15 Jul GS 2016 art 87
GS 2016 Article 87 – Appeals and letter re: GS 2013 Art. 110 (Women’s Voting)
Advisory Committee 3 presented its report. The report was discussed. During discussion the following amendments were moved and seconded:
- “Since GS 2013 Art. 110 Cons. 3.3 does not figure at all in their recommendations, we can only conclude that CO 3 did not provide the grounds for Rec. 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.’”
- “The points raised in 3.4.1 – 3.4.7 are valid.”
- “4.8 While the appellants are not agreed that women’s voting ought to be a matter for the churches in common, they are agreed on what CO 30 does not stipulate. CO 30 does not say that a matter for the churches in common is one in which uniformity of practice is demanded.
- 4.8.1. As we live in federative unity with one another there are matters in which a uniformity of practice is desirable. However, such unity does not require uniformity of practice in all respects. For example, synods have dealt with the matter of liturgy through the Book of Praise, but have never mandated a prescribed order of worship.”
- “Some of the churches oppose what GS 2013 observed and considered about women’s voting being a matter of the churches in common. A decision of the churches in common means that the churches as a whole, i.e. through General Synod, have made a decision about women’s voting. The point is not that we need to have a uniform practice on women’s voting, but that one church is not allowed to independently make its own decision about this matter. Synod may make a decision that, since the Church Order does not specifically indicate that only male members may vote, this should be left in the freedom of the churches based on their own voting regulations. Thus the churches in common (through Synod) may make a decision to allow women’s voting, without compelling the local churches to all abide by this practice.”
- 1.1 Appeals from the following CanRC: Hamilton-Cornerstone (22.214.171.124), Hamilton-Blessings (126.96.36.199), Vernon (188.8.131.52), Smithers (184.108.40.206), Burlington-Ebenezer (220.127.116.11), Burlington-Rehoboth (18.104.22.168), Langley (22.214.171.124), Ottawa-Jubilee (126.96.36.199), Cloverdale (188.8.131.52), Guelph- Living Word (184.108.40.206), Flamborough (220.127.116.11), Aldergrove (18.104.22.168), Edmonton- Providence (22.214.171.124), Burlington-Fellowship (126.96.36.199), St. Albert (188.8.131.52), Brampton-Grace (184.108.40.206), Toronto-Bethel (220.127.116.11)
- 1.2 Letter from the Grand Rapids ARC (18.104.22.168)
- 2.1 All of the appeals received from the churches are declared admissible.
- 2.2 The letter received from Grand Rapids was deemed inadmissible as it is neither an appeal nor does it interact with a report submitted to Synod.
- 3.1 GS 2013 (Art. 110) decided:
- [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 member voting only.
- 3.2 The 17 appeals addressed to GS 2016 bring forward Scriptural, church political as well as additional arguments. The concerns expressed in these letters have been summarized below under the following headings: Church Political Grounds, Scriptural Grounds, and Additional Concerns.
- Church Political Grounds
- 3.3 Many of the appeals referred to matters dealt with in CO 3, which speaks about the calling to office of office-bearers.
- 3.3.1 Burlington-Fellowship commented that the point of CO 3 (“Those elected shall be appointed…”) is not the binding nature of the vote, but rather the manner in which those elected to office are appointed. Aldergrove noted that the men set before the congregation have already been nominated by the consistory with the deacons. Hamilton-Cornerstone, Cloverdale, and Ottawa-Jubilee point out that the consistory ultimately agrees to appoint these brothers because, prior to the meeting with the congregation, they have been judged suitable for office in light of the qualifications outlined in Scripture.
- 3.3.2 Aldergrove argued that it does not follow from the binding nature of the vote that voting constitutes a participation in the government of the church. At no stage of the process does the consistory cede its authority to the congregation. In the opinion of Burlington-Fellowship, CO 3 expressly removes the authority from the congregation. Hamilton-Cornerstone concludes that if voting can be considered an act of governance, then even men who are not office-bearers should also be unable to vote.
- 3.3.3 Ottawa-Jubilee and Hamilton-Cornerstone referenced the following consideration from GS 1980: “It must be noted that participation in an election does not necessarily mean partaking in the government itself” (Art. 83 Cons. 3).
