the fact that the majority of letters from churches opposed women voting.
    • 2.4.3.               The churches at Grand Valley and Grassie add the element of culture to their appeals. They assert that Synod Burlington 2010 erred in Article 176 when it concluded that the historical practice of not allowing women to vote was based on cultural rather than Biblical principles. It is stated that cultural or societal influence should have no part in resolving issues in the church, but only scriptural principles (Article 7, Belgic Confession).
    • 2.4.4.               The churches at Grand Valley and Taber also appeal the decision of Synod Burlington 2010 on the basis that Synod Burlington 2010 implied in its considerations that the committee work in both the majority and minority report was incomplete. They state that Synod Burlington 2010 should have taken up the advice of several churches to establish a new committee to complete the mandate.

3. Considerations:

  • 3.1.      The appeals bring forward church political, scriptural as well as several other arguments. Synod Burlington 2010 also dealt with church political as well as scriptural arguments. In response to the appeals synod will have to weigh these arguments and deal with both Scripture and Church Order.
  • 3.2.      It is undeniable that this matter has in the past always been regarded as a matter for the churches in common (see the appeals of Smithville, Dunnville, Grand Valley, Attercliffe). Numerous synods in the past have implicitly accepted or explicitly considered this to be a matter for the churches in common, beginning with Synod Coaldale 1977. That Synod stated in Article 27, Consideration 2, “By not ad Article 30 Church Order refusing to deal with women’s voting rights, Synod Toronto 1974 has in fact admitted that this is a matter of common concern.” As Calgary states in its appeal, Synod Smithville 1980 discussed and defeated the motion “to leave the matter of Women’s Voting Rights in the freedom of the churches” (Acts of Synod Smithville 1980, Article 80). Synod Burlington 1986, in Article 120, Considerations 2 and 3, stated that, “It is therefore also incorrect to state that there is no moral hindrance for any consistory to introduce women’s rights by its own regulations (Observation 5).” Synod Fergus 1998, in Article 112, II. Admissibility, stated concerning women’s voting: “The subject matter does concern the churches in common.” Synod Neerlandia 2001 remarked about an overture of Regional Synod East to appoint a committee on women’s voting rights (Acts, Article 101, Consideration 4.2), “The first ground that Regional Synod presents is that ‘the matter of women’s voting rights has been dealt with as a matter of the churches in common.’ This is true. However, this in itself does not constitute a ‘new ground.’ It only confirms that this request is at the right address, namely, General Synod.” The above statement of Synod Neerlandia 2001 was reiterated in the Acts of Synod Smithers 2007 (Article 136, Observation 3.8.). None of the synodical pronouncements mentioned above have explained why the churches have considered this matter as belonging to the churches in common. But over the years this was the commonly accepted practice. This practice has the more authority because churches repeatedly stated that the matter was federational. To alter course would require an argument explaining why a new practice is necessary. The Church Order requires this in Article 33.
  • 3.3.      In Article 176, Consideration 3.9, Synod Burlington 2010 brought forward the position of the congregation according to Reformed church polity. It states that, “A congregational meeting is then a public consistory meeting in which the consistory, before it makes or implements important decisions, hears and consults the members of the congregation.” In response to that, four churches (Calgary, Grand Rapids, Grand Valley, Willoughby Heights) brought up Article 3 of the Church Order. According to this article of the Church Order (“Those elected shall be appointed by the consistory with the deacons), the election has a binding character. The word “shall” used in documents like the Church Order expresses what is mandatory. Calgary and Attercliffe pointed to Article 31 of the Belgic Confession (“We believe that ministers of God’s Word, elders and deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the church…”) to prove that the election at the congregational meeting has a binding character. It is questionable if this can be read into Article 31 of the Belgic Confession. The focus of this article is more to distinguish the Reformed and biblical method of appointing office bearers (by the [local] church) from the way it was done in the Roman Catholic Church (hierarchy). The words “election by the church” do not define how that election should take place. Election can also be done through nomination of a single candidate by the consistory with the deacons (see Article 3 of the Church Order) and subsequent approbation by the congregation. However, it should be granted that this article gives an indication that if the consistory decides to call the congregation together for an election according to Article 3 of the Church Order, this election has a binding character and cannot be seen as advisory only. By allowing the congregation to vote, the consistory gives the congregation influence in the process of calling brothers to the office and the consistory shall abide by this decision of the congregation.
