GS 2016 – Article 87
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”.
GS 2013 – Article 110
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 we 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 (appeals 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 (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 brings forward the position of the congregation according to the 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 considers 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 states 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 states this and does not interact with the Biblical evidence brought forward in the reports and by the churches. It doesn’t 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 man and the position of woman 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 man and the position of woman 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 choosinghappens 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 the 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.
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.
GS 2013 – Article 128
That Synod decide:
3.1. That Regional Synod East 2008 was correct in stating that “broader assemblies have determined that the issue of women’s voting is a matter of the churches in common…”;