- 3.3.4 Cloverdale highlights that while decisions in which the congregation participates are normally binding—because the consistory decides in advance to accept the input of the congregation—this is not unconditional. Indeed, consistories, with sufficient grounds, may decide not to effect specific decisions.
- 3.3.5 Hamilton-Cornerstone commented that if the vote of the congregation were considered to be binding, this would in effect imply the existence of a fifth jurisdictional body. Ottawa-Jubilee added that the existence of such a body is foreign to our Reformed church polity.
- 3.3.6 Ottawa-Jubilee observes that it is unwarranted of GS 2013 to interpret the use of the word “congregation” in CO 3 in different ways.
- 3.3.7 Flamborough and St. Albert interacted with GS 2013’s contention that Article 31 of the Belgic Confession “…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.” Both churches noted that, in addition to guarding against the Roman Catholic practice of hierarchically imposing office bearers on a congregation, BC 31 also addresses the contemporary practices of the Anabaptists. These congregations indicated that the phrase “lawful election of the church” should not be read as implying that the election of the congregation is binding. Rather, read in its historical context, this phrase was written in opposition to the Anabaptist practice of allowing men to ascend to office on the authority of some form of personal and internal call, and is therefore not germane to CO 3.
- 3.4 Many of the appeals also referred to matters dealt with in CO 30, which states, “A major assembly shall deal with those matters only which could not be finished in the minor assembly or which belong to its churches in common.”
- 3.4.1 Vernon, Smithers, Burlington-Rehoboth, Brampton-Grace, and Toronto-Bethel agreed that this is a matter for the churches in common since past synods have dealt with it, but they point out that this does not mean each church must have the same local regulations on the matter. Toronto-Bethel added that because past synods came to no clear conclusions, GS 2010 was right to leave it up to the local churches.
- 3.4.2 Burlington-Ebenezer and Burlington-Fellowship argued that women’s voting is not a matter of the churches in common. They say that only matters about which Scripture and confessions are clear can be covered by CO 30; to the extent that the CO does not regulate a matter, synod is not permitted to compel a church to follow a particular practice. In fact, doing so is lording it over the churches and a breach of CO 74.
- 3.4.3 Langley, Cloverdale, Aldergrove, Ottawa-Jubilee, Burlington-Fellowship and Flamborough argued that stating women’s voting is a matter of the churches in common because it has been considered to be such over many synods, does not mean that it is such. GS 2013 did not prove it to be a matter for the churches in common. Cloverdale further argued that CO 3, Acts 1:23-26, and Acts 6:1-7 show it is a matter of the local church.
- Scriptural Grounds
- 3.5 Many of the appeals referred to GS 2013’s use of Scripture in general:
- 3.5.1 Burlington-Ebenezer observed that GS 2013 did not “state or decide that allowing sisters to vote for office bearers is contrary to Scripture.”
- 3.5.2 GS 2013 said, “Synod 2010 erred in stating that the exegetical sections brought forward in both the majority and minority reports are ‘hardly relevant or decision for the matter of women’s voting’” (art. 110 cons. 3.4). Burlington-Rehoboth, Langley, and Toronto-Bethel argue that, in saying this, GS 2013 should have proven that these exegetical sections are relevant or decisive, but GS 2013 did not do this.
- 3.5.3 Flamborough, Vernon, Edmonton-Providence, St. Albert, and Brampton-Grace note that it is not enough for GS 2013 in Cons. 3.4 to state that Scripture speaks to the matter of women voting; GS 2013 must also show how Scripture speaks to the matter.
- 3.5.4 Smithers opines that GS 2010 was correct to state that Scripture “does not provide instructions” (Art. 176 Cons. 3.10) on the issue of sisters participating in the vote. It says, when Scripture does not speak decisively on a matter, the matter should be left to the local church.
- 3.5.5 Guelph-Living Word observes that GS 2010 did interact with the Scriptural data and did so adequately.
- 3.6 A number of the appeals took issue with GS 2013’s application of texts that deal with headship (Gen. 2, Eph. 5:22-33, 1 Pet. 3:5, 1 Cor. 11:2-16, 14:33b-34, 1 Tim. 2:11-13, Acts 1:23-26, Acts 6:1-7; Cons. 3.5).
- 3.6.1 Hamilton Cornerstone observes that the texts referenced by Synod 2013 do not show that voting is a matter of having authority over a man.