  • 3.4          Synod Burlington 2010 considered in Article 176, Consideration 3.2 that “neither one of the two reports makes clear what the connection is between these Scripture passages and the current practice of choosing office bearers in the Canadian Reformed Churches according to Article 3 CO.” After concluding that both the majority and the minority reports fail to prove from Scripture that women either must vote or are not allowed to vote, Synod Burlington 2010 stated that there is “no clear connection, or at best a remote connection between these Scripture passages and our voting procedures. This makes the exegetical sections of both reports hardly relevant or decisive for the matter of women’s voting.” However, Synod Burlington 2010 only stated this and did not interact with the Biblical evidence brought forward in the reports and by the churches. It did not prove that its statement is true. Consideration 3.6 is correct when it says, “Both reports show that it is significant to study key texts in Scripture regarding the role of women in the church and the matter of male headship.” However, not just key texts are important here, but also principles derived from Scripture, like the headship of men and the position of women in the congregation. There may not be a specific text in the Bible that prescribes or denies sisters’ participation in voting for office bearers, but there is enough in both Majority and Minority Reports (and in the letters from the churches) to show that Scripture speaks to the matter.
  • 3.5.      Nine churches brought forward Biblical evidence regarding the headship of men and the position of women within the congregation. It can be summarized as follows: The Bible teaches that the man is the head of his wife (Genesis 2, Ephesians 5:22-33). The holy women in the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful by being submissive to their husbands (1 Peter 3:5). The Bible shows that this position of headship extends to the position of man and woman in the assembly of God’s people (1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:33b-34; 1 Timothy 2:11-13). Acts 1:23-26 shows that the congregation was involved in the nomination of two brothers for the office of apostle. Acts 6:1-7 shows that the congregation was involved in the election of the seven. The Canadian Reformed Churches acknowledge in the Form For the Ordination of Elders and Deacons as well as in the Form For the Ordination (or Installation) of Ministers of the Word, that God calls brothers to the office through His congregation (p. 607 and 613 Book of Praise; emphasis added). Although the Bible does not spell out how this calling took place or how it should take place, it does indicate that the choosing happens within the assembly of God’s people.
  • 3.6.      Calgary, Carman West, Coaldale and Willoughby Heights state that Synod Burlington 2010 ignored the concerns of the majority of the churches, as confirmed in the volume of letters received by Synod Burlington 2010. Of the 34 letters received by Synod Burlington 2010 only four spoke in favor of opening the door for women to participate in the elections. Nineteen explicitly indicated that they were against. Synod is an assembly in which the churches come together and where the voice of the churches may be heard. It is therefore unwise for a general synod to make a decision which was clearly not in line with what the churches expressed especially when that desire is not unbiblical or against the Church Order, as Synod Burlington 2010 acknowledged in Consideration 3.4. In a contentious issue like this it is desirable that a decision of a synod has broad support in the churches.
  • 3.7.      It is clear from the many appeals that the decision of Synod Burlington 2010 did not put the matter to rest in the churches. Calgary, Attercliffe, Grand Valley, Chilliwack, Taber and Fergus- Maranatha are right in pointing this out. This issue has divided the churches. It will continue to divide the churches if we do not attempt to build a broader consensus among the churches. Therefore, if any of the churches, after study and based on Biblical evidence, come to the conclusion that the practice of male-only voting should be changed, this church ought to work on building a consensus among the churches by going the ecclesiastical way, through classis and regional synod, before the matter ends up at the table of general synod.
  • 3.8.      The churches should not be led by developments in culture and those developments should not determine the way in which we understand Scripture for our time today. The church of Grassie is correct in bringing this forward. We live in a culture in which the biblical teaching about the headship of the man is greatly ignored, denied or rejected. In today’s culture, the election of office bearers gives a good opportunity to the churches to show that they do not merely go along with the secular trend regarding the position of man and woman.

4.         Recommendations:

That Synod decide:

  • 4.1.      That Synod Burlington 2010 erred on church political grounds in its decision to leave the matter of women’s voting in the freedom of the churches;
  • 4.2.      That Synod Burlington 2010 erred in stating that the exegetical sections brought forward in both the majority and minority reports are “hardly relevant or decisive for the matter of women’s voting;
  • 4.3.      That the churches should return to the voting practice as it officially was before 2010, namely, male communicant members only voting.