- 3.6.2 Ottawa-Jubilee, Cloverdale, Guelph-Living Word, Aldergrove, Edmonton-Providence, St. Albert, Hamilton-Cornerstone and Brampton-Grace observe that Synod 2013 fails to show the Scriptural connection between male headship and voting. Further, St. Albert contends that 2013 misrepresented the Scriptural passages about male headship as speaking about general male headship.
- 3.6.3 Aldergrove, Hamilton-Cornerstone, and St. Albert observe that GS 2013 does not prove that women’s voting undermines male headship, and that GS 2013 does not prove that there is a concept of general headship that would be violated by women voting. Burlington-Fellowship says that GS 2013 does not prove that there is a concept of general male headship and that if there is that it is threatened by women voting.
- 3.6.4 Edmonton-Providence and St. Albert observe that GS 2013 does not prove that women are not part of the congregation or assembly referenced in Acts 1:23-26 and Acts 6:1-7.
- Additional Concerns
- 3.7 Many of the churches also raised other concerns with respect to the decision of GS 2013 on this matter.
- 3.7.1 GS 2013 (Art. 110 Cons. 3.6) gives some weight to the number of churches who were against women’s voting. Hamilton-Cornerstone, Burlington-Rehoboth, Ottawa-Jubilee, Guelph-Living Word, Aldergrove, Edmonton-Providence and Burlington-Fellowship contend that GS 2013 ought not to have been swayed by the number of churches on either side of the issue. These churches point out that synods are to make decisions on the basis of what is right, not on the basis of how many letters are received on a particular issue.
- 3.7.2 With respect to the claim by GS 2013 that the decision of GS 2010 failed to bring rest in the churches:
- 22.214.171.124 Langley says that GS 2013’s decision—with its lack of persuasive biblical and church orderly reasoning—will bring more unrest, in the federation as a whole and in their local congregation.
- 126.96.36.199 Flamborough says that the point is not whether a decision will put an end to unrest in the churches, but whether it “can be defended on scriptural, confessional, and church orderly grounds.”
- 188.8.131.52 Ottawa-Jubilee, Burlington-Fellowship, Cloverdale, and Edmonton-Providence note that GS 2013 provided no evidence for its claims that there is division among the churches and that this issue has caused unrest.
- 184.108.40.206 Aldergrove and Edmonton-Providence say that GS 2013’s comments about unrest are a subjective opinion and as such should not play a role in an ecclesiastical decision.
- 220.127.116.11 Brampton-Grace, Burlington-Rehoboth, Flamborough, and Smithers refer to the history of the matter of women’s voting and note that the issue was a source of unrest long before GS 2010’s decision.
- 3.7.3 GS 2013 (Art 110 Cons. 3.7) suggests, “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….” Flamborough, Burlington-Fellowship, Cloverdale, Edmonton-Providence, and St. Albert feel Synod 2013 has attempted to prevent churches from appealing their decision according to CO 31 by telling them that they must go the ecclesiastical route of CO 30. Hamilton-Cornerstone interacts with this in the context of the “churches in common” issue. They note that matters for the churches in common are properly dealt with at synod itself (CO 30).
- 3.7.4 GS 2013 (Art. 110 Cons. 3.8) considers that contemporary culture should not determine “the way in which we understand Scripture for our time today.” At the same time GS 2013 considers that “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 women.” Burlington-Rehoboth contends that the election of office bearers should not be used for anything beyond its function in the election of office bearers. Ottawa-Jubilee, Cloverdale, Aldergrove, Edmonton-Providence, Burlington-Fellowship and St. Albert state either that (1) Synod 2013 has not proven that the congregations who have implemented women’s voting have succumbed to the culture of the day and/or (2) that there is even a link between our culture and the practice of women’s voting and/or (3) that we must be guided by the Word of God and not culture.
- 3.7.5 In relation to the word “should” in GS 2013 Art. 110 Rec. 4.3 Acts Jubilee contends that it is an expression of a moral opinion. Synod should make judgments, not express moral opinions.
- 3.7.6 GS 2013 Art. 110 Rec. 4.3 refers to male only voting as the official practice of our churches. Cloverdale, Flamborough and Toronto-Bethel contend that prior to Synod 2010 the churches had no official position on the matter of voting rights. Cloverdale adds that that makes it impossible for churches to comply with this recommendation.
- 3.7.7 Burlington-Ebenezer and Hamilton-Cornerstone raise the point that we have sister-church relationships with several federations that allow for women’s voting, and this has not been a barrier to positive fraternal relations.
- 4.1 Since CO 31 states that “whatever may be agreed shall be considered settled and binding unless it is proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or the Church Order,” GS 2013 needed to prove that the decisions of Synod 2010 were in conflict with either Scripture or the Church Order. What follows will deal with Scripture and Church Order (CO 3 and CO 30), following the order of CO 31.
- 4.2 The appellant churches are correct to state that GS 2013 did not show how Scripture, in the passages it cites, affects the matter of women voting.
- 4.2.1 GS 2013 does not demonstrate (from texts such as Acts 1:23-26 and Acts 6:1-7) that women did not participate when office-bearers were chosen.
- 4.2.2 GS 2013 does not demonstrate that male headship is undermined by women voting.
- 4.3 GS 2013 (Art. 110 Cons 3.5), “the Bible does not spell out how this calling took place or how it should take place” Rather, Scripture indicates only that “this choice happens within the assembly of God’s people.” As a result of this recognition, Cons. 3.5 does not support Rec. 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.’”
- 4.4 It has not been proven that Scripture speaks decisively on the matter of women voting—as has been demonstrated by the long history of inconclusive debate in our churches.
- Church Order – CO 3
- 4.5 The appellants are correct that GS 2013 has not proven that CO 3 affects the matter of women voting.
- 4.5.1 GS 2013 does not demonstrate that CO 3 supports the binding nature of a vote for office-bearers.
- 4.5.2 GS 2013 does not demonstrate that CO 3 supports the authoritative nature of a vote for office-bearers.
- 4.6 GS 2013 (Art. 110 Cons 3.3) says, “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.” GS 2013 contends that elections have a binding character. Even if such a point were conceded, they themselves do not show how this leads to the conclusion of male-only voting. Since GS 2013 Art. 110 Cons. 3.3 does not figure at all in their recommendations, we can only conclude that CO 3 did not provide the grounds for Rec. 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.”
- Church Order CO 30
- 4.7 Since GS 2013 decided that GS 2010 erred on church political grounds in leaving the matter in the freedom of the churches, this suggests that GS 2013 judged the decisions of GS 2010 to be in error in the light of CO 30, which states, “A major assembly shall deal with those matters only which could not be finished in the minor assembly or which belong to its churches in common.”
- 4.8 While the appellants are not agreed that women’s voting ought to be a matter for the churches in common, they are agreed on what CO 30 does not stipulate. CO 30 does not say that a matter for the churches in common is one in which uniformity of practice is demanded.
- 4.8.1 As we live in federative unity with one another there are matters in which a uniformity of practice is desirable. However, such unity does not require uniformity of practice in all respects. For example, synods have dealt with the matter of liturgy through the Book of Praise, but have never mandated a prescribed order of worship.
- 4.9 GS 2013 is correct that if women’s voting was not a matter for the churches in common then prior synods should not have dealt with the matter (Art. 110 Cons. 3.2). Churches that considered prior synods to be in error in this respect ought to have appealed these prior decisions.
- 4.10 Since a matter for the churches in common is not necessarily a matter in which uniformity of practice is demanded, the appellants are correct that the decision of GS 2010 does not contravene CO 30.
- 4.11 The appellants raised many other issues with the decision of GS 2013 on women’s voting as expressed above in Observations 3.7.1-3.7.7. These correspond to GS 2013’s Considerations 3.6-3.8. Since CO 31 demands that decisions of previous assemblies be judged on the grounds of Scripture and Church Order, these issues raised by the appellants are not ultimately relevant for GS 2016 to render a judgment in this matter.
That Synod decide:
- 5.1 GS 2013 erred in that it did not prove that GS 2010 Art. 176 Rec. 4.3 was in conflict with Scripture (CO 31);
- 5.2 GS 2013 erred in that it did not prove that GS 2010 Art. 176 Rec. 4.3 was in conflict with the Church Order (CO 31);
- 5.3 GS 2013 erred in overturning the decision of GS 2010 Art. 176 Rec. 4.3: “That any arrangement for the election of office bearers that goes beyond what has been agreed upon by the churches in Article 3 CO is a matter of the local regulations, adopted for that purpose by the consistory with the deacons”.